Sometimes, a title is all you need. Within said moniker, everything and anything is possible. Coming up with the perfect label is never easy, but when you do, it does almost all of your narrative heavy lifting. You can even throw logical and esoteric wrenches into the mix, and as long as your tag takes care of the counterbalance, you’re home free. Such is the case with Jeffrey Lieber, Damon Lindelof, and J.J. Abrams’ absolutely brilliant Lost. Not only did said brand indicate the basic premise of his complex castaway drama but it suggested the level of depth viewers could expect in the sometimes arcane path toward enlightenment.
It’s a feeling carried over to the recently released multi-disc Blu-ray package of the complete six seasons. Within its world of known conspiracies and series secrets are a wealth of hidden extras that make the return trip through Series One through Six a breathtaking reexamination of the entire Lost legacy. In fact, it’s safe to say that this seminal TV show was always more interested in the journey than the eventual answers found along the way. Those revelations kept fans riveted, but just like the name “Lost” suggests, the real purpose was to propose realities outside the rhetoric, to reduce the survival of a bunch of plane crash victims into a matryoshka of multi-layered meanings.
For the passengers of Oceanic Flight 815 from LA to Sydney, the events of 22 September, 2004 changed their lives forever. After a mid-air break-up, 70 survivors found themselves stranded on a seemingly deserted island, the need to stay alive regularly amplified by a growing series of unexplainable events. We are introduced to the main characters the series will center on – Dr. Jack Shephard, his love interest Kate Austen, lottery winner Hugo “Hurley” Reyes and con artist James “Sawyer” Ford. Others include construction worker Michael Dawson and his son Walt, the mysterious John Locke, Sun-Hwa Kwon, the daughter of an influential Korean entrepreneaur, and British junkie rock star Charlie Pace.
Along the way, characters die off or disappear, coalitions are reinvented and reversed, new threats compound ones already present, and the predominant notion of getting off the island is often replaced with trying to figure out how such a predicament occurred in the first place. Within said setting, the unusual merges with the meaningful to turn logic on its head. Eventually, the story expanded outward to include questions of science and faith, the supportable and the supernatural, as well as a numeric code which becomes a recurring clue and an analytical albatross. Within such a maze-like patchwork are various interpersonal problems, individual loses and alliances that rewrite everything we think we know while suggesting a straight line toward an understandable (?) resolution.
At its core, Lost is indeed about finding answers, about discovering the dark inner world within ourselves and others. By using such a broad canvas – the series centered on more than 14 individual major speaking roles – and then adding its own inter-dimensions within the dynamic, co-creators Jeffrey Lieber and Damon Lindelof (with some initial help from Abrams) tool the typical hour long drama in directions unseen since David Lynch led us around a Pacific Northwest burg named Twin Peaks. In fact, Lost comes closest to resembling the famous filmmakers other failed broadcast entry – Mulholland Dr. With its open-ended ability to be interpreted and dissected, it becomes cinematic in nature, literary in style and deeper meaning.
In fact, Lost is like a novel for 60 minute attention spans. It’s chapter and verse variations make it instantly accessible and yet infinitely frustrating. As the seasons unfolded, as we moved from the conflicts between the castaways to the introduction of the Dharma Initiative, the arrival of the ‘Others’ and the revelations surrounding the enigmatic Man in Black/”Smoke Monster” each answer posed a new set of questions. In fact, the finale seemed to argue for a resolution so simple that the previous 120 episodes were almost made pointless…almost. Indeed, when one digs into the bountiful boxset and rewatches the series with its amazing wealth of added content, Lost reemerges from its pristine puzzle box to provide even more startling examples of unavoidable human truth.
Take the abundant audio commentaries which argue that the masterminds behind the show had most elements prearranged long before fan fiction and speculation drove them to distraction. How about the massive making-of material which highlights the lengths to which the production went to keep such a confounding mythology in check. There’s even an original epilogue not seen as part of the show entitled The New Man in Charge. It’s 12 minutes of ancillary explanation and unexpected surprises. Along the way, each season is supplemented in way that recalls the myriad of study guides given to epic novels like Gravity’s Rainbow (another solid parallel Lost point). Indeed, if the series has any lasting impact, it’s the successful incorporation of nu-media ideas into the old school TV show mentality.
Legitimately, Lost is not a perfect experiment. It frequently gets misplaced in its own intentions, with some characters overstaying their welcome while others are criminally underutilized. While it was genius to announce a specific end date to the faithful, confirming that you have every intention of wrapping things up in a clear, concise package (something Twin Peaks never even attempted), it does hem in the extent to which you can expand. Perhaps this is why the Oceanic Six stuff seems tacked on (at least, at first) or how the split timelines of Season Five appear almost counterproductive. Even the most carefully planned out piece of art often strays from its production Bible, and Lost lives and dies by such slips. It never grows dull. Instead, it strives to find import in situations that suggest padding over predetermination.
Such conditions are indeed incredibly rare in Lost. In fact, one of the downsides of having the entire series presented an accounted for in one implausible box set is the lack of weekly anticipation and excitement that arrives with every episode. From the moment you discovered it to the regret of having to miss an installment or two (thank God for the DVR) the show remains that kind of immersive investment. You have to either get into the various permutations of the plotting, or give up and turn to one of the many transmutations of the Law and Order theme. Lost rewarded the devoted, providing a sense of relief for only those who really stuck by and with it. The box set continues such a strategy, using a unique game-like riddle design to unlock the location of an elusive “bonus” disc. Far be it for us to spoil the fun. As with most of Lost, the incentive is in the discovery.
And then there are the performances. In fact, it’s hard to say what is better about looking at Lost in a continuous viewing: the ability to graph out the often intersecting and interweaving plotpoints or the ability to watch someone like Matthew Fox reinvent himself before our very eyes. Prior to this series, he was the proto-guardian for the Salinger siblings Party of Five. But with Dr. Shephard, the actor was able to plumb the outer limits of his own personality, discovering nuances and the necessary heroics to allow the entire series to turn on his ragged, ragging persona. Similarly, an unknown like Jorge Garcia can transform his unusual facade into something quite touching and all together original.
It’s the same all throughout Lost. Terry O’Quinn, who gave the reliable Lance Henriksen a run for his macabre money in Millennium turns Locke into a spook show spoiler all his own while Mark Pelligrino’s Jacob and Michael Emerson’s Ben redefine the role of villain in a layered narrative form. The best way to describe the work here is ‘iconic’ – indicative of type but also transformative in retracting the potential stereotypes. Even in the smaller roles, the throwaway characters who add minor accents to already established situations, Lost unearths gems. It requires you to pay attention, but the benefits far outweigh the investment.
But there is also a larger question involved, one that transcends the clever packaging, presentation of pristine transfers on 39 Blu-ray discs, the glutton for punishment pastiche of extra material, or the meticulous dedication to every detail. For the novice, for someone not initially invested in a single moment of the entire Lost challenge, can the series capture their imagination – and more importantly, hold it for over a hundred hours? It is indeed a pickle, partly because of the endurance required to take the ride without cheating (and, unfortunately, the ‘Net is overloaded with easy answers and simplistic solutions). In some ways, if you weren’t with Lost from the beginning – or at the very least, from the first DVD release of Season One – you’re merely a bystander. Just like a non-native, you’re never a real resident unless you’ve been there from birth.
Of course, the view from the sidelines is still sensational. Even with all its inconsistencies and occasional flaws (PhDs will be awarded on the basis of such issues, make no mistake) Lost reconfirms its title over and over again. From the stunning Hawaiian backdrop substituting for our sinister oasis to the bravura ensemble that brings everything together in an engaging, emotional manner, the series will always stand as one of the Big Broadcast Three’s shiniest moments. HBO can have all the grit and grim realism, Showtime can shower us with sarcastic spin while Starz seem happy to pile on the prurience and gore. But one the medium’s most unforgettable moments will always be when the survivors of Oceanic Flight 185 woke to discover they were ‘lost’. It ended up being an passion shared by everyone that came under this amazing show’s sphere of influence. Sometimes, a title does say it all.