"Pilot" (Part 1 and 2)

SEPTEMBER 22, 2010

EPISODE: 1.1, 1.2
AIRED: SEPTEMBER 22/29, 2004

When Lost premiered, I didn’t have DVR or Tivo. I was still using VHS and the ever tricky “timer”, which caused many a panicked “Did I shut the VCR off? Did I cue the tape up to the right spot?” moments in my life (we didn’t have Hulu back then either). And I can’t remember what it was, but I was already taping something else the night Lost premiered, so I had to watch it live. By the end of the hour, I knew this was going to be a show I ALWAYS watched live, or as close to it as possible.

Because I watch a lot of shows, and some just sort of get left behind, caught up during the summer season (I just finished 24 like, last month). But Lost is the exception – throughout its 6 year run, I never went more than a couple hours after it aired without watching it. If something came up and I had to be out late, I’d watch it when I got home, even if it was 2 am and I had to be up at 7. There were two reasons for this. One – it was a show built on revelations that folks could spoil on the internet. I remember during season 3, a major death was spoiled by someone on the East coast, as I was on the West before it aired. That’s not cool.

But the main reason is, the show was just too damn good, and I didn’t want to wait for the new episode any longer than I had to – it would be like opening your gifts on December 27th, as far as I was concerned. And re-watching the two part pilot just reminded me of that all over again. I hadn’t seen it since the days leading up to Season 3 (I would always re-watch the previous two seasons whenever one was about to begin), and while I could have made the same point then, it’s even more relevant now: the pilot is almost remarkably simple when you think about the show as a whole, and it got so much right that other serialized shows got wrong.

The pilot is fascinating by virtue of how much ISN’T in it. No Ben or Juliet, hell, no Others, period! No time travel. No Desmond (boo!), no hatches, no Dharma, no convenient stockpiles of food or fully developed neighborhoods, nothing. Just 48 people and some plane wreckage, for the most part. So many of the serialized shows that came after Lost made the fatal mistake of introducing all of its mysteries right up front, giving you too much to process and too little reason to care. But Lindelof/Carlton (and Abrams, I guess) knew that in order for anyone to stick around for the long haul, they needed to care about the folks at the center of the story. The debate over whether or not they had the whole show planned from the start will go on forever, but we can probably all agree that they never intended to have 5-6 seasons of folks on an island simply trying to survive until rescue comes.

Yet, in the pilot, we are only given brief tastes of that sort of stuff. The monster eating the pilot (which I still don’t get, in the long run, the smoke monster didn’t usually just kill folks at random), the French broadcast, and the goddamn polar bear are the only “big story” things in the two-part pilot. Just quick tastes and hints - nothing that ever overshadows the always compelling “desert island” scenario. And for every “sci-fi” type moment, there are about 5 that are nothing but character development. Sure, the scene with the polar bear is pretty bad ass, but the scene where Hurley gives Claire some airplane food, and then gives her an extra for her baby, is the type of stuff that got people to love the show.

And they were terrific at setting up character mysteries without them being too distracting. Sawyer reading the letter, Jin and Sun’s volatile relationship, etc – these are small moments that help you realize that understanding the truth about these folks is just as, if not more, interesting than anything involving polar bears. The one exception is Locke, who is just too creepy in these episodes. I suppose it can be chalked up to him just being weirded out by having the use of his legs again, but these moments just don’t feel right to me. Especially in contrast to folks like Hurley or Jack, who already had their characters down pat. Of course, I think Locke was the most mangled character over the show’s run, but we will discuss that more when it starts to become relevant. Otherwise, another amazing thing about the show is how little it suffers from the usual pilot problems, such as different looks for the characters, clunky exposition, or a focus on things that ultimately aren’t embraced by the audience and thus phased out. It’s not just a pilot, it’s a great episode of Lost – that’s not something you can say about too many shows (Community comes to mind – the pilot of that show is borderline painful at times, and almost every character is completely different than the one they ended up being).

Even without all of the “looking at it now...” type stuff making it interesting, it’s simply an amazing pilot episode, yet to be topped in my opinion. The opening post-crash stuff is as riveting as anything that was ever on ER, and the journeys around the island (transceiver, high ground for the signal) are exciting in all the right ways – there’s a sense of adventure, some tension/suspense, and a lot of character building – I love the bit where Kate’s trying to get Jack as impressed as she is about Charlie being in Driveshaft, and Jack’s just like “What? Whatever, can we go?” There’s also a great deal of humor, and even that reveals character (Shannon explaining why she doesn’t know French). This show characterizes 12-15 people in one episode better than most shows do with half that number over an entire season.

One thing I never really noticed before was that Jack was barely in the 2nd half of the pilot (possibly leftover from the fact that he was originally going to die, at the hands of Smokey if memory serves). It’s an ensemble show through and through, but Jack was always sort of the main character (him and Kate appeared in the most episodes, whereas folks like Jin or Desmond would disappear for 4-5 episodes at a time), and there aren’t too many hour long episodes in this first season that he wasn’t a significant driving force behind the island stories, even if the flashbacks were about someone else. But the 2nd half is mostly about the folks going off with the radio, and he’s not in their number.

Kate is, however, and I guess I should get this out of the way in case I haven’t made it clear over on HMAD or twitter – I think Evangeline Lilly is the most beautiful actress in the world, and I was smitten almost instantly with her (despite that horrid orange shirt). It’s funny how often I’d read about people hating Kate, and I was never sure if I just disagreed for real or if I was just mentally blocking any potential issues I might have with the character because she was played by someone I found so alluring. One thing I’ll definitely be doing with this “re-view” is trying to look at her character more objectively to see if she really was a weak link of sorts.

Another thing I will be doing is pointing out mysteries that were never really solved in any satisfying way. I can let the goddamn sneaker slide, but I’m still sort of baffled how Jack got that far away from the plane, in thick brush, without his seat (we see that he is buckled in during the crash) and with almost no signs of injury. Plus Rose was right next to him on the plane (and Locke right behind her), but they both were on the beach. This is the sort of thing that probably didn’t help when the finale came around and lots of unintelligent people thought they were dead the whole time.

Also the fact that the comic book seemed to mirror some of the island events, I don’t recall any explanation for. But then again my memory is shit, so if I think something went unsolved, and it didn’t, please let me know!

The biggest thing I took away from the pilot was how much I am going to miss this show, and more importantly, how much I miss what it used to be – simple, centered on character, and not disappointing. Every season had a couple of clunkers, but I never was disappointed by a season as a whole until the last 2, which I thought spent too much time on things that didn’t matter (S5 – 1977, S6 – The Temple) and lost sight of (or just plain ruined) too many characters. I didn’t hate the finale like many did, but I definitely had problems with it. But this pilot? It’s friggin perfect.

Where are we?


  1. I'm not a fan of how every single pilot episode is called "pilot." In this case, they could've had fun with it and found half of Greg Grunberg's "pilot" character in "Pilot - Part 1" and the other half in "Pilot - Part 2." Missed opportunity.

    I did rewatch these episodes shortly after season 6 ended and was amused at the bit where Kate tells Jack "I think I saw some smoke in the woods" or something like that. Yeah, she was talking about the plane's fuselage but considering what we would later learn about the series, I thought that was pretty cool.

    Just thinking about Walt's comic book is getting me upset about all the stuff that was set-up but never paid off. I'd gladly give up the Temple storyline from season 6 for more payoffs although that'd probably be bad television writing. Whatever.

  2. Hahah you think it's annoying? I was going crazy writing it over and over! Especially when the episodes usually had such great, not always obvious names.

    The smoke thing - great point! I still hadn't even picked up on that!

  3. This is going to be an awesome blog. It makes me happy that you're doing this. Best show ever.

  4. I always figured the pilot was killed either to get their attention- sort of letting people know who's really the boss right off the bat- or perhaps because he hadn't been 'called' and might not have been supposed to live... lots of other characters die, and it seems as though the ones to get offed aren't really important, at least not in the way the central cast becomes important to the Island itself later on.
    Just my take.
    Awesome blog, by the way :)