Retroview: 1.5 White Rabbit

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!

Best Part

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.


Keith said...

Great write up and well done for trying to shoe horn the main plot of this episode into some sort of logic. On second viewing it really doesn’t make much sense for MIB to be bringing Jack alone into the jungle to face some daddy issues and realize that he has to become a leader for the crash survivors. It would actually make more sense for Jacob to be doing this. Jacob did once appear as Christian Shephard in the cabin but I believe in later episodes it was revealed as just MIB telling pork pies.

As you say, from the information we’ve been given any explanation is pretty weak.

Van said...

Aside from the inconsistency of Christian appearing in the water, my understanding of Nameless appearing to Jack was simply to lead him to fresh water as a means to survive and get him on his team. I suppose in the episode Jack nearly dies by chasing Nameless and so the episode could also be viewed as Nameless trying to kill one of Jacob's listed people. What an episode.

AngeloComet said...

Keith / Van - I think I arrive at a conclusion about Nameless' behaviour somewhere in between your points made here. Leading Jack to water is very much something Jacob might have done (only, of course, Jacob has that whole 'hands off' approach for people on the Island). So I take the view that Nameless wants Jack to become a believer in the Island, in 'him' (under the guise of his dead father) in order for him to perhaps use him as a tool to kill Jacob. He leads him to water and inspires him to leadership, making him a perfect candidate.

All that works just fine for me. The trouble is that Nameless doesn't bother with Jack after this episode until, what, Season 6!? That's how I remember it. I suppose we have to figure he turned his attention on Locke and Ben as his chosen subjects to reap revenge and get 'across the sea'. . .

Acharaisthekey said...

Is it possible that the ocean was Jake hallucinating while the others were nameless?

I don't think all of them were nameless, I think some of them were and I always beleived Jack was going a little crazy!

Man, I'm glad your write ups are back...wish you would have continued on with Boardwalk Empire though :)

AngeloComet said...

Achara - It's an interpretation, but I didn't get enough vibe of the episode to reach that kind of benefit. If Jack was delusional there was nothing to support that argument. Honestly I think LOST had an idea about what Christian was early but that got subverted by later plot developments.

I also know I am rather inconsistent with the TV postings but I will keep up with it. There are actually a lot of write ups done and in store, Boardwalk Empire included! It just so happened that it wasn't current so took a backseat for a while. I still aim to watch an episode and write before seeing the next, and so sometimes to preserve that integrity I have to hold back. I'll get there!

AC - from mobile

AngeloComet said...

Achara - It's an interpretation, but I didn't get enough vibe of the episode to reach that kind of benefit. If Jack was delusional there was nothing to support that argument. Honestly I think LOST had an idea about what Christian was early but that got subverted by later plot developments.

I also know I am rather inconsistent with the TV postings but I will keep up with it. There are actually a lot of write ups done and in store, Boardwalk Empire included! It just so happened that it wasn't current so took a backseat for a while. I still aim to watch an episode and write before seeing the next, and so sometimes to preserve that integrity I have to hold back. I'll get there!

AC - from mobile

Anonymous said...

AC, so glad you're posting again! I had your site bookmarked, and on a whim decided to check back in, so glad I did..Great analysis.. I have always had much difficulty grasping the concept of nameless/smokey. The theory i came up with for myself; when Jacob's brother died, he became so much more than a brother reincarnated. Smokey's essense is also tied to the dead; in other words, when becoming Christian, Issabella, or Locke etc., he's not completely Jacob's brother he is also the person he is manifesting. Might be a stretch, but think about this; the scene where young Jacob was appearing to Nameless and saying "you can't break the rules", Sawyer could see Jacob clearly. An explanation for this is, Jacob was being manifested by Smokey, and it was outside of Smokey's control. Then of course, nameless chased him through the woods and tripped, then yelled "Don't tell me what I can't do!", a clear reference to John Locke being trapped within nameless but his personality surfacing, also outside of Smokey's control.. Eh, I know it's a stretch.. but I think nameless trying to take credit for leading Jack to water is also a stretch! -bobt

Keith said...

Retroview over?

AngeloComet said...

Keith - No, just really slow. House...Rising Sun half complete! - AC

AngeloComet said...

Keith - No, just really slow. House...Rising Sun half complete! - AC

Andre7 said...

Art is not made in a vacuum. I find it helps to understand how things are made. The best art is often flawed. Two little facts you might want to be aware of in placing the first part of season one in context.

Damon Lindeloff has recently started breaking his self imposed silence about the series by appearing on Kevin Pollack's web interview show (available for viewing on You Tube and on other sites).

DL makes particular mention of White Rabbit. At this point in the series he was all alone in guiding the writing team and setting up production of LOST. J.J. Abrams had gone off to do Mission Impossible III and Carlton Cuse had not yet been signed on.

Lindeloff was getting little or no sleep and was really starting to lose it. He reveals that he felt sure he was going to lose his job and possibly his career over LOST at this point. He had no confidence that he would pull things together.

Lindeloff tells Kevin Pollack how his father had passed away less than a year earlier and White Rabbit in particular had all kinds of autobiographical elements worked into it.

In another interview near the end of or just after season two or three, Lindeloff reveals that the pace of production was so tight and furious during season one that LOST didn't really have a series "bible" to draw on. It is only during hiatus between seasons one and two that they had time to actually figure out the details of Dharma, the others, Smoke monster and many other iconic elements of the plot. They were pretty much making up and breaking the "rules" as they went.

My feeling is that they later decided to disregard what they had previously done in the series, and so be it.

How Smoke monster works in the details was and is of no consequence overall to these guys. Inconsistency in Christian's actions and motivations doesn't matter to them because the show is not about Nameless. It is about Jack and how HE feels.

Jack is sleep deprived and thirsty and feels the pressure of unfair expectations from the other survivors and even those of his dead father reaching back from beyond the grave. Just as Lindeloff was feeling the expectations of his own dad as he took on the challenge of Show Runner on one of the most expensive new shows on television. Just as Lindeloff felt responsible to the expectations of 14 cast members who didn't understand what they were doing and all wanted the show to be about them.

Great art is sometimes about things that reach beyond itself. White Rabbit was about expectations and qualities of leadership and doubt. Just as J.J. Abrams told Lindeloff that he trusted him and expected him to take over and run LOST, Locke tells Jack that he has to step up to people's expectations of him as Leader.

By episode 6, with LOST pilot still unaired, the live together die alone speach has to have meant more to Damon Lindeloff than just the context of the story of these people pooling together to survive on the island.