April 2, 2009
The Education of Dr. Jack Shephardby David Bushman
Caution: Spoilers ahead, if you haven't seen this week's episode of Lost.
I get a lot of grief around here for liking Dr. Jack Shephard (Matthew Fox) on Lost. I admit it: he speaks to a part of me. I don't want to say I have a Christ complex, but when I was a kid I frequently visited the nurse's office so she could remove the splinters from my back. Like Woody Allen says, you have to model yourself after someone.
Yes, Jack suffers from a martyr complex. He's always trying to fix something, whether in the operating room or on the island. If I were to psychoanalyze him I'd say it's all because of his feeble father, Christian (John Terry), an alcoholic who left a trail of miscues longer than Route 66 for Jack to clean up.. Early in his career, while performing surgery, Jack nearly killed a young girl by severing a nerve sac, but took a deep breath, counted to five, and cleaned it up himself. When Sarah (Julie Bowen) is rushed to the hospital after a car crash, Jack promises he'll "fix her"—he does not only that, but winds up marrying her as well. In season three, when the odious Ben Linus (Michael Emerson) needs a doctor to excise his tumor, Jack takes care of that too. It was Jack who came up with the memorable phrase "live together, die alone," to inspire the survivors to stick together. This season Jack even returns to the island, believing it's the only way to protect those who were left behind.
On this week's episode, however (titled "Whatever Happened, Happened"), Jack actually chooses NOT to save someone—the adolescent version of Ben Linus (if you don't know, don't ask; suffice it to say it has something to do with time-tripping), who's been shot by Sayid (Naveen Andrews), another survivor of Oceanic Flight 815, who despises big Ben and thinks that by killing the young one he can prevent the adult Ben from ever existing. Young Ben is still alive, but bleeding profusely; Hippocratic oath or not, Jack refuses several entreaties to help, because he too is perfectly comfortable with the idea of life without big Ben Linus (this is, after all, a man who not only imprisoned Jack and two of the other survivors for a big, big chunk of season three, but who also kills freely and wantonly).
This is a big breakthrough for Jack, and provoked quite a discussion in my house, where I was watching the show with my wife and two daughters (ages 9 and 16). (What was my 9-year-old daughter doing watching Lost? you might ask—not an unfair question. I remember once when I was moderating a Paley Center discussion involving J.J. Abrams, one of Lost's exec producers, along with Jennifer Garner and Keri Russell, both of who had starred in earlier Abrams shows, and I let slip that my younger daughter was sometimes in our living room with us watching Alias, and he looked at me like I was, well, an idiot. In fact, my only TV rule for my children is this: never watch anything that insults your intelligence, and since my DVR is stacked with episodes of Sonny With a Chance, you can see how well that's working.)
Anyway, my wife was sitting on the edge of the couch yelling for Sawyer (Josh Holloway) and Kate (Evangeline Lilly) to stop trying to save young Ben and just let him die, and I have to admit I was agreeing with her. My older daughter was appalled by this and found it inconsistent with my unqualified opposition to capital punishment, to which I replied: "If you were a doctor and someone brought you Adolf Hitler as a young boy in need of medical aid to survive, and you knew what he would become, would you help him?" My younger daughter, who knows of Ben Linus but not Adolf Hitler, came up with this solution: help him, but then just teach him that hurting or killing people is wrong. I was impressed; she sounded just like the old Jack Shephard.
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Before joining the Paley Center in 1992, David Bushman was senior television editor of Daily Variety in Los Angeles and weekly Variety in New York. He also served as director of programming at TV Land from 1997 to 1998. He has taught and lectured on TV at numerous institutions, but on only one continent. He may be the only person in the world pining for an E-Z Streets reunion.Interests:
Noir, Fantasy Baseball, The Pogues, Soccer, Running
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