A Reconsideration of the Final Season of “Lost”

Last week we were pretty hard on “Lost.” Some of the commenters felt our criticism was long overdue; others called us “Judas.” Several things have happened in the interim, and so leading into tonight’s “The Last Recruit,” we want to clear the air, as it were.

First of all, we want to retract our frustration with the show’s writers for blowing up Ilana. As Mike Allen put it, “How is it a bad thing that a TERRIBLE character who has been sucking up tons of screen time got Arzted?” Answer: It’s not. It’s a good thing. And the writers spared us a long, emotional, protracted death by dispatching her efficiently, if not ruthlessly. They blew up a bad idea. Better late than never.

The one good thing Ilana has done this season, though, was in Ben’s episode “Dr. Linus.” We realized this in church this past week, when the pastor played the following scene as part of his message:

The message was part of a series called “Force Feed,” about the hundreds of media messages we receive every day and the agenda, intentional or accidental, behind them. The pastor played clips from other TV shows as well, and when we watched those clips we were instantly conscious of their artifice — meaning, we could cooly, dispassionately assess them as actors on a set saying lines in front of a camera (rather than a married man and single woman, both doctors in the ER, who run away from a charity dance into an empty hospital room telling one another how they want nothing more than to stop thinking about the other before getting it on on the operating table). It was easy, in other words, to know they were fake.

And yet with the “Lost” clip, we were sucked in. What’s peculiar about “Lost” is that, more than the average show, it is steeped in artifice. It veers from comic book sci-fi fantasy storytelling to time-traveling, good-vs.-evil allegorizing. It’s a show about plane crashes and smoke monsters and four-toed statues and frozen donkey wheels. There’s no way it could be real. But it registers at a far deeper level than most of what’s out there on TV today. And you can’t say that what Michael Emerson captures in that clip isn’t something very real on an emotional, and spiritual, level.

(Note: The pastor did not attempt to delve into the meaning or significance of “Lost” beyond this clip, yet we found his reading of the show a bit reductionist. Ben is not simply “bad,” much less the “great villain” of the show. But hey, he showed “Lost” during church. We’ll take it.)

As we tried to articulate last week, we’re not going to apologize for having high expectations for the final season. The show’s creators have willingly stoked those expectations, and what’s remarkable is that they’ve almost always risen to the occasion. Season 6 has been an uneven, up-and-down ride, but we’re committed to enjoying that ride the rest of the way, regardless of where it ends up. The most accurate statement we can make about this season? It has risen (or fallen) on its characters. The richest, most complex characters — Jack, Ben, Desmond, Locke — have had the best episodes. The weakest, most static characters — Kate, Sayid, Jin & Sun — have tanked. But at least the show is sticking to its guns.

Are we softening up here? Does the fear that we have invested so much time in this show — countless hours over five years — only to feel disappointed at the end have us defining satisfaction down, settling for good not great? One could argue that. Like Scott Guldin, we’re just trying to enjoy the ride as it comes to a close.

In considering all the hours he has invested in “Lost,” Mike asked what useful knowledge he has gleaned from obsessing over this TV show. His conclusions?

1. Shortly after arriving at a jungle and with no formal training, I will become an expert tracker.

2. Never, ever, under any circumstances, for any reason, no matter what anyone tells you, or how careful you plan to be, should you ever mess with dynamite. Seriously.

What about you? What actual knowledge have you taken away from J.J. Abrams’s brainchild?

Us? Never fly.

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