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Author's Note: Having grown tired of what's currently available on TV I've decided to rewatch some of my all time favorite shows. I'm limiting myself to one episode per week in order to experience the storytelling as it was originally intended, which hopefully will preserve the thrill of having to wait a week to see what happens next. This article covers the LOST episode “Born to Run", which originally aired on May 11th, 2005.
Previously on LOST: With continued assistance from his former rival Jin, Michael’s raft nears completion. The fallout from Boone’s death means Locke can no longer keep the hatch a secret.
As we reach the end of LOST’s first season we get the final setup episode, as “Born to Run” moves the remaining chess pieces into position for a payoff so big that it requires three chapters. And while the plot doesn’t necessarily take a giant step forward this week, it does a serviceable job of setting up the dominoes that will be knocked down in the two hour season finale.
“Born to Run” is all about defining relationships, both of friendly and antagonistic natures. LOST is very much like Survivor in that it is fueled by alliances that are constantly in flux, as the characters form easily-breakable bonds with those that can help them achieve their goals. And is this not a perfect metaphor for life itself? While most of humanity will never find themselves stranded on a desert island with a bunch of strangers, we often operate with a cutthroat nature that isn’t all that different from what we see on this show.
The episode is driven by the fact that Michael’s raft, which everyone agrees offers the best chance at rescue, needs to be launched immediately to avoid the impending monsoon season. This revelation is provided by the entertainingly annoying Dr. Artz, a high school science teacher that has been noticeably absent up to this point. Artz informs Michael that if he fails to get the raft in the water the following day the winds will carry his makeshift boat south, where there is no hope of being found by passing ships.
A beachside conversation with the fame-hungry Charlie reminds Kate that rescue represents a return to handcuffs, which motivates her to force her way onto the raft where she hopes she can slip away before the survivors of Oceanic flight 815 become headline news. Driven by the fear of imprisonment she tries to convince Michael to add her as another passenger, but he remains convinced that the raft can only carry four people. Her attempt to bargain with Sawyer to give her his spot on the raft are rebuffed, to which she coolly replies “If I want your spot I’ll take it.” At this point in the show Evangeline Lilly has really taken ownership of the role of Kate Austin, and we can’t help but feel Sawyer has little chance of hanging onto his ticket. I’ve always found the Kate-Sawyer dynamic far more interesting than the relationship she has with Jack Shephard, and while the fugitive-doctor contrast is interesting the fact that these two characters both live in the shadows of moral ambiguity makes for better drama.
Sayid forces Locke to take Jack to the hatch, where he hopes the camp’s doctor will put an end to any talk about cracking the mysterious chunk of metal open. To Sayid’s dismay Jack agrees with Locke that they need to find a way in, that the camp can only benefit from the potential supplies and shelter that might be inside. Sayid correctly points out that the lack of a door handle should be taken a sign that the hatch wasn’t meant to be opened, which is driven home later on when after touching Locke’s arm Walt also tells him not to open it. There is no doubt that there’s something special about this boy, and his vague prophecy lends a sense of dread to the situation. But just like the audience Locke’s curiosity is too great, he needs to see what’s inside just as much as we do. The hatch is HIS, a gift from the island that must be unwrapped.
Kate is able to introduce doubt into Michael’s mind by pointing out how useless Sawyer would be at sea, which inspires the camp’s bad boy to confront her regarding her motivations. It’s easy to label Sawyer as an uneducated hillbilly, but savvy viewers realize that is just another con. Sawyer has made a career out of taking advantage of people, a task made easier when his potential victims underestimate him. Living this lifestyle also makes it easy for Sawyer to dissect Kate’s true motivations for wanting on the raft, which is confirmed when he catches her modifying a dead passenger’s passport with her own picture. Kate has been able to fool Jack countless times, but Sawyer can see the long con she’s looking to pull.
The work on the raft is derailed when Michael falls ill, which Jack believes is a result of him being drugged. Michael immediately suspects Sawyer and kicks him off the raft’s manifest, but before Kate can claim his spot Sawyer exposes not only that she was on the flight as a fugitive, but that she intends to steal another passenger’s identity. This an effective dramatic moment, while also serving as a reminder to the audience that most of the camp has remained unaware of Kate’s past up to this point. On a show with such a large cast it inevitably becomes difficult to keep track of who knows what, forcing the writers to drop the occasional piece of exposition. But LOST so often delivers these nuggets of information with artful subtly, weaving them into the narrative with such care that they rarely feel forced or out of place.
It turns out that everyone was wrong, as it’s revealed that Sun was the one who put the drugs in Michael’s water bottle. Her malicious actions were done out of love though, as the laced drink was intended for her husband Jin. Sun simply doesn’t want him to go, a desire born out of both fear for his safety and her own loneliness. While this twist in itself adds another layer to the plot, the fact that Kate had helped Sun changes everything. Kate is the show’s ultimate antihero, her motivations are usually good but the means she embraces to reach her goals are often shady in nature.
This week’s flashback maintains the relationship motif as we learn more about Kate, this time exploring her connections with both her mother and a childhood friend named Tom. Tom is a doctor at a hospital where Kate’s mom is being treated for something that is clearly serious, and Kate asks him to arrange a brief meeting with her. The evening before the reunion is to take place Kate and Tom dig up a time capsule they buried when they were kids, and inside they find the toy airplane that has been a magnet for Kate’s attention all season long. The following day turns out to be a disaster, as the reunion between mother and daughter goes sour when Kate’s mom weakly screams for help upon seeing her child. Kate manages to escape the hospital, which suddenly finds itself full of police officers, hijacking Tom’s car and wildly steering it though the underground parking lot. With Tom riding shotgun Kate decides to run a police barricade, and while she makes it through Tom is shot dead in the process. A tragic end to a character that simply found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, only to find the cost of helping an old friend to be high. Kate escapes with a heart full of guilt, and we now know the identity of the man she indirectly killed.
“Born to Run” might not be the most action-packed chapter of LOST, but it’s incredibly efficient when you consider just how many relationship triangles the episode manages to explore in its 44 minute runtime. Jack-Locke-Sayid, Kate-Sawyer-Michael, Jin-Sun-Kate…there’s a lot going on here. But nothing feels rushed or glossed-over this week, what we see onscreen is fleshed-out and thorough. While it might not be a traditional penultimate episode it does an effective job of getting all the characters in the mental state they need to be in before the curtain falls on the show’s maiden season.
Next week on LOST: “Exodus Part 1”, the first part of the two hour season one finale.