Season One: Episodes 1-4
A fateful crash-landing. A mysterious Island. A group of survivors. That’s all we know entering into this story, and the show’s first few episodes work like gangbusters for me, balancing character work, subtle surreality, a sense of menace, and a fragile hope.
This early in the game, it's all about the characters. There is no Dharma Initiative, there are no ‘Others,’ Walt doesn’t have the Shinning yet, Locke’s mad, Ahab-esque Hatch quest yet looms on the horizon, so it’s down to character interaction for the most part. And these characters are fun/interesting to watch. I haven't seen Season One through since it aired, and following the events of the S5 finale, its fun to see how all these people got their start with one another.
In these initial episodes the writers mostly illustrate the potential realities of being stranded, while at the same time not attempting any sort of total gritty realism. This means that we get frank and honest discussions about burning dead bodies in the fuselage to keep animals from consuming them, as well as an extended sequence of Hurley and Charley fishing (hilariously) with a spear.
It's also interesting to see how my knowledge of these characters after five seasons has influenced how I view behavior at the beginning of the story. Sawyer is a good example. Rewatching his first scenes, Mr. Ford comes across less as the dangerous criminal he was to me initially, and more of a dickish, emotionally-battered smartass. This is a result of both my expanded knowledge of him as well as the way in which that understanding informs the acting choices that Holloway makes here at the start.
Jack comes across as more complex and ambiguous in his heroism from the start – quick to point out that he’s entered the family business as something of an inevitable event, capable of heroic action but just as capable of overextending himself, unable to let things go. Some folks have soured on Jack, but I really like his arc and Matthew Fox is exceptionally good at showing conviction while hiding doubt.
I've grown more and more tired of Kate as the show has gone on, but she's an engaging character at the beginning of the show and it makes em think that what I’m really tired of is the triangle she’s in, not necessarily the character. Plus, Evangeline Lily gives great I'm-gonna-die-face. Check out, if you will, her close-ups during any of the scenes on the failing plane. There are moments of cross-eyed weirdness that are laugh-out-loud funny, and for some reason we get to see those moments a few times over these episodes, as the show cuts back to cross-eyed Kate over and again.
In general, I’m struck by how human most of the characters are. The show went out of its way to paint each of them as flawed from the word go. I’m also struck by how Boone seems to screw up every single thing he touches. Good lord, man. Recognize your limitations.
Great Boone line #1: “I run a business!”
I can see more clearly why some folks were turned off by the developments of later seasons when looking back on these eps. They’re all touched by elements of the weird (the Monster, the bears, Christian), but the focus is on the people who’ve crashed and on their basic survival, along with their personal histories. This focus goes wider and wider as the show progresses and it’s easier to see, looking back, how that expansion would turn some off. For me it’s cat-nip.
In terms of the show’s eventual “mythology,” the first four episodes drop some hints into the bucket and give the show some shades of previous sci-fi classics like the Prisoner and Twin Peaks with well-chosen moments of fright and mystery. Mythology elements touched on so far include:
-The Monster: Smokey shows up early and often in the first four episodes, something I guess I'd forgotten. We don't see him/her/it, but we hear it, and we see it move, marked by uprooted trees and shaking foliage. It's not clear to me if anyone on the show actually knew what the Monster was at this point, but there's nothing in the first four episodes that contradicts what we'll learn later.
We see Smokey take out the pilot of the plane, but it’s not clear why. Most likely it’s simply because they wanted to establish the Monster as a legitimate threat, not because they’d already decided what its motives were.
-Jack's Dad: Jack's father appears on the Island for the first time in Walkabout, the fourth episode. He's a momentary apparition, but there's maximum eerieness to the appearances, aided by the incongruity of a full, natty-looking, suit and tie outfit in the Island landscape. We don't know that this mystery man is Jack's pop yet, but we can sense that there's something otherworldly about the appearance. We also see what appears to be a white tennis shoe in the opening sequence of the Pilot, dangling from a tree. It serves two purposes: for the new viewer it indicates that something here is off, prior to discovering the crash. For the repeat viewer it seems to be one of Christian’s tennis shoes.
-John Locke’s Legs: Walkabout is justifiably celebrated as one of the show’s best episodes, and I’m reminded again why that is. The reveal of John’s ‘limitations’ is very well handled, and the revelation of what Locke’s miracle was is dealt with intelligently and smoothly. There are no words to let us know what’s happened, just the stark shift from a man confined to a man liberated, wordlessly searching the sky with wondering eyes.
-Backgammon!: ‘Two sides, one light, one dark. Backgammon is 5,000 years old – that’s older than Jesus Christ.’ Looking back, these (paraphrased) lines laid out one essential thread of the show from the very beginning. It suggests many things at once: that the show is not simply a Judeo-Christian allegory, that there are forces at war, that there are sides and that these people will be among the players. When the show first aired there was much speculation that this was the mission statement of the show, per se. As the show went on, that line first seemed less relevant, and then seemed relevant to the story of Widmore and Linus. Now, as we round the corner to the final season, we’re back where we began – contemplating a more cosmic interpretation of those words.
In Tabula Rasa, Kate the fugitive drags a one-armed man to safety. Dr. Kimble would chuckle. Those are my scattered opening thoughts and impressions.