By Mark Traphagen on June 1, 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.)
Warning! If you have not watched LOST all the way through to its finale, this essay contains spoilers!
Locke: “What if everything that happened here, happened for a reason?”
Quick synopsis: Focus: Jack. Jack is reminded of the low expectations his father had for him when he fails to rescue a drowning crash survivor. He continues to see the mysterious man in the black suit, and finally chases after him into the jungle. In the meantime the survivors realize that they are running out of water and conflicts begin to break out among them. Jack nearly plunges into a deep ravine, but is rescued by Locke, who then seems to give Jack a mission statement. Still chasing the mysterious man, who he now recognizes as his dead father, Jack stumbles upon both a source of water and his father’s coffin. He returns to the other survivors and begins to organize them for a long stay on the island.
This episode contains two of the cornerstone, paradigmatic sayings that we now know will guide the entire series. The first is the quotation from Locke at the beginning of this post: “What if everything that happened here, happened for a reason?” We’ll get to the other one below, but let’s stop first and think about the significance of Locke’s question. It’s becoming apparent that there are many narratival bookends in LOST, parallels between things in the first season and last, like mirror images. (It’s interesting to note that mirrors will be important symbols throughout the series.) Locke’s question is answered by Christian Shepherd in “The End” when he tells Jack that everything that happened to all of them on the island was real and for a purpose.
Re-watching these first few post-pilot episodes it now seems so obvious that LOST’s handlers intended from the beginning that the show would be primarily about these people and their screwed-up lives much more than it would be about the various mysteries and puzzles of the island. The mysteries were there all along to intensify and force the various crises these characters needed to face to come to their redemptive resolutions. Nowhere is that more apparent than in this episode’s primary mystery: the presence of Jack’s dead father. He is the “White Rabbit” of the episode title. The original White Rabbit, of course, was a character in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Significantly, he is the one who leads Alice down the rabbit hole and into Wonderland, just as Jack’s “father” leads him into his own Wonderland, one in which he begins the long process of dealing with issues that have been building in him over a lifetime.
In the opening scene of this episode, we have a flashback to Jack as a child on a playground, where his friend is being pounded by a bully. Jack is being held down by another bully, who offered him a choice: he could avoid a beating himself if he stayed down and didn’t interfere. Jack decides to get up and defend his friend. As we see the second bully’s fist zooming toward Jack’s face, that bully says to him, “Shoulda stayed down, Jack!” Later, we see a battered young Jack summoned to his father’s study. His father tells him, “Don’t decide, Jack. Don’t choose to be a hero. Because when you fail…you just don’t have what it takes.”
Those words–”You just don’t have what it takes”–are still ringing in Jack’s ears all these years later as he faces his first major failure on the island. While saving Boone from the ocean he hesitates and thereby allows the woman Boone was trying to save to drown. When other survivors continue to assume that Jack will take the leadership role, he snaps, later repeating to Locke his father’s words: “I don’t have what it takes.” Thus is set Jack’s primary crisis to be overcome during his time on the island: getting victory over the voices in his head that tell him he’s not fit for the role thrust upon him.
This brings us to what we now know to be one of the most significant exchanges of dialog in the first season. The writers were planting so many hints here about what we should follow as really central in the years ahead. The moment comes after Jack, pursuing what appears to be his dead father through the jungle, stumbles and plunges over the edge of a deep ravine, barely holding on to a slippery root. He is rescued by Locke, and then Locke confronts him about why he’s out in the jungle. Jack enigmatically replies that he’s chasing after someone.
Locke: “What if this person that you’re chasing is really here?”
Jack: “That’s impossible.”
Locke: “Even if it is, let’s say it’s not.”
I love that. This is exactly what the LOST creators were asking us to do all along. “Let’s say there IS this island, and it has lots of mysterious power, and creepy things happen there all the time…” To paraphrase an old saying, the embracing of mystery is the beginning of knowledge. Those that were most willing to enter the “impossible” of this fictional world got the most out of it in the end.
Jack: “What if I catch him. What then?”
Locke: “I don’t know. But I’ve looked into the eye of this island, and what I saw…was beautiful.”
Isn’t it interesting how Locke here makes a clear association between what Jack was chasing and the smoke monster. The clues were being shouted at us if we had eyes to see and ears to hear! A question needs to be asked here, though, and it won’t be easy to answer even now. How much was Locke responsible for what happened to him (or at least, his body) in the end: his assimilation by the Man in Black? Was he too quick to embrace the island with unreserved faith? But who could blame him after the miracle that happened to him? It is clear now that the LOST creators wanted us to embrace the way of faith, yet did they also include a cautionary tale that the same kind of faith that saves you in the end can be dangerous if misplaced? Knowing how they have played with the ambiguities that lie between good and evil, I wouldn’t put this past them.
One more point about the last bit of dialog before we move on: Jack asked, “What if I catch him [his father]. What then?” In the end, Jack comes to peace when he finally does “catch” (or at least, catch up with) his father, though it’s a much changed father by then.
Locke: “You need to finish what you started.”
Locke: “Because a leader can’t lead until he knows where he’s going.”
Here Locke sets Jack off to complete his journey down the rabbit hole. Later that night we see Jack alone in the jungle, contemplating a camp fire. This is the potential hero’s vision quest moment. He waits alone, knowing he must confront darkness in order to lead others to light. Jack hears a noise in the brush, grabs a torch from the fire and follows into the darkness. He enters a sort of tunnel or cave of trees. This reminded me of Luke Skywalker entering the dark cave after Yoda’s tutelage to confront the ghost of his father. At the end of the tunnel, Jack finds water (provision for the Lostaway’s most immediate need) and…his father’s casket. Upon finding the casket empty, Jack smashes it to bits. In a flashback he had told a recalcitrant airline employee who was blocking the transportation of the casket back to L.A. that he “just wanted it to be over.” “I need to bury my father,” he told her. But now that is impossible. He can’t bury that pain; he must face it.
Apparently this experience snaps something in Jack. He returns to the camp ready to lead–at least for now. Finding that blows are about to break out among the survivors over the dwindling water supply, Jack makes his first speech as the hero-leader we know it will take him many years yet to truly embrace.
“Every man for himself just isn’t going to work…if we can’t live together, we’re going to die alone.”
Thus just five hours into the LOST journey we hear the words that so many of us now consider to be the theme statement of the whole series: “Live together or die alone.” The challenge they all must rise to in order to find the redemption the island offers has been laid down. And we now know that they will, in the end, both learn to live together and not die alone.
The episode closes with what was to become a staple trope of the series: an extended montage of the Lostaways coming together in support and mutual encouragement with highly emotional music over all. And fittingly, the last part of this montage is Jack and Kate seated together at a fire, another series bookend set in place.
One more curious tidbit from this episode before we go. In the first scene Charlie pulls Jack to the water’s edge to point out the distressed woman thrashing way out in the surf. Indicating that he expects Jack to go to the rescue, Charlie explains desperately, “I can’t swim!” Could this be a foreshadowing of the way in which he was to die?
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