I may be in the minority on this one, but the latest batch of episodes of Lost have me more than a little concerned. The show feels like it’s gone off the rails a little bit and gotten away from what got me excited in the first place. Completely out of the closet about its science fiction basis, the show has forgotten what we liked about it in the first place – the characters, the sense of mystery and danger, the philosophical questions raised – and has turned into an extended version of Back to the Future II.
The entirety of season 5 has been shot, so any advice I throw at the creators of Lost is doubly wasted – they probably won’t read it, and it’s too late to make any changes at this point. But still, here are five things that I hope get dealt with before the end of season 5.
Fix the Oceanic 6. Looking back at all of the episodes of Lost to date, I feel that the biggest mistake the show has made was starting and ending season 4’s flashforwards in the same place. What that means is that the entirety of the off-island storyline in season 4 went nowhere, and that we’re beginning season 5 with stuff that should have happened at the end of season 4. This season should have begun with the Oceanic 6 in position to go back to the island, but instead the show is still moving people into place.
On top of that, the Oceanic 6 characters have turned into people I do not like watching. It’s not that I feel so bad for Jack because of his self-doubt and pill addiction that I can’t stand to see him suffer, it’s that I find him irritating. This has happened across the board with these characters: Kate is less interesting as the doting mom, Hurley is crazy again *yawn*, and while Sayid’s Bourne-style adventures were interesting at first, they’ve become sort of repetitive and boring. Wanna bet the next assassin who seems to have the upper hand on an unconscious/sleeping/distracted/tied up Sayid will find that our plucky hero instead has the upper hand on him?
The show has had long enough to get these characters back into a place of proactive action, but instead has opted to have a lot of dragging of feet, wildly coincidental red herrings and repetitive scenes – like having Hurley right back in lock up after getting busted out.
When it was announced that the show had an end date, I assumed the story would rocket forward, but that’s been anything but the reality. I’m sure that once all of these pieces are in place things will move forward in the second half of the season, but why am I still sitting through a ton of set up for that?
The most egregious aspect of this wheel spinning has been that character work has suffered in the meantime. We’re getting gee whiz time travel stuff, but with a few exceptions most of that has featured our characters reacting with yells, running or nosebleeds. The only character who feels richer now, after four hours of storytelling, is Faraday. That’s two major motion pictures worth of time to give us one character’s growth and a couple of new pieces of information (the discovery of Jughead – obviously an endgame set up – and the mysterious gun-toting boat people in the future are the only elements that feel new from all the time travel. Everything else has been filling in minor gaps or wowing us with the fact that there’s time travel at all). This season of Lost has, so far, been a lot of sound and fury, but little light and heat.
Introduce communication. This is not a new complaint, but at this point it’s become a joke, like red shirts on Star Trek. Jack tries to get Kate to come with him to a dock but won’t tell her why. Faraday wants people to follow him but won’t explain his rationale. Locke says the group shouldn’t go this direction but sits on his reasoning. I know that many of these characters keep secrets, etc, but we’ve reached a point in the show where you can routinely count on someone to have a fight about giving information that will last longer than the giving of information itself.
Except Desmond. He’s the wild card, and a lot of time was spent setting that up. Then, when the rules of time travel were explicated, the show took time to demonstrate how Desmond is not bound by those rules. Which means that Desmond is being set up as the show’s ultimate deus ex machina: something terrible will occur and only Desmond’s unique status as time anomaly will allow him to fix it. It’s possible this terrible thing will be the detonation of Jughead, the death of a beloved character or – just maybe – the crash of that Oceanic airliner in the first place. Who knows.
The problem is that this is so telegraphed in advance that, should it happen, it will feel like major anti-climax. I’m all for setting things up well in advance, but this plot device feels like it was set up by rubbing my nose in it. Surprise me on this one, Lost.
Reveal there’s an intelligence behind the time jumping. I won’t get into all of my dweeby problems with the time jumping island (is the whole island jumping? If so, wouldn’t 2004 trees be appearing right on top of themselves in the past?), but I will say that it’s a gimmick. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – the flashbacks and flashforwards were gimmicks as well, but they were used well. I don’t feel like time jumping gimmick has been used quite as well, and one of my complaints about it has been that it’s too convenient.
Our island-bound heroes keep jumping to times that are either important in the show’s history – the birth of Aaron, the crash of the Nigerian plane – or that will reveal information that’s needed later – the introduction of Jughead, the passing of the compass. And the jumps happen at dramatic intervals. Locke’s life is saved when the island jumps just before Ethan shoots him, and the same thing happens when the boat people are firing on our heroes. The drama goes the other way – the island jumps as Locke is trying to have a big talk with Richard Alpert in the 50s. What’s more, this is a big, empty island, yet the jumps always seem to put our heroes in close proximity to other people at just the exact right moment in time. I know that this convenience is so that we don’t have an entire season of the gang time jumping to an empty clearing in the jungle over the course of centuries, but credulity gets stretched.
Unless someone or something is behind it all. Maybe it’s the work of Jacob, or maybe Faraday can explain that there’s something about them or their movements across the island that triggers the jumps. This will also help with what I fear most about the time travel: that it’s the answer to every single question in the show’s mythology. Some have speculated that the giant four toed statue is of Sawyer after a recent episode took a moment to focus on him getting a very bad splinter in his foot. If the speculation is true, it’s stupid… but only if random time jumps bring Infected Toe Sawyer back to some prehistoric civilization. If it’s all part of a grand plan I could stomach it.
Which of course brings the show back to one of its main themes: free will versus destiny. In real life I’m all about free will, but on this show I’m hoping destiny prevails.