“Man Of Science, Man Of Faith” (originally aired 09/21/2005)

Lost viewers waited 119 days to see inside the hatch in 2005.

That might not seem so long in contemporary terms: with cable series, it’s not uncommon to wait an entire year between seasons, as was the case between Breaking Bad’s third and fourth seasons. However, Lost felt like a special case at the time. This was a show built on mystery, growing from a surprise hit to a so-called “cultural phenomenon” that would usher in a wave of imitators and set a new watermark for serialized storytelling in a broadcast drama. And so when Lost blew up the hatch and ended its first season with Jack and Locke staring into the darkness, it didn’t just create general anticipation for where a popular show would head in the next season: it created the mythology of the hatch, one that they would have to pay off.

Perhaps this is why “Man Of Science, Man Of Faith” introduces it twice. One of those introductions is one of the series’ most iconic sequences, an opening scene that announces without equivocation that Lost is not done surprising us or its characters. But where the first introduction is elegant and twisty, a writerly wink that’s intended to drive us crazy, the second introduction is driven by the characters, ragged and uncertain where the first was carefully constructed. The two sequences remind us that for as much as there are larger forces—whether we consider it fate or the showrunners—that are driving Lost’s narrative forward, that story is still being experienced by individual characters with their own motivations, whose actions will engage and disrupt that narrative as they see fit.

The struggle between the individual and the collective is something that has been addressed throughout these reviews, but it feels particularly pointed here. Blowing up the hatch was supposed to bring them all together: it was something that Locke and Jack agreed on for once, and it was intended to protect everyone from the threat of the Others’ allegedly imminent attack. But then Hurley was given reason to object, and once it was blown up it immediately divided them again. Jack, whose optimism has always been practical as opposed to fanciful, sees the broken ladder and realizes this is not a feasible option for the security he imagined. Locke, whose optimism has been wholly spiritual, sees no reason to stop his personal quest simply because its value to the group has been diminished.

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Here’s the thing: they’re both wrong. Or, to put it another way, they’re both allowing their stubbornness to blind them to the possibility of someone else’s perspective being valuable. Hurley, Jack, and Locke all have deeply personal reasons for feeling the way they do about the hatch. The flashbacks have foregrounded these personal reasons, to the point where I would argue none of them seem entirely unreasonable. I don’t blame Hurley for believing in the numbers, given how much they’ve affected him and how responsible he feels for what bad things happen around them. I don’t blame Locke for wanting to see the hatch through the end, given what was sacrificed—Boone, specifically—in the process. And I don’t blame Jack for wanting to avoid the hatch entirely, knowing the position of responsibility he’s put himself in with the entire group and the way events like his flashback to Sarah’s accident have foregrounded that sense of responsibility in his life previously. There is no right and wrong with regards to the hatch: the episode’s title may speak to the classic dichotomy between Jack and Locke, but despite different philosophies they’re united by their optimism that everything will turn out fine in the end.

In this way, Lost gives the audience a choice of heroes. It’s hard not to see the series’ characters through the lens of its broad audience, which ABC was obviously hyperaware of throughout the early seasons. They knew Lost was a genre show, and yet it was drawing in viewers well beyond what a genre show on its own would draw, creating two distinct audiences of diehard and casual fans. And Locke and Jack symbolize these audiences, with Locke’s faith mirroring fans’ commitment to the science fiction of this narrative and Jack’s skepticism reflecting the presumed reluctance for “casual” viewers to do the same. This would go down as the most-watched episode of Lost ever, making it an important turning point for what show Lost would become as it navigated these presumed audience identities at a network level.

The opening montage would suggest a no-holds-barred approach. One of the most delightful mindfucks—there’s no better word for it—in television history, the “Make Your Own Kind of Music” sequence is a beautiful piece of work by Jack Bender, who finds just the right level of abstraction to make it work. We’ve been conditioned to expect flashbacks, but this is someone we haven’t seen before, and the images we’re seeing don’t add up: an old computer and new appliances? A casual exercise routine and a militarized inoculation? Nothing adds up, and so when the needle flies off the record and debris starts to fall from the ceiling, the equation becomes even more complicated. It’s a scene that turns us all into Locke, scouring for clues and answers, trying to piece together how this person and these items found they way into that hatch. It’s shot as a provocation, a carefully curated set of images mapped out by Lindelof—in his last solo writing credit—to drive us crazy and create a reason for us to want the characters to have to dive down into the hatch.

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In an intelligent move that avoids dragging it out further than necessary, the episode has Locke and Kate travel into the hatch without much delay, but it doesn’t follow them down. That the episode chooses to follow down Jack instead of Locke is telling, and important for bringing the larger audience into the adventure. When Jack travels down into the hatch, he has no preconceptions on what he’ll find or what it means. His perspective is a skeptical one, and yet the things his flashlight finds—the mural, the computer equipment, the magnetic force within the walls—give him reason to question that point of view. And as though to welcome equally skeptical viewers into the scenes, Bender shoots much of it from a first person perspective (see above): we get shots of Jack, yes, but we mainly see what he’s seeing, as though we’re in the moody opening scenes of a first-person shooter. If the first introduction pushes us to see the hatch as the obsessive Lost fan searching for meaning, the second introduction puts us in Jack’s shoes and reframes the hatch through the eyes of someone who isn’t predisposed to see it through the same lens.

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What he finds there changes things. We can’t know what he expected to find, but we can agree that it probably wasn’t the man who he ran into on the day of Sarah’s surgery. On the one hand, this pushes Jack into the realm of fate and destiny, as though Desmond’s suggestion they’d meet in another life has come true in inconceivable fashion. But on the other hand, it also takes “the hatch” and connects it to a person, one who—we can presume, based on the series’ precedent—has his own personal philosophies that led him to this point. For as much as “Man Of Science, Man Of Faith,” and the second season as a whole, pushes Lost deeper into the mysteries of the island, those mysteries come attached to characters, whose identities infuse those mysteries with meaning while expanding beyond them as the series rolls on. It’s an important detail that keeps the needle in the groove, without losing the sense that it could fly off at a moment’s notice just as Mama Cass is about to come back around to the chorus.

Stray observations:

  • Welcome back! We’ll be doing two episodes a week through the end of the second season this fall, likely returning for Season Three in the new year.
  • In what will become a pattern for the series, we pick up only one of the finale’s cliffhangers: although Walt appears as a vision to Shannon alongside some Others whispering, the rest of the raft characters are missing in action.
  • There’s a scene missing to explain why Jack suddenly decides to go down the hatch—does he realize they should have been back by now? Is he concerned about their safety? It’s obviously crucial to the episode that he goes after them, given that they’ve been taken captive, but I’m missing the specific reason he changes his mind beyond the fact that Jack changes his mind a lot.
  • “Good idea, go look down the burning death hole”—I’m glad Hurley doesn’t lose his sense of humor in a crisis.
  • The origins of Jack’s savior complex make a strong framework for the episode, and a great reminder that Julie Bowen is a very capable dramatic actress. That said, the show worked a little too hard to make us feel fine about Jack stealing Sarah from her former fiancĂ© with his “But can we still have sex?” reaction to her accident.

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“Adrift” (originally aired 09/28/2005)

Given that the first season of Lost ended with a three-part finale, it isn’t entirely shocking that the second season begins with a two-part premiere, even if not in name. “Adrift” aired a week after “Man Of Science, Man Of Faith,” and is technically the second episode of the season, but it immediately throws us back into the immediate aftermath of “Exodus,” Sawyer adrift amidst the wreckage of the raft as Michael screams for Walt. The episode then goes back to fill in the gaps both regarding the aftermath of Walt’s abduction and Kate and Locke’s journey into the hatch that the previous episode skipped over.

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The episode offers compelling insight into the problem-solution nature of television writing. With only an hour for the premiere, the writers made a conscious decision to focus on the mystery of the hatch, utilizing the startling opening and the suspenseful conclusion to make a strong statement regarding the season’s focus and the state of the series’ mythology. However, those choices have consequences: focusing only on the hatch made it so we have no resolution on the raft storyline, while foregrounding Jack’s perspective—for the reasons noted above—meant that we were missing out on key information for Locke and Kate. “Adrift” is therefore the solution to these problems, rewinding the narrative clock to show us the same series of events from different perspectives.

Within the context of the hatch itself, this is an effective strategy. We get a little bit more time with Desmond, as Locke worms his way into information about this mysterious bunker with artificial daylight and a computer he’s asked to input the Numbers into. Kate being taken captive gives her a chance to explore the hatch’s pantry, filled with Dharma-branded food stores and Apollo bars. The script—by Steven Maeda and Leonard Dick—also finds some nice moments of connection between the two episodes’ take on the same events, answering why Locke took off his shoes and having Desmond’s stray bullet nearly find Kate hidden in the vents. We don’t end up getting a whole lot of new information, but we get enough that when we return to the exact same end point—Jack and Desmond in a standoff—the stakes have evolved enough to carry over the cliffhanger to the next episode.

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However, Michael and Sawyer floating back toward the island struggles by comparison. The two storylines are each building to a logical end point: just as Jack and Locke’s journey into the hatch ended with Desmond, Sawyer and Michael’s float toward shore was going to end with Jin emerging from the jungle screaming and a group of shadowy figures brandishing weapons ominously following him. But Jack and Locke’s journey is fraught with natural suspense, and features its own little easter eggs that fit into the larger puzzle. By comparison, Michael and Sawyer’s conflict on the raft plays out like a theatrical two-hander, with Harold Perrineau going Shakespearean and some rather cheap-looking effects work selling the idea that there’s a shark following them on their journey.

While I would never complain about the show trading plot for character development, the issue with Michael and Sawyer’s journey is that it isn’t new character development. Whereas Jack’s flashbacks felt like they were showing us the birth of a particular part of his personality, and benefitted from the surprise convergence with Desmond’s appearance on the island, Michael’s flashbacks more or less repeat the same ideas we’ve seen Michael deal with in the past: We knew he gave up the rights to his son, and learning that he temporarily fought the situation doesn’t give us anything new to work with. Although his outright “fight” for his son parallels his goal following Walt being kidnapped, the thematic signature of the storyline hits the same beats as his previous flashbacks, such that it seems unnecessary to the narrative momentum of the season. For as much as the show seems to want Michael to emerge as a major character, he never broke out during the first season, and I would argue he isn’t compelling enough to sustain this level of repetition in his characterization.

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It makes for a second episode that ends up being about small details. What does Desmond mean by “Are you him?” Why does Desmond react to the number of days it’s been since the plane crash? Where did all this food come from? What is the hatch? The repetition of the hatch scenes doubles down on these questions without offering much in the way of answers, which works to build anticipation but also makes the raft scenes that much emptier by comparison. As much as the conclusion of those scenes—particularly the shot of what Jin identities as “The Others”—is haunting and effective at creating a second cliffhanger to be addressed in the weeks to come, that which came before it felt—for lack of a better word—adrift in the land of shark attacks and splash fights. They are not bad scenes, necessarily, but they end up adding little despite taking up a significant portion of the episode.

Stray observations:

  • At the end of the day, the shark attack is just too dumb—they never make the threat seem particularly real, and the effects work relies too much on the darkness to hide the absence of a real threat. That said, I still enjoyed it just because I was reminded that Lindelof and Cuse named it Ezra James Sharkington on the official podcast, and that’s a badass name.
  • While Jack’s trip through the hatch was fairly abstract, Locke and Kate get a much better look at the “Dharma” logo with an image of a Swan spread throughout. Ah, the Swan.
  • Not wanting to forget about its other characters, we get a brief scene of Claire discovering the Virgin Mary statue to remind us that Charlie’s addiction is still a going concern.
  • Lost’s compartmentalization is legendary, so note how Hurley explains the Numbers to Jack in the previous episode, such that when Locke is the one to put them in the computer he has no idea what they mean.

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Lost 10th Anniversary Links

Monday marked the 10th anniversary of Lost’s series premiere (which former TV Club editor Todd VanDerWerff covered as part of this feature before his departure), which also brought with it a collection of features reflecting on the series’ legacy. These include former A.V. Club contributor Noel Murray—who covered the final three seasons for the site—at Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly’s Jeff Jensen, and Buzzfeed’s Jace Lacob. I will only add that my first exposure to Lost was my attempt to watch a half-finished, corrupt torrent file (the first I’d ever tried to download), after which I chose to wait until Canadian broadcaster CTV—which hadn’t simulcast the series, not realizing it would break out into a hit—aired the entire pilot, which I watched using an over-the-air antenna with unreliable signal quality. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Spoiler Station (only read if you’ve seen the whole series):

  • Desmond! It’s really hard to divorce my response to this episode from the knowledge that he becomes such an integral character, and responsible for some of the series’ finest moments. It’s hard to remember, but I don’t think I ever would have pegged him as so important when I watched this for the first time.
  • I definitely don’t think I would have been paying enough attention watching this the first time to pick up that it was Shannon’s father that Jack let die while saving Sarah following her accident, but that’s what the Internet was for.
  • Lost was always a dangerous show in terms of credits-related spoilers, and these episodes are a big part of this: with Malcolm David Kelley disappearing from the credits, and Michelle Rodriguez popping up in them, it removes some of the suspense from the equation.
  • In retrospect, this might have been the point where you could sense the writers starting to feel like Michael’s story on the island had run its course: I don’t know if they had planned his arc out far enough for this to be the beginning of his eventual exit (and later return), but it just feels like they’ve run out of flashback story to tell here. It happens with every character eventually (hence the flashforwards, and the Oceanic Six mand the ramping up of the series’ narrative as a whole), but Michael might be the first.

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Next week: Anyone got a spare film projector sitting around? There’s a movie we need to watch.