The final season of Lost starts early next year, so I’ve started rewatching all five previous seasons on Blu-Ray, in the build-up to season six in January. As I get through each box set, I’ll post a look back at each season here, starting now with season one. If you haven’t seen all five seasons yet, there are spoilers ahead, but more importantly, hurry up and buy them!
As even most people who haven’t seen Lost will know, it begins with a plane crash. Much of the first season is to do with the survivors learning to cope with island life, searching for food and finding shelter, with a split in the camp between those who want to stay on the unsafe beach in the hope of finding rescue and those who are resigned to staying longer and move to the relative safety of the caves. But from the very start it’s clear that this is not going to be a story about people surviving on an ordinary island, as we’re introduced to an unseen pilot-munching monster, the famous polar bear and a mysterious radio distress call from a French woman which has been playing for 16 years. Things get more sinister when it’s discovered that one of our castaways, Ethan, was not on the passenger manifest, who then kidnaps the pregnant Claire. We meet the French woman, who has gone a little crazy, and learn from her that the island is inhabited by people she calls “The Others”. Things get even stranger when an impenetrable underground hatch is found deep in the jungle.
Unlike a few other shows with large ensemble casts I can think of, the characters in Lost are very well drawn from very early on. In the first few episodes the three main characters are established as Jack, the unwilling leader with daddy issues, Kate, who was on the run for a crime we weren’t told about until the following season, and Charlie the Mancunian rock star whose battles with heroin addiction were a major theme for much of the season. The whole cast, such as loveable Hurley, loathable Sawyer, brooding Sayid, overprotective Micheal and the enigmatic Jin & Sun, are all well-rounded characters with fascinatingly intricate backstories. As time goes on, John Locke, brilliantly portrayed by Terry O’Quinn, grows to be a very important figure, the man who embraces the supernatural powers of the island, taking the side of faith and destiny against Jack’s reason and free-will, a battle that is a the very heart of Lost.
One of the ways the characters are all so well drawn is the device of having flashback in each episode focusing on a different character. Seeing how their lives were before the crash not only explains their decisions and motives on the island but also provide intriguing and entertaining stories in their own right. The early episodes have very distinct differences between the island scenes and the flashbacks, which have a cold blue-grey colour pallete to contrast with the warm, earthy browns and greens of the jungle. In many of the early episodes the camera continuously moves on the island, staying perfectly motionless during flashbacks.
That’s not the only way that the first season has a very different feel to everything that follows. The pacing is much gentler, but unlike some of the slower moments from a couple of the following seasons, every scene is compelling. More time is given to appreciate the beauty of the island, with lingering shots of the waves lapping against the shore, which look beautiful in high definition. A remarkable difference to later seasons is the fact that almost half of the episodes don’t have any cliffhanger endings, simply ending with a musical montage of our island dwellers.
One of the most unfair things that continues to be said about Lost is that “they’re making it up as they go along” when it seems obvious that in recent seasons a clear path to the end of the story has been followed. But, based on interviews with people involved, it does seem that for the first episodes, Abrams was doing just that, thinking of “cool things” to put in the script without thinking of the explanations, which were left to Damon and later Carlton to establish after the initial batch of episodes were completed in a very frantic shooting schedule. That being said, by the time the bodies of “Adam and Eve” are discovered in the episode House of the Rising Sun, it seems a wider story arc had been established and the writers say they had the ending of the story in mind.
The first season of Lost is a thing of beauty. The cinematography is better than anything that follows in later seasons, and while I’ve very much enjoyed the mythology unravel and grow more complex over the years, there’s a great appeal to the simplicity and character-driven drama seen here.
where it starts
The pilot episode of Lost was the most expensive ever made, and it shows. Broadcast on 22 September 2004, which was established as the date Oceanic flight 815 crashed, the pilot episode written and directed by JJ Abrams does a wonderful job of drawing the viewer in. Opening with the iconic shot of Jack’s eye opening, it moves on to the crash scene above, featuring explosive action with a dash of humour. As it goes on, many of the major mysteries of the show are established, including the first time we hear the monster knocking down trees in the jungle.
Beautifully shot and very well written, the pilot episode of Lost is better than any other opening episode of a series I can think of. By the time the radio signal is picked up at the end of the episode, every viewer knows they’ll be back for more.
the best episode
There are many great episodes throughout this season, such as the memorable Walkabout, Solitary, and the unforgettable Numbers, where we first discover Hurley’s lottery-winning combination of 4,8, 15, 16, 23 and 42. But it’s Deus Ex Machina that really stands out. If Lost was originally JJ Abrams’ baby, Deus Ex Machina was the moment it was adopted by Damon Lindleoff and Carlton Cuse. Bearing all the hallmarks of the later episodes they would write together, both the island scenes and flashbacks are amazingly good.
The episode begins with Locke having a strange vision while trying in vain to open the hatch, which brings him to a Beechcraft (which later has a backstory all of it’s own) high up on a clifftop. Locke suddenly starts to lose the use of his legs, forcing Boone to climb up into the plane, where he hears a message on the radio – “we’re the survivors of Oceanic 815”. The plane crashes down to the ground, gravely wounding him. Meanwhile in flashback we see how Locke was introduced to his father and grew to trust and love him and then offered to donate his kidney to save his father’s life. But then, after the transplant, things changed…
This ending, with Locke pounding on the hatch and seeing it suddenly light up, is one of the most memorable of the series, made all the more emotional by Michael Giacchino’s soaring score. A stunning episode, and one that set the standard for everything that followed.
the best scene
Again, there are many great scenes to choose from, but the greatest in season one has to be the final few moments of Walkabout. Yes, it’s all about Locke again. The end of the fourth episode, for myself and I know for many others, it was the point at which we realised we were watching something very special.
Throughout the first four episodes, John Locke was portrayed as a mysterious figure, a hunter, part Ray Mears, part Rambo. To see how he really was before the crash was at once at phenomenal character twist and, showing for the first time how powerful the island can be, an amazing plot twist too.
the best line
Do you really think all this is an accident? That we, a group of strangers, survived. Many of us with just superficial injuries. Do you think we crashed on this place by coincidence? Especially this place. We were brought here for a purpose. For a reason. All of us. Each one of us was brought here for a reason.
Others might choose Jack’s “Live together, die alone” speech, but Locke’s speech to Jack set up the main battle of the whole series, the man of science against the man of faith. Fate versus free will. As time has gone on we’ve seen just how important this is.
the worst parts
The first season of Lost is remarkably consistent and maintains a high quality across most episodes, with very few bad moments. One, though, that sticks out like a sore thumb, is in the Boone-centric episode Hearts and Minds. Throughout the episode, Boone and his step-sister Shannon are being chased by the monster, and eventually she is caught and killed. Boone makes his way back to the caves to discover that she’s still alive and Boone had simply experienced a vision brought on by a hallucinogenic substance Locke had given him. There are other occasions throughout the series where we briefly see dreams or visions characters have, but this is the only time something is strung out for an entire episode before we’re told it was just a dream.
Incidentally, series creator Damon Lindleof says his worst ever episode of Lost is Homecoming, the episode where Claire returns after her kidnapping and Ethan starts killing the survivors one by one until Charlie gets his revenge. For me, this was a perfectly good episode, with some very dramatic moments and a so-so flashback, but Lindleof says it “was flawed on almost every single level that an episode of Lost could be.”
So many! What is the monster? Who are The Others? What did Kate do? Who is the real Sawyer? What’s inside the hatch? Plus so many more.
Not very much. We do find out who the French woman on the radio message was, and we finally meet some of The Others, but most answers are left for later seasons.
what we know now
It’s interesting to hear Danielle talk again about what happened when she reached the island, now we’ve seen it for ourselves during season five. We’ve learnt more about the monster over the years which makes it’s first appearances very interesting in hindsight. Claire’s dream at the start of Raised by Another is particularly interesting after the season five finale, seeing Locke with one white eye and one black eye. As the season goes on, what we previously might have attributed to the powers of the island now might be seen as the work of Jacob.
where it ends
Lots of wonderfully memorable moments in the three-hour finale, as Danielle warns that “The Others are coming”. The raft sets off in a rare joyful scene set once again to a tremendous Giacchino soundtrack. There’s the revelation that the Black Rock is a nineteenth century ship in the middle of the jungle. Dr Arzt lectures everyone on how to safely handle dynamite before being blown up, leading to Hurley’s line “Dude, you have some Arzt on you”. We see the monster for the first time as a cloud of black smoke, attempting to pull Locke underground. The moment Hurley sees the numbers on the outside of the hatch door and completely freaks out. And then there’s this chilling moment…
Finally the season ends on a montage showing everyone getting on to flight 815, followed by one of the most painfully teasing cliffhangers ever. Half a season we’d waited to see what was down that hatch, finally the door was blown open and as Jack and Locke look inside, and just when we think we’re about to get a hint of what’s inside, it cuts to black and “L O S T”.