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.
The first episode’s most haunting moment occurs when Locke opens his mouth and its interior seems to glow a supernatural fluorescent orange. A moment later we realize that he’s merely chewing gum, but the point has been made that the mind-blowing cosmic and the homely quotidian are one and the same. With that foundation laid, and thanks to O’Quinn’s gravitas, when flashbacks reveal Locke as a loser—a pathetic, womanless, boss-pecked cubicle jockey, complete with polyester tie and cheap Andy Sipowicz–style short-sleeved dress shirt—we accept his emergence in the forward action as the macho paramilitary survivalist of his own dreams, the warrior-sage who may well prove the salvation of his people. Yes, even schmendricks like us may rise to be bodhisattvas.
But "Lost’s" deepest dharmic resonance is probably the experience of lostness itself. Ironically, as the characters struggle to get unlost, viewers tune in precisely to get lost—not only to hang out vicariously on a lush uncharted island a thousand miles off course somewhere between Sydney and L.A., but to get good and disoriented by the ever-twisting, ever-widening plot. To plunge into lostness is to plunge into mystery, to run off the narrow rails of reason into the wide realm beyond, where one hand can clap and jungles can harbor polar bears. It’s a setting forth, out of the insulated palace of the comfortable and familiar, into the (initially) scary actual world, where nothing is permanent or certain. This is what, in another tradition, is called the fear of the Lord and the beginning of wisdom.