We Have to Go Back to the Island: Rewatching ‘Lost,’ Season 1, Part 1

Lost ABC

Historically, summertime is a dead zone for television and film. So instead of chasing down a limited-run Swedish crime drama no one’s ever heard of, why not join me, Drew Grant, and Vinnie Mancuso as we travel all the way back to September, 2004, when the name Damon Lindelof was not yet the dog whistle of unpopular endings it would become. That’s right….we’re going back to review Lost in half-season chunks. This week we’re going from Oceanic 815’s crash all the way up to episode 11.

Drew: Okay, so first up, let’s go around the table and say our relationship with Lost going into this rewatch. I’ll go first! My relationship with Lost is not as complicated as a lot of other fans, but that’s because I refused to watch a single episode of  the show until the day after the finale, after which I binged the entire show in one summer. So it was like…not that bad! I remember thinking “I don’t know why everyone’s so upset about the ending of this show? It’s…fine?” I didn’t really have the same frame of reference as the rest of Others*, because I hadn’t devoted several years of my life to cliffhangers and puzzles that all led back to a reveal that would later be used as the blueprint for a primetime sitcom. I get how that would be frustrating.

But Lost‘s legacy, in my opinion, has less to do with that finale as it did with the journey to get there. Think about it: what show has a perfect finale? Especially in the genre of sci-fi/fantasy? It’s very rare, because even if you got a perfect explanation for everything–from the polar bears to why Locke’s boss at the boxing company is SUCH a prick (we will address this in a bit) to Jack’s stupid tattoos–it would be hard for answers to evoke the same emotional response as the questions the show posed.

Even if Lost had a “perfect” finale…which, Vinnie, wait your turn…it would be a disappointment for fans. Because a finale means it’s over. You’ll never get the same feeling as you did watching Kate and Sawyer make out in those tiger cages for the first time, or hearing Mama Cass’ “Make Your Own Kind of Music.” Or fuck, realizing that, in a show full of terrible parents, the entire internet agrees with you about who gets the “Worst Dad of the Island” mug:

I. ABC

Suck. ABC

*See what I did thereeeeee?

Vinnie: My turn? Okay [deep, bwong’ing sigh] I love Lost, Drew. I love this ridiculous piece of shiny, washed-up ocean trash so Lockedamn much. I have genuinely considered, on more than one occasion, getting Jack’s shitty, godawful tattoos just for the chance to start more conversations about Lost. Why don’t more people want to talk about Lost, Drew? I’m probably going to name my first born son Walt, and he will then have a dog named Vincent, which will be pretty weird because that means he is naming his dog after his dad but that’s okay because what a Lost-ian scenario that is. (Note: using Lost-ian is like using “Lynchian” but for people with terrible taste in television). To this day, I consider the opening ten minutes of Lost’s first episode to be the most effective introduction to a TV show, ever, because it boils down the following seven years of madness to its purest form so perfectly. It’s just screaming and confusion on the beach for ten straight minutes. Can you think of a more textbook way to define Lost than “screaming and confusion on the beach”?

DISCLAIMER! I, like you, did not watch week-to-week, and I do think that is where 90 percent of the anger toward this show comes from. I mean, I get it. No matter how many headshots of Josh Radnor I burn in pagan rituals I still can’t erase the sting of waiting nine years just to watch How I Met Your Mother turn into How I Fucked Your Aunt right at the end. But Lost is such a uniquely rewarding watch (and rewatch!) because it’s made up of nothing but unstoppable forward momentum. There’s not a single cut-to-black in the show’s entire run that doesn’t make you yearn for the next episode immediately, from beginning to an end that is ACTUALLY PRETTY GREAT but no, we won’t get into that now. Not yet. Just, you know, be aware that I have so many thoughts on Lost’s series finale I technically hold several PhDs on the matter.

Drew: What’s crazy about Lost is that everyone acts like the later seasons were made up by writers throwing darts at a wall. 

Fun fact: this is the creator of Bojack Horseman in his former sketch group, Olde English. Also in video: Adam Conover from Adam Ruins Everything.

But there’s a lot packed into these early episodes that are only explained in what is unarguably some of the worst stand-alone episodes of the entire series. For instance? Jack’s stupid tattoo, the origin story of which involves Bai Ling? Yeah, Kate calls him out on it by episode 6. (“Ask Jack about his tattoos,” is something she literally smirks.) Or hey, speaking of Kate, do you know that she’s identified as a “tracker” (lol) halfway through season 1?

I could go on like this…everyone loves to point out that the pilot episode had Locke giving that “two players, black and white” speech to Walt that later applies to…well, everything?….but what about the fact that Locke’s eyes literally become those black and white stones in Claire’s nightmares before she’s kidnapped by Ethan Rom? (Let’s circle back to Ethan; I’m pretty sure he chose his name in protest after too many Edith Wharton rejections at the Dharma Initiative Book Club.) Charlie’s helpfulness in any given situation reduced down to what he scribbles on his hands? Yeah, that’s established in the same episode (“All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues.”)

Vinnie: My biggest takeway from Ethan was if anyone, anyone at all, ever showed up looking like actor William Mapother I’d assume they were secretly a member of an island jungle cult just, like, out of gut reaction.

Drew: All I’m saying is: Lost, on subsequent viewings (and after enough time to cool off from our seething resentment of the show’s later seasons), reveals itself to be much more thought-out than I think we gave it credit for, later.

Vinnie: I love this show on a borderline unhealthy level, but…no. I could not disagree more. Lindelof and company were throwing out bombs they never expected to land left and right in these early episodes. By season 5 they started dropping actual bombs and at that point everything had gone to mucky-muck and sideways time travel. But here, my goodness, I’m pretty sure ABC ran out of script paper so Lost’s creative team had to write these early drafts on leftover Mad Libs sheets someone found in a desk drawer. “Noun, something white’ oooh how about a polar bear?!”

Where I differ from most Lost detractors is that I don’t see why this is necessarily a BAD thing. The people behind Lost created a setting so packed with mysteries that it genuinely makes more realistic sense that some remain unsolved. It’s actually refreshing, compared to something like, say Westworld, which was so proud of its meticulously plotted twists and turns it forgot to keep those twists and turns hidden beyond, I don’t know, 30 minutes into the first episode?

Drew: So I guess the through-line here is: what are we looking for in this rewatch, Vinnie? I’m specifically keeping my eye out for continuity issues w/r/t character development. Oy-oy-oy, Sun and Jin’s whole thing, that’s annoying the shit out of me right now. I forgot how early on they established that Sun comes from a wealthier, insulated culture than Jin, and just how quickly she drops the “I no speak English” act. It’s literally six episodes before she pops up like “Hey, Michael, give my husband my dad’s watch back, k thanks byeeeeee.”

Sun is the worst at smiling and not great at keeping secrets, either.

“Yay, sooooo happy!” ABC

Vinnie: Well, I think my goal here is pretty simple and clear: I’m hoping to piece together every unsolved mystery on this show, thus unlocking the portal into Damon Lindelof’s brain, which I expect will be made up primarily of mean-spirited Tweets directed at his TV shows.

Drew: You know who else doesn’t track for me in these early episodes? Boone and Sawyer, specifically in episode 5 “White Rabbit,” and episode 8 “Confidence Man.” You know, the episodes that try to hang on the conceit that, given the fact that he has hoarder tendencies, Sawyer will happily take the blame for anything that goes missing on the island. And that Boone, the lifeguard/trust funder/wannabe-Jack would purposefully hide all the remaining drinking water on the island in attempt to….do what, exactly? Prove he is also a good leader as he gets caught trying to sneak a couple sips to a pregnant woman literally dying of thirst? Nuh-uh. I get that scarcity could cause a panic, but I don’t follow Boone’s logic. If anything, the only thing episode 5 proved was that Boone and Sawyer are both fucking stupid.

Vinnie: Boone. Going through these episodes again, the most consistent refrain inside my head is “oh great here’s fucking Boone again.” On a show with roughly 500 cast members who all have at least one or two redeeming qualities, Boone is always somehow the worst. The only correct choice in the history of Boone was the casting of Ian Somerhalder, the only human on Earth who if you pointed to him and said his name was Boone Carlyle I’d be like “well, yeah, I see that.”

Drew: The same goes for “Confidence Man,” except in this episode, it’s 100 percent unbelievable that the surviving passengers would fall for the same “Blame the handsome asshole” shtick twice in a row. Especially since, given the nature of Boone and Shannon’s arguably terrible and unarguably (step-)incestuous relationship, the most logical explanation for who stole Shannon’s inhaler would be….her brother. Hey, he created a water shortage just to get everyone to think he’s some hero; why would you put it past him to create a scenario that gets rid of his biggest antagonist and gains him some sympathy points?

The reverse is true for Sawyer: why would he pretend to have Shannon’s inhaler and allowed himself to be tortured instead? We see in episode 10, “Raised by Another,” that if you ask him nicely enough, Sawyer is pretty okay with letting you paw through his shit in order to find the flight manifest. But he’d rather let himself be given the world’s least comfortable manicure to…what? Kate theorizes Sawyer is trying to punish himself, and he responds by claiming what a bad person he was, stealing that women and her husband’s money in a medium-con; a fact that we know, via flashbacks, didn’t happen. So…what? Robbing a guy and sleeping with his wife isn’t exactly the same as denying a woman life-saving medicine that serves you exactly NO purpose on a deserted island.

Vinnie: You know, the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced Sawyer was in the same boat Jesse Pinkman was in the first season of Breaking Bad. Vince Gilligan has said multiple times that Jesse was headed toward a swift death before season two, but the audience was like “hey actually kind of digging this multi-layered character played by a super charismatic actor” and Gilligan was like “fuck FINE I’ll just have his girlfriend choke to death on her own vomit and he can survive all the way to the end.” Because you’re right, it seems like the writers had no idea what to do with Sawyer’s personality for at least the first season. It turns out the exact midpoint between “evil asshole conman” and “actually an honorable guy who we probably want to be a romantic lead somewhere down the road” is a dumb, dumb idiot who will allow himself to be tortured out of a mixture of pride and a desire to kiss Kate for roughly 3 seconds.

Drew: I guess my natural follow-up to my previous question is: WHAT HAPPENED TO SHANNON’S INHALER? To me, this is as big of a mystery as the polar bears, because, come on, they literally find everything else on the island that showed up on that plane. Charlie guitar is still INTACT, for god’s sake. The coffin for Jack’s father has nary a scratch on it, despite being completely empty. Considering that Shannon’s inhaler would be in overhead compartment (not checked, as Boone claims) for easy access during the flight (wait, also, how would HE know?), the magical disappearance and subsequent “let’s never discuss this again, because Sun’s magical aloe plant has some pharmaceutical properties” is dumb.

Vinnie: See, again, WHY do we need the mystery of the inhaler to be solved? Is it even a mystery? The problem with Lost, otherwise a flawless work of mythology to rival most actual religions, is that it worked so hard to cultivate a pile of mysteries that audiences started assigning mystery to things that weren’t mysteries. I’m pretty sure Lost singlehandedly willed Reddit into existence. Like, a primordial Reddit post crawled out from the internet ooze to ask if the tree branch in the background during season 2, episode 18 at exactly 11 minutes and 28 seconds looked like a smiley face to anyone else.

Maybe the inhaler fell in the ocean. I’d be SO okay with that as the answer.

Drew: SPEAKING OF WHICH: by episode 10, a mere TWO EPISODES after “Confidence Man,” Jack has enough drugs stock-piled to condescendingly offer Claire, a 9-months-pregnant woman who survived a plane crash, a “light” sedative. Uh, that would have been really helpful during Shannon’s asthma/panic attack.

Ugh, I hate Jack. Do you hate Jack, Vinnie? He’s the worst. Least favorite person on the island, by a long shot.

Vinnie: I feel the same way about Jack Shepard that I do about HBO’s The Leftovers. I like the idea of them; the quality is obviously top notch and everyone just speaks so highly of them. But oh, God, the mopiness, Drew. All the time. Oh, boo hoo, your dad operated on a patient once while he was drunk. If people didn’t do their jobs while they were drunk I wouldn’t be here right now, and dissecting the human body and dissecting TV shows that last aired in 2010 are basically the same thing. We all have problems, Jack!

Drew: Whoops, actually, I spoke too soon. Jack isn’t the worst person in Lost. That honor goes to Randy Nations, aka Locke’s boss. Or as I’ve taken to calling him, Dark Jim Halpert:

*mugs for camera* *humiliates old man in a wheelchair* ABC

Just so we’re clear on this character’s motivation, he maliciously taunts one of his employees in a wheelchair for the better part of an hour. “I’ve gone into your HR file, and you’ve never been a Colonel,” he sneers at Locke in the breakroom, before needling him about what Locke plans on using his vacation days for.

Now, not only is using a disabled employee’s personal HR files to publicly ridicule them definitely (probably) illegal, but seriously, what’s going on in Randy’s life that he thinks punching down like this is acceptable behavior in any situation? See, what I liked about Lost–and this may sound silly, but I swear to god I’m 100 percent sincere– is that the characters were, for the most part, nuanced and complex. The whole “friends becoming enemies, enemies becoming friends, lovers becoming smoke monsters, smoke monsters becoming friends, etc” routine actually tracks, because even the most minor of side characters are given motivation that, if you don’t exactly agree with, is at least explicable. Jack has daddy issues, so he has problems with Locke. Sayid and Sawyer don’t get along because the latter’s racism and the former’s ability to just like, literally become the most racist caricature of a Middle Eastern torturer. Michael doesn’t like Locke because he’s a creepy bald man who has a better relationship with his son than he does. Sun and Jin want to stare at each other with a mix of fondness and pure hatred. Kate wants to escape anything that even remotely resembles domesticity.  Charlie wants heroin. Claire wants that nobody take her bah-bee! Hurley wants everyone to get along, except in that one instance where he assigns himself Chief Island Police Officer.

But these flashbacks, as we know, can be deceiving. Jack’s father isn’t the monster he’s first presented as being, Sayid didn’t kill Nadia, Sun only hates her husband with 1/4th of the vitriol we originally see her presenting with. The whole nature of that second episode, “Walkabout” is set up for the big twist when we finally realize what has been holding Locke back. But what might come off as just a mean coworker in that build-up context until the twist makes NO sense in retrospect. And it’s never addressed again! I would like to have followed-up with Randy, to see what that kid’s problem was. Huge Driveshaft fan disappointed by the lack of a follow-up album? Just lost the lottery to Hurley? Got scammed by Sawyer and maybe having a bad day? I don’t know, Carlton Cruse! You tell me!

Vinnie: Let me just first say that “Walkabout” is a stellar episode of television. All the work put in to make the audience think Locke was this secret commando badass was so rewarding once it was revealed he is actually the World’s Saddest Human with Bran Stark legs. Which, actually, I think plays into the whole deal with Randy. Lost always leaned hard into the fact that Locke’s pre-island life was the absolute lowest form of living, and what better way to display that than having a hobbit with a chinstrap beard be his boss? Do you understand the winding path of awfulness your life has to take to end up working for the shittiest kid at the Crossfit gym? Do you get how much it would eat up a person inside knowing, just knowing that the man who signs your checks is wearing a sleeveless Rockstar Energy Drink t-shirt underneath his work clothes?

Although, honestly, Locke….just because your life is an endless void of depressing monotony doesn’t mean you don’t have to check the Walkabout website for their handicap policy. Could have saved you a lot of time, buddy.

LOST OBSERVATIONS:

Drew: I am 1000% sure you can sync up Hamilton to Lost and have it be totally consistent, like Dark Side of Oz style. The opening song literally describe almost every single character by their most defining character trait in an attempt to sum up just one founding father. Which itself sounds like something Lindelof would dream up in a “bad daddy” nightmare.

Vinnie: Out of all the preposterous things on Lost, the only thing I refuse to believe is that Drive Shaft rose to fame on the strength of “You All Everybody.”

Drew: My two favorite lines in the ENTIRE show thus far.

Kate: My shirt was full of bees.

Charlie: It was full of Cs.

OKAY HIGH-FIVE CHARLIE.

There you go, buddy! ABC

And my second favorite line, from episode like at least 6:

Michael: Wait, there are polar bears??

Because that just sums it up for me. I think I loved Lost because the show was shot in such a way that it never felt like the characters ever spoke to each other offscreen. It’s just like a Family Guy flashback where meanwhile everyone is just sitting around, waiting for Claire to stop thinking about that weird Australian psychic guy for the better part of 45 minutes.

And as someone who HATES the idea of other people getting together and talking when I’m not around, this show satisfies some innate narcissistic streak of mine. So…I guess I’m like, a Shannon?

#tfw you can’t stop thinking about how you’ll be replaced by Nikki one day. ABC

Ugh, yeah. Total Shannon over here.

Vinnie: I am a total Vincent, because that is literally my name, but also I tend to disappear from main storyline for no apparent reason.

Hey Vinnie! Hey! Hey! Good boy! ABC

We Have to Go Back to the Island: Rewatching ‘Lost,’ Season 1, Part 1