While currently rereading Harry Potter, I’m also rewatching Lost. I had planned to do this during my Master’s year anyway but it has, in part, also been fuelled by the fact that my girlfriend bought me the final season for my birthday a couple months back. I’m only currently at episode five of the first season but it has reminded me of an idea I had before. This isn’t the first time I’ve rewatched the first season (although it will be my first rewatching the entire series through) but each time I do I get the same sense from those first five episodes. It seems that, from those first five episodes, you could extrapolate all the major themes of the series.
Most of them are subtle. You probably wouldn’t pick up on the numbers from Jack’s seat alone, at least not until after Hurley’s episode. The flashbacks are a more common narrative device too compared to the plot related time skips that are to come, but from simply listening to some of the conversations that the characters have, you can almost see the overarching themes forming. The characters say interesting, little phrases that seem to foreshadow huge storylines. Take, for instance, this exchange between Charlie and Kate in the first episode:
KATE: Did you see it?
CHARLIE: No. No! But it was right there. We were dead! I was. An-And then Jack came back, and he, he pulled me up. I don’t know where he is.
[Kate looks around.]
KATE: We have to go back for him.
CHARLIE: Go back? There? Kate, there’s a certain gargantuan quality about this thing.
KATE: Then don’t come.
It’s a relatively short conversation that I’ve lifted. Five lines and one piece of action. But the dialogue is absolutely loaded. It sounds like it could have easily happened in Season 5. That is if Charlie wasn’t dead, but then, Charlie is the one who explicitly states ‘We were dead.’ Not to mention they set up the whole leaving and coming back. Kate is as adamant as Jack in season 3 and Charlie is just as incredulous as Kate will become
KATE: This is not gonna change.
JACK: No, I’m sick of lying! We made a mistake.
KATE: I have to go. He’s gonna be wondering where I am—
[Jack grabs her.]
JACK: We were not supposed to leave.
KATE: Yes, we were.
[She releases herself.]
KATE: Goodbye, Jack.
[She heads for her car.]
JACK: We have to go back, Kate.
In season 4, we see Kate actually come back, call Jack out and slap him for even considering returning to the Island. But back when the season 3 finale first aired, amongst the talk about flashforwards, everyone was trying to figure out who the ‘he’ in Kate’s speech was. Of course, by now we know it to be Claire’s son, Aaron, but at the time it could have been anyone. The most popular theory I think was Sawyer. Yet, in comparison to the first episode, we can see that the scene revolves around Kate and Charlie wondering where he is (the he here being Jack) and Charlie explicitly states that Jack came back. Before any of the others, Jack was the first to return. In the first episode, this just showed his natural heroism, but looking back it seems to have foreshadowed a major theme in later seasons. Namely, returning to what you left behind.
The entire series could probably be considered to be about returning to what was left behind since many of the characters work through their issues on the island. Some let go, like Jack is eventually able to, while others never quite get over their issues, like Locke or Eko. The consequences for the latter pair are not good. The most positive character, however, who seems to be able to let everything slide and remain relatively happy, is Hurley. He is the one who becomes the final protector on the island (or, at least, the last one we see on the island). Although, not before Jack has his moment in the sun, which also seems to be prophesied in the fifth episode, White Rabbit:
JACK: How are they, the others?
LOCKE: Thirsty. Hungry. Waiting to be rescued. And they need someone to tell them what to do.
JACK: Me? I can’t.
LOCKE: Why can’t you?
JACK: Because I’m not a leader.
LOCKE: And yet they all treat you like one.
JACK: I don’t know how to help them. I’ll fail. I don’t have what it takes.
LOCKE: Why are you out here, Jack?
JACK: I think I’m going crazy.
Again, it’s a short segment but one that’s completely filled with loaded dialogue. The others that Jack refers to is obviously the beach group but with the introduction of an actual group of ‘Others’ in the first season finale this statement becomes far more potent. The Others are thirsty and hungry. They’re waiting for the heralded leader because they’re tired of Ben’s reign. We find out later find out that Ben has been disillusioned with Jacob for a long time. Yet, from a very early point in the series, we have Locke acknowledging that Jack is the rightful man to lead. It seems like Locke didn’t even really understand what he was saying. He was trying to protect the island but he tried to do it by forcing them to stay on the island (blowing up the sub, destroying Sayid’s communication devices, blowing up the Flame communication station, etc). Jack’s term as protector seems more like a war time office position. It’s Hurley who really protects the island and not through force, but by choice, which can be seen in the final episode:
HURLEY: It’s my job now… What the hell am I supposed to do?
BEN: I think you do what you do best. Take care of people. You can start by helping Desmond get home.
HURLEY: But how? People can’t leave the Island.
BEN: That’s how Jacob ran things… Maybe there’s another way. A better way.
HURLEY: Will you help me?
Hurley isn’t like Locke or Jack. He doesn’t do what he’s supposed to do. But he does the job anyway and doesn’t demand the allegiance of anyone. He asks for Ben’s help. Ben could easily have said no. Jack admits that he isn’t a leader very early on to Locke but he does the job because that’s what people expect of him. Locke admits Jack should be the leader too but at the same time when the position of leading the Other’s appears to him he wants to be the one who’s chosen and special. Hurley is the only one who doesn’t approach the situation in this way. In fact, when both Jack and Locke were absent in season 3, Hurley makes Sawyer lead and advises him from the back row, much like how Jacob had led Richard and Ben for many years. In the first five episodes both Jack and Locke are presented as very important, but even this is a hint. They both make grand gestures and speeches (Locke sees the eye of island and captures a boar while Jack saves many lives during the initial crash and then makes the famous ‘life together, die alone’ speech) but it is Hurley who stands in the background, trying to retrieve food from Sawyer, helping Charlie catch a fish and alerting Jack to the water shortage who is the real life of the island.
Of course, there’s also episode four, Walkabout. The episode where a paralysed man walks. It isn’t explained whether this is the result of something related to science fiction or if it’s something more mystical, at least not immediately, but this is the point where it become absolutely clear that this is not a normal TV drama. The show only gets weirder from there on. Between the reveal of Locke being paralysed and the end of the next episode, White Rabbit, I think that any viewer should have been able to tell whether they would enjoy this show. Through the analysis of those first five episodes and comparison to a couple of later episodes, you can plainly see how the themes of the show are evident from the very beginning. I’m not saying it was entirely planned from the very beginning, but the creators have admitted that after the first season they came up with the majority of the plot details, but that final scene existed from the very beginning. The show book ends with eyes opening and eyes closing.
It’s very poignant. Not just because the characters had their eyes opened by being on the island and in a sense close their eyes peacefully in the end with a happy ending then undoubtedly earned, but also because it applies to the viewer. In a sense the viewer too should be able to rest peacefully now that the show is over and all the answers, that could possibly be given, had been given. I really enjoyed the show. It felt like the end though. It was a natural conclusion and that’s something that not a lot of shows manage to achieve these days.
Whether you like or hate Lost, or whether I think you should have been able to discern whether you would like or hate Lost with in the first five episodes, is ultimately a matter of personal taste. In terms of narrative, direction, storytelling and a lot of other technical issues, Lost didn’t really do anything wrong. Maybe you didn’t like that Kate didn’t develop much over six seasons or that Frank’s dialogue mainly consisted of cheesy one liners, and really that’s fine, but I truly believe that Lost changed the mainstream attitude towards TV shows. TV shows don’t have to be explicitly genre shows such as how Star Trek was quite obviously science fiction, but Lost also wasn’t a fast paced action thriller or a romantic comedy. It managed to successfully transcend those boarders and it’s something that many shows have tried to replicate since but not all have succeeded. In the end, you may not like Lost but you still have to respect its ability to go beyond the norm.