A Pair of Jacks and a King: Reflections on LOST, 24, Failure and Friendship

Tonight is the Series Finale of LOST.  For six seasons, over 121 episodes, 87 hours, 5225 minutes, it’s come to tonight’s epic two-and-a-half hour finale.  Jack Shepard (the character the on whom women crush like they are tweens once again), has volunteered to be the candidate who will ultimately either save the island or die trying.  (Probably both, actually.  At least in one dimension of reality.)

In a couple of weeks, Jack Bauer (the character whom men crush on like boys over their first ballplayer’s autograph) will exit stage right as as well after eight seasons of 24.  I know the show has gotten formulaic – Jack is the president’s right hand man, tortures someone in the process, loses someone he loves deeply, but saves the world from World War 3.  We wonder how he could ever do another season.

I’m honestly sad.  I never really watched television regularly until I returned from Cairo nearly three years ago and needed some therapy from the horrific poverty in which I lived.  (How watching 24 is therapeutic is probably strange for most folks…but it is so addictive that I think I just needed a hit of sorts.)

I kinda hope both Jacks die tragically on screen, because they will basically die to me.  They will only be memories, but great companions in a difficult season of life that I sensed, like LOST and 24, has finally come to an end.  And they’ve reminded me about important things about failure.

For the last three years, probably the three most difficult of my life, I’ve actually come to trust these two Jacks in my hand as more than just a pair of cards waiting for the flop and river of life.  The flavors of their characters are so wonderful and complex.  I’d compare them to my favorite coffees, but that would be woefully inadequate.

Jack Bauer is the bad boy who does what’s right and never gives up…and waits for redemption.  In the beginning of this season, one of the sketchy informants comes to him and says, “You’re Jack Bauer – you’re the guy who always does the right thing.”  It’s why we love him.  Doing what was right has been very costly, but he did it anyway.

But Bauer is no angel – he’s really a bad boy. Does he do what is right? Do the ends justify the means? This is the dramatic tension of 24. For some reason, we have come not only to love a man who tortures his enemies, but implicitly trust him.  Why do we trust Jack Bauer? Because he’s experienced such epic losses, we want him to win in the end.  We want him to receive justice – that though he has done wrong, his rights outweigh his wrongs and have come at such selfless sacrifice that want him to know his job is done and he’s finished.

Jack Shepard is the good boy who does what’s wrong and finally falls short…and waits for redemption.  Of all the characters in LOST, he’s the one whose flaws are most clear to me.  He was always the good boy – the one who never really failed at anything.  Even when his marriage fell apart, it still wasn’t enough to break him.

It was when Shepard finally left the island, at the end of his rope with a god-awful bushy beard and brandy-breath that he hit rock bottom and said, “We have to go back to the island.”  This man of reason, who had been living by calculated reason his entire life, had no reason for explaining why going back to the island made any sense whatsoever.  Except that this man of science just “felt it” and was slowly becoming a man of faith.

Failure drove him to transformation.

I was recently captivated by JK Rowling’s commencement address at Harvard in 2008 where she spoke on failure. Kind of a downer of a topic for a commencement address, and something that most graduates of Harvard and other prestigious universities never really experience.  But the fringe benefits of failure placed Rowling in a place where she could truly write in a way that connected with the human experience in ways that few have achieved in our world.

Both Jack Bauer and Jack Shepard have had epic fails. The last three years, they’ve comforted me in the midst of my failures – and reminded me that failure is the crucible for transformation.  Jack Bauer lost his wife and one lover and yet another lover this season.  He has done awful things to people.  But he never, ever has given up doing what is right.  He shot and killed two of his partners and friends – because he chose to do what was right over what was popular.

Jack Shepard picked up the pieces after two bad decisions and hopes that the third time is the charm (as we will find out tonight.)  In an alternate reality, he realized he was becoming his father and has changed to reach out to his son to understand him as he was never understood by his own father.

But both of these Jacks remind me that redemption is something for which I long.  I want to make things right. As I’ve watched them, and reflected over time on these tragic heroes, I’ve realized redemption and making things right often comes counterintuitively.  It doesn’t come through what wrongs we make right. It comes when we finally let go of both our wrongs and how we’ve been wronged in order to receive and give grace.

Grace gives us peace of heart and mind, because we realize we are in greater need of a gracious King to come and trump anything we could ever conjure up ourselves.  That peace allows us to experience joy and authentically love others – in ways that our need to be powerful (like Jack Bauer) and right (like Jack Shepard) could never fully meet.

2 Responses to “A Pair of Jacks and a King: Reflections on LOST, 24, Failure and Friendship”

  1. 1 Robert May 23, 2010 at 8:01 pm

    I think your reflections on Shepard are interesting. I haven’t watched Lost since season 3 or 4, at that point I would not have agreed with most of your thoughts. I think then he was a much simpler character, sounds like they have given him more depth and maybe awareness. He seemed as a person, a true tragic hero, that did the safe and expected (and generally short-term “right”) thing but the odds never landed in his favor. I hope that this final choice by him is really a conversion to faith and not simply looking at his past calculations and reasoning that since his choices in the past were all wrong that he should do what he thinks is wrong to do right.

    I was also reminded of a third ‘Jack’ for you. Jack Nicholson in ‘A Few Good Men’. Not really sure what made me think of him since I haven’t seen the movie in a really long time. Maybe because he might be a compromised (or more realistic) version of your Bauer. Sees some wrongs creating a greater right. Doing the dirty work that allows the majority to lead a clean life.

    Glad to hear that you are reaching some conclusion on a challenging period. Sometimes I wonder where I am on the journey.

  2. 2 Tess Gadwa October 27, 2011 at 7:28 pm

    Happened on this quite by accident. Enjoyed, thanks for posting.

    A pair of Jacks is a stronger hand than one might think…

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May 2010

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