It’s a long time since Season 4 of Lost ended by neatly resolving its arc, showing the escape of the Oceanic 6 and the dramatic moment where the island ‘moved’. Season 4 was Lost’s most innovative and rewarding season to date, so expectations were always going to be high. There is, as ever, no doubt that they were met and surpassed. The opening double episode packed in a lot of material – more than could reasonably be discussed in a review – so rather than address every plot point, I’m going to keep it general, though be warned – there are spoilers in the text.
The first thing that becomes apparent, even within the first 10 minutes of the episode, is that Lost has finally become the full-on sci-fi show some of us always knew it was. To their credit, Abrams and Lindelof did a good job keeping the series in fairly constant ‘rational vs. supernatural’ back-and-forth early on, but the time for that is clearly over. Science fiction concepts, previously apparent as sparingly-used background material or speculative explanations, have now been thrust directly into the spotlight. There’s no doubt, this series of Lost is going to feature a fair amount of genuine time travel.
Some people might find the radical shift in the nature of the show a little too jarring, but let’s face it – even in its earliest days, Lost was a sci-fi show trying to appeal outside its genre. If you’re still watching it now, you’re a big enough fan of either sci-fi or Lost to appreciate and accept the new direction, so it’s a fairly safe bet that you’ll be entertained however things progress.
Of course, it’s not all sunshine and lollipops. Since we’re now dealing with time travel, there are some rules to be laid out. Rules that this reviewer’s favourite new cast member, Daniel, leaps almost immediately into explaining, letting viewers know exactly how time travel is going to work in Lost. The key phrase: “What happened, happened. You can’t change anything.” It’s a clunky scene and sits fairly transparently as being aimed at the viewers rather than the characters, but at the same time, it’s wholly necessary. By apparently laying down one of Season 5’s key themes, it more than justifies itself and the inelegance with which it is constructed.
Another major change in Lost for Season 5 concerns the structure. The flashback structure of the show, which viewers saw expertly twisted and subverted in Season 4, is now almost entirely absent. While early seasons often contained flashbacks that felt like filler, the parallel stories being told both on and off the island (though at different times) now make every minute of Lost count. We’ve got the Islanders skipping through time, under attack from various parties throughout history. We’ve got the Oceanic 6 trying to reassemble. And peripheral to both of those, we’ve got subplots spinning out of all time periods. This is definitely one of those episodes that asks more than it answers, but at the start of the season, who would want anything else?
Even as the plot freewheels rapidly towards a dangerous level of complexity, there’s still one element of Lost that goes unchanged, and that’s the smart, well-defined characters. Hurley and his family offer fantastic comic relief, while Sawyer’s difficulty adapting to his new situation feels almost palpable. Ben exudes a smug, invasive type of charm, and Kate, as ever, makes a run for it. It’s to the writer’s credit that even with seismic shifts going on in the nature of the show, there’s a strong sense of continuity in everyone we see.
Only one moment really disappoints, and the crying shame is that it should be the climactic reveal to cap off the 2-parter. The episode ends with the dramatic and startling return of… Ms Hawking. A character last seen explaining why the universe would make sure Charlie died to Desmond, in Season 3’s Flashes Before Your Eyes. Unfortunately, unless you’re well-up on your Lost lore, her identity will be a less than satisfying reveal, so obscure that even I had to look it up. One of Lost’s biggest strengths and failings has always been an unwillingness to bend towards convention, but in this case, if viewers were expected to know who Hawking was, a little bit of telegraphing earlier in the episode would’ve gone a long way. You know, for those of us who don’t have a photographic memory of an episode we saw 2 years ago.
For all its promise, this season still has a long way to go before it can definitively challenge Season 4’s place as the best so far. You can tell that this is going to be an ambitious year for Lost. Either it’ll pull its many, many threads together masterfully, or it’s going to spin wildly out of control and consistently leave viewers with no idea what’s going on. The only way to find out, of course, is to watch the next episode, and after this opening 2-parter, there’s no way I’m not coming back for more. Lost may have been gone a long time, but there’s no point denying it. I’m hooked all over again.
23 January 2009