Lost Recaps S1E1/2: Pilot

by thethreepennyguignol

I’m about to do something really, really stupid.

I don’t know how I’ve managed to avoid Lost for as long as I have; when it came out, back in 2004, I was old enough to make the constant advertising unavoidable, but far too young to think about watching it. Since then, I always felt like it was too late for me – what point was there, after all, in getting into a show that everyone claimed had gone off the boil after about two dozen episodes anyway?

But since I’ve been writing about TV, I’ve had an inescapable fascination with television that becomes part of the contemporary cultural zeitgeist. It’s why I recapped the last season of Game of Thrones – it’s why I’ve watched three seasons of Riverdale. There’s just something about TV that captures the minds of a world of watchers that intrigues me, no matter how bad it might have been, no matter how poorly it’s aged, no matter how many well-meaning Twitter followers warned me that this was a bad idea.

And Lost is the first show that I really remember claiming that place in popular culture. Before the return of Doctor Who turned it into one of the biggest shows of the planet, it was this, a collaboration between Damon Lindelof and JJ Abrams, that I could call a piece of zeitgeist television.

Like almost all zeitgeist TV, of course, Lost is remembered almost universally as being a great show that tossed away the potential that it once had. I mean, much as I know nothing about it, I can tell you that every one-time fan that I know responds to a mention of it with a roll of the eyes and a change of the subject. I think that the fact that it’s so poorly remembered has made it easy for me to avoid learning much of anything about it – beyond the cast and the creators and some vague recollections of something to do with a polar bear, the show was politely ushered out of popular memory almost as soon as it finished.

Which, in my traditionally long-winded way, brings us to this challenge which I have foolishly set for myself: to recap the first season of Lost, and finally catch up on a piece of pop culture that is nearly twenty years old. Now that Doctor Who is over, and I am footloose and recap-free once more, I figured it was time to do something really, really stupid.

So, here we are, taking a look at the first episodes of the show, in a two-part pilot that introduces us to our cast of characters and various faulty air vehicles as we drop into what optimistically describes itself as the “plot”.

Okay, look, I really am going to try hard not to be cynical about this show, but honestly, as someone who is too well-versed in pop culture for her own good, it’s impossible to ignore just how badly this pilot has aged. Abrams directs both outings, and God almighty, they are frequently actually pretty hard to watch – one of my favourite films is The Blair Witch Project, so I can fuck with some handheld camera nonsense, but this is enough to give any right-thinking viewer a fucking headache.

It zooms between incoherent close-ups (why did you choose to constantly cut off one inch of the top and bottom of Evangeline Lilly’s face, JJ? Why?) and frantically shivering long shots that just refuse to allow the viewer to calibrate for a second. There are times when this works – the opening, as we first encounter the carnage of the plane crash from a character POV, for example – but for the most part, it just made me think of that time in the seconds before I fainted at the hairdresser’s in front of a room full of people. Which is to say, slightly embarrassed and vaguely ill.

Of course, what really matters here is introducing us to our big central ensemble. And…oof, look, okay, even if we take the post-nineties skinny eyebrows out of the equation, there are characters here that have aged pretty badly.

We follow Jack for most of these two episodes, as played by Matthew Fox, and Jesus Christ is this the kind of character I am glad we have seen die a death in the last few years of television. I may dunk on the brooding male antihero, but at least Don Draper is more interesting than Mr “I Took a Class In Everything Relevant to the Plot and Also I’m Nice to Old Ladies and By The Way Did You See My Gnarly Arm Muscles”. There’s nothing more boring than competence, and that’s all that Matthew Fox seems to have to offer.

There are some great actors here, of course – Terry O’Quinn, Evangeline Lilly, Naveen Eyecandrews, Dominic Monaghan, and so forth. But there are also some I hoped I might never have to sit through on screen again – fun fact: I actually have a cameo in this episode, though it was cut from the final production, as a person who walks into the fucking ocean rather than share a large island with Ian Somhelrhalder, a Chace Crawford knock-off with a lack of talent and violent jawline that I find personally offensive.

Truly, though, what has aged worst about this episode are its pilot problems (and not just the kind that see the driver of your plane getting snaffled up by a giant monster, heuheuheuh). I wrote a couple of years ago about how we just don’t allow shows to have growing pains anymore, and this is a reminder of just what those looked like back when we did. This is a clunkily-paced outing, busy trying to set up characters and their relationships with one another as well as establish groundwork for the shows grand mysteries at the same time. The grating direction does it no favours, and setting it around someone as innately boring as Monsignor Perfection himself fails to deliver even a compelling central character to build this around. This is a show trying to find itself, high concepts muddled in with basic intro work that trip over one another to create a bit of a pile-up.

But dammit – I never get into a new recapping project because I think I won’t like it. And Lost is still a show that is tantalizingly intriguing to me, no matter how dodgy this pilot might have been. I really don’t know where this is going to go – we’ve got polar bears, Evangeline Lilly in shackles, radio frequencies and French translations and pedicures and – well, more than any hour and a half should have crammed into it at once, I suppose. But I sure hope that you’ll come along with me for the ride, and check back in next time for another jaunt down other-people’s-memories lane.

If you liked this recap, and want to see more stuff like it, please feel free to jump into some of my other recapping projects – the Fifty Shades of Grey book series, the first Harry Potter book,Doctor Who, Game of Thrones, and American Horror Story, to name a few. I also write about movies with my brilliant co-editor over at No But Listen. If you’d like to support my work, please consider supporting me on Patreon, or buying my books!

(header image via Youtube)