While fanboys clamor over whether the series is an adaptation of Paradise Lost or a conceit about quantum physics, I cannot help but be indifferent to decoding Lost’s allegory. Surely, the unified theory of everything Lost will be a magnificent construction of pop-consciousness, but, for all of the show’s enigmatic trickery, this is not what makes it a great show.
Above all, Lost is a show about mythology. Of course, the viral chiffre of the series is engaging and fun, but what is far more interesting is the transparency that Lost affords the construction of its legend. Season Four is wonderful capstone to this endeavor.
The fourth installation of what is planned to be a six season product completes the trajectory for the mythic component of Lost. Season One established the dual time of the show as it flashed back and forth between back story and island exploration. Season Two decorated the enterprise with a rich symbolic language of ambiguous meaning—4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42 as well as the various Dharma illustrations and icons. Season Three inverted the two previous as the perspective of the Other displaced that of the Flight 815 survivors and we were forced to ask whether the survivors really were the good guys.
Finally, Season Four catapulted the show into the future as flashback became flashforward. This seemingly innocuous move completed something of cycle, and the Eternal Return of mythic time became established. Through this four-part series of theme and variation, Lost set up a robust architecture of meaning that refuses to be fixed in any single time. This is the model of the myth; Lost has become the Odyssey for a new epoch as Jack, Kate, and company seek to provide a new timeless system of signification.
Season Four, though, has been unfairly targeted as the season in which Lost jumped the shark. It’s not hard to imagine which such criticism befell the fourth season; the “smoke monster” received his fullest screen time, many of the episodes involved time travel, and the island turned out to be mobile. However, Lost was never terribly rooted in any reality that resembled our own. Although Season One had fewer flights of fancy theoretical physics, Jack did perform a blood transfusion with a sea urchin needle. Personally, I would believe in a magical island more easily.
But all of this misses the point. Lost had to dissolve into a fever dream of fantasy and pseudo-math to anchor its mythology in a stripped symbolism. Roland Barthes writes of myth, “…materials of mythical speech (the language itself, photography, painting, posters, rituals, objects, etc.), however different at the start, are reduced to a pure signifying function as soon as they are caught by myth.” Lost’s alleged shark jumping is no more than surreal fission of signifier from signified by way of which the show constructs its own mythos.
Lost butchers theoretical math and supplants it with the Vanzetti equation; Lost transforms the island into a machine and invents an invisible God of the island, Jacob; Lost goes as far in Season Four to strip its characters of personality and reduce them to talking heads and avatars of the effects of the island. However, all of this violence only serves to establish the show’s rich symbolic order by remaking physics, the island, and the cast into mere signifiers. The order of myth becomes manifest in Season Four.
The question remains, “Is Season Four enjoyable?” Preeminently. Amid all Lost’s heady myth work, we are given new faces such as Daniel Faraday, an Oxford physicist, and Miles Straume, a paranormal medium. Both characters buoy the season with witty and humorous dialogue, neither haven been yet broken by the island like the remainder of the cast. Perennial favorite, Desmond Hume, is given more screen time, fulfilling the wishes of no small legion of fans. In general, Season Four lets the supporting cast stretch its legs, a welcome departure from the Jack and Kate-heavy season three. Season Four, despite its crazy plots devices, is easily the best acted
Lost is not a show that progresses as much as it evolves and spreads out. Season Four is a fascinating waypoint in this expansion as the series begins to fully realize its mythic character. A dram of suspended disbelief is necessary. However, don’t take this as a petition for charity as much as good faith. It’s all part of the plan.