LOST 008 - Guys? Where ARE We?
We’re actually going to talk about episodes now, can you believe it? Unpacking the TV show LOST — Season 1: Episodes 1-2
Note: this essay was originally published on Revue on March 27, 2022.
Hundreds or maybe thousands of years ago, on the island, a handful of people started blipping in and out of existence. This was noticed—perhaps to some degree even expected—by Jacob and Brother, and certainly by The Island and The Adversary.
They kept blipping in and out. As time went by, more showed up, and interacted in vital ways with factions already present on the Island.
In 2004, Desmond Hume neglected to enter the sequence, and the resulting buildup of energy drew a nearby airliner—Oceanic 815—into the island’s orbit, causing it to break apart in the air above the island.
This disaster had an unlikely number of survivors.
Though nobody already living on the island knew to think of them this way yet, these were Jacob’s latest batch of candidates.
They all had their secrets.
They were strangers to one another. Their fates had been entwined their whole lives.
They had never been on the island before. They had already been on the island for years.
They had finally arrived.
Here we go.
O B S E R V A T I O N
I think the thing to do in this section is a brief recap of what happens in episodes I’m covering.
We should probably introduce all those Oceanic 815 candidates¹, huh?
Here they are!
Jack Shepherd, a telegenic spinal surgeon with daddy issues, a plot-driving attraction to other telegenic people, and a hero complex.
Kate Austin, a telegenic fugitive with a back story that is complete nonsense, a plot-driving attraction to other telegenic people, and a hero complex.
John Locke, a box factory employee and paraplegic with unexpected survivalist skills and a desperate need for deeper meaning.
Hugo “Hurley” Reyes, a funny, kind, gentle, and (possibly) mentally ill man with an ability to see dead people, who is basically always The Best Dude.
James “Sawyer” Ford, a telegenic con man and all around scoundrel, who has a PDATOTP, a persecution complex, and a penchant for sobriquets.
Sayid Jarrah, an Iraqi national and former interrogator for the Republican Guard, who has a very particular set of skills and a lot of regret.
Sun Hwa Kwon, a Korean national in a marriage crumbling under the burden of secrets, with depths of love and strength she hides to protect herself.
Jin-Soo Kwon, Sun’s husband, also Korean, whose service to his gangster father-in-law has left him estranged from his wife and the man he once was.
Charlie Pace, a friendly but tortured British rock musician with a floundering career and a decidedly un-floundering heroin habit.
Claire Littleton, a young nine-months pregnant Australian national who was travelling to LA to give her unborn child up for adoption.
Michael Dawson, an artist and construction worker, who is travelling with the son he loves but barely knows.
Walt Lloyd, Michael’s son, a boy raised by his recently-deceased mother, with strange abilities that are a mystery even to him.
Boone Carlyle, who is a dude with, I don’t know, a job. He has a hero complex, but he’s bad at everything, so he dies and/or almost dies a lot.
Shannon Carlyle, who is Boone’s stepsister, Boone will tell you, emphasizing the STEP a curious amount. She doesn’t have a job. She has a tan.
Rose Nadler, who is a very nice lady with cancer but we won’t know about that for a long time I think. She believes her husband survived the crash.
Vincent, who is Walt’s dog, who is a good boy. Yes he is. Yes he is.
Doctor Arzt, who is as overbearing as he is susceptible to explosions.
Neil “Frogurt,” who owns a frogurt stand. Don’t worry about him.
Nikki and Paolo. DO NOT worry about Nikki and Paolo.
A bunch of other people, mostly named Scott and Steve. Don’t worry about them either.
Anna Lucia Cortez, Libby Smith, Mr. Eko, Bernard Nadler, Cindy Chandler, and some others were in the back of the plane, and they landed somewhere else. Don’t worry about them yet. We’ll get to them in Season 2.
So there you go. There they are. The survivors of Oceanic 815! Lovable scamps all!
See how they run!
Episode 1: PILOT: Jack wakes up in a bamboo forest, which will be plot-relevant much much later. He stumbles to the beach, and finds the detritus of the recent crash of the airliner he had, until recently been on. The plane’s shattered middle section is on the beach, and there is chaos everywhere. Jack runs around like crazy and saves a lot of other characters from fire and explosions and heart attacks and early labor (Claire) and flying debris and so forth. He brings someone (it’s Rose) back to life by pounding on her chest, so take a drink. Honestly it’s still astonishingly good TV and a rightfully legendary opening to a show. When it’s all over, Boone brings Jack a pen. Thanks, Boone! Later he meets Kate, and looks at her appreciatively, and Kate sews up a wound on his back² and looks at him appreciatively, and many of us are already bored by this, but maybe some of you aren’t, in which case: enjoy the great ‘ship that is Kack.
Then all of the rest of them them start to meet each other, and we get to know them, as they start to deal with a some of the many many logistical challenges that attend being a fairly large group of people stranded on an island. They all mostly seem to be doing their best, except for Shannon, who is clearly very entitled and selfish, and Jin, who seems like a real wife-controlling dickweed.
Then a giant monster starts screaming in the jungle immediately nearby and knocking down trees, which scares them all, understandably, since most islands don’t have giant screaming monsters.
Next morning, Jack Of Course³ determines to go find the rest of the wreckage. Kate Of Course³ insists on coming. Locke smiles at Walt with an orange peel in his mouth, like the total freak he is. This doesn’t matter to the plot, but it’s a meme, and I’m here to point out the memes.
Charlie hitches on to Jack and Kate’s expedition, because he wants to help rescue his heroin from the front cabin bathroom where he stashed it. In relatively short order (there was telltale smoke) they find the front part of the airplane, and the pilot (part 1), who is wounded in the cockpit but still alive, reveals the rather unfortunate news that the airplane had been off-course without communication for hours before the crash. So that’s a thing.
Then the monster snatches the pilot (part 1) right out of the cockpit and murders the living shit out of him, so the pilot (part 1) can go star on Heroes. Jack Of Course has the presence of mind to grab the airplane’s transceiver, which he knows exists because Jack Of Course once took flying lessons. Charlie has the presence of mind to yank on his tunic and gather his stash.
Then they’re all running from the monster and terrified for a while. I’m not judging; I’d run, too. I’d be terrified, too.
End of Episode 1.
Episode 2: PILOT, PART 2. The next morning, they’re all still alive and uneaten. The unseen monster must have been full of pilot (part 2). They head back to their camp on the beach. Speaking of camp …
… we continue to meet our characters, who continue to bounce off each other and create characterization. Of note: Walt finds some handcuffs in the jungle, and thus we begin the great mystery of Who Among Us Is A Dangerous Fugitive?? (Psyche. We immediately learn it’s Kate.) Locke makes friends with Walt by teaching him to play backgammon and saying some very theme-relevant things about there being two sides: one light, one dark. Jin continues to be a controlling ass but has apparently seen Survivor, and tries to ingratiate himself to the rest of the tribe by catching fish. Sawyer decides to introduce himself to his fellow castaways (and to us) by picking a fight with Sayid on extremely racist grounds. He’s not really this racist ever again (I don’t think?), but he is the sort of person who likes people to think the worst of him, so he can enjoy looking off into the distance and squinting dramatically in hidden pain. So, I dunno, I guess he was deliberately doing a racism to make a bad first impression? It’s a pretty Sawyer Season 1 move. The fight is broken up by a returning Jack Of Course.
There’s a guy with shrapnel in his belly. He’s apparently a federal marshal. He’s in bad shape. Jack tends to him. Hurley helps, and continues to be the Best Dude.
Sayid is very excited to have the transceiver, because Sayid is an extraordinarily useful fellow who understands electronics and communications very well, and who (it should already be pretty clear to us) ought to have become the castaways’ leader, if he were not an Iraqi surrounded by mostly Americans, and if this weren’t a TV show, and he weren’t being played by an actor not yet quite as well known to TV audiences. Sayid determines to climb a mountain to use the transceiver’s dying battery to triangulate the flux capacitor in order to position their global mrrrzzzlebrzzle. Kate Of Course insists on coming. So does Charlie, who has rubbed some powdery courage onto his gums and thinks Kate is foxy. So does Boone, who wants to prove he too can be Jack Of Course. So does Shannon, who just wants to annoy Boone. So does Sawyer, who (I think) is motivated mostly by a desire to annoy everybody. Anyway, they all start their trek.
Then they’re attacked by a polar bear, who we’ll someday learn has been subsisting on Dharma Initiative fish biscuits and is probably pretty hungry for meat. Sawyer kills the bear with the marshal’s gun, which he scavenged. Nobody is cool with Sawyer having a gun, though everyone is fairly cool with Sawyer having prevented them from becoming bear chow. Eventually Kate, who everyone trusts, winds up with it, and everyone is a bunch of Fonzies again. Except for the fact that there’s freaking polar bears on a tropical island.
Once they get high enough up the mountain, The Gang Gets Reception.
They can’t send a message. Why? Because … there’s already a message being sent!
It’s bad news. It’s a Frenchwoman⁴, claiming she’s alone, the others are dead, it killed them all.
Then a robotic sounding male voice reads a number. Using the duration of the message and this number, Sayid calculates that the distress call has been playing for roughly 16 and a half years.
Charlie asks the very relevant question: “Guys? Where are we?”
End of Episode 2.
Flashbacks. These are the first flashbacks, but they’re recent enough that we don’t realize the extent to which achronology will become the main narrative structure and eventually even a major plot element. These are mostly just flashbacks to the crash, which let us know that a) the plane sure enough did crash; b) the flight attendant flirted with Jack Of Course; c) Jack was sitting next to Rose; d) Charlie stashed the heroin in the bathroom; e) Kate’s the fugitive, and when the plane was crashing she tried to assist her captor, the marshal.
B E L I E F
I think it’s been awhile since I pointed out that I’m going to spoil the hell out of this show—though if you’ve made it this far you’ve probably twigged to that already. But hey, this is the start, so: spoilers.
I intend to recap using the benefit of the full text to find the understory beneath the surface story—which means I’ll be ignoring some things that seem very important but really aren’t, while lasering in on other things that I think are crucial but are somewhat buried, and, in so doing, casually bringing up plot points that sometimes won’t be revealed until much much later.
1) Story mechanics fun:
I said a while back that I’m not too concerned about the writer’s intent or sifting through the teas leaves of interviews to prove that they planned it down to each twig and leaf from the start, or that they never had any plan at all and were just throwing things at the wall (pretty obviously neither is true), or whatever else it is people want to believe about all that.
I just don’t think it matters very much. Ultimately the story is the story, and how it got that way is a curiosity but it doesn’t impact on the story. Thus, things that we’ll learn about the story later are just as true during these episodes, which were written when even the creators had no idea about them.
For example: at the time of the crash, as we watch our heroes on the beach, there is a guy named Ben Linus who runs a sub-cabal of Island/Jacob worshippers. This cabal has taken over the old living quarters of a defunct scientific expedition called the Dharma Initiative. Ben watches the crash happen, and he sends his people to infiltrate with the survivors.
I know the writers didn’t know about Ben yet, because they haven’t cast him yet. But he’s there all the same, even before the writers knew, because the story will eventually tell us he was.
That’s story for you. I think that’s neat.
I also think our relationship to the show now, having seen it all (or at least able to see it all), is a good way to illustrate how an entity like The Island views time: outside of it; able to see it all, and able to ponder what it all means.
And I think the writers’ relationship to the show—as of Episode 1 at least—is a good if imperfect way to illustrate how I think an entity like The Adversary views time: hugely aware of almost everything that exists or might exist, able to see what will happen as it starts to develop, able to notice and recontextualize when something is happening (like a time-jump) that will affects the overall narrative, but not yet entirely sure whether things that are possible or probable will actually happen until they start to play out.
By the way, I do happen to be of the opinion that the writers had quite a bit of the Jacob/Adversary thing worked out already—the best clue of this from these first episodes being the backgammon scene. The most ancient game. One light, one dark.
Maybe I’ll point out others as they come up.⁵
2) I’m not ready yet to really unpack Charlie’s ending question. “Guys … where are we?” But I do want to point out what I think may be an important clue that Jack casually throws out in Episode 1. He estimates that they were at 40,000 feet when the crash began, and then dropped about 200 feet.
In the flashback, we see the crash from inside the plane. They look to be at about 40,000 feet. Then the turbulence. Then the quick drop. Then the back of the plane blows off. The whole thing takes about 30 seconds max.
Now … in a later episode we’ll see the aircraft break apart from the island. They are not at 40,000 feet. They are at maybe 1,000 feet. Maybe 2,000? I’m not great at estimating these things, but they are low enough to be able to clearly see details on the plane. You can see the little round windows.
Not 40,000 feet or anything like it.
So that’s … interesting.
I’ll leave it at that for right now. But let’s remember that.
3) Here’s a theory that isn’t very important (or is it?) but is interesting: an answer to the question of how so many people survived the crash of Oceanic Flight 815, which was a few hundred feet in the air when it broke into pieces. The characters comment on the unliklihood of surviving a crash in which the fuselage breaks apart in flight. Actually I think Sayid—the most pragmatic of our heroes—describes it as an impossibility. It’s never directly addressed.
I think they all time-jumped—but only a little. A matter of seconds.
This doesn’t matter, I guess. Maybe they just got lucky and survived.
But here’s the thing: eventually some of these castaways get off the island, and then they return to the island, again on a plane, and as they approach the island flash some of them disappear off the plane, and are safely back on the island at another point in the island’s time relative to the plane they’re on, because they time-jumped onto the island. The way this is depicted is extremely similar to the way we see Jack wake up in the very first scene.
So, I think they time-jumped, skipping the impact. It just explains the question well, and it’s sitting right there, so, yeah. Take it or leave it.
As to why so many of them time jump, well …
4) Here I think we see the first instance of what will become a recurring concept: the Island won’t let them die.
I think I’ll leave the matter of how the Island can control this for a later date. But let’s get into why the Island won’t let them die.
We’ll learn that most of these characters are candidates. This means that Jacob has drawn them here, believing one of them might replace him. Much much later we’ll discover that he has a lighthouse, with names written on each of the enumerated points of a compass upon which the light can be pointed, which seems to represent some sort of physical manifestation of his ability to draw people to the island. And a lot of those names have been crossed off, including a lot of ones we know who by then have mostly died, but there are a lot more names that we don’t know, most of which are also crossed off. (There’s also a cave where these names and numbers are listed, but don’t worry about that right now.)
We’ll learn that the Adversary can’t kill them, mostly. I think we can get into all of the ideas about why and why not much later, mostly.
But here’s one that seems pretty clear: if you aren’t a candidate, it gets a little dicey for you, as far as it goes with the Island not letting you die, or the Adversary not being allowed to kill you.
And yes, at least one of these characters is not a candidate. This suggests that Jacob didn’t choose them, they just happened to also be on the plane and didn’t die in the crash. We know this because they aren’t on the list. Most of these probably died in the crash. The ones who survived probably truly did so by the luck of the draw.
But The Adversary can kill them, apparently. Which, I believe, is why the black smoke can kill the pilot⁶, but otherwise only shows up and rages at the castaways by knocking down trees and chasing them around.
He’ll try other stuff very soon.
5) Some other conclusions, that follow from the previous point: The fact that we have candidates to replace Jacob also tells us that Jacob doesn’t want his job. He’s looking for a replacement. Which suggests that he might be well aware of what the Adversary is planning, and allowing most of it. It definitely means that he has instigated the great shift in the island status quo that the arrival of the Oceanics will eventually bring about.
It also tells us he’s not interested in letting anybody who’s already on the island have the job.
It also underscores a distinction that I think will become important as time goes on: Jacob is not The Island. He simply has some sort of unique communion with The Island. He’s still very much Jacob—the same Jacob we’ll eventually meet as a fully human boy and man in the episode “Across the Sea.”
Jacob acts on behalf of The Island, and I think it’s likely that there are times The Island speaks through him, and as a result of thousands of years of this Jacob has come in many ways to resemble The Island and share It’s worldview, but he also has his own wants and desires.
And we know there are many other names crossed off that are unfamiliar to us. So we know Jacob has been trying for a while. He’s drawn many people to the Island before he brought the candidates of Flight 815.
Or … has he?
Yes. Probably yes.
I’m being coy. I also don’t know if I want to give up my LOST Season 7 ideas. Call me, TV people!
6) We’ll learn much later that the bamboo forest where Jack woke up, which is only a stone’s throw away from the beach where our heroes set up their camp, is also only a stone’s throw away from the Robert Kincave—that is, the portal into the very heart of the island; the very place that Jacob is tasked with protecting.
Jacob hasn’t only brought his candidates to the island, he (or the Island) has landed his candidates two stone’s throws away from Its very heart. It’s a place that no humans can find, even with a lifetime of searching, and in fact our castaways never do find it, even in weeks of living right on top of it.
But Jacob knows where it is, and so (probably, since we at one point see It comes flying out the Kincave) does The Adversary.
I think this is pretty important context for a lot of what happens next.
L O S T
Next Time: Follow The White Rabbit
¹ Perhaps slightly less of them were U.S. nationals than might have been expected for a U.S. produced TV show in 2004. When the character isn’t a U.S. national, I’ll mention it.
² I’m not 100% certain but I think they do a nice callback to this wound in the final episode when Jack gets stabbed real good. If so: good job, guys!
³ Whenever Jack is being the overbearing “I must do everything in every scene” Protagonist Guy, he will be referred to in this space as Jack Of Course. Same for Kate.
⁴ Danielle Rousseau is her name. We’ll meet her pretty soon.
⁵ I absolutely will do this.
⁶ As as been documented ad-nauseum, Jack was supposed to be played by big movie star Michael Keaton and then—surprise, bitches!—be killed by the monster in the first episode, leaving Kate to be the main hero. When they decided to cast Matthew Fox and keep Jack around (killing the pilot part 1 instead), it left Kate all too often stranded in a weird “spare tire protagonist but also mostly love interest to protagonist” zone as a character. Not great. The effect is that whenever Jack is being Protagonist Guy, Kate is always demanding to come too, which has the unfortunate effect of making her seem like a tagalong, which isn’t very fair to the character or probably what the showrunners had been going for with Kate. Maybe they could have had Jack do a bit more of the “I’m coming too” line tagalong routine, I dunno. It’s too bad, but it’s also sort of a funny running meta-joke that at every plot point they both have to have a negotiation/argument over which of them is going to be the hero this time. Anyway, they’re sort of two peas in a pod, so I’ll call her Kate Of Course as well, whenever she’s being Kate Of Course.
A.R. Moxon is the author of The Revisionaries, which is available in most of the usual places, and some of the unusual places. He lets the fear in, but only for five seconds.