Despite the interwoven storylines and interconnected backgrounds on Lost, the characters seem to have little in common besides chance meetings across Australia prior to their doomed Oceanic flight. However, after almost three full seasons it’s now abundantly clear that most of their suffering can be traced to a common source: problem fathers. If Jack and Sawyer and Kate and company would just freaking talk to one another ever so often, they might deduce that the DHARMA Initiative was just a means of gathering up children traumatized by dysfunctional dads.
Jack’s case is the most obvious; he’s had more emphasis and episodes dealing with the father-son dynamic—each comparing himself to the other, both overbearing and driven. Both men have experienced alcoholism and failed marriages and a resultant inability to connect with women. There’s more interaction between Jack and his father than any other father-son pairing on the show (apart from Michael and Walt); each new flashback seems to ping on the same theme of father making a harsh observation about his son (or vice-versa) followed by an obsessive-compulsive need to either drink or heal someone. Kate’s tough exterior is linked to her physically and possibly sexually abusive father and her elimination of him via house fire; almost all of her story is based on coping with the fallout from this event, though the show grants only tangential references to Kate’s dad apart from this one event. Sawyer’s entire adult life is a reaction to his father’s inability to cope with being suckered by a con man, his wife’s subsequent murder, and his own suicide, which leaves Sawyer orphaned. Each flashback where Sawyer plays the con man is another chance for him to replay the cause of his father’s downfall—to become the thing that destroyed his father. In Locke’s flashbacks, he searches for his progenitor, a kidney-stealer who, while not yet revealed as such, is the likely cause of Locke’s pre-crash disability, which in turn led Locke to want to prove his post-wheelchair worth—a chain of bad-daddy-related factors that combined to land Locke on the island.
It’s a rare Lostaway that doesn’t have daddy issues. While trying to marry Jin, Sun endures the sight of her father psychologically abusing her husband and then, after trying to escape the now-changed Jin and her family, incurs the old man’s wrath. Jin doesn’t just have trouble with Sun’s father; he desperately wants to escape the memory of his own father, a fisherman whose lower-class status suffed Jin with guilt and shame. (Interesting, then, that Jin has become the island’s fisherman.) Like Jin, Desmond gets daddy-by-proxy pain from Penelope’s dad telling him he’s worthless, thus setting him up for his three-hour tour to the island. Claire’s baby Aron was abandoned by his father, so it’s no wonder he’s managed to land himself with this group; for better or worse, it looks like he’ll have Charlie for a stepdad, a plot turn that will likely be ended by a Desmond-foretold death curse or the built-in repercussions of Charlie’s post-junkie status. Even “Father” Yemi seems to play a part in Mr. Eko’s arrival on the island and his actions there. And it appears that the Others are likewise along for the daddy-bashing ride: Alex suffers the loss of her boyfriend (and threat of his murder should he return to their camp) at the hands of her island “father,” Ben.
That’s not to say that all of Lost’s father-child relationships are poisonous. The Hurley-centric episode from two weeks ago showed that while the character’s obesity was probably linked to being abandoned by his father, his dad was still willing to try to reconcile even though there was no longer any money in it. Thankfully, Hurley’s father also managed to instill a bit of hope his son, which has translated into a droll wit that enlivens a mostly grim series.
The relationship between Michael and Walt is a fatherlode of dysfunctional parenting, but for all its faults, theirs is still the healthiest connection of its type. Once Walt’s biological mother dies, Walt’s stepfather abandons him because he’s “spooky.” Michael takes responsibility (however reluctantly) and plans to bring Walt back to the United States. Of all the series’s dad characters, Michael is the most committed to positively influencing his child’s life, even if he has trouble coping with his status as a castaway single parent. He risks the most in searching for Walt after he’s lost to the Others at the end of season one, and he betrays everyone to reclaim Walt at the end of season two. (That said, everyone else’s circumstances in season three turn on Michael’s betrayal and the removal of Jack, Kate and Sawyer from the castaways.)
On this series, mothers seem to have little influence on their children’s personal trajectories, except for a fleeting moments where they bid their children find their wayward spouses, forgive or forget their past transgressions or at least allow them to stick around for the fulfillment of “needs.” This is probably a good thing for the characters, because so far, everyone with mother issues has ended up dead.
Ana Lucia and her tough cop mom? Dead. Shannon and her money-grubbing stepmom? Dead. Boone and that same stepmom? Dead. One suspects that if the writers had given Libby her own flashback episode, it would include a mom ready ready to do some damage.
Only Mr. Eko’s backstory does not showcase a mother whose influence ultimately proved fatal—but it’s a sure bet that the Virgin Mary had something to do with it. The Holy Father, after all, probably can keep his hands clean.
Dr. D’Oh! is a disgruntled TV viewer who teaches parthenogenic pharmacology in her spare time. The Diatribe is a Los Angeles-based military officer who enjoys science fiction and military films, and works in the entertainment industry in an undisclosed location.