Jurassic Park meets Survivor. That’s what it initially looked like to me.
When ABC debuted its new series LOST on September 22, 2004, I thought I had a pretty good idea what I was going to get. The ads showed a plane crash. survivors. and something scary in the jungle. This would be a primetime thriller that could be a fun way to spend weeknights. What caught me by surprise was just how dramatic this show would get. How much I would care about the characters. And how impressive a tv budget can be. LOST may not have invented the wheel, but it changed the television landscape at a time when programming was boring me.
I think one of the beautiful things about LOST is it has a little something for everyone. It’s science. It’s religion. It’s supernatural. It’s action. It’s romance. It’s pretty addictive, and years later, as the dust settles on a very polarizing finale, I find, having re-watched it recently, that it still completely holds up. Is it perfect? no. Your mileage will vary depending on what matters most to your viewing enjoyment. If mysteries, questions and answers dominated the way you watched, you’re inclined to be more disappointed by the time its all over. Many have gone so far as to write-off the entire series just because of the ending. But if story and emotion rules the day, you will come away much more satisfied with the journey of these amazing and unique characters. This is where I fall, and even though I’d love to say and discuss about the entirety of this amazing program, I’d like to at least briefly, take a look back at LOST’s run, and point out some highs and lows.
The first thing I’d like to note is that the non-linear narrative can be viewed in chronological order if you know where to look. That’s just what I did, and surprisingly, it holds up. Not every single little thing connects, but for the most part- and we’re talking close to 90% here- the writers actually did a commendable job of making sure all the stories and all the timelines actually sync up. Nowhere is this more apparent then the simple tracing of John Locke’s receding hairline throughout the years.
Now, for the observations:
Across the Sea still sucks. “Every question I answer will simply lead to another question”- Mother. Compared to the rest of the series, this exposition dump of an episode just tries to hard, while still deciding to be frustratingly elusive. Equal parts obvious and vague, I actually have a whole review I wrote about it at the time of airing, and re-reading it, I still agree completely with me.
Jin and Sun’s backstory is way more clear. The added hurdle of a language barrier made it tricky to follow when broken up in chunks. It also didn’t help that so many of their flashbacks played with time already. Thankfully, it still doesn’t change the fact that they are my favorite LOST couple.
1977 works as a singular story. Season 5 is easily my least favorite of the show. I didn’t care for the time-jumping, and the Dharma Initiative backstory was confusing juxtaposed with The Others. But seeing it this way clears up quite a bit, and makes for some of the most fun nods later on, when we see bits and pieces of the remains of their once thriving community. This is also Sawyer’s strongest material. Loved the relationship with him and Juliet.
Jacob’s little visits don’t fit in. The story flow has such a groove to it. And Lost is so naturalistic most of the way. So any time Jacob pops in to “touch” one of the characters (who we later learn will be his ‘Candidates’) it feels very out of place, and only serves to remind me who much I disliked just about everything that had to do with him and his mystic mumbo jumbo.
Things like Jack and Sarah, as well as Juliet’s recruitment, contain so much heartbreak. Hurley’s stories don’t carry the weight that many of the others do. Sure, this is probably intentional because Hugo was more of the comic relief guy, but, stuff like the invisible friend, or the meteorite hitting his chicken shack is just dumb and absurd. And that’s saying something with a show that features a smoke monster. And this may be the fault of Jorge Garcia, but even when things are supposed to get dramatic for him, I’m unsure if they are meant to play for laughs.
Michael’s story is more sympathetic (his ex did him wrong) and Locke’s story arc is all the more tragic. It’s nothing but a series of rejections, and between his father and the kidney, to losing Helen, and being turned away from the walkabout, he’s a sad man, who’s purpose- or search for purpose on the island feels even more meaningful. Although it should be noted he’s not in the wheelchair for that long a time in his life.
The buildup to the fateful flight is most exciting watching chronologically, with multiple perspectives, including The Others prepping on the ground.
Season 1 still stands out for its impeccable writing and smart, characters. The dynamic and tension between these strangers feels very organic.
Surprisingly, the hated Nikki and Paulo feel more natural, when they’re integrated in (in fact, Nikki’s Expose intro is kind of awesome). They still disappear for long chunks, and at the very least, should have been there for important group moments like the raft launch, or the funerals.
If the LOST seasons were a set of kids, a group of friends, Season 2 would be the bad boy of the bunch. This is the season with a little more attitude, and a little more edge with the tension about The Others. The body count racks up, and characters are betraying each other more than ever. It even screws with the audience, playing with the idea that the Island was all in Desmond’s head, and introduces Michael Emmerson, who will be a long-form villain of the series going forward. Not for nothing, the actresses who played Ana Lucia and Libby had to be written off after getting busted in real-life with DWIs, and there were rumors, actor who played Mr. Eko didn’t get along with the rest of the cast. At least Mr. Eko gets a great full-circle story that comes to a satisfying close, perhaps more than any other character.
This exchange is one of my favorites:
Locke: “Why do you find it so hard to believe?” Jack: “Why do you find it so easy?” Locke: “It’s never been easy!” This pivotal argument basically acts as the mission statement for the entire series, and the clash of these points of views will be the strongest theme to run through the rest of the show.
So if Season 2 is the bad boy, Season 3 is the misunderstood middle child. Sure, it drags in places, there is too much filler. No we didn’t need to know about how Jack got his tattoos, but we also didn’t need to know why Desmond called people “brother” and we didn’t need an entire episode dedicated to Locke’s smoke teepee because he suddenly can’t speak anymore. But it’s hard to deny that the time our heroes spent in those cages wasn’t fascinating, building the love triangle even stronger. After the mid-season break, just about everything clicked. Juliet was a breakout new character, and Jack stuck his neck out for her. The submarine, the barracks, the sonic fence, I think this is LOST’s most fascinating season, and it builds brilliantly to the death of charlie and the game-changing flashforward (Through the Looking Glass); S3’s finale is easily the best of the series, and that’s saying something because Lost was masterful at finales.
Things only ramped up from there. The war with Charles Whidmore and the oncoming freighter. the splitting of the camps, and Locke in a leadership role were all great new developments. Season 4 was the first since season 1 to get an Emmy nomination for Best Drama again, and boy did they deserve it. It holds The Constant, which many, including the creators think is the best episode of the series. For my money, The Shape of Things to Come is probably my favorite episode ever, though. Desmond’s hysteria can wear me out from time to time.
I enjoyed Daniel Faraday quite a bit. But he can be annoyingly cryptic. Sometimes he- and other characters need to just spit it out. Him and Penny being half-siblings is one coincidence too many, though.
The Oceanic 6 was an awesome conceit. That homecoming scene…nice to see old faces again like Jack’s mom, Cheech Marin as Hurley’s dad and later, Walt, although his presence is probably the just a reminder of what an elephant in the room he really is. the boy is a walking bag of unanswered questions, and missed opportunity.
Sayid the assassin! Just when I thought he couldn’t get any more badass.
The Jacob stuff is popping up again more, and again, I reiterate that it still kind of a mess, and feels out of place. I think as it goes on the show only reinforces how much it is about the characters. I really do wonder if this is aspect of the mythology is a miscue by the writers. The island “needing” people to run it? Come on.
The quest to get back to the island is pretty elaborate and complicated, so I appreciate that it wasn’t easy and it took it’s time getting everyone back together as organically as possible. All pulled together by the tragic Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham.
Season 6’s new characters were kind of annoying (Ilana, Baum), but it had a couple of new people I wish could have been around much longer (Togen, Zoey). The Man in Black posing as John Locke was a pretty horrifying proposition, and I loved the way they played with that. Going back to the If The Seasons Were People analogy, (let’s call S1 the prodigal first-born, and s5 the artsy weird one) S6 is the under-appreciated hidden talent. Because some whiners were so upset by the finale (which in itself is an epic 2-parter that still goes bigger than any other show I can think of), they forget that up to that point, LOST was firing on all cylinders, (La X, The Substitute, Dr Linus, The Candidate) offering some of the best episodes, performances, swan songs, and greatest hook (what are the flash-sideways?) of the series.
I’ll end with some of my thoughts I wrote back in 2011 after the show ended, because I still stand by these views:
Based just on what everyone has had to say about LOST, makes it something that you can’t really do with other shows. The Shield? Breaking Bad? The Sopranos? The Wire? If I could sum up the singular greatest achievement LOST was able to pull off its this:
They did it without having to be on cable.
Without the racy language or graphic violence. Without the nudity. Going to the HBO well is a little too easy in my opinion. Cable has an advantage with more storytelling freedom. Yet LOST managed to place itself among the elite without those advantages. Hell, the constrictions make the show more creative, and more accessible for a wider audience. If you were to look at the legacy of all the shows in your own personal ‘Top 10s’ how many of them were truly innovative? How many have left an indelible mark on the television landscape forever? How many of them spawned copycats? How many of them can you actually talk about with friends and they’ve actually seen it? There’s only a handful, I’m sure.
I actually love that the end is left open for interpretation, as is the entire series, which was above all else, more about the journey itself. Not many other shows can say that. A mixed reaction for sure, but is polarizing a bad thing? The emotion and reaction this show can stir, the relationship with its audience- unparalleled.
A more ambitious show has never been made.