Getting Lost (Redux): Pilot

There’s no doubt that a large reason for Lost’s initial success was its impressive pilot. Directed by J.J. Abrams, the first episode of Lost has both the intense feel of an action movie, and the enticing suspense of the first chapter of a mystery novel.

So many images from the pilot are obviously memorable. The opening shot of Jack’s eye, the sight of a pregnant Claire on the beach, the scene in which Kate stitches up Jack’s wound, and so many others have become burnt into Lost lore. The episode is stunningly visual—the first line of dialogue (aside from screams and cries for help, of course) doesn’t come until almost five minutes in, when Jacks asks Claire how many months pregnant she is. This comes amidst the famous opening sequence of Jack pulling bodies from the wreckage.

What stands out about these opening scenes, looking back, is how the priority of characters has changed. We see a lot of Michael, Walt, Shannon, and Boone, but Sawyer and Locke don’t even speak in the first hour. Even Vincent the dog seems more important than they do.

This is not to say that the writers and producers didn’t know what they were doing—just that the story they were setting up was clearly very deep. In fact, Abrams’ direction is impressive in its ability to capture the core of characters in single shots. Whether it’s something easy and simple, like Shannon painting her toenails on the beach, something obviously important but cryptic, like Locke sitting on the beach as the rain begins to fall, or something subtly telling, like Sawyer’s silent self-loathing as he smokes a cigarette, it’s clear that there is a very defined view of all these characters.*

*It’s arguably TOO defined. The early episodes of Lost are especially guilty of painting in very broad strokes. Sometimes you want to yell at the screen, “We get it: Shannon is shallow.”

All of the characters have their own roles set out for them early on. In the first hour, Hurley starts serving food, Boone plays second-in-command to someone, Sayid starts to build something (a fire), and Michael yells “WAAAAAAALT.” By the end of the episode, Charlie will sing “You All Everybody” and Sawyer will use a bunch of nicknames. All of these things would of course recur multiple times throughout the series.

Some of this, of course, is simply reading what we now know about the characters into the first episodes. In a move that almost assuredly was not planned, after the first appearance of the Smoke Monster (who, it’s easy to forget, was heard and not seen for pretty much the whole first season), the camera cuts immediately to Locke sitting on the beach—it’s impossible, watching that now, not to think of the new Locke 2.0. Between that and the creepy look Locke gives Kate in the pilot (while eating an orange of all things—anyone who has seen The Godfather knows that oranges symbolize death) you could almost convince me that the whole Locke-becomes-the-Monster thing was planned from the beginning…almost.

The crux of the pilot, of course, is Jack and Kate, and rewatching I was surprised to recall how much I initially liked the two of them together. The scene in which Kate stitches Jack up, and Jack tells her the famously recurring “Fear” story, is actually really well-done—you could argue that the acting of both Matthew Fox and Evangeline Lilly peaked in the very first episode of the series. I’ve never been as down on Jack as a lot of other fans of the show—for the first three seasons he was probably my favorite character—but I stopped caring about Kate by around episode eight. Nevertheless, in the pilot I was really enjoying the dynamic between the two of them.

One of the things I really liked about Lost the first time I watched Season One was how the show seemed to set up these pairs within the large cast. Duality was always a big part of the show, what with Locke’s whole Light vs. Dark speech right at the beginning, and the show mirrored that with its character dynamics. It felt almost like every character had a counterpart. Some of these were obvious: Jin and Sun were married, so they had each other. Boone and Shannon were siblings (and, as we would find out, a little bit more), so they had each other. Even Jack and Kate seemed like a pretty obvious romantic pairing, even if they never acted on that until Season Two. Other pairs, though, were less obvious. Sawyer and Sayid, for example, had a rather intense rivalry in the early episodes—in the pilot, for example, they accuse each other of being the criminal on board (who would of course turn out to be Kate) and even come to blows. Similarly, Locke and Walt begin to forge a bond over backgammon in the pilot—a bond that will persist through most of Season One. In each pair, there is a sense in which the two are totally different, and a sense in which they are very much the same. This bipolar tension has been a recurring theme of the show, right up until this week’s “Across the Sea.”

The pilot, like pretty much every great episode of Lost, ends with a major revelation—two, actually. First, there is the revelation that Kate was the prisoner on the plane. The bigger surprise, though, is the discovery of Rousseau’s message, which has been playing for 16 years on loop. The question raised by this revelation—“Where are we?”—would be the fundamental question of the entire series, one we are still waiting to be answered.

Stay tuned tomorrow, when “Getting Lost (Redux)” moves onto the Season One finale, “Exodus”….

4 responses to this post.

  1. […] Aught Lang Syne « Getting Lost (Redux): Pilot […]


  2. […] on the beach after the events of “The Candidate,” and they’re understandably distraught. In a nice callback to the pilot, Jack stitches up Kate’s gunshot wound with a needle and thread (the thread torn from his own […]


  3. […] them how important their love is. He shows up at Jack’s first solo surgery—which we heard about back in the Pilot—to remind him that sometimes things “just need a little push.” He shows up in Hurley’s cab […]


  4. […] final image of the series, with Jack getting up and laying back down in the same spot we saw him wake up in the Pilot, and he sees the plane fly overhead and a smile creeps over his face even as he knows he is dying, […]


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