Teleplay by J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof
Story by Jeffrey Lieber, J.J. Abrams, and Damon Lindelof
Directed by J.J. Abrams
I have to start by saying if you want to avoid spoilers, you should not read this post or any post that follows. There will be no attempt to review this episode or any others without bringing in references to things that will come later. This is your final warning.
Quick Synopsis: A plane has crashed on an island. There are a few survivors. There is a mysterious creature in the jungle that is yet unseen.
The first thing that strikes me, watching this episode for the first time in probably three years, is how little happens. Seriously, compared to revelations and mysteries that will come in later season, the fact that a monster lives in the jungle seems positively mundane. Monster aside, this episode is a 42 minute establishing shot. It is really impressive, when you think about it, just how much this one episode accomplishes. By its very nature, a television pilot is supposed to introduce the basic premise and characters. A pilot is usually shot months in advance from primary filming. Network executives then determine whether or not to order a season or reject the show outright. The pilot for Lost was expensive, but I wouldn’t say this was a waste. It really looks good. I typically hate pilot episodes, but this one is near perfect. Yes, we establish the plane crash, which is important, but even more so is the establishment of every major character for the season.
It is said that we truly see what a person is made from during a crisis, and that is what we have here. Jack is, of course, the hero. The opening shot is his eye, the bamboo grove reflected in his pupil. He is disoriented, but soon gets over that and stumbles out to the beach, discovering the crash. After a few seconds where he gathers his resolve, he sets out to help people, to rescue them. He directs, he commands, he uses all his skills as a doctor. Jack saves peoples lives in these chaotic moments. Until he arrived, people were wandering in a daze or screaming. No one was moving to help anyone else. Well, that’s not exactly true. Boone is an attractive young man with the best eyes granted to an actor since Jeff Fahey, which is fitting since Fahey will join the cast in a few years. Boone is quickly established as well-meaning but slightly incompetent. He wants to do the right thing, he wants to be a hero, he just doesn’t quite know how.
Among the chaos, we also have Hurley, a man of both Hispanic descent and girth. He is reliable and follows Jack’s orders without question, even though he may be a bit shaken by what is being asked. In this case, Jack orders Hurley to watch after Claire, who is established to be pregnant. Last in these opening moments, we have Michael, a man who is searching the wreckage for Walt, who we will later find out is his son.
A loose order being restored, Jack raids luggage for sewing supplies to take care of a particularly nasty gash in his side. He gets away from the other survivors, going a bit into the jungle for this. He meets Kate, a woman just a few years younger than him. She is rubbing her wrists, a bit of foreshadowing here. Unable to sew himself up due to the gash’s placement in his side, Jack asks Kate for help.
“Have you ever sewn before,” he asks her.
“I made the curtains in my apartment,” she replies. Knowing Kate’s past, I can’t help but wonder if this was a lie. We see later that Kate has been a fugitive for years. When was she settled in an apartment long enough to make curtains? This could be the first point in the series where she lies to Jack. There will be many more.
In the aftermath of the crash, we get a few more characters established. Sawyer is seen lighting a cigarette and looking a bit pensive. Sayid is building a fire. He gets help from Charlie, who will take a larger role later in the episode. Locke sits on the beach, staring into the ocean. We get very little from John Locke in this episode, just a few enigmatic moments that are tinged with euphoria and just a bit off-putting. The shot of Locke sitting on the beach, wrecked airplane and survivors behind him, will be recreated in season five. Only, it won’t be Locke.
As night falls, we round out the cast. Shannon is seen painting her toenails. She was screaming in the midst of the wreckage earlier, but has now found other things to focus upon. Boone is her brother, and he brings her chocolate to eat, stating the rescue may be a while. Shannon insists it won’t and she will eat later. This not only sets up the conflict between the two characters, but shows her unwillingness to accept her situation.
Sun and Jin are a Korean couple. Jin is shown to be over-protective and dominant, controlling. Sun is show to be submissive. All their dialogue is in Korean, establishing that they do not speak English. Well, sort of. More on that later. Also in this episode, we see violent rainfall. Jin refuses to let anyone other than Sun into their shelter. This establishes his desire to be set apart from the rest of the group. We are not yet a happy family on this show. But then, do we ever really become one?
These are our characters for the season. Again, this pilot masterfully sets up each character in some subtle ways. We become familiar with their appearances, even if we don’t quite know them at this point. Characterization is given, even in small establishing shots. The rest of the episode is spent introducing two mysteries. First, the creature in the jungle which seems to be able to rip down trees. Second, where is The Island.
Rose, a woman who sat next to Jack on the plane, says the noises from the jungle sound familiar to her. She then says she is from The Bronx. This dialogue is delivered in the
background, so I’m not sure how relevant it is to the identity of the creature. Knowing that it is not so much a monster but a very powerful man, I wonder why this exchange is present. In all likelihood, it is an in-joke. The noises made by the monster were from a variety of sources, one of which being the sound of a taxi printer. This would be a common sound from The Bronx. This could be a bit of joke dialogue. However, given what we know about The Smoke Monster from later seasons, could there perhaps be a deeper meaning. Since Smokey can change appearance, becoming someone familiar to our characters, perhaps he can also mimic sounds. Maybe, among all the sounds heard that night on the beach, were individual sounds that were meaningful to different characters. Rose heard a taxi receipt printer. Maybe Jack heard medical electronics and Charlie guitar feedback. Nothing really supports this, but the speculation is fun.
As Jack and Kate compare notes of their experiences of the crash, they determine that the plane split into three pieces. The main cabin crashed on the beach. Kate saw smoke from the jungle, presumably the cockpit. Where is the tail? They decide to mount the first LOST expedition to find the cockpit and a transceiver. Charlie accompanies them for, I believe, two reasons. First, his drugs are in the bathroom near the cockpit. He’s a heroine addict, which will further established later. Second, he doesn’t like to be forgotten. Charlie is an ex-rock star from a one-hit wonder band named Drive Shaft. One-hit wonders are often forgotten or ignored beyond their hit song. Twice in this episode, Charlie makes sarcastic comments when Jack checks on Kate or Kate calls for Jack. Each time, Charlie is ignored.
At the cockpit, Jack finds the transceiver and discovers the pilot is still alive. He remains alive long enough to impart the information that the plane was off course when it crashed. It had also gone off radar due to an electronic malfunction. Thus, search parties won’t know where to look for the survivors. The pilot is then ripped from the cockpit by the unseen monster. Jack, Kate, and Charlie flee into the jungle, get separated, but finally come back together, only to find the body of the pilot resting on some branches high above the ground.
Okay, I said not much happened, but then proved that a lot did. But it was subtle. That’s one of the amazing things about Lost, the ability to convey a lot of information through subtle directing and acting. It is a well-crafted show, and that trend was established by the pilot, which does just as much to excite me about the show that follows. It still works and my disappointment with the ending does nothing to temper the thrill that comes from watching this episode. I was afraid this re-watching the show would be a chore, but it looks like the opposite will be true. I’m really excited about it.
SAYID: You’d think they would have come by now.
In the premiere of season three, as Ben Linus and The Others watch Oceanic 815 break-up in the skies over The Island, Ben sends Goodwin to find the tail section and Ethan to find the wreckage on the beach. So yes, Sayid. Someone is indeed coming.
The first flashback of the series belongs to Jack as he is seen meeting Rose just before the crash. He meets Cindy the flight attendant, who gives him alcohol.
Jack’s row on the plane is 23
Hurley’s Dude Count
The pilot for Lost was the most expensive television pilot ever produced up to this point.
What Could Have Been
Jack Shephard was originally to die at the end of this episode. The role was offered to Michael Keaton. As near as I can tell, it would have unfolded similarly, just with Jack dying
instead of the pilot. Kate would then move to the role of show hero. There are elements of this still present, in particular is Jack’s coaching of Kate on how to deal with fear. Jack tells the story about performing surgery on a young girl, and accidentally ripping her dural sack, spilling her nerves. This probably isn’t the best story to tell a squeamish woman who is sewing up your wounds. Regardless, Jack tells Kate he counted to five, and while he counted, he let the fear have him. Once he finished counting, he put the fear aside and did what needed to be done. Kate later does this when being chased by the monster. She hides, counts to five, then leaves her hiding place to find Jack. Originally, she would have found his body. This would have served to effectively shock the audience, showing that Lost would be an unpredictable viewing experience. Michael Keaton was willing to take the role, but only if it was part of the pilot episode. When the part was expanded, he dropped out, and Matthew Fox was eventually cast as our hero.
Question for Discussion
Why was Smokey making such a ruckus after the crash? He didn’t appear to anyone (presumably), so what were his intentions?