When this column debuts, I should be enjoying a family vacation in Italy and France. I’m taking a break from everything- work, softball, household chores and even comic books. It seems appropriate that “Fluit Notes” takes a break from comic books as well. Therefore, in this week’s column and next, I’ve written about one of my favorite television shows. It’s time to get “Lost.”
Pilot, Part I and II: The debut of Lost is one of the best hours of television I have ever watched. It was mind-blowing. It was heart-wrenching. It was immediately gripping, from the opening scene of the survivors on the beach to the closing cliffhanger. As the audience, we felt the survivors’ desperation and confusion. I’m still amazed at the brilliance of this episode. Some of the smart choices included opening in the middle of the story after the plane has already crashed, using flashbacks to show the crash itself and slowly introducing the characters over the course of the episode. That last item should not be underestimated. Despite all of the mysteries and conspiracies, the audience cared about Lost with such passion because we cared about the characters. Of course, there were those mysteries too. The first part of the pilot included monstrous noises in the jungle and the second part a polar bear running loose on a tropical island.
Walkabout: Lost had a special talent for surprising the audience. It consistently defied our expectations. One of the best of the early surprises arrived in Locke’s back-story. We knew Locke as the rugged outdoor adventurer. He was the one who knew how to use a knife and had started hunting food for the tribe. Yet, to our astonishment, Walkabout revealed that Locke had been in a wheelchair before the accident, that he had signed up for a safari in the Australian Outback and that he had been turned away when the tour leader discovered that he was disabled. The revelation caught us completely off-guard. Even better, it increased both our interest and our sympathy.
House of the Rising Sun/...In Translation: One of the great strengths of the first season was that each episode focused on one member of the ensemble, particularly in flashbacks that filled in their story before the crash. I wish I could pick every one of those episodes. They not only introduced us to the characters but they often changed our views of them. Two of my favorites are House of the Rising Sun (the 6th episode) and Lost… in Translation (the 17th). These bookend episodes focused on the Korean married couple Sun and Jin. Lost drew us into their story, despite the fact that it was presented entirely in Korean with subtitles. Plus, by showing their relationship first from Sun’s perspective and then from Jin’s, Lost continued to enrich its characters while playing with our minds.
Solitary: Lost is deservedly acclaimed for its drama and mystery. Yet Lost also knew to balance their most intense stories with something light-hearted. Solitary is one of my favorite examples of this. While one half of the episode focused on Sayid’s brutal past as part of the Iraqi Republican Guard, the other centered on Hurley. Hurley was often the source of comic relief for the audience. However, he served a purpose for his fellow castaways as well, bringing levity and joy into a difficult situation. In this case, he built his own island golf course and invited others to play with some clubs that fell out of the luggage compartment. It’s an effectively memorable moment, standing out in relief to the rest of the series.
All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues: This was a pivotal episode for the first season. Ethan is exposed as someone who hadn’t actually been on the plane. He abducts Claire and when, Charlie chases after him, he hangs Charlie. The tension on the island is ratcheted up to eleven. To this point, they’ve been fighting the elements and the mysteries of the island but Ethan puts a human face on evil and danger. Plus, as a side effect of the chase through the jungle, Locke and Boone stumble upon a hatch.
Deus Ex Machina: In some cases, I picked an episode because of what was happening in the flashbacks. In other cases, I chose an episode based on what was happening on the island. Deus Ex Machina is one of the best episodes for combining the two sides of the story. In the flashbacks, we find out that Locke was victimized by his father, who asked him to donate a kidney and then left him alone. In the present day story, Locke and Boone find a Beechcraft aircraft stuck in a tree. When Boone climbs into it in order to use the radio, the plane crashes to the ground and Boone sustains serious injuries. Frustrated with the lack of progress and the apparent loss of his friend, Locke experiences a crisis of faith. He cries out and his cry is answered by… a light from the hatch.
Exodus, Part I and II: Exodus established a pattern of great season endings. The central story focuses on Michael’s raft. He has a plan to sail away from the island and to send help back to the rest of the survivors. While some survivors express doubts or even opposition, the vast majority place their hopes in Michael’s plan. The launch of the raft is an incredibly triumphant and joyous moment. But that joy is quickly dashed when The Others intercept the raft, shoot Sawyer and abduct Michael’s son Walt. Those two moments demonstrate Lost’s ability to bring us to the heights of joy and to the depths of sorrow within the span of a few minutes. Meanwhile, the flashbacks depict the various castaways as they gather at the airport for their ill-fated flight. It’s a beautifully intricate story that carries an unexpected sadness.
Man of Science, Man of Faith: Once again, Lost completely upends our expectations and we love it. In this case, season two opens with a stranger eating breakfast, riding a bike and listening to Mama Cass. It’s a completely surreal scene. And it’s an unexpected pleasure when it’s revealed that this action is happening inside the mysterious hatch. At the same time, the title of the episode and several of the scenes draw our attention to one of Lost’s big themes. Jack, the man of science, and Locke, the man of faith, argue about the leadership of the survivors. Though it seems like we’re supposed to choose sides between them, over the course of the series, the audience and the survivors realize the importance of both science and faith in our lives.
Orientation: At the outset, Lost was careful not to be too weird. Sure, there were polar bears and smoke monsters but there was always a level of reasonable and restraint. They were trying to reach a mass audience and weren’t sure how much they could get away with. In the second season, Lost started to push the envelope. That meant bigger mysteries and stranger wonders and several moments that were delightfully absurd. One of the most memorable moments- and therefore episodes- involves Desmond sitting Locke down to watch a Dharma Initiative orientation film. This is the point at which the conspiracy theories took on a life of their own.
The Other 48 Days: A hallmark of Lost was the frequent revelation that things were not what you thought they were. Michael, Sawyer and Jin though they had been captured by The Others when, actually, they had been captured by survivors from the tail section of the same plane. The Other 48 Days tells the story of the “Tailies.” It’s a briskly paced episode, taking place at the same time as season one and it makes us care about characters that we previously viewed as villains. Once again, Lost simultaneously expands our horizons and its history.
The 23rd Psalm: The repeated back-stories for the regular characters were losing steam by this point but there were enough new characters to keep the format fresh. One of the best back-stories from season two focused on Mr. Eko. The silent strong-man from the Tailies, Eko’s history took startling turns and had a surprising connection to the island. Eko was a Nigerian guerrilla. For one job, he and his men dressed as priests in order to smuggle drugs in religious icons. The job backfired and Eko’s brother, who really was a priest, was mortally wounded. However, Eko was mistaken for a priest and apparently adopted the role at the end of the episode. The smuggler’s plane also happened to be the Beechcraft discovered by Locke and Boone in season one.
Lockdown: One of the great conflicts of season two was the battle between Jack and Locke concerning the hatch station. Their stand-offs resulted in dramatic moments and occasional revelations. The conflict came to a head in Lockdown. While Jack and several others try to ascertain their prisoner’s alibi (he claimed to be balloonist Henry Gale), the prisoner manipulates Locke into letting the countdown expire. The post-countdown chaos results in a black-light revelation for Locke and a secret map to the island. Meanwhile, Jack confirms that their prisoner is not who he says he is and returns to the station to confront him with the truth.
Live Together, Die Alone, Part I and II: The title refers back to one of Jack’s early speeches. The survivors have to work together or they will die alone. That axiom is put to the test in this episode as several survivors pursue their own agendas. Michael makes a deal with The Others that allows him and his son to leave the island. Locke makes a unilateral decision to let the countdown expire, resulting in the explosion of the hatch. By the end of the episode, several key survivors are captives of The Others while the remaining castaways are left on a beach recently devastated by the explosion. The status quo has been overturned again, keeping both the survivors and the audience constantly on our toes. Plus, there’s a great Desmond back-story which tells us more not only about him as a character but also about the history and nature of the island.
A Tale of Two Cities: I picked the season premiere primarily for one reason: the opening sequence in which Ben’s book club is interrupted by the explosion of the Oceanic Flight overhead. Like the opening sequence for season two, it’s wonderfully disarming as it contrasts the prosaic nature of everyday life with the enigma of the island. A Tale of Two Cities also smartly concentrates on only a part of the cast, showing us Jack, Sawyer and Kate in captivity. The focused attention allows for greater depth and movement in that particular storyline.
Tricia Tanaka is Dead: This is one of my more esoteric choices, as it’s one of the lower rated episodes of Lost. However, I always like it when Lost balances its tension with the lighter side of life. Or, borrowing Hurley’s one words, I appreciate it when Lost offers us “a symbol of hope.” This time, Hurley discovers an abandoned Volkswagen van. Sawyer and Jin enjoy the beer they find inside. I enjoyed the gleeful final scene in which Hurley and Charlie successfully start the van after rolling it downhill. Plus, this episode reveals that Hurley might be able to see the dead- a plot point which resonates later on. For me, this was the episode that marked the turn-around in an otherwise lackluster season.
The Man from Tallahassee: By this time, the back-stories are wearing pretty thin. With one exception. Locke’s back-story had one big huge revelation yet to show: how he lost the use of his legs. In this episode, Locke’s dad returns for another scam. When Locke confronts him, his father pushes him through a window and Locke falls eight stories down. The island action is just as dramatic. Jack is preparing to leave the island by submarine as his reward for operating on Ben. Locke intervenes. By blowing up the sub before Jack can get on it. Big moments in both sides of the story make this episode one of the best.
The Man Behind the Curtain: Lost had a knack for humanizing its villains and turning them into characters we secretly cheered for. In this episode, we meet Ben as a young boy. Up to this point, we know him as the master manipulator, the devious dictator of The Others. But now, we meet him as a scared little boy, ignored by his father and possibly abused. We see him grow into the man he would become, eventually betraying his community and murdering his own father. The contrast between the young Ben and the old Ben is striking.
Greatest Hits: Former rocker Charlie Pace is the star of season three. His quest to give his life meaning gave the season direction and poignancy. In this penultimate episode, Charlie writes a list of the best moments of his life. It’s a tender list that reminds us of the small joys of life- dad teaching you how to swim- and the giant triumphs- hearing your rock song on the radio for the first time. It’s one of the best flashback sequences as it directly connects to Charlie’s present state of mind. Of course, there’s plenty of action too as Desmond and Charlie dive down to the Looking Glass station in an attempt to disrupt an underwater jamming signal.
Through the Looking Glass: Simply one of the best episodes ever. We thought we had grown accustomed to Lost’s twists. But then they turned us inside out with this season finale that featured flash forwards instead of flashbacks. Of course, in typical Lost style, we don’t realize they’re flash forwards until the end of the episode. Plus, to our amazement, Jack insists that they actually have to go back to the island. Meanwhile, the present day story is one of the most poignant. Charlie and Desmond fight for control of the Looking Glass station. Charlie manages to reach the offshore freighter on the radio. But that moment of triumph is quickly turned to tragedy. Charlie sacrifices himself to save Desmond. And the offshore freighter is not the rescue ship they believed it to be. There’s also one of the shows most classic confrontations as Jack brutally beats Ben back on the island.
All screen-caps are from Lost-Media.com