There seems to be a general consensus that in the end, Lost made some serious mistakes that retroactively damaged the entire show. When the series ended in 2010, I watched the whole thing again and was surprised to discover that wasn’t quite the case for me. The seasons were a lot more self contained than I remembered, in the sense that the questions, themes, and goals that arose would almost always be resolved by that year’s finale. It was less one long story and closer to a series of six volumes, and the last of those volumes happened to be one of the least good. That’s unfortunate so far as the legacy of the overall series goes, but some incomplete, unsatisfying mythology about demigods and a cave of light doesn’t negate the seasons that are complete, fully satisfying tales in their own right. Particularly the fourth season, which is bar none the best told story that’s ever been on television.
[Disclaimer: I am not a scholar, an academic, particularly well educated, or someone who doesn’t use too many synonyms. I’m just a pilgrim in search of a fun TV show, and that was just my personal opinion.]
[Disclaimer #2: Casual revelations about the nature of this season abound, don’t read if you haven’t seen the show and intend on watching.]
Lost Season 4 is storytelling on a massive canvas, taking place in the past, present, and future. The scope of the year’s arc is very clear right in the first episode. A ship has come to the island, and rescue for the Lostaways seems assured. But the people on the boat may not be trustworthy. And glimpses into the future show us that only a few of the characters are back in the real world, and all of them seem deeply haunted by what they had to do in order to escape.
The sense of dread builds all season, and it culminates in a massive, fully satisfying finale that manages to keep nearly every character in constant jeopardy for three straight hours. It’s such a perfectly structured season, not even a writer’s strike that halted production for several months could derail the story.
I doubt I’ll ever be as obsessed with a season of television as I was with this season of Lost, it did intrigue better than anything I can think of. In fact, it loses just a little something when you know what’s going to happen… but oh well, I’ll never forget my first time. Best of all, it was another season where the mysteries were entirely rooted in the characters. What’s happened to change the people who escaped the island? What happened to the people who got left behind? Which of the people from the freighter are trustworthy? What in God’s name is Ben Linus up to? The one thing about the third season that held it back from clogging up my Top 5 Favorite Seasons with Lost was a sense that a lot of the character arcs were well trodden. It’s not a lot of shows that can suddenly make the cast as fresh and interesting as they were in the first year, but Lost pulled it off this season.
Finally, a major theme of the season is something that obsesses me, the idea that we’re all defined by our roles in society, and what might happen if society suddenly didn’t matter. The first season examined that brilliantly as the lead characters “died” and had a chance to redefine themselves on this crazy island. That theme naturally kind of died away as the Lostaways got to know each other, but it’s back in full force as we see some of the characters try to rejoin society. What happens when you’re given the chance to resume your old life after living through circumstances that have changed you irrevocably? That was the driving question that made the flashforwards compelling, even though they were low stakes compared to all the chasing and gunplay back on the island.
A miscellaneous, but not insignificant pleasure. The chemistry between Terry O’Quinn and Michael Emerson is some of the best around. This entire season, Ben and Locke share virtually all of their non flashback scenes together, and it’s a huge treat.
What an abrupt ending to this review.
If I Had to Nitpick…: My lone beef with the season is a bit of foul play in Ji Yeon, the Sun and Jin episode. The whole intermixing of flashbacks and flashforwards serves no purpose but to trick you and try to make you feel something at the end. I HATE BEING TRICKED INTO FEELING STUFF.
Notable Episodes: “The Constant” is a wonderful sci-fi adventure grounded by something lovely and romantic. “The Shape of Things to Come” is about as tense as Lost gets, and it’s always great to have Ben in the spotlight. The three part finale “There’s No Place Like Home” sticks the landing pretty much perfectly.
Honorable Mentions: I love the fifth season too (yes, the time travel one), to the point where it was once on this list. In the end featuring Lost three times seemed a bit much, but maybe we’ll talk about it someday…