“Solitary” (season 1, episode 9; originally aired 11/17/2004)
Où l’on rencontre la femme française.
To say that Lost’s mythology has been absent since the series’ pilot at this stage in its first season would be a lie. Small mysteries—Adam and Eve, for example—have been sprinkled throughout, and Locke ran into the Monster on his walkabout, and the characters have continued to remind us of these details as the season has gone on. However, the characters have first and foremost been focused on survival, without the time to focus entirely on mysterious distress calls, polar bears, or tree-destroying creatures roaming the jungle.
“Solitary” represents a key moment of transition for the series, as we get our first direct access to the island’s mythology through Danielle Rousseau, the woman behind the distress call. What was originally pitched as a part of the island’s history becomes part of its present: the woman herself has lived alongside her message, holed up in a bunker with car batteries for electricity, and guns to defend herself. After Sayid ends up in one of her traps following a cable running from the ocean into the jungle, she tortures him for information about Alex, whom we later learn is her child. Rousseau, once a mystery of the island, emerges here to set off a whole new string of mysteries, in the process giving the audience new questions to ask one another at the water cooler.
It’s a mythology restock, if you will. Rousseau thinks Sayid is one of “The Others,” but she doesn’t know about the plane crash, suggesting there are more people on the island. She says “they” control the power source for her signal, and that they were the “carriers” of whatever virus killed her fellow researchers after they were shipwrecked on the island years earlier. She mentions “The Black Rock” without explaining what it is, and says she hasn’t seen the other people on the island, but she’s heard their whispers. She knows of the bears—she uses the plural—but insists that there are no “monsters.” We also learn she shot her own husband to keep the virus from spreading.
It’s a lot to take in, and it pushes the theories and the mysteries back into the foreground in a big way. However, it avoids feeling like an info dump because David Fury’s script and Mira Furlan’s performance combine to turn Rousseau into an unreliable historian of the island in the best way. Rousseau has been on this island for over sixteen years, and it shows in her ramshackle bunker, her unkempt appearance, and the fact she tortures Sayid for information before even asking him a cursory question about his identity. Whereas Sayid’s torture had some difficulty finding narrative motivation, Rousseau’s actions are rooted in the likelihood that being on the island would drive her insane, such that it becomes unclear how much of what she’s telling us is information we can trust. The episode ends with Sayid rushing through the jungle at dusk and hearing the whispers that Rousseau referred to, but does this mean the rest of what she says is true? She’s mentally unhinged enough that any straight questions Sayid asks are given vague answers, extending the island’s mysteries more than solving them, but Furlan does a nice job keeping the character off-balance to ground this delay tactic in character rather than in plot.
That’s Lost’s greatest challenge, and one the flashbacks are designed to help solve. Rousseau tells Sayid as she tortures him that “I know what you are,” which is the kind of loaded statement the flashbacks are designed to push against. Sayid’s flashback not surprisingly sends us back into his time in the Republican Guard, and also intersects with the photo Claire found while sorting through luggage. It’s a tragic love story at its core, as Sayid falls in love with a childhood crush, Nadia, who arrives as a suspect in a bombing. At stake in the flashback is whether he is defined by his job, or whether he remains the sweet young boy he was before he started torturing people for a living. Beyond the basic connection to Sayid’s torturing of Sawyer in the previous episode, though, it poses a larger question of how people change when their lives take unexpected turns. In truth, everyone changes: Rousseau is not the same woman she was sixteen years earlier, for example, and many of the castaways have been forced to think about how they’ll change in this new environment. But Sayid’s flashback asks whether change must overwrite who you once were, and whether there are certain actions you take that erase whatever else you’ve done in your life.
As the series continues to build bridges between the characters and the island, as it does with Rousseau here, it begins to take these larger trends in character development and map them onto the investigation into the island as a whole. While Rousseau’s introduction does a lot to humanize “the island” as an ongoing concern in the series, this is still largely a show about the castaways confronting the vast unknowns of their surroundings. These early episodes have focused on forms of conflict between castaways, and within castaways, but “Solitary” starts to push toward filling out the idea that the mysteries of the island will come into conflict with the castaways directly, and through other characters as opposed to monsters or polar bears.
It comes alongside one of the series’ most memorable B-stories, itself an important transition in the opposite direction. Although Lost has shown itself willing to crack a joke, and has found time for levity in smaller stories like Charlie’s quest to catch a fish for Shannon or Charlie’s discovery of imaginary peanut butter for Claire, it has largely bounded those stories off into the supporting cast of Charlie and Hurley, specifically. Hurley’s introduction of Island Golf is the first time the majority of the castaways have been focused on something that wasn’t distinctly about survival: Jack cracks a smile, Michael stops smothering his son (by completely forgetting to supervise him, mind you, but it’s still progress in its own way), and the resident hypochondriac symbolically stops focusing on his hives. It may only be a B-story, but it makes the argument that Lost’s makeshift community is not going to develop without some form of recreation.
I suggest it makes an argument because we are still at the stage where Lost is telling us what kind of show it is. As much as the golf gives Sawyer a chance to show he’s willing to play the social game to avoid becoming a pariah, it also gives the show a chance to make sure we know that it won’t be torturing castaways every week, and that any elements of mystery will be coupled with stories driven by characters like Hurley or Charlie. So many of the shows that would come after Lost attempting to tap into the same well of serial mystery failed because they never took the time to stop and play golf. While the flashbacks ensured the series always had access to more linear human stories to go along with its mythology, episodes like this one also worked to consistently bring the two together, finding moments like Jack’s do-or-die putt on the final hole to reassure the audience that no number of mysteries could erase the castaways and their role at the heart of the series.
Subsequent seasons would put this notion to the test, but at least here is results in a very strong episode that jumpstarts the season’s mysteries without obscuring the fact humanity remains in the driver’s seat.
- I imagine some people forget that Naveen Andrews joined Terry O’Quinn in earning an Emmy nomination for the show’s first season, and he’s great here in what is his first time anchoring an episode.
- Todd mentioned in his review on “House Of The Rising Sun” that the balance between English and subtitles is an ongoing concern in the series, and here we see them do a few minutes of Arabic and subtitles before using a pan across the prisoner’s head to transition to English with the understanding it is for dramatic effect. It’s still a cheat, but at least they tried to justify it within the visual codes of the episode itself.
- “Solitary” introduces us to two new speaking role castaways: the hypochondriac, and Ethan, who we meet after he helped Locke find the luggage that included the golf clubs. I’m always primed to speaking roles as a sign actors could become more important later, so something to keep an eye on, right?
- Am I the only person who golfs left-handed who spent the entire episode thinking that it must have sucked to have the one thing providing levity be dramatically skewed against you?
- Rousseau’s story raises so many questions that Sayid doesn’t even get a chance to ask what’s up with the cable running into the ocean. So, let’s ask: Um, what’s up with the cable running into the ocean?
- “Things could be worse.” “…HOW?!”—Hurley is comic relief, sure, but he’s also a voice of reason in situations where characters like Jack are a bit lost in the plot.
- Trending away from previous episodes that built in some foreshadowing for the following flashback, we get no scenes with Claire here, and instead get a focus on Michael’s artist past (in his sketch of a bamboo aqueduct) and Walt’s interest in hunting.
- Of the various nicknames that Sawyer is throwing out early on, some didn’t stick: while Freckles would of course become a staple, Dr. Quinn didn’t resonate for Jack, although I really wish it would have.
“Raised By Another” (season 1, episode 10; originally aired 12/01/2004)
In which deciding her child’s fate leads Claire to her own(?)
On the surface, Claire’s flashback would seem to be the least “necessary” as it relates to unknown details about the castaways. Although the specific details surrounding her pregnancy may be unclear, Emilie de Ravin has quite literally worn her character’s identity since the start of the series. Claire is “the pregnant one,” and there has been no specific effort to turn that into a mystery beyond her confirmation that the father wasn’t on the plane. Even if we take that as a mystery, it’s not exactly a riveting one, given how many young women become single mothers when young men like Thomas get scared of commitment. The story of a young woman who gets pregnant unexpectedly and has her boyfriend walk out on her, while awful in its own way, feels more “typical” than Sawyer’s tragic childhood, or Kate’s time as a fugitive, or Sayid shooting himself and a superior officer, or Jin’s bloody hands, or Charlie’s drug addiction, or Locke being able to walk, or even Jack’s fairly rote but transnational case of daddy issues.
Its pedestrian truths about her circumstances aside, however, Claire’s is somewhat surprisingly the first flashback in the entire series to actively argue that one of the castaways was fated to get onto Oceanic Flight 815. While it’s clear the island has given Kate, Locke, and Charlie the ability to escape their pasts, and we could argue it’s given Jin and Sun the chance to start a new life together away from her father, this is the first time we’ve seen evidence in the months leading up to the flight that would suggest some other force guiding them onto this flight and thus this island. Claire didn’t just get on Oceanic Flight 815 at random: She was given her ticket by a psychic who became obsessed with her after being startled by her “blurry” future, and who strongly believes she is the only one who can raise her child lest terrible consequences occur. Although she believed she was traveling to Los Angeles to give her child to good parents, there is plenty of evidence that she was bringing her child to the island, where her desire to give it up for adoption would be complicated by the whole being stranded on an island situation.
As previous reviews have identified, we can extend this theme well beyond Claire, but this is the first flashback to push the mysticism of the island into the realm of the flashback. It’s the show peddling in the typical genres of the supernatural, with the flashback’s psychic matched up with Claire’s prophetic dream featuring Locke as a tarot card reader and a puddle of blood in her baby’s crib. The latter is very Twin Peaks, while the former starts to ask questions about how the mysterious island might connect with those in our own society who claim a connection to some other power. What exactly was the psychic picking up? Is there some sort of larger power behind the plane crash? Did it make it so the pens wouldn’t work? Was all of this fated to happen? Or should we be skeptical of this mysticism?
There’s been a lot of conversation around Damon Lindelof’s return to television with The Leftovers, where these questions about fate are—at least for now—intended as rhetorical ones. By comparison, Lost introduces these questions about fate right after pushing its mythology to the forefront of the narrative in “Solitary,” and continuing to flesh out the island mysteries with the sudden appearance of Ethan Rom. And there’s lots of details in Claire’s flashback that we can pull out and investigate as clues, and which push us further into considering how the island might have brought each of these people here for a reason. From this point forward, every flashback arrives both with questions from the past—“What did Kate do?” for instance—and a guiding question of why that person might have been brought to this island.
“Raised By Another” places the fate of Claire’s character in the middle of these questions. Jack argues that what she’s experiencing is simply what happens when you’re pregnant in such a difficult situation: Anxiety explains the night terrors, and the sleepwalking, and the belief that someone stuck a needle into her during the night. And although we see her dream and see the hand on her throat, it’s just as possible we’re seeing things from her perspective, and Jack is right. But given everything we learn in “Solitary,” and everything we’ve seen on the island to date, we have plenty of reason to doubt Jack’s argument, and to take Claire at her word. We’ve reached the stage where we know more than almost any single castaway (Locke potentially excluded), and where it’s impossible to hear about something like the attack on Claire and not start connecting the dots on our mental conspiracy walls.
To this point in rewatching the series, I’ve never entirely known how much my read was being influenced by knowing what happens in subsequent seasons. However, I feel pretty confident saying that these two episodes are the ones that pushed the show firmly into theory territory, expanding well beyond the mysteries set up in the pilot and doubling down on the ones established there. It not only introduces the idea of there being other people on the island, but it even shows us one of them, stealthily introduced in the previous episode. It continues to build the mystical qualities of the island while pushing them into the flashbacks, raising the stakes for when we visit the pasts of other characters in the same fashion. Nearing the midpoint of the first season, we’ve reached the point where the stakes of survival have shifted from building a community to protecting one.
It’s tempting when rewatching a series to try to pinpoint the episodes that best exemplify the series; these are not the best episodes, mind you, but the ones that feel the most indicative of the basic themes and structures of the series as a whole. And while the coming seasons will bring tremendous change, these two episodes feel like the first that go all-in on Lost as a serialized mystery. Neither attempt to create a happy ending: Sayid ends “Solitary” in the jungle with the whispers, and it’s as though his return to camp spreads the chaos further as Claire and Charlie run into the mysterious Ethan Rom on their way back to the caves. There is no montage connecting all the characters together. There is no attempt to argue for the sustainability of this series over multiple seasons to please broadcast executives. And although David Fury has discussed how the network tried to cut down on the heavy science fiction in “Solitary,” there is still plenty of the supernatural floating through the episodes to suggest an easy explanation is out of the picture.
It’s possible some could therefore argue this is the point at which Lost created certain expectations, a contract to solve these mysteries and to make these mysteries its primary focus. And more than usual, there will be lots of spoiler-based discussion in this review, fastforwarding ahead to when these various nuggets are—or are not—dealt with in more detail down the road. Although future episodes will dive deeper into the show Lost becomes over its six seasons, episodes that are perhaps more representative of the show at its best and worst, “Raised By Another” and “Solitary” feel like the first that expand beyond the pilot to narrow in on just what the future holds for the castaways and their new home away from home.
- I could have mentioned this at any point earlier in the season, but it’s so effective to have Emilie de Ravin using her real accent, both because it makes Claire that much more charming and because it adds one more space where the show reinforces that it isn’t about a bunch of Americans trapped on an island.
- It’s a little weird to go to Claire after two episodes where she did not appear whatsoever, and it means there’s an added jolt to the opening dream sequence and its evocative use of de Ravin’s sans-baby-bump side profile.
- Daddy issues alert: Thomas uses Claire’s father abandoning her as a point of attack during his argument for why he’s leaving her, and her one condition before signing away her child is about a song he sang to her as a little girl? I’m going to go out on a limb and say we’ve got some daddy issues over here.
- “Hurley’s just a nickname. Why? I’m not telling”—Did the Internet turn every little thing into a potentially major mystery? I don’t remember clearly, but on rewatching I’m imagining entire comment threads speculating on how Hurley got his nickname.
- “I am so not moving to the rape caves!”—This is a fun line from Shannon, but it comes after some awkward topical Patriot Act talk from Boone that doesn’t even really make sense, which contributes nicely to the “Boone is kind of the worst” runner ongoing at the moment.
- Claire’s flashback is a rare case of the show having a character acknowledge they’re having a flashback within the episode itself, as Claire narrates her realization the psychic knew the plane was going to crash.
- In case you’re wondering, my read on television dream sequences always goes directly to Twin Peaks, and then directly to Chief Wiggum’s dream in “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” I definitely wrote “Look in Burns’ Suit” in my notes, right next to pointing out Locke’s black/white eyes.
Spoiler Station (Don’t read if you haven’t watched the whole series):
- Where do I even start? More than “House Of The Rising Sun,” “Solitary” was the episode where I found myself jumping ahead of the show. While there was a thrill in having more concrete questions to debate on the TWoP forums watching the episode for the first time, there’s an equal thrill in thinking ahead to Artz and the Black Rock, or Charlie and the Looking Glass, or Ethan’s role in the events to come.
- And the mysteries mostly hold up! I’ve got questions about how Rousseau would have never seen “The Others” given what we now know about the Dharma Initiative, but I think Fury’s script does a nice job seeding Rousseau’s mental state as a way to protect against embellishment such that “only whispers” ends up being justified by “they’re just really sneaky and she’s a little crazy, you guys.”
- “You’ll see me in the next life, if not in this one”—given what we now know about the island, and the series finale, this only makes me more frustrated that Sayid’s flash sideways revelation comes from Shannon of all people. I get that to some degree it shows that his real island journey was moving on from this hope that he would be reunited with Nadia, but Sayid is terribly served by the final season in general and yet from the very beginning has a back story with clear thematic parallels to what the series is invested in at the very end.
- De Ravin’s hiatus from the series makes it tough to keep track of Claire, but given the importance of pregnancy moving forward hers is actually one of the character arcs that feels the most designed around the island mythology, which I wouldn’t have necessarily thought after finishing the series (where her involvement early on gets lost based on her multiple-season absence).
- I was really hoping they had snuck a squirrel into Claire’s dream, but alas: Squirrel Baby apparently wasn’t in the five-year-plan.
Next week: “We have to go back [to find out more about Jack and Kate’s pasts in our first repeat flashbacks]!”