Written By Lynne E. Litt
Directed By Marita Grabiak
Believing herself to be attacked in the caves, Claire begins to panic. Hurley decides to take a census.
“What separates us from these savage Yanks if we can’t drink tea?”
While Solitary took on extra meaning and held up quite well in the re-watch, Raised By Another becomes more perplexing and frustrating. Probably the only character to benefit is Ethan Rom, a character who we learn was already on The Island and is quite creepy. We know that in the past, Ethan lost both wife and child in childbirth. For Ethan, Claire represents the potential to fix that tragedy. If Ethan can save Claire from the birthing issues that occur on The Island (something that hasn’t been revealed in the show at this point), then he can feel redeemed for not saving his wife and unborn child. If anything, Ethan is now creepy and sympathetic. But Ethan is not the problem with this episode or this series.
Allow me a digression. In pondering this first season of LOST, I have come to the conclusion that any show that deals with arc-based storytelling succeeds or fails based primarily on one qualification. Any questions raised in the first season MUST be answered by the end of the series. Therefore, any show that deliberately raises multiple questions and messes with the heads of the audience with cliffhangers and outrageous revelations must answer in a satisfying way the mysteries that drew people to the show. Three other sci-fi shows come to mind when evaluating arc television: Babylon 5, The X-Files, and Battlestar Galactica. Let’s look at these three shows in brief, then revisit LOST and Raised by Another.
Babylon 5 is arguably the show that brought arc storytelling to the forefront of sci-fi television. Sure, it had been touched upon in British sci-fi with serialized show such as Doctor Who or Quatermass, but each of those shows rarely dealt with season-long arcs, let alone arcs that encompassed an entire series. Babylon 5 broke with standard American sci-fi television (read: Star Trek) by eschewing an episodic format and focusing instead on the long game of storytelling. J. Michael Straczynski often said that he saw Babylon 5 as a novel on TV. The first two seasons felt more episodic, but by the middle of season one, you could see that events were building. As such, many questions were posed on Babylon 5 that resonated throughout the series. What happened to Jeffrey Sinclair at the Battle of the Line? Why did the Minbari surrender to the humans, an obviously weaker race? Who are the Vorlons? What happened to Babylon 4? Who is Morden and who does he work for? Was the President’s death an accident or assassination? What is the significance of Delann?
One of the major differences between B5 and many other arc shows is that B5 was not deliberately obscure. All of the questions were answered by the third season because they were no longer necessary to hold viewers’ attention. By the third season, if the story and characters hadn’t hooked you, the show probably wasn’t your thing. From the third season until the end, the story unfolded naturally and built upon what had been planted in the first two. The questions dealt primarily with exposition, and once they were answered we moved forward. Were there still questions when the show ended? Yes, but they were all based in developments in the final season and they were all consequences of actions taken by various characters. They were not foundational and thus the series could end with a great deal of satisfaction to the viewers despite not answering everything.
The X-Files. Any discussion of LOST that occurred prior to the show’s finale would have delved at some point into a discussion of The X-Files. Where mainstream American television is concerned, The X-Files is the most obvious comparison to LOST. Both had major myth-arcs that were deliberately obscure, giving more questions than answers. But the format of The X-Files was different from LOST in one key way: It moved back and forth between being episodic and arc. Each season would begin with one or two myth-arc episodes (usually resolving the cliffhanger from the previous season). Then it would move to a monster-of-the-week format until November sweeps where we would get a two-part myth-arc story. Then we would return to monster-of-the-week until February sweeps and you get the idea. Chris Carter, creator of The X-Files, recognized the necessity of not wedding the success of the show with the myth-arc. Indeed, despite being considered an overall failure, The X-Files has quite a few excellent monster-of-the-week episodes that do not deal with aliens or government conspiracies. However, since the myth-arc was considered a failure, let’s try to discern the season one questions.
While the major question in The X-Files dealt with a government conspiracy (initially limited to the United States but later revealed to be world-wide) to cover up the existence of extraterrestrials, for me the foundational question to the show involves Mulder’s sister. When they were both children, Mulder watched as his sister Samantha was abducted from their home. He remembers a bright light and being unable to move. We later have a dream sequence that shows her floating out of the living room window. This was a pivotal moment in Mulder’s life as he resolved to find out what happened to her. It motivated him to join the FBI and it fueled his fascination with The X-Files. So while government conspiracies and Cigarette-Smoking Men get the majority of the attention, the truth about Samantha Mulder is the primary mystery of the show. It was mentioned in the first episode and brought back about once per season. We learn there are Samantha clones, really just worker drones for some sort of alien colonization project. We learn that Samantha may have been taken by government agents to keep Mulder’s father from revealing his part in the conspiracy. With every revelation about Samantha, her fate is tied more and more to this shadowy group within the government and to their collaboration with extraterrestials for the colonization of Earth. So, what was the ultimate truth about Samantha? Did Mulder ever find her?
The answer to the latter is . . . kinda. In a two part story near the end of the series, we learn that Samantha was kidnaped to keep William Mulder silent (as had been hinted), whereupon she became a ward of the state for many years before being kidnaped by a serial killer and murdered. Mulder finds her grave among the graves of other children this man had killed. Let me just say that it is somewhat disappointing when you have been led to believe that a character has had her fate tied to aliens and government conspiracy, and then have it revealed that she was murdered by a serial killer so she really didn’t have much to do with the aliens after all. Yes, the final scenes where Mulder sees Samantha’s ghost are quite touching and emotional, but it breaks with what we have come to expect from the show. It felt as if years were wasted.
Touching briefly on the government conspiracy and aliens . . . many attribute the failure of that arc to be the fault of The Fox Network. As the show continued to be renewed, the writers tried to prolong the mystery and revelations. Thus, the myth-arc became quite convoluted. There seemed to be no overall plan, something that seems supported by the problem of Samantha Mulder.
Battlestar Galactica. I’m referring to the Ronald D. Moore remake not the original and since the show is much more recent than the previous two, I’ll refrain from too many spoilers. Of course, if I’m honest with myself, I’m avoiding spoilers because my wife is a regular reader of this blog and I don’t want to spoil this show for her.
BSG is a bit different from the previous two shows because I think the questions are a little less obvious. Yes, we have the opening sequence that proclaims The Cylons “have a plan,” but I always felt that was a bit cheesy. I hardly think it is a good question because it seems rather obvious that The Cylons want to exterminate the humans. Honestly, the plan is rather complicated and truth be told, it can’t be answered until other elements of world-building and characterization are established. In this way, BSG is quite a bit like LOST in that the answers to our questions only fuel more questions because a certain amount of story-telling must occur before the answers will be at all meaningful. One major question from the pilot is whether or not Earth truly exists and if so, will our heroes find it. The answer on both counts is “yes”, but when we finally arrive at that part of the story, we realize how little we actually know. Another question involves why the Cylons are attacking after years of silence. This is also answered but we do not have all the pieces for it until season four.
I think some people would argue with me that BSG didn’t work, but I found the ending to be satisfying. Yes, there are a couple of major questions left hanging, but I think these questions make the show feel richer. Besides, one of them wasn’t introduced until season four and the other, while certainly alluded to since the pilot, didn’t become a question until the finale. Yeah, sorry. Avoiding spoilers on this one makes it hard to describe. Unfortunately, it makes my point weaker in this instance. Let’s just move on, shall we.
Now, back to LOST. Holding the standard of the previously discussed shows, what are the “season one” questions? As I see it, LOST must provide satisfying answers to the following: What is the Monster? What happened to Rousseau and her crew? What is special about Walt (forthcoming question)? Why/how is Locke healed? What is in the hatch (forthcoming question)? Who are The Others? What is the nature of The Island that causes such unusual and mystical properties? These are the obvious questions and I admit that many of these questions were answered, some in unexpected ways. Some questions are not answered at all or, at the very least, in an obscure way (the nature of The Island comes to mind, as the answer seems to be more metaphor than anything else). But today’s chapter, Raised by Another raised some interesting questions that I feel the show give weight to, that the show signposted their importance, but never adequately dealt with. First, why is Claire’s baby so important? The psychic continually insisted that Claire must raise the baby herself. We don’t know why. Near the end of the episode, the psychic gave Claire a ticket to Los Angeles where she would meet a couple who wanted to adopt her baby. This seems contradictory until Claire and Charlie conclude that the psychic must have known that the plane would crash and this would ensure Claire would raise the child. Sounds nice and mystical until you consider two future developments on the show. First, we see in a future episode that the psychic is a con artist. So, was he truly concerned that Claire raise the child? Was he truly a fraud who had an unexpected real psychic vision? We just don’t know. Second, when The Oceanic Six leave The Island, Kate ends up with Aaron (Claire’s baby) and decides to raise him off The Island. Claire is stuck on The Island for three years, living under the influence of The Man in Black. While LOST ends with Claire leaving The Island (Kate having returned for her) so she can be reunited with Aaron, the child spent three years being raised by another. I can’t help but feel this particular question was not addressed in a clear and satisfying way. Was it the most important element of the show? Probably not, but it seemed extremely important in the first season, in part due to the psychic vision, due to Ethan kidnaping Claire then later Rousseau kidnaping Aaron. Next season, Charlie gets it in to his head that Aaron must be baptized, which seems to be further indication that the child is important. But in the end, Claire seems to be one of the least-important people in his life as she is absent from season five and returns as a slightly crazy and often confused woman in season six. I personally feel that the Claire/Aaron arc was unfairly sidelined. Thus, Raised by Another, while being a good episode in itself, seems to be another strike against the success of LOST.