She was every woman except herself.
Benjamin Linus idolised her because she was the very image of his dead mother. Jack found her attractive because she reminded him of his former wife. To Edmund Burke she was a means of making a name for himself. She found value in herself only to the extent that she served others: her sister, pregnant women, Mittelos Bioscience, the Others, young Benjamin Linus.
Her sole objective was to leave the Island. But to what end? On the Island or off, she could claim for herself only those identities that others had chosen for her. She was never herself because she had never claimed anything for herself, never given herself completely to anything.
In the end, she found herself only because a man needed her to be the woman she truly was. James Ford didn’t need every woman. He needed the woman who believed in herself so that she could believe in him.
LOST is the story of the human need to discover identity in connection to a single, unchanging, enduring value. Juliet Burke found something enduring, claimed him, gave herself to him, and in this perfect connection, found herself.
The Coat of Many Colours
I find Juliet one of the easiest characters to like, but the most difficult character I have ever attempted to reduce to a single essay. Whereas essays on Jack, Locke, and Kate virtually wrote themselves, I have worried over Juliet Carlson Burke for several weeks, spending long hours pouring over her biographies, rewatching critical scenes, and never reaching the core theme of her character.
Over time I finally came to realise she was a chameleon. She wore a coat of many colours, and not only in the sense that everyone within her closest sphere saw her not as Juliet Burke, but as the person they wished her to be. Every one of these people saw her as something other than the woman she was precisely because she wore the coat—because she had been vested with abilities that others envied, exactly as in the Biblical story of Joseph and the coat of many colours.
Benjamin and Jacob were not the only names lifted whole from the Hebrew Bible, then. Juliet’s true name, surely, was Joseph—the favoured son of Jacob who wore the coat of many colours. Both Benjamin and Joseph, sons of Jacob, were all things to all people. Benjamin was all things to all people because he manipulated and fabricated. Joseph (our Juliet) was all things to all people because of what they wished to see in her, and especially, the things they envied in her.
But assigning her a name brings us no closer to understanding her identity. We cannot know the Biblical Joseph in a single dimension as the son of Jacob who wore the coat of many colours. In order to understand him, we must be able to discern multiple attributes that form a unique person. In the same way, we cannot know Juliet through the single dimension of a name.
Envying the Coat
Edmund Burke wore very nice suits and worked in one of the richest offices we saw in the six years of LOST. He was a man who asserted and enjoyed power, and he attained that power through the determined effort of those in his employ. Why work hard—or work at all—when you can coerce underlings into working for you?
When Juliet made a groundbreaking discovery in fertility, Edmund pulled out all the stops in an effort to steal her glory for himself.
EDMUND: I want in.
JULIET: In on what?
EDMUND: I know what you’re doing, Juliet.
JULIET: I’m not really sure what…
EDMUND: I read your notes. I know what you took from the lab…
JULIET: Ed, I’ve been doing my research in my own lab, on my own time…
EDMUND: It’s your sister, isn’t it? Look, Jules, there’s two ways this plays out.
One is your research is potentially genius. And the other — it raises some very serious ethical questions. Maybe even criminal concerns. But if you collaborate with me, based on my reputation, all this is viewed as cutting edge science. And we will win prizes and drink champagne. And do a lot of good for people.
In Juliet, Edmund must have thought he had the perfect lab rat. She was excited by research and she was very good at it. He didn’t marry a lover. There was nothing in his bearing or very clear purpose that said anything about amorous concerns or even the most rudimentary empathies of romantic love. Edmund Burke didn’t marry a lover. He married a publication mill. He married a productive researcher who could keep him in the limelight at technical conferences. He married a resource who would ensure his promotion into increasingly higher echelons of power and influence. When Juliet tired of his single-minded glorification of self and his inability to lift his narcissistic eyes away from untiring self-admiration, he nevertheless continued to exercise control over her. She was far too valuable a resource to allow any measure of independence.
At the beginning of her career, every scientist faces constraints imposed by society, the leaders in her field, the particular institution she works for, and so on. Juliet Burke, M.D., faced constraints much deeper and invasive than any experienced by her colleagues. The constraints on her were not professional, but personal. They were violations of her person, and they were imposed by a man so gripped by envy and desire to control that the only way Juliet finally achieved freedom from him was through his sudden death.
Envy was not limited to Juliet’s prowess in the laboratory. There are many kinds of envy, and probably all of them were present at one time or another on the Island.
Benjamin Linus envied Juliet not for technical ability or beauty, but for nurturing skills. Ben never had a mother. In Juliet, he believed he had found the most adorable and sexually attractive correction of that deficiency. In fact, during their only dinner date alone together, they spoke of only one issue besides Juliet’s relationship with Goodwin: Children.
BEN: I want to thank you for how wonderful you’ve been with Zack and Emma.
JULIET: They’re really sweet kids. Ben, they’ve been asking me about their mother in Los Angeles. I’m not really sure what to say.
BEN: They’ll stop asking in time.
JULIET: They’re children. Do they really belong here?
BEN: They’re on the list, Juliet.
Ben assigned Juliet to act as mother to the now-orphaned children from Flight 815. Since he sought no private time with Juliet before the arrival of the children, it seems quite likely he was using the kids to evaluate Juliet’s mothering skills before seeking a closer relationship with her.
Ben had a special affinity for children, but he also had a special place in his heart for the mother he never knew. With Juliet, he would be able to pursue both of these personal interests. He wouldn’t have to raise children alone, as he had had to do with Alex, and he could enjoy the company of one who looked and acted like his dead mother. She presented the additional attraction of being amenable to his control. Children were a natural focus for Ben because they could be manipulated. If he could find one such as Juliet, who had already proven herself malleable, life would be that much richer for Ben. “You’re mine,” he told Juliet. He would be able to control children and mother, bringing meaning to his life. Juliet was the perfect object of Ben’s envy and control.
Sarah was no longer a part of his life. Kate seemed to have fallen for one as much on the run from life as she was. Lacking steady feminine companionship, and finding on the Island a woman who bore striking resemblance to his gorgeous former wife, should we be surprised that Jack found himself attracted to Juliet?
Jack shared many of Juliet’s interests. He was also a physician, also a surgeon, most assuredly also one who cared deeply about the welfare of his patients. Both he and Juliet established strong love relationships with at least one patient in their care: Juliet with her sister and Jack with his future wife, Sarah.
But similar interests do not a strong relationship make. Jack lacked female companionship not because of any accident of history or nature, but because he was in a state of mind entirely unsuited to the cultivation of long-term relationship.
With the crash of Flight 815, Jack was beginning a three-year period of soul searching that would lead to his installation as the Island’s greatest but shortest-lived Protector. His destiny was to become the hero of the series and the saviour of humankind. But because his task was so enormous, he had to dig deeper and come closer to failure than any other character. He was changing to such an extent he could never act as anyone’s Constant—with one exception, of course. But this is neither Kate’s nor Jack’s story.
Jack could not accept Sarah for the woman she was. “I’m going to fix you,” he told his wife-to-be. And true to his word, he did fix her. This should have been sufficient, and might have been the end of the story. But Jack could not stop there. He had to prove his worth every day. He had to fix people. When he finished with the grand project of fixing Sarah, he moved onto the next great project. She was not his wife, but a trophy, a proof of his valour as surgeon and doctor.
In his condition during the first hundred days after the crash, he could never have served as Constant to Julia. He, like everyone else in Juliet’s life, would need her to be someone else—in Jack’s case, he would have needed Juliet to be Sarah. But since being Sarah was not good enough even for the woman who was Sarah, the relationship between Jack and Juliet would never have worked. Juliet could never be surrogate for Sarah. Jack’s brand of envy would not make Juliet into the person she needed to be.
Climb Every Mountain
This essay was originally titled ‘Climb Every Mountain’. Juliet had to find her destiny, discover her worth as a person. In the words of the wise Mother Abbess from the Sound of Music, Juliet had to “find the life you were born to live.” As with Maria, Juliet’s destiny was not to be found in humble service, but in the arms of a man.
Mother Abbess’ song is the highlight of The Sound of Music and one of the most stirring bits of cinema ever put on film. You can watch—and listen—here.
The imagery does not fit perfectly. The major problem is that Juliet never indicated she understood that she was on a quest to discover herself. Events always seemed to overtake her. She did exercise judgment, she finally chose her identity and her destiny, but other than the clear desire to leave the Island, there was no quest, as far as I can tell. In the end, her desire to leave the Island was enough, for reasons I will make clear before the end of this essay.
But Climb Every Mountain fits Juliet Burke in important ways. Juliet overcame obstacles as no one else could. She did not seek solution to fertility problems for her own glory or benefit. She sought them because they were good in themselves. She treated twelve-year-old Ben to the best of her ability, and when his injuries were beyond her abilities, she sought any other means of saving the boy’s life. We can easily imagine in such a situation that Jack of the first one hundred days would have pounded away on the boy until he died, intent on proving his valour, not on saving the boy’s life. Juliet had no pride to damage or protect. She showed time and again her selflessness and her drive to overcome every obstacle, to climb every mountain, to ford every stream.
Admiring the Coat
We do not have to envy Juliet her coat of many colours. We ought to take some time to admire it, though. Juliet was a talented, dedicated, intense young woman. Expert in fertility, fertility research, and pregnancy, her work helped women deliver healthy babies in the most difficult of circumstances. She became fluent in Latin at an age when most of us have difficulty absorbing simple elements of our own language. When she wasn’t pulling a gun on adversaries or fabricating deceptions to support Ben’s nefarious plans, she was able to get along with just about anyone. She became so adept at automotive repair that no one suspected the Dharma car pool was run by a physician.
Special attention must be given to her achievements in saving newborn lives. Treatments she developed allowed two unique births. First, of course, was her sister’s conception and bringing to full term and safe birth a healthy child, even after she had gone through rounds of chemotherapy.
By far the achievement bearing most profound significance to the greater story was her development of medications and successful treatment of Claire. Thanks to her intervention, Claire gave birth to a very healthy baby boy, Aaron, who became critical to Kate’s story and therefore to the endgame of the series. She overcame the pregnancy problems imposed by The Incident, thus tying up in a pretty bow one of the major sub-plots of LOST.
Finally, Juliet was midwife to the final successful birth on the Island before Aaron: Ethan Rom.
Her coat imbued her with a strength of character unlike any other. Would anyone else on the Island, battered, beaten, and broken by a fall of several dozen metres, have had the depth of character to perform the pure act of will she consummated in the detonation of the nuclear bomb? She was the right person at the right place at the right time because her coat of many colours was the best and brightest to be found anywhere.
Challenge and Destiny
No one questioned Juliet’s desire to leave the Island. Her wish must have made sense to everyone, and so no one thought to question the logic behind her desire—until Sawyer, that is.
JULIET: I’m going to leave.
SAWYER: You do realize it’s 1974, that whatever… you’re going back to… it don’t exist yet.
JULIET: It’s not a reason not to go.
SAWYER: Well, what about me? …
JULIET: You’ll be fine.
SAWYER: Maybe… but who’s gonna get my back?
Juliet had no valid reason to leave the Island, and especially not in 1974. Sawyer pointed it out to her, and at the same time demonstrated that she would have important work to do on the Island. At the very least, he could protect her and she could protect him—“get my back”, as he was wont to express the idea.
Juliet obsessed on something that might have been attainable at certain times during her Island journey, but it never made sense. Her destiny was not about escaping anything, but finding something.
It must be considered a strange curiosity that no one had ever questioned Juliet’s motives or objectives—until Sawyer. He stood out in this respect, but there was an even more important way in which he constituted a breath of fresh air to Juliet: Sawyer never told Juliet who she had to be. In fact, he insisted that she be the person she was. She did not have to perform grunt work to make Sawyer look good in the eyes of others. She did not need to become Sawyer’s mother or Sawyer’s former wife. She needed to be herself, and she needed to be Sawyer’s equal.
The end result of this necessary union was an unforeseen development. Sawyer became James. James Ford was no longer the vengeance-seeking scoundrel who had made the first months on the Island miserable for everyone. He was James LaFleur, literary scholar, leader of women and men, protector of Jack and Kate and all the others who could not protect themselves. Juliet turned James into a responsible, loving, caring human being. It was certainly one of the most remarkable transformations we were privileged to observe during the series.
SAWYER: [Gives Juliet a sunflower]
JULIET: Is that for me?
SAWYER: You were amazing today.
JULIET: Thank you for believing in me.
James believed in Juliet and allowed her to become the woman she wished to become. By seeing the wisdom in Sawyer’s ability to question her motivations and desires, she chose a life of freedom, she found an identity grounded in her own innate worth and James’ uncompromising belief in her.
It worked very well, indeed. It worked well enough, in fact, that there was not a dry eye anywhere in the world when the two of them found each other again at the vending machines at St. Sebastian Hospital. It was a marriage made in heaven, or the closest thing to heaven—an Island where a scoundrel and a woman without a purpose could become the best example of life, love, responsibility, and humanity the world has ever seen.
Source: DARK UFO | Thank you Ross!
Elizabeth Mitchell - Juliet Burke - Lost - Quadrangle - Reviews - Sawyer - Suliet