Sunday, 17 April 2016

The Lost Reviews: Part 1 - Season 1, Episodes 1-3

Welcome to the first in a new project for the blog: a rewatch of the TV series Lost. Over the next few months I plan to watch all 121 episodes of the TV series which aired for six seasons from 2004 to 2010. This is very much a rewatch thread, with the show watched with knowledge of what is to come in later seasons. If you've never watched Lost before, you definitely do not want to read this blog series.

Without further ado, let us begin.

What happens when you don't return the folding trays to their upright position.

101/102: Pilot
Written by J.J. Abrams & Damon Lindelof, Directed by J.J. Abrams
Airdate: 22 & 29 September 2004
Survivor Count: 48
Days on Island: 1-2 (22-23 September 2004)
Flashback Characters: Jack, Charlie, Kate

Now: Oceanic Airways Flight 815 is on a transpacific flight from Sydney, Australia to Los Angeles. Six hours into the flight the plane loses communications. The pilot changes course for Fiji, planning to make an emergency landing. Two hours later, with the plane over a thousand miles off its original course, it starts suffering serious turbulence. The plane suddenly plummets out of the sky, breaking into three sections. The fuselage crashes onto the beach of a tropical island, the cockpit lands in the jungle nearby and the tail section's fate is unknown.

There are 48 survivors of the crash in the fuselage section (initially 49, until Gary Troup gets sucked into a still-active engine, which then explodes). Most prominent amongst these is Dr. Jack Shephard, whose medical expertise and quick thinking immediately saves four other survivors (Hugo "Hurley" Reyes, Claire Littleton, Rose Nadler and some random dude). He also helps another survivor who has shrapnel embedded in his stomach. Initially to his own disquiet, Jack finds himself elected as an unofficial leader in the group. Other prominent members include Sayid Jarrah, Kate Austen, James "Sawyer" Ford, married couple Jin-Soo and Sun-Hwa Kwon, Charlie Pace, Boone Carlyle and his stepsister Shannon Rutherford, Michael Dawson and his son, Walt Lloyd. Another survivor, John Locke, initially keeps to the background but proves to have some survival skills that help the other survivors in quiet, modest ways.

After the initial shock of the crash, the survivors regroup. Jack, who once took some flying lessons, thinks that there should be a radio transceiver in the survival gear in the cockpit of the plane. At dawn, he, Kate and Charlie set out to find the cockpit section. However, during the night the survivors hear unusual sounds in the jungle and see trees moving. As the trio head into the woods Charlie reveals that he is the bassist in rock band Drive Shaft, who have had one successful, worldwide hit song but have been struggling to achieve further success.

The group finds the cockpit and, more luckily, that the pilot, Seth Norris, has survived. They retrieve the transceiver but Seth tells them that they are far off-course. Rescue efforts will be focused on the flight path between Australia and California, and will likely miss them. They hear the sounds in the jungle again, this time right on top of them, and Seth is dragged out of the plane and bloodily killed. Jack, Kate and Charlie scatter into the woods.

Whilst the trio have been away, Walt (who is searching for his dog, Vincent) finds some handcuffs in the jungle. He gives them to his dad, Michael. Michael shows them to the rest of the group, who conclude that a criminal was on the plane in custody. Sawyer accuses Sayid, on account of the man next to him on the plane being killed and Sayid's hands being covered for the flight. The two fight, but Jack breaks up the fight. Sayid was an electronics communication officer in the Iraqi Army (which hardly endears him to Sawyer more) and manages to get the transceiver working, but they are blocked from picking up any communications by nearby mountains. Kate, Sayid, Sawyer, Shannon, Boone and Charlie decide to mount a second hike to higher ground. During this hike they are attacked by a bear which Sawyer shoots dead with a gun he retrieved from the US Marshal, who is the shrapnel-embedded guy. The bear, weirdly, turns out to be a polar bear, to the party's befuddlement.

"Behold! Foreshadowing of the final season storyline. Probably."

Back on the beach Jack manages to stabilise the US Marshal, but he wakes up and demands to know, "Where is she?" Meanwhile, John Locke plays backgammon by himself and agrees to teach Walt how to play. He tells him that backgammon is an interesting game as it pits two equal but opposite forces against one another, one light and one dark. Walt tells Locke that he was living in Australia with his mother, but she died recently. He hardly knows his dad.

Reaching high ground they discover that their signal can't get out because another signal is already active. Tuning in, they hear a repeated distress call from a woman speaking in French. Shannon, who has a basic understanding of the language, says she is in distress, reporting the deaths of everyone who was with her. The message repeats with an iteration counter and Sayid works out that the message has been repeating constantly for over sixteen years. Charlie asks, "Guys, where are we?"

Flashbacks: On the plane Jack has a stiff drink courtesy of flight stewardess Cindy. He reassures a neighbouring passenger, Rose, who is a poor flyer. Charlie rushes past, trying to get away from the flight attendants who have noticed him acting oddly. He snorts heroin in the toilet before trying to flush the bag away. It is revealed that Kate was the marshal's prisoner. They exchanged words on the plane before it went into a crash dive. Unlike Jack and Charlie, Kate remained conscious during the crash and was aware of the tail section of the plane detaching and falling into the Pacific Ocean.

Major WTFery: Polar bear, the Monster, the French SOS beacon, the backgammon allusion.

Hindsight: Why is the Man in Black going ape in the forest for no reason before eating the pilot? And how does Cindy get from the front of the plane (where Charlie is hiding) to right at the back in time to join the tail section survivors? On the plus side of things, Locke's explanation of two equal forces of light and dark battling one another does actually kind of sum up the entire series, if you squint a bit.

Locke being randomly mysterious in the pilot.

Review: Well, that's how you launch a TV series, with the most expensive pilot in network history ($15 million, a record still unmatched, I believe) and one of the more impressive action sequences used to launch a show. Today it'd be much cheaper and mostly done in CGI, but there's a real sense of physicality to having a real aircraft smashed up, dumped on a beach in Hawaii and then blowing it up. The location shooting is also beautiful (especially watching the show in full HD on Blu-Ray for the first time), even if after six years of watching the show you do start being able to identify the same copse of trees being used for the 37th time.

The pacing of the pilot is excellent, with the show landing on its feet and then just moving constantly. Considering the show has to introduce no less than fifteen regular characters this is some feat, but the lean and economical script does just enough to bring in each character, give them an identifiable trait or tic or two and then develops them through their dialogue and how they handle the crash: Sayid takes charge in a military fashion, Sawyer starts looting and Shannon gives herself a pedicure. There is the sense here that each character is hiding things and has a lot of baggage going on, which the flashback structure begins to allow them to explore.

On the negative side of things, the extremely limited time they had for script development and pre-production is rather telling. There are a few wince-inducing lines and the feeling that the producers don't quite know what the hell they're going to do with half the characters at this point. But overall, if you want to land your series with a bang and keep going, this is how you do it. (****)

People being people, the welfare of Vincent the dog became a topic of major concern among viewers, much moreso than the fate of the human characters. Vincent is also the only character apart from Jack to be in the very first and very last scenes of the show, proving that clearly he is the most important character.

103: Tabula Rasa
Written by Damon Lindelof, Directed by Jack Bender
Airdate: 6 October 2004
Survivor Count: 48
Days on Island: 2-4 (23-25 September 2004)
Flashback Character: Kate

Flashbacks: Kate is making her own way across Australia. 100km outside Melbourne she runs out of money and sleeps in a farm outhouse. The next day the farmer, Ray, wakes her up. He lost his wife eight months earlier and is finding running the farm a chore, especially since he only has one arm. He asks Kate - using the alias "Annie" - to stay on and help him. She agrees. Three months later she decides it's time to go and accept Ray's offer of a lift to the station. However, Ray had spotted her wanted poster in the local town and already called the cops to claim the $23,000 reward, citing the crippling mortgage on the property. They are intercepted outside town by the Marshal in his car. Kate runs the car off the road. Ray is seriously injured. Kate could leave him and escape, but instead pulls him clear before the car can catch fire. The Marshal takes her into custody.

On the Island: Jack continues to treat the Marshal, who is distressed because Kate is free. Jack and Hurley both see a wanted poster of Kate the Marshal is carrying, but Jack declines to ask what she did, saying it doesn't matter at the moment. The other party camps overnight before they return to the crash site and decide not to tell the other survivors about the SOS, as it may demoralise them. Boone tries to take Sawyer's gun to stand guard, but Shannon notes that he doesn't even know how to use it. The group unanimously votes to give Kate the gun instead. Returning to the beach camp, Sayid starts organising water collecting parties. Kate tells Jack about the French SOS signal, but declines to tell him anything else.

The rest of the survivors attend to survival matters. Michael is unhappy that Walt has been talking to Locke, a stranger, and asks him to stay away. Michael stumbles across Sun whilst she is washing, to their mutual embarrassment. Michael is happy to hear from Jack that Walt's dog, Vincent, survived the crash and is in the jungle somewhere. Locke is working on carving a whistle. Jack ransacks the plane for antibiotics to treat the Marshal and is disgusted to see Sawyer looting the plane for food drinks and cigarettes. Sawyer suggests they put the Marshal out of his misery but Jack refuses. Jin, aware that he and Sun risk being alienated from the group because they can't speak English, makes some Korean-style seafood for the rest of the group but finds his efforts rejected by Hurley but enthusiastically received by Claire, who is also happy to feel her baby moving.

Kate tries to talk to the Marshal, but he comes enraged and attacks her, despite his agony. Jack is annoyed and tells Kate he knows that she was the prisoner. Jack reluctantly confirms that the Marshal is going to die, they just don't have the medical equipment or antibiotics needed to save him. Kate and the Marshal have a final conversation in which she says her only concern was that Ray got his reward. The Marshal confirms he did. Ray then asks Sawyer to finish him off with his gun. Sawyer agrees. Unfortunately, he misses the Marshal's heart and nicks his lung, ensuring a long and agonising death. Jack, incredulous at Sawyer's stupidity, is forced to kill the Marshal himself. Kate later offers to tell Jack what she did to get arrested, but Jack tells her he's not interested in finding out.
The next morning Locke blows his whistle. Hearing the sound, the dog Vincent returns to the beach. Locke ties him up and lets Michael know about it, so Michael can pretend he found the dog instead and help his growing relationship with his son.

"Shall I fill you in on my surprisingly coherent backstory?"
"Nah, I'll just watch the flashbacks as they come along."

Major WTFery: What did Kate do?

Hindsight: Actually, Kate's backstory, although a little more long-winded and elaborate than strictly necessary (remember that time she dated Nathan Fillion?), is one of the more cohesive storylines in Lost that actually makes sense. Kate's affection for Ray also makes sense once you know what happened with her stepfather. On the negative side, given what we learn later about Locke's backstory, I'm not sure if I entirely buy him being able to carve a whistle precisely so he can blow it at a frequency to attract dogs. I do like the fan suggestion that Lock's whistling also attracted the boars which turn up next episode to cause mayhem.

Review: This is less of a cohesive episode and more Part 3 of the pilot, but it's well-made enough that it works. Damon Lindelof takes over as solo writer (it'll be a short while before Carlton Cuse shows up to help him) and long-running director Jack Bender delivers his first episode and both make a good fist of it. It's a typical episode in that not necessarily a huge amount happens of dynamic forward plot movement, but it delivers on character development, humour and atmosphere. One of the better things about Lost is that the writers feel like they can do more subtle and natrualistic characterisation (although this may be because they just don't have the time to be overt). Another show might have had Ray give a whole speech about how Kate reminds him of his dead wife or has become the daughter he never had, but here they have to rely on the actors simply giving good performances. (****)

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