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The call should have come in the dead of night, with the wind blowing and bare branches clawing at the windows.


You wanna see it, said the voice (thickly, perhaps) on the other end of the line?


But let Jon Lachonis—aka DocArtz—pick up his story from here:


“It was cold,” blogged the Waterville, Maine-based writer for entertainment Web site UnderGround Online. “I was bored. No date for `Lost’ Season 4 had yet been set, the writers’ strike was picking up steam with the first signs that it may impact the length of our midseason stay on `The Island.’


CATCH UP WITH DENSE PLOT OF `LOST’ FROM SEASON 3 Time to catch up with “Lost,” but that’s far easier said than done. The third season two-hour closer, “Through the Looking Glass,” was a wild ride, with Charlie (Dominic Monaghan) gone, apparently for good, along with a whole swatch of familiar Others—including M.C. Gainey’s indelible Tom. (ABC repeats the episode Wednesday night at 8 EST.) Quick plot: Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick) comes under fire from mad Russian with nine lives Mikhail Bakunin (Andrew Divoff), and to escape him dives down to the Looking Glass research station to find Charlie and help disable the beam that has been blocking the radio signal. Mikhail heads down after him, too, and uses up his ninth life when Des kills him; Charlie dies too, though not before warning Des about the boat at sea. Meanwhile, the tailies (tail section survivors) make it to the transmitting station and manage to get the signal out to the mysterious boat at sea—“mysterious” usually being a redundant term when it comes to “Lost,” though this particular boat really is mysterious. Bloodied, beaten though not quite bowed, Ben (Michael Emerson) tells everyone that they’re making a huge mistake by calling the boat, and everyone in the viewing audience knows that for perhaps the first time, Ben is actually telling the truth. Meanwhile, John Locke (Terry O’Quinn) miraculously has risen from the dead—a ghostlike Walt standing over him in the pit has told him to get going—and he, too, arrives at the transmission site. The shocker: He kills Naomi, who was an emissary from the mysterious boat at sea. But here’s the really big stuff: The flash-forwards. In a gimmick that pretty much stood the entire franchise on its ear, and set fans into overdrive, Jack (Matthew Fox) and Kate (Evangeline Lilly) are revealed to have gotten off the island in the future. Jack, as always, is depressed, and is ready to do a header off a bridge, but a car accident distracts him. A couple more curiosities: Jack tells Kate he wants to return to the island, while we see him attend a memorial service for someone. Who exactly? Another great “Lost” mystery.

“For the first time in three years thinking about `Lost’ a laborious and painful experience.


“Then I got `the call.’”


In the sprawling “Lost” landscape—in which the TV show is merely the highest hill—DocArtz has had a unique role as tour guide. Part online critic, booster and “Lost” scholar, he’s helped lead fellow Losties through the curlicue trailways of this landscape via UGO as well as his own Web site (docartz.com), thetailsection.com, and other key “Lost” destinations.


DocArtz is certainly not the only one out there blogging “Lost”—there are probably several million, in fact—but no one else got the scoop he did on that figurative dark and stormy night last month: An offer-you-can’t-refuse to look at the first four episodes of the new season. It was a privilege denied everyone else on the planet, including TV critics.


Lachonis got his screening, and afterward wrote of the fourth season, which begins Thursday at 9 p.m. EST on ABC: “A full tank, pedal to the metal, turbocharged story tearing down a corridor of mythology without segmentation, without red herrings, without capricious delays designed to slow down the momentum. `Lost’ is on a mission here, and its objective is to blow your mind in a way that is distinctly `Lost.’”


Yeah (wow) and after the review ran, the online community went nuts. “I. Can’t. Freakin’. Wait.” wrote one fan in a characteristic post.


DocArtz isn’t alone in stoking interest for the new season of “Lost.” A carefully placed interview with star Matthew Fox in Entertainment Weekly helped, too. “(We’re) going to get into questions that the audience is just dying to start finding out about,” he promised. Like “what is the island, where is this island, when is this island.”


Once lionized, then (almost as quickly) dismissed, “Lost” is hot once again—and stuff like this isn’t the only reason why.


Virtually alone among the other major strike-crippled hits of network television, “Lost” is returning with a batch of new shows that will air—without breaks or repeats—through early March. It is (if you will) fresh scripted meat in a supermarket where the only item for sale these days seems to be Ramen noodles.


But last May’s two-hour finale (“Though the Looking Glass”) also catapulted the show into an entire new realm as well: the future. Characters do get off the island, though despite the best efforts of various spoilers to dig them up, answers to how/where/why/what/when remain (as always) alluring and elusive.


Meanwhile, “Lost” co-producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cruse have said the end-game is now officially afoot—or (to paraphrase Churchill) May’s stunning blockbuster was the end of the beginning. Both producers—or “Darlton,” to smitten fans—have carefully planned a 48-episode arc that will wrap the ABC classic by 2010.


“Certainly my criticism and the frequent criticism (of others) was that the show did not appear to have a plan (and) that this was becoming the kind of Byzantine thing you did in fifth grade with unicorns,” says Sarah Bunting, editor in chief of televisionwithoutpity.com, the TV fan Web site, which moderates many “Lost” forums every day.


“But season three answered enough questions and moved the thing forward enough and teased enough plots that people are excited about season four.”


But amid anticipation is anxiety. For Darlton and ABC, the idea was to air 16 fresh episodes each year for the next three years—each part of a nice, taut, intricately assembled arc that completes their tale three years from now.


When the writers’ strike began in early November, only a handful were completed, and with eight shows in the can so far, “Lost’s” entire 2008 season could be over by early March.


That nice, taut, intricately assembled arc? Looking more and more like that mysterious column of jungle smoke.


This improbably condensed fourth season has set fandom into overdrive. Reason: No one knows how Darlton will now complete the show by 2010, or even whether they’ll be able to. There are (literally) hundreds of ends that need tying—so many that 48 episodes almost seems like a blink of an eye.


ABC isn’t talking about whether Darlton will get all the final episodes they need to wrap one of the great stem-winding shaggy dog stories in TV history.


Darlton’s not talking either; they were burned badly last spring when online spoilers flashed the news that the third-season finale would incorporate flash-forwards, revealing that Jack (Fox) and Kate (Evangeline Lilly) actually get off the island.


Thus, into the void has stepped speculation. Fan sites are buzzing with arcana like: Who is in the coffin seen at the end of last season, and who else got off the island, or why does Jack want to return, and how will Michael (Harold Perrineau) return to the show?


But they’re also buzzing with this: How the heck will Darlton wrap their masterpiece now?


“The last three seasons are supposed to hurdle us toward the ending, so this is a big problem for them,” says Nikki Stafford, an Ontario-based writer of “The Unofficial Guide: Finding Lost” and—like Lachonis—one of the show’s leading scholars.


That’s a problem for both “Lost” and fans, she says, because Darlton and ABC “really wanted to build on that (fan) base and that’s why they came up with the idea of (16-episode) seasons, so people could watch the entire season at once, and then viewers would get two more seasons—bang, bang, bang.


“A lot of viewers turned and ran (after the second season) and didn’t come back, so the worry in fandom now is what if people don’t come back after these eight (air)?” she says.


The speculation is that if viewership doesn’t build, ABC will have less motivation to complete the final 40. Then, Darlton may be forced to cram TV’s most complex series into far fewer episodes.


Reached at his home office, Lachonis agrees that “there’s some disorientation from fans about what to expect ... now that they have a limited number of episodes.”


But he also says he’s had no second thoughts about his boffo appraisal. (Lachonis says someone close to the production gave him his big exclusive.)


“Season four is an entirely new plateau for the show,” he says. “Any show that gets to a fourth season you’d expect to start running out of gas, but they’re really invigorated by it. It really feels like they mean to tell this story now.


“The M.O. for the show has always been to give people a little bit and then stall,” he adds. “That mechanism is completely gone.”

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