How many times during the first two episodes of Lost’s fifth season did you gasp? Chuckle? Sit on the edge of your seat? Scratch your head? And here’s the real question: Was it enough?
After a stellar fourth season—which ended with an event-filled, mind-blowing, and let’s face it, more-than-a-little-rushed finale—anticipation has been running high for Season Five, and the Lost team rewards that anticipation with one of the best opening sequences in series history. Dr. Pierre Chang (a.k.a Mark Wickmund, Edgar Halliwax, and my favorite, Marvin Candle) awakes at 8:15 (!), puts on Willie Nelson’s Shotgun Willie while heating up a bottle for his baby, then prepares to make an instructional film, sans script, for The Arrow station. His patter gets interrupted by a Dharma workman, who tells him there’s trouble at The Orchid, where intense heat has been melting the drilling tools. Chang checks out an X-ray—which partially reveals the wheel Ben used to move the island at the end of the last episode—then delivers a stern lecture about how The Orchid rests over a source of “an almost limitless energy that will allow us to manipulate time.” When the workman jokes about how they’re going to go back in time and kill Hitler, Chang warns that, “There are rules! Rules that can’t be broken!” And then, just when the island backstory and Lost mythology reaches critical mass, we get the coolest reveal of all: Daniel Faraday is one of the Dharma workers. But why? And from when?
Boy, if that doesn’t whet your appetite, I don’t know what will.
After the curtain-riser though, most of the next two Lost hours are back in the hurry-up mode that dominated the Season Four finale. Off the island, the characters have been grouped into pairs, Justice League-style. Sayid and Hurley are on the run from Santa Rosa, and quickly find themselves in deep trouble when Sayid offs a couple of would-be assassins, with Hurley catching the blame. Sun has traveled back to L.A., where she’s rendezvoused with Kate, who is staying one step ahead of a team of lawyers who want to disprove her maternity. And a newly shaven Jack has teamed up with Ben (for a little while anyway), working to bring everyone back together for a return trip to the island, with Locke’s corpse in tow.
I have two major complaints about this mostly good Lost return, and the first is that I feel like the balance of the action is too weighted to off-island business. Of course there was quite a bit of the off-island stuff I enjoyed, like:
-Hurley offering his fries to Sayid, saying, “Maybe if you ate more comfort food, you wouldn’t have to go around shooting people.” (Also Hurley musing, “I need a cool code name.”)
-Hurley receiving good (?) advice from The Ghost Of Ana Lucia. (And by the way, “Libby says hi.”)
-Hurley’s dad watching Exposé, with a familiar-sounding “previously on” voice.
-Hurley hurling a Hot Pocket at Ben.
-Kate unknowingly crossing paths with Hurley and Sayid.
-Sun saying that she doesn’t blame Kate for leaving Jin behind (while letting her know that she is partly responsible).
-Sun being confronted by Widmore at the airport (making it clear that their alliance is probably a non-starter).
-Ben flushing Jack’s drugs, and generally whipping him back into shape. (We haven’t seen a Ben/Jack pairing in a while, and those two have an interesting dynamic. It’s a lot like Locke/Jack, except that Jack takes Ben more seriously.)
But the second episode, “The Lie,” works too hard to add a layer of old-school Lost-style significance to what’s mostly plot-plot-plot and action-action-action. So Hurley is torn apart by all the lying? I like Hurley and all, but who cares? I’m just not feeling his dilemma. (Though I think Jorge Garcia’s performance in the scene where he tells his mom the truth is pretty terrific.) It also strikes me that Hurley letting himself get arrested at the end of the episode is kind of an artificial impediment to the ultimate island return, but perhaps there’s another narrative reason for Hurley going to jail that I can’t see yet.
Frankly, throughout these two hours—or 84 minutes for me, since I watched a commercial-free on-line screener provided by ABC—I was anxious to get back to the island, where amazing things are happening. Apparently, after Ben turned the frozen donkey wheel, the island became unstuck in time. Those left behind—Sawyer, Daniel, Juliet, Miles, Charlotte, Locke, Bernard, Rose, and a bunch of red shirts, including fan favorite Neil Frogurt—find that every so often, the sky flashes, and they show up a different point in island history. Locke gets to see the heroin-filled plane go down. Daniel reconnects with his “constant.” Charlotte’s nose bleeds. Sawyer demands answers (and a shirt). The whole group gets shot at by the flaming arrows of a mysterious group of accented commandoes. There’s just a heck of a lot going on. And I loved pretty much all of it, including:
-Locke meeting Richard, who explains that in order to make things right, “You’re going to have to die, John.”
-Daniel becoming a take-charge guy, and explaining the time anomaly by saying, “Think of the island like a record … skipping.” (Also Daniel telling Desmond that the rules don’t apply to him, and asking him to “Find my mother!”)
-Miles listening for the ghosts of animal corpses they can eat.
-Sawyer and Juliet hiding out and watching their pursuers pass by, just as our heroes did with The Others in Season One.
The theme of lying may not ring any bells with me, but the idea of being distanced from everything and everyone you care about, and unsure when or if you’ll ever get back in synch? That I can get behind.
Still, I’ll be honest: I’ve seen both of these episodes twice now, and while they’re good, I don’t think I’d put either one in the Lost pantheon. Part of me wonders whether we’re going to get as many stand-alone classics like “The Constant” or “The Economist” or “Cabin Fever” this year, now that we’ve moved on to a new kind of storytelling where the flashbacks and flash-forwards coexist with the present-day. But another part of me feels that these first two episodes were intended to bring the audience back up to speed quickly, so that the Lost team can get on with a season that they’ve promised will be unusual and a little daring. I’m encouraged about the master-plot, especially after the awesome final scene of “The Lie,” which reintroduces Ms. Hawking (working in a big time chamber with a giant pendulum), and lets us know that Ben only has 70 hours to get everyone back to the island. And I’m encouraged by the “skipping record” idea, which I believe will allow the writers to introduce some island backstory in a really original way. (And might allow for some of those great stand-alone eps I crave.)
Mainly though, I remain jazzed about the ambition of this show: the breadth of its locales, the scope of its history, and the range of its cast. It would be easy to get derailed by the metaphysics of all this time-travel business, and pick holes in what might seem like lapses in logic or twists of convenience. (And if Lost messes up too much in that regard, I’m sure I’ll gripe about it.) But for the most part, all nitpicking has to be considered in the larger context of a show unlike anything that’s ever been on TV.
It’s enough for me. I don't know about you, but I’m ready to get Lost again.
-So here’s the deal: Because ABC posted the first two episodes on their media site about a month ago, I was able to put up this review as soon as the episodes finished airing. The third episode is up at the ABC media site too, so next week I’ll again have a review posted immediately. After that, well, things get tricky. Unless ABC keeps posting the episodes (which I don’t believe they will), I’m going to be in trouble, potentially. My local ABC affiliate airs SEC basketball games on Wednesday nights, and postpones all network programming until after midnight. This will be the situation I find myself in all the way up to mid-March—or more than halfway through the season. I’m exploring a workaround involving a friend’s Slingbox, but I haven’t had a chance to test it out yet, so I’m not sure how it’s going to go. I’ll let you know what I find out next week. If it doesn’t work, my plan is to start an open thread after each episode airs, and then post my reviews on Thursday morning. Watch this space for updates on the situation.
-Can I just say how beautiful tonight’s episodes looked and sounded? There were a few new themes in the score, some really fluid camera moves, and clever editing (like inserting the shots of The Orchid during Jack’s conversation with Ben). There was a very cinematic feel to a lot of these two episodes, even viewed on my laptop.
-There were times in these episodes where I thought the writers got a little too cute with the clue-dropping and fan-friendly references. When a cult show starts writing the kind of dialogue that could’ve been cribbed from fanfic, it’s heading down a rocky road.
-I failed to mention Desmond’s storyline in the recap above, probably because he barely appears in these first two episodes. He gets to close out “Because You Left” by sailing Penny’s boat off on Daniel’s mission, but we don’t see him at all in “The Lie.” Still, it’s good to know that he’s in the mix.
-A lot of great Sawyer action tonight, including perhaps my favorite line, after he realizes that the island had jumped back to a time when The Swan still exists. When Daniel tells him not to knock on the hatch and go begging for Dharma food, Sawyer snaps back that he’s “not huntin’ boar!”
-For some reason, I’d forgotten that Frank left the island with the others. Does have to return with them too?
-I love Jorge Garcia, but he needs to lose some weight. I’m starting to worry.
-I know people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, but I’m not wild about Lostpedia’s redesign.
Clues, coincidences and crazy-ass theories:
-I’m sure you all noticed that Dr. Chang’s Shotgun Willie record skips, right? Just like the island? But did you notice that when Locke gets shot in the leg, he’s standing in roughly the same spot where his legs suddenly gave out back in Season One?
-Ethan shoots Locke, and when Locke tries to explain who he is by saying that Ben Linus appointed him the leader, Ethan says that’s “the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.” But is it ridiculous because Ethan believes Ben would never do that, or ridiculous because at this point in island-time, Ben’s not yet the leader?
-One part of the “lying is bad” aspect of “The Lie” that I did like is when Hurley insists that no one will think he’s crazy if “someone backs me up.” By and large, I wasn’t that invested in Hurley’s angst, but I did feel his loneliness in that moment, when no one will stand behind him, leaving him a choice between being thought as a nut, or becoming a deceiver. I also like that Hurley promised at that moment never to help Sayid. And yet, that is exactly what he’s been doing since the S4 finale.
-A few things of note from that wicked opening sequence: Dr. Chang talks about The Arrow, the Dharma station that the Tailies would later hole up in. (Good to know it hasn’t been forgotten.) Meanwhile, in The Orchid, a man has fallen over with a bloody nose, which has become the universal symptom for time-sickness. Also, we learn that Chang had a wife and baby on the island. Whatever became of them all?
-Speaking of babies, what do those lawyers—from the firm of Agostini & Norton—want with Aaron? And when Sun mention that she’d love Ji-Yeon and Aaron to play together someday, did you feel a little pang as I did, thinking about the next generation of people about to get sucked into this ancient conflict? Perhaps Sun should heed Kate’s warning to Aaron, inspired by his favorite cartoon: “Choo-choo goes in that tunnel, it’s never coming back out.”
-So who do you think tried to capture Sawyer and Juliet at the end? My money’s on Widmore’s men, in some pre-Dharma time.
-When Juliet talked about “the button” in The Swan, it made me wonder yet again how much Juliet knows about Dharma, and Widmore, and the hostiles. What was she told the button does?
-Richard tells Locke that when they meet again, “I’m not going to recognize you,” which is an odd thing to say. How could he possibly know that, unless he’s lived through that moment with Locke before?
-I’m sure you also noted that Richard gave Locke a compass, just like in the Dalai Lama test from “Cabin Fever.”
-Ben says, “Then I guess we’ll never know,” after Jack says Locke told him nothing about what happened on the island after they left. I get the sneaking suspicion that Ben was lying. And that he was feeling a little relieved.
Wow. I wrote all of the above before I saw next week’s episode, “Jughead.” I just watched it while y’all were watching the first two. And… wow. Some of the questions I asked above now have answers, and they weren’t the answers I was expecting. I’ll say no more until next week, except to note that you’re in for a treat.