While a reviewing of Lost Season 5 may not be entirely necessary to enjoy next week’s final season premiere, it should be undertaken anyway because it’s simply fantastic TV. After five seasons, the acting, writing and directing have cohered into a focused unit; the characters and situations have become so clearly laid out that the various twists and turns can be enjoyed for all their thrills, tears, and surprises.
Like the best shows in the era of television as ongoing sagas, Lost Season 5 isn’t really like episodic TV at all — it’s a 16 hour movie. There are no random time fillers and subplots. It’s all narrative drive.
WARNING! SPOILERS! BELOW!
It doesn’t hurt that show runners Darlton — Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse — have masterminded, against all odds, a complex, intertwining storyline filled with mysteries that make time travel enjoyable and not an annoying “I can’t kill my grandpa!” time warp. The fifth season began with S.4’s climax — Ben has moved the island, the Oceanic Six are back on the mainland, Locke is in a coffin in the “present”, and Locke, Sawyer, Juliet, and the “Freighties” Charlotte, Miles and Daniel (and, we learn, Jin) are left somewhere — and somewhen — on the island. Unstuck in the time flow, they manage to witness a parade of the Island’s greatest hits — the crash of the Nigerian drug plane; the arrival of the Black Rock; young Charles Widmore and Eloise Hawking guarding an unexploded US atom bomb; Danielle Rousseau’s arrival on the island and the mental deterioration of her comrades through “the sickness,”; the time when the statue was whole; the night the hatch was opened. It’s also a tour of the Island’s greatest mysteries, from Smokey to Christian Shepherd to, ultimately, even Jacob, previously only known as a wind in the cabin.
What made this season so satisfying was undoubtedly the character development. All of the old roles got updates — Locke is suddenly the wise all-knowing leader and Ben is just a stumble bum (even though this is revealed to be not quite the truth). Sawyer proves that he can do everything Jack can’t — win the love of a woman, set up a satisfying home life, protect the innocent. The season was definitely Sawyer/Juliet’s, as we saw both of them mature and become their better selves.
Meanwhile Kate and Jack continued their evolution into crazy-making assholes who will do anything just to mess things up. Perhaps the best scene in the whole season was the one where they discover Rose, Bernard and Vincent the dog living happily as castaways. “It’s always something with you people,” Rose scolds. “Now you say Jack’s got a bomb. And what, you guys are all gonna try to stop him, right? We traveled back 30 years in time, and you’re still trying to find ways to shoot each other?”
Cool character moments of that ilk combined with time stream mind benders: the castaways arguing over whether to let young Ben live or die, Sayid turning Ben into the very thing he hated, Sawyer debating whether to let Sayid die or jeopardize his own standing with the Dharmites. Some moments were simple shockers on their own: Ben killing Locke, Locke’s apparent return to life, Faraday’s death at the hands of his own mother. The Lost writers managed a real feat by making all that time travel about choices and character development NOT about paradox and confusion.
Of course, there were still some annoying Lost trademarks. Are these people really that dumb? While having a lot of standing around talking about all these mysteries would be bad TV drama, sometimes the writers go to ludicrous lengths to avoid it. There’s a scene in “Lafleur” were Jack, reunited with Sawyer and Juliet after three years, knocks on their cabin door. Sawyer is surly and after about a minutes says “I have nothing to say to you” sends Jack goes packing. Now even in a show about smoke monsters and mysterious turning wheels, this seems unrealistic. You KNOW they’d spend some time kicking back and talking about the good old days.
“Hey buddy, remember when we were all prisoners of the Others?”
“Yes, good times! I had to carry rocks and have sex with Kate.”
“I know! And what about that time you wouldn’t give me drugs to treat the marshal?”
“God I was a jerk!”
Well…maybe not. But for all the appeal of the characters, their dialog is still annoyingly dopey at times. This season, Hurley stood in for the viewer as the dangers of time travel were explained over and over — “It hasn’t happened yet, but it could still happen to us.”
A season of strong performances is led by Michael Emerson as Ben Linus — Emerson can give even the most plain text a reading with many layers of meaning with just a tiny lilt of his voice, and carried off his big moments — discovering Locke alive, his growing unhappiness over his subservient role and being kept in the dark, his final “What about me?” — without a hint is histrionics.
Elizabeth Mitchell is also a standout as Juliet. From her great chemistry with Josh Holloway to the pained, fatalistic look she got the minute Kate showed up, she brought a lot of nuance to a character that has not always been cast in a very flattering light. The emotional lead up to her final scene made a very satisfying “end” to her story arc. Her story also balanced the Jack/Kate/Sawyer/Juliet situation which, it was revealed just before Jack tried to set off a nuclear bomb, was the surprising motivation for most of the show and Jack’s assholishness. We learn that Jack just wants to win Kate back, even if it means never meeting her in the first place. This kind of sudden emotional motivation in the midst of nerdy internet scifi is what makes LOST such an addictive show.
For the nerdy internet scifi fans who dissect each episode of LOST with the zeal of an entire grade school biology class, this was also a season of riches as a lot of characters that theorists have obsessed over got juicy moments. Widmore, Eloise, Dr. Marvin Candle, the Dharma Initiative, Richard Alpert. It was a payoff to years of conjecture.
As for the gradual rolling back of the curtain as mysteries are answered, sometimes it was thrilling, and sometimes it had an odd flatness when the truth was revealed. For instance, early in the season Locke finds his way to the crashed airplane, shot through the leg by the drug smugglers, and a time shift leaves him lying in the dark jungle by himself. Suddenly Richard Albert appears, supernally knowledgeable with his instructions — John must return to the outside world to bring the castaways back and to do so he has to die. The scene adds to the mystique of Alpert and the “higher knowledge” of how things work some some characters seem to have at times.
Later in the season we learn that Alpert was there because Fake Locke told him to exactly what to do and what to say. The explanation is mind blogging and yet prosaic at the same time — and introduces the Compass Time Loop that many have commented on.
Darlton seem to have a leaning towards the prosaic in some of the revelations — in some ways it keeps things grounded so that something like a frozen donkey wheel becomes acceptable. As the final season and final revelations approach, whether or not the truth will fall flat remains the most worrying question of all. It’s been a long ride, and I haven’t been this eager for a series finale since Harry Potter wrapped up.
The DVD version contains a few featurettes — one, “Mysteries Of The Universe: The DHARMA Initiative”, is a faux 70s pseudo science show that reveals a lot about the DHARMA Initiative but somehow manages not to be as fun as it sounds. Several behind the scenes making ofs reveal that some of the folks behind the show aren’t what you expected — director /producer Jack Bender is way more of a hippy than I’d ever expected. Perhaps the best extra is “An Epic Day With Richard Alpert” which follows Nestor Carbonell on an brutal 16-hour day of shooting, and reveals whether he wears eye-liner or not. Okay I was wrong. THAT is the biggest mystery of all in Lost.