Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Lady Losers, Part Three: Shannon, Ana-Lucia and Libby

Hello and welcome to another installment of my little examination of gender on Lost. I’m trying to decide whether a notion put forth in a recent A.V. Club review of the show is correct in saying that Lost’s female characters get screwed over more than the men. The results so far: Kate is kind of a suck, while Sun and Claire are better off, the former being increasingly awesome and the latter being sort of a wash.

This post focuses on Shannon, Ana-Lucia and Libby, all of whom were shot to death in the second season. (Bad year to be a lady on an island, I guess.) Save for any bits we may get in the current season’s alternate universe, these three being dead allows me to judge their overall character arcs. And the results aren’t pretty. Both Shannon and Ana-Lucia bite the big one after having sex, which equates carnal pleasures with death in a way you’d normally see in slasher movies. And both Shannon and Libby’s deaths allow the men who love them — Sayid and Hurley, respectively — to grieve and emote and feel bad for themselves, which has prompts me to accuse the show of Girlfriend in the Refrigerator Syndrome, the trope of female characters being introduced into a work only to die horribly and propel the plot. Nasty stuff, so let’s get to it.

Hit the jump for the full post.

First up: Shannon Rutherford.

In my write-up on Claire, I said that she’s basically a recipient for the actions and feelings of others for the first four seasons, only to come into her one in a big and crazy way in this, the final season. Shannon’s progression works similarly, if on an abbreviated schedule. In short, Shannon is a colossal asshole in most of her appearances, but she becomes sympathetic in her season two flashback episode, when it’s revealed that she is also a victim of unfortunate circumstances. Then, in the same episode, she dies.

Once the chaos of the initial crash onto Four Toe Island died down, Shannon proceeded to be a wholly unlikeable character — lazy, selfish, and unsympathetic to the woes of her fellow survivors, but always careful to preserve the sassy zigzag part on her hair. To use a Buffy analogy, she’s the Cordelia, though even uberbitch Cordelia eventually evolved into a likable, three-dimensional character. Subsequent Lost episodes chipped away at Shannon’s hard exterior, if only slightly. Shannon occasionally displayed what seems like genuine affection for her step-brother, Boone, though one could read this as her way of ensuring that Boone continues to do her bidding. And at one point, she even proves downright helpful: Her time in France allowed her to help Sayid translate the crazypants notations that Danielle Rousseau had scribbled on a map of the island.

Sidebar: It’s been noted before that in the third season episode “Enter 77,”, we see a flashback in which Sayid worked as a chef in Paris, which would suggest that he should have known for French than he let on. Since Sayid and Shannon’s work on Rousseau’s map ultimately led them to fall in love, one has to wonder if Sayid could have faked his ignorance of French in an effort to spend quality time with Shannon — to get into Rutherford’s ruffled fold, if you will.

So yeah, in what has to be the second oddest coupling on Four Toe Island — we’ll get to the first later in this post — the Iraqi soldier scored with Great Satan Barbie. But oddly, the union mellowed both of them out a bit, at least once Shannon gets over wanting Sayid to kill Locke because she unfairly blamed Locke for Boone’s death. Shannon’s last episode as a non-corpse — also her only flashback episode — features not only the most tender moments between the her and Sayid but also the background information that finally makes her a sympathetic character: We learn that when Shannon’s father died, her stepmother — Boone’s mom and Martha Stewart-esque wedding guru Sabrina Carlyle — denied Shannon any inheritance money, dashing the once-promising ballerina’s hopes of working with a professional dance company. (Seriously, Sabrina could give Charles Rutherford and Mr. Paik a run for their money in cold-heartedness, as she forced Shannon, who apparently had no real employable skills, to become a professional floozy and conwoman in order to survive.) Worst of all, Sabrina’s cruelty managed to give a partial excuse for Shannon’s awful attitude. Any sorrow viewers might have felt for Shannon’s plight would have been quickly compounded by her death. While chasing after a vision of the then-kidnapped Walt, Shannon gets fatally shot in the chest by Ana-Lucia, who mistakenly believes that the woman running wildly through the dark jungle must be one of the Others who also go running wildly through the dark jungle. Shannon dies in Sayid’s arms, and actor Naveen Andrews gets a chance to mourn another lost love.

For the most part, Shannon only existed as a character through Boone and Sayid — as a tease and tormenter for the former and as a Woman in a Refrigerator for the latter. Some explanation of this term: It takes its name from the death of Alex DeWitt, the ladyfriend of superhero Green Lantern, who is strangled by one of the comic series’ villains and stuffed into Green Lantern’s refrigerator. Comics writer Gail Simone coined the phrase Women in the Refrigerators to name female characters who are introduced to various fictional works only to then die horribly. And for the most part, that’s all Shannon really gets to do, aside from make mean comments. From the slasher movie perspective, it’s interesting how it’s not the pre-island, quasi-incestuous sex with Boone that seals her fate but instead the on-island coupling with Sayid.

I would like to think the connection between sex and death is coincidental, but unfortunately the next Oceanic 815 corpse is…

Ana-Lucia Cortez.

Oh, Officer Cortez — or AnaL, as she’s known to some Lost devotees. She is one of the few Losers more despised than Shannon. I never hated this disgraced cop character as much as most of my Lost-watching friends did, and though I can see how she struck them as unnecessarily hardheaded and hardhearted, I kind of enjoyed all the trouble she caused when her camp blended with the main group of Losers.

However, I have to admit that Ana-Lucia suffered terribly during her short time on the show. Think about it: She was pregnant. Punk criminal Jason shot her and she lost the baby. She then gunned Jason down. She felt bad about it. And she dropped down from police officer to airport security drone. Them, Once on the island, Ana-Lucia found herself the de facto leader of the worse of the two groups of 815 survivors. The Others hit the tail section survivors hard, killing many and making off with the rest. The five remaining survivors hid, dirty and scared, in a literal hole in the wall. Remember the people dwelling in the shadows in the Allegory of the Cave? They would have felt bad for the 815 tail section. All in all, a rough time. Ana-Lucia ruled her little group with an iron fist, but I say her doing so seems justifiable, given her training and how vulnerable she and her people were to attacks. Her military mindset proved a bad fit for both the main group of Losers and audiences, however.

In many ways, Ana-Lucia was the most desexualized of the female Losers, despite her status as a sort of proto-Juliet who mucked up the Jack-Kate-Sawyer love triangle. Though she did steal Kate’s thunder, making goo-goo eyes at Jack and having sex with Sawyer, viewers are probably more likely to remember her tough demeanor and predilection for violence — among other instances, there’s shooting Shannon, wanting to wage war on the Others, and her intention to kill Ben “Henry Gale” Linus during his captivity. Really, the best reminders we get of Ana-Lucia’s femininity bookend her story arc. On one side, there’s the angry woman who can’t get over the loss of her unborn child. On the other, there’s two scenes that appear in her final episode: the aforementioned Sawyer-boning and the pre-flight call from Syndey she makes to her mother and boss, LAPD police captain Teresa Cortez, during which Ana-Lucia appears at her most vulnerable, like a daughter who badly needs her mother’s help.

It doesn’t help the case for the women of Lost that her sex with Sawyer occurs so soon before her death. Indeed, she would appear to be a victim of the “sex = death” slasher movie rule — and even more so since she only initiates the encounter in order to steal Sawyer’s gun. That’s two violated commandments in one. Unlike Shannon, Ana-Lucia is not a member of the Women in Refrigerators club, as no one really misses her all that much. (Random background Loser says, “Oh, she’s dead? That’s too bad. She was good at lifting things.”) But I can think of two interpretations of her death. On one hand, it serves as an tragic coda for a character who, though unlikable, was strong and self-determined. On the other, her death is a fitting ending for a character who was repeatedly victimized — shot by Jason, harassed by the Others, hated for killing Shannon, and finally murdered by Michael.

As far as the notion of female characters being punished and dragged through especially brutal hells, there’s one more matter that seems worth mentioning for Ana-Lucia: The DUI arrest of the actress who plays her, Michelle Rodriguez. But since this burden is not Ana-Lucia’s alone, let’s move on to…

The third corpse in a row: Libby Smith

Some of you diehards are asking “When the hell did Libby get a last name?” While it’s yet to become official, spoken-on-the-show canon, Libby technically got a last name in a video that Lost creators played during the 2009 Comic Con. The clip recapped all the characters killed so far during the show. If Libby shows up in some form in this season’s remaining episodes, we may get something more official, but until then this is the last name she’s stuck with.

As I said at the end of the Ana-Lucia section, there’s a shadow that hangs over her and Libby. It doesn’t help anyone defending female characters on Lost that these two characters both died shortly after the actresses who played them were arrested for drunk driving not far from the set of the show. If we’re talking about women being screwed, especially in comparison to men, it’s hard to dismiss the notion that Rodriguez and Cynthia Watros were being punished for their misdeeds in the way that characters on the show often are. And it really doesn’t help that though Daniel Dae Kim, the actor who plays Jin, also got a DUI, his character has survived. Nonetheless, showrunners have publicly stated the real-life arrests had nothing to do with the characters’ fates. I believe them.

But without that, then, what can we say about Libby? We know very little about her. (She and Charlotte are the only two major players not to die without receiving their own flashback episodes.) We can say, at least, that she appeared to fall in love with Hurley, she spent time in the same mental institution as Hurley, and that she was at one point widowed by a man named David. Beyond that we just have guesses. Libby and Hurley’s shared history in the loony bin and Hurley’s erstwhile imaginary friend Dave might lead one to think that Libby’s husband and Hurley’s invisible pal might be the same entity, but they’re apparently not — again, despite all appearances. The only other things I can say about Libby with any certainty is that she claimed to be clinical psychologist from Newport Beach and that she once snapped a man’s leg back into place in a fearless manner that seemed to unnerve even Ana-Lucia.

For many viewers, Libby’s mysterious nature helped her become popular. She literally left us wanting more, and now, four years later, we still haven’t gotten it. Is she really so nice? Could she truly see Hurley for the good person he was? Why was she institutionalized? Does she recognize Hurley or not? Did she have any ulterior motive to giving Desmond her dead husband’s boat, the Elizabeth, thereby sending him on his way to also be trapped on the island? What, exactly, was her goddamned deal? We may never know the answers to all of these, but I’m holding out that we’ll get answers to some of them.

Both despite and because of all the unanswered questions, I liked Libby. (I mean, hell, I like Lost, so I’m clearly comfortable with being left hanging.) And I enjoy how Watros played the character as outwardly friendly but with an underlying coldness that made me suspicious of her. Until Libby finally showed up in one of Eko’s flashbacks at the Sydney airport, essentially proving she was on the plane, I expected to learn that she was an Ethan or a Goodwin — an Other lurking among the Losers, spying and ready to cause trouble. I even still think she might have been up to something.

But for now, we just don’t know. All we’re left to consider is that Hurley loved her, that she may have loved him back, and that her death made him sad. Thus, she’s another Woman in a Refrigerator, and the grief stemming from her death has lingered with Hurley all the way to this final season. Not only did she die as a means to give Hurley’s character added dimension, but she was sacrificed to elicit additional sympathy from the viewers: Literally, executive producers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof said in an interview with TV Guide that Libby was chosen to die because Ana-Lucia wasn’t likable enough on her own and Michael’s actions needed to shake the audience. This makes sense, from a narrative standpoint, but the subtext of the statement is that the producers singled Libby out as the expendable character, the one whose absence from the show would least affect the overall storyline.

So have these female characters suffered? Yes. Did they get screwed? I’d say yes again, with varying levels of enthusiasm depending on which one were talking about. Do I like them nonetheless? Still yes, honestly. Frustrated though I may be about how these characters developed and then exited the show, I think they all added something, even if that thing was additional conflict. But I still wish it might have gone a different direction.

Next up: Juliet. Yeah, she gets her own post.

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