I remember the ads for the premiere of “Lost.” Network television was a wasteland that year — and I mean even wastelandier than usual. (Here’s the network schedule from 2002-2003, the season before “Lost” premiered in fall 2004. The highest-rated shows are highlighted. Now do you believe me?)
I wasn’t interested in “Lost.” It looked to me like a (more) scripted version of the worst kind of reality TV. If it takes place on a beach, I concluded, there is no possibility the women will be portrayed as human beings. They will be shrewy and semi-nude at all times. Bitch Island. It will be about the fights they have over some bland, muscle-y dude. Swimsuits and face-slapping. Plus, how long can the conceit of surviving on an uninhabited island realistically play out? It won’t last a season.
I was flipping through channels. I didn’t have cable. It was bleak.
I’m not one of those “I hate television” people. I like television. Even network television. “Twin Peaks” was on network television. “Arrested Development” was on network television. Neither for very long, but still. I’ve always believed in it as a writers’ medium — the most immediate way to transmit strong narratives to a mass audience. But I was losing faith. Flipping through channels, finding nothing.
Then something caught my eye. A grey-haired man in a pristine suit in a jungle. Just an image. It was jarring and kind of creepy and lovingly shot, and nothing, nothing on a network drama at the time was ever startling or weird or artfully arranged. I had to know what the hell was going on.
I’ve now been in a dysfunctional relationship with this show for six years. We’re breaking up this Sunday. More accurately, “Lost” is breaking up with me (me, and millions of other faithful suckers.)
As with any breakup, the psyche develops coping mechanisms to help you get over it: alternating between remembering only the good times, until the pain of loss becomes to much to bear; then recalling only the disappointments, the failures, the times you almost left for good, until you’re so angry, you’re kind of glad it’s over.
If you’ve ever watched this show, you know there’s plenty from both sides. Schlocky performances, dead-weight episodes (and, debatably, seasons), laughable special effects, annoying tropes, heavy-handed symbolism, clunky retcon, obnoxious musical cues, storylines written irreversibly into corners, narrative logic conveniently invented and quickly abandoned. But also: some really wonderful acting, gorgeous cinematography, challenging allusions, headspinning mysteries, intelligent, slow-burning storytelling, nuanced character growth, and, every once in a while, flashes of the sublime.
“Lost” is a show which rewards, and occasionally demands, loyalty and careful viewing. Despite its many sins and essential silliness, it often withstands repeat viewings, analysis, even research. You can’t say that about many shows on a major network. No matter how disappointing the series finale might be (and it will inevitably disappoint many fans), history will view it kindly. I believe it will be considered one of the best programs ever to air on television. Maybe the worst of the best, but among the best nonetheless.
So before “Lost” breaks up with us for good, let’s remember some of the flashes of brilliance that kept us faithful to one series for six years. Five favorite moments, after the jump. (Spoilers for already-aired episodes.) Add your picks in the comments.
Jack pursuing his deceased father through the jungle. This is the moment that hooked me. The scene that widened the scope of the story and told us: this is not simply “Lord of the Flies” with hot thirty-somethings. It’s not just going to be about water and weapons and waiting for rescue. There’s something supernatural or psychological or both going on. And it’s creepy.
Characters in the alternate timeline flashing to their lives in island timeline. Do you ever get the feeling something is not quite right? As though you’re not in the right place or time; you quite literally belong somewhere else? And sometimes, you catch glimpses of where that might be? This season’s flashes, brought about by love and near-death, is the only new story component that intrigues me as much as anything in the early seasons.
To me, it’s a big, brilliant idea, and it plays on every sense of displacement you’ve experienced, every glancing deja vu, every time you wake from a dream and for a moment you can’t quite tell what’s real, every time you meet someone and you’d swear you’ve met before. Sci-fi often deals with unhinged time or alternate realities, but this season’s “Lost” takes a more mature, poignant approach to these themes: only love or death will set you right.
Charlie’s death. This was when I reassured that, as far as the mythology of the island had spun out, “Lost” was still a show about people. True, the death of the washed-up junkie/Britrock semi-star was one of the strongest arguments for “the island is a kind of Karmic clearinghouse that redeems you and then kills you” theory kicking about at the time. But it was also heart-rending. I cried, okay? Real tears that I typically reserve for real people.
The very first shot in the series. This scene took its time. The peaceful bamboo canopy, then the bloodied man. The quiet, then the noise. It was clear from the first few seconds: this was something a little bit different.
I’m gonna miss you, “Lost.”