Aired: September 22, 2004/September 29, 2004
It seems probable that I revisited parts of the first season of Lost back in 2005, when I received the first season on DVD for Christmas. I have a distinct memory of watching some of the DVD bonus features, at the very least. But as life and the show grew more complicated, time grew shorter, and I’ve never revisited the show in any detail since despite writing about Seasons 3-6 in some detail here at the blog.
This is changing now that I’m stepping in to take on The A.V. Club’s TV Club Classic coverage of Lost’s first season this summer following the exit of esteemed former editor—and a big part of how I got into this episodic television criticism racket—Todd VanDerWerff. He’s completed coverage of the first six episodes of the season, and I’ll be stepping in to handle the rest, but in part for the sake of my own momentum and also to offer some perspective, I wanted to write at least some brief thoughts as I work my way through the episodes leading up to “The Moth” and “Confidence Man” next week.
And while I suggest above that I haven’t rewatched Lost, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t specific episodes—like “The Constant,” which is what Netflix told me was the last episode I’d watched—that I’ve revisited over the years. The “Pilot” is foremost among those, one of those episodes of television that I could recount almost beat-for-beat. It’s strikingly familiar, which is exactly why it’s so interesting to revisit it while knowing you’re about to embark on the journey of writing about the first season of the show while most viewers are still caught up in its sixth.
That balance of text vs. context is going to be the biggest challenge in writing about Lost, but the “Pilot” is so engrossing it never becomes an issue. Indeed, the pilot has the benefit of never once seeming like it’s trying to build a stable base for a television show, adding mystery after mystery and introducing character after character never once seeming like it’s stopping everything to give the viewer a chance to organize those involved into particular television tropes. Even when burdened—which is neither positive nor negative, inherently—by everything that happens after it, the pilot has an immediacy built into it. It moves from panic to survival to discovery, each stage leading them to conclusions that form the basis of the mysteries but at all times remain framed through the lens of characters. It’s why I like the construction of the radio message so much: here you have one woman’s interpretation of the island being interpreted through another woman, and then filtered back through Sayid and Charlie answering and asking the relevant questions respectively.
As “in the moment” as the “Pilot” might be, though, context means that you spend a fair bit of time reminding yourself what the pilot doesn’t set up, character wise. At least in the pilot, Locke is left to be as much of a mystery as the island itself, which seems fitting given that character’s journey relative to the island itself as a functioning part of the series’ mythology. And I’m always struck by the role the language barrier plays in making Sun and Jin seem like an entirely different story entirely from the one that plays out over the course of the series.
Both within Lost and arguably within television more broadly, the “Pilot” is iconic. There’s a magic to it: even though I know from a bizarrely strong memory of the bonus features that many of the shots of Charlie, Kate, and Jack running away from the cockpit are the actors running in place while the camera moves around, J.J. Abrams knows how to shoot action, and that sequence is made no less memorable by knowledge of what’s chasing them. I remember watching the Lost pilot for the first time—at least if I remember correctly—the weekend after both parts had aired in the U.S., which was when Canadian broadcaster CTV aired it for the first time—they had not been prepared for its breakout success, and so hadn’t simulcast it during the ABC debut. And so my first time experiencing the Lost pilot was using my antenna, in my first floor dorm room, with barely acceptable picture; that it still made a connection is a testament to its storytelling, and in my stubborn refusal to pay for cable.
- Note: This is where I’ll be a bit more spoiler-y, in case you’re watching for the first time.
- That actually wasn’t my first time watching the Lost pilot. I technically saw a few out of order scenes when I dipped my toes into torrenting and tried to watch an unfinished file download that was completely scrambled.
- I will say—and this is the SPOILERS I spoke of—that I watched all of the smoke monster scenes thinking about whether they designed the smoke monster after watching those scenes so that when we went back to the pilot we’d think “Yeah, that could be the smoke monster.”
- While there are admittedly some characters/stories that give me flashforwards to arcs that don’t work so well in later seasons, I will admit to remaining very, very content with how the polar bear situation plays out.
- I had forgotten that the pilot had been spread across two weeks, perhaps because I know I watched it for the first time as a two hour event. It remains separated into two episodes on Netflix, but it will always stand as a single entity for me, and the idea of only watching one part of it at a time seems bizarre.
- Writing about a “Pilot” in which there is a fairly major story event involving a pilot can be a bit on the confusing side.