The found print:
The editorial board at Alastic is pleased to unveil Alostic – a, prohibitively personal, biased and spoiler-rich evaluation of every episode of ABC’s Lost (2004-2010). We assume readers are familiar with the series. All opinions are final, unless we change our minds. Namaste.
Pilot, parts I and II
Little do I know that the evening of Wednesday, September 22, 2004 finds me inadvertently watching the pilot episode of a show that would finally bump The X-Files from the top of my list. The night progresses innocently enough – I don’t have cable and so leave the channel running from whatever CTV show had just finished airing. Plus I’m wearing nice shoes. The brief title intro for a new program called Lost plays, and then Bam! Giant eye. Big Brother? No. It’s a confused eye – contracting pupil. What a way to draw a viewer in: I see you, now let me show you my world.
And what a world it is.
Besides introducing us to visually interesting angle shots of tropical trees and bamboo, the show jumps right into carnage – Jack Shephard of the dilating pupil surveys the wreckage of Oceanic flight 815 littering the beach of an uncharted island, an island that would prove itself to be a one of the show’s main characters.
“I know Locke can walk.”
Being reintroduced to all the characters I’ve come to know is an interesting aspect of rewatching this show. For example, I know Jack’s ultimate destiny. I know John Locke can walk although this won’t be revealed for a couple episodes yet (and can understand why he likes to sit and contemplate the ocean wearing shoes he can now feel). I notice both Boone Carlyle and Shannon Rutherford are cast as annoying right from the jet-go, I mean get-go. Also, upon reflection, I see poignancy in the early scenes between Jack and Rose Nadler. (“Jack and Rose?” Was I watching Titanic?)
To resume with the plot after the plane wreckage scene, we meet Kate Austin, who on introduction is suspiciously massaging her sore wrists. Jack recruits her to sew up his wound, during which he gives her his “five-second fear” speech:
So I just made a choice. I’d let the fear in, let it take over, let it do its thing, but only for five seconds, that’s all I was going to give it. So I started to count: one, two, three, four, five. Then it was gone.
After this conversation (and set-up for the end, it turns out), I realize that maybe this show’s screenplay wouldn’t be a cliché-ridden action fest, but, rather, maybe, hopefully, something more.
Next, a monster came.
“A certain gargantuan quality”
At nightfall, our ensemble cast realizes something’s not right with this island, namely the crashing of distant trees and supernatural sounds of an unholy monster just beyond the treeline. As character Charlie Pace later says, “… there’s a certain gargantuan quality about this thing.”
Here, my interest, although already on the rise, becomes officially piqued.
Introducing a fantastical, supernatural (gargantuan) quality to the show elevates the narration to one of fairy tale, legend, folk tale, myth. Accordingly, the characters become heroic archetypes, propelled by fate and driven by destiny. They’re about to embark on their personal odysseys, discovering the nature of the island, failing and redeeming themselves, even travelling through time. It was not without some relief I realize I’m watching something more than a quote-realistic wilderness survival drama.
The show doubles down on its coolness with what would become one of its trademarks – its first flashback, with accompanying trademark “wooosh” intro sound. In this case Jack and Rose (trying to get My Heart Will Go On out of my head) bond before Oceanic flight 815 loses control through some neat special effects. Although the show’s strategy of focusing on one character per episode in its flashbacks is not yet evident in the pilot, the flashback concept adds to the depth of the narrative and the richness of the characters. It also makes completely evident that the main characters are well travelled through their story arcs by the time we, the viewers, join them on the island.
“A taste of humour”
But let’s not get too heavy here. Another must-have in the Alostic editorial newsroom for any series is humour – not necessarily as a central focus such as in a sit-com, but at least having a taste of humour here and there, now and again. Even in the most dour of circumstances people have an amazing capacity to laugh, if only to cope with impossible situations. Of course Hugo “Hurley” Reyes is an obvious example of introducing levity to this series, but that’s not to say other characters don’t contribute this very human characteristic.
“You all everybody!”
Anyway, let’s get on with the story. After shaking in their boots on account of some sort of island monsters, Kate, Jack and Charlie decide to venture inland to track down Oceanic flight 815’s cockpit. Before setting forth, Kate makes sure to steal some nice hiking shoes off of a deceased airline passenger. Shoes are very important. En route, Charlie reveals his status as the bass player for the band Drive Shaft, a cappella-ing his chorus refrain of “You all everybody, you all everybody!” Of course Lost at this point was simply sucking up for my affection, knowing full well that I, the author of this write up, am also a bass player. Kate says to Charlie, “You were good.” Charlie: “We are good. We’re still together. We’re in the middle of a comeback.”
Here’s a good place to mention the show’s music. Part of the appeal of this series is the unnerving mood created by the eerie quality of violin strings, in addition to staccato instrumental jumps, crashing of timpani and minor-key flourishes of brass instruments. The soundtrack highlights the otherworldly nature of the setting. We’re no longer In Kansas – we’re not only beyond the rainbow, we’ve already gone through the pot of gold and are regretting the spending spree.
“Hey guys, is this normal?”
When nearing the cockpit, Kate and company are suddenly drenched through a deluge, setting up the tone for what’s to come. Charlie notices how unnatural this all is, and feels a sense of foreboding as he remarks, “Hey guys, is this normal? Day turning into night? You know, end-of-the-world-type weather?” (At this point, a brief scene change shows Locke sitting in the rain, getting his nice shoes wet, still contemplating the ocean. And monstrous sounds again echo from the jungle.)
Our heroes find the cockpit in the rain, and secure the airplane’s transceiver. They also find the living, yet injured, pilot, who delivers the unfortunate news that Oceanic flight 815 was a thousand miles off course when it crashed. Then: monster noises! Fear! Pilot ripped from the cockpit by an evil entity! Blood! Clanging! Growling! Cracking thunder! Running away.
Kate, alone, with wet shoes and beyond frightened, forces a calmness over herself. She remembers Jack’s earlier speech, allowing her fear to reign for only five seconds, counting one, two, three… four…. Five. A sequence that nicely bookends Jack’s earlier fear speech to conclude the first part of the pilot episode.
“Every trek needs a coward.”
Part two resumes the story with Kate, Jack and Charlie on their way back to the beach where the other survivors are. Kate asks Charlie why he accompanied them. We viewers know it was to find the heroin he stashed in the washroom near the cockpit before the crash. Charlie, however, explains to Kate, “every trek needs a coward.” Here begins a Charlie back-on-the-plane flashback (with some even better special effects than the previous flashback), and here I need to make a personal aside from this review.
During Charlie’s flashback, we find out that he hid heroin in his shoe during the flight. His shoe. Shoe! I knew there was something important and interesting about footwear whilst writing this piece, and here it is: Charlie the bass player wears the same shoes, a pair of Vans, as my band, the Hang Ten Gallon Hats. And I did not realize this until after I rewatched this episode. Is this a coincidence? Or does the mysterious Lost island have the power to affect life outside the confines of network drama screenplays and into real life? I must later reflect on this meta stuff a bit more.
Let’s get back into character. After Charlie’s flashback, the writers make sure we’re still annoyed with the Boone and Shannon characters. These characters argue, again, providing Shannon with an opportunity to bond with a very pregnant Claire Littleton. Of course I’m unsure here of the whole “pregnant woman in a crisis situation” cliché plot line. But meh. Jin-Soo Kwon’s a jerk. His wife Sun-Hwa Kwon is demure. Michael Dawson is struggling to parent Walt Lloyd and can’t find Vincent, their Labrador retriever who’s a very good dog. James Sawyer’s the tough outsider. The pilot episode with its ensemble cast introduces enough interest and mystery to keep me watching (Walt found some handcuffs – who’s the prisoner? What’s that letter that Sawyer keeps reading?).
Hugo and the heretofore unmentioned Sayid Jarrah have an exchange I thought was well done. Remembering that this episode aired September 29, 2004, 18 months after the United States and allies invaded Iraq, I am not surprised that Sayid is accused of causing the crash of Oceanic flight 815 by other characters, and is also accused of being the prisoner of the handcuffs found by Walt. Hurley engages Sayid in conversation while he attempts to repair the transceiver, again adding some humour in the process:
H: “You’re okay. I like you.”
S: “You’re okay, too.”
H: [Laughing] “Hurley.”
H: “How do you know to do all that?”
S: “I was a military communications officer.”
H: “Oh yeah? Ever see battle?”
S: “I fought in the Gulf War.”
H: “No way! I got a buddy who fought over there. He was in the 104th Airborne.Where were you? Air force? Army?”
S: “The Republican Guard.”
“One is light, one is dark.”
It’s time to skip ahead to a the pivotal scene of the Pilot – probably the pivotal scene of the entire series. Locke addresses Walt with a key speech (noting that backgammon is a better game than checkers):
Backgammon’s the oldest game in the world. Archaeologists found sets when they excavated the ruins of ancient Mesopotamia. 5,000 years old. That’s older than Jesus Christ … Two players. Two sides. One is light, one is dark.
This duality is the main underlying theme of Lost. As we’ll see, it’s science vs. faith, Jacob vs. the Man in Black (for those of you who have viewed ahead). The real world vs. the alternate reality of the island….
“He’s killed a… polar bear?”
All right. Jack, Kate and Charlie again go for a trek, this time with Boone, Shannon and Sawyer, to find high ground to operate the transceiver. (Kate to Sawyer: “You decided to join us.” His reply: “I’m a complex guy, sweetheart.”) Interpersonal tensions abound. Cue lots of climbing and trekking, and climbing-trekking music. Really getting their shoes muddy. Their nice shoes. Then… a noise. Ah, the monster again I bet… right…? Sawyer stands his ground and channels Clint Eastwood, revealing he is in possession of a gun. After his “go ahead, make my day” flourish we see that he’s killed a… bear? Kate mirrors what we’re all thinking, “Guys, this isn’t just a bear – it’s a polar bear.”
Ah, yes. the polar bears. This is one of Lost’s most lasting mysteries (and for me personally, one of Lost’s most enduring conversation points). Why are there polar bears on a tropical island? Alas, this question will not be answered through the remaining 119 episodes. This question is finally answered in a short postscript special feature added to the season-six DVD boxset. So we’ll need to wait until the Alostic editorial board gets through all these episodes before we discuss.
We’re now honing in on the end of the pilot. Before we get there, I’ll just wrap a few things up content-wise. There’s a U.S. Marshall, Edward Mars, who spends the entire pilot suffering from a pretty nasty shrapnel wound. He’s where the gun comes from. Jack uses his obsessive doctor skills to try to save him. We find out Kate is Mars’ prisoner (in a flashback sequence that has even better special effects), and is thus the source of the handcuffs. More on this reveal in next episode’s review.
To resume our plot: Charlie, Kate et al, flush from their bear encounter, get to testing their transceiver and pick up a French-language signal originating from the island. It’s a looped message, repeating for the past 16 years. Shannon, who happens to know a bit of French, translates what the female speaker is broadcasting:
She’s saying, “Please help me, please come get me…. I’m alone now, on the island alone. Please, someone come. The others, they’re… they’re dead. It killed them. It killed them all.”
This leads to the quote I most identify with the series, coinciding with my decision to faithfully watch every remaining episode, and also coinciding with my prayer that Lost wouldn’t be cancelled before its time. The quote: Charlie solemnly utters, “Guys, where are we?” Eerie music swells, then exeunt.
The next episode, Tabula Rasa, dives into Kate’s story where the flashback plot device of focusing on one character per episode is established.