LOST 009 - Follow The White Rabbit

Kate, Locke, and Jack take center ((flash)back)stage and the show begins the first great phase of its time-bending format. Unpacking the TV show LOST—Season 1: Episodes 3-5

LOST 009 - Follow The White Rabbit
Jack Palindrome Jack, I Palindrome I
Note: this essay was originally published on Revue on April 10, 2022.

One-paragraph recap of the story so far: There’s an island upon which two godlike beings contend over the worthiness of humans; the first being, The Island, believes humans are capable of change and draws humans to itself, and the other, The Adversary, tries to prove The Island wrong by corrupting them. The latest batch—survivors of the crash of Oceanic 815—just arrived. They found a polar bear. They shot it.

See? I can do the brevity thing. 4,000 word newsletters are a choice.

Don’t tell me what I can’t do!


Today we’re going to unpack a trio of episodes that set a lot of foundational work for the story as a whole and for three of our central characters—in order: Kate, Locke, and Jack.

These episodes also firmly establish as its structural motif: flashbacks focusing on a single character, with the action in the past in seeming conversation with the action in the present.

Dude, let’s get LOST. (Let’s get LOST, dude.)


Episode 3: TABULA RASA (Kate): Jack’s tending to the federal marshal, who has more than the usual amount of shrapnel in his belly¹ and is, as a result, dying. He tells Jack that his fugitive is … Kate, the girl Jack really likes! We already knew this about Kate, but Jack didn’t, so Jack takes a moment and makes a face like he smells a fart. He also leaves the WANTED paper with Kate’s face on it just sitting out, so that night, Hurley sees it and finds out about Kate. Come on, Jack, information security, dude.

Meanwhile, Kate is camping with Sawyer, Sayid, Charlie, Boone, and Shannon, on their way back from hearing the mysterious Frenchwoman’s disturbing rescue signal, the news of which they agree would unnerve their fellow castaways, so The Gang Swears Secrecy. Also they discuss how the fact that the pilot said they were off-course and without communications before the crash means they are basically shit out of rescue.

Next day, on the beach, most-competent-and-practical castaway Sayid is totally taking charge, as Sayid should, organizing for food and shelter and gathering everyone’s technology to help him Boost The Signal™. Kate meanwhile immediately tells Jack the secret of the Frenchwoman’s transmission, because she trusts Jack and Jack trusts her—she assumes, not knowing he knows her secret. Jack does know her secret now, though, so Jack looks at her in a tortured sort of way and smells several more farts.

Beach life! Sawyer scavenges. Charlie flirts with Claire. Jin is a controlling dick to Sun. Walt tells Michael that Mister Locke told him a miracle happened on the island (a mystery that will be solved the very next episode). Michael orders Walt not to hang with weird old crusty-looking-ass orange-peel-smile-ass Locke. Walt tells Michael to find his dog Vincent, who was on the plane but is still lost. Michael goes to do so and happens upon a bathing Sun, and it is awkward. Hurley totally loses his chill when he meets Kate.

There’s a bunch of stuff around the marshal, with Jack not sure if he can trust Kate and suspicious of Kate’s intentions toward him, because obviously it would be much better for Kate if the marshal, who hates her and mistrusts her, dies, so there is obviously some worry that she will, you know, kill him—especially since Kate has the one gun.

Nighttime. The surgery to remove the shrapnel isn’t going to be enough to save the marshal’s life without antibiotics and there aren’t any antibiotics. So there’s a man who is suffering badly, who is going to die eventually, and there’s nothing to be done about it … except there is a gun. There’s a lot of tortured talk about what the moral and right thing to do is—which is interrupted by Sawyer just shooting him, and since this is Season 1 Sawyer, he screws up the mercy kill, and Jack has to euthanize the marshal. Now Jack hates Sawyer extra big!

Sunset. Kate offers to tell Jack what she did. Jack, who has spent the whole episode being sanctimonious, and is presumably pissed at Kate for giving Sawyer the gun, huffs at Kate that he doesn’t want to know, because when the plane went down they all got fresh starts, and the past doesn’t matter, and it’s honestly the most annoying thing I’ve ever seen in my life until the next time Jack ascends to his high horse—but the result of this exchange is that the writers now have 3 more seasons to come up with an answer to What Kate Did, so I’m sure they’ll come up with something good that fits the story we’ll have seen up to that point, hahaha.

Meanwhile, Locke toots on a dog whistle (a real one, not a MAGA one) that he crafted using his jungle skills, which brings Vincent out of hiding, but Locke lets Michael take the credit with Walt for finding the dog. Hurley listens to music and everybody vibes, until the music turns very ominous as the camera moves in on Locke’s face.

Yikes! That music is telling us this Locke dude is bad news!

Vincent, however, remains a very good boy.

End of Episode 3.

Kate Austin (Evangeline Lily) looks out the window nervously. In the driver's seat, the Australian farmer who is giving her a ride favors her with a suspicious glance.
If you look out the left of the vehicle, you'll see the tangled web of Kate's backstory.

Episode 4: WALKABOUT (Locke). We’re back to the aftermath of the crash. Jack of Course is saving everybody. Chaos reins. Locke lies on the beach, stunned. He looks at his twitching toe. He sits. Stands. We’re told by the music cues and the framing that this is very dramatic, but we’re not told why.

Back to Now. Nighttime. Vincent remains a good boy but he is losing his shit barking. And no wonder: something is moving in the fuselage. It’s creepy as hell. Jack of Course goes to investigate, and the bore finds a boar! A wild pig is in there, rooting among the bodies. Startled, it runs off. Locke looks enthused.

After the title card, Jack argues with Kate and Sayid that for health reasons, they need to burn the fuselage full of bodies. They’re uncomfortable with such an unceremonious send-off, but in the end they cede their reservations to Jack’s practicality.

Next day, Sayid is working with the transceiver to Boost The Signal™; Kate of Course offers to help. Sayid shrewdly notes that Kate seems eager to get off island, because Sayid is very observant, and also we’re still not supposed to be sure whether or not to trust Kate, even though we’ve seen no behavior to suggest we shouldn’t, and never will. But I guess we don’t know that last part yet, and so it probably works on a first view to build tension. There’s a vibe between Kate and Sayid, and it’s a much nicer one than any of the other romantic subplots Kate gets involved in, so if they had to go the will-they-won’t-they direction I wish they had gone with that pairing, which would have spared us the sight of Sayannon. Oh well, wish in one hand and ‘ship in another², as they say.

Also, there’s a new challenge; they’re out of food, in part because the gang left a polar bear carcass to rot. Our heroes have an Island Squabble about it, interrupted when Locke reveals that he has about a billion knives in his check bag, and knows a ton about talking like a military dude, but also, apparently, about hunting 30 to 50 feral pigs. Michael asks Sun to watch Walt, so that he can go on the hunt with Locke, which he clearly hopes will make Walt proud of him, or at least find him as impressive as Walt clearly finds this bald knife-chucking weirdo. Kate of Course also goes along, because she’s got transceiver plans.

Jungle time! They find a boar. The boar charges. Michael gets hurt, Locke is knocked to the ground. Kate takes Michael back to camp. Locke goes on alone. Kate tells him he can’t go on alone, though it’s hard to see why she thinks this, so I must conclude it’s mostly to allow Locke to say his catchphrase: “Don’t tell me what I can’t do!”

Beach time! Jack tries to comfort Rose, who has isolated herself from the group. Rose reveals that she believes, despite all evidence, that her husband Bernard is alive. (She’s right, but don’t worry about it yet.) Jack also sees a mysterious figure in the distance, who we’ll get to next episode. It’s a cool moment.

Hurley and Charlie try with minimum success to fish, and an all-time great BroTP is formed.

On the way back to camp, Kate climbs a tree with the Sayid-modded transceiver to try to Boost The Signal™. That doesn’t work, but—raging noises!—she does see The Monster coming right for Locke! We see a monster’s eye view of The Monster getting right up in Locke’s grill, right up to his startled face.

Locke is dead! Holy shit!

Back on the beach, Kate informs Jack that Locke is monster chow. Jack opens his mouth and lets his eyes get watery.

Nighttime. The survivors burn the fuselage and gather around the fire as Claire reads the names of the dead. Charlie does his junk. Jack of Course sits at a distance, brooding dramatically, because don’t you see, no matter how many he saves, he couldn’t save them all, dammit, he couldn’t save them all.

Locke arrives with a boar. The boar is dead. Locke is not dead.

He claims to have not seen the monster. He is lying.

He looks into the fire, ruminatively.

We get the very plot-relevant flashback that reveals that Locke was, until the crash, wheelchair-bound. When he woke up after the crash he could walk. So there’s the miracle he told Walt about last episode. Mystery solved!³

Back to the beach. Locke sees his wheelchair burning in the fire, and smiles.

End of Episode 4.

John Locke (Terry O'Quinn) stands in a jungle, looking up in wonder at the Adversary.
When a body catch an Adversary, a comin' through the rye.

Episode 5: WHITE RABBIT (Jack). Jack’s chilling on the beach, when there’s a yell. It’s Charlie, shouting that there’s somebody struggling in the water. Charlie protests he can’t swim⁴ so Jack of Course runs out for the save. He gets to the struggling figure and it’s Boone, but—surprise bishes!—Boone is only drowning because he’s trying to save somebody else from drowning, but unfortunately he is not Jack of Course, he is Only Boone, so now he’s drowning, too. Jack makes a call to save the character with lines. Judy Not Appearing In This Series drowns.

After the title card, Jack is beating himself up, because he failed to save the drowning woman, and he didn’t do enough, don’t you see, dammit, he didn’t do enough. He’s almost made it entirely about himself when he’s distracted by the mysterious man he saw last episode, who is now standing in the water like a goddamned Magritte painting or something. He asks Kate about it, and Kate looks concerned. There’s nobody there.

Beach life! Walt performs oppositional defiance microaggressions against an increasingly annoyed Michael. Jin remains a controlling dickweed to Sun. Claire is into … astrology? this week? OK. Also a problem: the Oceanics are out of water. It’s weird that they ran out of food first, but hey let’s go with it.

Hurley and Charlie want an exhausted Jack to tell them what to do about the water, and Jack resents them trying to make this situation all about him—because making situations all about Jack is Jack’s job, dammit. He snits away, right into Only Boone, who is deep in his feelings about getting saved, and is very busy trying to make the whole thing about him. They have a staring-at-each-other contest, but Jack is distracted away from it by the mystery figure, who doesn’t disappear this time, but walks away into the underbrush. Jack follows. He sees the man, who turns, and Jack falls to the ground, stunned. It’s his dad. His dead dad. Dead dad walks off.

Dead dad’s name is “Christian Shephard” by the way. They aren’t subtle with the names here on LOST. Get used to it.

After I presume some commercials, Claire collapses, dehydrated. Worse, the water has been stolen. Worse still, the doctor is gone. Locke goes after water. Charlie tends Claire, and those two kids are sweet.

Jack runs through the jungle, chasing his dead dad, who—oops! leads him off a cliff. Jack nearly falls to his death, but he’s saved by Locke, who just so happens to be passing by. The two confab, and Jack learns of the emergencies back at camp. Locke isn’t a bit surprised to learn that Jack is chasing a ghost. He claims to be a man of the real world, but insists that the island is a special place, “where everything that happens, happens for a reason.” He claims to have “looked into the eye of the island,” and says “what I saw was beautiful.” Locke seems very convinced that the island is magic, for want of a better word. It’s almost as if he’s been shown something. He leaves Jack, insisting that the doctor finish his quest.

Nighttime. Jack is ruminating by a campfire, when he hears his dead dad walking by, and follows the sound to a series of caves by a pool fed by a freshwater stream. There are also hunks of fuselage and a bunch of creep-ass dolls and other luggage and flotsam from the Oceanic crash— including Jack’s father’s coffin. Jack opens it. It’s empty.

Jack Of Course smashes it to pieces.

Life’s a beach. The water thief is caught! It wasn’t Sawyer as suspected! It was Only Boone! Boone was just trying to protect the water, he says, but he isn’t Jack Of Course, so everyone is about to sharpen a stick at both ends and shish his kebob. Just before it gets ugly, Jack interrupts, and delivers a pretty decent speech about sticking together. It’s the famous “Live Together or Die Alone” address.

His point is: there’s no rescue coming anytime soon. We need to become a society. Let’s go where the water is.

Montage. Everyone brings everyone else water. Aw.

End of Episode 5.


Flashbacks. These are strong flashbacks, by and large.

We see some things we already knew about Kate—she’s a fugitive, she was captured by the marshal—but we see how it happened, and we learn that Kate is a very selfish and impetuous but also a very brave and heroic fugitive, who will risk her life and the lives of others to stay free, but who will also risk her freedom to save the life of even somebody who betrayed her, if that person’s life becomes endangered by the results of her actions, and it’s not bad character work, taken as a standalone. The issue, as before, is that Kate’s character is always given the simple answer when a complex one would be more interesting, while her backstory is a snarled tackle box of paradoxical complexity that suggests that this is an area where the writing gang, to be polite, didn’t think as deeply as one might have hoped.⁵

The Jackback lays the groundwork for the aspects that make Jack such a fascinating but unlikeable protagonist: his genuine heroism, contrasted with the deeply unhealthy nature of the self-hatred and insecurity that drive his hero complex. The origins of this dynamic trace back to his abusive relationship with his withholding, emotionally abusive father, a brilliant surgeon and a raging alcoholic, a man who delivers unto young Jack an absolutely deranged scotch-fueled monologue about how the quality that makes him, Christian Shephard, a good surgeon is his ability to simply walk away without a care if people die on his watch, whereas Jack should never try to be a hero, because “you don’t have what it takes"—"what it takes” being sociopathy, I guess. This speech was in response to a 12 year old getting in a schoolyard fight to protect another kid from a bully, by the way. Christian Shephard, ladies and gents! We also learn that a) Christian recently died in Australia, apparently a professional disgrace; b) Jack is to blame for this somewhat, or at least Jack blames himself somewhat and Jack’s never-again-seen mother blames him totallywhat; c) Jack was in Australia to transport his dad, who died of the drink while in Sydney, back home; d) Jack ironically had to beg to get onto Oceanic 815, because he desperately, desperately needed closure and he simply could not wait for it.

The most effective flashback of the three (and really one of the most effective of the entire series run) is Locke’s, where this great island enigma is revealed to have been an isolated man in a dead-end place in life, with a desperate need for belonging and meaning. The reveal of his secret—that he was wheelchair-bound before finding himself able-bodied on the island, and abandoned on his planned Australian walkabout by a guide who doubted his fitness for the rugged adventure ahead—suggests things about Locke, the island, The Adversary, and The Island that will be six seasons in the unpacking.

So let’s get into that now.


Most of what we see in these episodes is, appropriately enough for the early episodes of a long running show, character development. But we get a couple huge foundational pieces of the buried understory.

1) Locke’s early encounter with The Adversary is one of the primary hinges of the series. It’s very easy to forget this, because Locke himself never talks about this actual encounter with anybody directly, and the first early hints as to what this encounter must have entailed don’t arrive until around Season 3, with the full picture coming more clear in Season 6, if you remember that this encounter happened, which you probably won’t, because (again) Locke doesn’t mention it but … it is crucial to understanding Locke, and everything Locke does in the series.

Never forget this encounter happened.

It’s ABC: A = Always. B=Be. C=remembering this enCounter happened.

The Adversary has a modus operandi, and it involves targeting particular individuals within any of The Island’s groups to manipulate. The Adversary usually appears to Its target alone, initially as smoke to “read” the target face-to-face, then It appears to the target as somebody known to that target using those scanned memories (let’s call this a Type 1 manifestation). This is usually somebody the target loved, and is always somebody who is dead, and, as that loved one, tells It’s target that he/she is special, a person of great significance, chosen by The Island to do great and important things, and uses It’s target’s insecurities and desire for purpose in order to convince them to do Its will. It also tells Its target many secret things, and many of those things are actually true.

A long time from now we’ll see The Adversary target a guy named Mr. Eko. Even longer from now, we’ll see that It has targeted Brother, and Ricardo, and also a fellow named Ben Linus. Undoubtably The Adversary has targeted many other people, too. The people he targets tend not to tell others what is happening. We should look for evidence of it happening, and I will note that The Adversary seems particularly likely to target children.

In episode 4 of Season 1, beyond doubt, The Adversary targets John Locke.

According to Locke himself, It shows him “the eye of the island, and it was beautiful.” Did It take Locke to the Kincave for an undeniable proof and also a tantalizing, obsession-generating taste of miracle light? I think that’s possible, one might even say likely.

And as to the question of who it is The Adversary chooses to manifest as, when It targets John Locke? We’ll never learn that, and so it doesn’t really matter, but I think it’s fun to guess.

We will learn that Locke has somebody beloved to him, and much later we (and Locke) will learn she has been dead for many years: Helen, Locke’s estranged ex-fiance. So maybe Locke sees Helen in that moment. That’s possible. It’s not what I believe, though.

Because we also will learn that if somebody’s dead body resides on the island (as Christian Shephard’s dead body does) The Adversary can manifest as that person to whosoever he wants—and can manifest as that person at any point in the island’s timeline, even centuries before that person’s dead body happens to exist on the island (let’s call this a Type 2 manifestation).

And there’s somebody else who is very good at convincing John Locke to do unwise things, whose dead body will soon, through The Adversary’s machinations, exist on the island.

I suspect in this encounter, The Adversary appears to Locke as the man who put Locke in a wheelchair: his father, Anthony Cooper.

But that’s just a guess.

2) We should also talk about Locke’s healing. The Island heals—pretty indiscriminately, it would seem. Health appears to be the natural order of things, and death comes only through violence and injury. Later we’ll find that when there is sickness, it is believed to be a specifically targeted manifestation of some higher power’s will—and we’ll see evidence that this may well be true. Hence, Locke’s healing appears to be something that is, from the perspective of the island, natural. (There also appears to be an option for a supernatural healing of injury … but that’s a matter for later—maybe much later.)

But if individual sickness on the island is a matter of someone’s will … whose will is it that creates sickness? The Island? Or The Adversary?

What a great question to unpack some other time!

3) The figure of Christian Shephard that appears to Jack is The Adversary. I don’t think I need to explain the case for this. I’ll just point out a few other items of interest:

a) He doesn’t seem interested in trying to ‘turn’ Jack. He’s just leading Jack to the water.

b) Before that, though, he does lead Jack right off a cliff, so this might be a simple attempt to get a candidate to accidentally kill himself. However …

c) … Locke knows exactly where to find him to save him, which seems a bit unlikely, and when Locke knows things he shouldn’t be able to know, we should be thinking “The Adversary told him.” So it’s possible this is The Adversary getting his chosen mole in close and trusted with the leader of this new batch of candidates … and if that leader happens to die instead, that’s OK, too. Or else Locke was lying about water and was actually tracking Jack on his own remit. Pick the explanation you like best.

But my question is: Why does The Adversary appear to Jack in this way? It’s the only time he does so, I think.

Again, nobody ever says, but it’s fun to guess.

It seems likely that The Adversary wants Jack to find the water to move the candidates off the beach. Why? Well, he might want them divided (which we’ll see is indeed what happens next episode). There are hints the island’s water contains qualities that makes people more pliable to The Adversary’s will (we’ll get to the concept of ‘infection’ when Rousseau pops up), but it seems likely that they would find island water one way or another.

My answer is: the group on the beach are right on the mouth of the Kincave: the heart of the island, the seat of his enemy’s power. That’s probably reason enough to move them away.

And what happened to Christian Shephard’s body? We never find out, and I don’t think it ever comes up. My guess is that The Adversary took it and hid it. And I’m guessing that The Adversary took it and hid it because It knows Jack would bury it—and, as we’ll eventually discover, there is some reason to believe that, for whatever reason, It has trouble Type 2 manifesting as a buried or destroyed body.

And we certainly haven’t seen the last of Christian Shephard.


Next Time: Mobsters and Junkies and Scams, Oh My!


¹ None, usually. Lots now.

² Fuck you, that’s a great joke. I’m not sorry.

³ There is never a moment when somebody says “oh wow, that’s what Walt meant when he mentioned a miracle.” This I think is why LOST has a reputation for not answering its mysteries—it answers them, it just never tells you it answered them. People caught this one easily, because the reveal arrived literally the next episode after the mystery was introduced. Sometimes, though, the answer comes six years later, and you have to think through the implications to realize that it was an answer, and what it was an answer to.

⁴ It will become extremely plot-relevant later that Charlie absolutely can swim. I think the writers forgot, but let’s say that he’s too high to swim.

⁵ This probably won’t be the last time I mention this, but I believe that of the main characters Kate is the least well served by the writing. She’s very well acted by Evangeline Lily, and is a major on-island driver of plot, but for all that is far too often annoyingly stranded by the story into the tired “I can’t choose which boy I like” trope. The main beat she’s given in Season 1 is “she has secrets! can she be trusted really?” But the answer is invariably “Yes! she’s extremely trustworthy! and heroic!” and the secrets, as they come out, usually elicit a “Huh??” or a “… huh.”

I believe it would be far more satisfying if her secret turned out to be more coherent. (example from “Tabula Rasa”: she’s an international fugitive and the person pursuing her apparently has international jurisdiction, and the effort to find her apparently extends to post offices in rural Australia. When we find out what she did, it must have been a serious international crime, right? Right? Ho ho ho.) I think it would also give Lily a bit more to play with if she actually was hiding something relevant and actually wasn’t always a trustworthy actor (imagine if she had been a secret Other, for example, on the plane in full knowledge of where she was going). Oh well.


A.R. Moxon is the author of The Revisionaries, which is available in most of the usual places, and some of the unusual places. He lives together and dies alone.