The pilot episode of Lost is extraordinary in many ways. It was one of three episodes to win a Primetime Emmy for the show. It was the most expensive pilot on television at the time. It set audience records when it aired. It is, simply put, an expertly written and executed hour of television.
Personally, I thought that the remaining 120 episodes continued to tell a spellbinding story as well, but we’ll get there in due time. Where’s Walt? is a chronicle of a dedicated rewatching by a self-proclaimed Lostie of all six season of Lost. It is a journal of joys and sorrows, attempts at snark and wit, passing allusions to English philosophers, and a list of definitive answers for every question you may have ever had. You know – all the things you watch Lost for!
All right, let’s get started. The Pilot! Part 1.
Jack wakes up in a bamboo forest and is nearly trampled by a mysterious Labrador that later creeps on him while he’s walking to the cockpit.
Jack runs out onto the beach where he discovers that a plane has crashed. He proceeds to help nearly every person we will care about for the next 20 episodes before grabbing a sewing kit and having some fun craft time with Kate. Boone collects pens.
There’s a monster in them there woods! Jack meets Rose in our very first flashback (how quaint!) before we jump back to Jack leading the charge toward the cockpit and that precious transceiver. He tries to dissuade Kate from going. He tries to dismiss Charlie volunteering to come along. He likes to protect people.
The triumvirate walk through the jungle and encounter some kind of monsoon rain. They find the cockpit! The pilot’s alive! Everything is going so well! Except…they’re a thousand miles off course. And then the pilot gets pulled out of the cockpit by the monster and eaten or at the very least delicately placed atop a tree.
As Charlie so eloquently puts it: “Terrific.”
What’s so great about this episode?
The opening is fantastic framing, both in story and visual terms. The open on Jack’s eye establishes a visual motif that Lost will return to again and again, along with immediately placing the viewer with Jack in the bamboo jungle. The shots that immediately follow are either point-of-view shots from Jack’s perspective (up into the sky or sideways as he hears a rustling) or establishing shots of Jack’s splayed body on the ground. He almost looks like the chalk outline of a crime scene victim and a few things are immediately clear: something bad has happened and this man doesn’t belong here.
This divide (what belongs, what doesn’t) continues into the next scene, which is perhaps my favorite shot of the episode. Jack emerges from the jungle and the camera pans over an idyllic beach. Again, Jack looks out of place with the cuts on his face and his ripped suit. As the pan circles back around on Jack’s confused expression, the sound of screams are heard. A 45-second tracking shot then follows Jack into the chaos of the plane crash, but because the shot remains fairly tight, it is not immediately obvious that what we’re seeing is a plane crash. What is obvious is that something horrific has happened and that this place of natural beauty has been disturbed.
What follows is a series of vignettes that introduce us to our central characters: Charlie by the engine, Jin shouting in Korean, Michael shouting his favorite one-word catchphrase, Shannon screaming, Locke enlisted to help a trapped man, Claire having contractions, Boone ineptly reviving Rose, Hurley enlisted to keep an eye on Claire. It all happens so quickly and yet feels so natural because our audience POV has already settled with Jack. It’s interesting to consider the characters that miss out on this early party: Kate, Sawyer, Sayid, Sun, and Walt. Setting aside Sun and Walt (who are most likely missing because their existence is the primary motivator for two other characters), Kate, Sawyer, and Sayid are a colorful group. It’s no accident that these three more mysterious characters end up feeling the most suspicion on them in the upcoming episodes, after having been left out of the initial introductions.
The pilot also traffics heavily on the tropes and trappings of the horror genre. Why do this? I think that early on, this helps to establish the tone of the show as something that goes beyond a simple survival story. The horror beats send a simple but firm message: anything can happen on this show. This isn’t just about a bunch of ordinary people surviving on a deserted island.
There are so many horror story moments, it’s hard to enumerate them all, but here are a few of the most egregious: the dangling shoe as Jack runs onto the beach, ominous dog watching, Locke sitting silently and alone on the beach, the dead body falling out of the cockpit, the pilot suddenly waking up, the monster grabbing the pilot out of the cockpit, the blood splatter on the window, Charlie tripping while running from danger, Charlie suddenly behind Kate after the run and trip.
How could you not come back a week later after all that?
There are plenty of lists of Lost’s great unanswered questions out there, so I thought I’d call out how well Lost actually manages to set up small mysteries that then get resolved in the same episode or how – in future episodes – larger mysteries do typically get closure.
Perhaps it is because there are so many small questions are answered and so consistently that viewers ended up feeling like they were promised an answer to every little question that they may have considered important (or maybe the whole “the ending ruined the show” meme is overblown/not unique to Lost?).
- Why does Jack have a tiny bottle of vodka in his pocket?
He flirted with the flight attendant!
- Why haven’t the survivors been rescued?
They went radio dark and were 1,000 miles off course!
- Is there a monster?
Yes. Yes there is.
Hurley giving Claire an extra airplane meal, because of, you know, baby stuff.
Shannon giving herself a pedi and refusing to eat a chocolate bar.
- “Dude, I’m not going anywhere.” – Hurley
- “With the drapes, it was a sewing machine.” – Kate
- “Terrific.” – Charlie
- “You all everybody.” – Drive Shaft
On the beach, staring into the forest with empty eyes, pining for his lost dog.