"Tabula Rasa"

SEPTEMBER 23, 2010


As I mentioned in the review for the pilot, I am quite taken with Ms. Evangeline Lilly, so for my money, there was no better way to secure me as a committed Lost fan by giving her the first full blown “character episode” of Lost with "Tabula Rasa". While the pilot had just a single flashback for each of the three characters, this one nicely sets up the template for a typical Lost episode, where flashbacks reveal more about the people on the island, one at a time (with occasional crossover).

At first, they were just sort of showing how each one ended up on that plane to Sydney, and then they would set up further mysteries. "Tabula Rasa" is a good example, we learn that Kate was on the run, but we still don’t know what for (and won’t for a while). In fact, for a while, the pre-crash flashbacks set up more mysteries than the stuff on the island. This episode has even less “What’s with this place?” information than the pilot did, I think – the island stuff is pretty much all focused on Edward the Marshal (Fredric Lane, who like future Lost antagonists would also play a villain on Supernatural, my other favorite show), who is slowly and painfully dying of his crash injuries. There’s a bit of a clunky “sum up” at the top of the episode, where the characters all relay information to each other that they were present for when it was first revealed, but otherwise, Smoke Monster and polar bear fans will be disappointed with this one.

Instead, the non-Marshal stuff deals with an element of the show that was pretty much phased out after Season 1 (due to the Hatch, and later, Othertown) – basic survival. One of my favorite scenes in the episode is when Jack seeks medicine in the corpse-filled plane wreckage, only for Sawyer to make a pretty good point about doing things for the greater good. And there’s more of the “we have to get along” stuff – I love the quick bit of Sayid tossing Sawyer an apple (which is kind of a dick move – Sawyer wasn’t even looking. One more second and the scene becomes “Sayid whips an apple at Sawyer’s head”), and other small moments like that.

It also begins the Lost tradition of scenes of people filling water bottles, which I contemplated making part of the “top of the review” information (like “Water Bottles Filled: 3”). Such scenes make up probably 2 hrs worth of the show over its run, but I like the realism of that. If you’re a HMAD fan, you might remember the review for The Canyon, in which two people were stranded in the desert for 2-3 days and never once even mentioned being thirsty, let alone drank. Until the deus ex machina of the Hatch came along, the show was very good at depicting what they had to do in order to survive.

Another thing they had to do was make shelter, and throughout the episode there’s kind of a depressing background “subplot” of the assorted unnamed crash survivors lugging things around and making tents and such. It’s depressing because these poor saps all got killed over the course of the show, due to the fact that we don’t know their names and thus, presumably, don’t care about them. I did, though, and I wish they had allowed a FEW of them to live – it’s actually kind of silly if you think about (these cataclysmic events occur and only wipe out the extras?). Starting in Season 2, there was a brief book series that focused on these no-name folks, and I was hoping they would write one for each of the 30-odd people we never really met, but the books must not have sold well, because they only did three of them (four if you count "Bad Twin"). Then there was a game, Via Domus, which focused on a 5th, but it was a terrible game so let’s ignore it.

As for “unsolved mysteries” – they never really got into the odd relationship Kate had with Edward. It’s hinted at here and other times throughout the series that they may have had an affair of some kind, and there’s definitely some respect (at the very least) stemming from her toward him (which is unusual – I tend to hate the guys who chase me around the world trying to put me in prison), but they never spelled it all out. I wish they had – it seemed like one of the more interesting character bits, and may even have helped clarify her island actions. And again, there’s an odd tendency to make Locke look creepy – what the hell is up with that final shot (though the music is the culprit more than Terry O’Quinn) where he just stares at Walt and Michael? Luckily the next episode, Walkabout (one of the all-time best episodes of the series) explains some of his behavior, but the creepiness just feels really weird.

(MAJOR SERIES SPOILER - Then again, if we believe Darlton about them planning everything, maybe it’s just the most baffling foreshadowing ever. “He was being creepy because he knew someday he’d get off the island, die, and then he’d become the smoke monster when he returned.”)

The numbers also start to come in play a little more, with the farmer getting 23,000 dollars for helping them catch Kate. So far we’ve had 815 (duh) and the French message was 16 years... if there was a distinct 4 or 42 I missed them (though now that I think about it, kind of interesting: 48 survivors minus Oceanic 6 = 42). I’ve actually been one of those “23 is everywhere” people since high school (so, yes, long before that shitty Jim Carrey movie) so I was delighted when the numbers became an actual element on the show – but I remember being tickled by the odd amount when the show first aired (before I knew anything about the numbers, obviously). Wouldn’t 15,000 have been a little more normal?

One final note – the episode is titled "Tabula Rasa", which is A. also the name of episodes of lots of geek shows (including Heroes, ugh), and B. it summarizes the point of the episode (“Clean slate”) without actually ever saying it in the dialogue (at least, not that I can recall). One of the comments on yesterday’s review pointed out how lame it was that the pilot was just called “Pilot”, and he/she was right, especially when you consider the interesting show titles they would have for most episodes. Some were obvious (“The End”), but others were obtuse, or even meta-jokey (“What Kate Did”). I remember Aintitcool used to run stories that were just the names of the episodes that were coming up – and even that would be kind of interesting.

Where are we?


  1. They tried giving a few extras a little story (that diamond-heist episode Exposé, with Nikki and Paulo)... I think that the poor reception to that one probably had a lot to do with quashing much further development of the extras; I kind of liked it- it seemed very Hitchcockian (!), or at least non-shitty-twist Shamalanny... but did seem really episodic and drug the pace back a little. They did have Arntz, and tried to wriggle him back in toward the end in the high school, as well as a few of the minor characters from the plane like the stewardess, but I kind of think it woulda gotten really bogged down had they tried to work too many more of them in.

  2. I think you're right; none of the characters actually say "clean slate" during the Tabula Rasa episode. However, the term "fresh start" is used a few times, especially by the backstabbing farmer, which means the same thing.

  3. Tabula Rasa is also the name of the secret society that prevents magic from being used on earth in Clive Barkers novel Imajica