Lost: Pilot   Rewatch 
March 19, 2023 11:36 AM - Season 1, Episode 1 - Subscribe

A plane crashes on a remote island. Mysteries ensue.

September 2004; 12 million dollars; 18.6 million viewers. TV would never be the same again. We have to go back.

S1E1: Pilot, Part 1 (Lostpedia | transcript): air date 22nd September 2004 • writers Jeffrey Lieber, J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof • director J.J. Abrams • days 1-2 on the island
S1E2: Pilot, Part 2 (Lostpedia | transcript): air date 29th September 2004 • writers Jeffrey Lieber, J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof • director J.J. Abrams • day 2 on the island

An eye opens • a dog in the bamboo • a sneaker in a tree • chaos and noise • engine goes boom • sending Boone on a snipe hunt • fear’s sort of an odd thing • let the fear in, let it take over, let it do its thing, but only for five seconds • you’re not running now • finger-taped F.A.T.E. • rumbles in the jungle • planes want to be in the air • Locke’s orange-peel grin • b-o-d-y-s • you all everybody • Charlie’s fine, by the way • they’re looking for us in the wrong place • Smokey took the pilot • one two three four five • we have to go back for him • a certain gargantuan quality • pilot in a tree • heroin in the bathroom • handcuffs in the jungle * you’re the hero • Republican Guard • Jin’s sea urchin • stop trying to be charming • I’m a complex guy, sweetheart • you’re having a bad month • that’s a polar bear • I’m not so good around blood • don’t use the gun • no girl’s exactly like me • Kate was the prisoner • WHERE IS SHE? • iteration 7294531 • il les a tués, il les a tués tous • sixteen years • guys, where are we?

Contemporary review: Brian Lowry, Variety: Lost
While enthusiasts of the genre might warm to the idea of an open-ended mystery, it’s suspect how well the show will hold up without a more concrete sense as to what’s really happening.
Contemporary review: Dana Stevens, Slate: Deplaned, Deplaned
Lost has been roundly hailed as one of the new season’s headline shows. There’s no doubt that it’s visually arresting and intricately plotted. And for those viewers who, like me, have a fear of flying, it’s almost sickeningly exciting, with multiple flashbacks to the crash itself from various characters’ points of view. But there’s something overanxious, even patronizing, about Abrams’ need to stimulate his audience with ever-greater suspense. What’s with the monster, and the polar bear, and all the supernatural mumbo jumbo?
Retrospective review: Emily St James, AV Club: Lost (Classic): “Pilot”
[The flashbacks] are vitally important, because they suggest that everybody else in the story is going to have a similar sense of history, even if we don’t know what that history looks like just yet. Abrams and Lindelof’s script is terrific at suggesting this vast reservoir of mystery that every character stands poised above, constantly at danger of falling in. But that mystery isn’t of the rather shallow “What’s in the box?” version that too often gets mistaken for exciting storytelling nowadays. No, the mystery on the show is far more often about that question of which version of the self the characters actually are. Boiled down to a fundamental question, it’s this: What person would you become if you were given the opportunity to completely reinvent yourself in whatever image you liked? The Island gives that to the characters on Lost, and the series presents it both as nightmare and as wish fulfillment.
Oral history: The Genesis of Lost [DVD extra, Lostpedia transcript]
Thom Sherman: “J.J. called us and said, ‘Unfortunately, I have some ideas.’ He started to talk about the idea of the island being a character unto itself. That just doing a show about a group of people on a deserted island wasn’t necessarily something he was interested in, but if the island was a character, and it was some sort of mysterious place, he could be interested in that. And we said, ‘That sounds great.’ And he said, ‘But I can’t take this on myself right now, I’ve got to finish my pilot, I gotta do this, I gotta do everything else, you gotta find me someone who can write this with me.’”

Heather Kadin: “I literally said to Damon, ‘I know you've been dying to meet with J.J. Abrams, and here’s the situation: We have a show, we need someone to write it with him.’”

Damon Lindelof: “I was like, ‘Great. Absolutely. 100%.’”
Oral history: Alan Sepinwall, The Revolution Was Televised, excerpted in Grantland: ‘I Pretty Much Wanted to Die’
Carlton Cuse: “I remember [Lindelof] coming in with the ratings after the opening episode, and he looked completely miserable. He said, ‘Does this mean we have to keep fucking doing this?’ If you’re a producer in television, this is like getting a winning lottery ticket: having a show that’s not only critically acclaimed but gets big ratings. But it was daunting to have to sustain this thing.”
Oral history: Nick De Semlyen, Empire: The Making Of Lost: An Oral History Of The Pilot Episode
Damon Lindelhof: “Being on a network turned out to be perfect for Lost. The pulp storytelling mechanism of having five cliffhangers an episode, because of the commercial breaks, infused the show with an adrenaline I'm not sure it would have had on, say, HBO.”
Oral history: Welcome to Oahu [DVD extra, Lostpedia transcript]
Dominic Monaghan: “I wanted to truly invest in this idea of this weird island of Dr. Moreau, this kind of foreboding sense that the island itself is a character on the show. Y’know, that it's always looming over your shoulder. I feel like the rules don't apply on this island; that in some way, the island is able to emotionally tap into people and just draw emotions out that other times they might try and hold in.”
Rewatch companion: THE STORM: A Lost Rewatch Podcast: "Pilot, Part 1" and "Pilot, Part 2"
Neil Miller: “It's very interesting to me how quickly it escalates, like the weirdness of the island escalates. So we very quickly get a polar bear and then we get the weird signal. And it's like, oh, shit. Like this thing was super weird from the beginning. And I think that was probably one of the reasons why it took off, because shows in that time were not as invested in the mystery.”

Joanna Robinson: “I don't think it's a spoiler to say that Jack is a kind of character who feels like if he doesn't do it, it won't get done. You know, like just trying to put out all the fires. Cause if he doesn't put out the fires, no one's gonna put out the fires. And it’s just so there in that first sequence. From Jack's point of view, in the beginning, he's the only guy who can get it done. And I think that is such a good establishing-character beat for who Jack is in this whole series.”

Dave Gonzalez: “Alright, Locke is this very creepy bald gentleman who has a scar over his right eye and explains the game of backgammon to Walt, once again, very creepily. He seems to have found an orange somewhere and doesn't seem at all bothered really about being on this island, which reads as very creepy because there is a lot wrong with this island.”

“Two players. Two sides. One is light. One is dark.”

posted by We had a deal, Kyle (22 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Currently streaming in the US on Hulu (subscription) and Freevee (free with ads); in the UK on Disney+; and available for purchase just about everywhere.

And so we begin a rewatch. I’ll aim to post, let’s say, two episodes a week; and will combine multi-parters like this one into a single post. This is flagged as a rewatch; I’ll keep the post itself + the more inside spoiler-free, but after that anything goes spoiler-wise in the comments.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:36 AM on March 19, 2023

I binged the 1st season (on DVD, the early 2000s) in 19 hours, that's how freaking good and fresh this tasted.
posted by WaterAndPixels at 12:22 PM on March 19, 2023 [4 favorites]

Yea, same here WaterAndPixels. I didn't watch Season 1 at all when it aired, seemed silly and melodramatic to me. But then EVERYONE was talking about it, and how amazing it was, so I bought the DVDs and watched them all in pretty much one sitting.

And for a few seasons, it was. Then it got REALLY bad, then it got pretty good again -- and then it finished with one of the worst series finales in the history of television (an opinion I know not everyone shares).

I doubt I'll actually watch again, but thanks for posting, We had a deal, Kyle. Looking forward to hearing what other folks have to say.
posted by Frayed Knot at 12:38 PM on March 19, 2023 [6 favorites]

The pilot was so good. The guy getting sucked into the engine? Terrifying.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:59 PM on March 19, 2023 [4 favorites]

I only watched the first episode when it aired, but then got busy travelling, then moving, and by the time I had time (oh, the days before streaming when you watched the broadcast or never saw it again!) I had missed too many episodes.

Last month my 13-year old son asked to watch the series with me because his friends really got into it. We’re both quite enjoying it. It is kinda weird for me, as I heard all the talk about the hatch, the Dharma Initiative and whatnot when everyone else’s was watching it even though I never saw it.
posted by fimbulvetr at 2:29 PM on March 19, 2023 [1 favorite]

Loved it when it aired. Haven't tried a rewatch, but I just might.

The Dress Up Gang (TBS, also YouTube) has a strong affection for Lost.
posted by emelenjr at 2:43 PM on March 19, 2023

What a great pilot for a show I have some very mixed feelings about. A great pilot for a show that nobody working on it really had any grasp of. The reliance on flashbacks really held me at arms length for a while - it felt like it was propping up a show that didn't know how to tell stories about the island. Of course, the adherence to that structure is what made future seasons great - at least from the season three finale onward. Playing with audience expectations like that was pretty incredible for a network TV series. Post-LOST, playing with structure has happened a lot. I don't think Westworld exists the way it does without LOST.

I haven't revisited the show since it first aired. I don't think I could handle watching a network 22 episode season of TV now - especially since the first two seasons frustrated me so much. I'll probably dip in and out of these discussions, especially once you hit later seasons, which I really love. And I adore the finale so much.
posted by crossoverman at 2:59 PM on March 19, 2023 [3 favorites]

I heard about this show at a panel for Comic-Con. This was in the good ol' days before Hollywood swooped in and things were still about comics. I showed up the ballroom early because something like Futurama was up next, and I figured waiting inside was better because I'd have a place to sit.

They showed the first 10ish mins of the pilot (right up until the, uh, pilot got snatched up by the monster), and then did a panel. I remember three distinct things: The show was then called "The Lost", Abrams made a somewhat exasperated plea to keep and open mind because despite the show name and what we just saw this had nothing to do with The Land of the Lost, and 90% of the crowd were girls/women just there to scream at Dominic Monaghan (Charley) every time he opened his mouth, since he was hot shit after the LoTR movies.
posted by Back At It Again At Krispy Kreme at 3:29 PM on March 19, 2023 [1 favorite]

Yeah, Dominic Monaghan was definitely their biggest get for this.

General thoughts after this re-watch:
  • The first episode really moves fast in getting things established; it always feels like the chaos-on-the-beach scene lasts for ages, but that's more because it's intense. First sighting of the monster: exactly 20 minutes in. They really waste no time in setting down "stuff is going to be weird" markers.
  • Similarly: it does a lot of work to paint very quick character portraits of a lot of the ensemble. Jack has a hero complex (which Sawyer calls out in the second episode: "OK doc, you're the hero") and maybe some problems with drinking; Kate runs; Boone's well-meaning but ineffectual; Shannon's self-centered; Hurley is gentle and kind; Jin is controlling and Sun is quietly resentful of it; Sayid's resourceful; Charlie's jittery and oh right, an addict; Michael's struggling with fatherhood; Locke is, as noted, creepy. I'm not sure they'd quite figured out Sawyer's character yet -- or they hadn't yet realized how lucky they'd got in casting Josh Holloway; it feels like later-episodes Sawyer would be figuring out how to exploit tensions around Sayid rather than picking a racist fight with him.
  • And their casting is great all around here, right? And as this goes on they get very good at leaning into that and writing towards their actors' strengths and playing towards their audience's favorites. I feel like Ian Somerhalder and Maggie Grace kinda got a bad deal there though: Boone and Shannon are well-played but fairly unlikeable characters and so, y'know.
  • J.J. Abrams definitely nodding towards Spielberg's cinematic language here: overwhelming visual and auditory chaos on the beach is very Saving Private Ryan, unseen menace in the jungle is veryJurassic Park.
  • (But ugh, the leery lingering shots of Shannon in her bathing suit and Kate in her underwear have not aged so well.)
  • Jungle walk-and-talk is well and truly a thing already.
  • The flashbacks: these 2 episodes kinda gently ease us into the idea of them as episode-adjacent character pieces by flashing back repeatedly to the plane. Noticeable also that the intensity of the 3 flashbacks increases: Jack's is pretty much just bad turbulence, Charlie's is more violent, Kate's has the entire tail section tearing off.
Locke is indeed played and shot as quite creepy in this, and the close-up on his face as he offers to tell Walt a secret is maybe the creepiest of all? The excerpts from The Storm podcast above the fold are from their spoiler-free “calm” section, but in their spoilery “storm” section the question of whether Locke is a protagonist or an antagonist will become a running and much-argued theme:
Dave Gonzalez: “In terms of how Locke’s presented here in the opening episode, we don't know that the island’s magically, you know, bestowed him with the power to walk.”

Neil Miller: “But he does, and I think that's what makes him so weird.”

Joanna Robinson: “Locke is the most fun to rewatch. I mean, like, it's so great that he's playing this whole thing that we won't discover until several episodes from now.”

Neil Miller: “I think, and I think they very intentionally wanted him like, what's unnerving about Locke is that he understands something that everyone else doesn't. He understands something about the island that everyone else doesn't know. And it is such a profound thing that it does not faze him that there's all this chaos around him. Because he's just gone through something that – we have no idea – and it's just just a massive thing. When you go back and watch it and you know it's like, holy shit, what a great performance from Terry O'Quinn.”
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:01 AM on March 20, 2023

My wife worked for TV4 in Sweden, and they positioned Lost as one of the first shows they’d rebroadcast as soon as they could get the subtitles done (rather than a year or so after the original broadcasts as was the norm). They’d rented a cinema for the press showing of episodes 1 & 2 and it it was an amazing experience. The opening scenes were so very well done.

I immediately downloaded the episodes that were already out, and stayed hooked for three seasons or so, after that I think I zoned out a bit.

(I also supplied the TV4 press department with DVDs of the show as it was broadcast, since they got the episodes late and in some clunky tape format that they’d have to get over to dvd to send out as press packets…)
posted by boogieboy at 5:07 AM on March 20, 2023 [3 favorites]

It's interesting to me how much screen time Boone and Shannon get. I don't remember much about their arcs for the series. Compared to Sawyer, who we don't even speak to and barely glance at in part 1 and who becomes a major part of the cast going forward.

Agreed that Locke already feels incredibly significant and eerie even if we don't know why.

I would have sworn, prior to this rewatch, that each episode at least in the beginning only had flashbacks from one character, so it was really surprising to me to see Jack and Charlie and Kate get scenes from the plane going down.

I think part of the reason this still really works for me is what you mention, We had a deal, Kyle, about the quick character portraits. My "doorway" into media is always character, and even though the ensemble cast for this show is huge, we get to see enough details to be able to care about these people so quickly.
posted by Night_owl at 5:10 AM on March 20, 2023 [1 favorite]

Was this the last big show that fully invested in the old model of TV writing week-to-week without knowing or caring what the big picture was? Just spinning out stories and building the plane in the air, so to speak, getting feedback from fans and ratings without regard to how plots might be painting themselves into a corner later? I feel like TV (if you can even call it that anymore) has changed so much since then: it seems like a ridiculous way to build a story now.
posted by rikschell at 5:51 AM on March 20, 2023

Was this the last big show that fully invested in the old model of TV writing week-to-week without knowing or caring what the big picture was?

Yes, but not just that. I think this was also one of the last shows where seasons lasted so long the writers were reading viewers comments and critics reviews and actively reacting to them. 25 episodes! When we the last time we had a show with that many episodes in a season?
posted by fiercekitten at 7:45 AM on March 20, 2023 [1 favorite]

At the risk of burning all my tinder for subsequent posts: Javier Grillo-Marxuach's essay "The Lost Will and Testament" (which seems to float around the web randomly, hopefully this is a durable link) speaks at length to the question of "did we make it all up as we went along?", and the answer is very much "it's complicated."

(Also interesting in this, and pertinent to the pilot episodes, and contrary to my own assumptions: Grillo-Marxuach asserts that (a) they did not come up with the deeper flashback structure until after the pilot, that was more of a "the flashbacks worked there, what if..." moment in writing Tabula Rasa; and (b) they did not yet know the exact nature of Locke's miracle in the pilot; that only crystallized during the writing of Walkabout.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 9:20 AM on March 20, 2023 [2 favorites]

From the Grantland article linked in the post:

Nearly every creative decision at the start of the show was made under the assumption that it would never succeed. Everyone believed it was too weird, too dense, too unusual to work. And it may have been. But it worked, anyway.

I think this says a lot - about the show, and why it would start to show cracks & have problems, but also about the audience; that audiences are able to deal with - perhaps even hungry for - shows that are weird, unusual, and dense. But part of that is the audience having trust that the weirdness is going to lead somewhere satisfying. I think one of the enduring legacies of Lost is a distrust of "mystery box shows" in the subsequent years; shows that set up big mythologies and high weirdness initially. I know it did for me, with a few of the imitators that came along during/after its run.

Lost worked for me in the first couple of seasons, and then it became a grinding watch, waiting to see if they were going to resolve anything. I know some people enjoyed how it all ended, and good for them. The best parts of the show happened early, I think - the reveal about Locke being the most impactful reveal, but in general the work done to explore everyone's history and reasons for wanting to stay on the island was great.
posted by nubs at 9:20 AM on March 20, 2023 [3 favorites]

Was this the last big show that fully invested in the old model of TV writing week-to-week without knowing or caring what the big picture was?

No. Battlestar Galactica did a shit load of this. Extremely major plot points were originally just so much spaghetti thrown up again the wall, and often what "stuck" became core beats of the story once Ronald D. Moore and pals saw how audiences reacted to it.

Hell, the opening credits that lead every show including the pilot contained plot (...and they have a plan.) that never ever got addressed, because it was only there because it sounded cool.
posted by Back At It Again At Krispy Kreme at 3:29 PM on March 20, 2023 [1 favorite]

One of the things I loved about the original run was Jeff Jensen's recaps. I found a Google Doc on reddit with Wayback Machine links, if you want to include them in future posts. The links at ew.com are mostly broken.
posted by fiercekitten at 10:06 PM on March 20, 2023 [1 favorite]

Watched them as they aired, watched them as DVD boxed sets were released, I even watched a chronological edit of the entire show which... didn't add much and sort of highlighted the piecemeal approach to establishing a consistent narrative.

FanFarers embarking on your watch/rewatch, I salute you, but I cannot follow you a fourth time.
posted by Molesome at 3:53 AM on March 21, 2023 [3 favorites]

The meta-narrative of Lost where you know how it progresses and how it ends is one thing. The meta-narrative of Damon Lindelof where you know he learns from every mistake he makes here and goes on to create two of the greatest shows of all time is another.

On the one hand, Lost itself runs into complications. On the other, it's more complex than simply calling it hack work. It's a brilliant showrunner tying himself in knots, which isn't ideal but means there's a lot more substance beneath the fuckery than you'd expect.

(I am on the record as having loved the original run of Lost, up to and including the finale. Sure, it's a dumb finale, but it's also delightful, imo. Even if it's no Book of Nora.)
posted by Tom Hanks Cannot Be Trusted at 4:53 AM on March 21, 2023 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the link, fiercekitten; yeah, it's hard to find contemporary reviews, a lot of writing from the time has either linkrotted away or simply isn't discoverable by searching.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 9:00 AM on March 21, 2023

I did not catch this on the first run. At that time, I had an extremely strong aversion to popular things, and Lost was one of those. I ended up binging it over a summer when an ex had surgery and was essentially stuck mostly in bed for 2 months.

I'm really glad I binged this instead of having to wait a week to watch it live. It also makes their "mystery" structure super-duper obvious.
1. Characters go off in search of answers
2. Characters find stranger that may have answer ->person will only answer the question if characters will help
Cliffhanger for a week
3. Next episode, Characters help but NEVER ANY ANSWERS!

If I had to wait a week to not get answers I would have been super pissed. I also think LOST did the genre a favor: people have a lower tolerance for bad writing and bad planning. If you are going to have a mystery-solving show, you better fucking solve those mysteries. But if you dont want to solve the mysteries, then you just have a mystery-existing show. I'm ok with either, but you need to know your lane.

Was this the last big show that fully invested in the old model of TV writing week-to-week without knowing or caring what the big picture was?

Really? But they told everyone as it aired that they had a big plan, right? I remember the main friend who was trying to convince me to watch insisted that they had a plan already in place.
posted by LizBoBiz at 5:18 AM on April 20, 2023

I think, but am not certain, that I was on TWoP's "Lost" boards through much of the run and it wasn't that far into the series that people begin to suspect that, no, they didn't have it all planned. Between this and BSG, fandom became very cynical about showrunners' claims about this sort of thing.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:56 AM on April 21, 2023

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