Last night, ABC aired the penultimate episode for the TV drama Lost and with the finale coming up this Sunday, May 23, I thought it would be a great time to commemorate a show that was excellent in all fields, not just direction, acting, and writing, but also in music. Oscar, Emmy, and Grammy winner (just a Tony short of an EGOT) Michael Giacchino composed and arranged all the music for the show and his extensive use of leitmotifs helps shape the emotional backbone of the show: the character relations. A criticism shared by fans and critics is that the writing these nuanced relationships tend to be neglected among the madness and bliss of exploring time travel and reincarnations. As a result the grounding and moving effect provided by the scoring has needed to be that much more masterful. Looking at any individual character’s theme music confirms and cements character progressions that the show has developed over the past six years and maybe reveals secrets as to how character storylines will resolve in the final episode.
When we first meet John Locke he is a mysterious figure, sporting a collection of knives and an understanding of stalking and killing boar, but as we delve into his past we see him as an emotionally fractured and physically crippled man yearning for love, normalcy, and redemption. This duality is given two distinct leitmotifs.
Locke’s mystery theme
Locke’s yearning theme
On the Island, Locke is defined by his ardent and sometimes blind faith. The foundation of this faith is that John, a cripple off the Island recovers his ability to walk. His belief that the Island is a special place is amplified when he encounters the smoke monster, an experience he describes to Jack in a strange but moving scene. Locke says “I looked into the eye of the Island, and what I saw…was beautiful.” This faith is tested (his trials in the hatch and battling with Ben), but ultimately Locke ascends as leader of The Others, which is purportedly Locke’s purpose, to protect the Island. At this point his mystery theme prevails over his yearning theme, and is harmonized with the ominously powerful (and Egyptian-evoking) I harmony with a bVI embellishment.
Fulfillment of Locke’s mysterious purpose and faith
However, as Locke’s story unfolds we realize he is really just a foil in a larger plan by an unnamed evil force (the Man in Black / smoke monster) of the Island. The Man in Black inhabits Locke’s body and uses his image to manipulate other characters. Fittingly, The Man in Black also appropriates Locke’s leader theme music. When we catch references to the real Locke, who is dead, his yearning theme is transformed into a broken, confused battle between delicate strings and a darker orchestral motif.
As we approach the series finale, Locke’s tortured and confused yet admirable path doesn’t have an easy resolution. He hasn’t fulfilled some larger purpose as he fervently believed during his lifetime, but his unwavering belief is a guiding light for Jack’s transformation and inheritance of a larger title, that of candidate. If anything is to be learned from Locke’s flash sideways motif, his yearning side is an admirable if tragic part of his multivalent personality.
Lost opens with an image of Jack Shepard‘s dilated eye as he wakes up in a bamboo forest after a plane crash. After a few minutes of disorientation, Jack sprints to the beach and helps save a number of the crash victims, establishing himself as a leader and savior. Jack’s extreme dedication is the foundation of his capability as a leader, but is also his undoing. Off the Island, we see that overcommitment unravels Jack’s relationships with his father and wife, and on the Island it disables him from recognizing his fated role in the Island’s complex and faith-based mythology.
Despite the ensemble cast and multifaceted focus, Lost is often the story of Jack, so he has no one dedicated theme that evolves throughout. However, as Jack plays different roles – leader, rescuer, despondent, believer – he is accompanied by a variety of musical leitmotifs that are integrated into the larger score.
During Jack’s stay as the leader and savior of the castaways he is expeditious and pragmatic, but optimistic that he can lead his people to safety. Whenever Jack incites his followers to execute one of his plans we hear a capable, deterministic canon. When he leads them to the brink of being saved by the freighter we hear a hopeful but exasperated ascending theme.
Jack’s flashbacks (and flashforwards) reveal him as vulnerable and obsessive, culminating in the Season 3 finale where Jack staggers through the episode delirious on oxycodone and lamenting his role as savior.
Jack’s soft underbelly
Jack’s redemption comes after his complete breakdown off-Island. He resolves himself to return to the island and acknowledge his role as another gear in the Island’s clockworks. A leader by spiritual persistence rather than pigheaded dedication, Jack’s music is now beautiful and unburdened, imbuing his character with an honest wisdom. Fittingly, the opening harmony is the same E minor that open’s Jacob’s theme.
As leader of The Others, Ben Linus was Lost‘s primary antagonist from Seasons 2-5. Ben’s theme music is probably my favorite on the show because it uses Lost‘s danger motif as a small chromatic passing tone in an otherwise lonely and emotive piano passage to cast Ben’s fragility as the foundation for his dangerous role as antagonist. Ben, like all of the characters on the show, has a weak, frightened persona under his projected facade, so while he embodies danger and evil on the surface he is equivalently tortured by the burden of his mother’s death and memories of his abusive father.
Ben’s theme, fully orchestrated as he turns the frozen donkey wheel
Desmond plays a pivotal role in Lost‘s mythology. He has a place in the plane crash, destroying the hatch, finding Naomi, contacting the freighter, and even now has the new role of failsafe. Though Desmond as an Island role-player is complicated and intriguing, it’s his love for Penelope Widmore that renders him a worthwhile three-dimensional character and one of my favorites on the show. His love for Penny is surprisingly authentic and moving despite the cloying or goofy approach Lost usually takes with love plots. Desmond’s unabashedly melodic and romantic motif is the emotional anchor that drives him, even as he attempts to do something crazy like collapse a parallel universe or tap into the Island’s “light” source using his electromagnetic immunity.
Desmond’s theme, orchestrated
Lost closes with a two and a half hour finale on Sunday, May 23.