Retroview: 1.4 Walkabout

Briefly, what happened?

Locke ventures out as the group’s hunter-gatherer to retrieve a boar for the survivor’s rapidly-dwindling food supplies. He has an encounter with ‘the monster’ but tells no one about it, and returns with a boar. At night, the fuselage and the dead inside are burned following a short ceremony.

In flashback Locke is refused admission on the ‘walkabout’ adventure holiday due to his being in a wheelchair – an affliction miraculously lifted by the Island.

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

Thoughts and Analysis

I expect for legion of LOST fans, Walkabout retains a place in their hearts and memories as one of the show’s finest. People will have their own reasons for this and, indeed, I do too. I think it sticks out most vividly purely because of that most wonderful surprise reveal – that Locke was confined to a wheelchair before the crash of Oceanic 815. LOST would go on to have all kinds of reveals and surprises, ones that would drop a twist into proceedings to knock you sideways, but you’ll always remember the first time as that little bit more special and Locke being in a wheelchair was perhaps the purest, most immediate kind of surprise LOST offered up.

In truth, Walkabout isn’t as good as the sum of its parts. Without the brilliant flashback story and twist it’s a fairly mundane episode, with a lot of b-plots and trivialities punctuated by two major on-Island highlights. This was one of them:

We didn’t know at the time it was Jack’s recently-deceased father, Christian Shephard, making an unexpected appearance on the beach but now we can understand why Jack reacted so shocked but didn’t mention what he saw. All kinds of things must have tumbled through his mind, but most likely, being a man of science (and having just diagnosed Rose as enduring post traumatic stress) he would likely consider himself losing grip on rational sense.

Of course, we’ll come to learn that it wasn’t really Christian Shephard at all. It was actually Nameless in Christian Shephard’s form. If it seems early for Nameless to be taking such form consider that in the ‘mobisode’ So It Begins aired between Season 3 and 4, the actual first instance of Nameless taking possession of Christian’s form occurred before Jack even woke up in the jungle, when he tells Vincent work needs to be done.

The crash had only just happened. Christian Shephard’s body in the coffin had barely touched down near the caves. And already Nameless had assumed the form and had sought Jack out! So what’s going on here? This is pretty heavy-going so early in to the Retroview but events dictate the content so let’s tackle this head on.

First, the matter of Nameless taking the form of a dead person. Considering Christian Shephard’s body will have gone when Jack opens the coffin in the next episode, and likewise Yemi’s body will later disappear when Mr. Eko seeks it out, there’s a temptation to figure that Nameless does something with the dead bodies in order to occupy their form. I don’t believe this is true. We’ll see Nameless take the form of various deceased people, some that he could not possibly have reached the bodies for (Richard Alpert’s wife, for example) so it logically follows the actual physical body is not required.

So we’ll take that as granted. Nameless does not need a body to assume the form. (I think a general rule would be that, given he is sourced from beyond death, the only necessity for him to assume a human form would be if that person were dead.) If that is so, why remove Christian and Yemi’s body? Well, I think the answer is quite simple: It’s so that Jack, and Mr. Eko, will actually believe these apparitions are really the people they knew, are really the dead returning to deliver a message.

In the instance of Alpert, Nameless assumed his wife’s form in order to trick him into doing his bidding. I think the same thing is true here, with his taking Christian’s form and seeking Jack out. What we see in this episode is the first moves in a ploy by Nameless to draw Jack into searching for him in the jungle, but that’s a pursuit followed through in the next episode, White Rabbit, so I’ll pick up the discussion in that post.

The other big event, also featuring Nameless, is when he encounters Locke. Whilst we don’t get to see what Locke see this episode. . .

. . . we’ll get a good idea about what he was looking at in the next season. . .

So Locke got confronted by this enormous, growling Black Smoke and it didn’t kill him. Was that because Nameless was aware that Locke was a man that had been touched by Jacob? (Similarly, was that the reason it was seeking Jack out, too?) I am going to go with yes, primarily because we have written evidence that the names of people Jacob had marked as potential candidates to replace him had been written in the dial of a lighthouse wheel and on the ceiling of a cave.

Over the years names would have been scratched out, removing them from Jacob’s consideration, but at the time of the crash there would have been many more viable possibilities and Nameless was surely aware of them. Neatly enough, we hear this episode that Jack’s seat number was 23, which is one of the 4 8 15 16 23 42 numbers. Last episode Kate mentioned her Australian ransom was $16,000, and we find out that Locke has been in a wheelchair for 4 years. Jack is assigned as number 23 on the cave ceiling, like his seat number, just as Locke is designated as number 4, like the number of years he has been in a wheelchair – pretty cool, right? Kate isn’t number 16, however. She’s 51. I guess that would have just been too perfect.

Anyway, where does all this get us? It basically gets us to the situation where Nameless is already making moves against key players on Jacob’s list of candidates. Locke will later state that he looked into the eye of the Island (meaning this encounter he had in the jungle when he stared into the Black Smoke) and he saw a beautiful white light. It’s curious, but the heart of the Island, the cave of light that Nameless was thrust into and emerged from as the Black Smoke, really fits this description.

We enter the realms of interpretation with such matters. My interpretation was that Nameless showed Locke exactly what he wanted to see. He showed him the beautiful heart of the Island to convince Locke it was a truly miraculous place. The effect would be to forge a willingness for Locke to want to stay and, furthermore, to try and make other people stay. What Nameless does, in fact, is give Locke faith in the Island. He makes an acolyte out of him. Absolute, devoted belief. And Locke will believe so hard, so strongly, he will go to all manner of lengths to derive meaning and purpose for that faith.

(For Locke Season 1 will be about keeping people on the Island, Season 2 will be about pushing the button for a perceived higher purpose, Season 3 about discovering ‘Jacob’, Season 4 about trying to protect the Island and Season 5 about trying to make a believer out of Jack but dying in service of his belief. Locke doesn’t make it to Season 6, not alive at any rate!)

As we saw in this flashback, and others, Locke is prone to pouring his hope and faith into misguided places (it’s this very quality that will cost him a kidney, for one thing!). He has been continuing a relationship with a phone sex worker called Helen (I assume he named her as such after his last girlfriend which only makes it all the sadder) who bursts his delusional notion of what they are once he offers to take her with him on his ‘walkabout’.

One hope balloon popped, he then goes to the tour operator in Australia and is rejected admission on the trip. Another hope balloon popped. Despair, once more, greets Locke in its unfeeling embrace and fate, as he sees it, deposits him on an Island where he regains the use of his legs. Locke’s only capacity to keep on going has been to take the hits life doles out and find something else to focus on – the Island becomes that new thing, with the fulfilment of getting to be the hunter he always believed he was.

We got the first defiant exclamation of “Don’t tell me what I can’t do!” this episode. It’s Locke’s mantra, and it’s got him through some seriously tough times. It’s a terrific attitude, but left unchecked such belligerence can be costly.

Kate went along with Locke on the boar hunt as a cover for her mission in helping Sayid try and triangulate the signal of the French distress beacon (already there are secrets in the group!). She failed, and I liked how Sayid’s frustrations bubbled over when she told him before he then composed himself. Michael’s willingness to go along felt more out of place, albeit his motive is purely to try and get to know Locke better on account of him hanging around Walt.

It feels like a stretch for Michael to be included, and more like the writers just getting his character into the mix. Especially considering the hassle of trying to enlist Sun as a babysitter (really, you’d have to ask why Michael didn’t just go and ask someone else who spoke English to look after his son!). Still, at least Sun was on hand to explain how they used leaves to keep their teeth clean! One mystery solved before the question was even raised!

The requirement to hunt is formed through the need to eat. LOST is perhaps guilty of glossing over just how tough it would be for a group as large as the survivors of Oceanic 815 to sustain themselves (the boar that Locke eventually returned with sure won’t last!). It’s really only Season 1 where provisions are a concern as by Season 2 they’ll find the Swan Station and a larder full of food, and then later discover the parachuted ration drop. Food will be plentiful! But for Season 1 it’s like there’s token mention that of a need to get food for themselves during this episode and after that it’s pretty much left up to Locke to keep bringing back the meat!

Let’s not forget that Jin is a dab hand at bringing in the fish, mind, and does his fair share of providing as the show goes on. It’s something Shannon ought to have considered when she recruited Charlie to get a fish for her so she could win an argument with Boone. This ‘plot’ typifies a classic LOST Season 1 trait – a sub-plot of inconsequence shoehorned in to keep characters ticking over and give them a reason to be in the episode. At least this diversion presented us with the first bonding moments between Charlie and Hurley.

I forgot that they became close during Charlie’s time on the Island – probably the closest two male characters came to being actual pals. It was certainly fun to see them trying to catch a fish, and serves as a reminder that, at least in these early days, we’ll actually get to see characters occasionally laughing and having fun. It’s a quality that will surely diminish as LOST ups the intensity!

Charlie did make one remark to Shannon that really stuck out as poor writing. He conveyed his relaxed attitude on the Island was due to being familiar with such life because “England is an island”. The comparison itself doesn’t bother me (he was trying to be funny – the joke was wasted on Shannon) it’s the factual inaccuracy that really stings. Let’s get this right: England is not an island and absolutely no person from England would ever say it was. England is part of the UK which, in its mainland, comprises three different countries (England, Scotland and Wales).

It’s poor writing, is all, though I am surprised Dominic Monaghan didn’t speak up about it. Maybe to American ears it’s not a big deal but you’ll just have to take my word for it: it’s a really dumb thing to say. On paper and in context you could argue that Charlie was dumbing himself down for Shannon’s benefit, but the scene really didn’t play that way at all. And Charlie isn’t a stupid person – he’s well-educated, Catholic-schooled and, touring with Driveshaft, well-travelled to boot. Such glaring errors shouldn’t have been allowed to slip through the net. Could always blame it on the heroin, I suppose.

On the plus side, LOST scored a win for consistency by allowing Sayid to receive a photograph of Nadia.

That the photograph of Nadia we get to see this early in the show is of the same person that we will see a good few episodes ahead does, in hindsight, really aid LOST’s consistency. In reality it was rather fortuitous that the nature of making the show coincided with the reveal of the photograph.

As you may know, when up and running, production of LOST juggles about 7-8 episodes at one time. From the oldest episodes being edited, scored and having effects added, to the newest episodes being written and cast. It just so happened that the episode Solitary, where Nadia first appears, was being prepared and cast during the time this episode was being finished up. As such, they had the actress for Nadia lined up and thus, brilliantly fortuitously, could include her pretty face here and make LOST look like it had things planned out further in advance than seemed feasible!

Last word has to go to Randy, Locke’s boss. Improbably managing to get himself an appearance in Season 2, 3 and 4, there’s something loathsomely admirably about what a monumental prick this guy is.

Put yourself in his shoes for a moment. You’re the boss of an older man in a wheelchair. It’s your job to make sure he gets things done so, OK, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t push him for things just like you would everyone else. Just because he’s in a wheelchair doesn’t give him special privileges, right? In reality, I think most of us would cut a cripple some slack but that’s not how Randy rolls.

However, who amongst us would then go and see this crippled guy whilst he is minding his own business, on his lunch break, doing nothing more than playing a game and just start laying into him about how stupid his hobby was? You single out this poor bastard and tell him he needs to wake up to his physical limitations about going on the adventure holiday he has planned. You hear he has a woman in his life and don’t disguise your sneering surprise and disbelief.

Seriously. Locke is a cripple and Randy’s giving him nothing but a hard time. What kind of breathtaking piece of shit would do that? Randy. That’s who. What a guy!

Best Part

I don’t expect I’ll say this often, but the best part of this episode was during the flashback and seeing Locke in the ‘walkabout’ office revealed in a wheelchair. First time around it was a great jawdropping surprise that had you manically re-appraising everything you thought you’d seen during the episode.

Second time around the surprise is, naturally, gone but what remains is the vivid bitterness of Locke’s ranting. In retrospect we know this knockback comes after a long and hard life of tough breaks – raised in foster homes, used by his mother, spurned by his lover and then physically broken by his father shoving him out of a window. It’s with pure, impotent defiance does Locke yell, “Don’t tell me what I can’t do!” and it’s a harder heart than mine that can’t feel the pain etched into every one of those words.


Keith said...

Its kinda painful viewing seeing John in his off island life, he is a such a victim and we know that things don't really get much better for him. Usually in TV and film people who've had a rough life get some sort of reward at the end but Lost doesn't abide by the TV rules.

I would say that the best phase of Johns life is between the plane crash and turning the Donkey Wheel, not that his time on the island is a picnic either.

He seems to make his decisions on faith and hope. The two examples in this episode: buying a plane ticket to Australia for the phone call girl 'Helen' before he'd even asked her! I mean, he could at least have thrown it out there in conversation to see what came back. The other was showing up in Australia in a wheelchair to go Bushwhacking, again a quick phonecall to the tour operator would have let him know where he stood(ahem) on that one.

There are so many other decisions that Locke makes in his off island life that are based on faith and hope that are just dumb. The kidney thing to a con artist father is typical of the poor guy. But on the island his niave faith and hope are actually quite productive when you consider the hatch, Widmores boat people, taking on Ben for the leadership of the others and even made him an adversary for a very successful guy like Jack, off island that would be unthinkable.

Van said...

Completely agree with your sentiments on this episode. Undoubtably still in my top 3 of all time. John Locke is one of the greatest characters ever created.