I remember when LOST jumped the shark. It was the episode dedicated to the mystery of Jack’s tattoo. It was an inane episode, one that existed entirely to buy time for the writers, while simultaneously keeping a popular character on screen for the majority of an episode. The episode could have been good – after all, LOST is all about those weird coincidences and strange meanings of every day occurrences. By this point in LOST’s evolution though, we had enough mysteries. We wanted answers. We got a tattoo.
With Season 4, LOST jumped back. The show was focused in a way it hasn’t been since Season 2 and the encounter with the Hatch. I think we can thank two things for this: a commitment to ABC for two more seasons, and the writer’s strike.
ABC’s commitment to a six-season arc means that the dreaded ALIAS effect, in which the network repeatedly almost cancels a series, then brings it back, forever mucking up the ongoing storylines, was avoided. More importantly, the writers can now pace out their stories – they know where they have to get to, and they can plan accordingly. There’s no more need for tattoo episodes to buy time, no more speculation about how to stretch things out in case the show is renewed.
The writer’s strike cut the season to the bone, and forced its creators to be as focused as possible. There simply wasn’t any room for another meandering tattoo episode, or yet another flashback elaborating on Kate’s commitment issues.
Moreover, Season 3 actually moved the story forward! I’m venturing into spoiler territory here (up to and including the final episode, so you’ve been warned).
Season 3 setup Season 4’s flash forward, with six Losties getting off the island. The minor mystery of who got off wasn’t nearly as interesting as how they got off, and that storyline delivered in spades.
The new explorers to the island – physicist Daniel Faraday, cultural anthropologist Charlotte Lewis, ghosthunter Miles Straume, and helicopter pilot Frank Lapidus – brought with them the answers we needed. In particular, Faraday gave us the answers about exactly how weird the island is that we’ve been craving since Season 1. We now know how people become unstuck in time, and we understand something of the island’s time splintered nature.
The episode with Desmond, in which he lives in both past and present, was the season’s keystone. It explained the phenomenon, it built on the show’s mythos, and it setup the season finale.
The season was not without flaws – Jack’s transition from OK guy to pill-popping crazy man happened far too quickly, and it really needed another episode in order to set up his ghost father-spawned psychosis. The body count was far too high for my tastes, but honestly, being dead on the island isn’t quite the same as being dead in the real world, so we’ll see how that plays out.
The new arrivals also didn’t have enough of their stories told; I’d like to have seen both Sam and the ghost hunter have one good episode interacting with the island.
Overall though, it was a good solid season, and one that ended perfectly with Jack wanting to get back to the island … just like we saw at the end of Season 3. Coupled with a new alternate reality game (teased at the end of the finale) and we’ve got everything we need for a truly great season 5.