Lost - "Pilot" (Huh huh GEDDIT?)
I'm happy to say that the pilot is largely excellent. For those of you who don't know, Lost is the new series for ABC brought to us by JJ Abrams, creator of Alias. In this case, the premise involves a plane crashlanding on an island with an ensemble cast including Matthew Fox (Party of Five, Dominic Monaghan (Lord of the Rings), Terry O'Quinn (Alias, X-Files, Millennium), Daniel Dae Kim (24) and newcomer Evangeline Lilly. It debuts on September 22, Wednesday at 8pm (Oh no! Same time as America's Next Top Model! Oh no!).
Lost shares an essential trait with Alias, that being its level of suspense. JJ's shown his ability to create gripping situations in Alias, but that's in an espionage context, whereas Lost, at least judging by the pilot, is closer to horror (though not in a slasher nu-Dawn of the Dead mode, probably closer to the psychological terror of Lord of the Flies and Heart of Darkness).
Where Lost probably differs most from Alias is its focus is on a sparer plot and the characters, i.e. at the end of the episode, the wig count was zero.
Jack (Fox) -- Among the ensemble, so far he occupies the lead role, and so, in small ways, resembles the superheroic Sydney Bristow. Probably the most worrisome thing about Jack is that he seems to know a ton of stuff that helps to advance the plot -- he's a doctor so he can save people, and he's taken flying lessons so he knows to look for a transceiver.
Charlie (Monaghan) -- A stock character at this point, Charlie's the obligatory useless and hapless urbanite. His first big scene is of the forced-humor variety. Of course, he got the biggest applause from the audience.
Locke (O'Quinn) -- It was nice to see JJ let O'Quinn smile for once (his character on Alias was a sour, humorless plot device). I don't recall any speaking lines from him, but nonetheless he has presence, the combination of which made him into a shamanistic character; at one point, a torrential downpour hits the island. Everyone scrambles for cover except Locke, who sits, cross-legged, letting the rain wash over him as though he were being cleansed into a holy man. He has the definite aroma of a man who is trying to put something behind him.
The rest of the characters haven't yet had time to stand out, especially Kate (Lilly), who sort of hangs off of Jack's elbow.
And Greg Grunberg makes an uncredited appearance (tip-off that he's not surviving the episode).
Now analysis of specific plot points.
The direction, especially in the first act, is superb, courtesy of JJ himself (surprise!). It opens with Jack waking up in a field, then racing to the beach to see the wreckage and passengers (most of the bodies shown, strangely, happen to be alive). General and aimless panic coupled with barely audible dialogue reinforces the danger that the survivors are still in. And for the cherry on top of this hellish scene, one of the plane's engines is still in tact, its intermittent whirring, like the electrified footfalls of coming death, forcing out all other sounds to create sonic claustrophobia.
Another point for the direction is its construction of parallelism. While we witness the plane hitting the deadly turbulence, the crash-proper is left unseen (there are pragmatic reasons for not showing it, of course: audience sensitivity to mid-air catastrophe; the cost of filming a crash); in a different scene, Jack throws a leaf cut into the shape of a plane, which final descent is just off camera. A leitmotif of the unseen works to the advantage of the episode, not only in terms of the mysterious menace stalking the survivors, and if there had been no depiction of the plane at all, it would have underscored the barren hopelessness of the survivors. The Unseen not only avoids cliche, but in delaying the portrayal of the crash suggests the loss of biography for the characters, whom circumstance deprives of personal history, thus increasing anxiety and approximating reality tv's predominant mode of solipsistic self-containment. (Reality tv is relevant, given the similarity of the basic conceit between Lost and Survivor.)
And while the initial flatness of the characters seems detrimental to the episode, it may speak to their deprivation of history, thus remaining consistent with the aesthetics presented in this episode.