Friday, March 19, 2010

The Lady Losers, Part Four: Juliet

What can you say about a fertility doctor who detonated a twenty-ton hydrogen bomb?

Quite a bit, actually, and most of it good. Juliet is one of the more accomplished characters in the Lost universe, male or female, and a lot of what she did doesn’t seem to have any significant connection to her gender, unlike being a love interest (like Kate), a mother (like Claire), a dedicated wife (like Sun), or a bullet-riddled corpse that men can shed tears over (like Shannon, Ana-Lucia and Libby).

Before I get into it, however, I’ll point out to anyone reading this series for the first time that I was inspired to look at how gender works on Lost and whether the show’s female characters seem to suffer especially dreadful hardships in comparison to the men. I was motivated to consider this after reading and the A.V. Club’s review of the “Dr. Linus” episode. The article suggested that women on the show do get screwed over, and I’m starting to think that it may be true.

Here are the previous posts that focused on Lost’s ladies, with a quick summary of whether the character in question got put through the ringer:
Hit the jump for my take on the good Doctor Burke.

Think about it: Of all the female Losers I’ve profiled so far, who actually has a good job? Like, not just any form of employment but the kind you’d have to work hard to get — the kind that commands respect?

Kate never seemed to have a job, unless I’m mistaken. And though Sun escapes from the island and buys a controlling share in her father’s company, we never see her actually involving herself with whatever the family business is. Claire worked at a fast food restaurant. Shannon worked as a nanny and dance instructor, at least until she started scamming cash off her brother. Ana-Lucia is a disgraced cop forced to become an airport security worker. And Libby claimed to be a clinical psychologist, but there’s that whole possibility she’s a crazy evil liar. No, of all the women discussed so far, Juliet is the first one with a real, respectable job: fertility doctor. And she’s damn good at it too. As we learned in her first flashback episode, “Not in Portland,” she managed to get a male mouse pregnant, if only temporarily. She also managed to help her cancer-stricken sister, Rachel, conceive a child, despite doctors saying that doing so would be impossible. (Both are pretty cool, but am I weird for being more impressed with the mouse?)

I didn’t always have such fuzzy feelings for Juliet, however. (And yes, I realize that I could still accurately make that statement if I subbed in the names of a great many other Losers — Sawyer and Jin foremost among them.) Juliet, when we first met her, was the bad lady — Ben’s seeming consort whose outward friendliness seemed to belie a calculating mind. That’s not to say that Juliet doesn’t have a calculating mind; she does and it helped her survive on Four Toe Island a lot longer than many have. And it’s this mind that Juliet managed to extricate herself from the control of evil Ben and ultimately lead herself to the closest she’ll ever get to a happy ending: her three years in the 70s as Sawyer’s live-in lover and all-purpose partner.

But I’m skipping ahead. Talking about Lost often makes me feel free to do so.

Back when Juliet was a fairly normal person — not an action hero, not castaway — and just your run-of-the-mill genius fertility researcher, she was also essentially a damsel in distress. Accomplished in her field though she may have been, Juliet was in a loveless marriage to the dominating and controlling Edmund Burke. When Richard Alpert and his crew approached her about doing work form them — in Portland, as they explained it to her — she said her husband would never let her leave and, thus, she couldn’t participate unless her husband were to be hit by a bus. Then Edmund got his by a bus. “Thanks, magical men who materialized one day and saved me!” Off Juliet goes to Portland — or, rather, a nearby nameless island where women can’t seem to give birth properly.

Once inducted as an Other, Juliet found herself involved with two men: Goodwin, who happened to be married, and Ben, the chief Other who had romantic feelings for Juliet because she looked like “her,” as Goodwin’s wife Harper pointed out. (More on that line later.) So Juliet was already the other woman before 815 ever crashed and she became mixed up with Jack, Kate and Sawyer, at which point she became the other woman and the Other woman both at the same time. It generally doesn’t speak well of someone when they sleep with a married person, but for what it’s worth, the harpy-like Harper told Juliet that she didn’t care about the her husband’s affair. In any case, that relationship ended when Ana-Lucia impaled Goodwin during his botched reconnaissance mission. As for Ben, he ensured that Juliet would remain under his power by telling her that if she stayed on the island, Jacob would cure her sister’s cancer. Once again, Juliet gets dominated and controlled by a man, but I suppose the plus side of this instance is that she’s submitting to it for love of Rachel. So then Juliet became the female face of the Others, at least as far as Jack, Kate and Sawyer were concerned once they became captives of this group. She whipped out guns, gave commands and at one point assured Jack that she and Ben make decisions together.

Of course, she eventually abandoned her Other chums. In doing so, Juliet shot dead Pickett, the husband of the Other that Sun picked off, and was therefore tried by the Other “sheriff,” Isabel, and branded with the Cadbury’s egg symbol for her crime. (Seriously, that’s what the brand was. Read all about it.) More suffering. But it’s all part of Juliet’s attempt to jointhe Losers, which she eventually does successfully. And that’s pretty remarkable, considering that the pretense for her hanging out with the Losers in the first place was to root out any pregnant women and send them Ben’s way. Juliet was found out, owned up, and helped ambush Ben’s creepy crew. From that point on, pretty much everyone was cool with her, even letting her call the shots when Jack becomes incapacitated due to appendicitis. From this point on, she was a member of the A-Team, running around the jungle and going on her own adventures.

Juliet continues to get a lot to do during the fifth season, when her small band of Losers go skipping through time and eventually end up back in 1974. Ultimately, she and Sawyer create a remarkably stable life for themselves with the Dharma Initiative. Sawyer is the Dharma lawman, and Juliet takes a job that is decidedly un-medical and un-feminine: mechanic. So props, I guess, for getting out of the baby business. Life is idyllic, inasmuch as it can be on Four Toe Island, and Sawyer and Juliet seem to respect each other and make decisions jointly — kind of like how she once falsely described her partnership with Ben to Jack. The arrival of Hurley, Jack and Kate three years down the line blows Sawyer and Juliet’s cover, however, and eventually Juliet decides to join in the effort to detonate Jughead, the island’s resident twenty-megaton bomb, in hopes of altering the future, blowing apart the island and ensuring that 815 lands safely in Los Angeles. Only it doesn’t work. Juliet and Jughead’s core end up at the bottom of a well, buried beneath tons of scrap metal, and though Juliet is fatally wounded she has enough pep left to bash the core with a rock, finally setting it off in the final moment of the fifth season. Screen goes white. Poof.

And then it kind of worked. The rest of the gang wakes up in 2007 but still retaining the wounds they got in 1977, meaning Sayid is still suffering from a gunshot wound and Juliet’s wounds are no less fatal than they were moments ago. She dies in Sawyer’s arms and his guilt and regret for her death have driven much of his actions so for in this sixth season.

Juliet, in the end, became a member of the Women in Refrigerator club, though the path she took to get there was far more badass than the ones taken by Shannon or Libby, who got relatively little to do before their respective dirt naps. As her character progressed from the third to sixth season, Juliet proved to be strong, capable, and clever — just not enough that she got to stay alive. However, had Juliet died by someone else’s hand or had she simply fallen, lifeless, to the bottom of the well, I would have more problems with her exit from the show. As it stands now, however, I feel the death is fairly heroic one, what with her using her last ounce of strength to ensure that the Jughead mission succeeded. Did Juliet get screwed over? Yes, in that her efforts to escape the island ultimately helped her friends but got herself killed. But did she suffer more than she had coming to her? I don’t think so — at least no more so than other tortured souls like Sayid and Sawyer. Once Juliet freed herself from her husband and Ben, she acted as a free agent. And she got to become an action hero, too, going on various Loser ventures in which Kate might have previously been the only female member. In all, I feel Juliet was a strong, well-written character whose heroic death actually served as a fitting, organic end to her arc.

Two more things before I drop the subject of Juliet: First, what is up with her and getting burned? Literally, I mean.
And then, beyond that, there doesn’t seem to be any further association with Juliet and burns, unless you count the blast of the Jughead core as one big white-hot hell burn. Which is kind of is. But I don’t feel like the references to burns are foreshadowing to anything that happened in the fourth or fifth seasons.

And, finally, there’s Harper’s remark about Juliet looking just like “her.” In the fifth season, we find that a time-warped Juliet saved the life of a young Ben after Sayid shot the lad. Thus, Ben’s affection for Juliet could stem from the fact that she looked just like the nice mechanic lady who saved his life — because she was that very person. Ben might have even been aware that Juliet was this person from his childhood. But in any case, the lingering question of what Harper meant seems to have been answered.

As the third season progressed, however, I had other ideas. Perhaps Harper was referencing the fact that Juliet looked quite a bit like another character in the Lost universe: Diane, Kate’s mother. Seriously, look at these two actresses side-by-side and tell me they don’t look similar.

The resemblance is probably more likely a result of someone who does casting for the show having a very particular idea about what an engaging blonde woman would look like, which would probably account for why both Elizabeth Micthell (Juliet) and Beth Broderick (Diane) also look a little bit like Cynthia Watros (Libby), who doesn’t look all that different from Sonya Walger (Penny).

Or perhaps it’s all some kind of conspiracy — a pattern we’re meant to notice. Something about parallel dimensions. And so forth. There, I’m sure that’s it.

Next up: Nikki, Charlotte and Ilana.


  1. Anonymous9:10 AM

    good article.
    I don't think women get any more screwed over on Lost than the men characters too. Every character has kind of gotten screwed over at one point or another on this show.

  2. I'm inclined to agree with you, but I think by the time I got to the last article in the series I felt differently — not so much in term of what happens to characters, as that's pretty even, but instead in terms of what characters are allowed to do, how important they turn out to be, and how a given characters' death impacts or does not impact the overall show.