Warning: this article contains mild spoilers!
Before Lost, I never watched a TV series all the way through. Of course I had my share of childhood cartoon binges (see Pokemon and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) but that was much less of an active following as it was an unconscious habit. What drew me to Lost was its intense storytelling and well rounded character development, using both the past and present to show us who a character is, or who he or she has become. I easily grew to love the mix of personalities and backgrounds.
While a few characters receive generous screentime, none won me over as quickly as Hugo Reyes, played by Jorge Garcia, or – as most of the fellow islanders know him – Hurley (for embarrassing reasons I won’t disclose here). Jorge Garcia is of Cuban and Chilean heritage, but grew up in Southern California. He is known publicly as a comedian, making him a perfect fit for the role of Hurley. But comedy isn’t the only position Hugo fills during the course of Lost’s six seasons.
When the plane first crashes, Hugo waits for direction and stands as a giant among the debris. The first thing we notice about Hugo is his weight, which is a focal point in Lost’s early seasons, before the writers really had his character figured out. In the beginning, Hugo comes off as one-dimensional, but his CD player becomes the soundtrack for many of the show’s ending sequences – that is, of course, until it runs out of batteries. Hugo is shameless about his position as comic relief on the island. He admits to being the wise-cracking fat guy and accepted this for many early episodes of Lost.
When we are first introduced to Hugo’s backstory, he is sitting in front of the television, eating a bucket of chicken from his favorite fast food restaurant. Hugo is being yelled at in Spanish by his mother one room over. Otherwise, Hugo’s hispanic heritage isn’t a huge part of his characterization. A series of bad-luck incidents, all of which he takes personally, land him on the island, but he is one of the few who’s not in a rush to get back to the mainland.
Each character on the island exists in a sort of duality: the person they are once they’ve landed on the island, and the person they were before. For most characters, the island is a second chance, a way to start over. But as a viewer, we see the whole of the character, the merging of the past identity with the present. Of course, we’re only shown what the creators want to show us, but a majority of the show is effective in this course of character development.
Of all the characters, Hugo Reyes comes the furthest in terms of development. While it’s arguable that all of the characters have undergone severe trauma because of the plane’s crashing, Hugo appears to be the only one with mental illness as a pre-existing condition, which appears to be a combination of schizophrenia and amnesia. Once he lands on the island, those conditions disappear and are replaced with vivid hallucinations.
Hugo’s story arc leans less on his bodily form and more on his relationships to the island itself, and what it means to live there. I recommend anyone with a strong taste for mystery and character development to check out Lost and discover Hugo Reyes through all his changes.
Alan Beyersdorf is a staff writer at Girls in Capes and holds degrees in creative writing and psychology from the University of Toledo. His first chapbook, Degrees of Distance, was completed in 2012. Alan’s post Hopelessly Super-Male was Freshly Pressed January 27, 2013.