A closed eyelid fills the screen. Suddenly it swings wide open, and the pupil, at first dilated, immediately contracts, as if reacting to brilliant light. That’s the first shot of the first episode of Lost, ABC’s phenomenally successful dramatic series, now in its second season. Several variations of this image recur in later episodes—a tantalizing hint that somehow the show is an allegory of the process of awakening, of opening to the light of awareness. More hints will follow.
In the next few shots we see the owner of the eye, a thirtysomething man in a suit and tie, incongruously lying on his back in a bamboo grove. Then he remembers or realizes that he has just been in a jetliner crash on a tropical island and starts running toward the screams of other survivors; the story lurches into action, and after that it never stops lurching. Following in the long and winding lineage of Robinson Crusoe, Lord of the Flies, Gilligan’s Island, and Survivor, Lost presents the tribulations and improvisations of the marooned as they cope with the loss not only of civilization’s physical amenities but of the veneer of civilized behavior.
We see friendships formed or broken over a jar of peanut butter, rival factions, shifting loyalties, hidden agendas, kidnappings, clubbings, the old bamboo-shoots-under-the-fingernails torture, end-of-episode feel-good reconciliations and redemptions, and, hey, look—a message in a bottle. There are also frequent flashbacks to the pre-crash lives of the passengers. They include a doctor and an engineer as well as a washed-up rock star, a former Iraqi Republican Guard, a slacker lottery winner, and a murderer or two, who together certainly represent a richer if only slightly more realistic cross-section of society than the millionaire and his wife, the movie star, the professor, and Mary Ann. Aside from the token funny fat guy, the plane seems to have specialized in carrying attractive people, and the passing weeks on the island have miraculously scant effect on their hairdos and makeup.
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