Monday, March 15, 2010

The Lady Losers, Part Two: Sun and Claire

In the previous post in this little series, I discussed my feelings about Kate. Mostly negative. But now I’m happy to move on to two characters I find much more compelling: Sun and Claire, the two other female players to enjoy major roles over the course of the show. In many ways, it makes sense for these two Losers to be written up in the same post, as both have evolved in similar ways, from rather passive characters into action heroes in their own right. Take that, Kate.

First up: Sun Hwa-Kwon.

I’m all for anyone who doesn’t fit into the typical nuclear family dynamic. Some people aren’t meant to be married and some people aren’t meant to have kids. That being said, Sun, Jin, and little Baby Ji Yeon constitute one of the best chances of a successful family in the extended Lost universe. (Desmond, Penny and Baby Charlie are in the running too, of course.) I want nothing more than to see Sun reunite with Jin and get to some non-island location where they can raise their daughter together.

Of course, it wasn’t always this way, and that’s the main reason that I like Sun as much as I do.

In the beginning, Sun was a rather mousy character, forced by her husband into a restricted role in life and blocked from interaction with the rest of the Losers by an apparent language barrier. As the first season unfolded, the audience’s perceptions of Sun and Jin changed. Upon learning about Jin’s indentured servitude to Sun’s shady tycoon father, Mr. Paik, the audience began to understand why Jin failed to be the husband Sun deserved and why Sun grew to resent Jin.

In the second season, Sun displays actual agency. We learn that back in Korea, she learned both English and fun new sexual positions from Jae Lee, the man Sun’s parents had initially wanted her to marry. Sun had learned English in an attempt to escape to the U.S., free of Jin and her tyrannical father. Of course, she ultimately doesn’t, dooming herself to crash on the island with the rest of the 815ers, but I actually think her last-minute decision to stay demonstrates as much self-determination as her elaborate plans to get away: She knows she could have bolted, but she also knew that some vestige still remained of her feelings for Jin, and, no matter what the outcome, she would see the relationship through alongside him.

From that point on, the Sun-centric (heliocentric?) episodes of Lost demonstrate her gradually growing power. First, Sun finally gets her own adventures. For example, she, Jin and Sayid sail off as part of an ambush on the Others, where Sun is confronted by one of them, Colleen. Sun, who at this point has learned that she is pregnant, shoots Colleen dead, presumably strengthened by the fact that she’s now defending herself and her chances at a family. Later, Sun and Juliet steal off into the night and break into a Dharma medical station in order to have an ultrasound performed. Baby is okay! Despite bad island mother-killing mojo! Sun! On her own adventures! It’s really very exciting for those of us who had high hopes for the poor, oppressed Korean lady.

In the last half of the series, most of Sun’s development has hinged around two major plot points: her life after she escaped from the island, during which she eventually gave birth to a healthy daughter, and her fierce determination to go back and find Jin. A critic of the character might interpret these events as Sun still being a doormat, what with her temporarily forsaking her daughter to travel back to an island that’s quite good at killing people, all in an effort to stand by her man once more. I don’t see it this way. I see it as compelling character development that I don’t think anyone would have expected, given Sun’s personality in the pilot episode. In some ways, it’s a flipped Odyssey wherein Penelope gets sick of waiting for Odysseus to get his ass home and sets out on her own to bring him back. Thanks to both the writers and Yunjin Kim’s solid acting, Sun has clear, relatable motivations, and I have been entertained watching her reach her goal, even if she occasionally seems to draw her power from a dark place, in a way that reminds me of her father. But pulling a gun on Ben? Awesome! Navigating an island alongside crazy people, various Four Toe Island spooks, and the Great Zombie Locke? Even more awesome!

As I said in the Kate post, I don’t feel I know much about Kate and I don’t care how her loose ends get tied up. But I do care about Sun. I want her to get her happy ending, because, frankly, it will be pretty damn depressing to see her grow and change so much over the course of the show and end up another corpse on the sand. But, hey, this is Lost and that may well happen. If that’s the case, here’s hoping that Sun once again does it for the right reasons.

Second in this post (but first in our hearts): Claire Littleton.

If Sun initially represented the kind of woman who lets her husband boss her around, then Claire plopped onto Four Toe Island as another sort of woman in trouble: the single, pregnant lady, facing life — and now, life with monsters — all on her own. That’s less so the case now, and in particular this final season has seen Claire develop in a shocking way. As Feral Claire, she wields a lot more power now than she ever did before. But whether she’s better off is debatable.

Long before she turned into Danielle Rousseau 2.0, Claire was essentially a victim — in a grammatical sense, she’s less often a subject and more often an object. Right off the bat, the father of her baby walks out on her. Once on the island and in her enormously pregnant state, the ill-fated Aussie is essentially at the mercy of her fellow 815ers for help. She gets kidnapped by that no-good Other, Ethan Rom. She gets out, but only with the help of Rousseau 1.0 and Alex, as Claire at this point is overmedicated and dazed and even less able to defend herself than usual. Back with the crash survivors, people continue to do things for her. Charlie alternately pisses her off and wins her back. Then he dies and Claire is sad. That about gets us to the fourth season, at which point the only thing Claire has done for herself is put her mother in a coma, as we see in a flashback to her pre-island days. Car accident. Not really Claire’s fault but also, yes, totally is. Not great resumé fodder.

Towards the end of the fourth season, however, Claire becomes more appealing, largely due to the fact that she seems to make more decisions for herself. Charlie dies trying to warn his friends about the dangers posed by the people on the freighter anchored just off the island’s coast, and as a result, Claire opts to honor his efforts and join the Losers who choose to flee the freighter folk and hole up in the old Dharma barracks. In making this one choice, Claire directed her fate for the rest of the show. Once in Dharmaville, her cabin got shelled, she got all woozy (once again), and ultimately she stumbles into the woods where she encountered her father, the deceased Christian Shepherd (a.k.a. Ghost Dad), who convinced her to stick Baby Aaron in a tree and come be his ghost daughter and live in his ghost house. Seriously, that’s what happened. I love this show.

I actually thought Claire was dead — that the logical consequence of her house going kablooey with her inside would have been that she too went kablooey and that the Claire-like thing we saw walking around afterwards was the kind of island ghost that we’ve seen so many other times on the show. Though that may still be the case, I don’t think it is. After missing from the show for all of the fifth season, Claire returned from her walkabout as a flesh-and-bone, kangarooshit crazy woman of the woods, who, unlike most ghosts, can pick things up and interact with the material world. And boy does she. She picks things up and kills people with them. If that’s not tip-off enough that all is not right with Claire, she also is buddy-buddy with the island’s big bad, the Man in Black, she keeps a fake baby made from animal hides and bones in a crib, and she has really ratty hair. She’s off her fucking rocker, yes, but she kind of badass in her crazy state — a force to be reckoned with and someone who seems determined to accomplish her goals, which include killing Kate for taking Aaron to the mainland. Why? Crazy reasons. That’s why.

Despite what all the previous paragraphs may lead you to believe about my feelings toward Claire and her recent developments, I actually like the character. Though I know others disagree, I rarely found her irritating in her passivity, which is perhaps a credit to Emilie de Ravin’s acting. And in the second, third and fourth seasons, I often felt like Claire represented the group’s “normal” person, someone who seemed either nonplussed or overwhelmed by the craziness that nearly everyone else seemed to take for granted, her ghost family antics notwithstanding.

Regarding the notion that female characters on Lost seem to suffer especially much, I’m on the fence as to how Claire’s newfound insanity fits in. On one hand, she’s insane, and that’s usually a bad thing. But disregarding that small problem for a moment, she’s also kind of awesome now, maybe more empowered than any of the main female characters and certainly more so now than she has been at any other point in the show.

From my perspective, then, that’s a wash, I guess. You win some. You lose some. Claire lost her sanity, but she gained a good rep with the Four Toe Island crowd.

Next up: Shannon, Ana-Lucia and Libby.

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