Lost in Review: Pilot, pt 2

While light on the “action”, part two is the denser half of the pilot, delivering mythological and character moments that will define the entire run of the series.

For a refresh on this episode, I suggest you check out Lostpedia’s excellent Wiki page.

For all its awesomeness, part two of the pilot can be split between three brilliant moments that set up the series to come. The first is the obvious one: the A-Team, huddled around the radio, listening to a 16-year-old distress call in French and realising that their new home is a stranger and more dangerous place and any of them had guessed. Aside from the first big slew of mythological questions (“Who is the Frenchwoman?” “What happened to her team?” “Why did no one rescue her?”), it’s a quintessential moment of Lost characters solving problems, and another great chance for everyone to show off who they are. Boone tries to lead and fails miserably, while Kate and Sayid very naturally pick up the reigns. Charlie remains on the periphery, not contributing to the problem solving but instead saying what most audience members would be saying in the situation at that point. Shannon shows that she’s not entirely useless but has no desire to help the Losties–not through laziness or selfishness, but fear of failure. And Sawyer, who was only properly introduced in this second part of the pilot, is the snarky devil’s advocate, the Lancer to whoever is playing hero. This moment, this scene, it’s the entire show in a nutshell: a diverse group of real, regular people confronting a wacky confluence of situations that Superman, Chuck Norris or the Doctor would be hard-pressed to deal with.

The second moment is the A-Team’s encounter with the polar bear, because it’s similar to the above, but not similar at the same time. The same group of people, again confronted with an insane situation, and reality ensues: questions are asked and no one has the answers, the bickering begins, paranoia ratchets up to arguments, accusations and possibly violence, and the resolution is only satisfying in a realistic, HBO kind of way. It’s also the first scene where the show’s way of grounding the weird mythology in realistic character drama crossed swords with the regular audience expectations of a television show. It’s easy for a viewer to ask the right questions, to wonder about exactly what’s going on, and eventually to demand answers. But these characters are three-dimensional, they’re realistic, and in that kind of situation, they’re gonna be more concerned with getting rescued (and later with getting food, building shelter, staying safe, etc.) than with puzzling out how a polar bear wound up on a tropical island.

This scene is also the character-defining scene for Sawyer, who I was never a huge fan of until season 5 and subsequently developed a lot of retroactive affection for. In this episode, he saves everybody’s arse, then proceeds to antagonise the people from whom he’s just earned a lot of good will, and by the end of the scene he’s got everyone hating him again. Plus, he gets some brilliant lines, as he frequently would (“Guess what? I just shot a bear!“).*

The third important scene is so simple, so innocuous if you’re watching for the first time, and incredibly meaningful in hindsight. Walt. Locke. Backgammon. “Two players. Two sides. One is light, one is dark.” This is the show in a nutshell. (Yeah, Lost has three nutshells. It’s that friggin’ complex.) Through the series, the driving narrative force has been division and competition: the beach group and the cave group, the Losties and the Tailies, the Losties vs. the Others, and so on. And on a more personal level, we frequently get Jack against Locke, or Jack against Sawyer, Locke against Ben, all the way up to Jacob vs. the Man in Black. The fact that it’s Locke who speaks in this scene, the character who proves so pivotal in pretty much every conflict in the show yet himself proves to be so worthless, a human MacGuffin? That comment about backgammon being 5,000 years old? … yeah, I refuse to believe that Team Darlton was just making it all up as they went.

Those were the three big scenes for me. Which wasn’t to say there wasn’t more going on that I didn’t enjoy. It’s fun and interesting to watch Hurley, the guy who remained almost completely unchanged over the course of the series when everybody else got broken down into itty-bitty pieces. In these tiny scenes with the group, with Jack, with Sayid, we see the qualities that would later make him one of the show’s most important characters, those same qualities that made Hurley easy to write off as a simple comic relief character. And Boone and Shannon, who were gone quickly and never contributed much to the main arc of the series: episodes like this one are why I find them fascinating, their dynamic with each other and with the rest of the Losties. Shannon’s near-magical ability to side-step her having to deal with the reality of being trapped on a deserted island is only trumped by her need to one-up Boone, while he is always–always–trying to help, trying to lead, trying to contribute, but almost never getting it right. Maybe my fascination with the pair comes from me thinking that if I ever wound up in the same situation, I’d probably be more like Boone than anyone else: good intentioned but ultimately useless.

Definitely the meatier half of the Lost pilot, this episode really got the ball rolling on the series. The fact that there’s very little action compared to part one is of no consequence, because here is where our brains start getting a workout and we get well and truly lost in this modern-day Wonderland (or Narnia, or Oz, depending on your tastes).

* If someone tries to tell me that Lost is stupid and uses “What was up with that polar bear? They never explained that!” as evidence, that person is dead to me. I don’t care if it’s my own mother, people should at least get their fact right if they’re gonna diss on something I like.

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