"A leader can't lead until he knows where he's going." That's what John Locke tells Jack Shephard in White Rabbit, the first episode of LOST to focus on the doctor who has become the leader of the survivors of Flight 815, whether he wanted the job or not. Jack is adrift in this episode. Overworked and under-rested, he's had it with people asking him what to do, and he's consumed with guilt over the drowning death of Joanna, a woman he'd never even met. As he teeters on the edge of a breakdown, he begins seeing visions of his father in jungle...
In his flashbacks, we learn about the troubled relationship between Jack and his father, going all the way back to his childhood. We see that Jack's most enduring flaw is his inability to let go, to detach himself from the problems that surround him - but then, that was already pretty apparent from the first few episodes. And while his father Christian considered it a shortcoming, it's also a virtue, one for which many castaways will come to be grateful. Although we see Jack identify his father's body in Australia, Christian is one character who keeps turning up in flashbacks and on the Island, making him one of the show's most intriguing mysteries.
Father issues are something that most of the castaways have to deal with, and as Jack is the show's central character, his struggle with Christian becomes one of LOST's defining relationships. While it tells us a lot about Jack, there's a symbolic quality to it that gives it a universal quality. Indeed, not only does their relationship seem to say a lot about fathers and sons, one might argue that Christian is representative of humanity's attempt to grapple with God. At this point in his life, Jack the pragmatist sees God much like he sees his father - distant, disapproving, self-righteous despite his own failings. Someone who repeatedly says, "You don't have what it takes." Someone whose existence he cannot accept. As he comes to terms with his broken relationship with Christian Shephard, he also takes his first steps toward an openness to faith.
Not for the last time, John proves very helpful to Jack in helping him to sort out his mixed-up feelings. At the same time, he expresses what has already become apparent to viewers: this is no ordinary place. "I looked into the Eye of this Island," he tells Jack, "and what I saw was beautiful." While Jack eschews the strange and unnatural, John embraces it, even as he painstakingly collects rainwater from atop the leaves in the jungle. He's in sync with nature but yearns for something outside of it.
The stage is set for Boone to switch allegiances to John after another attempt at a rescue goes awry. Boone desperately wants to make himself useful, but when he sets out to rescue the flailing Joanna, Jack comes to his aid, not realizing until too late that someone needed his help more. Boone's bitterness begins to boil, and it doesn't help that when he tries to help by taking responsibility for the water, most of his fellow castaways turn on him. It's time for him to seek a new direction.
Kate takes a break from high-octane adventure as she and Claire get to know each other while sorting through the remaining clothes to find the most practical garments for Island life. This moment sets the stage for their future friendship, which will play such a major role in their development. It also begs the question of whether the castaways have some sort of community clothes closet or whether outfits are divvied up equally among the survivors. Most folks can share clothes, but poor Hurley is pretty much just stuck with what he came with.
He and Charlie are firmly established as buddies now, but after they look to Jack for direction that he doesn't want to provide, Charlie turns his focus to an ailing Claire. We see the seeds of rebellion in Sun, who resents the attempts by Jin to control her and keep her separate from the group, and Sayid continues to emerge as a third leader with a practical mindset. Meanwhile, though Walt consistently feels ignored and undervalued, this youngest member of the castaways tribe uses his powers of observation for good when he notices that Claire has fainted.
The literary allusions are even more prevalent in this episode that takes its name from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, a text that will be referenced multiple times throughout the series. The image of the white rabbit also invites comparisons to the movie Harvey, in which the main character claims to see a six-foot-tall white rabbit invisible to everyone else, and the Star Trek episode Shore Leave, in which Captain Kirk and his crew land on a strange planet where their thoughts, including a recollection of Alice's White Rabbit, become reality. Each of these associations suggests something different about the nature of the Island. Do any provide valid clues, or are they just leading us down rabbit holes leading to more confusion? Yet another literary allusion that feels very apt arrives courtesy of Sawyer, who praises Watership Down, the book he has been reading, and succinctly notes, "It's about bunnies." It's also about building a community in the wake of disaster, which is something the survivors must quickly learn to do.
Jack, as worn out as he is, realizes this, and he rallies in order to make an inspirational speech. "If we can't live together, we're gonna die alone," he says, and that becomes arguably the central quote of the series. Meanwhile, the main musical theme, at least to my mind, turns up in this episode for the first time in the form of Win One for the Reaper, the earliest variation on the Life and Death theme that so often accompanies the show's darkest and most uplifting moments. Live together, die alone. Life, death. That's what LOST is all about. And then some.