Fair warning: This review contains spoilers.
Leading up to Wednesday night’s two-hour season 5 premiere of Lost on ABC, reviewers from the major entertainment outlets were wary about giving away any details other than a few cryptic comments-much like the show itself. It appears now, having seen the show, that the industry experts weren’t afraid of spoiling the surprise. They simply couldn’t describe what the show was trying to do.
If Lost watchers felt more disoriented than usual, it’s probably because they’re accustomed to the show anchoring one of its multiple time lines as the present. That notion may be a thing of the past, if this is any indication of the course the show will take from this point forward. The premiere spliced scenes from the Oceanic 6, three years after their return, with scenes from the left-behinds (Sawyer, Juliet, et al) just after the island’s disappearance at the end of season 4. At least, it’s immediately afterward from their perspective. When it actually occurs is a matter of debate-and subject to change, apparently.
Most notably, this equivocation of time lines-no point in calling them flashbacks anymore-suggests the show has embraced the idea of being a work of science fiction first, and drama second. Viewers are less likely to remember Hurley’s anguish over his dishonesty than they are Daniel’s head-spinning attempt to explain the physics behind the flashes of light on the island. (Although Hurley’s Mom had perhaps the best line of the show, following his insane-sounding 30-second recap of the entire show’s plot line: “I don’t understand you, but I believe you.”) No, the tone was set early on when, in the first three minutes, we finally heard one character utter the words that fans have been debating on message boards since season one: “time travel.” While it’s probably best that the writers brought this in up front and stopped dancing around the near-supernatural capabilities the island possesses, it’s tough not to lament the season one, character-driven plot lines that showed the personal experiences this group of odd castaways were even more compelling than the mysterious paradise surrounding them.
The establishment of a firm finish date for the series, at the end of season 7, ensures that the upcoming season won’t contain any unnecessary lulls in the plot. Also, the change from flashbacks to multiple time lines is a subtle but significant change in the show’s motif; any character that has ever appeared on the show is fair game to return. Even Boone, who died in season 1, would surprise no one if he made a cameo appearance.
As exciting as it is for die-hard fans to go deeper into the Lost mythology, it has become clear now that the show has passed the point of being accessible to new viewers. As if to prove this point, the “catch-up” special prior to the show took a different approach than previous ones had. It was actually a series of interviews with the show’s creators. They simply tried to give new or casual viewers an understanding of who the characters were, rather than where they came from. They knew it was pointless in trying to recap the series plot to this point, just as it’s pointless to try to catch someone up on a movie when they walk in two-thirds of the way through. The producers’ decision to take this approach was probably a wise one, but it still was not enough to assuage most fresh viewers’ questions.
As a Lost fan, you may experience what this reviewer has and have a friend ask why you love the show so much. You’ll try to explain, likely fail, get frustrated, then hand them the season 1 DVDs and tell them they ought to start at the beginning. And then you’ll realize that the show’s confounding twists are as much of a handicap to its viewership as they are a thrill for the eagle-eyed fans. They make watching a rich experience that is very difficult to share.
In this case, my friend declined the previous seasons’ DVDs, saying he didn’t have the time. He said he’d just try to watch the new season to see whether or not he liked it.
It pained me to tell him, but I had to: “Don’t bother.”