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(21 May 2006)


Lost

Regular airtime: Wednesdays, 9pm ET (ABC)
Cast: Matthew Fox, Evangeline Lilly, Josh Holloway, Naveen Andrews, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Dominic Monaghan, Jorge Garcia, Harold Perrineau, Terry O’Quinn, Daniel Dae Kim, Yunjin Kim
by Jesse Hassenger

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Oscillation


Lost appears to depend on continuity. Specific story threads must perpetually develop, twist, and raise new questions. In its second year, the show not only had to follow through on plotlines initiated in 2004-‘05, but it also had to live up to its first-season complexity.


The first scene of this season took to the challenge with gusto. Opening on a mysterious man in a bunker blasting the Mamas and the Papas while injecting himself with medicine and fiddling at a computer terminal, the camera finally tracked and panned upward, revealing that this was, in fact, the inside of the hatch that Jack (Matthew Fox) and Locke (Terry O’Quinn) had labored to open at the end of last season. For a show that excels at “What the hell?!” moments, this sequence was a triumph.


But Lost is never absolutely great (or totally lousy) for very long. Season Two solidified its standing as TV’s most addictively erratic program. Not long after the stunning hatch revelation, Lost bogged itself down with character backstories. Thus we suffered flashbacks like those in “Adrift” (2.2), which provided additional, redundant information about Michael’s (Harold Perrineau) back-home struggle for custody of his son Walt (Malcolm David Kelley). The show then proceeded to highlight, in industrial-strength neon ink, how those travails related to Michael’s current drive to find Walt, who had been kidnapped by the mysterious island Others.


“...And Found” (2.5) applied the same formula to Jin (Daniel Dae Kim) and Sun (Yun-jin Kim), showing their pedestrian first meeting while Sun searched frantically for her lost wedding ring in the present. Instead of gaining a deeper understanding of their relationship, we saw illustrated what was previously implied or even explicitly said (Michael lost Walt once and doesn’t want to lose him again; Jin and Sun complete each other). While Lost‘s sub-stories often raise as many questions as they answer, its clumsiest character work answers the same questions, over and over.


I don’t begrudge Lost its efforts at such development, as the show’s ensemble keeps it from becoming a nerdfest of mythology and endless twists. Some of the best Season Two moments centered on new characters: members of the downed plane’s tail section, including the standoffish ex-cop Ana Lucia (Michelle Rodriguez) and the powerful Mr. Eko (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), the repentant drug-dealer masquerading as a priest. Eko remained effectively mysterious even with the backstory overload, and the widely hated Ana Lucia at least provoked reactions.


And so they provided a contrast with the sentimentality embodied by Michael and Jin, which evinced Lost‘s tendency to press the tiresome “sympathy” button too often, undermining its seeming innovation in other areas. And on a show where supposedly anything can happen, the much-touted regular character deaths were in fact predictable. Of this season’s three major deaths, two were late additions (Ana Lucia and Libby) and the other, Shannon (Maggie Grace), was an obvious choice. When her stepbrother Boone (Ian Somerhalder) bought it she followed suit. Sure enough, Shannon exited in “Abandoned” (2.6). Each exit was preceded what has become Lost‘s death “tell”: flashbacks that revealed formerly unseen sympathy, such as Shannon’s crushed dreams in “Abandoned” and Ana Lucia’s guilt over her vigilante revenge killing in “Two for the Road” (2.19).


Still, the how, why, and utter suddenness of Ana Lucia and Libby’s departures comprised one of the season’s best shocks. Michael, usually so dull, pulled the trigger as part of a deal with the Others to get Walt back. In that split second, we learned more about him than any flashbacks concerning child-custody lawyers.


The show also proved it could do right by the kind of slow-burning question that often frustrates fans, in the person of Henry Gale (Michael Emerson). Captured by the castaways, he pleaded for his life in the face of great suspicion before, at last, he turned out to be one of the Others. Gale’s twitchy line-walking revealed that Lost can showcase individual characters through revelations about their character, not reiterations of previous, obvious points.


The busy two-hour season finale, “Live Together, Die Alone” (2.22), to its credit, had more moments in the “revelation” column than the “obvious and repetitive” column. Desmond (Henry Ian Cusack), the aforementioned man from the hatch, turned out to have a great lost love, but this twist didn’t color his every move thereafter. At least not yet; hopefully we will be spared a Season Three episode wherein more Desmond flashbacks explain that everything he does, he does for his woman.


Of course, Lost can’t please everyone, myself included. Some fans doubtless love even the most obvious flashbacks, just as others may have wanted Jack to kiss Kate (Evangeline Lilly) again, and still another faction rooted for Sawyer (Josh Holloway) to make a move. Huge ensemble plus huge fan base equals huge divisions over what direction is the “right” one.


And so it is less continuity than inconsistency that makes Lost work. Some of its suspense comes not from the plot twists (which combine shock and predictability), but from the actual episode-to-episode quality levels: will each episode be good or not? It’s a weekly nail-biter. Lost takes risks, it’s an ambitious (and decidedly non-procedural) one-hour drama. It survives because its mix of fantasy and mystery, character development and plot twists, predictability and sharp twists—in short, its mix of cleverness and crap—is like nothing else like it on TV.

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