When you look back on the earliest days in Season 1 of Lost, it’s hard to see the roads that a lot of characters would find themselves on. Did anyone look at Locke, smiling with the orange in his mouth, and think to themselves, “That guy is going to get murdered off The Island, have his body brought back to The Island, and become the human form of the Smoke Monster?” Probably not. While perhaps not as drastic of an example, I would argue that Michael and Walt’s journey was just as unpredictable and completely captivating television yet was absolutely cut short. In this article, I want to explore the actions Michael took in Season 2 (which many fans would never forgive him for), Walt being “special,” the heartbreaking fates of both characters, and what could have been.
Like most characters on Lost, flashbacks showed that both Michael and Walt didn’t have the best of lives prior to their arrival on The Island. Michael was a play on the missing Dad trope; he wanted to be in his son’s life and tried to be for the first few years, but Walt’s mother Susan kept them apart. Walt spent his formative years looking at his stepfather as the only Dad he ever knew. As we would learn in the Season 1 episode “Special” (the first character-centric episode for the father-and-son pair), Susan didn’t even give Walt the letters and drawings Michael had sent him over the years, opting to keep them hidden from Walt. When Susan passed away and Walt’s stepfather decided he didn’t want to raise him, Michael and Walt were thrown into a position of being forced together despite having no relationship whatsoever.
Had the plane not crashed, the odds of Michael and Walt having a strong relationship wouldn’t have been great. Flashbacks showed Walt testing the father he was just meeting and Michael calling his own mother prior to boarding Oceanic Flight 815, essentially looking to pawn his son off on her when they got back to New York. Crashing on The Island forced them into a father/son relationship: the relationship Michael had wanted years ago but now had no idea how to have since his son was 10 years old and he had no experience as a parent. The Island had a way of forcing people to confront the issues that plagued them the most in their lives. For Michael, that was fatherhood; for Walt, that was being “special.”
Walt’s telepathic abilities figured to be a prominent part of his story. John Locke picked up on it almost immediately and The Others also recognized that Walt was a boy with abilities, leading to their dramatic kidnapping of him in the Season 1 finale. For fans of the show, this is the beginning of the lost potential with Walt in particular. In a story that’s well documented, Malcolm David Kelley (who played Walt) hit puberty and experienced noticeable physical changes much sooner than expected. Due to how time was supposed to be moving on the show, Michael and Walt were written off Lost with a promise of a return down the line at the end of Season 2.
Season 1 was a story about a father and son being forced together. Season 2 was about what that father would do when the unthinkable happens and he loses his son again. Many people are very critical of Michael all throughout Season 2 but I never was. The Island gave him his son back and then took him away again. Most of the main cast throughout the series would encounter these types of situations where The Island took what was most important from them away, but Michael was perhaps the most drawn-out example. The Others had Walt and were conducting experiments on him but Michael knew nothing about them. This was when The Others were still at their most mysterious, prior to us really learning anything about them. In fact, Michael’s pursuit of them throughout the year was largely our first opportunity to learn anything at all about them. When The Others presented Michael with an offer—he would get his son back if he freed their leader and led four castaways to them—he agreed to the deal that would forever change the series.
When examining the sequence of events that happened after that deal was made, there are a few things absolutely worth noting. First, murder is never justifiable. Second, Michael didn’t have to kill Ana Lucia or Libby. Ending their lives was in no way, shape, or form part of the agreement made. Michael shot Ana Lucia in one of the most shocking moments of the entire series because he felt like he had to. The mission he was given—to free Ben and deliver four of the leaders of the castaway camp to The Others—was an almost impossible task.
Let’s put ourselves in Michael’s shoes for a moment. You want to be a father and the woman you love decides she doesn’t want you involved in your child’s life. You spend 10 years longing for any kind of relationship with your child. Then you get it in the most extreme way possible, and on a magical deserted island to boot. Just when you’re starting to get used to being a parent, your child is stolen from you right before your eyes and you will stop at nothing to get your child back—the child that has now been taken from you a second time in his young life. As I said earlier, murder is never justifiable but given that a parent’s natural instinct is to protect their child at all costs (and throw in Michael’s experiences on top of that), on some level, I get it. It’s easy for me to say that, as a parent, I wouldn’t do what Michael did, but if I were actually in his shoes, would my thinking be different? I don’t know the answer to that question but what I do know is that two lives were lost in one of the show’s most tragic moments and two more lives would have to pay for those crimes.
Michael did his job leading Jack, Kate, Sawyer, and Hurley to The Others, and they lived up to their word, giving Walt back and giving them a boat and the coordinates to leave The Island in the Season 2 finale “Live Together, Die Alone.” That moment was surreal in the fact that they were the first characters to leave The Island, opening up the scope of the show. Fans spent all of Season 3 wondering when they would return. Rumors were flying that in the Season 3 finale both Harold Perrineau (Michael) and Malcolm David Kelley (Walt) would return. That was apparently the behind-the-scenes plan, but due to a scheduling conflict, only Walt would return, appearing to Locke as he lay dying after being shot by Ben and telling Locke to get up as he had work to do. Fans were also delighted to hear Sawyer reference Walt in the same episode. While this seemed to bode well for the father-and-son duo to return, in actuality, we would be able to count the number of future appearances from Walt on one hand and Michael’s return storyline was considered by most to be a letdown. Instead of a full return to The Island and interacting with all of the characters he had left behind (and those he had sold out to The Others), Michael was confined to a freighter in a limited storyline where his attempt at redemption (a main component of the series) would go largely unnoticed.
As a “Lost apologist,” I have very few complaints about the series as a whole. Perhaps my biggest complaint of all is how the story of Michael and Walt played out. Michael, after dying on the freighter, came back in the final run of episodes to answer a long-running mystery. The whispers heard throughout the series were the voices of those who couldn’t move on and Michael was one of them, trapped on The Island to pay for the lives he took. Walt, as we saw in the excellent Season 4 episode “Meet Kevin Johnson,” never looked at his father the same after Michael confessed that he shot and killed two women to save him. Michael died knowing his son was angry with him for his actions, which his soul paid the price for on The Island. Given where they started, this was one storyline I really wish had a happy ending. Instead, what we got felt harsh and cold, just like Ana Lucia and Libby’s murders. Walt would eventually return to The Island, as seen in the DVD exclusive epilogue “The New Man in Charge,” with Hurley and Ben getting him to leave the mental health facility and “take a job,” which sounded very much like a Richard Alpert-type situation. As nice as that moment was, it wasn’t in the series and acts as a reminder that after Michael and Walt sailed off at the end of Season 2, they never quite fit in with the show’s plans again.
It’s easy to play the “what if” game and wonder how things would’ve worked out had Malcolm David Kelley not hit his growth spurt so early in life. Given how strongly the characters started, it doesn’t seem far-fetched to think that they would’ve been prominent Island figures for years to come. We could’ve seen their father-and-son relationship develop over time. We could’ve seen Walt’s telepathic abilities shine, perhaps in future storylines with characters such as Locke, Mr. Eko, and more. Much like with Mr. Eko, we never got to see everything that could’ve been with either Michael or Walt and that’s a shame, as they had a lot of heart and, in Walt’s case, mystery left to add to the show. While other fans are quick to dismiss Michael, focusing on his overused catchphrases such as “WAAAAALT” and “I’ve got to find my son,” I remember both him and Walt fondly and hope that they found each other when it was finally their turn to “move on.” With Walt headed back to The Island with Hurley, perhaps they were reunited at last.