Tuesday, December 11, 2007

DVD Review: Lost: Season Three

Lost: The Complete Third Season
Starring Matthew Fox, Evangeline Lilly, Josh Holloway, Dominic Monaghan
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Available Dec. 11, 2007

Rarely does a show come along that lends itself so openly to viewer participation. Listening to story complaints and even going so far as to allow viewer complaints to be a driving force behind structuring the schedule of the episodes, the creators of Lost, while keeping the show on its projected path, are very dialed in on what the viewers want. When the season originally aired, it was shown in two blocks of episodes. As a way of silencing complaints of all the reruns that littered previous seasons, Season Three opened with a six-episode run. Then after a 3-month hiatus, it returned with 16 new episodes in a row. This was a valid complaint as no other show relies so heavily on continuity as does the Lost universe.

The beauty of a show like this is that when executed properly, the ambiguity actually adds to the richness of the overall mythology. But balancing between the introduction of new story elements and answers to previous ones has been the Achilles’ heel of the show since the pilot aired.

When we left the island in the excellent season two finale, Jack (Matthew Fox), Sawyer (Josh Holloway), and Kate (Evangeline Lilly) had been captured by the Others. Hurley (Jorge Garcia) had been released and sent back to camp with the message that they were never to return. And Michael (Harold Perrineau) and Walt (Malcolm David Kelley) were given a boat by the Others with the coordinates to finally get off the island and return home. It was an explosive episode (pun, intended) that left viewers clamoring for more.

But season three didn’t start with the same intensity. We see that Jack is being held captive in the Hydra (another Dharma Initiative station) while being interrogated by a new Other, Juliet (Elizabeth Mitchell). Kate and Sawyer were kept in nearby cages and it is revealed that “Henry Gale,” whose real name is Ben (Michael Emerson), is in fact the leader of the Others. As the season gets under way, there are few answers from previous episodes and new questions mount quickly. The initial batch of episodes felt like a tease. While they weren’t great, they were hardly terrible either. My biggest complaint echoed that of every other person that watched and loved the show, simply not enough answers. At the very least, the ratio between answering existing questions and introducing new ones didn’t balance out.

Once the show returned from hiatus after the initial batch of episodes, a funny thing happened — it got good again. I mean, scary good. What once seemed like a convoluted mess that the writers were making up as they went along turned out to be probably the best season to date. Oddly enough, I attribute it to the fact that the show DID stumble out of the blocks. Without the uproar over the mediocrity of the start of the season, they wouldn’t have been able to turn it around. Better yet, they wouldn’t have been made to do so. In the face of waning viewership the writers were forced to start resolving some of the core mysteries of Lost. Who are the Others and why are they on the island? Why was Locke in a wheelchair? What was that cable on the beach? Who is Christian Shepard’s daughter? What do the Others want with the children? Why can’t anyone find the island? What is the Dharma Initiative? Once pushed out of their comfort zone, they answered some of these questions and found a rhythm and a balance that enabled them to get the show back on track. Granted, this is Lost so a number of perennial questions still remain. What is the smoke monster? What is the significance of the numbers? How does the island have healing powers and why does it only work on some people? How did Christian Shepard die and where is his body? What are the voices in the woods? What happened when the hatch imploded? What’s with the skeletons in the cave? Who is Jacob and what is the significance of his list? And what in God’s name is with the four-toed statue? Among many, MANY others.

To start this season the creators tried to raise the bar too high, too fast. When you go back and watch it again, it becomes clear that they took heed to viewer concerns and made adjustments on the fly where needed. The show caught up to itself in the second half of the season and for as much as can be made about the show’s ambiguity, when viewing it as a whole you get a sense of scope and realize just how much ground was covered. There were a few shallow episodes (episode #309, “Stranger in a Strange Land” and episode #310, “Tricia Tanaka is Dead”) and lest we not forget the awful intrusion of Nikki and Paulo midway through the season. But even amidst their trespasses, their penultimate episode #314, “Exposé” was pretty clever and ended no doubt with an audible jubilation from all of their despisers.

The strengths of the season were episode #308, “Flashes Before Your Eyes,” where the idea of space-and-time-travel is first discussed and we are made aware of Desmond’s “flashes”; episode #319, “The Brig,” where Locke finally deals with his “daddy issues,” and of course the brilliant season finale episode #322, “Through the Looking Glass;” when we are introduced to the game-changer for the first time: the flashforward. Up to this point, all of the character-centric episodes have been told through a combination of current island stories and flashbacks into those particular characters past. But in the finale, we see a haggard and miserable Jack in a post-island meeting with Kate and are side swiped with the idea that getting off the island isn’t the end-game result. The storytelling possibilities are limitless and in one 3-minute scene to end the season, life was breathed anew.

After watching this season I wondered if the success of Lost as it is today would have existed 10-15 years ago. In a pre-Internet culture before the “need to know NOW” mentality was instilled in all of us and the ability for geeks everywhere (I use the term amorously) to scour the Internet for clues, would the success of a show like this have even been possible? Without having readily accessible information or being able to re-watch the episodes on DVD for any little hint that could help shed more light on what is going on, (yes, that includes me, who re-watched the scene with Locke and Ben in Jacob’s cabin repeatedly in slow motion and with pause button in hand), would it have been as well received as it is now, or is that very premise what makes the show so different, and so special?

Lost: The Complete Third Season - The Unexplored Experience is a 7-disc set that features all 23 episodes (the finale is split into two separate parts) on 6 discs and a disc of bonus features. The bonus features include a handful of never-before-seen flashbacks and the “Lost on Location” feature, a behind-the-scenes look at 10 different episodes. There are audio commentaries on four episodes (”A Tale Of Two Cities,” “I Do,” “Exposé,” and “The Man Behind the Curtain”) by executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse and various actors in each episode. There’s also a Lost video game demo and promo, and of course the standard, but boring deleted scenes and bloopers. The best special features are “The Lost Book Club” that discusses the show’s literary references and the “Lost in One Day” feature that gives a fascinating look at 24 hours in the life of the series, from the writing, direction, wardrobe, and editing of no less than 5 episodes at a time in varying levels of production.

Conceptually, the show started with a fairly simple premise: tell the story of a group of plane crash survivors who end up on a mysterious tropical island. As the story has unfolded we realize the show isn’t really about that at all. Sure, they are still trapped on the island and other forces, be it people or otherwise, are trying to keep them there, but what really makes the show work is the richness of the characters. All of the characters on the island are forced to confront the failures of their past and revisit issues or events that make up the core of who they all are emotionally. They are all metaphorically lost in addition to physically being as such. In simple terms, the show is about redemption. And in a season where the characters were made to confront demons of their past and decide how that is going to shape their future, it is not surprising the writers and creators of the show did the same to equal effect.

The creators have repeatedly said that the story of Lost is a mosaic and that the total story will only begin to take shape over the course of the three remaining 16-episode seasons. Without seeing all the pieces of the puzzle we are left with little more than rampant theorized speculation. For anyone who watches this show as religiously as I do, it begs the question: Would we have it any other way?

And there’s the rub.

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