LOST Marathon, Milepost 1: A Better Game than Checkers
- Tuesday, January 05, 2010
The Answers are coming! So the previews promise us.
We're left with under a month until LOST's final season debuts, which brings us to this somewhat insane marathon upon which I'm about to embark. There are some 26 disc's-worth of 103 episodes I'm going to review about four episodes at a time between now and February 2.
This first recap may end up longer than future installments, mostly because I have spent a lot of time with the opening of the show. Not only have the producers on several occasions reminded us how important the setup is (even suggesting that we addicted viewers have continually missed something important within the first 10 minutes), but as a self-respecting literature major I spend a lot of time on any book or show's introduction.
In a good book I'll often read the first page up to five times before moving on, to make sure I've delved the depths of what the author wanted to convey: the scene, the stakes, the tone, the imagery.
In every 4-episode recap over the next month, as opposed to just a straight narrative reminder of what transpired, I want to focus on a few categories and perspectives:
- The theory that perhaps the series has always been less about characters who got lost, or were lost, or an island that is lost in space-time, but more about a game in which somebody won... and somebody LOST. So I will report on anything I come across in my viewing that fits this (or other) theories.
- Religious themes or references. We are a Christian site after all, and LOST does tell a story of redemption, second chances, sacrifices, faith vs. reason, salvation, and more. What's more, there's that cool Season Six preview with the Willie Nelson version of "Amazing Grace," including the famous line, "I once was LOST, but now am found."
- Mysteries/puzzles/questions/Easter Eggs/red herrings that either remain unsolved/open, or have since been answered. You know, the reasons most of us watch the show (okay, I know there are some of you who watch for "the relationships"... you won't find too much to love here. Just sayin').
- The LOST Library, a.k.a. the list of books, music, films, shows - either real or fictional - with which characters interact. And what they mean.
I've also come to believe that in this show, as in a lot of films, books, and real life events, the first and last things you see and hear are very important. So we'll also catalogue how each episode begins and ends, and what it might indicate.
Let's just jump right in, then. I give you my if-we-knew-then-what-we-know-now major fanboy take on this fascinating TV series...
LOST Season One, Disc One
Episodes: 1.1 PILOT-PART ONE; 1.2 PILOT-PART TWO; 1.3 TABULA RASA (Kate-centric); 1.4 WALKABOUT (Locke-centric)
Things That Stuck Out
Jack's laying in bamboo as LOST opens. None of the bamboo stalks appear broken or bent, as they might be if he were thrown there from the crash. It's like he dropped straight down, or better yet, was placed or transported there. I am going with the latter considering what we know about how Jack will arrive at the island in Season Five in the same spot. After all, he did tell Kate he "blacked out," which is similar to his experience in his Season Five arrival.
Jack has interesting (important?) tatoos on his left shoulder. Why? Is there any significance? From Lostpedia: "The 1st Season DVD interview with Matthew Fox mentions that these tattoos were his before the show. The producers first considered putting make-up over them, but later decided they fit in with the show and kept them."
2nd character we ever meet is Vincent. Does this establish the dog as important, or merely establish a tone of weirdness that a collared dog would be coming out of the jungle toward a bruised, suited man? I'm of the opinion that the creators either originally intended to do something mysterious with Vincent, or else the oddites around the dog are a red herring. Another example is the VERY strange shot where Jack, Charlie and Kate are being watched from the bushes by Vincent as they begin their trek to the cockpit. Just weird to have a dog's-point-of-view shot... isn't it?
Jack doesn't know it of course, but one of the first people he meets in this new life - even as he freshly mourns his own father - is another person who is related to his dad. He tends to his half-sister Claire, who is pregnant with yet another Shephard, baby Aaron.
Now this one has always stuck in my craw. Something SWOOPS IN at the time of the engine explosion. Click the link below to see what I mean.
It's long since been "debunked" as nothing (see here), and the producers swear we never physically see Smokey this early in the series... but I've never bought it all 100%. It's just too weird, and I've never heard a satisfactory explanation. I grant, however, that I don't know what it means or what the point would be, other than to say it was cool to see Smokey in action early.
Following the first time the Monster shakes the jungle, we get this line from Rose: "That sound that it made; I kept thinking there was something really familiar about it." Someone asks where she's from. "The Bronx." What's the purpose of this line? Surely it isn't a throw-away. Is it just to suggest that what's making the noise is man-made? Mechanical?
Jack "blacked out" during the crash. Kate did not. Any significance, now that we know Jack experienced something similar and woke up in the same place (albeit in 1977) in Season Five?
From the second episode, it is already established (beginning with the scene of Charlie brushing past Jack/Rose on the plane) that we will see events from multiple perspectives, which is highly suggestive of a search for truth, and that truth can be dependent upon paradigm.
Very odd interplay between Kate and Charlie after they hide from The Monster. They both (as does Jack) deny having seen it. Locke will later do the same when asked directly by Michael. But did they see it? If so, why lie? Does it have anything to do with how The Monster - as we learn later - apparently is able to read your thoughts and see your memories?
Kate finds pilot wings on the ground, and in the puddle's reflection sees the pilot's body in the trees. About those wings... I can't locate a pic of them, but it has always been suggested they look a lot more like military wings than commercial pilot wings. Also interesting that a set of wings plays prominently in the Pilot episode, when in the final episode we saw in Season Five, Jacob's tapestry contains a pair of wings...
Walt encounters the Spanish comic book with the polar bear in it before the hiking group comes across the polar bear... which I am calling a red herring. Perhaps all of Walt's "special abilities" were nothing but something to throw us off the scent... something I especially fear given how they seem to have long abandoned the storyline. The polar bears seem to be satisfactorily explained by Dharma's research. I say this... but these episodes also contain the example of Michael promising to look for Vincent as soon as it stops raining. Immediately it stops raining, and Walt gives Michael a, "Well? Get about it, dude!" look.
Claire - upon feeling the baby move again after eating some of Jin's sushi - realizes that she thinks the baby is a he. She's right of course. What was the significance of letting us in on the gender this early?
Boone asks Charlie if the polar bear is what killed the pilot. Only thing is, last we knew, Jack, Kate and Charlie hadn't told anyone about the pilot being alive when he was found, or that he was then killed. Uh... how'd Boone know about that? (Guess we can assume these characters do have conversations off-camera)...
Appearances of the Numbers: 16 hours since the crash when they find the pilot... 23 is the row Jack and Rose were in... 16 years the French signal has been playing (marking its beginning in April 1988)... 23 (thousand dollars) is the reward for Kate's capture... 4 years that Locke has lived with "his condition" (meaning he must have been paralyzed in 2000).
Deaths: Gary Troup, a.k.a. the guy who got sucked into the turbine in the first few minutes, causing it to explode; the Pilot; the U.S. Marshall who was escorting Kate (his death brings the fuselage Survivor count from 48 to 47). We don't learn Troup's name until much later, as the author of a manuscript called "The Bad Twin" that was among the crash rubble. Sawyer is reading the book in a future episode. Troup also - we learn through some of the "extras" several LOST geeks (I am actually not one of them) have gotten into, such as "The LOST Experience" alternate reality game - had done much research on "The Valenzetti Equation," which has much to do with The Numbers. Note: In these recaps, I don't intend to spend much time on extras like The LOST Experience. Mostly I'll just be looking for what can be found on the DVDs themselves, with any exceptions to be noted.
Themes Established or Revisited
Jack and Kate discuss fear being "sort of an odd thing" and he tells the story of his surgery in residency where he rips the dural sack on a 16-year-old girl. He "let the fear in" for 5 seconds. Sets up either fear or leadership or both as important themes. "I knew I had to deal with it, so I made a choice." Kate will use the 5-second trick later in the episode.
Charlie identifies himself as a "coward." Kate tells him he's not, but his flashback reveals he just may be.
The idea of "Fear vs. Leadership" is also established as a theme. Jack illustrates it in his story to Kate while she is stitching his wound. "I knew I had to deal with it, so I made a choice."
2. Fresh Starts (or "Born Again"-ness)
"I get it, you know. Everyone deserves a fresh start." -- Ray (Kate's rancher friend).
Restarts and reboots, of course, are what you do every time you play a new game, ala chess -- reset the board.
3. Lying (a.k.a. Not Telling the Whole Story)
Sayid doesn't want to tell the rest of the Survivors what they heard/know from the transmission, because, "We take away their hope. And hope is a very dangerous thing to lose." Kate: "So we lie." Very interesting that Sayid believes The Truth can take away hope. Much later, Ben will take away Sayid's hope with lies.
Michael flat-out asks Locke about 'The Monster' having been headed right for him, and whether he saw anything. "No," Locke flatly lies.
Thought: Through the lens of game-playing, might lying be important and perhaps better labeled as "Bluffing"? Through the religious lens, lying is not a good practice, especially for folks who have a second chance, a blank slate, a fresh start. So why include it as a motif? Might only be because it fits into The Game. Then again, religiously speaking, the Bible does speak of a "father of lies," a description that also will come to apply perfectly to an island resident we've not yet met.
"Don't tell me about fair!" Locke yells at the Aussie who won't let him come on walkabout. "Don't tell me what I can't do!" he screams numerous times throughout the episode.
More than just establishing that Locke is determined to meet what he believes is his destiny no matter what, the line suggests the idea of RULES, i.e. things that can and can
not be done with a construct like a Game. One must play fair.
5. Different Points of View / Paradigm Shifts / Pursuit of and Problem of Truth
Walt comes across Locke setting up A GAME.
W: "What is it, checkers?"
L: Not really. It's a better game than checkers."
Walt reveals his mom died a couple weeks ago.
L: "You've having a bad month."
W: "I guess."
L: "Backgammon's the oldest game in the world. 5000 years old. Older than Jesus Christ." Tells Walt they had dice made of bones, and "Two players, two sides. One is light, one is dark."
I do believe that wedging this scene into the mayhem of the first two episodes meant much more than having a way for Locke to tell Walt a secret, more than giving them something recreational to do, more than anything. It established - so subtlely - the entire context. Also, why even bother with the line that backgammon is older than Jesus? It's SO much older that from a historical perspective it seems like a bit of a dumb comparison... unless there's another reason, like putting religion into the equation and putting in mind struggles and religions that way, way, way pre-date Christianity.
Later on, Locke plays A GAME with a co-worker along the lines of a military fantasy game (Axis & Allies, maybe?). "I'm just playing a game, Randy."
Locke complains about what is "fair." Fairness is important within a game, but not always followed, or practical for one who wants to win.
Religious References & Themes
"My brother. God's friggin' gift to humanity" (Shannon in 1.2). Boone is Jesus? Wow! Actually, in a future episode, he does, according to Locke, become "a sacrifice" which the island demanded...
"Doesn't matter, Kate, who we were, what we did before the crash. Three days ago we all died. We should all be able to start over." (Jack)
Jack is absent from the memorial service, sitting away from it looking out to sea. Early indication of his dislike for anything related to faith or religious tradition, setting him up as a proponent of reason/science.
Rose possesses some sort of deeper knowledge beyond Jack's facts that tell her Bernard is alive.
Backgammon is revealed to be "older than Jesus Christ."
Sayid: No respect for their wishes, their religions?
Jack: We don't have time to sort out everybody's god.
Walt: Mr. Locke saide a miracle happened to him.
Michael: Well, a miracle happened to all of us Walt. We survived a plane crash. I don't want you hanging around with him.
Right from the start, questions of religion, destiny, miracles, theology, faith, and eternal significance have been tantamount.
Mysteries or Questions Since Solved
- What is 'the Monster'? (see below that this also remains an unsolved mystery). We know in its general form it looks like thick smoke, moves fast, can tear up trees, is some sort of 'security system,' hangs out beneath the temple, is probably called "Cerberus" like the mythological 3-headed dog who guards the gates of Hades (interesting note: this was to keep the dead from escaping rather than to keep anyone from entering), Ben can summon it, it appears able to read one's memories, and more.
- Who recorded the French transmission, and from where on the island does it originate?
- What did Kate do to become a fugitive?
- Was Locke always in a wheelchair? If not, how did he come to be in the wheelchair?
- Where did the polar bears come from?
- Is Rose's husband really alive?
Mysteries or Questions Still Needing Answers
- What is 'the Monster'? We don't know from where it came, what it's protecting, exactly whose bidding it does, or exactly how it is summoned, or why it can take human form. There are theories, of course (like it being able to take the shape of those who are dead or have died on the island).
- How did Jack get into the bamboo forest so far away from the crash when nobody else did? Any parallel to him ending up there in Season Five?
- The pilot explains the standard Northeast route they were taking like every flight between Sydney (on Australia's East coast) and Los Angeles. They turned around to land in Fiji. The question that needs to be answered involves something we don't know about until much later - the faked crash site. It's in the Indian Ocean... west of Australia. Why did anyone back in the real world believe this? There should have been no way this flight would ever have been in those coordinates.
Add to the LOST Library:
- An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, by John Locke. In which Locke discusses the idea of tabula rasa. "...The essay concerns the foundation of human knowledge and understanding. He describes the mind at birth (can we infer upon re-birth as well?) as a blank slate... including his distinction between passively acquired simple ideas, such as "red," "sweet," "round," etc., and actively built complex ideas, such as numbers, causes and effects, abstract ideas, ideas of substances, identity, and diversity." (from Wikipedia)
- Song: Wash Away by Joe Purdy. "I've Got Troubles, Lord, but not today, they're gonna wash away." This is a sweet way to end the Tabula Rasa episode, but ominious that as the song and montage end, showing everybody pitching in and getting along on the beach as they settle into their fresh start, the music changes, and the camera pans in on Locke's face, setting the stage for what happens in Walkabout.
- Song: If You Got Leavin On Your Mind, by Patsy Cline. We'll go on to hear plenty of Patsy Cline as it relates to Kate.
"Who is this guy?" -- Hurley, about Locke
"Is this normal? Day turning into night, end-of-the-world-type weather?" -- Charlie
"Whatever you say, Doc. You're the hero." -- Sawyer
"Fine, I'm the criminal. You're the terrorist. We can all play a part. Who do you want to be?" --Sawyer (a great line in light of the tabula rasa/reboot theme of starting over. Who do you want to be?)
"Any bodies we bury are not gonna stay buried for very long" -- Jack (haha! Foreshadowing aplenty!)
"Please, help me. Please come get me. I'm alone now. I'm on the island alone. Please someone come. The others, they're dead. It killed them. It killed them all." --Shannon, translating from the French
Kate is the fugitive with the heart of gold. Men fall for her easily, but she'll run - and run well - at the slightest whim.
Locke is a sad sack loser whose geeky skills from war games, studying survival situations, preparing for walkabouts, and knife throwing are mostly useless back in his real life, but very handy in this new one. He's not socially adept, but he IS well-meaning (cf. he carves a dog whistle to help Michael and Walt find Vincent; he smiles at Kate with an orange in his teeth, but it's not the most appropriate gesture while she's busy taking shoes from a corpse).
Jack is the hero. Sawyer is the anti-hero... although they show him as vulnerable a lot earlier than I remember. To me, this fact is just another example of what makes the show great - they set me up originally to dislike Sawyer, but now that I know him, a lot has changed, and I can see him differently from the beginning. Paradigm shifts from new knowledge and perspective are a big part of the themes, plot, and people of LOST.
Locke tells "GL12" that patience is the quality of a leader. Soon after, Rose identifies Jack as being "patient" and "having a good soul" -- indicating again he will emerge as our Leader/Hero... even though he simply says he became a doctor because "I was born into it." What have they all been re-born into now?
Sun is under Jin's thumb to the point of being told not to speak to anyone else, and to button up her topmost button even when there is nothing immodest about her appearance and they are in the tropics. Very interesting immediate contrast shot when Sun sees Kate bathing in nothing but her skivvies.
At the start it seems like we're set up to despise Jin, Sawyer, and Shannon... to pity Boone and Charlie... to love Hurley... to think Sayid and Locke are awesomely bad dudes.
Opening & Closing
1.1 Open - Very first thing we ever see -- Jack Shephard's eye opening. The pupil either dilates, or something (some have speculated Smokey) recedes in the reflection. Might tell us any number of things, from the fact we'll see this show through this chacter's eyes, to the possibility that personal perspective will be important/varied/challenged, to the idea that the characters and/or the audience are going to have an eye-opening journey.
1.2 Open - This is actually a continuation of a 2-part episode, so no big shock that we don't open on someone's eye. Instead, Jack, Kate, Charlie walk across the screen from right to left, having just left the cockpit. Charlie suggests that he was throwing up in the plane's bathroom, thereby contributing nothing but cowardice to the trip. Kate tells him he isn't a coward. His history might tell us otherwise. Introducing cowardice adds to the theme of fear.
1.3 Open - The Marshall appears to be delirious, but he tells Jack to look in his coat pocket, where there is a mugshot of Kate. "Dangerous. She's dangerous," he says.
1.4 Open - Locke's eye opens. He is on the beach just after the crash. He wiggles his toes - an action for which we now know the meaning. He slowly stands up.
1.1 Close - "How does something like that happen?" (Charlie, referring to the dead pilot in the tree, but also an open ended question about the whole episode's happenings + foreshadowing for what's coming).
1.2 Close - "Guys, where are we?" (Charlie, after Shannon translates the French translation including the words, "It killed them all.").
1.3 Close - Final spoken words of the episode are from Jack to Kate: "I dont want to know. Doesn't matter Kate, who we were, what we did before the crash. Three days ago we all died. We should all be able to start over." Remember how at the time we all took that as a clue (well, less a clue than a too-obvious punch to the face to be true) that they were all in purgatory or something? After that we get the "I got troubles but not today" montage, followed by a creepy close-up of Locke.
1.4 Close - Last actual words of the episode are right after the huge reveal about Locke being in the wheelchair. "Don't tell me what I can't do!" He yells at the guy from the Walkabout business. Cut from this back to the memorial service, where Locke slyly watches his wheelchair burn in the funeral pyre... Locke will repeat those words several times in this episode. Doesn't sound much like he wants rules imposed upon him, though rules are important in a game.
Put all of those beginnings and endings together and you get something cryptic, mysterious, personal, and tricky. Great bookends with which to begin a series. Most things I come across (this is just another example) convince me that, yes, for the most part, our producers knew where this show was going right from the start.
Probably Unimportant, But I've Always Wondered...
"Pilot" -- is this the title of the first 2-part episode because it was the series pilot, or because of THE Pilot (of the plane)? If the latter, then there's something we've missed ...
Kate got out of her cuffs during the plane's breakup, using the Marshall's key after he was knocked unconscious. Except in 1.1 we see her rubbing her wrists coming out of the jungle, supposedly after she has just taken off the cuffs and discarded them (Walt will come across them later). Also, when Walt finds them, they appear locked. Odd.
Kate says she made the drapes in her apartment with a sewing machine. Which apartment was that? Was she ever so domestic, or in residence in one place long enough? She's definitely a woman of many talents, but using a sewing maching doesn't seem to fit with the Kate we know now. Nor does her reference to "my friend Beth" who loves Drive Shaft. Can't picture Kate having a gal pal with whom she listens to pop music. To me, these lines are examples of writing that doesn't yet know how a character is going to flesh out.
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