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“Live Together, Die Alone” — The Great Lost Rewatch Project: Season 1!

February 15th, 2010

As I’ve mentioned in my recent posts about Lost (my discussion of the implications of Desmond’s time-traveling in the season 3’s “Flashes Before Your Eyes” and my voluminous list of the burning unanswered questions still hanging at the end of season 5), my wife & I have been engaged for several months now in a massive (and massively entertaining) project of re-watching the entire series in preparation for the beginning of the show’s final year.  (I am pleased to say that we just made it in under the wire, finishing the season 5 finale mere hours before the airing of the season 6 premiere!!)  Over the coming weeks I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the series, in a season-by-season run-down.

As with all of my Lost posts, these articles will be replete with spoilers — there’s just no way to discuss the series without mentioning some of its plot twists — so anyone who hasn’t seen the show should read on at their own peril.

OK, here we go!

“Guys… Where are we?”

It’s extraordinarily impressive to me just how well the show’s pilot and early episodes fit with the show today.  Those early installments all “feel” like true Lost episodes, unlike many shows whose first season episodes bear little resemblance to what their shows ultimately became.  The biggest difference, of course, is the amount of time spent with characters who are no longer around: Michael, Walt, Charlie, Boone, Shannon, Claire (though hopefully she’ll be back in season 6!).  Also surprising is just how little screen time John Locke has in the pilot – though his “do you want to know a secret” line to Walt remains a powerful and mysterious introduction to that compelling fellow.  I am also impressed how nothing that we’ve learned about any of the characters in the subsequent seasons makes anything in the pilot not work (because the writers hadn’t figured out “x” aspect of any character’s back-story yet).  Rather, the iconic character traits of many of the castaways are established right from the beginning — Jack’s desire to always fix things, Kate’s instinct to run away, Locke’s mantra of “don’t tell me what I can’t do,” etc.

It is interesting, though to see how far John Locke has strayed from the person he was when he first crashed on the island.  I really like the Locke that we see in the first half of season 1 — I miss him!  This Locke has great moral certainty, he’s very helpful (keeping his cool when Charlie stumbles onto the hornets’ nest; trapping, killing, and cooking boar for everyone to eat) and I find myself agreeing with him a LOT in these early episodes.  (The castaways SHOULD focus on surviving as opposed to waiting around for a rescue.  Charlie SHOULD face up to his drug addiction.  Etc.)

But the character who has changed the most is without question Sawyer.  Whereas Jack, the purported “hero of the show,” has seemed unable to shake his core issues (still claiming desperately to Kate “I can fix this” even in season 5), Sawyer has really grown from the angry, closed-off person we see in the pilot.  But what’s also fascinating to me upon rewatching the show is how much my opinion of Sawyer has changed.  Like most people, I hated Sawyer when I first watched season 1 — I thought he was a big jerk, selfish and insensitive.  But when watching these episodes a second time I find myself thinking MUCH more favorably of his actions.  Yes he is selfish, and yes he can be mean (with his nicknames and his biting comments).  But Sawyer in many ways is also the most HONEST character on the show (except maybe for Hurley).  He’s one of the only castaways who doesn’t seem to play games, and who really says what he thinks.  (Could you really say the same about Jack, Kate, Locke, or Sayid?)  I also think that Jack and Kate really act like pricks towards him, constantly ransacking his stuff and always walking up to him to angrily demand that he do this or give them that.  (As an example, check out episode 12, “Whatever the Case May Be.”  Both Kate and Jack, at various points during this episode, DEMAND that Sawyer give them the case, without even bothering to ask nicely.)  I can’t really say I blame Sawyer for not usually wanting to help them out.

Meanwhile, I find Jack to be much less heroic upon this rewatch than I did the first time around.  Though he seems like a totally centered, altruistic guy in the pilot, it isn’t long before he slips into frantic, assholish behavior.  (See episode 11, “All The Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues,” in which Jack frantically rushes headlong through the jungle trying to find Claire and Charlie and basically acts like a total jerk to Locke, Kate, and everyone else.)  He’s also extraordinarily condescending to Kate. His behavior is inconsistent – at first it seemed like he didn’t care about Kate’s past (in episode 2, “Tabula Rasa,” he told her not to tell him what she did), but by episode 12 (“Whatever the Case May Be”) he gets totally pissy with her for not spilling her guts to him about everything she’s ever done. It makes Jack surprisingly unlikable to me during the rewatch.

The other character who I really thought differently of during the rewatch was Boone.  When I first watched this show I remember thinking that Boone was a nice guy who tried his best, but upon re-watching these episodes I find his incompetence to be STAGGERING.  Take “Homecoming,” for example, in which Boone falls asleep on guard duty, which allows Ethan (or another Other) to sneak in and kill one of the castaways.  Nice going dude.  What a maroon.

“If you guys are finished verbally copulating, we should get a move on.”

Some of Lost‘s central questions are introduced right away (like what the heck is the monster?).  But for a show renowned for its mysteries, it’s sort of amusing how quickly we got an answer to the question raised by the pilot of who on the plane was in the hand-cuffs.  (We get our answer in the very second episode, “Tabula Rasa.”)

We also begin to see many of the show’s central narrative themes.  One that comes to mind is the idea that the emotional baggage of most of the characters comes down to their struggling with having become the thing they most loathed.  The young boy whose life was ruined by a confidence man named “Sawyer” eventually becomes Sawyer.  Charlie becomes the drug addict he hated his brother from being.  Sayid is drawn to torture despite having sworn never to do so again.  Jack will eventually become an alcoholic like his father.  I love this about the show — I like that the writers clearly have something they want to say, and themes they want to explore, above and beyond just telling a story about island castaways and monsters.

These early episodes also quickly introduce Lost‘s greatest narrative weakness: the consistent and annoying tendency of all the characters to withhold information from one another, for no clear reason.  In “Walkabout,” the third episode of the show, Sayid expresses frustration that he can’t tell anyone what he’s working on (his devices to triangulate the Frenchwoman’s signal).  Well, why the heck not?  Then there’s Locke, who in that same episode lies about having seen the monster.  Why exactly?  Usually these sorts of things happen because the writers aren’t yet ready to reveal certain key pieces of information — but I found this as annoying on the rewatch as I did when initially viewing these episodes.

I also find myself wondering, as I did upon my initial viewings, why the castaways don’t spend more time having to deal with the basic needs of surviving on a desert island.  We see Locke kill a couple of boars, and Jin do some fishing, but just what are they all eating all the time?  No one seems at all hungry, and we see Sayid walk off into the jungle seemingly never to return (in “Solitary”) without a mite of food on him.

“You’re a man of science. I’m a man of faith. Do you really think all this is an accident? That we, a group of strangers, survived, many of us with just superficial injuries? You think we crashed on this place by coincidence?  Especially this place? We were brought here for a purpose, for a reason — all of us. Each one of us was brought here for a reason.”

Overall, season 1 is a terrific season, one of the best of the show’s run.  One can clearly see, right from the beginning, why this show got such attention and acclaim when it first aired.  The extraordinarily level of craft on display (from the writing to the acting to the incredible sets, costumes, visual effects, etc.) is staggering.

I was really surprised and impressed by how great the first batch of episodes were.  Things get a bit wobbly towards the middle of the season, as the writers seemed to struggle a bit with how the keep the story moving forward while also keeping us in the dark about various mysteries and pieces of the characters’ back-stories until later seasons.  Sometimes there were episodes that seemed like time-wasters.  I had also forgotten just how much time was spent, in the second half of the season, on the forced Sayid/Shannon pairing.  Blech.  I found that just as ridiculous a storyline on the rewatch as I had originally.  Things really pick up, though, towards the end of the year, as Locke’s discovery of the hatch began opening up a whole new aspect of the “world” of the show.  The death of Boone was shocking, and seemed to free the writers to embrace an “anything can happen” mantra on the show in which even beloved characters weren’t safe (sniff, Charlie).  This brought a terrific intensity to the show, and created a sense of danger and dramatic heft which made the show so engaging to me.

C’mon back tomorrow for more specific thoughts on some of my favorite and least favorite moments from Lost season 1!

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