Lost Exegesis (Tabula Rasa)

One of the problems with Pilot episodes is that they’re made specifically in order to hook people (almost like fish) not just into watching a TV show, but to actually sign off on it being produced. As such, they tend not to be as representative of the series as a whole. So what a TV show has to do after its pilot is to kind of hit the reset button and start playing its cards, showing us what we might expect on a weekly basis going forward. As such, Tabula Rasa is a rather aptly named episode, given that it’s a fresh start for LOST, employing a number of techniques that we did not see previously.

For starters, we get a “Previously, on LOST” segment. It’s the sort of thing we’re all familiar with, nothing new under the sun in terms of TV, but just its very presence indicates what kind of show we’re dealing with, namely something that’s serialized. The vignettes in this segment briefly depict: the plane crash; the man wounded by shrapnel in his gut and Kate’s apparent interest in him; the fact no one has come yet to the Losties’ rescue; and a recapitulation of Locke’s explanation of backgammon to Walt (“Two players, two sides, one is light, one is dark”), that ends with Locke’s question to Walt, “Do you want to know a secret?”

The thing about a “previously” is that it’s supposed to remind us of what’s actually relevant in the previous episodes in terms of understanding what occurs in this one. Notably, then, we do not get anything about the Monster that tears down trees, or the Frenchwoman’s transmission, even though a significant portion of the character interactions in Tabula Rasa have to do with these big mythology questions. Furthermore, that bit with Walt and Locke is relatively long given that both characters are only part of a rather minor secondary plot thread in this episode. On the other hand, it certainly plays into the final shot of the episode, a shot full of foreboding, so it’s not like it’s pointless or anything.

Another new element is the use of a “cold open” before the show’s title card. It’s actually here that the two major mysteries established in the pilot episodes are recapitulated, as well as establishing the focus of the episode, namely the discovery of Kate’s mug shot by Jack and Hurley.

So it should not be too surprising that the episode ends up being Kate-centric. And that’s a term I use very specifically, given the third major conceit introduced by Tabula Rasa – the episode features five Flashbacks, all of them about Kate. The Flashbacks themselves end up serving as the B-plot of the episode, detailing Kate’s time in Australia: a drifter, she ends up getting work at Ray Mullen’s farm, but he betrays her for a $23,000 rewards, setting up her capture by the Marshal. So not only do we see how she ended up on the plane, we also get a hefty amount of characterization – Kate would do almost anything to escape, like crashing Ray’s truck, but when the truck catches fire she pulls him to safety, at the cost of her own freedom.…

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