WARNING: ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED SEASONS 1 – 5
In a hilarious scripted bit at last year’s Comic Con, Jorge Garcia (Hurley) asked the writers of the show if they were going to resolve all of the mysteries the show had introduced over the years. The example he chose was from the Season 1 episode “Confidence Man”, in which Sawyer is tortured by Sayid in order to ascertain the location of Shannon’s missing inhalers. The payoff of the joke is that Garcia wants to know if the writers will ever explain what happened to the inhalers.
The LOST writers have piled up so many mysteries over the years that it’s unlikely that every single mystery will be resolved. What happened to Shannon’s inhalers is an awfully trivial concern, but the example proves that not every mystery can be resolved.
There are some aspects of the show that will be left dangling for other reasons which have nothing to do with their lack of dramatic impact, which brings me to the subtitle of this article. Jennifer Parker is the name of Marty McFly’s girlfriend in the Back to the Future movies. Robert Zemeckis has maintained that originally, there was no plan to make a sequel (or sequels) and that the “To be continued…” title at the end of the first movie was added later and without his approval. As evidence, he points to the fact that if they’d planned a sequel, Jennifer never would have been in the Delorean at the end of the first movie. His reason is that her presence added an awkward dangling plot thread that they had to deal with in the second movie, and had he known there would be a sequel, he would’ve avoided the inconvenience.
So I’m defining a “Jennifer Parker” as a case where a creative team finds themselves in a situation where they have to step back and say, “If we’d known THIS, we wouldn’t have done THAT.”
Make sense? Okay, let’s go.
Seasons 1 and 2 of LOST have a number of Jennifer Parkers – decisions that the writers might not have made if they’d known more about the road ahead. I’m going to cover some of the big ones here.
Season 1 ended with the Others kidnapping Walt, and a lot of Season 2 focused on Michael’s efforts to rescue him. When Michael and Walt escaped the island at the end of Season 2, Walt disappeared until the end of Season 3, when a noticeably taller and huskier-voiced Walt appeared to Locke.
Malcolm David Kelley, the actor who played Walt, was 13 at the beginning of Season 1, and the character he played was 10 years old. A couple of months passed on the island, but a lot more real-world time passed outside the show, and Kelley did not channel Gary Coleman or Emmanuel Lewis. In other words, he visibly aged.
Because Walt’s appearances were so sparse in Season 2, it wasn’t that difficult to disguise his growth, but once that Season 3 finale came around, there was no hiding it.
As a result, we still don’t know exactly what kind of testing Walt underwent when he was in the clutches of the Others (other than a webisode in which Juliet shows Ben a pile of dead birds outside of Room 23) and it’s unlikely that we ever will. It’s possible that someone will step forward and explain what happened without the presence of Walt in Season 3, but since the LOST writers prefer to show what happened through flashbacks rather than big, expository dialog dumps, I don’t know that they’ll devote any time to that mystery this season.
There is the possibility that Walt will appear in the 2007 segments of the show (though he wasn’t even credibly 13 when he “got big” in Seasons 4 & 5), and I’ve read theories about his Season 3 appearance that involve astral projection and time travel and all that, but that seems like an awfully long way around to put this mystery to bed, so I think this is one that they’ll just have to leave hanging.
It’s risky to put an adolescent actor on a show that takes place over such a compressed period of time, and certainly you can argue that a growth spurt should have occurred to the creative team. In retrospect, it almost doesn’t make sense that they included a character that age in the show in the first place, let alone make him so central to a major mystery in the second season.
If they had to do it over again, I don’t know if Walt would have been one of Oceanic 815’s survivors. In other words, he was a Jennifer Parker.
In my Quick and Dirty Lost Primer, I mentioned what a non-factor the “Tailies” became after Season 2, so fair warning – this article is going to get pretty Tailie-centric.
There was a time when LOST wasn’t a show about supernatural mysteries, time travel, and an epic showdown between good and evil (though there were hints from the beginning that it was going in that direction – think Locke explaining backgammon to Walt early in Season 1). In the first season, the show was really about how a bunch of strangers banded together to survive. On one side of the island, you had the survivors led by Jack – a level-headed guy with a natural predisposition to take care of the people around him.
When Season 2 began, you saw some serious alternate history. Ana Lucia was a hot-headed cop who kept her people together through intimidation in contrast to Jack’s more nurturing style. When she brought her people to the other side of the island, she kicked things off by killing Shannon (which was a mercy killing, at least as far as the viewers were concerned) and she never integrated herself with the rest of the castaways the way Libby, Mr. Eko, and Bernard did.
Very briefly, it seemed like she was going to take on more primacy when Jack asked her about training an army to fight the Others, but that turned out to be a non-starter.
At the end of the season, she was shot and killed by Michael. Other than a brief return as a ghost, she hasn’t been seen since.
As with Michael David Kelley (and each of the subsequent examples), her death can be chalked up to a casting choice. Late in her participation on the show, Michelle Rodriguez (the actress who played Ana Lucia) was arrested for a DUI on Oahu. A protracted sentencing process followed, and before you knew it, she was off the show.
Unlike Libby and Mr. Eko, you can argue that there was nothing more to do with Ana Lucia anyway. Her past had been resolved through flashbacks, so we were spared the wheel-spinning with Ana Lucia that characterized a lot of the Season 3 flashbacks.
You can also argue that Michael had to kill someone to free Ben at the end of Season 2, and given Ana Lucia’s history (killing Shannon) and proximity (she had a serious bone to pick with Ben), there were no other candidates for designated victim in that situation.
I haven’t seen anything about plans for the character that were derailed by her dismissal from the show, but this smells like another Jennifer Parker to me.
Ah, Libby. Before Juliet, she was probably my favorite female character on the show. She was the sweet-natured clinical psychologist who became a surprisingly credible (that’ll cost me in the comments section) love interest for Hurley.
Like Ana Lucia, Libby was shot and killed by Michael. Like Michelle Rodriguez, Cynthia Watros (the actress who played Libby) got hit with a DUI on the island. Now, this obviously isn’t instant death to cast members on LOST, as Daniel Dae Kim (Jin) also racked up a DUI (is there like, one bar on Oahu where the cast hangs out that the police stake out every night?), which happened just around the time the freighter blew up with him on it at the end of Season 4, but they kept him around. The fact that Daniel Dae Kim was A) a more established cast member, and B) freaking rules, may have helped his case, though.
Libby was a rare cast member who never had a flashback episode to herself, though she did appear in Desmond and Hurley flashbacks. The Desmond flashback was pretty innocuous, but the Hurley one – where she was a mental patient at the same facility as Hurley at the same time – cried out for thorough exploration.
If the writers had thirty seconds over the first five seasons they could take back, I don’t think they’d put Libby in the mental hospital. Her death caused a fan backlash – everyone wanted an explanation of Libby’s background, and for a long time the LOST creative team maintained that Libby’s story was over.
As it stands, it looks like they’ve had second thoughts (go LOST fans!), as Cynthia Watros is set to appear in Season 6. This is a true Jennifer Parker situation, as that glimpse of Libby in the mental hospital is making the writers go way out of their way to explain something that they didn’t expect to have to explain.
Originally, the first choice to play Mr. Eko was Lance Reddick (who later played Matthew Abaddon), but because he was committed to The Wire (where he was freaking awesome as Cedric Daniels), they had to turn to Plan B, Adewale Akinnoye-Agajbe.
By all accounts, Akinnoye-Agajbe was pivotal in developing the character, but was reluctant to commit to the show because he wasn’t sure he was cut out for life on Oahu. Maybe he liked to drink and drive (though that cast problem hadn’t reared its head yet), or maybe he just didn’t like the potential for isolation. In the end, he opted to move back to London, which makes one wonder why if you’re reluctant to devote yourself to island life, you’d choose England over Oahu, but maybe he likes bad weather.
Mr. Eko became a compliment to Locke – someone on a spiritual destiny kick who tried to keep Locke on that path when Locke’s faith wavered. He also had a non-starter plot thread – the church that he was building with Charlie that was abruptly abandoned and never mentioned again.
At the end of Season 2, Akinnoye-Agajbe asked to be written out of the show (presumably so he could pursue awesome career opportunities like GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra) and was rather abruptly killed off early in Season 3.
The writers have made vague statements about plans they had for the character that they had to abandon, and again this comes down to casting. Had they found someone who enjoyed island life, the next few seasons might have played out differently.
Michael Emerson, who plays Ben, is on the other end of the spectrum from the previous entries. When he was cast, the LOST writers had no idea that he’d play the role he’d go on to play. Once they realized that they’d struck the casting mother lode, they scrambled around to adapt the character to the pathological-lying, brittle-yet-lilting-voiced force of nature that we know today.
I’ve read that some of the things that Ben says while imprisoned in the Swan hatch don’t make sense in the context of what the character became, but when I recently re-watched those episodes, I don’t quite see it.
He says that he came for Locke (which you could retcon into attributing to Richard, but I don’t quite see it), but considering how compulsively he lies, it doesn’t really make sense.
Also, considering the fact that the deal to give up Walt and the boat is made without him, it doesn’t make sense that he would intentionally be captured with that end game in mind. What did strike me when I re-watched those episodes was how often he almost dies. Yes, Ben is a master strategist and manipulator, but considering how faux Locke games him at the end of Season 5, you have to concede that there are limits to his abilities.
With Ana Lucia, Libby, Walt, and Ben it seems like the LOST writers did a lot of improvisation to wrap up Season 2, and I’m not complaining about the results. Introducing Ben as just another Other was a better way to introduce the character than just plopping him down as the leader of the Others, but it just doesn’t seem like it was by design.
Those are the major Jennifer Parkers in Seasons 1 and 2. If I missed any (or there are more in Seasons 3 and 4 that you think merit discussion), let me know in the comments section. If there are enough subjects, I’ll put together another article on the topic.