In the absence of a new Lost episode last night (ABC ran a rerun of “Ab Aeterno” instead), this week’s “Getting Lost” will look at where the show’s final season stands now:
Given the hype and anticipation for this season of Lost, has it lived up to the expectations? That, of course, is the big question. I think the obvious answer, at this point, is “No.” We still don’t know how the alternate timeline plots will ultimately resolve themselves into the main narrative, and this season has seen its share of dull episodes, like “What Kate Does,” “Dr. Linus,” and “The Package.”
But it’s probably unfair to judge the whole season as of yet. Lost has always been a show that has made its reputation primarily with premieres and finales. That’s not to say that character development doesn’t play a key role on the show, just that the show has made a habit out of sandwiching some dull episodes with strong beginnings and thrilling endings. Fans tend to forget this, but with the exception of Season Five (which I called one of the best television seasons of the Aughts), every single season of Lost has had a pretty noticeable slump in the middle.*
*Some people would probably object to the inclusion of Season Four, which was only 14 episodes, but I would say that episodes six (“The Other Woman”), seven (“Ji Yeon”), eight (“Meet Kevin Johnson”), and ten (“Something Nice Back Home”) were pretty forgettable.
This season hasn’t had a clear slump, per se, since few of the dull episodes have come consecutively, but it’s been rather uneven. With that said, ever since Desmond made his return, this season has hit its stride and renewed faith that, when the finale comes, the audience will be blown away again.
That’s such a cop-out. You should be able to judge a show as you watch it; you shouldn’t have to presume that it will get better by the finale… Well, first of all, that’s not really true of even the best shows. The Wire, Mad Men, Friday Night Lights… all of these shows gradually got better after the first episode, if at a much faster pace than Lost.
Having said that, Lost is not The Wire or The Sopranos or Mad Men, etc. It is not a show that you expect to be rich or particularly deep on an episode-to-episode basis. After five seasons, the show has established its own standards by which to be judged. We’ve come to expect a fair amount of dull love stories, odd or confusing plot twists, and seemingly unsatisfactory explanations. But we can also expect cool surprises, compelling cliffhangers, and new mysteries. Occasionally, during a particularly good episode, we’ll see a well-earned and well-executed character moment, but most of the time these things are cheesy or over-the-top. By these standards, Season Six has been about average for Lost. It hasn’t been as good as Season Five, or even Season Four, but it’s probably better than Season Two, and just as good as Seasons One and Three.
What about those dumb alternate storylines? As I’ve said throughout the season, the alternate storylines don’t bother me any more than the flashbacks did. Both were pretty generic repetitions of the same stories, in a rather cookie-cutter way. If anything, they seem to have more relevance than the flashbacks, since we now seem to know that they will eventually intersect with the main narrative.
Alright, well, let’s look at where we are now. Have a sufficient amount of questions been answered this season? Before the season started, I said that there were four questions I wanted to see answered by the show’s end. In descending order of importance, they were: What’s the deal with the Island and dead people? What is the relationship between Jacob and the Man in Black? Why these people? Is Locke actually special?
The first question, and last in terms of magnitude, has gotten the most comprehensive answer. Last week, Locke 2.0 admitted to embodying Christian Shephard as far back as “White Rabbit,” and the week before that Michael told Hurley that the whispers on the Island were the dead who are “trapped” in a sort of purgatory. There are still some questions. There are some surrounding who Hurley can see, when, and why, since he has seen people who we have no reason to believe would be trapped on the Island (like Charlie and Richard’s dead wife and even Jacob himself). There are also ambiguities about why the Smoke Monster would have done some of the things attributed to him, like leading Mr. Eko to his death and killing him. Both of these questions, though, are relatively minor, and I suspect we won’t hear much about them.
It hasn’t been particularly satisfying to find out that the dead people on the Island function more or less as puppets used by the Man in Black to manipulate people. I had some hope that the answer would be something more interesting, as in something that allowed the Island to actually give some closure to its inhabitants. But if the dead are merely visages given to the Man in Black, then the Island can’t really bring people back at all.
The next question, regarding the relationship between Jacob and the Man in Black, was treated mainly in “The Substitute” and “Ab Aeterno.” In the former, we learned about the concept of “candidates”: Jacob is bringing people to the Island to put them through a series of tests by which they will prove their ability to replace Jacob as the Island’s protector. What exactly they would be protecting the Island from, though, is unclear. As Locke 2.0 says, “It’s just an island.”
While “Ab Aeterno” gave us the first explicit look at the Jacob/Man in Black rivalry, it didn’t really reveal much we didn’t already know. They’ve been at it for a long time, but we knew that; it seems to be some variant of the “Are people naturally good or bad?” debate, but we already knew that; there are “rules” about their relationship, but we already knew that, and we still don’t know exactly what those rules are. Oh, and Jacob made Richard immortal, but that was pretty heavily implied before.
Despite the lack of clarity, the Jacob/Man in Black interaction continues to be one of my favorite things about the show, and Season Six in particular. I’ve continually praised Mark Pellegrino and Titus Welliver for their portrayals of these two, and scenes with Jacob have been pretty much universally interesting. It also allows the show to deal with its more philosophical components in interesting ways. Although Lost has a pretty extensive connection with philosophy, that connection consists mainly of name-dropping (Locke, Hume, Rousseau, etc.) and inside jokes. Sometimes, though, the show’s stories end up providing pretty compelling illustrations of standard philosophical debates, like Fate vs. Free Will and Nature vs. Nurture, and Jacob and the Man in Black have been great facilitators of that.
As for the “Why these people?” question, we’ve gotten some kind of answer, regarding the list of “candidates.” But this seems like only the tip of the iceberg. After all, we don’t know why these people are candidates, or even exactly who is a candidate (Jin or Sun? or both?). I also hope the show doesn’t skirt the interesting question of why some people who aren’t candidates—like Ben and Kate and, for that matter, everyone else from Oceanic 815—are not up for the job. And do they have some other purpose on the Island that brought them there? As Ben said about Ilana after her death in “Everbody Loves Hugo,” “It was like the Island was done with her.”
The final question, which I said was the most important, was about Locke. As I said originally about Locke:
“He is absolutely the show’s most important character…. Locke has willingly submitted to whatever he thinks the Island wants him to do since the beginning. Is this because Locke is particularly favored by the Island, or the only one who truly understands the power of it? Or is it a misplaced faith, something that comes from Locke’s deep-seated messiah complex? Is Locke special, or does he just want to be special? How the show answers this question will likely be the most important development of this final season.”
The closest we’ve gotten to answers for these questions, though, has been the contempt Locke 2.0 has shown for the original Locke. In the season premiere, “LA X,” Locke 2.0 called Locke “pathetic,” explaining how he died without any idea as to why or what was happening. Just last week, when Jack asked him why he came back as Locke, the Man in Black explained, “Because he was stupid enough to believe that he was sent here for a reason.”
I highly doubt, though, that this is the last we’ll hear on this matter. There are three episodes left before the finale, and pretty much everyone who you’d expect to get an episode has had one (with the possible exceptions of Miles, Jacob, and the Man in Black). Plus, Seasons One, Three, and Four all featured a Locke episode in the final four before the finale. In other words, I’d be shocked if one of these next three didn’t focus on Locke. In fact, the end of last week’s episode sets up rather nicely for a Locke-centric episode, or possibly even a Jack/Locke combo episode. We left off the alternate timeline with Jack about to perform surgery on Locke after Locke’s car “accident.” Meanwhile, the on-Island action ended with Locke 2.0 carrying Jack to safety and ominously telling him, “You’re with me now.”
So the pieces are, theoretically, in place for a final stretch that does justice for the hype surrounding this season. And every season of Lost thus far has had an exciting finish. Of course, every season thus far has ended with one huge question, whether it was “What is in the hatch?” or “Who are the Others?” or “How did Jack and Kate get off the Island and why does Jack want to go back?” or “How did Locke die?” or “Did the whole Island just blow up?” This time, that kind of ending won’t fly (and they’ve already said they won’t just cut to black). If they can execute an ending without an overriding cliffhanger, though, then it will solidify Lost’s legacy, and prove that the show doesn’t just rely on suspense.