Some friends and family and myself have started a Lost discussion group. We'll be re-watching (or just plain old watching for any first-timers) every episode of Lost before the season six premiere next February and posting our thoughts on each episode. It breaks down to three to four a week, so it's not impossible to do. Right now, we're doing it via a Facebook group, but I will also be posting my recaps on this blog.
If anybody's interested in joining in the discussion or writing recaps, contact one of us and we'll send you an invite to the group. We'd love for anybody even remotely interested to pop their head in and share their thoughts, even if you're not going to re-watch, although that would be ideal.
Anyway, so this is my "recap" of Season 1, Episode 2: "Tabula Rasa." Enjoy.
Tabula rasa. That's Latin, by the way, not a delicious Middle Eastern dish. It means "blank slate," or basically, that we come into the world blank and are slowly filled in with experiences, etc. You know who's credited as the guy who coined the term? That'd be 17th century philosopher John Locke. So yeah, no coincidences in this episode or this show, really.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this episode's focused on what makes us "us." It opens with the Federal Marshall with the shrapnel in his guts waking up and telling Jack not to trust Kate, that she's dangerous and that Jack needs look in the Marshall's jacket pocket for proof. We see Kate's mugshot, which Hurley ends up seeing but when they talk about what to do about it, Jack decides that he's willing to let it go, that Kate, by virtue of surviving the crash, deserves a new start. Jack seems to have bought into the idea of a tabula rasa, but it's a flawed idea, because as we're reminded throughout this episode and this series, we're tied to our pasts.
The fact that the Marshall survived the crash proves that it's not as easy as saying, "Three days ago, we all died. We should be able to start over," as Jack does later in the episode. We know the Island brings people to it for a purpose, so why did the Marshall survive as long as he did? What purpose does he serve? If they get a fresh start, if they can cut themselves free of their past lives, then why didn't the Island let him get sucked out during the crash?
I'd submit that the Island put the Marshall there to remind these people that unless they reject their impulses, they'll continue to do the same dumb things that every other group that's been drug there has done. They'll continue to (as we see the "away team" do re: Rousseau's message) hoard their information, guns, power and fight within themselves. They'll continue down the path laid out by the Man In Black in the season five finale. They won't win the game that way. Unless they turn away from who they were, confront what they've done, they'll continue to be the broken people that they are.
When Jack's scouring the fuselage to look for antibiotics (best Hurley line: "But the bodies are in there and they're all ... dead.") cuz he just *has* to save the Marshall even though it's hopeless, he runs into Sawyer, who's looting the overhead compartments. Jack asks, "Did you do this back home?" It's an interesting position, this demarcation between pre- and post- crash life, between then/there and now/here and despite what he says later, Jack knows they're stuck there for a while and that they need to act like a society if they're going to survive. Live together, die alone, right?
Unfortunately he's naive in thinking that just because you say you want to get rid of your past means that it's so. We see time and again how Jack falls back into his defaults of "gotta save everybody and be the boss," or "if I just stand really still and do nothing, maybe I won't screw this up," mentalities (in fact, as I re-watched the Pilot I was struck at how little his character had changed from the beginning), or in other words, how much his past is informing his present, and ultimately, his future.
There's been a lot of talk since the show began regarding the idea that the Island is, either literally or figuratively, a Purgatory. (Most notoriously is the anagram-named author of "Bad Twin," one Gary Troup who is, according to legend, the dude who gets sucked up in the engine before that black shape swoops down from the sky and the engine explodes) I think there's some merit in this idea, that it's a holding cell for these people who need to decide if they're going to be bossed around by their past or if they're going to change, evolve, progress. We have lists of "good people," judgmental smoke and avatars for darkness and light, all fighting to get the Castaways to perform in a predictable way.
The characters that are left are, for he most part, the ones who still haven't made peace with their pasts, who haven't chosen a side. (If I were the actors who play Jin or Sun, I'd be hoping they never get back together because we've seen what happens to characters who complete their dramatic arcs, haven't we, Charlie?) I wouldn't at all be surprised if in the final season each of the characters are put in a place where they have to act in complete opposition to their instincts, where they have to choose a path beyond what they've chosen in the past. It's not only narratively satisfying, but it fits the themes of the show as well.
The Island knows their pasts. The Forces at play know which buttons to push to make the castaways move in any given direction and until they decide to stop listening to the voices that have led them down the paths they've been trudging along, they will continue to make the same dumb mistakes that landed them on Oceanic 815 all miserable and conflicted in the first place. Their slate is full of stuff they've accumulated over time. A plane crash doesn't wipe it clean. It just makes another mark.