Lost’s best season?
I forced myself to finish grading for the semester before I could post about the Lost season 4 finale. But grades are in, so spoilery commentary is beneath the fold. But first, here’s a great fanvid showing the deep intertextual roots of Gilligan’s Island – no spoilers there!
This season’s finale, “There’s No Place Like Home,” lacked the mind-bending jaw-droppers of previous finales – I never bolted upright in shock as when Walt was abducted, or freaked out at the presence of a giant foot. But in many ways, the lack of the big twist or shocker highlights how great season 4 really was. A frequent lament (that I do not fully share) about Lost, especially in season 2, was that the episodes were five great minutes up front and five more twisty shocks at the end, with a bunch of filler in between. You could say the same about the seasons as a whole – typically they start strong, drift off in a few directions, and then with a bang.
Season four lacked that inconsistency, with nearly every episode delivering both character and plot. Baseball statheads talk about judging a player both on peak value and overall career value – the same holds true for television seasons, as we can look at the best episodes or the overall quality on average. I’d hold season 4 up as exemplary on both counts – the best episodes (“The Constant,” “Cabin Fever”) are definitely in the pantheon of all-time greats, and overall quality is rivaled only by season 1 (which I’d need to watch again to be sure that it holds up). The only subpar episodes in my book were “Eggtown” and “The Other Woman,” but both were still quite strong in moving the plot forward to set-up their great follow-ups. While I don’t agree with all of her rationale, Juliet Lapidos (which sounds strangely like a Lost pseudonym, no?) in Slate makes a good case for season 4 as the best yet.
There are many reasons why this season worked so well. Certainly the shortened number of episodes reduced filler, and the writers’ strike, while disrupting the flow, allowed the remaining episodes to be frantically paced toward a tremendous climax. Clearly the fast-forwards were a great creative jolt to the series, allowing a sense of storytelling discovery that often disappeared in the more mechanical and obligatory flashback sequences from seasons 2 and 3.
But I think the most important change may have been the announced ending at the conclusion of season 6, allowing the writers to plan the story to maximize revelations, suspense, and excitement, rather than the “tap dancing” they admitted to in season 3. Knowing how long they had left to tell the story, the pacing was much more even, with fewer diversions, people stuck in cages (literally and metaphorically), and dead-ends. This, of course, makes total sense, highlighting how telling a story without an ending in sight is much more exceptional and odd than having a clearly defined set of parameters with a planned ending – American television is quite unusual in this regard, and the success of Lost‘s fourth season highlights one of the intrinsic limits of this infinity model of storytelling.
On to the finale itself – Lost is at its best combines a range of genres and tones, from romantic melodrama to creepy sci-fi, jungle action to quirky character dramedy. The finale delivered this all, complete with nearly every character getting a heroic moment or time for pathos – some of my favorites were Hurley playing chess with ghostly Mr. Eko and visiting with Taller Walt, shirtless Sawyer’s moment with drunk Juliet on the beach, and Ben questioning if Jacob is happy now as he follows orders. For sheer chuckles, nothing beats the scene in the Orchid with Locke watching the film and Ben snarkily sabotaging the station – “time-traveling bunnies” indeed. I’d kill to see a production of Rosencranz and Guildenstern are Dead starring Michael Emerson and Terry O’Quinn!
An interesting moment concerning television storytelling is Jin’s death. I’m skeptical that he’s really dead, as the show has set itself the intrinsic norm that when lead characters die, they get a moment in the sun – to have such a key character simply be blown up like that would be quite uncharacteristic and unsatisfying. But what’s important is that Sun believes he’s dead, answering the question lingering from “Ji Yeon” as to whether Sun was mourning Jin’s actual grave, or just missing him from the absent island – and Sun’s helicopter breakdown shows how real that mourning was. One of the many complexities inherent in a show like Lost is the differing threads of knowledge, between characters and viewers. In this instance, we can remain skeptical about Jin’s fate while Sun acts as if he were confirmed dead, adding a layer of intrigue and emotional engagement.
As for our other corpse, Locke’s death seems definitely temporary, both in the guarantee that he will remain in flashbacks/sideways to the island life in seasons 5 and 6, and that there’s a lot more of Jeremy Bentham’s story left to tell. Again, it’s a bold move to put such a mythically central character in a coffin, but I don’t see it as a final death – remember other corpses who end on the island end up like Christian, speaking for Jacob and causing mischief.
One question before indulging in speculation – in the bonus press conference footage in the finale’s first hour, Jack reveals the names of the three passengers who made it off the plane but didn’t get rescued: Boone, Libby, and Charlie. But in the justification for their lie, they never explain why they added this part of the story. With Lost, that doesn’t mean that it’s a plot hole, as such material can also trickle out later. But it does seem like an odd move. Perhaps they meant to honor some of the heroic victims of their island adventures, which makes sense for Charlie and Libby (for Hurley’s sake) – but why Boone? Wouldn’t Sayid want Shannon to be remembered more fondly?
Now for some guesses that will certainly be proven wrong. I definitely think that the island moved in time as well as (or instead of) space. One theory I read suggests that the jump forward would correspond to the 11 month or so jump forward that Ben took into Tunisia. But from a storytelling perspective, the more interesting option would be to go back in time, tackling earlier eras in the island’s history. Perhaps they’ll encounter Magnus Hanso and the Black Rock? Maybe Sawyer and Juliet (or Bernard & Rose) will end up as Adam & Eve? Perhaps we’ll see Danielle’s arrival on the island as a hostile threat to our heroes? Maybe Locke/Bentham will lead the anti-DHARMA purge from afar? My inner geeky fanboy definitely would love to see the ret-con time-travel stuff from island lore played out in this way, as Ben and the O6 try to make their way back… to the future!
What are your thoughts on the finale and/or future of Lost?
Filed under: Narrative, Television, TV Shows | 11 Comments