Spoilers for Lost follow. There will be no further warnings.
My sister was living on Oahu when Lost premiered. She watched the first episode on the beach where the show filmed, on a gigantic fucking screen with the wrecked plane set behind her. Or in front of her. Really close, is the point.
When Lost ended in 2010, I told a coworker, “I think I’m going to rewatch this as soon as the season six DVD set comes out.”
And it did, but I didn’t. Mainly because, damn, Lost can be a really frustrating show to watch. It can also be a really great show to watch. But the payoffs, those few delightful moments where you think the entire season has been worth it, can be so far and few between that watching the show is an exercise in not ripping all of your hair out.
In other news, let me tell you when I decided to start shaving my head …
So about three weeks ago, I decided I was finally ready to watch Lost in one go. Not in one night, day, or week, but to keep watching episodes in chronological sequence until I got through the whole show. Several years ago, probably sometime in 2006, my friend Kristin needed something to keep her entertained for the weekend. I offered to lend her my Lost DVDs. She was reluctant at first, but I finally persuaded her and I lent her the season one and two box sets, which were all that had been released. This was a Friday night. Sunday night she called to ask when season three premiered … because she’d just blown through both seasons.
That’s the kind of show Lost is. Because it doesn’t answer all your questions in a one hour timeslot. Sometimes it doesn’t answer questions for several seasons. Some people say it doesn’t answer questions at all, but I think that’s mostly people who either haven’t been paying attention enough, aren’t imaginative enough, or forget that the show takes place on what is undeniably an MFI. “MFI? What?” I’ll tell you at the end.
The premise of the show is pretty basic: an airplane flying from Sydney, Australia to Los Angeles, California crashes on a Pacific island. There are about forty survivors. Our main characters include a doctor, a box salesman, a magazine editor & his bratty step-sister, a former member of the Republican guard, a father who’s just met his ten year old son, a con man, a prisoner, a heroin addicted rockstar, a fat geek, a pregnant teen, a Korean couple. (Did I miss anyone? Yes: I missed Steve. I missed Scott. I missed Rose. I missed Neil, but between you and me, I loved it when he got like half a dozen flaming arrows in his chest.)
That’s thirteen characters. That’s a lot of characters. And yet over the course of the first season, y’know what? You come to care about these people. Because that’s how amazing the first season is. The show’s producers didn’t dump you into the craziness of the island. They lured you in. Bit by bit. So that by the time you maybe thought it was weird that there are these subterannean structures with buttons you have to push every 108 minutes or the world ends, or, y’know, polar bears living on a tropical island, or a weird smoke monster that made clicky noises: screw it. You were in for the long haul. WAIT THERE WAS SOMEONE ON THE BEACH BEFORE THEM?!?!
I was thinking about it the other day, and Lost and How I Met Your Mother have similar story telling structures. They both tell stories through flashforwards and flashbacks. The pay off is sometimes YEARS down the road – remember the goat on HIMYM? They teased that like TWO SEASONS in advance. Or like one season. But it was a good long while, is the point.
Lost is pretty much the perfect title for the show. First, it describes the premise. The characters are on an island. They don’t know where. I mean, they know generally where they are: they’re on an island. In what is presumably the Pacific Ocean. Charlie sums it up best: “Guys … where are we?” Second, it describes the characters. All of Lost’s characters are, in fact, lost, as in: without direction. Third, it described the audience. I think we were all a little lost trying to keep what the fuck was going on straight. The show is amazingly straightforward in one respect: Jack, our doctor, is returning from Australia after having collected his father’s body. His father? Christian Shephard. Think about it for a moment.
And the first two seasons of Lost are hands down amazing. Nobody even minds the button you have to push or the world ends because you get fantastic new characters like Mr. Eko and Desmond. Well, you get Desmond, and then Desmond runs away, but when he comes back you get a little bit of Clancy Brown, and who doesn’t like that guy, right?
And then season three. And I realized why I hated season three so much. Because the main cast? The characters who were what kept you drawn to the story in season two when the hatch thing probably should have scared everyone away? Just shunted to the side so villains Ben Linus (Michael Emerson, who was crazy spooky on The Practice, and isn’t it a shame that show’s never gotten a full series DVD release? The answer is yes, by the way) and Juliette, good guy Desmond, and bit players Nikki and Paolo could get some screentime. Nikki and Paolo. Wow. Just a couple of assholes who’d supposedly been on the beach the whole time, who the writers just dumped in as some background characters who could say some lines, and who completely upstaged our main cast in what turned out to be their final episode: it’s worth sitting through all of their stuff just to A.) see Billy Dee Williams play himself in an episode, and B.) see these two despised characters be buried alive. Choke on sand, Nikki and Paolo. Choke.
But season three just felt like a distraction. Great, there’s a giant four toed foot statue on a beach. Who cares? Where’s Claire? Where’s Hurley? Why are they getting so little screentime? Yes, Roger has a nice mumified head. Not a lot of sympathy for that guy, but you don’t find out anything about him until much later. Season three was frustrating because it felt like, to me, that the writers were more interested in building up the mythology of the island and less interested in our characters. I don’t care where the fucking polar bears are. I don’t care what motivates the Others. I just care what this stuff does to our people. (And how come we never saw a polar bear after the first season, huh?)
I’d forgotten how short season 4 was. Due to the writer’s strike, it’s only about thirteen episodes. I was through it in like two nights. But here when we get new characters — and I should add that this show was not particularly gentle or reluctant to kill long established characters — they flowed naturally into the story. And here’s where we started getting the serious divide among our main cast, with our characters divided by Jack (the man of science), and John (the man of faith).
Seasons five and six were certainly my least favorite of the show’s run. I remember getting a ride to the Metro from a coworker one day, and it must’ve been during season five, because I asked if he was going to go and see JJ Abram’s Star Trek, and he told me: “I don’t like sci-fi.” This is a guy who I would have long, long g-chat discussions with about the previous night’s episode of Lost. I looked at him in shock and said, “Dude! Lost is sci-fi!” How else do you explain the time travel? Or, I know, the mysterious wheel and the ability to move a gigantic fucking Pacific island? The fact that one character can read dead people’s brains, and another can actually have conversations with dead people?
There’s a scene in the sixth season where Hurley – my favorite – takes Jack to a lighthouse. Jack says: “How did we not see this before?” And I just wanted to punch whatever Lost writer wrote that in the face. The whole show, particularly towards the end, the characters were always finding places they’d somehow never seen before. Forget the lighthouse, how’d you miss the gigantic temple with a huge stone wall surrounding it at a distance of half a mile? Nevermind the fact that they someone never figured out there was a fucking suburban neighborhood dead center of the island, or that someone had to point them to the 19th century warship in the middle of the jungle.
Lost was great when it made fun of itself. I think one of my favorite scenes of the whole series is in season five. The cast has split into two groups: those who didn’t make it off the island at the end of season four have found themselves in the 1970s, as members of the Dharma Initiative. The cast who did make it home is struggling to reintegrate into society and to come to grips with the realization that they need to go back to the island. I know I haven’t been capitalizing it, but let’s face it, it’s The Island. It’s an improper generic name for the show’s lead character. Anyway, so Hurley’s back in the modern day, and he’s in trouble with the law, and his mother’s trying to get him to explain to her what happened, and he just cracks. It goes something like: “We crashed! Forty of us survived! We crashed on a tropical island, but it had polar bears! And a smoke monster! And this weird hatch thing with a button you had to push or the world would end!” This goes on, and on, and on. And at the end, Hurley’s mom reaches out a hand and tells her son, “I believe you.” She then ammends: “I don’t understand you. But I believe you.”
There’s a similar scene later in the season when Sayid is injected with a truth serum and his interrogators believe they must have given him far too high of a dose. “I’m from the future…”
In the final season, our characters have all reunited on the MFI as a war brews, between The Others, led by Ben Linus, and the former outcast leader of the Others, Charles Widmore, a wealthy industrialist. A war between Jack, our man of science, and the creature who has taken the form of John, our former man of faith, which was repaid to him in the cruelest manner. Who is the good guy? Who is the bad guy? Everyone. No one. Except the Man in Black. As we see events unfold on the Island, we also see a “sideways world”, occuring parallel to the world of the island. In this sideways world, there is no island. Oceanic 815 landed safely, and our characters are living their lives and bumping into each other in that odd, odd way Lost has with coincidences.
I’ll be honest, the end of the season disappointed me in some respects. The series finale was great. Not a dry eye in casa de Snay. But the revelation of what the Sideways world was, I felt, a disappointment. At the end of season five, the characters detonated a nuclear device on the island. This shifted our characters from the 1970s back to the present day, but it had been an attempt at eliminated the hatch and the electromagnectic event which pulled their plane down in the first place. To my mind, it would have been far, far better is the Sideways World represented a real, actual world, where by removing the influence of Jacob and the island, lives worked out differently. And yet, by some weird sci-fi device, our characters were able to grasp the memories and experiences of their alternative selves on the island in the reality that the exploding nuke had turned aside.
Oh, MFI? MFI = Magical Fucking Island. And you want to know what can’t happen on a magical fucking island? Harry Potter coming to the rescue. That’s right, there’s no Harry Potter charging to the rescue on this fucking rock.