It's been a month since the series finale of Lost and it's taken me at least that long to collect my thoughts on the series and that final episode (a second viewing didn't hurt either). I've also rewatched the entire series in recent months (and I give a huge thumbs up to seeing it on Blu-ray...those gorgeous island scenes are perfect for the format). If you've never seen the series and want to without foreknowledge...some spoilers ahead.
When Lost premiered in 2004 I didn't have high expectations. I'd seen the ads, heard some buzz and decided to check it out. The name J.J. Abrams didn't inspire as much excitement or "must-see" status. He'd produced the charming Felicity and thrilling but overly complicated Alias. Lost's pilot, directed by Abrams, thrilled immediately, easily one of the best produced, most exciting series openers ever. It had a theatrical feel, strong characters and enough mystery to beg any viewer to return in coming weeks. Producers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof get all the credit in the world for continuing the excellence.
The first season of Lost was without a doubt the best thing on television at the time. There was an unseen monster in the jungle, terrifying "other" island inhabitants, 16 year old French distress calls and a mysterious hatch to who knows what. Lost was the show that you talked about every morning after with friends and colleagues. "Did you see...?" "What did that mean...?" "I think they're..." Theories abounded, questions piled on questions.
Always character driven at heart, the central conceit was a weekly focus on one of the passengers of Oceanic Flight 815, following them in their island adventures while also flashing back to their lives before, up to and/or including their doomed flight. As the show twisted on, we started seeing connections in their lives, characters and places weaving in and out of their histories. Did it mean something? Were they all here for a reason?
Though there were many beloved characters, a handful became the core...led by Jack and Locke, whose reactions to island enigmas were often opposing and embodied by their own designations as men of science (Jack) and faith (Locke).
As season two unfolded, the intricacies of the island--its power and history--compounded. We learned more about the "Others" and a scientific exploration of the island by the Dharma Initiative. New characters entered the fold, including Desmond (one of my favorites), Henry Gale (later revealed to be on and off baddie Ben) and more crash survivors from the tail-section of the plane. Shocking deaths proved that no one was entirely safe on the island (or the series in general) and new wrinkles like the hatch and it's "push the button" urgency further added to the water cooler fodder.
Season 3 was a crucial turning point for the show in many ways. After a slow and not terribly exciting run of six episodes (much easier to digest on DVD, though), the show went on hiatus for several months before finishing the season in nearly consecutive installments. Fans were disgruntled (I admit my own frustration was at a peak)...answers were not forthcoming and for a series anchored by its characters, new additions like Nikki, Paolo and Juliet (who eventually would become a fave) weren't winning anyone over.
After the return from hiatus, the producers bore down and committed to a solid conclusion to the series after six seasons. Fueled by an endgame now in sight, the writers got down to business. Subsequent seasons would start in late winter but air without reruns and in compressed, heavily-plotted arcs. We had to wait longer, but the results were worth it. By the end of season three, Lost was as strong as ever and the season finale changed the show forever by altering the flashback format to present a surprising flashforward, unveiling a new revelation that at least some of our heroes had made it off the island. If I ever had any doubts about the show, they were completely erased when a scruffy, dour Jack screamed at a departing Kate outside of airport grounds "We have to go back!" I had to know how this happened.
Season four answered that question with more flash forwards revealing the identities of six survivors who escaped the island and the subsequent three years of their lives. How they escaped and how they told their story after the fact were now tied into intrigue surrounding multiple parties trying to protect, exploit and comprehend the island. This season might have been the best after the first.
By Lost's penultimate season, the producers had pulled the wool over the audience's eyes long enough. The series turned into full-on science fiction with a time travel plot that sent several regulars bouncing through several eras on the island before landing in the late 70s and the Dharma Initiative. On the flip side, the six who escaped were working to return to the island to save those they left behind. Paradoxes and mystical elements abound and little did we know that one of our favorite characters had been forever compromised. It was the lowest rated season of the series, but also one of the most brilliant and firmly built around pleasing the fans that had stuck it out at a time when audience attention was shifting back to more easily digested fair (I'm looking at you, episodic shows like CSI/NCIS/Law & Order)
Lost's final year was a bit uneven and has drawn mixed opinions for leaving a lot of the challenging aspects of the plot open to interpretation and drawing attention more to the characters, their connections and a new story-telling device dubbed a flash-sideways, depicting a reality where Oceanic 815 did not crash. But how did this world relate to that of the island, where a desperate attempt to reset their woes appeared to have failed? What could we make of the epic good vs. evil battle commencing with the sinister unnamed Man in Black, now wearing a familiar face? What was the island, why did it need protecting and who would do so?
Some of those questions linger still and answering them really isn't the point. As the final episode unfolds, we must face the fact that this show was never really about the hows and whys (though they were fun), but about the amazing people we grew to love, hate, sometimes both and developed all these emotional ties to. More importantly, the series itself turned out to be about those relationships as well...their desire to escape the island and reset what got them there betrayed the fact that they all found something better from the experience. The final fate of our castaways finds them in an ethereal other world of their own making, where they can all meet in the "afterlife" to re-establish their connections before "moving on." Admittedly, it seemed a bit out of the blue as a plot point a perhaps a little deus ex machina mumbo-jumbo, but the emotional resonance behind it made up for the conceit. I daresay no Lost fan wasn't openly weeping as our heroes and heroines sat in their faux church/airplane, interwoven with images of Jack stumbling through the jungle and that final shot of an eye closing (I called it about 10 minutes before but it was no less satisfying). Cue the fantastic, swelling cues of composer Michael Giacchino one last time and that final frame placard...LOST.
Lost was a series that probably couldn't have survived before or after its time. While densely plotted shows with sharply written characters aren't going away entirely, they may not reach the zeitgeist and mania that Lost did. How many other shows inspire such fanaticism? You could make a case for Star Trek but when has Trek ever needed complex blogs and deep knowledge of film, fiction, temporal physics and religious parable to analyze each and every episode? Lost was very much a product of the new instant media and internet age. It inspired fervent discussion in ways that some sports can't even aspire to. For much of the last two seasons, I held weekly court with coworkers seeking answers and help making sense of the latest episode. It was smart television that didn't talk down to its audience at any point. Rewatching the series, I chuckled at how many red herrings I mentally followed, how many theories I clung to and how many open-ended stories I may never understand.
I will miss Lost immensely, but I'm quite content with how and when it concluded. Few shows truly go out on top and even fewer reside in that place where I feel the need to continue singing their praises and helping make new fans.