Briefly, what happened?
Jack chased the figure of his father through the jungle, eventually finding his empty coffin but also fresh water that the survivors are in desperate need for. He returned to camp and assumed the role of leader that Locke had suggested he ought to.
In flashback Jack is instructed by his mother to retrieve his father from Sydney – but he follows the trail of clues all the way to the morgue and his father’s body.
Note: Retroview posts are written with full awareness of everything that happens during the entirety of LOST and will contain SPOILERS.
Thoughts and Analysis
We get the first of what will become many references to Alice In Wonderland here, with the white rabbit. As Locke explains, Jack has become like Alice chasing the white rabbit and, as a consequence, sent himself tumbling down the rabbit hole. I suppose there’s also The Matrix being referenced as well. In that movie Neo is also compared to Alice, tumbling down the rabbit hole, when he is ultimately forced to make choice between the blue pill or the red pill. Jack’s choice ultimately comes down to whether or not he is ready to take on the mantle of leader, or if he is going to allow the words of his father to plague his esteem – that he doesn’t have what it takes.
It’s rather curious seeing Christian Shephard here, especially when he’s talking to young Jack. Of all the flashback characters Christian is the one that will by far make the most appearances, not to mention his on-Island presence (where he is, of course, really Nameless) as well as his actual spiritual appearances (he’s one of a collection of characters we will see from beyond the grave that aren’t actually ‘Smokey in disguise’, like Michael, Isabella, Charlie, etc).
In Retroview I actually think White Rabbit suffers a little from the truth that will eventually emerge. The fact of the matter is that you have to make a few logical leaps and cover-ups to make it fit. By the end of the episode what we believe we are seeing, when Jack rushes out into the jungle in pursuit of his father that only he can apparently see, we are left with four conclusions by the point Jack finds the empty coffin and trashes it.
Option 1: Jack was really chasing the ghostly image of his father through the Island jungle – and somehow his body just happened to no longer be in the coffin.
Option 2: Jack was really chasing the reanimated corpse of his father through the jungle – one that no one else could see and had the capacity to appear and disappear. (I state this because there was one point where Christian was stood in the ocean; Jack never took his eyes off him and yet Kate turned to look and couldn’t see him, and in an instant he had vanished. This is actually a very troublesome point, that I shall come to.)
Option 3: Christian Shephard wasn’t actually dead, and was merely walking around goading Jack (and also, apparently, also had the capacity to disappear at will).
Option 4: As is suggested, Jack is suffering from stress and sleeplessness and the visions of his father are purely in his head.
Honestly, for the purposes of this episode, Option 4 would actually be the better explanation. Only we have had it confirmed that Christian Shephard as appeared on the Island is actually Nameless, aka Black Smoke, taking his form. This brings me back to the issue of him appearing standing in the ocean.
Every other appearance of Christian can be tied up with it really being Nameless, but this one? Standing in the middle of the ocean? No one on the beach heard or saw a big plume of Black Smoke funnel towards the water and take the shape of a man? Or, indeed, dissipate back from a man into a Black Smoke and take off? Jack, remember, never took his eyes off him, so it’s really difficult to make this work.
Now, my dear regular readers, you may know me well enough to realise I’m pretty good with a retrofitted explanation, but with this one I’m gonna really push it. So, for the record, let me just say that for the most part I’m willing to say that I think it’s here we’ve hit our first inconsistency with the great show we know as LOST. It was bound to happen – and I expect it to happen again. But, that being said, you want me to make a case for how this works. . .? OK. Read on. Because believe it or not we just might have some basis for alternative explanation from the Season 3 episode The Cost Of Living.
Quick refresher: The Cost Of Living is the one where Mr. Eko followed his brother Yemi into the jungle who demanded that he “Confess” – only it wasn’t Yemi. And when Mr. Eko didn’t confess, and called out this apparition as not being his brother Yemi became Black Smoke and gave Mr. Eko a beatdown there was no getting up from.
Yet before this, Mr. Eko himself took a journey through the jungle and he was confronted by all manner of ghostly figures from his past, ones that were too many and varied to be possibly considered as Nameless shapeshifting into their form. So what was happening here? Well, you may have noticed that Smokey seems to take two shapes – one is the big funnel of Black Smoke and the other is a small, wispy, fast-moving form. It’s actually this smaller one we see flitting around Mr. Eko prior to him encountering the ghouls from his past. . .
Now, if you thought we got a lame explanation about what the Black Smoke was then the explanation for the wispy little cloud version is even less forthcoming! The explanation for that just doesn’t show up at all! Me, I’ll go along with the idea that it’s a small part of the Black Smoke that can be fired out to run free – like a scout. It doesn’t have the power of Smokey, and it can’t take human form, but it perhaps can make people see visions from their own past as though they were real.
I know, I told you it was a reach.
But let’s face something here: the Black Smoke isn’t just a big plume of smoke that can uproot trees, kill people and form a human shape. When Mr. Eko looked into it the thing replayed pieces of his own life back like a kind of movie, or like it was making a recording scan.
However you slice it, there’s no denying LOST has presented us with scenes and events regarding that Black Smoke that allow us to reach conjecture about it possessing technical capabilities and powers that could allow it to do things we might not expect. AAnd we'll also have characters seeing and hearing strange things whilst they're awake and in their sleep to suggest there's some force behind it. . . So, sure, why not for that instance when Jack saw his father standing in the water it wasn’t the same as Nameless in Christian form – it was actually more akin to when Mr. Eko saw the visions of the gangsters he slayed in the church?
It’s an explanation. As I said, for the most part I’m inclined to cry foul on behalf of consistency grounds, but I can forge an explanation that just about (and I mean really just about) holds up.
What was Nameless’ agenda for Jack here? In the grand scheme of things, it’s kind of weak. Nameless doesn’t actually achieve a great deal, beyond leading Jack towards the cave (where, bizarrely, he will find Nameless’ remains as the male half of the skeleton cave couple!) and an empty coffin. The empty coffin, as I said in my previous post, was surely Nameless getting rid of the body to make Jack believe he genuinely was seeing and pursuing his father. (Indeed, the reason Mr. Eko got killed may have purely been because he saw through ‘Yemi’ as not really being his brother and Nameless, wanting to retain his enigmatic existence, silenced him permanently.) Outside of this, though, what does Nameless actually achieve? Not much, not from Jack anyway. It’s weak, no way around it.
Jack’s pursuit through the jungle did send him tumbling into Locke’s path for an iconic scene that was the highpoint of the episode.
Great pieces of dialogue from Locke, about how it just might be that they were all brought to the Island for a reason. In hindsight, considering this is exactly why they were brought to the Island, it’s a scene that’s feels powerfully loaded. He talks here about how he has seen into the eye of the Island, and what he saw was beautiful. Again, this harks up imagery of the cave of light we will see many seasons from here. For the weakness in consistency White Rabbit produces, it at least has this scene to fall back on and cushion the blow.
Locke pushes Jack for leader. He doesn’t want to lead himself. Locke is more content and intent to take on the role of a shaman-like figure in the group; their spiritual man. Jack can be the leader that will make the practical decisions to keep the group together, organised and civilised. Jack, the man of science, will keep the people alive on the Island. Locke, the man of faith, wants to bring meaning to their time on the Island – he wants to make them believers just like he is. Jack, of course, will become quite the anti-believer of Locke’s preaching for a long time coming. This scene here is about as close as they’ll ever come, whilst they both still live, of seeing eye to eye.
Locke was out in the jungle on a mission to bring water back for the group. I rather gleefully liked the ‘scene for idiots’ that was here, with Michael stopping Walt from swallowing seawater when brushing his teeth, to explain why the need for drinking water was dire despite there being an entire ocean readily available! We’re all clever and we know that you can’t drink seawater, but it’s amusing to see LOST spell that out for, you know, the less intelligent viewers.
The mystery of who stole the remaining water supplies dominated events on the beach whilst Jack was out doing his thing. It transpired that Boone had done it. I was actually surprised at how much of a chump Boone has been so far, and he has a particularly bad time this episode.
The episode kicks off with the sickening twist that the drowning person Jack thought he was saving was actually Boone, whilst the girl Joanna was further out and still drowning. It was a brilliant and harrowing scene, actually. Once more a moment that defines why LOST was a slightly harsher, nastier beast than the more cerebral, revelation-laden show it would morph into. Seeing Jack torn between getting Boone back to shore whilst Joanna’s screams for help echoed across the water was gruelling stuff, for sure.
Boone, however, later chastises Jack for saving his life at the cost of Joanna’s. Naturally it’s guilt fuelling his words; Boone is fundamentally a decent young man and the reality of facing up to the fact that he was instrumental in her not surviving is bound to hurt. His reaction, however, is to try and prove himself all the more and so he misguidedly steals the water in the belief that he is the man that can make the leadership decisions to see it used wisely. He means well, but he’s just not up to it.
Jack is the man despite the teachings of his unbelievably distant father. Your son comes home after taking a beating for sticking up for his friend and you tell him he’s not got what it takes to live up to his old man!? Jesus! Oh, also, sidenote whilst we’re here: the kid that Jack stands up against the bullies for will eventually be the best man at his wedding.
Cool bit of LOST trivia if you didn’t know it already.
Jack’s flashback story obviously parallels his pursuit through the jungle – searching for his father and following a ghost trail. Jack’s mother, Margot, sends him out to Australia as a form of atonement for what he did. As we’ll learn, what he did was tell the authorities that his own father had been drinking when he performed an operation that cost someone their life. For gross incompetence Christian was struck off and, clearly, Jack fell right out of favour. Christian went and hit the bottle hard.
Of course we’ll also learn that Christian had specifically gone getting his drink on in Australia in a bid to see his long lost daughter, Claire. Furthermore, he’ll take Ana Lucia with him as his driver and bodyguard. Furthermore still, he’ll run into Sawyer in a bar where he drinks the fateful lashings of booze that will kill him. He certainly makes a lot of connections before he checks out.
Sawyer installs himself as the rogue trader this episode; from tormenting Shannon (a.k.a. “Sticks”) to being suspect number one in the water theft. Sayid is on hand to confront Sawyer directly in a forerunner to a similar scene that will occur further on, where Sayid will unleash his torturer persona. In Retroview it is a markedly different Sawyer we see here to the more typical noble hero we will know in later seasons. He remains the brooding outsider of the group for much of the first two seasons (and arguably stoops to his lowest treachery halfway through Season 2 in The Long Con, with the attack on Sun that I anticipate isn’t going to sit right in a Retroview, but we’ll see!). His charismatic quality, his attempted wooing of Kate, not to mention the heartbreaking story of revenge he carries around, serve to pretty much always keep him likable.
A couple of bits of business with couples to finish. Charlie and Claire, first, with Charlie earning serious Brownie points by being nice to Claire, getting water to her and, more importantly, looking her in the eye and not seeing her for the ticking timebomb of responsibility her pregnancy represents. Whilst I’ll never buy them as a proper couple (certainly not to the extent that Charlie will try and paint it as in Season 6) I can invest in them as a sincere and tender friendship.
Jin and Sun have a few tender moments of their own. Sun yearns to make contact with some of the other people, which is understandable as her loneliness is exacerbated by the pretence at not being able to communicate when she is merrily fluent in English. Jin sternly tells her they don’t need anyone else, but at least he is afforded some redemption by trading fish with Sawyer to ensure Sun had water (having observed her dry lips). Sort of similar to Boone, Jin means absolutely well but he just doesn’t quite know how to go about it the right way.
All in all, White Rabbit is best-remembered as the episode where Jack chased Christian through the jungle and where Locke discussed openly how they were brought to the Island for a reason. Yet for the LOST fans there is a particularly resonant speech Jack makes at the end, when he rallies the group and appoints himself as the leader most of them want him to be, that perhaps defines this episode best.
“It's been six days and we're all still waiting. Waiting for someone to come. But what if they don't? We have to stop waiting. We need to start figuring things out. . . Everyman for himself is not going to work. It's time to start organizing. We need to figure out how we're going to survive here. Now, I found water. Fresh water, up in the valley. I'll take a group in at first light. If you don't want to go come then find another way to contribute. Last week most of us were strangers, but we're all here now. And god knows how long we're going to be here. But if we can't live together, we're going to die alone.”
Not only do two future episode titles get namechecked here - Live Together, Die Alone and Every Man For Himself - but an entire ethos for Jack’s mentality and how our heroes will fight to survive is born. As it turns out, they’ll live together, die, and then live together again but I guess that’s not quite as catchy!
The conversation between Jack and Locke. Good for many reasons, and all of them weighted towards the meaning later episodes and seasons will provide. Jack and Locke will be major antagonists of the show and seeing them in these early days is just a pleasure to watch. And it feels like LOST knows it’s dealing with two of its heavyweight characters even in these early episodes, loading their scene and dialogue with meaning and longterm relevance.