‘Lost’: Black smoke monsters and white polar bears

“Pilot, Part II”
Originally aired September 29, 2004

Hey! Any of you ever hear of this show called The New People? An Aaron Spelling confection (because that’s all that crazy genius made: perfect, frothy, shameful television confections)? From 1969?

Well, it was a little bit before my time, and it only ran 17 episodes, so I wouldn’t be surprised if you’d never heard of it. But here’s the thing: it’s totally Lost.

From Television Obscurities:

The premise of The New People was a simple one. A group of forty or so American college students were on a cultural exchange tour in Southeast Asia, sent by the State Department. An outspoken group with radical ideas, the State Department cancelled the tour and ordered the group back to the United States. While flying back home their plane met with bad weather and crashed on an island in the South Pacific. The following day, the “new people” began to explore.

The island was called Bomano, an unused Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) testing site, and was complete with buildings, food, weapons, and plenty of supplies for the survivors. There were, however, no people, and the chances that they would be rescued were very slim. The plane’s radio was useless and none of the survivors had any idea where they were — let alone how to contact help.

The plane crash killed the pilots and several students. The only remaining adult, a mortally wounded State Department official named Mr. Hannichek (played by Richard Kiley) attempted to maintain order. In order to trap the survivors on Bonamo for good, the first episode also saw a racist student gleefully trying to strand an African-American student by smothering the signal fire as a rescue plane was flying overhead. That plane would report the island clear and no additional planes would be sent out.

Hannichek used what little strength he had left to stop a mob from killing the racist student. Everyone disperses, leaving Hannichek to expire. His death left the students as the sole inhabitants of an island that was all their own. The young people were then forced to live without the help of adults and eager to create a society free from the problems that plagued the one they left behind.

Hmmm … sounds vaguely familiar…

Now, before we accuse the producers of ripping off a little-known television show from the 60s, it should be noted that Damon Lindelof claims he was unaware of the show and had he known about it, he would have named Driveshaft The New People as a tribute. O.K., so the producer who is my age has never heard of the show. Fair enough. Neither had I. Mr. Cuse? Any comment?

(chirp … chirp …)

That’s what I thought.

To be fair, the idea of being stranded on a deserted island is certainly not a new one: Robinson Crusoe, The Swiss Family Robinson, Lord of the Flies … heck, Gilligan’s Island was probably the original inspiration for Spelling for The New People: “Dig this: I’m seeing Gilligan’s Island but with a groovy vibe and hippies! Gilligan’s Island meets Hair! But serious.” What’s more interesting to me is why the idea of a group of people stripped from civilization and forced to make a new society is such a compelling story for us, that is told over and over again. Which brings us to the second half of the Lost pilot episode, creatively entitled “Pilot, Part 2.”

In the first half of the pilot, we establish a couple important things: there has been an airplane crash, there are survivors, no one knows where they are, help doesn’t seem to be on its way and Jack is “the hero.”

But what about everyone else? We’ve got 48 some-odd people who are stuck together on this island. Who are they and how are they going to get along? How are they going to survive on this God-forsaken place?

We begin with Jack, Kate, and Charlie returning from the cockpit with the transceiver which is awesome, except that the transceiver isn’t working, which is less awesome. As Jack fiddles with it, Kate takes the opportunity to ask Charlie what he was doing in the bathroom. Oh, just being sick! Charlie cheerfully explains. I’m a big coward! No need to pay attention to me or any of these track marks on my arm! Cheers! or Tally-ho! or God Save the Queen! or whatever!

Track marks? Yes, you see Charlie the Hobbit has a horse problem. When they were on the plane, Charlie started jonesing for a little somethin’ somethin’, and his fidgeting caught the attention of Cindy the stewardess. Before the rest of the stewardpeople could ask Charlie any pesky questions, he leaps up from his seat and heads toward the bathroom. The first one he comes to is occupied (thanks to Bernard) so he hurries up the aisle, nearly knocking Jack over, and followed by the stewardpeople. Charlie squeezes across a row, past a grumpy Shannon and eventually makes it into the first class bathroom.

There, Charlie removes his shoe (classic skater-punk pair of Vans: rock on Char!) and fishes out of it a bag of brown heroin, which he rubs into his gums. Ahhh … better … but what’s this? Our little junkie Hobbit is having a crisis of conscience, and apparently has made a decision: he’s going to quit altogether. As such, he throws the bag of heroin right into the toilet. But just as he’s about to flush, there is an alarming bout of turbulence, which throws Charlie directly into the ceiling. He gets himself out of the bathroom, only to have a food cart come flying at his head, narrowly missing him. He manages to strap himself into a seat, put on an oxygen mask, and that’s where he rides out the crash.

Lost note 1: I’ve pointed it out before, I know, and I’ve been mildly ribbed about it, but Charlie deliberately placing the heroin in the toilet, only to retrieve it later, is reminiscent of Paulo hiding the stash of diamonds in the Pearl hatch bathroom in season three. Both men have chosen to give something up, something that they regard as the source of their ruin, but then later have a change of heart and find themselves fishing their hands into a toilet to retrieve that which they wanted to be rid of. Also, of course, there is the Trainspotting reference, and the Worst Toilet in Scotland — perhaps the most beautiful drug sequence involving a toilet on film.

trainspotting the worst toilet in scotland

Lost note 2: This sequence is just the first in a string of events wherein Charlie comes very close to death, and yet, somehow survives. Note also that during the crash, the food cart nearly crushes Charlie, very much like the washing machine nearly crushes him in the hatch implosion.

lost pilot part 2 charlie shoe black and white

Lost note 3: Did you notice that Charlie hid the drugs in his shoe? The black and white shoe?

On the island, Shannon has managed to find her suitcase, specifically her bikini, which she is wearing as she sunbathes in the midst of the wreckage. Boone comes over to scold her for not helping sort the luggage. As he skulks off, Claire who happened to catch the entire exchange, asks Shannon if Boone is her boyfriend. Nope, her brother. Boone: “God’s friggin’ gift to humanity.” Which, if you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time now, what with the mono-myth and Joseph Campbell and the BLAH BLAH BLAH you will recognize that’s exactly what his name means.

Claire, a little enviously, says that she used to have a stomach too, dragging Shannon into a conversation about the baby that Shannon doesn’t actually seem too keen to join. What is determined: Claire doesn’t know what gender “it” is, and she hasn’t felt the baby kick since the crash. Not good.

Jin collects sea creatures as Sun watches. Michael approaches to ask if Sun’s seen his son (seriously, he should look into a leash, it would save a lot of heartache later), but she speaks only Korean. Jin, from the shore, barks at her in Korean “button up your sweater, Trampy!” She complies.

Hey! Look! It’s Walt, Michael’s kid, in the jungle looking for his dog Vincent. Instead, he finds handcuffs.

lost pilot part 2 handcuffs walt

Well then. Michael catches up with him, and yells a lot (Look, I don’t judge. I have boys. There’s yelling.), and Walt shows him the handcuffs.

Which, apparently, Michael chooses to take back to the beach to start some fights. Good idea, Mike. Sawyer and Sayid are throwing punches (with Sayid landing the majority of his. Sawyer? Not so much.) when Jack, Kate and Charlie emerge from the jungle. Wow! Doctor Man-Cry leaves for a couple hours, and total anarchy erupts. Seems Sawyer accused Sayid of blowing up the plane, and has decided that because Sayid kept his hands beneath a blanket during the flight, he was wearing the handcuffs. Also? He saw Sayid get pulled out of the security line back at the airport. (Which, by the way, Sawyer’s logic here eludes me. If Sawyer saw Sayid at the airport, then he saw that he wasn’t wearing handcuffs. So, I guess security put handcuffs on him? And then placed him on an airplane? Which he then managed to blow up? I’m not really getting Sawyer’s train of thought here.) Sayid, surprisingly, took offense to this.

Anywho. Kate yells at everyone to STOP! and announces that they have the transceiver, but they can’t get it to work. Hey! Good news! Sayid might know how to get it working! Sawyer doesn’t approve. When Hurley tries to act as a peacemaker, Sawyer snaps at him and calls him the first of many many names he will inflict on poor Hurley (“Lardo,” this time) to which everyone responds poorly. Jack tells Sawyer to give it a rest, to which Sawyer responds “Whatever you say, doc. You’re the hero.” (Or should I say The Hero?)


Sayid inspects the transceiver as Hurley watches, the two introduce themselves to each other, and we learn that Sayid was a communications officer in the Iraqi Republican Guard. Oh noes! Was Sawyer right about Sayid? (Spoiler: No.)

Kate bathes. Get used to it. The writers find any excuse they can to get Kate nakedish, often using bathing as their M.O. If I were one for over-analyzing and labeling everything as being “symbolic” or some such, I’d suggest that Kate’s bathing is a cathartic, purifying act, and the fact that she is shown repeatedly bathing over the course of the series represents her unfulfilled need to wash away her sins. But I’m since I’m not into that kind of thing, I won’t mention it.

Sun signals to Kate that she is needed at camp. Once dressed (in a bright orange shirt no less … what does it mean?), Kate learns from Sayid that the battery is usable, but they aren’t receiving a signal. They need to go to higher ground and attempt to locate a signal to send an S.O.S. to a hypothetical rescue ship. If they attempt to send it from the beach it’ll be a waste of the battery. He suggests they scale a very tall mountain. Very tall.

Jack has been notified by Rose that shrapnel guy needs some attention. Boy, does he. That is just a nastificacious piece of metal jutting out from his belly. Kate pops up again to check on shrapnel dude, and Jack tells her that if everything goes right: if he opens up Mr. Shrapnel, Mr. Shrapnel doesn’t bleed out, Mr. Shrapnel doesn’t get The Sepsis, and Jack can find antibiotics for Mr. Shrapnel, then maybe, JUST MAYBE, Mr. Shrapnel will be O.K. And seeing that help doesn’t appear to be coming any time soon, Jack doesn’t have many options: if he doesn’t remove the shrapnel, Mr. Shrapnel will absolutely die.

lost pilot part 2 shrapnel mars

Well, OK then! says Kate. I’m off to go scale a mountain. Laters!

Jin has amassed quite a plate of sushi, but not with Sun’s help. When she offers her assistance, he slaps her hand away. OH YEAH, JIN? YOU KNOW WHAT? SUN’S GONNA UNBUTTON THE TOP BUTTON OF HER SWEATER! TAKE THAT!

Jin offers his sashimi platter to Hurley, who passes. Hurley, not so much a fan of the sushi, apparently.

Fool. Sushi’s delicious.

Walt occupies himself by reading a comic book (look out! polar bear!). More accurately, he pages through a comic book, because it’s in Spanish, which he tells his father he does not speak. Michael, trying to cheer his son up, offers to get Walt another dog when they get home. Which is hint #1 that Michael isn’t familiar with the whole “parenting” thing, or with overused sitcom plots, because the whole “we’ll just get you a new pet and you’ll never notice the difference” idea never works. Walt storms off in response.

Lost note: The comic book. There’s a lot to be said about the comic book, and its significance to the show. Here are the basic facts: The comic book is “Green Lantern/Flash: Faster Friends #1.” The plot is that in the 40s, a spaceship crash-landed on Earth, the U.S. military brought in the Flash and the Green Lantern to capture the alien pilot. The alien surrenders, but is unable to communicate to the Flash and Green Lantern that he means no harm to Earth. Learning that they’ve been used by the U.S. government, the Flash and the Green Lantern take the alien’s spaceship and hide it in the Arctic to prevent the government from using it. The alien, now in military hands, is used for experimentation, and in the 1990s is infected with a fatal form of cancer. This ticks off the alien. The alien escapes and plots his revenge. The alien gains mental control of the original Flash and Green Lantern and uses them to unearth his spaceship. When the current Flash and Green Lantern arrive, the alien orders the original Flash and Green Lantern to fight their younger counterparts (apparently, the Flash and Green Lantern pass on their mantles to new Flashes and Green Lanterns). But the two sets of Flashes and Green Lanterns eventually work together to fight the alien who commits suicide rather than go back to captivity.

What does this have to do with polar bears (or Lost for that matter?)? I guess the Flash and Green Lantern confront polar bears when they bury the spaceship or retrieve it from the Arctic? I don’t know — I only have read synopses of the comic, not the book itself (so sue me). Can anyone confirm for me?

Anyway, what has turned out to be more interesting to me are the other comic book references in the show. In “Catch-22” from season 3, Hurley and Charlie argue about who would win a race between Superman and the Flash. (In fact, the conversation is played twice, once in real time, and once in Desmond’s “flash,” as it were.) Why the Flash? The Flash’s powers come from his ability to violate certain laws of physics — often using vibration, as Hurley points out in his argument with Charlie (also, note that Good Vibrations is the song that serves as the password for unlocking the Looking Glass) to go through solid objects. Also, the Flash is able to time travel. Could this be a reference to Desmond, with the time-traveling? Or even Hurley himself, who seems to defy the laws of physics on occasion (note the lack of weight loss, and yet his nimbleness as in “Numbers” when he traverses the rope bridge).

And then there is the Green Lantern: his power comes from a “power ring” which apparently can do pretty much anything the wearer of the ring (the Green Lantern) wants it to do, so long as he has sufficient will power. What’s interesting is that the ring automatically seeks a replacement upon the death of the wearer. Charlie’s Driveshaft ring perhaps? Note that as long as he wears the ring, Charlie appears to be somewhat invincible. It is only when he takes off the ring and leaves it for Aaron that he actually becomes vulnerable.

Or maybe they just needed a comic book with a polar bear in it.

Charlie gets high.

Jack, preparing to treat Mr. Shrapnel, asks Hurley to search through the luggage to find all medications, specifically antibiotics.

Drugs! Drugs! Drugs!

Shannon’s starting to crack. She cries to Boone that she was mean to the guy who wouldn’t let them sit in first class, but that he probably saved their lives. Boone, unsympathetic, tells Shannon to get off her tookis and help clear the wreckage. When she balks (I’VE BEEN THROUGH A TRAUMA!), Boone calls her worthless. This sets Shannon off, and she decides to prove otherwise by going along on Kate and Sayid’s mission up the mountain. Boone and Charlie announce their intentions to go, too. I’m sure Kate and Sayid are pleased to be joined by this group of whiny spoiled drug abusers. This will help!

Sawyer smokes. And broods. And reads a piece of paper. And sits in a piece of wreckage. He’s moody. And bad.

And he decides to join the mountain expedition.

Jack, in the meantime, is searching through luggage when Michael asks him what he’s looking for. A blade apparently. (Psst! Jack! Here’s a hint: ask Locke.) Jack asks about Walt, and how old he is. 9, no 10! replies Alec Baldwin. Michael mentions that Walt’s upset about his missing dog and Jack tells Michael that he saw the dog in the jungle. Yay!

So, where’s Walt? He’s busy talking to the creepy bald guy who doesn’t come in out of the rain. Walt reveals that his mother has just died, to which Locke responds that Walt seems to be having a bad month. Word to Walt’s dead mother.

Hey! Ever heard of backgammon, Walt? According to Locke, backgammon is the oldest game in the world: backgammon sets have been found in the ruins of ancient Mesopotamia. 5,000 years old. Also? The dice were made of bones (cool, indeed, Walt). Two players, Locke explains. Two sides. One is light. One is dark. Then just to up the creepy quotient, Locke asks Walt if he wants to know a secret. Run, Walt! Run away form strange old men who want to tell you “secrets!” Seriously, yo.


Lost note: This conversation, I’m sure you’ve noticed, is huge. There’s much to touch on here: ancient civilizations, games and game theory, black and white … we might have to discuss some of it in depth later. But obviously, Locke’s big secret (for those of you who have never seen an episode ever, just skip this, but how many of you are out there? yeah, didn’t think so) is that he was once a paraplegic, but has regained the use of his legs on the island. So why does he confide this to a child? And why is it a secret? Also, take note of Locke’s scar.

Jin is still trying to sell his sushi to someone, and he forces it on Claire, who reluctantly accepts it. And guess what? It makes the baby move! Also? Claire calls the baby “he!”

Anyway. On the expedition to the mountain, the group comes to a clearing. As they argue whether or not to try the transceiver, there’s a noise! Is it the monster? Run away! RUN AWAY! Everyone does, with the exception of Sawyer, who begins shooting a gun at whatever it is that is approaching. Hearing the gunshots, everyone returns to find that Sawyer’s shot a bear! Not only that, a POLAR BEAR! OH MY GOD! SAWYER KILLED KNUT!

lost pilot part 2 polar bear

Lost note: First we have a polar bear in Walt’s comic book. Then an actual polar bear menaces our survivors. What does it all mean? Did Walt conjure the polar bear?

Well, no. We learn later that the polar bears actually pre-date the crash, and had something to do with the DHARMA Initiative. But what? All we receive are glimpses of bears in the Orientation filmstrip and then we are told that the cages that Sawyer and Kate are kept in were originally for the polar bears. But why? It’s interesting, and still unanswered, but there is a moment in “Left Behind” when Richard Alpert is preparing Juliet for her journey to the island when he notes that she “created life where life wasn’t supposed to be.” He was referring to her fertility treatments, but could it also be why they wanted her on the island? That the island itself is someplace where life isn’t supposed to be? The polar bears are obviously an unnatural addition to the island … is the point of the polar bear experiments to promote life where life should be unsustainable?

Jack tends to Mr. Shrapnel with Hurley’s assistance. Concerned that Mr. Shrapnel could wake up during the procedure, Hurley tests him by yelling that they’ve been rescued! Yay! No response, so Jack gets on with it. He asks Hurley to hold Mr. Shrapnel down in the event that he should wake up. Hurley, however, is not good with blood. Jack instructs Hurley to not watch, yanks the shrapnel out of the wound, and Hurley tries to avert his eyes, but ultimately, Hurley can’t help it. He takes a peek, and promptly collapses on top of Mr. Shrapnel. (Ha!) “DAMMIT!” yells Jack.

jack bauer dammit damn

But what about that polar bear? That’s what everyone on the expedition is wondering, too. They discuss the obvious: polar bears don’t live this far south, they’re on a tropical frickin’ island, etc., etc., and Kate asks where it came from. “Polar bear village,” suggests Sawyer, which of course isn’t entirely inaccurate. That’s not what Kate was referring to, however. She was talking about the gun. Sawyer explains that he took the gun off a marshal’s body. How’d he know it was a U.S. marshal? He had on a badge (which Sawyer also helped himself to).

“YOU’RE THE PRISONER!” accuses Sayid. “Fine, I’m The Prisoner, you’re The Terrorist … we can all play a part,” responds Sawyer. “Who do you want to be,” he asks Shannon … and while he’s distracted by his own righteous indignation, Kate yoinks the gun from his pants (and it won’t be the last time, nudge, nudge …). With Sayid’s help, she unloads the magazine and returns the emptied gun to Sawyer. (Get it? Kate’s literally and figuratively “disarmed” Sawyer …) Sawyer pulls Kate closer, and tells her that he knows her “type,” that he’s been with girls like her. Not exactly like me, retorts Kate.

bitch you don't know me amy poehler saturday night live

Cue the mini-flashback!

Kate’s on the plane, where the stewardess asks if she’d like a refill on her drink. Kate declines, but Mr. Shrapnel will take one! Coffee, black! Mr. Shrapnel tells Kate to remain positive: “they” might believe her story … he sure does. Mr. Shrapnel asks Kate if she’s sure she doesn’t want more juice (and there’s a weird emphasis on the word juice here, it should be noted), and when Kate takes a sip from her cup, it’s revealed that … SHE’S the one wearing the handcuffs! Oh my gosh! She’s The Prisoner! A bit of turbulence hits, and Kate tells Mr. Shrapnel, aka the marshal, that she has a favor to ask.

But before she can continue, there’s a BIG bout of turbulence, and the marshal is bonked on the head by a huge metal case, knocking him unconscious. And here come the oxygen masks, but oh no! Kate can’t reach them, what with the handcuffs on and all! She manages to fish the key to the cuffs out of the marshal’s pocket, free herself, and get a mask on. Then she puts a mask on the marshal, because she’s not all bad … And the tail section falls off! Yikes!

lost pilot part 2 plane break up kate mars

Lost note: What is up with the orange juice? The marshal puts a strange emphasis on the word, could he be implying that she’s up for the death penalty or something? More interesting to me is the fact that both Kate and Juliet (and Jack? Was that a screwdriver he was drinking before the crash?) drink orange juice before they arrive to the island: is this the equivalent of the potion that Alice drinks that shrinks her in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland? Very often in religious ceremonies, there is something that the participants must consume, be it a drink (potion), food, or even a drug. Consumption of these items is intended to bring on an altered state of consciousness, to aid the participant’s communion with another world, spirits or even God. The point is, it is a common ritual element to ingest something as a means to change one’s consciousness. Juliet and Kate (and Jack?) consume orange juice, just before they enter the altered state, new consciousness of the island.

Guess who woke up too early? You guess the marshal? Cuz he did. And he’s really quite strong for someone who is in the middle of being operated on. WHERE IS SHE? he demands. Who? asks Jack.

That’d be Kate, Jack. And she’s on the expedition up the mountain, Mr. Shrapnel. Don’t think you’re in any kind of condition to be going after her just yet. The expedition has reached a clearing near the peak, and Sayid has decided that it’s high enough to test the transceiver, and YAY! They’re getting a signal! HOORAY! THEY’RE SAV — what? They’re getting feedback? Seems that something else is transmitting nearby. Could it be other survivors, offers Boone presciently. Sayid suggests that it could be a satellite phone or a radio signal (again, foreshadowing beating viewers of season three over the head), and he attempts to find the frequency.

When he does, he finds a woman speaking in French. Hooray! The French or coming! Or maybe not … Among the group, Shannon speaks French, at least according to Boone. Shannon disagrees. As they bicker over whether she can translate the message, a strange robotic voice comes on the phone: “Iteration 7-2-9-4-5-3-1,” and Sayid notices that the battery is draining. The group urges Shannon to translate, and they realize the French woman’s message is on a loop, it’s repeating, and the number of iterations can reveal how long the message has been playing.

As Sayid does the math in his head, Shannon translates the message: “Please help me. Please, come get me. I’m alone now. Uhm … On the island alone. Please, someone come. They others, they’re … they’re dead. I-it killed them. I-it killed them all.” And then the batteries die. Well, that’s a bummer. You know what else isn’t good? Sayid’s figured out that the message has been playing for 16 years! That’s a really long time … So. Someone left an S.O.S. radio message some 16 years ago, but we can stay positive: maybe they were rescued. Yeah? asks Sawyer. So why is the message still playing, then?

Lost note: Here is the full translation of the radio message, it seems Shannon didn’t catch everything:

If someone can hear this, they are dead. Please help us. I’ll try to go to the black rock. It (or he) killed them. It (or he) killed them all.

Iteration 7294531

It (or he) is outside, please help us, please help us. It (or he) is outside (…) help us. They are dead.

Iteration 17294532

It (or he) is outside, It (or he) is outside and Brennan took the keys. Please help us. They are dead, they are all dead. Help us. They are dead.

Iteration 17294533

They are all dead. Help us. They are dead (…)

Iteration 17294534

It (or he) is outside, please help us, please help us.

Iteration 17294535

If someone can hear this, I’ll try to go to the black rock. Please help us. They are all dead. They are dead. It (or he) killed them. It (or he) killed them all. I’ll try to go to the black rock.”

A few things: we know what the “black rock” is now, but at the time it aired, not so much. Also, Brennan? Curiously, Kate’s childhood friend Tom’s last name is Brennan.

And the episode ends with Charlie asking one of the most important questions of the entire series: “Guys, where are we?”

And Therese’s short answer: I haven’t a clue.

i literally don't know schitt's creek no idea

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk a little about the show. I mentioned at the beginning of the entry the Aaron Spelling show The New People, which was about a bunch of college-aged kids who crash into a deserted island and have to create a society out of nothing.

Similarly, Lost, when you strip away the smoke monster, and polar bears and the DHARMA Initiative and so on and SO FORTH, is really about a group of strangers who are thrown together on this island and forced to create a society out of nothing. Now, I don’t really believe that Lost ripped off The New People intentionally. Rather, I believe that there’s a reason why these shows bear a striking resemblance and it has everything to do with the periods in American history when they aired: The New People premiered during the fall of 1969, and Lost began broadcasting in 2004. Both were periods of tremendous political and social upheaval; both were times of war; both were periods when the future didn’t seem quite so certain … The New People took place on an island that had been intended to be used as a nuclear test site; Lost island was used by the DHARMA Initiative to try to prevent the end of the world at the height of the Cold War.

Inherent to both stories is an anxiety about the prospect of the end of the world at the hand of Man, and a group of people who are attempting to create a new life in the wake of a disaster. The anxiety in our post 9/11 world may not be exactly the same sense of doom and dread that hung over our country in the late 1960s, but following the events on September 11, 2001, and our subsequent incursions into Afghanistan and Iraq, our country had the first taste of real apocalyptic worry since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. For the first time in a long time, it suddenly didn’t seem so unrealistic that the world as we knew it could go “boom.” I could go on about Lost as myth-making in the post 9/11 world, and perhaps I will at some later date, but I think I’ve created enough fodder for angry comments for now, so I’ll leave that at that.

SO! Whaddya think about Locke’s backgammon speech to Walt? Let’s take it apart a little. Locke notes that backgammon is the oldest known game, dating back to ruins from ancient Mesopotamia. Why, we seem to have some ancient ruins on this island of ours!

four-toed statue taweret lost live together die alone

There’s the four-toed statue, the Stonehenge-y rock, the Pillar, and then some cryptic talk of a Temple. I didn’t really find the room to discuss this last season, but the idea that the island is a place where civilizations have been built atop of older civilizations is interesting; colonization and appropriation … The question I have, and remains unanswered, is whether the island has a native population and has undergone multiple colonizations: that Alpert, et al are the original inhabitants of the island that DHARMA attempted to displace. Or whether the island has seen a series of arrivals, that Alpert and his people arrived after some older group of inhabitants died off but before DHARMA came. The bottom line is we don’t have enough to go on one way or another.

Also very interesting to note, Mesopotamia is the geographical location of the Garden of Eden, and is “the cradle of civilization.” An ancient place that countless peoples have called home. (And of those on the island, Sayid still does.) An ancient place that continues to draw people to it, and with such ferocity that they are willing to die for it … Yep. Sounds a bit like the island.

(And an interesting side note: Tallahassee has been referenced a few times on the show, most recently in the episodes “The Man from Tallahassee,” and “The Brig.” Tallahassee literally means “old town” or “old fields,” according to Wikipedia: “This likely stems from the Creek (later called Seminole) Indians that migrated from Georgia and Alabama into this region during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Upon arrival, they found large areas of cleared lands that had previously been occupied by the Apalachee tribe.” And, of course, the Native Americans of the region were displaced by European colonialists.)

Of course, backgammon is a game, and there have been many many MANY game references on the show. You can find a comprehensive list here. So what’s up with all the games? Some have suggested that it’s because the events on the island are part of some sort of virtual reality game, or something, to which I say “bleh.” The producers themselves have said that writing the show is like playing chess: ”’I feel like we’re playing a chess game,” analogizes Lindelof, ”and in the first six moves, we’ve lost our queen and two bishops, and the audience is saying ‘They are the worst chess players in the world!’ What they don’t realize is that we’re nine moves away from checkmating you. If we lose, we lose. But that’s the play, and we’re standing by it.”’ [Ed. Note from the Future: This article has gone missing into the ether, but it originally ran in Entertainment Weekly.]

Wait a minute. Aren’t we and the writers on the same side here?

house of the rising sun black stone white stone lost

Which brings me to the “Two players, two sides. One is light. One is dark,” part of Locke’s quote. There is a bunch of black and white imagery on the show: the backgammon pieces, Charlie’s checkered shoes, the black smoke monster and the white polar bears. In the games we have chess sets, crossword puzzles, and there is a Go board in the Swan hatch. Jack finds the black and white stones on the bodies of “Adam and Eve,” there is the Black Rock, Kate’s black horse, and the white rabbits. What is up with all the black and white? A little something called “dualism,” is what: “the view that the world consists of, or is explicable as two fundamental entities, such as mind and matter, or good and evil,” or “the belief that the world is ruled by the antagonistic forces of good and evil; the belief that man has two basic natures, the physical and the spiritual.” Yin and yang.

There are many dualisms on the show, but the most important one seems to be the “us versus them” dualism that is played out in the survivors’ struggle with the Others. Of course the definition of “other” continually shifts. In the early episodes of season one, Other is anyone who is not the self, as is seen when Jin tells Sun to not worry about the “others.” Eventually, though, the survivors recognize that they are a group, they identify themselves with each other. In season two, the Others are briefly the tail section survivors, until they too, are folded into the group. And then what about The Others? As we’ve learned over the course of season three, they, too, are not that much different from the survivors, and at least Juliet has become part of their group. The dualism of the two sides keeps folding in on itself, revealing that there are no true “sides.” No side is all good or all bad.

This extends to the characters themselves: Those who we thought were “bad,” tend to have softer sides (hello, Sawyer!) and those who we recognized as “good” are capable of horrific acts (Michael! How could you!). The light and dark sides that Locke speaks of are merely two sides of the same coin, like how the smoke monster is at once pure black, but also shows itself as a beautiful white light to Locke. Good and bad exists in every character, just as Horus bore one light eye, and one dark eye … the syzygy. In fact, Dharmic religions believe that one must come to understand and attempt to achieve balance between the dual sides of one’s self, instead of allowing one side to control the other.

Interestingly enough, there is another relevant duality: wave-particle duality, the idea that all objects can behave both as a particle and a wave (and the act of observation can affect how it will behave), which is a central tenet of quantum mechanics.

schrodingers cat 2

It is the conundrum that the famous Schrödinger Cat explores — objects are at once a wave and a particle, the cat is at once alive and dead, observation changes the state of the object — that we discussed in “Catch-22.” It also makes my head HURT. But the idea is the same: there are two states (wave/particle; good/bad) that actually exist at once.

Hey! Did you notice that scar on Locke’s face, directly over his right eye? Symbolically, scars represent change, or a new awareness, having faced death … think Harry Potter, and his lightning bolt scar on his forehead. A scar is the mark of experience. Of course, a scar is also an identifier: like Jack’s tattoos, or Juliet’s brand, a scar represents that this person has been through something, and through that experience, he is special in some way. It marks him: he is one of us, but not of us.

watchmen button movie

Interestingly, the scar over Locke’s eye also resembles the iconic image of the bleeding smiley face in the graphic novel The Watchmen, a huge influence on the show. Sadly, I don’t know enough about The Watchmen to speak very intelligently about all the allusions Lost makes to it (it is on my reading list for the summer …).

[Ed. note from the Future: Oh my sweet summer child.]

What I do know is that The Watchmen is, in part, an exploration of superhero archetypes, and questioning what it means to be a “hero.” Something that we’ve talked about at length here in this blog. (A brilliant poster on The Fuselage, CrimsonRabbit, has a wonderful exploration of the comparisons of The Watchmen and Lost, which is absolutely worth a read.)

I’m not suggesting that the characters on Lost are superheroes (and, incidentally, the “superheroes” in The Watchmen with the exception of Dr. Manhattan, don’t have superpowers, either), but rather, they are each on their own adventure, their own journeys of learning who they “really are.” Which is what the hero’s journey is: it has nothing to do with saving the princess, or the galaxy or WHATEVER, but rather is about the process and initiations of joining the elite club of adulthood, learning who one “is,” and becoming an active member of society. The hero’s journey, ultimately, is a psychological trek.

Thus, the scene after Sawyer has shot the polar bear, and Sayid accuses him of being “the prisoner” is a significant moment in the series. When Sayid says “I know who you are. You’re the prisoner,” he’s not wrong. Sawyer was a prisoner physically at one point and remains a prisoner psychologically to his past. Sawyer responds in kind, “Fine. I’m the criminal, you’re the terrorist. We can all play a part.” and this isn’t wrong either: after all, Sayid did pretend to be a terrorist in Sydney. (However, in Sayid’s case, he’s less The Terrorist, and more The Torturer, as we will learn.) Of course, these are just “parts” as Sawyer correctly describes them … part meaning a role, or character. But could there be a little wordplay going on here? Could it also mean part as in a piece of a whole? Could this be a sly allusion to the idea of light and dark sides of each one’s character? How both are parts of the whole person? After all, even though Sawyer is The Criminal, that’s not who he is entirely, because neither he nor anyone on the island is merely one dimensional.

Take Charlie, for instance: he calls himself The Coward in this early exchange with Kate, only to later prove himself to be quite the hero. That’s not to say that Charlie wasn’t The Coward, but rather he came to learn what he was capable of during his time on the island: quitting drugs and protecting others to the point of making the ultimate sacrifice. The Coward and The Hero are two parts of the same person.

lost pilot part 2 jungle polar bear group

And because I see symbolism in EVERYTHING (sometimes a polar bear is just a polar bear, T), we can touch upon some of the geographical symbolism of the episode. For instance, the jungle, where this exchange between Sawyer and Sayid takes place, represents the unconscious, the unknown, the dark place of one’s soul. Often the jungle (or forest) is a threshold through which one must pass, encountering strange and dangerous animals, and enduring certain trials. While this isn’t the first or last time our characters will be in the jungle, it’s helpful to think of the jungle as being the unconscious, or the dark unknown place within ourselves. Geography is not merely physical, but also psychological: they must go through the dark parts of themselves to gain self-knowledge. Thus, it’s not surprising that the jungle is where Sawyer agrees (sarcastically, but still) to be the dark side of himself.

They leave the jungle and come to a clearing on a mountain. Symbolically, mountains are obstacles, something that the hero must overcome. Ascending the mountain represents achievement, with a new awareness or spiritual awakening at the summit. Abraham’s covenant with God took place on Mt. Moriah, Moses received the Ten Commandments atop of Mt. Sinai (Horeb), and the transfiguration of Jesus took place on a mountain (possibly Mt. Tabor). In all of these biblical accounts, someone ascends a mountain and communicates directly with God. And it’s not just biblical: the Gods in Ancient Greece lived on top of Mt. Olympus, the idea of the wise man atop the mountain is multi-cultural, but the symbolism is the same: atop the mountain one can communicate with a more knowledgeable source, and receive answers.

lost pilot part 2 mountain

So our survivors ascend this mountain, where they receive a message, they gain knowledge — but not good news. They learn that there are others who have been stranded on this island, that they are possibly not alone, and they are left with a dwindling sense of hope … And I think it’s interesting that what causes them to lose hope is that the message they receive is on an endless loop. This is our first encounter with the loop, the endless radio transmission that just circles in upon itself. Interestingly, before Sayid finds the transmission, he says they are getting feedback, which is a “signal that is looped back to control a system within itself.” A closed circle. A circle that feeds into itself. A Mobius loop. An ouroboros. Considering the use of time travel later (and the reference to a “Mobius loop of confusion” a writer once made), this is a curious symbol indeed.

It all comes back around.

And one that should be carefully considered: the original title of the show was “The Circle,” according to the extras from the season one DVDs. The circle as a symbol represents many things: unity, eternity, completeness. But of course, there is also the “vicious circle,” wherein the unendingness of the circle represents a trap, and an inability to escape one’s position. It just goes on and on and on and on. Just as Sayid, et al, are disheartened by the message that appears to have been playing for years on end, Desmond, trapped in his own circles of time, feels hopelessness at his inability to change the future or the past. They are caught in the circle, with little hope to break their never-ending cycles.

Which is why it is fascinating and appropriate that season three ends with a scene that fits neatly together with this one: the survivors climb another mountain where they encounter the radio transmission. This time, though, they break the circle, they stop the message so that they can communicate directly with yet another disembodied voice. And this time, instead of becoming disheartened by what they hear over the satellite phone, they are filled with hope for rescue.

But still, we have that nagging issue, why is Future Jack so miserable? Could it be that the circle isn’t broken in that moment at all? Could it be that by stopping the radio transmission, and communicating with whomever it is that he speaks with, Jack created his own vicious circle? That he would have to choose who leaves the island and who stays behind, and we are left watching someone, or someones creating their own S.O.S. at the radio tower just as Danielle did 16 years ago?

Sorry to go so long on this one! And to think, I didn’t even get into the whole Tower of Babel stuff! I guess I’ll save it for another time.

Mr. T? Somehow, I think I know what your blog will be this week.

Mr. T’s Lost blog:
“Pilot, Part 2”




Hey! Bonus blog feature! A movie recommendation! If you just can’t get enough of the whole hero’s journey, mono-myth stuff, check out Pan’s Labyrinth. It’s a grown-up’s nightmare of a fairy tale, and truly upsetting and beautiful. It isn’t directly related to Lost, but the obsessive fan might catch some parallels. If you watch it, or have seen it, tell me what you thought in the comments!

Lost originally aired on ABC and is now available to stream on Hulu and on IMDb.

This post originally appeared on the Hearst site Tubular.

Leave a Reply