Going Back to the Island

31Aug09

One of my summer projects has been rewatching Lost. When I started the show back in Fall 2004, my wife watched the pilot with me, but found it too creepy for her anti-horror tastes, so I’ve been viewing solo for the past five seasons. I finally convinced Ruth that the show rarely traffics in scares and horror, and we’ve been burning through the Blu-Rays for the last month. She got hooked halfway through the first season, so it’s been a win/win!

We’re currently midway through season 2, hoping to catch up by the spring season 6 debut. I have a few thoughts to share beneath the fold about the rewatch. Note that these do contain a few vague spoilers about the entire run (so far), so if you’ve not seen beyond the first two seasons, tread lightly.

One thing that struck me about season 1 is how slow it now seems, as the first season is operating on a very different pace than the rest of the series. This makes sense, as the goals of the first season are all about setting up who each of these people are/were before the crash, what threats are out there for the castaways, and how will this emerging society sort itself out. Compared to what is still to come in seasons 4 and 5, these are fairly low-stakes stories – boars and drug addiction is nothing compared to what is coming. Given that many fans put season 1 on a pedestal as Lost‘s finest hour, I’m surprised at how much I remember loving the show back in its initial run – and how much less compelling it is the second time through.

This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy rewatching s1, but just that I feel that where it’s going is more fun than where it starts, both in terms of the characters that are still to come (Henry Gale just appeared over the past couple of days… heh heh!) and the ramped-up storylines that we’ll encounter. Many fans also gripe about how s3 flashbacks and “filler” stories (“Trisha Tanaka” for instance) seemed like wheel spinning, but in many ways they resemble the storytelling model of s1 most of all.

Whereas s2 has been mostly excellent (“Fire & Water” still is one of my least favorite episodes in the series). The tail section storyline takes far less time than I remember, and in general the story moves at a steady clip. Some characters also seem more fully realized in the second season – Locke in the first season is erratically charming and creepy without much rationale, whereas he seems more human and consistent once he gets into the hatch. (In fact, his persona in s1 is so enigmatic that many fans have wondered whether the revelations of the s5 finale might have been relevant from Locke’s first appearance on the island – I don’t buy it…) Even Ana Lucia is far less of an annoyance than I remember – perhaps all this is simply about expectations, as the aspects I anticipated disliking were better than I remembered.

One thing I’ve definitely enjoyed is seeing all the pieces that were lined up for where the show goes early on, and watching enigmas that are later paid off be introduced. The Rousseau story is satisfying in retrospect, and I’m fairly happy with the how s2 and s5 connect the dots around The Swan. Speculating about how the producers are making it up on the fly is a common gripe among fans – like I’ve written before, it’s less important whether they have a plan or not, but rather that it feels as if they did. Thus far through the rewatch, I have no doubts that the text feels unified in its sense of a plan.

In returning to season 2, I am struck by the difficulties of creating complex serials for television – knowing that Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s personal choices interfered with the plan for Mr. Eko makes my affection for the character bittersweet. And I can’t help but wonder what might have been with Libby had Cynthia Watros been more available and amenable to working on the show in future seasons. As it played out, it seems quite odd that the entire tail section story ultimately only serves to reunite Bernard and Rose in the long term! Such are problems that Dickens or J.K. Rowling never had with their fictional characters.

I’m also reminded that one of the most compelling pleasures of the show is its melodrama and sentimentality about relationships. While I’ve never been too invested in whom Kate ends up with, the Sun/Jin relationship, the friendship between Locke and Claire, and Sayid’s mourning for Shannon are all highly engaging human moments within a storyworld that trends toward the outlandish and pulpy in its narrative. I think there’s just something about Jack that I can’t connect with, but I feel that the lack of chemistry between Kate and Jack is what makes that aspect of the storytelling (and much of early s3) fall flat. (Bracing for the flames of the Jaters…)

Finally, I just wanted to itemize some of the things so far that I really hope get addressed in the final season: the whispers, Adam & Eve, Kate’s horse, a bit more on the numbers (yeah, I know all about the Valenzetti Equation, but I need more tie-back), the transition of the Swan after the incident and why the DHARMA-ites thought there was a quarantine. Back to the Blu-Rays (which do look fabulous!)…



4 Responses to “Going Back to the Island”

  1. Small world: Kate and I have been working through Lost also, and we’ve been a couple eps into Henry Gale-dom for a couple weeks now (recently derailed by the Watch Instantly release of Dexter S3, but now back on track).

    I’m going to whole-heartedly agree with you on the valuable role the deepening personal relationships among various characters (esp. Sun/Jin and Sayid) are playing for me. I don’t think it is the pacing of S1 as much as the other issue you raise, that the season has a much less significant sense of narrative thrust, that makes it less enjoyable for those of us who have already seen S3-S5. That each episode is much less (though certainly not completely) intertwined with other eps gives S1 sortof a hybrid series (as opposed to serial) quality, which is what initially encouraged my lukewarm reaction to it. Looking back, it really works very well as the first Act of a much longer story (whether the authors planned it that way or not), and so I’ve enjoyed seeing them that way.

    My dirty little secret is that I never saw most of season 1 or ANY of season 2; Kate watched them all along and for some reason I didn’t get back into it until Gale proclaims “we’re the good guys, Michael.” So this is a re-watch for her but all new for me, and its a strange position to be in, knowing the characters so well as I do but still finding plenty of opportunities to make deeper connections to them. (Also, I’m only just getting to know most of the Tailies).

    So I’ll just say thank you very much to Netflix and ABC for getting these in a form I can cheaply and flexibly consume!

  2. 2 chinamojovt

    Nice LOST post here, Jason.

    And fine SEVEN DAYS article, too.

    Kudos!

    Enjoy your autumn,

    Dr. Rob

  3. 3 Mitch

    “knowing that Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s personal choices interfered with the plan for Mr. Eko”

    Could you expound? That’s my first time hearing it. Also, if Watros was more available, what were the plans for Libby?

  4. @Mitch: from what I’ve gathered, AAA very much enjoyed the part and show, but didn’t like being isolated in Hawaii, and wanted to return to the UK due in part to family reasons. So even thought the producers had Eko in long-term plans, they killed him off since he asked to leave the show. As for Libby, I believe the plan was to have her appear in a number of people’s flashbacks throughout seasons 4 and 5, but one plan was scuttled due to the writer’s strike, and then the actress declined to return for future episodes.

    And after just watching “Lockdown” (one of my all time faves), I need to add to my list of dangling mysteries: the food drops.


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