The Doc asks producers Cuse and Lindelof: Why do so many characters have deadbeat dads? Plus: Your reader-mail queries answered!

By Jeff Jensen
Updated May 16, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
Mario Perez

‘Lost’ (S3): More “bad father” theories

”Dear Mr. Lost Producers: My readers and I love your show. We can’t wait for tonight’s episode. Can you prettyprettyplease give us a small hint as to what we might see? Sincerely, Mr. EW Lost Columnist.”

In a nutshell, that’s the request I typically make each week of executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse. But not this week. Two reasons why:

1. I didn’t need to. As it happens, I know lots about what happens in this evening’s Charlie-centric tale, so there was no need to trouble the producers for teases. Tonight, you will visit a new Dharma station. You will see the terrifying revival of Jack, Bad-ass King of the Castaways. You will see Charlie — destined-to-die ex-druggie; happily reconstructed one-hit-wonder rocker; Claire-smitten surrogate Aaron daddy — make an extraordinarily courageous choice that in many ways sums up what Lost is all about for me. So perhaps we can let those bits stand as a tantalizing preview.

2. I didn’t want to. I write these words on Tuesday morning in the wake of some interesting spoiler-related developments in the Lost nation. It seems that there are some fansites out there who claim to have every single detail about the last two episodes of the season. Naturally, I was tempted to take a peek at these allegedly revealing reports. But then an even stronger desire took hold — a desire not to know. This is an alien desire for me; usually, I want the scoopage NOW. But not this time. I want to be surprised. I want to be shocked and awed by The Thing That I Did Not See Coming — and I get the sense that just such a thing is lurking around the bend. So that’s why I didn’t ask for a tease this week.


If you come here every week for a piece or two of insight from the producers — you’re gonna get it. For I have in my possession an answer from the producers to one of season 3’s most burning questions. And it kicks off this meaty, controversial, head-spinning reader-mail edition of Doc Jensen.


Jack. Locke. Kate. Sawyer. Hurley. Jin and Sun. So many characters on Lost have been wounded and warped by their relationships with their fathers or father figures. Season 3 has doted heavily on this theme, so much so that in the wake of last week’s episode, which revealed that even über-Other Ben had a bad daddy (a mean, manipulative, lonely creep — proof the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree), reader Kristie felt compelled to request an official investigation. ”I can’t seem to find any explanation for all the father issues,” she wrote. ”I would like to see someone thread together all the daddy loose-ends to see what kind of theory to which it might lead.”

Well, Kristie, I do have some theories, as do some of your fellow fans. But before we get to them, let’s hear from the producers themselves. Last week, I asked them the question: ”Whassup with the preponderance of pops?”

Carlton Cuse’s response was to the point: ”I don’t think there is anything more powerful in film than father-son relationships, maybe even in literature, too.” Now, I’m sure some of you might quibble, especially if you’re some brainy college student writing a dissertation deconstructing patriarchal ideologies and perspectives to smithereens. (You know who you are.) But keep in mind that in some ways, Lost comes from a very personal place for the producers. Damon Lindelof elaborated: ”Ironically, I had a fairly awesome (if not slightly complicated) relationship with my father. I suppose the fact that he died shortly before we began writing Lost had a great impact on where my head was at [at] the time, but he was an amazing guy who is pretty much responsible for my love of all things storytelling-related. He never even TRIED to steal my kidney. That being said, I think, mythically speaking, all great heroes have massive daddy issues. Hercules. Oedipus. Luke Skywalker. Indiana Jones. Spider-Man. It all comes with the territory. We dig flawed characters on Lost, and a large part of being flawed is the emotional damage inflicted on you by your folks.”

And then Lindelof added: ”For the record, Mommies don’t fare much better…we just haven’t focused on ’em as much yet.”

Watch out, mothers: Next season, the focus might be on YOU.

But back to Daddy-bashing, and to build upon what the producers said: When I consider the father themes of Lost, I find myself linking to Postmodern writer Donald Barthelme, whose ”flash fiction” short stories ”The Balloon” and ”The Game” (about two guys trapped in a hatch) have some intriguing Lost resonances and whose essay ”Not-Knowing” has a lot to say about Lost‘s aesthetic and worldview. But the book that has Lost written all over it is Barthelme’s The Dead Father, a surreal novel about a group of people literally dragging the massive body of a monstrous and monolithic ”dead father” across the country to its final resting place. The dead father in The Dead Father is symbolic of so many things that shape and form us — bad parents, corrupt institutions, f—ed up philosophies. I believe Lost shares those same thematic concerns. The show is an allegory about a new millennia yearning for a new hope but still haunted by the despair of the era past; about a culture burdened by the crushing weight of our dead fathers and forefathers. We want the clean slate of John Locke, but dammit if the awful chalk scribbles of our stupid teachers can’t be erased. Lost, then, isn’t about burying the past, but finding the grace to live with it. (By the way, I say all of this as a son who thinks his parents were AWESOME and as a student who lives in the profound debt of his former instructors.)

Lest you think I’m just talking out of my butt again, there are others among us who agree with me. Or maybe they just like talking out of their butts, too. Take this theory from a reader who didn’t sign his/her name:

”By interpreting Lost through its themes I think the inevitable path of the show becomes clear. In my opinion there are only two important themes: 1. Science vs. Religion (or Reason vs Faith); and 2. The Failure of the Father Figure. This second theme ties into the first. The micro-universe of The Island is a mirror for the conflicts of the larger world. All God’s children are lost, doomed by their conflicts and their deadly technologies. At the heart of this conflict sits Jacob, the alleged leader of the Others. But rather than a spiritual Superman we find Jacob to be an old, flickering half-man, half-spirit, seemingly drained and in need of John Locke’s help. Jacob can be understood on two levels: literally, he is the patriarch of the Others; and metaphorically he is the weakened, exploited Father of a corrupted society. His estranged partner is the Mother, Science, who is represented in the show by all the dying mothers on The Island. The only way to save them, to heal Jacob, and solve the Valenzetti Equation [aka ”The Numbers,” a mathematical formula developed by The Hanso Foundation that predicts the end of the world] is to reconcile the two worldviews of science and religion.”


In which a complaint is voiced in response to Doc Jensen’s recent investigation into Postmodernism in Lost and his overall interface with the show.

A reader named Ashley Heeren writes:

”O. My. God. You ”lost” me at ”Postmodernism.” Seriously. I am highly educated, but, c’mon…this is a TV show! Not that all television should be Gilligan’s Island or Survivor, but do we REALLY need all this to enjoy it?! Do you really think the producers have thought about all this pseudo-intelligence? Do you think that they pondered these ideas before writing the series, [hoping] the watchers were going to get in some huge philosophical discussion about their show? I’m not saying there’s nothing to discuss, but I do question the depth. It’s almost like you’re saying TOO MUCH or digging TOO DEEP into this show! YOU’RE TAKING AWAY THE FUN OF IT!!! Quite frankly, your writings make me feel S-T-U-P-I-D, and I’m not! So stop it! OK?”

DOC JENSEN REPLIES: I get emails like this every once in awhile, and I choose to publish this one as a way to acknowledge those of you out there who don’t appreciate all of my quasi-intellectualism ramblings, yet come back week after week to read them, anyway. Thank you for your support and your deeply ingrained masochism. Kids, listen to me: Doc Jensen is devoted to celebrating the freaky beauty of Lost. If you’ve been reading since the beginning, you know the content in this space can toggle between the high and the low. Yes, you’re reading the guy who last week tried to make serious sense out of Lost‘s philosophical referencing — but he’s also the same guy who pioneered the ”Lost = Heroes” theory and who seriously suggested that The Others are animal/human hybrids created by The Dharma Initiative. People! What’s so awesome about this show is that it’s one seriously big-ass tent of madcap mental fun — and I want to revel in it all! Moreover, we’re talking about a show that namechecks John Locke, David Hume, and Mikhail frakkin’ Bakunin. Do I think the producers are seriously inviting debate of philosophical ideas? YES! Do I think it’s necessary to do hours and hours of homework in order to understand the show? Heavenly sunshine, NO! A thousand times: NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! I’ve always believed that all you need to understand Lost is the show itself and nothing more. But the AWESOME beauty of the show is that if you WANT something more out of the show, it’s there, in the subtext, waiting to be mined, refined, and shared. Now, I’m not always right in identifying the gems in Lost‘s subtextual soil — but the digging and the finding is part of the fun, too. And that’s what Doc Jensen is all about: Fun. But fun can be smart, or pseudo-smart, or just plain pseudo.

So no, Ashley, I will NOT stop it. But please: if a very smart individual like yourself walks away from these columns feeling S-T-U-P-I-D, then you need to remember this very important point:

When it comes to Lost, I’m usually always very, very, very, very wrong.

For more reaction to my Postmodernism essay, come back on Friday for another round of reader mail.

What was the ash around Jacob’s cabin? Whatever happened to Ben’s friend Annie? And just how much does Lost = Star Wars? You guys know better than me! A quick survey of some of the best theories I’ve read this week:

”Jacob is the Monster. The [powdery substance] around the shack was placed there by Ben to control Jacob as best he could. The smoke surrounds the spirit of Jacob when he leaves the shack so they can visually track him.” —Erik Clancy

DOC JENSEN REPLIES: I like this idea A LOT. I also like the popular conjecture that the powder is similar to the stuff used in black magic rites to bind evil spirits and stuff. Tune in next week, when we’ll explore the idea further in my Lost = Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comic books.

”I am sure I am nowhere near the first one to say this, but [the] whole ”Lost is Star Wars” [theory] got a lot clearer this week. Locke = Luke (the spiritual journey, the ”specialness,” and of course the daddy issues), and the most obvious one (aside from Hurley = Chewbacca) is that we now know that Ben = Darth Vader (kid grows up and helps kills everyone he works with to help a mysterious band of people gain power) and Jacob = The Emperor (pulling everyone’s strings).” —Stephen Cooper

”I saw a theory on the Internet pertaining to the May 9th episode of Lost, saying that Annie is Kate. The website offered some pretty convincing pictures/explanations. I really want to hear your thoughts on the theory and thought it would be perfect for your next article, where you offer a hint about the upcoming episode and explore theories. —IgotofightclubonFridays

DOC JENSEN REPLIES: 1. Nice theory — a popular theory — but don’t you think Kate is too young to be Annie all grown up? 2. Nice screen name! Say hello to Tyler for me this Friday, will you? 3. The other popular theory is that The French Lady — dANNIElle — is actually Annie. Hmmm…

Lost is a synchronistic pastiche of post-structural semiotic simulacra. In other words, deconstructing comic books (or pomo graphic novels) reveal hyper-real truths.”’ —synchromystic librarian

DOC JENSEN REPLIES: Exactly. EXACTLY! (What did he say?)

”PLEASE STOP WATCHING LOST. YOU ARE GOING INSANE!!!! Still love your work though.” —David L. Steinberg

I think that pretty much sums up everything.

Come here tomorrow for a (maybe) smart, (hopefully) entertaining recap of tonight’s episode. And come back Friday for more reader mail, in which we’ll explore theories of Jacob, Ben, and some guest commentary from J. Wood, author of the cool new book Living Lost.

Until then:

Doc Jensen

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