Lost – “Tabula Rasa”

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“Tabula Rasa”

Aired: October 6, 2004

[I’m going to be taking over The A.V. Club’s TV Club Classic reviews of Lost next Wednesday—in preparation, I’m offering some short thoughts on each of the episodes Todd VanDerWerff already covered at the site.]

On the one hand, the second-pilot-syndrome in “Tabula Rasa” seems to fly in the face of our conception of Lost as a highly serialized show. In the context of the mythology-heavy show it became, the idea that it would so pander to the idea any viewer tuning into this episode would have no idea what happened in the previous episode is absurd, particular when it’s now watched in a binge-viewing environment where it’s likely someone has just watched the pilot.

And yet Lost is a show that gives good second-pilot, as it were. The opening scene with the transceiver crew recapping the events—complete with Sayid brandishing the always-trusty fiery stick as a visual aid—is both a convenient reminder or primer for audiences and something that might logically happen among a group of people stranded on an island with little to ruminate on other than the facts of how they’re stranded on an island. There’s also elements of character worked in: Sayid seems like the type who would go into lecture mode to explain things, while Sawyer cynically pulling other details out of Kate to kill the mood is something Sawyer would do. It’s a sign of the show’s early grasp on its characters that a scene with non-diegetic aims nonetheless feels like part of the diegetic world.

“Tabula Rasa” is also helped by Kate’s flashback, and the flashback structure in general. Even if the actual “action” on the island slows down a bit—to the point where they throw in a flashback to the pilot’s flashbacks to bring the intensity of the plane crash back into the equation—the flashbacks always ensure there’s new information. After writing about Orange is the New Black for two seasons, it’s interesting to return to Lost’s flashback structure, particular given Kate’s status as a fugitive. You can see the show hedging, much as Orange is the New Black has often done, showing us a different part of the story outside of the most basic question (which is the crime involved). With Kate, there’s actually very little in the way of information, but it serves to mirror questions about how Island Kate’s criminal past and seeming decency as a human being coexist, and pushes the boundaries of the world despite bringing the action back to the beach and the surrounding area.

You can also see them smoothing out some of the edges of the pilot, either in jest—Hurley’s dinosaur comment, establishing him as the audience surrogate—or through more conscious reworkings, like Jin pointedly telling Sun he loves her after he insists she wash herself. While Locke remains shrouded in mystery—reinforced by the hilariously on-the-nose cliffhanger close-up foreshadowing “Walkabout”—the other characters are less pitched toward their mysterious pasts, with the show now knowing that it might be four or five episodes before we get the flashbacks that the pilot by comparison was enticing the audience to demand with more immediacy.

It also seems meaningful, all told, that we start with Kate’s story. On the one hand, it’s the logical place to start: Jack was the central figure in the pilot, even if the flashbacks were split between multiple characters, and Kate is the show’s female lead. However, if the inclination is to repeat the pilot, it would have been just as easy to delve further into Jack, and so the attention paid to Kate is nonetheless important to the show from the perspective of understanding the gender dynamics of its past and present storytelling.

Cultural Observations

  • I wonder if we were ever concerned about the dog. The way Jack talks about Vincent with Michael in the pilot—and that he was central to the series’ opening shots—suggest he lives, but it’s also a lot of logistical work to keep a dog around.
  • Speaking of “second pilot” syndrome, the final montage is definitely a big part of that. Anything that maps out the relationships between characters is crucial, and note how there’s certain pairings—like Charlie and Claire—that are certainly seeded here but are reinforced by how they’re positioned together in the context of the montage. The same goes for Sayid and Sawyer, although obviously with a different connotation.
  • It’s tough to put yourself into a position where it could have worked, but I like the fakeout where it seems like Kate’s stealing from the farmer—it really takes advantage of the way the episode turns her crime into a mystery, and it also nicely sets the stage for some flashback misdirection given out “Walkabout” is going to play out.
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