Lost: Thoughts on Seasons Past

For today's guest blog, I thought I'd do a little post-season reflection on how Lost, Season Two compared to Season One. But first, I'd like to thank Billie for asking me to be a guest blogger! It's an honor and a privilege.

Throughout the second season of Lost, I continually experienced a vague sense of dissatisfaction. Even though I usually found things to enjoy in each episode, overall something just felt off. I wasn't enjoying the episodes as much as I did in the first season. It wasn't until January and "The 23rd Psalm" that I felt we'd finally gotten an episode that was on par with some of the best episodes from the first season. After that point, the season got a little better with "The Long Con," "One of Them," and "Maternity Leave." Then near the end we had some episodes I thought were outstanding ("Lockdown," "Two for the Road," and "?"). But in general, when all was said and done, I just didn't feel that Season Two quite lived up to Season One.

Since the finale, I've been trying to put my finger on what exactly didn't work for me in Season Two. Some of it has to do with the pacing of the story versus the pacing of the scheduling. Given that the events of the story happened so close together (about 23 days were covered in S2), I might have enjoyed it more if it had unfolded over a shorter period of real time. But I think what it really comes down to for me is the shift in the second season from focusing on the mysteries of the characters to focusing on the mysteries of the island.

The Season One Approach

In Season One, the stories were about how the Lostaways dealt with the crash, with each other, and with their own demons. The characters are why I fell in love with Lost. I loved seeing their back stories unfold and watching how their past decisions affected their choices on the island. The ever-evolving dynamics between the characters were fascinating. Some weird island happenings were thrown in for flavor, but usually these mysteries served more as a means of exploring a given character's psychology and issues.

Take the hatch, for instance. Sure, I was initially curious about what the heck it was, where it went, and what it meant. But in retrospect, it quickly became a lot more interesting because of how Locke reacted to it. I didn't really need to know what the hatch was. I just enjoyed how it let us explore Locke's warped sense of destiny and how far he was willing to go to find his destiny. His actions served as a catalyst for Boone's death and brought to a head the Jack/Locke, reason/faith conflict. At the end of the season, part of me was hoping they'd show us what was in the hatch, but part of me was fine with not knowing. The important thing was that the hatch's existence had led to some great character exploration.

The Season Two Shift

In Season Two, however, the island mysteries moved front and center. The stories this year emphasized questions about the Dharma Initiative, the Others, and their relationship to the hatch and the island. Moreover, a whole world of information and possible clues started appearing in venues outside the show. It started with last summer's Oceanic web sites and progressed to more websites, Hanso Foundation commercials, novels written by characters we've never met, online interactive games, and appearances by Hanso Foundation "representatives" on late night television. I have to admit, I find some of this new information intriguing to a certain extent, especially when presented in a Lost episode. I'm certainly curious about many aspects of Mystery Island and why the Lostaways are really there. But I'm a bit irked that this shift in focus to the island seems to have come largely at the expense of good character stories.

In Season Two, the effect of all the island wackiness on the Lostaways and the way they deal with each other often seemed to get lost in the shuffle. At first it seemed like the "to push or not to push the button" issue would lead to more opportunities to explore Locke's and Jack's psychologies and their conflict. Instead, they spent half the season sitting around the hatch and sniping at each other. Locke was obsessed. Jack was angry. They fought about guns. There wasn't much more to it. Not until the arrival of Henry (more than half way through the season) did the effect of the button on Locke and others really came back into play. For awhile there, I was actually bored with the whole Dharma/hatch/button/Others thing because we weren't getting any new information and the island weirdness wasn't leading to any compelling character dynamics. Henry and his mind games definitely kicked things into a higher gear for the back half of the season.

Character Development

Another thing I think hurt Season Two is that the character back stories just weren't as effectively integrated with the island tales. For most of the first season episodes, the character's flashback not only revealed something new or interesting about the character, but it directly tied into how they were behaving in the "present" and moved the story forward. In some cases, we got to see the characters grow, because when faced with similar circumstances, they were making different choices. The flashback/present integration didn't work for every episode, but it worked more often than it didn't. In Season Two, the opposite was true. In many cases, it felt like the writers wanted to answer some of the character questions raised in the first season, but couldn't think of a good way to tie that bit of past story into present actions. As a result, some of the best overall episodes for the season were those that focused on the entirely new characters (Ana Lucia, Eko) rather than our old favorites.

Maybe it was easier to do integrated, character-based stories in the first season, because we didn't know who anyone was or what their issues were. But after those first 44 days, we now feel like we know the characters and what motivates them. Or at least the writers must feel that way. Because we really didn't get any new insight into our core characters this past season. We've filled in some of the blanks in their stories, but we don't really know them any better and it doesn't feel like they've made any personal progress on the island. In fact, several of the characters feel like they are backsliding (Locke, Jack, Sawyer, Charlie) or stagnating (Kate, Claire, Hurley). Perhaps I shouldn't expect much personal growth over the span of 23 days, but after Season One, where we were treated to people facing their demons to a certain extent and growing a little, the Lostaways in Season Two felt a bit one-note.

Looking Forward...

I know for many viewers the island mysteries and possibly getting answers to those questions are the bread and butter of the Lost experience. So I imagine, for these folks, a season that brought a lot more information about the island and its mysteries was an improvement on the first season. (Or perhaps not, since it also brought a lot more questions.) But for me, the island mysteries are just icing on the cake, not the main course.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed Season Two, and there were definitely some episodes that I'll want to re-watch repeatedly. I did get pretty excited by the black light map on the hatch blast door. And I can't deny that I'm curious about who the Others are, what their purpose on the island is, and what they are planning to do with Jack, Kate, and Sawyer.

Still, for Season Three, what I'm really hoping for is not so much answers to those questions, but stories that let us once again explore our favorite characters, what motivates them, and what fuels their current choices and growth on the island. If the Others and their actions provide the means to tell those stories in a compelling way, then bring on the island mysteries! Otherwise, I'm hoping the writers dial back a bit on the craziness that is the island and return to what made the show special for me in the first place: the characters.

2 comments:

Oliver! said...

Very nice review, and I totally agree.

I think it took a while for the writers to figure out how best to integrate the new direction of the show with the format. The flashbacks are certainly what gave the show its unique flavor, but they really dragged for the most part this season largely because there's only so much more we really want to know about our old favorites. And I also think that, as you pointed out, it wasn't until "The 23rd Psalm," that the writers really figured it all out (23rd was my favorite episode as well).

Next season, I hope we'll get some more fresh flashbacks: Henry, maybe some more of the Others, more Desmond and the two new female cast members they're hiring, and maybe a Penny flashback or two. As for our faves, the writers have specifically said we will find out:

Why Locke lost use of his legs.
How Jack got his tattoos.

The fall can't come soon enough. Keep up the good work. :)

Anthony said...

I had some of the same feelings this season. I also didn't like though I can appreciate the Jack v. Locke elements, but so many times they switched policy positions in direct conflict to their previous stance, only so that they could oppose the other one. One week Jack thought it was wrong to be mean to Henry and Locke was part of the lynch 'em crowd, then they flip flop. Eh...

Oh and seriously, what the hell happened to the big white monster thingy and to the black smoke monster thingy? Eko scared the smoke one away? Forever?

It's still fun, but I also don't like a lot of the hype and marketing surrounding the show, it can really be too much.