Lost – “White Rabbit”

losttitle3“White Rabbit”

Aired: October 20, 2004

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

“White Rabbit” is the first of what will be many Jack stories, all about a character that doesn’t come with any inherent mysteries. When we meet Jack, he’s centered, focused, and stepping into the role of a natural leader. Whereas other characters are begging to be explored in more detail, an investigation into Jack’s past is less designed to answer a question and more designed to pose one. You thought Jack was a well-balanced individual? Well, guess what: he’s got daddy issues.

Jack’s flashback doesn’t really delve into them in that much detail, in part to pose questions that we might not have asked previously. There’s a large gap in his timeline, with insight into his childhood relationship with his father, and then glimpses of how it was his father who brought Jack to Sydney. Everything in between is still left to explore, but “White Rabbit” creates a bookend of daddy issues to reframe Jack’s stability within the framework of having trained himself to be able to handle difficult situations by shutting off everything else. The more time he spends on the island, the more he can’t shut off the memory of his father, and he needs to—like Locke—look the island in the eye by hunting down and destroying his father’s casket.

The episode does a nice job of mirroring Jack’s journey with the decline into chaos on the beach. Sure, it’s convenient that Jack’s search for personal closure happens to lead to a water source, but Jack’s willingness to step into the position of leader also addresses the chaos that emerged when everything went to hell after the water went missing. In truth, there is no single agent of chaos: Sawyer might be running a black market, and Joanna might have gotten caught in a rip tide, but those are circumstantial. They just don’t have a sense of direction, the episode argues, and need someone to guide them.

That this is Jack is no surprise: he’s clearly been the leader from the moment the series began with him taking control of the situation at the crash site. “White Rabbit” is in a difficult position in how it tries to make his leadership fallible despite the fact it was inevitable. Is it a hero moment when Jack returns with news of a water source and reminds everyone that they live together and die alone? Yes. But it does not limit other characters from emerging as heroes, or as leaders, in the way the end of the episode somewhat risks reinforcing. I would ultimately argue the show is critical of Jack’s hero complex, and we can see the weight it holds over Jack in his response to Joanna’s death (and in subsequent flashbacks), but it also wants to invest in Jack as the one person who is being pragmatic as it relates to the situation they find themselves in. The introduction of the caves begins the process of splitting the castaways into factions, which will continue throughout the series and will inflect any individual characterization as the show moves forward.

Cultural Observations

  • I had forgotten how much of a mysticism surrounded Locke in the immediate wake of “Walkabout” and his encounter with “the island.” The season ahead is obviously going to complicate that in the same way it seeks to complicate Jack as a leader, but it’s more prominent than I remembered here.
  • I’m of the opinion that Boone is the character least well-served in these early episodes, as he does some very stupid things here—trying to save someone when he can’t swim all that well, “rescuing” the water supply—without any real insight into why he’s doing it. It’s like there’s a scene or two missing of Boone desperately wanting to step into a leadership role, which will come as we learn more about the character but lacks motivation here.
  • Continuing the “Flashback Tag,” we get some more moments with Jin and Sun to set up their story in the following episode.
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