Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Lady Losers, Part Five: Nikki, Charlotte and Ilana

In this post, I’ll be looking at the final three major female characters to be introduced on Lost, how they fared during their time on Four Toe Island and whether their gender might have played some role in the way they ended up.

In a way, this line-up parallels the one in that featured Shannon, Ana-Lucia, and Libby. Both Shannon and Nikki were self-motivated sexpots whose deaths were probably not widely grieved by viewers. Both Libby and Charlotte were brainy but mysterious women whose sudden deaths gave reason for their dorky male admirers to grieve. And both Ana-Lucia and Ilana are hard-hitting women who use violence to enforce their authority. Seeing as how Ilana is the only one on the list still breathing, she’s not exactly in the best of company. Let’s hope she fares better than her season two analogue.

For those joining the game late, here are links to the previous “lady Loser” posts:
For those of you up to speed, hit the jump for Nikki, Charlotte and Ilana.

As Sawyer put it so perfectly in her last episode, “Who the hell is Nikki?”

If nothing else, Nikki Fernandez’s brief run on Lost proves one of the advantages of writing for television as opposed to movies and books. Had Lost been a single long novel or film and had Nikki and her boytoy Paolo still showed up halfway through, the writer would have had no way of knowing that the audience would resent them so much. Because a long-running TV show can evolve, Lost writers were able to gauge fan reaction and address the problem: They killed Nikki and Paolo and did so in a rather entertaining fashion. Yes, though I was no fan of these two, I found their final episode, “Exposé,” to be immensely entertaining, wonderfully dark and all-in-all rewarding, since it ended with the Losers burying Nikki and Paolo alive. Goodbye, Losers who should not have been!

So was there anything right about Nikki? Sure. Fan hatred of her had little to do with Kiele Sanchez’s acting, and I’ll bet if the character had been there since the pilot, rather than being retconned into existence, people would have enjoyed the arc of this minor villain. And she was a bad guy, don’t forget — a relative rarity for female characters on the show. Nikki was an ambitious actress who was having an affair with an older producer, initially so she could score a part on his show but ultimately so she could murder him and steal $8 million in diamonds from him.

She and her partner in crime, Paolo, continued to be awful once on the island, alternately stealing and hiding the diamonds from each other. That being said, their deaths seemed deservedly heinous: Nikki throws a spider on Paolo, and its bite paralyzes him. The spider, a female with crazy pheromone powers, summons male spiders — though Lost producers have states on the record that these extra spiders are actually a form of the Smoke Monster — and one of them bites Nikki. Not understanding that the paralysis is temporary, the Losers bury them, diamonds and all.

Did Nikki get screwed? Yes. But no more so than Paolo. And I think everyone agree that both got everything that was coming their way.

Next up: Charlotte.

Back in Juliet’s post, I said that she’s the only female Loser with an esteemed job. Charlotte Staples Lewis would be in the running too. Her work as a globe-trotting cultural anthropologist means she’s both academically accomplished and adventurous in a cool Indiana Jones or Lara Croft fashion.

In addition to having an awesome job, Charlotte functions pretty well as a character, at least initially. Rebecca Mader played the character with a such a good balance of innocent and suspicious qualities that I wouldn’t have been much surprised if she had turned out to be the hero who saves the day or a villain who landed on Four Toe Island for all the worst reasons. In the end, Charlotte is really neither. Though she fiercely refused to reveal the real reason behind the freighter team’s mission or her participation in it, she eventually admitted that she and Daniel Faraday were ordered to neutralize the Tempest, a Dharma station capable of producing deadly gas that Ben Linus might have otherwise used to wipe out everyone on the island. (It’s kind of wash, as far as whether this move was “good” or “bad” — shutting it down temporarily saved lives, but only so that the freighter team’s sponsor, Charles Widmore, had a chance to do with them as he wanted.) From that point on, Charlotte and the rest of the freighter folk were pretty much along for the ride until they got word that Widmore was sending an extermination squad to the island, at which they began scrambling to get everyone they can off the island.

Of course, they didn’t get far — geographically, anyway. The time jumps began, and Charlotte, long a bundle of mysteries, suddenly blurted out everything during the last few moments of her life: that she was born on the island, that the scary man who warned her as a child to never return was actually the time-traveling Faraday, and that she had returned anyway in hopes of finding her father, who never left the island. Then, the overwhelming temporal displacement causes blood to gush forth from Charlotte’s face holes and she dies in Faraday’s arms. He is sad.

Aside from automatic Woman in Refrigerator status, Charlotte’s death bothered me especially because she’s the only one to die as a result of the mind-melting time shifts. They could have killed anyone, but they only killed the girl who’s not Juliet. Flash. Blorp. Another island corpse. There’s a theory that the severity of the temporal displacement is proportional to how long ago a sufferer was first on the island, but even that should indicate that fellow freighter folk Miles should have kicked the bucket too, since he was also born on Four Toe Island. Even worse, in Charlotte’s final moments, she reverted to her helpless little girl self. I mean, hell — her last line was “I’m not allowed to have chocolate before dinner.” It’s meant to demonstrate the tragedy of the situation, I think, but it also disempowers a previously strong character. More than a little lame.

I’m happy, at least, that Charlotte got one last chance to remind us all of how awesome she was in the season six episode “Recon,” in which we see alterna-Sawyer meet her for a blind date. In this reality, she’s washed of all the island grime and therefore a total knockout. As with many characters, alterna-Charlotte works as a sort of all-time best version of the main timeline version — confident, intelligent and immensely appealing. Best of all, she leaves on an empowering note: turning Sawyer down for a second date after he blows up at her post-date and post-sex. If only she had been allowed some kind of parallel dimension closure with Faraday. (Speaking of which… Actually, I’ll leave that one alone.)

Last and sort of least: Ilana.

It’s difficult to say much about Ilana at this point, since she got such little screentime last season and she was only bumped up to series regular eight episodes ago. But I’m going to work with what we have.

From the first time we saw Ilana, as Sayid’s “escort” on the flight back to Four Toe Island, she reminded me of Ana-Lucia. There’s a slight resemblance through the face and perhaps an overall one from certain angles. (Maybe I just read Ilana’s skin tone and hair as Latina. Not sure. I also think she occasionally looks like Casey Wilson. Make of that what you will.) I think the similarities might be intentional. In a way, Ilana works like a more put-together version of Ana-Lucia. Both serve as law enforcement agents of once sort or another, and both emerge as clear leaders once they’re on the island. Both suffered horrendous tragedies before their island days — Ana-Lucia lost her baby, while Ilana was glimpsed in her only flashback so far as being somehow burned head-to-toe, hospitalized and wrapped in mummy bandages. And both women, while not often especially feminine, amped up the sexiness in successful efforts to get the best of one of the male Losers — Ana-Lucia had sex with Sawyer in an effort to steal his gun, while Ilana seduced Sayid in an effort to ambush him, beat him into submission and get him on the flight back to the island.

Overall, I say Ilana is like a less dysfunctional Ana-Lucia because she seems to win the allegiance of others rather than repulsing them with a bad attitude. She even manages to win over Ben, seemingly — allowing him to join her ragtag band getting him to be fully honest perhaps for the time in the series when he admits to her that he killed Jacob.

Ilana’s allegiance to Jacob is interesting to me. The A.V. Club article that prompted me to write this series noted that it seemed unfair that Ilana was not a candidate to replace Jacob despite her steadfast dedication to him. I agree. She’s essentially a knight to a lord, but she can never hope to assume his throne. (That little metaphor only works if becoming the new Jacob is in fact a good thing and not more of a curse.) In the classic Locke-Jack faith-versus-science debate, Ilana would most definitely seem to be a woman of faith, as we’ve been given no other motivation for the courage she’s displayed in this current season. And all this despite the fact that Jacob didn’t touch her. He did make physical contact with all of the other major players in flashbacks at the end of season five — Jack, Sawyer, Kate, Hurley, Sayid, Jin, Sun and Locke. (He never appeared in Juliet’s flashback, and look what happened to her.) With Ilana, Jacob met her in the hospital but did not touch her, even wearing gloves in an apparent effort to avoid skin-to-skin contact.

Ilana told Ben that Jacob was the closest thing she’s ever to a father. I’m eager to find out what she meant by this, but I worry that the scant remaining episodes would leave room for a lengthy flashback, especially since Lost isn’t so flashback-y these days. It may be up to Zuleikha Robinson to portray Ilana with enough charisma that she’ll be remembered among Lost’s long list of mover and shakers. Nonetheless, Robinson’s promotion to series regular still makes me think she’ll be getting some good scenes. We shall see.

The scorecard: Nikki is a wash. She is another dead female Loser, yes, but she totally had it coming. More so, her bad end was completely shared by her male equal, Paolo. Charlotte had her moments, but I’m troubled by the showrunners’ decision to make her the one to timeshift to death. Not a complete loss, I guess. And Ilana would be a big T.B.D. Except something on her either after the show ends or after she does — whichever comes first.

In the next post, expect profiles on less-than-leading ladies Rose, Cindy, Rousseau and Alex.

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