Many fans of ABC's paramount series Lost, the Emmy-winning science fiction drama, have endured a bit of a love-hate/love-or-hate relationship with Oceanic Flight 815 for the previous two seasons -- myself included. There's a fine line between watching the show because it's entertaining television and watching just to know about the characters' resolutions, which happened to be the tight-rope that the creators wobbled on while exploring and dissecting the island. J.J. Abrams and crew have played around with this for the past few years, taking us on twists and turns that try to provoke questions about religion, tribal mentality, and the existence of something called the "Dharma Initiative" that, though we've seen square foot after square foot of their grounds, still makes little to no sense. Weaving through the mysterious, metaphysically-enhanced island has been a chaotic trip both enthralling and nonsensical enough to fluster its audience with theoretical jabbering. While still one of the better television series on the air, it has mainly built off of character fondness and the initial ideas constructed by the first season -- while spending a ridiculous amount of time piecing together a dizzying network of clues, including those that might hint at whether the island's inhabitants are even still alive.
With Season Four of Lost, all the ground work laid by two years of batty ideas, character interactions, and historical analysis on the island's story arch finally begins to regain momentum. After a handful of seasons testing the waters, Abrams' crew knows exactly what to do with the tone, direction, and rhythm of this part science fiction/part survival drama. As a result, Lost's Fourth Season packs an unbearable cinema-style punch geared to be intelligent while also being deceptively simple, energetic without showing all its cards, and heartbreaking without approaching melodrama. The Hawaii-based crew knows how to get inside of their audience's head, clearly proven by how intensely they can exploit their ability to do so while accomplishing many more thematic objectives in the process. Though only thirteen (13) episodes long, it doesn't even come close to slowing down (or unnecessarily speeding up) its kinetic rush to baffle and engross both its devotees and straying fans in need of a lure-and-tackle back into the universe.
We left our survivors last season, in Lost's signature cliffhanger fashion, within moments of being rescued. A mysterious boat has appeared off the island's shoreline that has hung a knocked-out paratrooper named Naomi dangling above the tension-rattled group. As to be expected from this eclectic gathering of survivors, there's conflict over whether the rescue crew's presence is either authentic or trustworthy: Jack (Matthew Fox), Kate (Evangeline Lilly), Sayid (Naveen Andrews) and most of the "level-headed" castaways try to do everything within their power to get off the island, while Locke (Terry O'Quinn) and Ben (Michael Emerson) believe the rescuers to be less open about their motives for coming -- not to mention that neither desire to step a single foot off the island's inexplicable healing soil until they locate and mince words with Jacob, the unexplainable God-like being that Ben constantly mentions. Between the two factions exists a blur of people with different motives to either stay or leave: con-artist Sawyer (Josh Holloway) would be returning to a world where he's less than desirable, Sun (Yunjin Kim) and Jin (Daniel Dae Kim) run the risk of losing their baby because of the island's bizarre birth issues, and Juliet would lose years of research to return to her cancer-ridden sister. Seems rife for the splitting of factions and ideals, doesn't it?
Season Four distinctly feels like the second act of a grand three-part play, which is interesting considering that Season Three's conclusion reveals what'll ultimately happen to the Oceanic crew -- well, at least two of them in particular. Since the show's beginning, one of the key mechanics that kept viewers hooked to the mythos was the intriguing character-specific flashbacks. Usually, these flashes latch onto the episode's particular theme (suicidal tendencies, power struggles, etc.), which doesn't change here; however, instead of looking into the past, we're given glimpses into the futures of the "Oceanic Six" -- the only six rescued survivors from the plane crash. This shift flips everything on its head, otherwise transforming the island time into a series of flashback sequences that lay the foundation for a quirky time mechanic similar to Christopher Nolan's Memento. Since the character history tidbits started to feel overwhelmingly formulaic as the third season came to a skidding close, this new dynamic helps to freshen up the pacing for Lost's flip-flopping methodology. The grand scheme, however, lies in discovering and observing the dynamic shifts that revolve around the identities of the Oceanic Six -- first, which characters are the actual survivors, and second, how these particular six are going to make it off instead of the others.
With the element of rescue in sight as the central plot point, it's only natural that a rescue team (read: new characters) would find their way onto the island. Normally, the idea of grand dynamic shifts, fresh characters, and a deflated mystery level regarding the castaway's outcome might've driven away and disheartened fans. However, each and every one of these elements is handled with systematic care, which makes the new material revelations in Lost's Fourth Season a refreshing and delightfully enthralling shift in gears. We're introduced to several very distinct entities, both on the boat and on the island, that range from money-thirsty ghost hunter Miles (Ken Leung) to brain-garbled physicist Daniel (Jeremy Davies). Davies is especially welcome, as he sort of recreates his paranoid, confused presence from Rescue Dawn into a larger, more sprawling role that will affect the make-up of later episodes.
One of his influences occurs in "The Constant", which is the perfect example as to why the ludicrous nature of this season works as well as it does. Normally I wouldn't single out an individual episode since Lost's nature is better encapsulated by appreciation for a full season of concepts and ideas, but this one's an exception. It involves Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick) -- the "hatch" guy who has blurred in and out of alternate realities several times throughout the series -- as he travels ten years back in time. In that, he interacts with the fabric of time itself by communicating with both present and past Daniel about his blurred reality situation. Time travel science, brain damage, and island mythology all intermingle within one 40 minute episode, but there's something different with Desmond's condition this time through. It all, in a way, makes sense; instead of the writers trying to talk it to death, they find a marriage between elaboration and simplification geared towards easier digestion. Sure, there's something to be said for running mental laps around plot devices, but the Lost crew have learned which races to run and which to streamline. "The Constant" is one of such races, complex by design but crafted with such precise ingenuity that it goes down smooth.
But no need to worry, because there's still plenty of "following the rabbit down the rabbit hole" in Lost. Most of it finds central focus on Locke and Ben's quest for Jacob's cabin, which makes sense seeing as how they're the more mystical beings of the bunch. Michael Emerson has received two Emmy nominations for his role and the nefarious Benjamin Linus, but he especially deserves it this season. He molds Linus into a villain that's as complex as they come, holding the capacity to contradict himself over and over again -- and still seeming strong in his resolve. He adds dashes of insanity, disillusionment, and pure belief in the island's importance to his persona which, though difficult to build into a credible character with those attributes, comes across with surprising believability. Of course, there's also quite a bit of Ben showing off exactly how intensely badass his character can be this time around, though it surfaces in some rather strange fashions. Part of that comes in the revelation that he shares a connection with the ominous smoke creature that's been claiming lives and scaring the bejeezus out of the survivors since the first season, which both becomes clearer and more bizarre right before our eyes.
With all these elements at play -- the sustained mysticism, the newcomers, the standard character interactions, and the flash-forwards into post-Oceanic crash time -- Lost has to make a few sacrifices to cram it all together. Herein reveals one of its double-edged swords: J.J. Abrams and company have crafted too many interesting characters for their universe. Throughout all the chaos blitzing through this season, a few of the key players get eschewed more than some would probably like. Most notable is Sawyer; sure, he, Kate, and Jack have a little bit of their typical tug-of-war antics and he gets a little normal character time fumbling around with Locke and crew on their quest, but he rarely finds an integral spot in the narrative. Juliet, as well, gets nudged in that same direction, serving up only secondary trust/distrust conflicts on the beach. She does, however, get a clever expository episode that helps reveal some of the secrets behind how she transforms from the sweet, curly-haired researcher on the mainland to the hardened, untrustworthy woman of scorn.
Strangely, even the normal focal characters get washed around a bit amid all the chaos going on around the island. Jack and Kate's typical banter gets swallowed up a bit by the distrust created by the rescuers' presence, while Claire and the baby receive similar treatment amid Locke's prophetic drive. It all feel strangely integral, instead of segmented, which helps make each episode feel complete and smooth. That's one of the key distinguishable elements of this season as opposed to the others: polished, flowing narrative. It rarely ever feels like material is wasted or disjointed, instead being hallmarked by a controlled and steady stream of absolutely addictive material. The only points that feel highlighted -- or that stick out like a sore thumb, in a tolerable, not-so-bad way -- are Sun and Jin's moments regarding their relationship and pregnancy. Their conjoined character development offered some of the stronger dramatic (and sappy) moments from every season up to and including this one. Even with these little bumps in the rhythm, character dynamics are impressively smooth both in the flash-forwards and back on the island.
A lot has changed with Lost over its tenure. It's gone from a pure Jurassic Park/Cast Away hybrid to an amalgamation between those, "Lord of the Flies", TV's Quantum Leap on a cheese-less level, and even a wee dash of 12 Monkeys in there for good measure. But that's not really citing influences, per se, but more gathering together productions that roughly outline what J.J Abrams' series has molded into. Even more interesting is seeing how involving and cinematic the series has become, as it undeniably improves the experience when watching episodes consecutively. Something about the editing and the rhythm really leans itself more towards bulk outings, especially once you've gotten a taste of the current storylines, watch a few, then tell yourself that you can "just watch one more" and end up sitting through the entire series over a weekend. And that's what you'll find yourself doing with Lost's Season Four: watching episode, after episode, after episode until it's dried up ... and you'll want to do it all over again. Sitting down with it reminded me of watching the entire introductory season over a blurred, exciting weekend, which is a true testament to how strong the Lost crew crafted this one. In my eyes, Lost is back -- and I'm itching to dive right back in once the next season kick into gear.