After six episodes of its third and least compelling season to date, Lost entered into a two-month hiatus last November. It was a risky move that pissed off fans and crippled the show’s momentum. The commencement of 16 straight weeks of new episodes — at a time not opposed to Idol — was supposed to bring new hope. On a media blitz, the creators promised a return to the old Lost, the quirky character-driven vignettes, the polar bears, and giant tree-leveling monsters.
After watching the grand return on 7 February, “Not in Portland,” I feel like I’m the one who’s been tricked by Sawyer’s Star Wars con: seems like they’d tell me anything just to get me inside the door. Oh sure, I suppose the episode delivered on a technicality: it offered backstory, but it was expository and boring. This is too bad, because the brilliance of Lost‘s backstories was never their unraveling of mystery (or when they do unravel something, as with Hurley [Jorge Garcia] in Season One’s “Numbers,” it’s incidental). Rather, it’s that they provide insight into characters, with different, past contexts allowing us to rethink their behaviors in the present. Yet, in this episode, we learned only that Other Juliet Burke (Elizabeth Mitchell) was a doctor, that she impregnated male mice with injections, and that she was recruited to become an Other via extreme tactics. We didn’t learn a single thing about her that didn’t seem directly related to the island. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.
Worse, her actions to this point are now monumentally confusing. Early this season, Juliet was being set up to be some kind of double-triple agent, first working for the Others while gaining Jack’s (Matthew Fox) sympathy and affection, then pleading with Jack to kill Ben (Michael Emerson) during surgery, then wanting Kate (Evangeline Lilly) and Sawyer (Josh Holloway) killed in order to save Ben. At last she killed an Other to aid Kate and Sawyer’s escape because Ben said so. Wait, what? How can we trust anything she says? More to the point, how can we possibly care?
Juliet’s switcheroo-ing aside, this season has lost track of some previously compelling thematic elements. In the past, Lost tackled faith, mortality, and revenge, using its constant-crisis premise as a means to explore the idea of “starting over,” raising complex questions about identity and nature over nurture. We’ve seen “angels” become villains (Charlie [Dominic Monaghan]), torturers turn tender (Sayid [Naveen Andrews]), and innocents die unceremoniously (Boone [Ian Somerhalder]). Their stories were riveting because they look like us, respond to situations like we might. Even Jack, so stoic, succumbed to selfishness and loss, in a moment that was more moving than when he screamed into a walkie-talkie at gunpoint, “Dammit, Kate, I said run!” Now, instead of such provocative and even meaningful moments, we’re treated to chase sequences and evil Others. I thought Lost was smarter than that.
In seasons past, I appreciated Lost‘s brief literate nods: characters with names like John Locke (Terry O’Quinn), Rousseau (Mira Furlan), and Ethan Rom (William Mapother); clues tucked away, like the polar bear portended in Walt’s (Malcolm David Kelley) comic book or Hurley’s numbers on the hatch injections. But now, we’re on obscurity overload. Juliet’s ex-husband? His name’s Edmund Burke (a Revolutionary War-era conservative, for those rusty on their American history), and we’re made sure to catch this in a nice, long take of his desk’s nameplate. The Others’ lab funding? It’s provided by Mittelos Bioscience (Anagram: Lost Time), which we see just before Other Aldo (Rob McElhenney) is caught reading A Brief History of Time in another stagy shot.
Amid all the cleverness, I rather sympathized with poor Karl (Blake Bashoff) having been taken prisoner, then all tied down A Clockwork Orange-style, his eyes forced open to watch incoherent quotes and images flash on a giant screen, and this all set to a wretched drum-and-bass soundtrack. How unnerving that must be. Oh, wait, I know exactly how he feels.