It’s Debate Day here on Trope & Dagger! Every show has one, so this week we’re picking sides on the very best TV pilot ever made! If you want to read up on Andy’s rambling nonsense, you can go here: Encounter at Farpoint: The Best Pilot of All Time. Now, let me tell you all about the correct choice for TV’s best pilot!
The Pilot episode. The first display of a show that anyone will lay their eyes upon. There have been many great pilots over the years that have sucked in audiences right away and had them salivating for more. Of course, for every great pilot there have been dozens of real shit piles, as well. But the great ones really stick with you, and there is one that stands head and shoulders above the rest:
The LOST Pilot episode.
If you haven’t seen it, the LOST pilot episode really is the best pilot episode that has ever been made. Those who have seen it know what I’m talking about. Written by J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof, this pilot is the perfect first episode for a TV series. Regardless of what you think of the rest of the run, all the half-answered questions and ridiculous explanations (seriously, a magic cork? Whatever), it’s near impossible to say that the pilot is not the most engrossing first episode ever. From the premiere shot we’re sucked into the world of the island and LOST.
We don’t know whose eye it is, we don’t know why we’re focused on it, but looking directly into that eyeball, which is staring back at us with panic and intensity, you’re immediately curious. You can tell from this first shot that the show isn’t a straightforward action or drama, that it will be full of artistic moments where the storytellers aren’t afraid to have beautiful and creative shots speak for themselves and be open for some interpretation. Some might say that I’m reading too far into one single moment, but I think that it’s a bold move to not have any sort of set-up at all before having an intense close up on someone’s eye, nothing else.
So the audience comes a little late to the party, apparently. We see a man in a suit laying in the middle of bamboo, he seems confused and disoriented. A strange noise comes from the jungle, we’re unsure what it is, could something be hunting this man? Then a happy doggy shows up, instead. Not the last time this show will turn our expectations on their heads. The man follows the dog through the jungle, there is a strange sound in the distance that is slowly growing louder. As we approach the sound it becomes more and more foreboding, more dangerous sounding, but the man presses on. He then comes upon a scene that explains why a man in a suit was laying in the middle of the jungle, why he’s so disoriented, why a dog is randomly running around, and we, the audience are shocked by what we see.
People running, screaming, dying, due to a horrible plane crash. This scene is intense, scary, and ultimately brilliant in the way that it introduces us to many of the characters we will be following throughout the run of this show. We are enthralled as we watch this man, who we don’t even know yet, do his best to try and save as many people as he can. He is just running around trying to put out fires (figuratively), dragging a man from under some wreckage, helping a pregnant woman who says she is having contractions, giving CPR to a dying woman. This is a fast and frantic scene, and it is the first one in the entire show.
Not only is it an exciting way to start the show, but as I said before, it is a brilliant way to introduce us to characters. It does a great job showing us how the characters behave in a crisis and giving us quick glimpses into the personalities of the people we are going to follow on this journey. Locke is brave and eager to help others, Hurley is willing to help but not quick on his feet, Claire is a directionless and looking for someone to help her, Boone is trying to help but has no clue what he’s doing, and Michael is already screaming “WAAAAAALLLLLLLLTTT!” at the top of his lungs (it started early in the show). Other characters we just get glimpses of, but even those glimpses, like seeing Charlie simply wandering around the wreckage, give us an idea of what those characters are like. It really was a brilliant way to introduce us to their personalities.
Then we have the search for the plane’s transceiver that Jack, Kate, and Charlie set out upon. The night of the crash, Jack and Kate decide they must search for it in order to send a distress signal. As they are discussing it, they also hear strange, roaring noises coming from the jungle. So aside from simply being stranded, there now appears to be dangerous wildlife on the island with them. Great. But they head out the next day, accompanied by Charlie, to find the transceiver anyways. They locate the cockpit leaning against a tree and find the pilot still alive in it. He tells them that they are so far off course that it is unlikely that anyone searching for them is looking anywhere close to where they actually are. The roaring that they heard the night before then returns and something rips the pilot out of the cockpit and into the jungle! Holy fucking shit. They find his bloody body hanging from a tree, and their situation has just become that much more dire.
Like, holy fucking hell, this show isn’t pulling any punches. Not only did a slew of people die in the plane crash, but they just killed off the captain immediately after the group found him! Something mysterious and powerful (Dinosaurs? Aliens? Robot Kill Machines?) apparently roams the island and is not afraid to maim and murder people. I mean, I know that I was into the premise already, but this was kicking it into boner inducing territory..
Then, back with the group, the audience could already see how interesting these characters are and how they interact were going to be. Sawyer was accusing Sayid of blowing up the plane, Walt found some handcuffs that someone on the plane was wearing, and Jack and Michael have to calm everyone down. Afterwards, when a group has gone inland to try and get a better signal for the transceiver, the US marshal, who had been unconscious, awakens and asks “Where is she?” Everyone had assumed it was a man who was in the handcuffs, but it was KATE ALL ALONG! Is she dangerous to the group?
Meanwhile, the group heading inland kills a fucking POLAR BEAR. Why the hell is a damn polar bear on a tropical island? Then, when they reach higher ground and Sayid turns on the transceiver, its signal is blocked by a transmission of a french woman saying “I’m alone now, on the island alone. Please someone come. The others… they’re dead. It killed them. It killed them all.” Sayid then calculates that the message has been transmitting for 16 pants-shitting years! The pilot ends with Charlie asking:
If you can watch all of that and not be completely intrigued by what is going on, then you must have the discipline of a goddamn Tibetan monk, because that is some enthralling television right there. It reportedly went way over budget during filming, but holy hell was it worth it. The episode looks amazing, the feel of the show was complete and intact from the very beginning, and it is the pinnacle of television pilots. It is exciting, it sets up riveting characters, and gives us so much mystery that we can barely handle it! I mean, seriously, is there any other pilot episode that gets you more pumped for a series than this one? And that is the entire point of a pilot, to get you excited and interested! This episode is the definition of that. It really is, in my esteemed opinion, the greatest television pilot ever made.
So what do you think? Am I eloquently and gloriously correct, or is Andy right, I guess? Sound off in our poll below!