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League of Inveterate Poets

The out-of-context contextuality of a foolish sage

LOST Retrospective: Walkabout (Season 1, Episode 4)





By on May 26, 2010

(This post is part of a series. I’m blogging through all the episodes of LOST, taking a new look at them in light of what we now know now that the series is over. Click here to read my introduction to the series and my thinking behind it.)

Locke: “Just don’t tell me what I can’t do!”

Quick synopsis: Focus: John Locke. Flashbacks reveal that prior to the crash John Locke was confined to a wheelchair, yet immediately after the crash he is miraculously able to walk. He organizes a hunting party to go after wild boars in the jungle, during which he encounters the monster. The survivors burn the fuselage to dispose of the bodies of the crash victims. Jack keeps glimpsing a mysterious man in a dark suit at the edge of the jungle. (Watch “Walkabout” on Hulu.)

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It’s become standard in LOST fan lore to assume that during the first season (or at least the earliest episodes) the creators of the show had little idea where it was going. The producers themselves have given out somewhat contradictory messages on this over the years. In the extras on the first season DVD, J. J. Abrams claimed to have mapped out a whole story arc in the six weeks he had between deciding to accept ABC’s challenge to create a new series and the beginning of filming the pilot. On the other hand, in some subsequent interviews, producers Carlton Cuse and Damion Lindelof seemed to want to perpetuate the idea that they had little idea where show was supposed to go; they were just creating characters, backstories, and mysterious goings on and seeing where they would lead.

If that’s the case, then it is all the more stunning the number of what seem now to be clear foreshadowing of things to come one encounters in these early episodes. “Walkabout” is a prime example.

Through flashbacks to John Locke’s days as a menial office jockey in a box company and then on to his failed attempt to go “walkabout” in the Australian bush, we first encounter his strong belief that he was a “man of destiny.” However, we also see that this destiny is something he has created in his own head, perhaps as a way of coping with his confinement to a wheelchair. For example, in the first flashback we hear him being addressed on the phone as “colonel,” issuing crisp orders filed with military jargon. Soon we find out that the titles and martial dialog are nothing more than role play around a lunchtime battle simulation board game.

But not so on the island. The island of second chances has bestowed its greatest gift so far on Locke, as it is revealed in this episode that he can miraculously walk. It doesn’t take Locke long to attempt to live out every macho fantasy he carried for his last four years of wheelchair confinement. But fantasy is no match for reality; when the moment of truth comes during the boar hunt he leads, he gets blown down by the charging beast and has the wind knocked out of him.

But then things turn very strange. Separated from Kate and Michael who had accompanied him into the jungle, Locke has an up-close-and-personal encounter with the smoke monster. Knowing now that this monster, the Man in Black, will eventually take over Locke’s body, it is fascinating to see strong clues of close identification between the two in this fourth episode.

First, after everyone has given Locke up for dead, he emerges from the jungle dragging the carcass of a dead boar. But did he kill the boar, or did the smoke monster gift it to him? A moment before Locke comes face-to-face with “smokey,” we hear a boar squealing for its life inside the clump of trees where we see the monster’s characteristic jungle smashing.

But more strange yet is exactly how Locke emerges from the jungle with the boar. Jack has started having visions of his father at the edge of the jungle (though we don’t yet know if Jack recognizes him). Jack finally chases the mysterious suit-wearing man into the bush…and immediately encounters Locke instead. Now remember that we now know that the Man in Black/smoke monster was masquerading as Jack’s father on the island. Dad/MiB go into the jungle…two seconds later Locke emerges.

Now I’m in no way suggesting that Locke had already actually become the MiB (or vice versa), but it seems that the show wants to make a strong connection between the two. Could it be that MiB had already chosen him at this point as the body he would use to make his attempt at escaping the island?

Let’s finally consider a few things apart from Locke before we leave this episode. First, we see more of Jack being called toward his pastoral role over this flock (Shepherd = pastor). In preparation for burning the fuselage to dispose of the bodies of those who did not survive the crash, Claire asks Jack if he would like to “say a few words.” Jack declines, but soon after Boone asks him to go look after Rose, who sits in mourning alone on the beach. Jack responds, “Why me?” and Boone responds that he just thought Jack would want to take care of it. The LOST flock are already beginning to recognize Jack as their shepherd.

We also see more hints in this episode that the redemption these characters need will come through community, through their relationships with one another. In one particularly striking foreshadow of the final series episode, Claire is showing Jack the wedding plan book of “Steve and Kristin,” a couple who died in the crash. She remarks, “At least wherever they are now, they’re not alone.”

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Comments

  • jose

    I just wanted to point out that when locke is sitting on his cubicle after getting told to hurry on those tps reports, he types on his calculator. the calculator makes the same sound as the smoke monster…

  • Interesting observation, Jose. I remember in the early seasons there was much speculation that the monster was mechanical, given the sounds associated with it and Rose's comment that it reminder her of the subway in New York. Now that we know it was not mechanical, I have my own speculation about why the monster was given those sound effects. Given that much of the intrigue on the island had to do with man trying to meddle with mystery through the use of his technology and devices, I wonder if the mechanical sounds of the smoke monster were meant to make us think of that. In other words, did he in some ways represent man's efforts to tinker with nature (and the resultant–sometimes–evils)? We might be meant to associate black smoke with pollution and industrialization.

  • Hans

    I'm a big fan of Lost and it will be interesting to follow your thoughts now that we know the ending. Now I'm just wondering if you also have noticed how the item “a box” is repeated during the show. Hurley becomes a share-holder for a box-comapny, Lock works at the box-company, Jacob buy's little Kate a box.. and so on. I haven't looked around much more but I'm hoping you can have it in mind during your “investigation” of the shows. And I would love you opinion on this?

  • i just watched this again on cable. I think there’s certainly a connection between Locke and Smokey. The title Walkabout even hints at the fact that Smokey can now physically “walk about” the other humans.

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