ENABLED: Against all odds, Season 4 has been Lost’s best.
Fifteen years ago, I fell in love. It didn’t end well.
The object of my affection was The X-Files, and I was smitten. I’d stay home on Fridays and bask in conspiracies about alien abduction and government cover-ups, following Mulder and Scully as they chased the Truth. I wanted to believe. I really did.
Looking back, I don’t know how I got suckered in. The show peaked in Season 3, and by the time it limped home, six years later, the Truth was a sham — wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, covered in bullshit. Still, as in a bad relationship, I played the enabler, glossing over obvious faults, refusing to break things off out of devotion to a past that was long gone. By the time the show ended, I was relieved more than anything. We both deserved better.
Well, it’s happening again with ABC’s Lost, and I’m a little scared.
From the start, it was clear this story of Oceanic Airlines Flight 815 wasn’t your typical crash-and-rescue show. The search for food and shelter soon gave way to issues of polar bears and smoke monsters, of pirate ships and four-toed statues, of quantum physics and wrinkles in time. It might not have been love at first sight, but it was at least a serious crush.
As the show settled in, however, I began to worry. Season 2 produced few answers, and each episode’s “flashback” sequence only added to the problem, lumping backstory questions onto the growing pile of mysteries. As Season 3 delivered more of the same, I started considering an exit strategy. I didn’t trust J.J. Abrams & Co. to tie up their loose ends (Alias, anyone?), and I figured if the survivors weren’t ever going to get off the island, I sure as hell would.
Then the producers pulled a fast one, announcing in May 2007 that Lost would run just three more seasons and promising that all would be revealed by 2010. (A radical move, especially for a cash cow in its prime, but it makes sense, and more series should do it. You can’t tell a good story if you don’t know when it ends.) The Season 3 finale was even more jarring: the episode’s flashback was actually a flash-forward, two of the characters — Jack (Matthew Fox) and Kate (Evangeline Lilly) — were home in Los Angeles, and Jack was hooked on painkillers and suicidal. “We were not supposed to leave,” he tells Kate in the final scene. “We have to go back.”
Season 4 has been Lost’s best. Yes, the answers are still slow in coming, but the show is alive again. Where The X-Files got bogged down in the mud of its own mythology, Lost is moving in daring leaps and bounds. The big “will they or won’t they?” question has evolved into even bigger hows and whys. We know that at least four other characters escape with Jack and Kate, and they’re now rich and famous, having been awarded a fat settlement from the airline and been branded the “Oceanic Six” by the media. But with celebrity comes dark consequences. They’re haunted — by ghosts, and by events as yet unseen. And whereas the only thing they used to want was to get off the island, doing so has left them broken, with empty lives of loneliness, deceit, and murder.