A second look at Lost’s low point

28Sep09

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’m rewatching Lost along with my wife, who is watching for the first time. One of the points in the series I’ve been most looking forward to is the first 6 episodes of season 3 – not because they were my favorite, but because they were my least favorite. Almost 3 years ago, when I first watched these episodes, I wrote a pretty negative post about the show, focusing on how I was losing faith in the producers’ ability to manage the storytelling.

So working back through the series, I was looking forward to revisiting these episodes with two questions in mind. First, knowing what I know now about where the story is going, would these episodes still seem unfocused and weak? Second, how would my wife react, given that she would be watching the series straight through, without the 13-week gap that followed “I Do” back in 2006? The answers to both were quite positive, overcoming most of the weaknesses I felt originally. I’ll explain with more details (and spoilers just through mid-season 2) beneath the fold.

Looking back at my post from 2006, the main problem seems to have been the build-up to a cliff-hanger created by scheduling the first six episodes as a mini-season. That gap created a heightened importance for the first wave of episodes, setting expectations for a level of unity and coherence that few bundles of Lost episodes exhibit. It’s a show about the marathon, and these episodes as originally scheduled needed to be a sprint. It’s just not designed to be scheduled in such chunks.

The other metaphor that comes to mind is a roller coaster – much of the time spent on a coaster is slowly moving up to set-up the upcoming drops and turns. Most seasons of Lost spend a lot of time on the slow rise to focus on the pretty scenery, the characters and relationships, and a few moments on the careening drops and hairpin turns. But these first six episodes force some drops without adequate height, making them seem shallow and underwhelming. [End of strained metaphor]

But watching now on Blu-ray, there are no scheduled gaps between episodes, allowing us to binge or pause on our own timing. Had I not told Ruth about the gap between “I Do” and “Not in Portland,” she would have never even suspected that the former was supposed to be more suspenseful or climactic than any other episode. This highlights a key difference between the aesthetic experiences of watching TV serials via a schedule or through a boxed set, an issue I talked about in a presentation early this summer – the “boxed aesthetics” of a compiled serial foregrounds unity and continuity over the experiential gaps created by the broadcast schedule. Neither model is inherently better, but this example shows that sometimes one experience can be far more enjoyable. The flipside is that watching Lost in a boxed set eliminates the time for rumination, “forensic fandom,” and participation in collective conversations about what might happen next.

Rewatching the show, I can appreciate how those first six episodes do set up a lot of key story arcs for the rest of the season and series. Watching Ben’s role with the Others, Juliet’s ambivalent allegiances, and the dynamics between Kate and Sawyer, I appreciate these moments more through the knowledge of where its going in the long-term arcs. Sure, Eko’s death still feels too abrupt, but that was beyond the producers’ control. But the second time through, these episodes feel no worse than any others, and my post from years ago seems way off-base for a boxed viewer.

However, “Stranger in a Strange Land” is still a crappy episode.



2 Responses to “A second look at Lost’s low point”

  1. “Stranger in a Strange Land”! terrible episode, terrible.

  2. 2 OrlandoFurioso

    I just re-watched Stranger in a Strange Land because it was the only previous episode where Cindy the flight attendant had been it since the pilot. I actually thought it provided a cool window into the Others’ social norms and political structure. Indeed it was season 3 that made me a fan of LOST (I was in and out of the first two seasons, which just seemed like a shaggy dog story to me).


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