Lost, “Tabula Rasa”

Dude. Uh, dude? Dude.

By Matt Springer
October 12, 2004

And now we settle in for the journey at hand.

The two-part Lost premiere/pilot was a gripping, harrowing, wholly original experience. It blew people away. In a season dominated by cop shows, cop shows, a Friends spinoff, and cop shows, it made an indelible impact.

But that was just the beginning. It left innumerable unanswered questions and got every viewer thinking. Who’s the creepy old dude? What’s with the monster? Why does Kate have to bathe in her undies like a refugee from a Victoria’s Secret commercial?

Aside from those, I think the biggest question on everyone’s mind seemed to be, “How will this work every week?”

We get our answer in episode 3, “Tabula Rasa.” This show will work based on smart-as-hell writing, questions upon questions, and best of all, damn strong characters.

This week we learn all about the mysterious Kate (although in all honesty, calling her “the mysterious” is somewhat unfair, as it implies there are characters on this show we actually know and trust). Through judicious use of flashbacks, we discover Kate’s an outback fugitive, and I don’t mean someone who commits crimes against those chain steak restaurants. She was being transported back to America on the flight that crashed into the island, and now she’s free, and the marshal who had her in custody is nearing death.

Where to begin? Let’s take the crime in question for starters, which is…well, we don’t know, do we? In a savvy bit of writing, we come straight up to the moment where we’d learn the answer to the burning question of the week, what did Kate DO?, and the show gives us nothing. Their motive is instantly clear: It’s not important what she did. (Hell, that must be true, cause Matthew Fox said so!) It’s important she did something, and that it haunts her, but the specifics of her past are washed away, incinerated in the explosions that racked the fuselage lying on this strange beach.

There’s also something so brilliant about the way the final ten minutes of “Tabula Rasa” are handled. There’s a gun on the island with only one bullet, and that crazy loose cannon Sawyer wants to go in and blow the marshal’s brains out, partly to show the guy some pity and partly because I think he’s just annoyed by the dude’s pussy-ass screaming. Big deal. You had a chunk of airplane in your belly. Cowboy up, dude.

Being Dr. Jack, Dr. Jack can’t abide by a mercy killing, yet he thinks with his wang and lets Kate in to see the marshal at the marshal’s request. Kate, the scary fugitive, has the gun…or does she? In the tent, a shot is fired, and we think we know what’s up…but it’s Sawyer who leaves the tent, not Kate! Tricky, tricky.

That’s a sharp series of tiny twists right there. Not just wacky plot pivots, but twists based on CHARACTER. We learn about these people even as their actions make our guts churn. And the final twist lingers…that Sawyer didn’t even manage to kill him, and that the “mercy killing” has actually increased the marshal’s pain.

I’m riveted by the mystery of this place. I cannot wait to see the answers come out and more questions arise. I must honestly say, however, that what keeps me truly engaged by Lost are the stories of these people, who they are and were, and how they will push forward in this new community. It’s a huge testament to the brilliance of this show that its biggest marketing hook, the scary unknown of this weird place, isn’t even its strongest asset. What will keep this show great long after the monster in the jungle has been revealed are these people, these characters, their relationships.

Jesus H. Christ, it feels damn good to be able to say those things about a TV show again.