Monday, September 14, 2009

"A Leader Can't Lead Until He Knows Where He's Going"

The final season of LOST is starting to loom, so I'm finally getting back to the grand re-watch I'd planned to have ongoing for months. White Rabbit is the first Jack-centric episode; it's also the first time we see a reference to Alice in Wonderland, though I was more reminded of Shore Leave, the episode of Star Trek in which everyone's thoughts spring to life on a strange planet. Of course, Alice in Wonderland came into play in that episode too. And while we're talking of rabbits, this is the episode when we see Sawyer reading Watership Down and he offers the helpful summary "It's about bunnies." The phrase "white rabbit" is uttered by John in conversation with Jack about 28 minutes into the episode.

This is the first time we see one of the castaways as a youngster. Jack is a valiant kid, though he's not particularly strong. The scene with him standing up to the bully reminded me of Pay It Forward, with the conflict between safety and loyalty. While Christian stays detached, Jack gets very involved. He cares about people, and though he sometimes might be better off if he didn't, it's one of the traits I'd hate to see him lose - and season five Jack does seem to be veering away from that to some extent. The opening shot of young Jack mirrors the opening shot of the series; we seem to get a lot of Jack opening his eyes on this show, and he still has a long way to go in his enlightenment process.

I feel sorry for him here, since he's so exhausted and stressed out, but he frustrates me as well. Joanna's drowning is aggravating because it seems like Jack hindered rather than helped when he jumped into those waves. Could Boone have saved Joanna? He seemed to be floundering, but maybe he could have made it, or at least he could have gotten back to shore while Jack kept going. But it was a split-second decision on Jack's part, and he was doing the best he could. I like how it's Charlie who alerts Jack to the situation by informing him, "I don't swim!" I'm guessing Jack forgot that little nugget in the next three months...

Jack regrets that he never said a word to Joanna. How many others has he not spoken to? There are 40-some fuselage survivors at this point; are we to assume he's interacted with several others whom we haven't met or that he's stuck mostly to the core group of characters? What do these nondescript people do all day anyway? If I were an Oceanic 815 survivor, methinks I would be one of these Island wallflowers. But hopefully I'd be smart enough to stay out of the water.

This episode is as much about Christian as it is about Jack. In five seasons, he's been in 17 episodes and two mobisodes, even though he was dead before he landed on the Island. Or was he? We see here that Christian was a rather harsh man and that he had a drinking problem. He's a good doctor, but his interpersonal skills need some work. And Jack is supposed to fix him, just like he does with everyone else. I love it when his mother tells him to go fetch Christian, and Jack asks where he is, and she answers, "Australia". Gee, not asking too much here, are ya?

In this episode, is Christian a hallucination that Jack is having? Is he somehow resurrected, or a ghost? Or is he Esau, either shapeshifting into Christian's form or using his body like a puppet? Some strange things happen with him in this episode. It seems like he led Jack to falling off that cliff; was he trying to get him killed? Then again, it seems like he led him to water, so was he trying to help him survive? Seeing the empty coffin on the Island creates even more questions. Is there a chance that his body was never even in the coffin to begin with? What happened to it?

We start to see a division of loyalties in this episode. Charlie and Hurley trot along after Jack like a couple of eager puppy dogs. They want him to take charge, and though Hurley notes that he doesn't look so good, he can't understand why Jack isn't telling them what they ought to be doing. Of course, Jack does rally, thanks in part to John, who both saves his life after he tumbles off the cliff and strengthens his spirit, which is a bit ironic, since John becomes a shadow leader standing in opposition to Jack. "What if everything that happened here happened for a reason?" John asks, igniting the key debate between these two characters.

Boone, who's fed up with Jack's go-it-alone hero complex, will soon join forces with John. Which doesn't work out so well, but I can't really blame him for getting tired of Jack being dismissive toward him - though at least Jack sticks up for him here, and at a strained point in their relationship too. I do think that John has a knack for helping others on an individual level. But when it comes to leading a group, Jack is just especially gifted, whether he likes it or not. John knows that as well as anyone. And that "If we can't live together, we're gonna die alone" that Jack finally lets out 39 minutes into this episode is perhaps the best single-line summary of the show that the writers have given us.

A lot of great stuff in this episode isn't centered on Jack. We see Sun looking defeated and miserable and Jin insisting they keep to themselves. We get our first indication that Sawyer might not be as rough and uncultured as he looks. Walt makes a nuisance of himself with an endless string of questions, while Claire proves herself useful by sorting through clothes. She complains at one point that she can't find a hairbrush, which leads me to the question of why there don't seem to be any cameras on this plane. I would think almost everyone would have one. Claire reveals her interest in astrology and bonds with Kate, who is there for Aaron's birth and eventually decides to raise him. It's not a relationship that's focused on that much, but Kate's friendship with Claire is in some ways her most important relationship on the Island for how it will affect her future.

Along with Walt's inquisitiveness, we have his observational skills, as he's the one who alerts everyone to Claire fainting. Sayid shows how practical he is by noting that they shouldn't have left water all in one place. John seems to demonstrate his mysterious Island mojo when he says, "I know where to look" for water - though given what we see later, it's not so much a matter of "where" as "how". John has an interesting relationship with water; I always think of him in connection to rain because of his habit of knowing when it's coming and exuberantly accepting it when it does. It seems fitting that he's the one to bring water back to the others. There's something almost sacramental about it.

Charlie hangs out with Claire, which makes her feel better about herself and more comfortable while also suddenly giving him a sense of purpose. While Claire's Island experience improves, Sun's worsens when she and Jin trade their fish for Sawyer's water. Did Sawyer do it because he was hungry but lazy? After all, we see in season three that after several months on the Island he still hasn't bothered to figure out how to provide food for himself. Or did he do it to be covertly nice? Or to throw the rest of the survivors into a tizzy? Any of those possibilities seems likely. When Sayid interrogates Sun, Kate tells him that she doesn't speak English, but Sayid says she understands, which sets us up for the big revelation in the next episode.

Win One for the Reaper is introduced in this episode, in the scene in which Jack, surrounded by wreckage, finds water and the caves. It's one of the loveliest variations on the Life and Death theme, which you might say is the musical equivalent of "live together, die alone" - summing up LOST in a few notes. No matter how often I hear it, the melody does not lose any of its emotive power. If it doesn't turn up in the last episode, I will be sorely disappointed. By then, we ought to know exactly what the deal is with Christian and whether "the eye of the Island" is a "beautiful" as John claimed. Here's hoping Darlton focuses more on "live together" than "die alone"...

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