OKay, perhaps it shouldn’t be a “throwback.” The show was on-air only five years ago. But let’s be honest — the glory days of Lost were Seasons 1 – 3, and since those aired between 12 and 10 years ago, I qualify that as a throwback. Now, it has to be mentioned — those final seasons of Lost, when the show got lost in its own mythology, and focused on answering questions — the death knell of many a once-great show. But, since ThrowBack Saturday is all about paying homage to shows, not to castigation or recrimination, we will look instead to it’s great moments.
Season One was one of the greatest seasons of any television show. Creators of Lost had hit upon payday: a show that was both a critical and commercial success, with largely likaeable characters, and a premise that was ripe for continuation into future seasons. The show dealt with a myriad of themes: it looked at self-definition, the ability to change ones futures, nature v. nurture, and the importance of community. It created instant foil characters in a more concrete and also subtle manner than other shows: there was Jack Shepard, the leader who was focused and founded in science, with his diametric opposite in John Locke, a man of faith and endless belief — but there was always a third foil in the character of James Sawyer, who eschewed both faith and science, and began as a selfish character who evolved into the most human of them all. The show adhered to strict archetypes — the druggie rock star, the single mother, the heroic doctor, the strict conservative Asian couple — and then slowly eschewed those stereotypes, pulling back the lawyers to create full, complex characters. The Iraqi soldier who is the most stalwart and trustworthy of all: the overweight slacker who manages to bring the island together; the submissive housewife who becomes a badass by the end.
Lost’s diverse cast include African-Americans, a pair of Koreans, a chicana, an Iraqi soldier, among others.
Rarely has a show had such a diverse cast, and had it work together so well — this was not the race-blind casting of Shonda Rimes, but a very specific agenda to bring people of different backgrounds together — to expose not only their differences, but also their similarities. The show, in its first three seasons, was not afraid to tackle complex issues: death, birth, surrogate fatherhood, estranged familial relationships, racism, etc.
Season Two created a different story altogether — while it still focused primarily on the same set of characters, it introduced new characters, as well: people from the other side of the plane, primarily, as well as more delving into the idea of “the Others.” By creating a show based in one location — an island — that is completely separate from all other civilization, the show created a microcosm of community: despite the fact that survivors were originally from the same plane, the show was able to deal with themes of xenophobia in their purest form — these weren’t people who looked different, acted different, or even had different backgrounds — 40 days ago everyone was on the same plane. But by creating a community, everyone who wasn’t in it was somehow different — the integration of these two separate camps dominated much of the season.
Season three started out rocky (lest we not forget the infamous “cage sex”) but quickly picked up its stride after the writers’ strike. (Apparently the Lost writers were all outlining while they were on hiatus). The season introduces us to “the Others” and quickly establishes that, for the most part, they aren’t so “other” after all. The season also began the influx of mythology episodes: Dharma became more than a kind of hippie-experiment camp, and more of a dangerous, government/private business/ who knows crazed mythology that ultimately culminated in the disappointing appearance of Purgatory. But at thispoint, it still dwelt in the magical realm between fact and fiction — questions were half-answered, and most of the characters completed their journeys of self-discovery and growth. Sun and Jin became fully realized characters, Sawyer’s “heart of gold” was firmly excavated, Jack’s underlying neuroses and hero complex were brought to life, and the delightfully complex characters of Juliet and Benjamin Linus were introduced.
These were episodes that were tied together with a lot of heart, and the creation of relationships between people — questions were raised, but not always answered. Too often, writers of these grand theme shows try to “trick” the watcher, or outsmart them — but nobody likes to be outsmarted, and as smart as some writers may be, it’s impossible to pull the wool over every viewer. Instead, the best way to surprise a viewer is by employing the simple techniques that every accomplished writer has at his fingertips: character development, surprising growth of relationships, journeys of self-discovery, and simple, beautiful moments. One of the loveliest B-plots of Lost was Hurley’s tentative relationship with another survivor, who saw past his looks and loved the person he was within — or the beautiful development of Sun and Jin’s stalled relationship, or the mentoring role that Locke took over Walt. The (eventually tedious) love triangle between Jack, Sawyer, and Kate was at its strongest in season 2, when Jack was at his most heroic and Kate’s “choice” revolved around a sense of duty and being needed, rather than real affection. It was these discoveries, made easier for the writers via the use of flashbacks, that propelled the show and its greatness in the first three seasons. When this was abandoned in Season 4, in favor of flash forwards, flash sideways, and alternate realities, the show lost its footing and the strong, thematic propulsion that it enjoyed at its inception: a simple story about human connection, and what it takes to truly survive and create a community.