Lost Almost Lost Me
First thing’s first. I am not a Lost apologist. The show has, in equal measure, enthralled and frustrated me. There have been gimmicks a-plenty to pad out a story that really should have ended a long time ago, red herring after narrative dead end and if asked, I don’t particularly care who Kate ends up with.
However, I realised something as the end of the show loomed, keeping in mind the final mysteries coalescing into what we fans hope will be a satisfying whole—it dawned on me that I was really going to miss this show. As manipulative as it has always been, one must marvel at what it gave us, as a television audience.
Lost had the audacity to be ridiculously continuity-heavy in an industry where such adherence to a concentrated continuous narrative usually spells an early death. It gave us twist after twist and I don’t mean just the convoluted plotting—it subverted our idea of ‘character’ from the very get go. The first season taught us to never make a lazy assumption when dealing with any one role. It achieved this through clever use of a flashback structure which at the beginning, at the very least, gave weight to everyone featured. Context is all and through our omniscience as an audience we could understand if not entirely agree with motivations. Our sympathies were shaped by seeing what led our heroes to this mysterious island.
The flashbacks soon became a tedious crutch, however, when they attempted to give unnecessary insight, the epitome of that being “Stranger in a Strange Land”, which was a story to explain Jack’s tattoos, the most pointless digression this side of Shannon Rutherford. The glimpses into the past gave different flavours and colours to the show, neutralising a potential audience fatigue which could have set in with the Losties traipsing through yet another part of the jungle.
The show continued to broaden its palette chronologically, with the very unexpected employment of flash-forwards and an ingeniously dropped bombshell at the end of season three. This led to the time travel shenanigans of season five and finally to the flash-sideways of the current series. Whether or not viewers found these moments compelling, the conceit of playing fast and loose with personal timelines is an inherent part of the formula of Lost, and while it has been aped with limited success elsewhere, it remains a unique staple of the show.
In its marketing efforts, Lost branched out to multimedia and crossover aspects; from the online game which ran alongside the second season, the tie-in books written by characters within the show, the interview with fictional character Hugh McIntyre on Jimmy Kimmel all the way to the name-checking of the “Hanso Foundation” in the credits to the JJ Abrams-directed Mission Impossible 3. This canny use of viral marketing and cross pollination between projects not only served to enhance the whole experience of the show, it gave the Internet audience a variety of Easter egg-like treasures to unearth. Still there was something slightly unnerving with just how pervasive the TV show was becoming. While a treasure trove of marketing revenue for its network, this all out assault on various media fomented a backlash which was exasperated by the decision to air season three in two blocks, the first six episodes coming under heavy fire for being too ponderous and stalling the momentum.
By this point, people wanted answers, answers they couldn’t expect from the first season, answers patiently delayed during the meandering second season. By season three, it was time for their loyalty to be rewarded. However, the show was not yet ready to spill its secrets and so it twisted in new, more unusual ways, shelving some established characters while forefronting the Others. Fans’ growing frustration was understandable. I had almost jumped ship before that, as I found the second season to be a middling misfire. I never minded the teasing out of Lost‘s mysteries, and have often made the point that I don’t care how long it takes to reach the end as long as I was enjoying the ride.
Despite loving some of the core devices introduced in that season (those Dharma Initiative orientation videos were a perfectly crafted retro delight), I felt the show was treading water, directionless and being stretched out by Locke and Jacks “faith vs. science” debates that were going around in circles. The Hatch, while presenting an intriguing situation, ended up sapping some energy from the show. Tying the characters to a static location might have seemed like a good idea after a year of jungle walking, but it soon became claustrophobic and counterproductive. When the Hatch’s importance seemed to recede and various new characters were being killed off, I couldn’t help but look back on that season as a little bit adrift.
I began to stick with the show out of compulsive desire to see the mystery solved – not out of loyalty to the characters. Jack was suddenly unlikeable, Locke wobbled as his faith was tested, Charlie succumbed to his more pathetic qualities, once Claire had given birth her role was greatly reduced – there was no love to lose with these guys. The two best things in that disappointing season was 1. the introduction of one of the great small screen ambiguities, in the form of Ben Linus and 2. a sympathetic romantic lead with Desmond Hume who, unlike the other new characters in season two, actually lingered and became important to the overall mythology of the programme.
Season three, after a shaky mid-section, improved exponetially and sent the show careening into what I consider its most solid run. The writer’s strike which afflicted TV that year had a surprising positive effect on Lost by trimming the fat and eliminating the filler, re-invigorating the cast and genuinely hooking the storyline back in. The stakes were raised, again, the characters matured and it was thematically satisfying seeing the future and the “present” meet so skillfully. The Michael Emerson-led episode “The Shape of Things to Come” showcased an actor at the top of his game, and the death of his daughter remains a standout moment of the show. The emotional intensity of that scene was genuinely earned, as outside of the core characters, this was the most harrowing of all peripheral deaths in the show.
Lost is an extreme example of serpentine plotting. Fair weathered fans flew the coop as the show embraced its metaphysical merits and finally ‘fessed up to what it always has been—science fiction with time travel coming to the fore. Its notion of time travel is a little sketchy and dare I say whimsical, and I can understand how the island ‘moving’ and the cast split across time itself would be off-putting to some. I tired of some of the 1977 plotting, but it demonstrated a show not only tackling its own mythology but going to great lengths to justify it, and that must be acknowledged in a positive way. I still believe the show was spiraling without a plan for a long time and the decision to set an end date galvanised the writers to stop screwing around and nail down some essential truths. Whether or not the plan came later, the writers’ course corrected and Lost had a renewed purpose. While the current season has a had a few bumps and is slightly coloured by the notion that where we’re heading will only disappoint, like so many, I am hopelessly absorbed in the complex layers of this unlikely TV phenomenon – I will stay Lost to the very last minute.
Lost: First Found at Comic-Con
I walked into the San Diego Comic-Con screening of the first hour of the two-hour Lost pilot at 10:00am on Saturday, 24 July 2004, not really knowing what to expect. It was the first event of a packed day, but it had a cool premise (a plane crashes on an island, mysterious things happen to the survivors) and it was from Alias creator J.J. Abrams. I watched, intrigued, as Matthew Fox, that guy from Party of Five, opened his eye, somehow thrown into the jungle unharmed by a horrific plane crash. I laughed as fangirls in the audience shrieked loudly every time Dominic Monaghan, merry from the just-completed Lord of the Rings trilogy, showed up on screen.
I was soon hooked by the mysteries that surfaced even in that first hour of the show. Why did the plane crash? Why was Kate in handcuffs? What in the world was the unseen noisy monster that ate the pilot of Oceanic 815?
Little did I know that Abrams would abandon the show after one season to direct Mission: Impossible 3, and never come back. Little did I know that Damon Lindelof, the bald guy onstage trying very hard to not give straight answers in the Q&A after the screening, would turn this process of not giving straight answers into a yearly Comic-Con ritual. He quickly got much, much better at doling out tiny morsels of information while not giving anything away.