Storytelling with Help from the Past

8e2a6b4a09e9e52b50fe6d2b070581d7The fourth episode of the first season titled “Walkabout” is the perfect example of LOST’s excellent storytelling. In my previous post I talked mostly about how LOST is a character driven narrative and therefore the main story of show is about the characters and their relationships with each other and the island. This Emmy nominated episode written by David Fury, known for his work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, focuses on the character of John Locke. Well that’s at least what I remembered before sitting down to watch this episode. However on my re-watch I noticed that while Locke’s story is the centerpiece there are at least four if not more stories going on, some of which get just as much screen time.

Each character has a part to play in this episode and these other plots provide a break from the main story while developing this community of characters that we will be seeing each week. Relationships are beginning to form that will stick throughout the series such as Hurley’s hatred of Sawyer, Charlie and Hurley’s friendship, Kate and Sayid’s friendship, Micheal’s friendship with Sun, and Jack’s reluctance to be the leader even though everyone is looking to him. When you look at the main plots of the episode it’s a boar hunt, trying to go fishing, triangulating a signal and setting up a memorial service. They aren’t complex stories but the character relationships that define these plot points are. One of the minor story lines involves Shannon getting Charlie to catch a fish for her. We continue to learn about how much of a brat Shannon in the way she uses other people but also see more into Charlie’s life as an heroin addict. He is happy to help Shannon with her problem and we see him happy while he tries to fish for her. Yet at the end of the episode when he discovers he was just being used we see him turn back to his heroin. It’s a noticeable difference in behavior, he doesn’t smile for the rest of the episode. This story beat illustrates Charlie’s struggle and why he uses yet the moment isn’t told to us through dialogue, it’s all in the way the character acts.

This episode demonstrates that the flashback structure pays off in large ways and isn’t just a crutch to keep viewer’s interested. It’s the first episode to open with a flashback and is reminiscent of the pilot episode opening with a shot of a person’s right eye, this time Locke. This illustrates the importance of Locke’s character since he is given the same opening as our “main character” Jack and also develops the idea of their relationship together. We are taken back in time to the day of the crash but see it through someone else’s perspective. As the opening progresses on a first viewing it just looks like Locke is dealing with the initial shock of the crash before it returns to present time. This is the beginning of the episodes hermeneutic code as we already have an enigma of who is this man and why are his feet so important. This flashback will be revisited later in the episode and we understand the full effect of this scene specifically why Locke seems so interested in his foot. Back in the present we are introduced to the lacks of this episode. We have seen in the past episodes the equilibrium of people working together to survive so far but now with the food gone we have a new issue, how are they going to survive without food. The villain of the episode, the boars, are also the source of food our survivors will hunt. It transitions to the opening credits which are very simplistic beginning with a title card reveal set to ominous music demonstrating the mystery and suspense of the show and then returning to the episode while the cast is detailed on the side during the show. LOST is a hybrid drama mixed with sci-fi and fantasy elements so while there is a series spanning story each episode also will have its own plots. There are constant character conflicts being introduced that audiences can identify with which keep them coming back along with the mysteries surrounding certain events. Even up to the last episode of this season there are new questions being asked and mysteries unraveling. A constant lack throughout the series is rescue which is also dealt with in this episode with the minor story line about triangulating the radio tower signal’s location.

The greatest part about LOST’s flashback structure is that we are learning about a character’s past struggle while they deal with a present one. The full effects of their past aren’t given to us until the final flashback. As Locke begins the boar hunt on the island we are just learning about his terrible office job and his desire to go on a Walkabout. While these events are taking place in two different times we are seeing them together and therefore will be relating them to each other. The flashbacks exist as puzzle pieces for the audience to work out as the episode progresses and at the end have a more complete idea of who this character is based on their struggles. In a similar way each episode acts as it’s own puzzle piece leading us to the wholeness of the series itself. Terry O’Quinn who plays John Locke steals the show in how he plays the two different sides of Locke. The moment when he throws the knife into seat and explains the correct way to hunt boars you see Locke as a crazy hunter and Hurley echoes the thought that is in the viewer’s mind, “Who is this guy?”. That question is answered for us immediately as it cuts to another flashback this time to off the island to a close up on Locke answering the phone with the other end asking “Colonel Locke is this line secure?”. This is broken by Locke’s boss asking him for TPS reports as we realize this guy is not any kind of special agent, he’s an office drone. And as the episode progresses we see both the hunter and desk jockey in Locke on and off the island. These exist as delays in the hermeneutic code. We are getting small answers about this character; we know he is a office worker and we are guessing about skills as a hunter. There are moments on the island where you realize just how out of his element Locke really is hunting these boar. After the first encounter with the boar John gets the wind knocked out of him and we see the weakness and fear in him for the first time on the island. This fear turns into determination as he goes off to hunt the boar himself guided by his motto, “Don’t tell me what I can’t do”. The final flashback provides the audience with a twist as we find out that Locke Locke was confined to wheelchair before arriving on the island. All of the delays and code lead up to this event as suddenly the entire episode clicks together in our minds, we understand his plight and we understand his desire. For Locke the hunt wasn’t about getting food, it was about proving himself, going on a “Walkabout” and overall completing his destiny. After all Locke doesn’t kill the boar the monster does. However when he emerges from the forest near the end of the episode he emerges a victor because he has found his destiny. Even though it answers an important enigma of the episode about Locke’s fascination with his feet it’s still just another delay of who this character really is. We are still left with partial answers and questions about Locke and an enigma that keeps us coming back.

Everything about this scene from acting to cinematography to music is outstanding.

The reveal of Locke’s disability is a defining moment for the show’s storytelling because it tells us three things. First it explains to the audience that these flashbacks are going to be massively important to our thoughts on these characters and how we define them. Secondly, it shows us that the way the story is told isn’t going to be entirely accurate, we aren’t going to know everything all at once. This is due in part to the way the flashbacks were filmed to hide Locke’s disability focusing mostly on medium shots. Thirdly, it brings the fantasy aspect of the shows genre into full force. We are now dealing with a person who was paralyzed four days ago but now can walk, also there is a giant “monster” in the woods. This also provides the narrative with a constant enigma. The audience is always asking questions about the islands mysteries which helps viewers want to return and expect resolutions. It’s after this reveal we see Locke stare into the fire we return to where the episode opened now realizing the true power of it before ending on hard cut to black, a staple of the show. The hard cut to black is impacted by the words LOST on the screen leaving the audience to take in everything that has happened during the episode while the credits roll over more suspense filled music. This is a jarring way to end an episode but closes each episode in a place where the audience is just begging for more information and knowledge making them engaged in tuning in again.

This story, like those being told in other episodes is also being told through more technical ways. One of the more hidden ways is through its soundtrack. Most of this episode features no music yet the parts that do relate to plot surrounding Locke. It’s a simple way of telling the audience, these scenes are more important than the other ones. There is also a clever use of color and its absence being used. Locke’s flashbacks all use dull coloring while events on the island are displayed in vivid color illustrating how much more alive Locke is on the island compared to his life off of it. There is also some great viewpoint shots of animals who are insignificant to the humans and yet there is a great shot near the end of the monster rising high above Locke from its perspective showing how insignificant he is. It’s also worth noting that the way the story is laid out with fairly anytime devoted to Locke’s story and his character being one concerned with not being taken for granted and yet he is doesn’t get much screen time even in his own episode. Yet the story I remember most from the episode is his. Overall “Walkabout” is a fan favorite for many in part due to it’s twist ending. But more than that this episode proved to audiences how LOST would tell it’s amazingly crafted narrative.



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