Retroview: 1.1 Pilot – Part 1

Briefly, what happened?

Flight Oceanic 815 crashed on a remote Island. The survivors gathered together, witnessing something monstrous in the jungle, before a plan was formed to retrieve the transceiver from the cockpit. Jack, Kate and Charlie found the cockpit and the pilot in the jungle but were then attacked. The three fled and hid, later making the grim discovery of the pilot’s body in a tree.

Note: Retroview posts are written with full awareness of everything that happens during the entirety of LOST and will contain SPOILERS.

Thoughts and Analysis

Knowing where LOST ends generates a momentary shiver of excitement at the very opening moments of this first episode. We’ll finish where we began – on Jack’s eye, with him lying in the jungle amidst bamboo, and with Vincent not too far away either! We also know that this particular spot is close to the cave of light that will become a pivotal and somewhat divisive plot point way, way ahead six seasons from here. What it all points to, of course, is destiny: the moment Jack landed on the Island he wasn’t far from where he needed to be, physically, but mentally and spiritually he is very much a man of science, and of ignorance, and has a long journey ahead of him.

Jack may be a man of science, but the opening sequence also marks him out as a man of action. It’s still a great scene, when he stumbles out of the jungle and into the chaos of the crash site on the beach.

Watched again, the crash site rescue holds up really well. In fact my first thoughts on seeing Jack arrive at the beach with the expanse of ocean behind him and the green foliage juxtaposing the golden sand was just how good this show looks. It really was, is, a beautiful-looking show and this immediate factor probably, on an unconscious level, accounted for the instant appeal of it for the mass audience. LOST just grabs your interest right from the get-go.

It’s great fun watching the crash site sequence flitting around characters we’ll get to know better further down the line. Charlie wandering around dazed, and Shannon screaming. Interesting also that the first person Jack rescues (a man trapped under a piece of plane) sees him enlist Locke’s help. Locke is kept very much out of focus during the moment, though I did like how his posture and stance had him slightly hunched, leaning on things for support. The first big walloping surprise LOST will spring a few episodes later is that Locke, moments earlier, had been confined to a wheelchair and had just come around lying on a beach to discover sensation in his legs.

I’ll take a brief aside here since I’m talking about Locke, as there is really only one other significant Locke moment this episode. It occurs when Kate takes the shoes off a dead man to have more appropriate footwear for her journey into the jungle. She makes eye contact with Locke and he smiles, revealing a mouthful of orange peel.

I know that this was inspired by Marlon Brando in The Godfather, and it works for Locke because immediately it sets him apart as a little off; menace masked with a smile. This is a man who doesn’t quite strike the ‘normal’ chord and a prevalent aspect of his character, this season especially, is of a man who presents a harmless, benign front that disguises a more dangerous liability (his thwarting of rescue attempts, his time with Walt and his fatal friendship with Boone) that echoes the ‘dark shell’ he will become when Nameless inhabits his form for more nefarious purposes.

Boone memorably crops up at the crash site eagerly wanting to help Jack. It’s Jack that sees him attempting to resuscitate Rose, badly, and sends him away on a fool’s errand to get pens (for an ill-advised impromptu tracheotomy!). Jack saves Rose (later she’s seen tenderly holding the ring on her necklace, that we’ll learn belongs to Bernard) but Boone’s actions here foreshadow his attempts to save the drowning girl, Joanna, that will cause Jack to suffer losing the first of his ‘flock’ (in the episode White Rabbit). Again, it’s nicely handled. Curiously, Jack does treat Boone like his right-hand man; he charges Boone with looking after the injured man whilst he is away, which prompts a debate to suggest Boone’s sense of being of a similar quality to Jack, in charge, ready and able to save the needy was part-fuelled by Jack’s misguided encouragement.

If you really wanted to mine that argument, you could take it further and suggest that Jack’s later abandonment of Boone (favouring Kate, Sayid, Michael and, to an extent, Sawyer) created a vacuum in Boone’s life that Locke would eventually fill. I do believe that Boone’s death is one of the heaviest that grips Jack’s guilt so it is intriguing to see their relationship develop here.

Most key members of the cast get short bits of screentime during this episode. Hurley and Claire get a decent amount of dialogue – though her pregnancy bump in silhouette looks truly ridiculous. Sawyer is seen but doesn’t speak. Sun also doesn’t speak, but is instructed by Jin that they stay together. The look on her face really sells the truth that she was on the verge of leaving him and isn’t wholly convinced she’s made the right decision in staying now his controlling, dictatorial traits are coming to the fore. Indeed, of all the characters, I believe Jin is one that takes the longest to be given sympathetic shading. Not a criticism, either. I like that he’s a hard-headed prick on the surface before we get to know who he really is on the inside.

Kate, naturally, isn’t around at the crash site. The moment Oceanic 815 landed and she realised she could move, she did what comes natural to her and ran. Jack unwittingly ironically remarks that she was made of stronger stuff than she gave herself credit for because she hadn’t run away from helping stitch him up. He sees in her more than she sees in herself: instant attraction is generated right here in this scene.

It was nice to see their first conversation, regarding Jack controlling his panic by counting, although when Kate runs away from the smoke monster and hides in a tree and starts counting it does look a bit stupid no matter how well she tries to sell it. Many seasons later, we’ll actually get to see the scene where Jack’s scalpel slipped in surgery and he had to control his wave of fear for real, and we’ll discover that shortly after this moment Jack will unwittingly meet and be touched by Jacob for the first time.

Interesting that Jack landing on the Island makes him recall that day, almost as if the stronger connection to Jacob has prompted that memory to surface. (I know the writers couldn’t possibly have had that in mind – but retroactively they’ve made it work really well, something I expect will happen a lot whilst I revisit the show.)

In reality there’s no doubt Kate ran into the jungle before not getting too far and realising that she had nowhere to run to, but at least removed her handcuffs (they’ll get found before long!) before she wandered back and came across Jack in need of some stitching. Her absence from the crash site would naturally go on to fuel crackpot theories that she was an Other, despite the fact that we will see her onboard Oceanic 815 in the very next episode! As would eventually transpire, pretty much every theory about LOST that was wrong was because it over-complicated matters. For the most part LOST generally flopped down on simple explanations. High-concept, sure, but mostly simple.

Perhaps the most refreshing part of this episode I noticed seeing it again was the sequence on the first night. There were a few scenes of different characters (talk of the plane crash, Hurley handing food out) but I noticed that there was no music to any of it. Even when the sounds of ‘the monster’ (I’ll get to that) rampaged through the jungle, there was no music cue. It really worked well, creating a kind of desolate feel. In my opinion LOST over-egged its use of music cues in later seasons and they became counter-productive to generating drama; watching scenes unfold like this only support that argument.

In fact this Pilot episode is really rather streamlined. There’s the crash site, some brief character introductions, a monster in the jungle and then a journey to the cockpit before the monster attacks. Again, I liked it. Some pilot episodes tend to overload on plot threads, generating future mythologies, whereas LOST kept things rather more straightforward. The only really big question this first episode poses is: What is that thing in the jungle?

It’s a shame that the first and arguably biggest question LOST ever presented is the one that provided the least satisfying answer. Don’t get me wrong – I didn’t mind that it turned out to be a Black Smoke. I didn’t mind that it was a Black Smoke that could shapeshift, though it does sound silly written like that. I don’t even mind that it was once a man that got cast into a ball of pure, white light and was spat out as this glowering turret of evil because thematically the Black Smoke is a manifestation of original sin, so it works. It really all works so long as you can swallow the high-concept. What doesn’t work is the internal logic of how it behaves in these early seasons, which does often betray that the show creators didn’t really know themselves what it was in the beginning.

I’ve made the point before that it’s not a criticism that the entire show wasn’t mapped out from the start. Let’s be realistic – that would be a hell of a lot of forethought and planning for a television show that might never get past the pilot episode stage. But what I do expect is that when revisions are made, when explanations are developed, they don’t conflict with what we’ve seen already. The Black Smoke’s behaviour this episode, for me, does just that.

Why does it attack and kill the pilot? Here’s an answer: It’s because he wasn’t supposed to be there. We’ll later learn that Frank Lapidus was supposed to pilot Oceanic 815 but dropped out and Seth Norris stepped up in his place. Since ‘supposed to be there’ means in accordance with Jacob’s design, and since really this is a show about Jacob and Nameless battling out a private game between themselves, Seth Norris the pilot was a piece that wasn’t supposed to be on the board and so got removed.

Don’t like that answer? How about this: The Black Smoke had learned a new tactic. The last time we saw people crash on the Island was when the crew of the Black Rock, with Alpert onboard, landed there. That time the Black Smoke (a.k.a Nameless) turned up and killed everyone apart from Alpert. Then Nameless attempted to trick Alpert into killing Jacob for him, but it didn’t work and instead Jacob landed himself a long-serving, dutiful servant.

Clearly that didn’t work out too great for Nameless, so with the crash of Oceanic 815 he tried a different approach. Take out the pilot, like taking a pawn in a chess game, as a tactical move to send a message to the remaining passengers. Same as stomping around the jungle, generating unease amongst the survivors. Beat the grass to startle the snakes. Then later Nameless can pinpoint individuals (like Locke, and Mr. Eko) to ascertain which might allow him to complete his endgame.

It’s frustrating that LOST didn’t take the trouble to really spell this part out, to be honest. I’ll always give the show grace for some elements of ambiguity, and even the very open-ending sits just fine with me, but on Nameless and the Black Smoke I feel they fumbled the pass and we, the audience, are left squirming to keep a hold of what they gave us.


The episode focused in on Jack, Kate and Charlie making a journey to the cockpit. Charlie is, of course, motivated to go so he can get his drugs back from the toilet. He certainly appears right from the off as self-centred, delusional (a couple of times he makes the assertion that Driveshaft are together, on a comeback) and overlooked (in the cockpit, Jack asks if Kate is OK and not him, and no one even notices he isn’t around for quite a while). Kate also mentions that Charlie seems familiar to her. Scouring my memory banks I can’t recall any instance where Kate and Charlie’s paths intertwined during flashbacks so I have to assume his being part of the band is where she knew him from.

The three of them venturing out like this do make for a strange trio, really. We’ll more come to expect it to be Jack, Kate and Sawyer, or Locke, or Sayid, or one such combo. Charlie feels like a fifth wheel here, though when this episode first aired Dominic Monaghan was the biggest name star in the show since his role in The Lord Of The Rings so it makes sense that he’d play a big part.

Last thing to say about this episode is about the ending, and the discovery of the pilot’s body up in the tree. It’s relatively well-known but worth mentioning again that in the original plans it was intended that Jack be found dead there as the ultimate shock: kill the apparent leading man in the first episode. It was even touted that Michael Keaton was going to take the role for added surprise value. Common sense prevailed, however, and the gimmick was dropped. Kate and Charlie wander back and rather than find Jack dead the three of them reunite to gaze up at poor old Seth Norris instead.

And we won’t even find out he’s called Seth Norris until Season 4!

Best Part

Whilst the discovery of the cockpit and the pilot are tense and exciting, and the subsequent Black Smoke monster attack is a terrific action moment the question marks it generates put me off totally loving it. No, the best scene of Pilot - Part 1 kicks off the moment Jack wanders into the crash site and dashes about the place being nothing short of heroic, meeting various main characters en route to saving Rose’s life. It looks great, cinematic even, and in a retroview it’s fun seeing the first appearances of characters we’ll come to know very well.


Van said...

Great analysis (as ever).

For me the best part of the show, was the first time we hear the black smoke/nameless. I was intrigued to watch the show because of the hype, and I didn't know anything about it. I just thought it was going to be a drama series, more like an extended tv version of castaway. But that sound instantly hooked me - I thought it was a dinosaur at first!

I agree completely with the behavioural inconsistencies of nameless. However, am I right to assume that nameless does not know Jacob's plan? Does nameless know who Jacob has touched? Nameless know's the names via the cave, but how would he know who's Jack/Kate etc straight away without any infiltration. The killing of the pilot was unnecessary and perhaps shows nameless' disregard for any life that doesn't have any bearing on helping him escape the island.

Keith said...

I too really enjoyed seeing the opening sequence again, the contrast of the beauty of the beach and the chaos of the crash site. Plus we were treated to our first WAAAAAALLLT!

Do you recall the crackpot theory about the first time the camera pans up the beach the crashed plane isn't there then the second time it was? I'll never know why some people thought this was an issue.

Jack was every bit our heroic character at this stage of the show, what a journey he goes on.

Kit Foster said...

Curse you, AC! You've come along to break my heart all over again!
I'll be honest (and believe me, for the longst time this was hard to admit), the end of LOST was terrible. It left me feeling empty, cheated and used - and here's why: The five seasons of beautifully crafted television; mythology and science expertly weaved into gripping drama with attention to continuity that was second to none, was shat over by that one sequence, that one terrible sequence at the end that had our cast walking into a bright light (*shudders*). And not just that - the whole sixth season was, as far as I'm concerned, nonsense. Why on earth should we care about this 'flash sideways' world, anyway? All of the other flashes had some relevance to the show, but the flash sideways was just irrelevant. sure, it was cool to see Sawyer as cop etc, but the whole idea didn't really further the show any. Anyway, I'm sure you'll get to all of that when the time comes : )

That said, it's the journey that matters in the end, I suppose, not the destination, and the first five seasons were one hell of a ride! In that spirit, I will be watching along with your recaps, and as ever, eagerly awaiting your round-up. Ahhh... just like old times! Perhaps we'll spot something new that makes the ending work... perhaps not - either way, I'm looking forward to taking this ride again - for old time's sake.

On a side note - I noticed you published a novel - good stuff man! Looking forward to reading it. I'm actually a graphic designer who specialises in book cover design, so if you would ever like a cover designed for this novel, or a future novel, I would be more than happy to do it for you free of charge (call it repayment for all the wonderful posts you've shared with us over the years). Check out my website ( and get in touch (kitfosterdesign@gmailcom) if you're ever interested.

I can't wait to go back!


AngeloComet said...

Kit - My feelings about the end weren't as hard as yours, but who knows how it will play out second time around? I've never touched Season 5 or 6 since they were aired so I am looking forward to seeing how they play out.

Now then, to business. Your offer sounds like a great one. If the front cover of my novel looks like it was cheaply thrown together via Word and Paint then that's because that's exactly how it was! So I'll definitely be keen on recruiting someone for a more professional look. I'll get in touch.