This is my fifth article in my analysis of the television show Lost. I call it “a personal journey” because it very much is that. As I explained in the first installment, which covered the first season, I began to watch Lost in October 2015, eleven years after its premiere, to give myself a sort of project to fill some down time after my husband got a new job that required him to work evenings. I discovered the show spoke to me in a way I didn’t expect, mostly because of its Borgesian treatment of time and imagination, and its unusual narrative style. Here are my subsequent installments: season two, season three and season four. In this article, I get to Season 5, which originally ran in 2009. This is also the first article I’ve written since I finished watching the series–I just recently got to the end of Season 6, ironically as my husband announced he’ll soon be changing jobs and will most likely be back home in the evenings.
In some ways Season 5 is my favorite season of the show, because it pushes the farthest into the realm of pure science fiction, centering mostly around time travel. In other, more subtle ways, the “decline” of Lost was clearly visible, but I still found it interesting and engaging. This season begins and (spoiler alert, obviously) ends with explosions. At the end of Season 4, Ben Linus (Michael Emerson, who won an Emmy for his performance on Lost) turned a mysterious underground wheel that caused a great flash, evidently moving the island in time and possibly in space. Season 5 involves how the survivors handle the increasingly disorienting time shifts as the island literally skips through time. Meanwhile, the survivors who have left, principally Jack (Matthew Fox), Kate (Evangeline Lilly) and Hurley (Jorge Garcia), reunite to get back to the island on another plane, which also crash-lands, though not as catastrophically as Oceanic Flight 815. Eventually the core survivors end up back in time in the 1970s, now participants in the mysterious “DHARMA Initiative” that built much of the island’s infrastructure. An attempt to change the past so that the Oceanic Flight 815 crash never happens is the centerpiece of the end of the season, involving the detonation of a nuclear weapon left behind by U.S. Army testing in the 1950s. In the meantime, connections between various events and characters in the island’s past–and future–become clearer.
As with previous seasons, the minute-to-minute conflict among characters isn’t really what interests me about Lost. There’s a lot of it in Season 5, with the requisite chases through the jungle, so-and-so (usually Sayid) shooting people for one reason or another, and tension between the survivors and the “Others,” whose society and history is not well-explained in this season. What I found compelling about Season 5 was the way the characters grow and change. Hurley, a kind of naive and innocent figure, becomes much deeper and more introspective in this season, especially in the episodes “The Lie” and “Some Like it Hoth.” Jack Shepard, though presented as the show’s hero, never really worked for me as a leading man. He fades into the narrative background a bit more in Season 5, which is very welcome. The most interesting growth is that of Sawyer (Josh Holloway). Beginning the series as a cynical villain cheating the other survivors, by Season 5 he’s not only a good guy, but actively challenging Jack for moral leadership of the group. In the 1970s scenes he poses as “LaFleur,” chief of security for the DHARMA Initiative, and he winds up romantically involved with Juliet (Elizabeth Mitchell), a character I hated when she first appeared in Season 3, but who becomes an interesting and even sympathetic character as she changes here.
Season 5 poses an interesting science fiction dilemma: what if you could go back in time and be involved in establishing the situations that would eventually shape your life, long before you knew you were doing so? When the core characters find themselves on the island in 1974, thirty years before the crash of Oceanic Flight 815, a host of paradoxical conundrums appear to them. Some, like Sawyer, are content to live in the past and find lives they never had in the future. Others, like Jack, are obsessed with changing the past so as to affect the future. The most interesting time-travel situation in Season 5 involves the 12-year-old Ben Linus (played by Sterling Beaumon, who does look remarkably like a young Michael Emerson). The motivations of Ben, Lost’s chief villain, have been pretty vague in the previous two seasons, but in the 1970s we see how and why he became the person he ultimately was as an adult, and our heroes must decide whether it’s moral to try to prevent his villainy before it starts, or whether his destiny is essentially locked in. It’s a rumination on the old free-will-versus-predestination question that’s often posed in time travel stories, but it’s done pretty well here. And I loved seeing the DHARMA colony in its heyday and the characters in 1970s costumes.
The opening scene of Lost’s Season 5 finale foreshadows the big questions that are going to be tackled in the next season, the show’s last.
Still, by Season 5 the series is beginning to show its age. The stories, while interesting, have a more haphazard feeling to them, in contrast to the slow, methodical series of revelations in the first two seasons. The action chases, gunfights and double-crosses also get a little more tiresome in this season than in previous ones, and the finale with the nuclear bomb seemed kind of out-of-place for these characters and their situations. In Season 5 the writers also began much more in earnest to knit together an epic back-story for the island and its inhabitants, essentially a mythology stretching far back into the past and into the future. These attempts aren’t always successful, but at least it’s interesting to watch. Television series have a hard time maintaining their freshness as they get into multiple seasons, and Lost is no exception. And I finally did sense we were working toward some sort of resolution…which I knew, as soon as I mentioned on social media that I was watching Lost, would prove to be controversial.