Lost: Season 3

Lost Season 3Warning: this review most likely contains spoilers, depending on how much of the show you have seen. Read at your own risk…

The second season of everyone’s favorite Gilligan’s Island-meets-The Matrix drama left off with several unexplained questions and one doozy of a cliffhanger.  And though Season 3 addresses a precious few of the lingering issues, by the end we are left with even more unexplained riddles and lingering problems.  So much so that the show begins to walk a fine line between engaging drama and self-parody, as the near-ridiculous heights to which the drama gets ratcheted are sometimes too outlandish to be taken seriously.  But through it all is a solid yarn of character-based dramatic storytelling that keeps things from spinning entirely out of control, and keeps the interest level high enough to hold the interest of even the most impatient of viewers.

Whereas the first season was mostly exposition, introducing us to the characters, their backstories, and the island, the second season went a great deal farther into what was actually happening on the island.  We were introduced to the Dharma Initiative, the Hatch, the Others, and the mystery behind characters like the french woman was swept away.  But Season 3 takes things in a different direction, as the group of survivors is now fragmented physically as well as interpersonally.  Sawyer, Jack, and Kate are imprisoned by the Others, and the rest of the Oceanic 815 survivors get by as best they can without their leader while also trying to rescue their friends.  Much of the first several episodes deal with the Others, who become much more humanized and less like faceless evildoers.  In fact, if there is a theme to Season 3 it would be the pulling back of the curtain, as some of the mysteries about the Others are found to have perfectly normal and rational explanations.  Even the mysterious smoke monster becomes more understandable, and we learn of its limitations as well.

Lost: John Locke

John Locke, not taking "no" for an answer.

One reason the series has always worked well is that the dramatic tension is a natural extension of the characters and their situations.  In Season 1, we wanted to know who these people were and how they were going to survive.  Season 2 furthers this idea by introducing new conflicts and revealing more about larger issues like the Dharma Initiative.  But Season 3, partly due to the compressed time frame (the events of the entire season only span a few weeks’ time on the island), tends to fall back on some relatively cheap 24-like tactics to hold viewer interest.  Watching Jack engage in yet another shouting match with Ben, or having an endless stream of people being held at gunpoint unless so-and-so does such-and-such, or ending episodes with cheap cliffhangers tends to deviate from the spirit of the show.  It’s not bad, just unnecessary, and possibly a response to somewhat downward trends in ratings too. (The first episode of Season 3 had almost 19 million viewers.  By the end it was down to just under 14 million.)  What is a travesty, though, is the killing off of some characters, both long- and short-term, that started near the end of Season 2 and continues here as well.  Killing off a beloved individual just to up the ratings or stymie a case of writer’s block is cheap, and it’s sad to see Lost treading down this path.

One of the biggest issues I have with the show is how characters just never give a straight answer to anything.  It seems as though many of the conflicts, problems, and deaths could be easily avoided if Ben and his friends sat down with Jack and the survivors and calmly explained what in the world was going on.  Even the most simplest of questions are met with enigmatic answers followed by a quick fade to the title card or a commercial break.  I still trust that the writers know what they are doing, but there are a couple times when it seems like the reason Jack or Sawyer can’t get a straight answer out of Ben or Juliet is because the show creators don’t even know what’s going on.

Lost: Hurley

Remember Hurley's all-important "numbers" from Season 2? Neither do the writers of the show...

However, when the show gets it right, it really gets it right.  Ben emerges as one of the more complex and characters in recent television, and the exploration of what is really going on with the island becomes thoroughly compelling. Character flashbacks continue to add new levels of depth to Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Hurley, and the rest of the core gang, and Desmond’s penchant for predictions is pretty potent as well.  There is even one character who kicks the bucket right at the bitter end, but in a meaningful and perhaps even inspirational fashion.  The budget is clearly bigger than ever before too, which means we are treated to grandiose sets, large explosions, and a lot more sheer grandeur than before.  The downside to all this?  Some characters are left behind, and by the end of the season if we didn’t have the occasional group shot to remind us of the 40-odd people on the island, one would think the survivors were limited solely to a mere handful of misplaced good-looking mid-20’s SoHo dwellers.

Lost is still one of the best shows on TV, and its rich blend of science fiction, drama, and mystery remain almost as compelling as ever.  But a few cracks are beginning to show around the seams by the end of Season 3, and I just hope things improve a little for the next go-round.


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Lost: Season 2

Lost: Season 2After the whirlwind ride of Season 1, the second season of the hugely popular ABC drama/sci fi series goes a long way in answering many questions from the first outing, while raising entirely new ones that hint at a much larger plot and much deeper rabbit hole than ever seemed possible.  (Spoiler Alert: Having only seen through the first two seasons, I can’t give anything away about the rest of the show. But be forewarned–if you have not watched the show through the end of Season 2, you might be hit with some information you might not want.)

As any high school English student knows, the first part of any story is the exposition:  the introduction of characters, conflicts, setting, and plot.  And while the first season of Lost was engaging and entertaining in its own right, all the events set up in those original 25 episodes were really just about laying the groundwork for the rest of the show.  Season two expands on much of the original framework while giving fans all sorts of new twists and turns to speculate about around water coolers nationwide.  The survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 begin to segregate into a few distinct groups, each discovering clues that served to unravel many strands of the larger mystery of the island.  In what at first seems like an unnecessary subplot, Michael, Sawyer, and Jin find themselves washed ashore with the survivors from the tail section of the plane.  But as the show’s tagline says, everything happens for a reason, and it’s not long before we realize how interconnected these people are with the rest of the survivors.  Meanwhile Jack and Locke, while spending much of their time in the hatch, spend a good deal of time figuring out their own answers while also dealing with a man Rousseau caught in one of her traps who may or may not be one of the Others.  Topside most of the regulars from Season 1 are back to form new relationships, embark on journeys to different parts of the island, and search for answers to some of the long-burning questions about the island.

Lost: Season 2, Jack and Mr. Eko

Jack and Mr. Eko, looking for answers and a clean pair of shorts.

It’s a fantastic testament to the brilliance of the writers that various events which seemed trivial and innocuous throughout the first season turn out to be of the utmost importance during the second season.  Rather than throw distracting red herrings at the audience, there is hardly a single character, event, or object that is not steeped in meaning.  Perhaps more than any other serial drama I have ever seen, Lost treats its audience and subject matter with the utmost respect and care, rarely resorting to cheap tricks such as killing off characters to solve a case of writer’s block or inventing contrivances to link current events to past plot points.  There are much deeper themes at work here too, and every person on the island must deal with skeletons in his or her closet, confront personal demons such as drug addictions or marital conflicts, or rise to challenges of leadership and personal sacrifice.  For instance Locke, who used to operate on blind faith alone, begins to question everything he once knew while virtually trading places with newcomer Mr. Eko, a priest who is sure of what he hopes for and certain of what he cannot see.  It’s this multidimensional characterization, along with a seamless blending of science fiction, religion, and traditional drama that separates Lost from other dramas, and these ideas continue throughout Season 2 in masterful form.

Lost: Season 2, Ana Lucia

Michelle Rodriguez stretches her acting ability by playing a tough-as-nails ex-cop with an attitude.

There are a couple of low points of the season, though–particularly some strange choices made by Sawyer and Charlie in “The Long Con” that seem uncharacteristic and are never met with much follow-through.  A few episodes seem like outtakes from Days of our Lives, and the he-said-she-said dramatic tension that surfaces a few times feels forced and out of place.  The pacing is a bit slower this time as well, since much of the action takes place on the beachfront camp or inside the hatch, and the exploration is more of a personal than environmental nature.  I am also a tad disappointed that Shannon and Boone were jettisoned so early on, to be halfheartedly replaced with the altogether uninteresting Rose and Bernard.  But nitpicking these missteps is like dismissing the grandeur of Yellowstone National Park because of the mosquitoes.  The hallmark of Lost is the way each answered question (Where did the other plane come from? Who is Rousseau? What’s the deal with Henry?) leads to a host of new questions, and while the character drama isn’t as interesting this time around, partly because the backstories of many of the survivors have already been explored, the new questions raised are as compelling as ever.

By the end of Season 2, which takes place over roughly three weeks on the island, the survivors aren’t in much better shape than they were at the end of Season 1.  They are still stuck on the island, still scared of The Others, and Jin still can’t speak a lick of English.  But they have far more food thanks to the hatch, and their attitude has shifted from trying to find a way off the island to finding a way to dig in for the long haul.  And in a sense, so are we.  At this point it’s clear there are far greater forces at work, with stakes that are infinitely higher, than what we knew when the show began.  I’m not frantically wondering what will happen next like I was during the middle of the first season, though Season 2 does have its share of nail-biters to be sure, but I am simply awed at the spectacle that is beginning to unfold and eagerly awaiting the next season to see another chapter in how it will all play out.


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Lost: Season 1

Lost Season 1Lost is first and foremost a show of mystery.  More than any other show I can recall seeing, it sets up fantastic yet somehow not entirely far-fetched scenarios with a host of compelling and more or less interesting characters.  The basic premise is one we have seen played out many times before:  a group of individuals, separated from the rest of the world, must work together to survive.  But while Lost owes incalculable debts to sources from Lord of the Flies to Gilligan’s Island, it presents an absolutely gripping storyline shrouded in mystery while dropping enough breadcrumbs to keep viewers riveted, eager to know just what is going to happen next and trying their best to make sense of everything.  And just so I’m covered…this review may contain possible Season 1 spoilers.  :)

Platitudes aside, and without revealing too much (though as of the writing of this review I have only seen the first season and a handful of episodes from Season 2), Lost does a good job of sticking first and foremost to the basics of storytelling:  presenting conflicts that the characters must overcome.  In the very first episode we witness the immediate aftermath of a horrific plane crash on a tropical island:  amidst mass confusion, exploding engines, and corpses littering the scarred shoreline, several individuals begin bringing order to the chaos and establishing a sense of control and uneasy sort of self-governing democracy among the crash survivors.  There’s the chiseled young doctor named Jack (where is the rule that says TV heroes need monosyllabic names that sound like garage tools?) who becomes the de facto leader, a young pregnant woman named Claire, a young druggie named Charlie, a young (see a pattern here? I guess they gotta appeal to the TV-watching demographic somehow) easygoing dude named Hurley, and several others like the cocky Sawyer, the standoffish Kate, and the mysterious John Locke. From the very first episode, viewers are left with myriad questions:  Who are all these people? Why did their plane crash? Why does it seem like there are monsters on the island?  Will they ever be rescued?

Lost Sawyer

Sawyer, the con-man who looks like he belongs on Days of our Lives.

The genius of the show lies in how it cleverly answers questions while raising intriguing new ones, and throwing just enough breadcrumbs at the viewers to satisfy our curiosity while enticing us to keep watching.  And though the group of individuals hovers around 40, there is a core set of characters central to most episodes whom we get to know very well over time.  They struggle to overcome mundane obstacles such as building shelter, finding food, and working together to provide medical care for wounded individuals or building rafts in order to sail away and seek help, but rarely do the survivors form a cohesive group.  Some do not trust others, and some are simply not trustworthy.  Others keep secrets, form relationships, and even set out on their own to seek help or simply answers to questions about what is happening on the island.  Each episode also contains several flashbacks that reveal backstories of various characters and give us an idea of who these people are, or at least who they were before the plane crash.  Often it’s the threads woven by these vignettes throughout each episode that are the most compelling part of the show, as we discover that, like the island, each of the plane crash survivors are far more than what they appear on the surface.

Lost Kate

Just like an Autobot, there's more to Kate than meets the eye.

Through it all there is a sense, woefully missing from other episodic shows like Heroes, that there really is a plan to everything that’s going on.  From the perplexing smoke monster, to “The Others,” a group of people who may or may not be sharing the island with the survivors, to the miraculous healing of Locke, to the mysterious hatch, there seems to be a design for how everything fits together–even if it will be several years down the line.  Whether or not that is in fact the case remains to be seen, but like 24, Lost is a show that demands the viewers watch every episode lest they miss a crucial plot point.  But unlike 24, Lost doesn’t jerk its viewers around:  characters are not killed off at will whenever the writers need to add a jolt of excitement into the show.

Lost is as impressive as it is ambitious, and I am eager to see how things play out for the rest of the show.  But sometimes I wish these people were just a little more normal and relatable.  Seriously, on a plane heading from Sydney to Los Angeles, wouldn’t there be just one regular guy with a 9-5 job and no secrets or skeletons in his closet?  I can understand a bit of dramatic tension and whatnot to keep viewers interested, but everyone in the show has so many secrets, often with backstories of life back in the real world that tend to push the limits of believability, that it gets kind of silly sometimes.  It is a TV show, though, and I guess outlandish characters can be part of the fun.  After all, the entire premise of Lost is pretty outrageous, so what’s wrong with a few exaggerated characters?  In fact, the worst complaint that could honestly be leveled against the show at this point is that Season 1 is so good I’m worried the creators simply won’t be able to top it.  But I’m sure anxious to see if they will try…


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