Reflecting on the Long Journey of LOST

lost cast
By Alex Huls,

It somehow seems appropriate that with a show that so relishes playing with time that I would finally catch up with Season 5 of LOST at the same time I was revisiting Season 1 and 2 via the recently released Blu-Ray editions of the early days of the Lostians . In many ways I felt like I was having a LOST-esque flashback of my own, not only in terms of the time that has passed between Seasons 1 &2 and 5, but what has happened in that time.

What struck me most about my venture back into time, was just how remarkably far LOST has come since it first began and how much it has changed.  With so many shows – and I’m not even talking about just legal/investigative/medical procedurals – finding themselves content to stick with what works and never change its fundamental concept too drastically, what’s refreshing about LOST is how it has continued to evolve with each subsequent season and to what degree. Regardless of whether you like the evolved direction or not (and there are certainly many nitpickers who don’t) there’s something to be said about a show that seeks to challenge not only us, but – more impressively – itself by perpetually taking new risks and making bold steps into new territory. LOST has never been afraid to grow its story and characters into entirely different directions, but never at the risk of sacrificing seamless, logical growth (well, as logical as time travel and smoke monsters can be).

What’s funny is that I’ve always certainly senses the evolving steps the show has been making since Season 1, but they’ve always felt small and gradual. With the benefit of hindsight (and re-watching) I realized how deceiving that was because, after all, if you take enough small steps at a rapid pace, eventually you find yourselves having travelled quite a difference.

That was never more apparent to me than when I was reminded of just how all of our beloved characters, the story and the mythology have broadened over the years. Given the ambitious scope of Season 4 or 5 it’s sometimes hard to remember – let alone to believe – that this show once upon a time started out being just about a bunch of plane crash victims trying desperately to survive on a deserted island while a weird unseen monster rattled around threateningly in the jungle. Or that this show’s first finale involved a cliffhanger essentially about what was in a deep hole in the ground, compared to its fifth finale which involved time travel, immortals, hydrogen bombs, a Locke-Zombie, and weird warring pseudo-maybe-Egyptian-Gods. Yet none of that evolution has felt unnatural or forced. When written out bluntly like I just have it certainly seems extreme, but if you take the loose end of any character or plot line in Season 5, you can unravel the causes and effects and trace them seamlessly all the way back to the beginning. Still, that doesn’t make it any less impressive.

In fact, LOST – just like BATTLESTAR GALACTICA – was never a show I felt necessarily compelled to watch from the beginning again. Now I’ve drastically reconsidered that, because there is going to be something tremendously exciting and rewarding in not only catching the little clues I’ll now catch as alluding to the road ahead, but in seeing just how the story and the characters made their way from Point A to Point Z. Hell, watching Sawyer progress from the jerk who only looked out for himself (remember his hoarding the guns?) to the heartwarmingly loving boyfriend of Juliette is worth the journey alone. Of course there will also be something thrilling in watching the whole narrative in one fell swoop, never interrupted by months between seasons, or weeks between episodes – full of waiting and anticipation. But most of all it will just be an awesome experience watching the show again, this time paying attention to how technically (i.e. the writing) the show blossoms from something so basic to something so entertainingly ambitious.

It will be an educational reminder as to just why LOST is one of the smartest, most ambitious, and daring television shows perhaps ever to have aired. In fact, I can’t think of any other show that has so consistently and willingly shaken up its own status quo without ever sacrificing an ounce of its quality.

Sometimes, change is good.

How do you guys feel about the evolution LOST has undergone? Is it something you love about the show, or do you wish it had just stayed simply about people surviving on the island? Which plotline or character do you think has undergone the most extreme chance, or which one has been your favorite?? ?

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  • Ace

    I got my husband the first season for Valentines Day (really should have waited for the Blu-ray!), so we’ve been watching them here and there. But you are so right about the character development and how much the show changed. In the beginning Sawyer was a jerk, Locke was just some weirdo and the island was “uninhabited”. I just remember the huge WTF moment when the second season started and you realized there were so many other people that were already there. There is just nothing like this show for making you think and giving you something to talk about for hours with others that watch the show. I actually usually can’t watch it the night it airs b/c I know it will keep me up late thinking about/discussing it.

    As for the most evolved character, I would have to go with Sawyer too. Everyone seemed to hate him during that first season and then this season, he has become a leader. But I think the one character that has suprised me the most is Ben. When they first introduced him, you knew he wasn’t really Henry Gale, but there was no way I thought he would be so important to the show.

    I can’t wait to see how it all ends. And, I say this without sarcasm (which is rare for me) or condecention, but I truly feel sorry for the people who gave up on LOST at some point on the journey. They have no idea what they are missing.

  • Ace

    I promise I wasn’t trying to match the length of your article…

  • Nick

    LOST is the most ingenius series ever. I realize there are writers, but the show never feels like it’s being written….it’s more like a surreal world where we escape to. It feels so real (in no small part due to an amazing cast), and that’s what makes it so riveting. The first seasons were great, but the place LOST has arrived at now is just incomprehensibly amazing.

    I echo Ace’s feeling. The dopes who stopped watching at some point are missing the most epic journey and best storytelling in TV history.

  • I echo both Nick and Ace’s feeling about those people who stopped watching (I know a few, sadly) or even maybe people who keep watching but grumble every step of the way. Then again, I seem to be one of the few people who liked the opening mini-season of Season Three (come on, the Jack and Juliette stuff was great!) ….

    I also have to echo Nick’s lovely idea that this show does totally feel unwritten times, and that it really is like entering another, but very real world. Shows that immersive are few and far between.

  • I’ll agree about both Sawyer and the gradual development of the show. I *hated* everything about Sawyer in the beginning. The arrogance, the obstinance, the un-necessarily manufactured conflict, the lackluster flashbacks, his murder of an innocent man, etc.

    Now, I like & respect the character he has become, especially for his acts of self-sacrifice & leadership shown in seasons 4 & 5. I also love his brief and mostly off-camera relationship with Juliet even more than any aspect of the Jack-Kate-Sawyer triangle. And, his nicknames for people have become one of the best forms of comedic relief on the show. The strength of the show is that I don’t remember the moment I didn’t hate the character anymore. His redemption occurred in stages. That’s good, careful writing.

    Lost’s other big achievement is making a show with sci-fi & paranormal elements convincing & enthralling to parts of the audience who wouldn’t normally be open-minded to those things. Lost danced around the issue the first few seasons, but with the time jumps & apparent immortals in season 5, Lost is now unmistakeably a science fiction show. And yet, I don’t think that has scared that many people off. I think it helps that it’s also a fantasy and a drama complete with action, [a ton of] mystery, comedy, and romance. It’s well-rounded and has a little bit for everyone.

    Admittedly, it was hard to make it through parts of season 3. I could have done without the six episodes focusing on Kate & Sawyer stuck in bear cages and Jake in a shark tank or an entire episode’s set of flashbacks devoted to the vague origins of Jack’s tattoo. While I didn’t mind the attempt to bring in Nikki & Paulo, and the episode that wrote them out was pretty good, the mistake that is Nikki & Paulo still wasted some time.

    *However*, Lost really redeemed itself in season 4 by catapulting the overal story arc forward and blew me away with all the twists, turns, revelations, new mysteries, and character development of season 5. And, with Project Rewatch, I’m rediscovering all the great revelations & character moments from season one. As long as season 6 doesn’t ruin it, Lost will now be one of my top 5 all-time favorite shows.

  • Ace

    Todd: “Lost’s other big achievement is making a show with sci-fi & paranormal elements convincing & enthralling to parts of the audience who wouldn’t normally be open-minded to those things.”

    You are so right. My husband hates all other Sci-Fi (and I do mean all–he refuses to even give Fringe a chance and has never seen LoTR), but he loves LOST.

  • I also agree, in that what I loved about Season 5 is that after so many seasons of toeing the line of whether it was truly a full out science fiction/fantasy show, it finally came out and said: “Yes. We are unabashedly a SF show, and we’re going full tilt with it this season.” And it totally works.

    Incidentally, I noticed there are some truly horrendous typos in this article, for which I heartily apologize… and hope that the first person to disagree with me doesn’t use that to make the case that my whole argument is null-and-void.

  • And Todd, yes, re-watching Season 1 and 2, I’d forgotten what a smug son-of-a-bitch Sawyer was. He was a fun jerk, but a HUGE jerk nonetheless. And like you, I can’t say I’m really sure when that changed.

    Incidentally, I had totally forgotten that in Season 2 when the 108 minutes run up on that display, Egyptian symbols appeared in their place. Considering how Season Five ended….

  • bws

    Nice post! Of course I love LOST but I try to look at it objectively as I can. I think I’ve hooked about 12 people on the show – including myself since I watched the season 1 DVDs the week preceding the season 2 premier. The show takes pride in making the story bigger each year. The camera pulls back to reveal something that was on the fringe before. Yeah, time travel was alluded to and then WHAM! Time travel in your face. As we pull back one more time for season 6, a logical step I see is a merger of the real world and Island world in some surprising way. The majority of season 6 should take place on the Island, it is the most important “character” of the show after all. I love explaining LOST to people who have never seen it the following way:: You won’t believe how deep the rabbit hole goes. I have a couple friends watching it now unspoiled and are about reach the season 3 finale. I can’t WAIT to discuss it with them.

    To counter the thought that Sawyer changed the most, I’ll offer up Jack. From their doctor/leader/savior in season 1 to his anger and despair in “Through the Looking Glass” to his laissez-faire attitude in season 5 where he no longer wants to be the leader and just wants to stay out it these wacky situations. As an audience, we’re not supposed to like him anymore. Finally, he takes charge again, trying to end the madness and start over. They are all on redemptive paths but I feel his path may end up being bittersweet.

  • BWS, it’s interesting that you choose Jack as the most changed. While writing my comment about Sawyer, I thought to myself that Jack possibly changed the least. To be more accurate, he’s the character that’s gone through the most numerous & extreme highs & lows, only to keep ending up back where he started.

    He has a messed up life before the island (including pushing his wife away), is the reluctant leader on the island, starts to leave a normal life upon return, hits rock bottom (including pushing Kate away & nearly committing suicide), adopts some of Locke’s season 1 philosophy, and goes through a stage of non-interventionist apathy when in the past, only to end up the impulsive, science-driven leader again, motivated by how messed up his life *still* is.

    It’s still an interesting journey though. Ironic that Jack is a doctor and his life tends to resemble the line on a heart monitor — extreme ups and downs for each heartbeat. But, between the beats, his life is on the center line. It’s as if Jack’s destiny is not to grow, to change, or to improve, but to simply survive the ups & downs and end up the same person he was all along (driven, lonely, bitter, highly capable but equally impulsive, someone to depend on but *not* to idolize).

    Maybe that’s what grounds the show, despite all the crazy stuff that happens: a lot of protagonists, but no true heroes.

  • bws

    All the characters are flawed in some way. I chose Jack because Sawyer is clearly the obvious choice going from so selfish to completely unselfish – a 180 degree turn. I looked at Jack as a summation of absolute changes. For better or worse, Jack’s emotions seem to line up with mine at the time. I felt the despair after the season 3 finale. I felt apathetic towards “whatever happened happened” midway through season 5 and I wanted to blow it all up at the end of season 5.

    That’s not to say he’s my favorite or anything. I don’t really have a favorite and just appreciate the ensemble. We’re not necessarily supposed to root for anyone on this show but I really want Jack to be redeemed fully and completely in the end. It may be at the cost of his life but I still want it.

  • Tim

    Love “Lost” and I too would love to rewatch the entire series OVER after it has ended. “lost’ started out as a show about an airplane crash and survivors on an island. That’s what drew me in. I never considered what type of show it was. The characters (and actors) kept me coming back. I love the show and I agree- Sawyer has changed the most imo. Greedy and selfish he was in season one to the guy who loved and “lost’ Juliet. I can’t wait for season six. Thanks for a great article. ps- I have friends who gave up on it and now hear me talk about it and think, “what the frak?” lol They missed a great show, but there’s still to catch up. Watch the DVD’s. We have til next year!!!

  • AJ

    I LOVE LOST!!! I admit that I am waiting to see how it ends before I buy the DVDs. lol.

    I think the things that I love the most are the hidden hints and the way the writers use the internet and message boards to their advantage instead of trying to fight them. it has been artistically written!!! it has SOOO many layers and each layer adds more entertainment. if you JUST watch the show on TV, you will love the show. however, if you re-watch the show (especially the pop-up enhanced show), you’ll catch more than with just one watching. if you visit message boards or internet fan sites, you get even more. and then there’s the “lost-their-minds” who have taken being a fan to a whole new (and scary) level. they devote hours, days, years of their lives to research details that may or may not really be there. it’s amazing how many different, well-researched pieces there are. the deeper we get into LOST, everything still fits together seamlessly. it’s truly amazing!!! there is not, nor has there ever been a show that can rival the artistry of LOST!!!

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