Written by Damon Lindelof
Directed by Jack Bender
Which One Is It? The first character-centric story in which a character faces conflict in the present and remembers something from his or her past. Beyond this, the one that shows why Kate was in Australia and Jack discovers she is a fugitive.
What Does the Title Mean? Tabula Rasa, the words themselves mean “blank slate”. It is a philosophical idea popularized by John Locke (the philosopher, not our character), which posits that people are born as a blank slate. We bring nothing to the table, and our experiences determine our development. This is basically favoring the nurture side of the nurture / nature debate. He believed that even those experiences that seem innate to all humans are actually conferred at a young age, even in the womb. In the context of the episode, I think it means something slightly different. Toward the end of the episode, Jack tells Kate that when the plane crashed, everyone essentially died. It doesn’t matter who they were before. They essentially get a blank slate. I’ll address this in more detail later.
Flashbacks Many of the flashbacks in this first season address why our characters were in Australia and why they were on Flight 815. Kate was in Australia because she has been on the run from the law. I don’t quite recall if we find out later why she had chosen Australia in particular. Perhaps it was just the next stop in a line of running. She finds room, board, and work on a widower’s farm. His name is Ray. He is a nice man who lost his wife less than a year ago. She left him with a lot of chores and “one hell of a mortgage.” Ray’s right arm is prosthetic. This won’t be the first time we deal with prosthetics or missing appendages / facial features.
Revelations As mentioned before, Kate is a fugitive, although in this episode we don’t know what she did. Boone is a well-meaning idiot, but we could probably have seen this hinted in the earlier pilot.
Analysis After the unsuccessful attempt to send a radio broadcast, Sayid suggests a conspiracy of silence, where the characters lie about what happened. He feels that the survivors need hope, and by not telling about the French transmission, the survivors would feel there is still a chance that they can get a signal. Even when they return to camp, Sayid starts to organize different groups to ration food and medicine, gather electrical equipment so he can boost the radio signal, and start water-gathering procedures. He arises as a potential leader, however his leadership qualities seem to be rooted not in charisma, but technical competence. This is linked to his military background.
There are two major conflicts in this episode. First, we have Kate’s story. It was hinted in the previous episode that she was a fugitive, and this episode confirms that without a doubt when the U.S. Marshal gives Jack Kate’s mug-shot. The narrative then uses the revelation to build tension. We, the audience, know Kate is a fugitive, but the majority of the characters don’t. Thus, when those on the “radio quest” vote to give Kate the only gun, we are tempted to protest. Fascinatingly, despite having more information than the characters, we still don’t have enough information to make a judgment about Kate. The episode plays on our expectations. Skipping ahead a great deal, we know that Kate is not evil. Her initial crime was the murder of her father. He was a violent, abusive drunkard. Kate put up with him for a long time, believing that he was her step father, but she eventually found out he was her biological father. In anger and shame, she killed him. Every crime she has committed since then has been to avoid capture. Again, Kate is not evil. We see this play out in her interactions with Ray. She genuinely cares for him, to the point that she pulls him from the burning wreckage of his truck at the risk of being captured. She understands that Ray was only going to turn her in because he desperately needed the money. Even though it was at her expense, she wanted Ray to get the reward money. She holds no grudges. She forgives him. These are not the actions of a villain.
The U.S. Marshal, however, is portrayed more morally ambiguous. Even within the context of the show, we don’t know a lot about him, but his pursuit of Kate seems beyond the border of obsession. Perhaps, in chasing her for years, he developed an Ahab-like insanity. His reckless driving was what endangered Ray and Kate to begin with (although Kate didn’t help matters by trying to run him off the road). The Marshal is portrayed as cruel, patronizing, and just a bit sinister. He warns Jack to not trust her. There is an interesting moment where he tells Jack, “no matter how she makes you feel, don’t trust her.” Either The Marshal knows the signs of someone Kate is charming, or he has been charmed by her in the past. In some ways, his obsession with Kate seems to go beyond just chasing a fugitive. This case probably got too personal for him.
The second conflict is euthanasia. The subject is first brought up when Jack is searching the fuselage for more antibiotics. He encounters Sawyer, who is looting. Sawyer questions Jack about the best use of the medicine. The Marshal is most-likely going to die, so why waste the medicine on him when there are plenty of living people who could need it soon. It is a valid concern, if delivered in a baiting way. This is actually one of the differences between Sawyer and Jack. Jack is more idealistic, while Sawyer is more pragmatic. As he says in the episode, “You’re still living in civilization….I’m in the wild.” This also signposts Sawyer’s leadership potential. He can measure a situation and act upon it. In Season 5, Jack and Sawyer will butt heads over leadership in a big way.
Exhibiting one of his recurring traits, Jack cannot let go. He cannot let The Marshal die. Even when it becomes apparent there is no way to save the man and his agonized moans and screams start to unnerve the camp, Jack cannot give up. Kate adds her voice to the euthanasia camp, as does Sayid, in a non-confrontation, non-contradictory way. Sayid already defers to Jack, but he will question and advise him. Even The Marshal wants to die. Kate, as you’ll remember, has the gun. There is only one bullet left, so she gives the gun to Sawyer since she can’t pull the trigger herself. Unfortunately, Sawyer doesn’t make a kill shot, puncturing a lung rather than the heart. Since this is television, The Marshal dies soon after, but not before Jack has developed a sizeable grudge toward Sawyer.
This entire situation has rattled Jack. The first person he started to trust on The Island has turned out to be a fugitive, and on top of that, she turned against him with regard to the fate of The Marshal. Throughout the episode we can see him starting to develop emotional barriers against Kate. Hurley questions him about the Kate situation, and Jack
continually insists that it isn’t his business and it doesn’t matter. He is lying. Kate eventually goes to Jack, willing to confess what she did. Jack, in attempting to comfort her, insists that everyone on The Island has a second chance. He means well, and it ends the episode in a nice sort of way, but we will spend the next six years seeing that this isn’t true at all. Second chances require more than a change of location, they require a great amount of personal will and motivation. Every situation, crime, or personal defeat that our characters have suffered have shaped personalities and defense mechanisms for times of stress. As their lives will grow increasingly stressful on The Island, we will see that Jack’s tabula rasa speech is well-meaning, but will crumble soon. He can’t even make it through the rest of the season before reneging on his promise to Kate that her past doesn’t matter.
Other Character Developments
Charlie and Claire. Charlie helps her with luggage, jokes with her, and fishes for information on her relationship status.
Michael and Walt. Michael grows concerned that Walt is spending so much time with John Locke. Locke seems to be developing the type of relationship with Walt that he wants to have. This antagonism will return, despite the fact that Locke finds Vincent and lets Michael take credit. Michael also has an uncomfortable moment where he stumbles upon Sun as she is bathing.
John Locke. Throughout the episode, we see Locke making a whistle. In the end, we find it is a dog whistle, which he uses to call Vincent. Off and on through the season we will see Locke attempting to solve problems in his own way. He will often work behind the scenes to do nice things for people. However, there will be more to him than just being a nice guy. This episode ends with him looking particularly sinister, ominous music playing over the shot. I can’t tell if this is an attempt at foreshadowing, or just something to evoke a cliffhanger feel.
Jack. After all he went through, Jack is last seen staring at the ocean as he processes the episode’s events. In season six, Jacob will have the wonderful quote: “Sometimes you can hop in the back of someone’s cab and tell them what they’re supposed to do. Other times, you have to let them look out at the ocean for a while.” Jack and I share this trait.
Dude Count. 9
Sawyer’s Nicknames. Abdul, Freckles, Al Jazeera, Brother, Doc, The Hero
-On the season 3 commentary, Carlton Cuse reveals that the writers decided to make Sawyer hyperopic to explain how he missed the shot.