Retroview: 1.2 Pilot – Part 2

Briefly, what happened?

Following the retrieval of the transceiver, it won’t work unless used from higher ground. A small expedition sets out to make it work, encountering and killing a polar bear on the way. However, the transceiver is unable to broadcast due to a strange French distress signal emanating from the Island, one that has been repeating unanswered for 16 years.

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

Thoughts and Analysis

Like the previous episode, I acknowledge that Pilot – Part 2 wasn’t really designed to be viewed in isolation. The two Pilot episodes together formed what ought to be considered the proper ‘Pilot’ episode and, combined, provide a fuller basis from which the show stands. So whilst Pilot – Part 1 was a relatively stripped-down narrative (crash site, journey to cockpit, monster attack) this second part does the heavy-lifting in trying to give time and space to bring the ensemble characters into the mix.

It’s sort of cluttered, and that kind of hobbles the dynamism. Indeed the first few seasons of the show really wrestle, sometimes unsuccessfully, in trying to cater for the many characters whereas later seasons get a little freer about leaving characters absent to narrow the focus for an episode or two. So whilst the narrative here is still pretty simple (take transceiver to higher ground, find out it doesn’t work) it feels more complicated and, as stated, cluttered.

There’s snapshot moments and scenes. Jin and Sun, wordless and tense, preparing seafood on the beach, when Michael interrupts them. Sun almost replies, too, before deferring to feigning ignorance with her English. It’s curious that Michael and Sun will eventually forge a friendship – just one of many interesting relationships that will crop up and briefly flourish – whilst the show, and its characters, feel their way around one another to figure out their place in things.

Jin still appears as an oppressive tyrant towards Sun (love how she defiantly undoes her top button having been commanded to fasten it, inspired by seeing Kate near-naked and liberated on the shore) but is then giving an enjoyable moment when Claire finally feels her baby kick and she grabs his hand to feel it. It’s fun to see, and comes off the back of the amusing moment where Hurley point blank refuses the seafood Jin offers despite his hunger (really great improvised feel for that scene).

Despite Jin appearing aloof and mean it’s worth noting that he has taken the trouble to make and prepare food for everyone, proof positive that there’s a heart of gold behind his intelligible façade. It's also nice in that Jin, and Sun, will come to be like an on-Island auntie and uncle to little Aaron, so him being here before the child is born feels right and proper.

(Aside: We should remember that Claire was onboard Oceanic 815 for a rendezvous with people she believed would take her baby. Considering her concern for not having felt the baby kick, and her joy at feeling it once more and deciding for herself that it was a boy, it’s almost like surviving the crash has instantly created a desire to keep her baby after all.)

Sawyer is another character we know possesses a good heart despite his actions to the contrary, but he is very much a character that will undergo a significant degree of softening as LOST continues. The Sawyer of Season 1 and 2 in particular is, in many ways, a genuine son of a bitch. This works, fine, mind. Here we see him reading his letter for the first time.

Again, this is nice foreshadowing, as we know this is the letter a young James Ford wrote to a man he knew as ‘Sawyer’; the man that ruined his life. It’ll take until Season 3 before we learn who ‘the real Sawyer’ is and for our Sawyer to find him and exact revenge. Once he’s had his vengeance his heart is able to release the hate and so begins the softening up process. Here, in these early days, Sawyer is a man fuelled by murderous inner demons that he’s some way from coming to terms with.

In a retroview Sawyer definitely loses his edge, though, since we know he shapes up to be a thoroughly decent good guy with a nice line in wisecracks and nicknames. The sense of menace he generates is significantly lessened second time around. Also significantly lessened is his hair – here in the first episodes it’s rather short compared to the massive jump in length that will occur in the next episode!

The difference is, of course, purely a production aesthetic. In between making the Pilot episodes and the main season Sawyer’s hair got longer and it just looked better that way, so it stayed. We can’t blame every strange event on the Island, even with this show!

Kate is another character whom this episode is used to deliver the big surprise and intrigue, as it is revealed she was the handcuffed captive of the US Marshall. No sooner has that been revealed when Edward Mars wakes on the beach – despite the head injury and large shard of shrapnel embedded in his torso his first question is to ask where she is. Clearly he is a man obsessed, as we’ll see he’s hunted Kate for a long time (though it’s never very well explained why it is he considers her so dangerous when the nature of her crimes reveal she’s hardly a psychopath).

It’s easy to relax around Kate, as with Sawyer, in a retroview. First time around Kate does come across as ambiguous and potentially deadly. She lies, pretending not to know how a gun works, but it’s understandable: she wants to keep her fugitive status secret. Yet despite the suggestive dark shadings the episode tries to impose it’ll transpire Kate doesn’t really have a bad bone in her body.

The episode does take a little time to show us what a fabulous body she does have, mind.

No complaints from me about that. This was the Pilot episode and LOST needed to employ all the tricks at its disposal to get viewers hooked (and get a season commissioned!). If Kate’s sleek, nubile form was a reason some people tuned in next week then LOST will take those viewing figures just as happily as any others! The rest of us, meanwhile, by the end of this episode, were left wondering how the flipping flip a bloody great polar bear ended up on a tropical island!

I have to admit when watched again the sight of a polar bear storming through long grass and then being shot to death by a hard-as-nails, never-flinching Sawyer only for the crowd to gather and gawp at the sight of it felt funny, in a stupid way. Perhaps it would have been better had the polar bear just been seen, charging past, rather than being shot and killed upon attack. It just feels too unsubtle and dumb.

Still, polar bears are a part of LOST (and they do get used better further down the line, dodgy special effects aside) and we know how they got to the Island. Dharma had them, training them for experimentation in genetic modification, intelligence and testing and, sure, as guinea pigs to be zapped into the middle of a desert through electromagnetic space-time. (Sheesh, that’s a sentence I didn’t anticipate I’d write when I woke up this morning!)

Polar bears were kept by Dharma over on Hydra Island, in cages as we’d become familiar with in the much-maligned first six episodes of season 3 (I rather liked them, actually!) but must surely have also been on the main Island, too, as part of the activity that went on at The Orchid Station. (And no, for the record, I am not one of those people who thinks polar bears were used to turn the frozen donkey wheel!)

A woman called Charlotte would discover polar bear remains in the desert, after all, deposited there via the same mechanism that would see Ben, and then Locke, dropped through space and time. It’s not essential that we trouble ourselves too much with the specifics, we know enough to get by. I mean, maybe the polar bears on the Island are purely the ones that were released from the cages on Hydra Island and then swam across to the main Island, but really it doesn’t matter. We know Dharma brought them and kept them and that’s how they came to be there: mystery solved!

If the episode has a prevalent them, it’s to do with characters not being entirely truthful. We’ve already discussed Sawyer and Kate and their deceptions, but Charlie was also involved. We discovered here that he was in the toilets on Oceanic 815 due to clucking for a fix. He lies to Kate about what he was doing in the toilet when they went to the cockpit (happy to pretend to be a gutless coward just as Kate is happy to pretend to be ignorant using a gun).

Worth mentioning again an apparent inconsistency many LOST fanatics are aware of. During Charlie’s flashback we see him run to the front of the plane, to the toilet, and when he’s just about to flush his drugs he gets slammed around the place before exiting the toilet and finding a seat. Cindy the air hostess gives chase, and bangs on the toilet door. Moments later Oceanic 815 begins to crash. Cindy will later emerge as part of the tail-end survivors, meaning she had to make a hell of a dash to the rear of the plane.

You know what, though? Whilst previously this felt like a major error on the show, watching again there’s just about enough time for Cindy to have feasibly made that distance. When Charlie blunders out of the toilet and scrambles to a seat Cindy is nowhere around. And since there’s actual a cut between Charlie in the bathroom and him finding a seat that allows for a little more time unaccounted for. If Cindy’s emergency position was in the rear of the aircraft then it would make sense for her to rush there the moment the extreme turbulence (as she would have figured it was) hit.

I know it’s not a big deal whichever way you slice it, but still, it’s nice to have these niggles work themselves out.

It’s quite a sight for sore LOST eyes to see Shannon and Boone again. I’m not just tediously talking about how Shannon is hot, either. I’m sure many of the fairer sex consider Boone to be more than easy on the eye also. No, I’m talking about how seeing those two again really makes the show feel like old times – major characters that would matter so much during these first seasons that will mostly disappear from memory beyond that. Their presence really marks out the contrast.

Credit also Maggie Grace; her performance as Shannon is really rather good, possessing vulnerability and spite and giving good shriek (when the polar bear rocks up) to totally inject a sense of overloading panic. The pair of them make for a conflicting and quietly messed up couple (it’s not quite incest but, by God, it’s not quite right either!) that are more complex and challenging characters than you probably remember them as.

Something else seen as more controversial, that time and familiarity have eased, is Sayid. His remarks here to Hurley, about fighting in the Gulf War on the ‘enemies’ side, landed heavier back in 2004 when LOST first aired. The equivalent now would be to have a character that was, say, in the Taliban. Just a few years after 9/11, Sayid’s presence on the flight invokes suspicion and violence from Sawyer about how the crash was surely his fault. Time away from that real world event, and the show nurturing and fostering Sayid into one of LOST’s more complex characters, has dodged the initial concerns that he was just a bit of token novelty casting. It’s to the show’s credit they handled Sayid well, and kept him for the long haul.

He was the man that fixed the transceiver, that took charge with the expedition up the mountain to try and get a signal. He also did some wicked maths in his head when working out that the thousands of iterations of a 30-second broadcast repeating equalled 16 years! You’ve got to hand it to him; right from the off Sayid was all kinds of awesome.

The emergency broadcast that Shannon translated was, of course, left by Danielle Rousseau, some time during 1988. You can hear the full transcripts of the message and then compare and contrast with the account that Rousseau herself will relay to Sayid in the episode Solitary and hit discrepancies and apparent contradictions.

Like, in the message Rousseau remarks that “Brennan took the keys” yet Brennan (a member of the science team she was a part of) was shot and killed before she recorded the message. But if you sweep aside conspiracy theories about Rousseau, all of which no longer apply, and appreciate that the messages are being recorded by a woman in distress (she’s already killed her science team under the belief they were taken by some ‘sickness’, and seen Jin appear and disappear into thin air) it would actually beggar belief if her recounting of something that happened over a decade ago in extreme circumstances was absolutely perfect.

At the time of making the recording she is either heavily pregnant or has had her child stolen. Again, either situation is going to exert mental pressure. Throw in the fact that 16 years pass, of her being alone in the jungle hearing strange whispers, and I think it’s OK to cut her some slack when she comes to tell Sayid how things happened. Her memory is going to have shifted a few things around or lost some of the details. The important point is that we fundamentally know the true story, and Rousseau’s is a rather desperate and ultimately tragic one.

We’ll save that one for another time. For now, there’s just the small matter of one of LOST’s most iconic scenes – one that gathered greater significance the more the show went on.

I’ve got to say, seeing this scene again knowing what LOST is all about really, really loads it up with powerful foreshadowing. In fact, I’d rate this scene as more indicative than the skeleton cave couple that LOST and its creators had a grand plan well worked out. What you’ll remember best is Locke remarking about how their were two sides, and how this came to perfectly symbolise the opposing forces of Jacob and Nameless.

That alone is pretty good foreshadowing. But better is that Locke actually sets his symbolic remarks in the context of a game – backgammon – that has been in existence longer than any other game. He states that backgammon is the oldest game in the world, with sets discovered from 5,000 BC. He adds, to Walt, that this makes it older than Jesus Christ.

So here’s Locke discussing the oldest game in the world, one that pre-dates Christian concepts of good and evil, as a matter of two opposing forces battling against one another. He even namechecks Mesopotamia which, in a broad summary, is an ancient land regarded as the cradle of civilisation. With the benefit of retroview it’s impossible not to hear all this sounding less like a discussion about backgammon and more about the entire meaning of LOST.

They gave us the meaning of the show in the Pilot episode all along! Ain’t that just fantastic!?

Last point: the scene ends with Locke asking Walt a question: “Do you want to know a secret?” We never receive a hard and fast explanation but the best guess is that Locke just obliquely told Walt that a miracle had happened (Walt remarks as much further down the line, to Michael). Whether Locke explained that the “miracle” was that he had regained the use of his legs, or he left it ambiguous is unknown. Pick whichever you like best. I like to think that Locke kept his secret.

Best Part

For sheer ‘wow’, the crash sequence from Kate’s point of view holds up even now as a terrific, and terrifying, occurrence. The effects still amaze, and are comparable with movie-standard, and there’s no question that seeing Kate hurriedly unlock her cuffs before the back of the plane is torn away just a few rows behind her, spewing out people and materials, ranks as one of the most awesome visuals the show ever displays.

However, for meaning and reverence, the short dialogue between Locke and Walt, with the backgammon pieces and the oh-so-meaningfully foreshadowing remarks of one side is black, one side is white, is hard to beat. It’ll take many seasons for the full impact of these words to be felt, but in a retroview, especially coming from Locke, there’s a real momentous feel to that speech that resonates to the core of what LOST is all about.


Keith said...

Of course the polar bear was there to turn the donkey wheel, the Einsteins of the bear community. I thought it was definitive, how else was one transported to Tunisia? :)

It was fantastic to watch the scene in which Locke described the game of backgammon to Walt. Looking back it felt like every word was loaded with meaning.

StitchExp626 said...

I agree by turning the wheel the island moves and the person or polar bear doing the turning ends up in Tunisia.


Andre7 said...

In the making of documentary or commentary to the episode I remember someone says the piece of paper Sawyer pours over in the secvond part of the episode was blank. The writers had not yet fleshed out his back story but knew this iece of paper would be important in revealing it somehow... Just thought I would put that out there...