The third season of Lost has some problems, but is otherwise perfectly positioned right at the heart of the show. If you’re a fan, you’ve come to love the people on the show over the course of the first two years, but they’re not yet caught up in the overwhelming, plot driven darkness of the final three condensed seasons. There’s still room for episodes that are carried by the characters and their interactions with each other. At the same time, the series feels more driven than before, building almost perfectly over the course of twenty two episodes. A lot of big arcs come to a big finish in a way that opens up the future.
Too bad about some of these flashbacks, mostly in the first half of the season. Nearly everyone on the show seemed so intriguing in Season 1, but these backstories were not the bottomless wells of story material we’d been hoping for. If it was thoroughly established in Season 2 that Jack was self destructive and Kate ran from her problems, it was downright monotonous to see that again in Season 3. But this is another case like with 24 Day 8, where you can cleanly scoop away the less compelling flashbacks (and the occasional entire episode) and not impact the overall story in any way.
While we’re at it, I’ll quickly defend that much derided six episode opening arc. The scenes between Matthew Fox, Elizabeth Mitchell, and Michael Emerson are as great as a lot of stuff later in the season, and the minimal screentime for all the other characters stops being an issue when you don’t have to wait three months for the rest of the season. So there.
Onto the really good stuff, I love that the conflict this season is driven by the Others. Lost was at its least entertaining for me when it centred on more esoteric stuff like the inside of the Hatch and the cosmic forces in the last season. This year, it was all about how the island had become a bit too small for these two groups of characters. The Losties were either going to have to bring this conflict with the Others to a head, or find a way home. Both goals gave the season a simple, direct trajectory that still allowed for a lot of great character stuff and smaller arcs.
Lost could do pretty much any episode this year. You could have episodes that expanded the personalities of The Others and the mythology of the island. Or you could just have Sawyer, Charlie, Hurley, and Jin fix a van and drink beer together. And either episode could be equally entertaining. Characters like Charlie, Locke, and Sawyer were given terrific arcs, and newcomers like Ben, Juliet, and Desmond became top tier characters. And as much as I’ll rag on about half of the flashbacks, the rest added immeasurably to the season by tapping into new characters and, occasionally, hidden facets of old favourites.
The third season of Lost puts the characters first, it rotates easily between lighter stories and exciting life and death struggles, and again, big stories that run for three seasons are brought to a head even as new avenues are opened up for the three years still to come. This is the season upon which Lost pivots, and it’s a huge success.
If I Had to Spin a Negative Positively…: I’ve already brought up the weaker, early season flashbacks. But there may have been an unintended benefit, the general feeling that there was little left to explore in these character’s backstories may have made the shift to flashforwards (and other things) in Season 4 and on more palpable to fans. We may have felt cheated if we thought there still a lot of gold left to mine in the character’s pasts.
Notable Episodes: “Not in Portland” gets things truly off and running while making Juliet the M.V.P. of Season 3, “Expose” is an unexpectedly great mashup of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone as done by Lost, and you really can’t go wrong with ANY of the final four episodes of the season, all of which are 10/10s or really close to being 10/10s.