Lost in Retrospect: White Rabbit

Another cracker of a myth arc/character development double-feature, the first of the gazillions of Daddy issues and moments that still confound fans like me to this very day.

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

During the break between seasons 5 and 6, I did a rewatch of the show up to that point, trying to see the threads of Jacob and the Man in Black’s conflict threaded through the show’s development. “White Rabbit” is one that stood out as incredibly important in hindsight but seemingly a simple(ish) jungle romp when it first went to air.

I think that when we see Christian Shepherd on the Island in this episode, we’re seeing the Man in Black. His manipulations of the Losties began the moment they crashed on the Island. Part 1 of the pilot had him waving the stick around, being all brutal-murder-y and ripping up trees. In “White Rabbit”, we see the carrot: a familiar face that guides Jack to the source of the water. Why? Well, whether or not the Man in Black has a strategy in place or he’s just making a few opening moves before deciding on a course of action (and I’m inclined to believe that it’s the latter, rapidly moving towards the former after his confrontation with Locke in “Walkabout”), the Losties are his organic flesh-and-blood chess pieces, but in order to use them, he needs them “set up” correctly. First, he needs them alive, so he leads Jack to a water source. Second, he needs them free of the influence of Jacob, and to do that, he tromps around the jungle, being all scary-like, and keeps them isolated on the beach, the closest thing to “safe” there is on a deserted Island.

I’m still amazed at how well these early episodes slot into the series’ mythology, especially since what I understand about the pre-planning process of the show is that the first half of season 1 was very much “make it up as we go”, and the mythological elements in the pilot were mostly a case of JJ Abrams throwing things in to give the show a Forbidden Planet vibe, without much thought as to what they’d add up to. The actions of the Smoke Monster and the apparitions of Christian Shepherd line up incredibly well with what we later learn about the Man in Black.

I came to an opinion about John Locke in the wake of the series finale, and going back to episodes like this one, it’s being proven true. If Jack is the Luke Skywalker of this story and Sawyer is the Han Solo, then Locke is very much the Obi-Wan Kenobi. The series is littered with scenes such as the big one in this episode, where Locke tries to convince Jack of the Island’s incredibly spiritual significance and it’s miraculous power. But as with any Obi-Wan worth his salt, Locke’s lessons don’t quite sink in until he’s died. Between this episode and the previous one, we see the main reason why the two characters were constantly at cross-purposes, even while the former tried to teach the latter and while (as Ryan McGee, one of my favourite Lost bloggers frequently commented) the absolute best thing that could’ve ever happened to the Losties was the two reaching a mutual understanding and working together. In a nutshell, both Jack and Locke think they’re the protagonists of this story. While Locke is willing to give Jack advice–and it’s Locke’s words in this episode that really inspire Jack to step up and become leader of the Losties–he puts aside everyone else’s needs or wants in favour of his own, because he believes he’s special, that he has a destiny, that he’s more important than anyone else.

We see here the qualities that would haunt and drive Jack for the rest of the series: his obsession. He leaps into the jungle and spends all day wandering around–and off cliffs–to find an apparition of his father that probably isn’t real, all driven a lack of emotion. He never got Daddy’s approval (Frith almighty, Christian Shepherd was a bastard!), so when he sees Daddy, he just has to chase after him, chasing that thing he’s been chasing for years. Makes me think forward to the end of season 5 and the huge, obsessive leaps that Jack makes when he’s been spurned by Kate.

The real beginnings of the Charlie/Claire relationship are born here. It was one of the many sweet, touching subplots that helped keep the show grounded in the wake of increasingly dramatic and weird developments. And as much as I loved his funny moments with Hurley in previous and future episodes, this is the start of Charlie’s real character development. He takes care of Claire as a way of taking care of himself.

More of Boone’s noble yet pathetic attempts to be the leader. It’s so sad yet so fascinating, because your average man/woman-on-the-street is gonna be more like him than like the practically-Messianic Jack Shepherd. On my rewatches of this episode, I’m right with Boone on his criticism of Jack and how he’s doing squat as a leader despite everyone looking to him like one, compared to Boone’s attempts at filling this vitual role within the Losties’ community even though he’s not so good at it.

And a final note: my goodness, what a brilliant setting for a television show and for one of these fantasy-esque epic sagas. Lost has such a unique and beautiful look to it, makes use of its environment, its geography… It’s brilliantly innovative and fantastic, and I’m sad that it’ll probably be a decade or more before we see a similarly epic television show.

“White Rabbit”? Fantastic. It’s contributions to the myth-arc only become evident way down the road, compared to the more immediate previous episode, and Jack has never been the most interesting character (his big moments finally came during the sixth season), but everything about this episode is just spot-on.


One Response to “Lost in Retrospect: White Rabbit”

  1. While I think you’re right in the sense that MiB was feeling out how to use the specific individuals for his plan, I think it’s clear that he was just waiting to see how and when Jacob was going to bring the last Candidates to the island. Then he did what he always does…he used their weaknesses against them, to manipulate them to his ends. Just as he made sure, one way or another, that the Others would prey on the survivors and make them even more vulnerable and reactive.

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