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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 “White Rabbit", which originally aired on October 20th, 2004.
Previously on LOST: Reluctant leader Jack Shephard tries to maintain a sense of order as nearly a week has passed since the plane crash with no sign that a rescue is coming. While Jack’s unwanted leadership is driven by a belief in science, John Locke, who boarded the plane in a wheelchair but now finds himself able to walk, has taken a more spiritual approach to their situation.
LOST is without question an ensemble show, with over a half dozen main characters already sharing the spotlight. That’s not even considering all the characters we’ll meet in the seasons that follow, and the show runners do a fantastic job of juggling all the talent available to them. But if one is asked to identify the main character on LOST, I have to assume that most of the responses would point to Jack Shephard, the conflicted doctor that finds himself elevated into a leadership role he has doesn't appear to want.
Jack is the first character we meet on the island as we’re with him from the moment his eyes jolt open in a world that’s foreign to him. We get to experience the fallout of Oceanic Flight 815’s crash through him, which cements a strong bond between audience and character. What’s happening to him is happening simultaneously to us, we feel his confusion and panic, and by the time “White Rabbit”, the fifth episode in season one, rolls around we’ve formed a solid relationship with Jack.
The island story opens with a tense situation, as Jack hears someone crying for help a good distance into the ocean. He swims out and saves the person who turns out to be Boone, but as he escorts him back to the beach Boone asks “did you save her?” It turns out that Boone was on a rescue mission himself, and as Jack looks back out to the water he sees a woman in trouble. The doctor, already exhausted from saving one person, immediately heads out on a second rescue mission, but quickly realizes any attempt will end in his own death.
A theme throughout the show’s run will be Jack’s desire, no his NEED to save people, never once considering the possibility that he might be the one requiring salvation. This is a broken man that thinks he can fix himself by fixing others, and his inability to look inward will result in a lot of heartbreak for both the survivors and himself. Jack may appear to be the most pulled-together person on the island, but this is nothing more than a fallacy.
While Jack initially does a great job of holding both himself and the group together, he is beginning to fall apart mentally from the stress of the situation. We saw this at the end of the previous episode and it continues here, as he sees the same still-unidentified man staring at him off in the distance, this time from just inside the ocean. There’s a beautiful creepiness to how the director handles the visuals in this episode, everything to do with the mysterious figure has a ghost-like quality that is far more disturbing than any computer-generated specter would be. It’s eventually revealed that the apparition is Jack’s father, who we learn via the episode’s flashback recently died in Australia.
Just like Kate and Locke before him, we gain a lot of insight into Jack’s character by exploring who he was before he boarded the ill-fated flight from Sydney to Los Angeles. Up to this point the flashbacks have shown events that happened not long before these characters got to the island, however Jack’s opens with him as a child. The scene is filmed in a way that is eerily similar to how the pilot episode opened, focusing on one of Jack’s eyes as he’s told by a playground bully to stay down on the ground or face further abuse. Even at such a young age Jack refuses to take the advice as a friend needs his help, and the bully delivers yet another punch to his face. Later on he discusses the situation with his father, who takes a sip of his drink before letting his son know that “he doesn’t have what it takes” to be heroic. His father’s casual cruelty is the genesis of Jack’s savior complex, and will fuel his son’s destructive tendencies throughout the coming seasons.
From here the flashback jumps to a more contemporary time as Jack’s mother is asking her son to retrieve his father from an unknown place, citing “what you did” as the reason for her husband’s impromptu disappearance. While we don’t know the specifics of what she’s referring to the look of instant pain on her son’s face displays how much her words have hurt Jack, not only serving as motivation for him to obey but also adding yet another mystery to LOST as we wonder what exactly Jack did to his father to make him leave.
Jack eventually ends up in Australia where he discovers that his father has drank himself to death. His attempt to transfer his father’s body back to Los Angeles is met with resistance by the Oceanic ticket agent, who tells him that he doesn’t have the correct paperwork to load a casket on their airplane. Matthew Fox is terrific throughout the entire episode but delivers a particularly strong performance in this scene, conveying to the audience the guilt he feels over his father’s death, along with his desperate desire to plant his dad in the ground so he can move on with his life.
By this point in the episode the pursuit of his father’s ghost has led Jack deep into the jungle, where a misstep sends him tumbling down a hill that nearly deposits him at the bottom of a deep ravine. He’s saved by none other than John Locke, who had gone in search of water, and the two share a conversation about leadership. Jack reiterates his father’s belief that he doesn’t have what it takes to be a leader, a statement that the more-spiritual Locke contradicts. The two eventually separate as Locke tells Jack he needs to catch the ghost he’s chasing, which leads Jack to a discovery that will change the course of the show’s first season. He finds a series of caves that would make a far better shelter than what is found on the beach, along with a fresh water source. Perhaps a more significant discovery is his father’s casket, and when Jack opens it to find the body missing he smashes it to pieces, a powerful symbolic gesture.
LOST continues to keep these early episodes tightly-focused on the main plot, but “White Rabbit” does feature a subplot that is pretty effective at fleshing out some of the secondary characters. The pregnant Claire collapses on the beach which prompts the other survivors to get some water for her, only to discover that their remaining supply has been stolen. Both Sawyer and the Korean couple Sun and Jin face accusations made by Kate and Sayid, who find that none of their suspects are guilty of the crime. At the end it’s revealed that Boone was the thief, having taken the remaining bottles of water in an attempt to ration their dwindling supply. Even though his intentions were good he finds himself momentarily ostracized from the group, with even the unpopular Sawyer acknowledging how despicable his actions were.
Next week on LOST: “House of the Rising Sun”, an episode that focuses on Sun and Jin.