This is the third article in my analysis of the TV series Lost. I began the articles a few weeks ago with Season 1, and continued with Season 2. The show has been off the air for several years, but as I explained in Part 1, for a number of reasons I started watching last fall, in October 2015, and became hooked on it. I’m fully aware that Lost is controversial even six years after its end; I can’t tell you how many people on Twitter have warned me that I’m going to hate the ending. (Maybe I will, maybe I won’t; I’m not there yet). Since I did the last installment, I also found some interesting commentary on the blog of author Scott D. Southard in which he includes Lost on a list of “three things I can’t believe I was once into.” With something of an amusing tone–Scott includes Paul Simon music and chicken strips on the list–he says his eureka moment with Lost was when he realized that, despite the many innuendos in every episode, the writers had no grand plan when they started and were essentially making it up as they went. I could see being disappointed by that, but I don’t share the feeling. I never assumed Lost had a “master plan” or some mind-blowing revelation at the end that it was working up to. In any event, I don’t see how a TV series spread over several seasons can be expected to adhere faithfully to a “master plan,” even if one exists, and coming out as anything other than dull or stilted.
That said, Season 3 is my least favorite season of Lost, so far. The story arcs for this season mostly concern the Flight 815 crash survivors’ collective conflict with “the Others,” a hostile group of people who, though not indigenous in the aboriginal sense, have evidently lived on the island for many years and don’t necessarily like interlopers. The Others are led by the cold, conniving Ben Linus (Michael Emerson), a bespectacled fellow who reminds you of that really tough English teacher you had in high school and still detest 30 years later. Though the Others’ purpose on the island is still somewhat unclear, they’re very interested in pregnancy and fertility, which explains why Juliette Burke (Elizabeth Mitchell), a doctor specializing in pregnancy, has been brought to the island by some powerful corporation that evidently represents the Others’ presence in the outside world. Much of the season consists of escapes by various characters from the Others, retaliations, deceptions and counter-deceptions, leading up to (spoilers) Jack finally being able to signal a helicopter that he believes will take the Flight 815 survivors off the island. Naturally, it turns out not to be that simple. In the season’s final scene Jack, now back in the outside world, pleads with Kate that they have to go back to the island.
Though it’s exciting from a narrative standpoint, I never found the Flight 815-vs.-the-Others dynamic nearly as interesting as exploring the characters’ own back-stories and how they related to what they found on the island. The dynamic is especially unsatisfying where so many things about the Others are deliberately left undefined. Do they have an ideology? What’s their history? Ben acts like their leader while denying that he has any official power–so why do the Others follow him? The writers of Lost leave these questions intentionally unanswered, thus resulting in a kind of conceptual muddle. They also don’t properly foreclose other possibilities, such as, why don’t the Flight 815 people try to negotiate with the Others and reach some basis where they can mutually coexist? Indeed, in a mostly closed society, especially one where women for the most part can’t have children, wouldn’t it be much more logical for the Others to welcome the 815 survivors with open arms, hoping to assimilate them into their community and thus ensure the survival of the society?
Still, there are some great moments in Season 3. One of my favorite episodes is “Tricia Tanaka is Dead,” another episode focusing on Hugo “Hurley” Reyes (Jorge Garcia) and his unlucky past, which involves the chicken restaurant he used to work at–and which he’s now bought with his lottery winnings–getting hit by a meteorite. (Tricia Tanaka is a news reporter who’s killed in the mishap). In this episode Hurley also finds an old VW minibus left behind by the long-extinct DHARMA Initiative, and he insists on getting it working. As soon as the engine comes on “Shambala” by Three Dog Night begins playing on the radio. The time travel aspects of Lost also get some treatment, especially with the character of Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick), who can see the future, albeit unpredictably, and who flashes back to his pre-island life in the 1990s with bizarre results. Desmond becomes quite an important character in this season, and his quest to find his fiancé, Penny, is very poignant.
The hostile “Others” pack some odd surprises, as this clip from Season 3 of Lost illustrates.
Future, past, the nature of time, redemption, regret and moral choices are all a major part of Season 3. It feels like a rather incomplete job, though, because the Others conflict is never seamlessly incorporated with these themes; it still seems added-on and separate. I read that Season 3 was originally supposed to be the final season, but the success and popularity of the show led ABC to ask J.J. Abrams and his production company for three more seasons. This certainly could be the root of Scott Southard’s complaint that it felt like they were “making it up,” if they’d already gone past whatever master plan might originally have been sketched out for Seasons 1-3. Actually I would have been very disappointed if the show ended here. There were too many interesting avenues left to explore–note I avoided saying “too many loose ends to tie up”–and it just wouldn’t have sat well with me if this was the end. Maybe I’ll still feel that way at the end of Season 6, but I have yet to get there.
Others may be embarrassed for having once been hooked on this show, but as a newcomer to the series I’m still thoroughly enjoying it. The directions in which the narrative has gone have been surprising and thought-provoking, all the more from a network TV show produced as network television was in its last gasp before being overtaken by non-network ventures like Mad Men (which premiered shortly after Season 3 of Lost wrapped). I’m still fascinated to see where it will go.