Jack Shepard: Why do you find it so easy?
The first season of Lost took the television community by storm with its intricate story of the plane crash survivors of Oceanic Flight 815. It introduced us to a varied cast of interesting characters, all the while composing a detailed mythology about this strange island on which they all were trying to survive. With its unique flashback structure, a large and dynamic cast, and strong thematic narratives, it established itself as one of the more compelling shows on the air and achieved that rare combination of high-profile mainstream appeal coupled with a rabid, cult fan base. The intriguing first season raised numerous questions, some of which were answered in the season finale; others were left to be addressed in Season Two to the great frustration of many viewers. Frustrations continued throughout the airing of the second season as natural television scheduling currents sent the series back and forth between new episodes and repeats, with the situation made worse by two ABC "clip shows". Through all the complaints, though, viewers continued to tune in as Lost charged forward, delving deeper and deeper into the mythology of the island, building a story far bigger than many could have imagined, and leaving in its wake the numerous network imitators who unsuccessfully tried to recreate the show's style and appeal. Now, as ABC gears up for the third season, Buena Vista Home Video releases on DVD "Lost - The Complete Second Season - The Extended Experience".
N.B.: This review obviously assumes knowledge of the first season of Lost [review]. I strongly advise you to watch that season before reading this. In addition, because of the nature of the first season finale and the structure of the events of the second season, it is nearly impossible to write any review without giving away at least some of the answers to Season One's questions. In order to assist the largest audience, I have taken great pains to keep those revelations to an absolute minimum, dodging key points of analysis to avoid spoiling something for a newcomer, but if you simply cannot tolerate knowing any of the answers to questions raised in the first season's finale "Exodus", I recommend skipping to the "Conclusion" section. If you're into the show that much, you'll likely be purchasing it no matter what I write anyway.
Lost's first season closed with an electric finale, part of which left viewers with their jaws hanging open and the other part with their fists clenched in frustration. In addition to ongoing questions (Why is Locke in a wheelchair? Who is Helen? What did Kate do? What happened to Claire? What's up with the numbers? Who shot J.R.?), three major cliffhanger questions were raised or left unanswered in "Exodus": 1) Who survived the attack on Michael's (Harold Perrineau) raft? 2) Who took Walt (Malcolm David Kelley) and why? 3) What's in the hatch? The first question is answered completely in the second episode ("Adrift"), and this review will assume you figured it out on your own if you don't already know. The second and third questions, however, are addressed in ways that open up many more layers of mystery. When interviewed after the close of the first season, executive producers indicated that it would take three episodes to actually show viewers what is in the hatch, and if they tried to do so in the finale, it would just anger people more. I disagree with the first part, as it really only takes two episodes with a significant amount of filler in between, but I can see their point on the second part. The hatch presents a massive mystery unto itself that is the focal point of the entire second season, and while many viewers did not like the way the first season closed, they should be quite pleased with how the second season opens.
Season Two begins with "Man of Science, Man of Faith", and almost immediately it tells us precisely what is in the hatch. We don't know why it's there -- in fact, we don't know a great deal about it -- but over the course of the first three episodes, we learn quite clearly what it is supposed to be (at least from one perspective), and that revelation changes everything for many of the lostaways, particularly Jack (Matthew Fox) and Locke (Terry O'Quinn). These two men have spent their time on the island, and much of the time before that, facing internal struggles between science and faith. While Jack leaned closer to the former and Locke to the latter during the first season, there is a duality within each of these men, and the significance of the hatch places even greater strain on those internal battles. Each of these characters has faced the harsh realities of the world, and yet each has been a part of an event that can only be described as a "miracle". How they cope with their past and face the challenges before them on the island -- most notably the hatch -- is one of the more compelling aspects of the series, and it is a running theme for the entire second season.
While further setting up the mysteries of the hatch, the second episode of the season ("Adrift") seeks to tell us what happened to the raft that was under siege in the first season's finale. Jin (Daniel Dae Kim) is nowhere to be found, Sawyer (Josh Holloway) has a bullet lodged in his shoulder, and Michael is distraught over the kidnapping of his son. Adrift on the ocean with no land in sight and no sail to guide them, Michael and Sawyer have to fend for themselves in what is largely a two-person piece. Unfortunately, the considerable talents of these two men are completely wasted, as the episode is packed with motivationless bickering, unreasonable character actions, and a lot of whining from Michael. In fact, for as interesting as his character can be for short bursts during this season, Michael's contribution to the show has devolved almost exclusively to yelling, "WALT!!!!" or growling, "they took my son" before disappearing for episodes at a time. He pops up now and then for an interesting scene or two, but the character struggles of a man trying to connect with a son he barely knows that made Michael so compelling in the first season are all but gone. He has two flashback episodes, and neither of them presents any new information that we didn't already know or couldn't figure out through context. Sayid (Naveen Andrews), too, is largely wasted, underutilized with a single flashback and saddled with his nonsensical "love" of Shannon (Maggie Grace).
Herein lies the major obstacle that the second season of Lost faces. So much of the first season was driven by character development, through flashback woven into the fabric of the present, and it worked very well; but after a while, unless it is a truly great character, you start running out of interesting stories to tell from the past that actually relate to the events on the island. This was evidenced most prominently with Kate (Evangeline Lilly) in the first season, when by her third flashback, viewers were simply bored with her. To their credit, the writers pull back on her quite a bit, giving her one lone flashback episode and almost conceding defeat with the straight-forward title "What Kate Did". Further to their credit (or perhaps just our good fortune, since the producers really seem smitten with them), two of the least interesting characters on the show, Charlie (Dominic Monaghan) and Claire (Emilie de Ravin), are also only given one flashback episode each, and Claire's doesn't exactly count, as it is a flashback to events that happened previously on the island -- thankfully addressing the question of what happened to her when she disappeared into the jungle.
This technique of flashing back to previous events on the island is used three times, and it proves to be a relatively effective way to cover up the noted problem of overloading the show with uninteresting pieces of the lostaways' pasts. In addition to three "island flashbacks", seven episodes flash back to the pasts of characters we know very little about or haven't full seen in flashback form. The first of these is for Shannon, an obvious attempt to add sympathy to an unlikable character that doesn't really work. Her character was pretty vapid and boring in the first season, and it hasn't really changed that much this time around, despite great attempts to toss her some depth before it's too late. Much more effective, however, is the first flashback episode for Rose (L. Scott Caldwell), who took somewhat of a back seat in the first season while the actress performed theater on the mainland. Now she is featured more prominently on the island as the matronly figure introduced in the pilot episode, and we get a chance to learn much more about the relationship between her and Bernard (Sam Anderson), the husband she continually insists is still alive.
Four more episodes focus heavily on two new characters: Ana-Lucia (Michelle Rodriguez) and Mr. Eko (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). Crashing on a different part of the island and separated from the rest of the survivors, their first 48 days have been quite different from those we witnessed in the first season. Much has been made by the fans and press about the negative reaction to Ana-Lucia's character, and while some of it is valid, the character is intended to be brash and unlikable, and Rodriguez does a pretty solid job with a majority of the role. Unfortunately, only one of her two flashbacks is interesting, and when the time comes for her to deliver a major fear-inducing speech about the power of the dreaded "Others", it just falls flat. Mr. Eko, on the other hand, is a fantastic addition to the cast, a dynamic and compelling character who leaves us longing to know more about him each time he is on screen. So many individuals on this island are on the road to redemption, but his journey is arguably the most interesting of them all.
With a lot of attention paid to lesser characters as well as newly introduced ones, there is still plenty of time to delve deeper into the pasts of the show's most entertaining individuals. The first season barely touched the surface of Hurley's (Jorge Garcia) character, but this second season gives him two episodes ("Everybody Hates Hugo" and "Dave") where he really gets the chance to shine. The affable everyman of the cast, Hurley is finally given some real character issues to grapple with as he faces his intense fear of change, and it makes him all the more interesting and much more than just comic relief. Another beloved character, Sawyer, only has one flashback episode ("The Long Con"), but it is incredibly well done and one of the best of the season. Dark but funny, heroic yet self-centered, Sawyer continues to be one of the better characters on the show, with some absolutely hilarious dialogue, and he is as strong in this second season as he was in the first.
For my money, though, the best characters on Lost are Jin and Sun (Yunjin Kim). Their growing love story is, without a doubt, the most emotionally resonant part of the show, and no matter how many times they are featured in an episode, it never gets stale. There is so much story to tell between the two of them, both on the island and in their past, and it all comes through beautifully, with incredible performances from both actors. It is easy to get caught up in the mythology of this series, the jaw-dropping revelations, the action and adventure of it all, but at its core, Lost works best when it hits those tender moments between great characters. Jin and Sun continue to bring that heart and emotional depth to the series, and the two episodes that focus heavily on them are two of the best and most powerful in the show's run.
Finally, this second season focuses heavily on its two main characters: Jack and Locke. Jack is seemingly the leader of the group, but Locke is always right there in his shadow, ready to say or do the one thing that undermines his authority. The power play between the two of them is very entertaining as each struggles to find balance in his beliefs. Locke's story is particularly interesting as his faith in the island is tested in ways he could not expect. He is convinced that the hatch contains his salvation, and he wants nothing more to get inside and see what awaits him, but when he ultimately get his wish, it takes him to emotional places for which he is not prepared. Both leading men have two flashback episodes each, and all four of these are very strong. Part of that is due to the solid performances of the lead actors and the inherent strength of the characters they play, but it is enhanced considerably by some incredible work from Julie Bowen as Jack's wife Sarah and Katey Sagal as Locke's friend Helen. In fact, one of the unsung strengths of Lost is the parade of fantastic actors brought in for the supporting roles. From the first season, we already know of the moving performances from Bowen, in addition to John Terry and Kevin Tighe as Jack's and Locke's fathers, respectively. All three of them are back, but among others, this second season also adds the aforementioned Katey Sagal, Rachel Ticotin as Ana-Lucia's mother, Kim Dickens as Sawyer's friend Cassidy, Evan Handler as Hurley's friend Dave, Josh Randall from the tail section of the plane, and a pitch perfect performance from Clancy Brown in the role of Kelvin. The strong turns from these numerous guest stars help anchor the flashbacks and keep the show from spinning out of control when it takes a step back from the current events of the island.
Much like the previous effort, this second season focuses on a few specific themes. The most obvious of these is the yin and yang of the universe, the balance between opposing but complimentary forces. Black and white, good and evil, saint and sinner, science and faith, Lost frequently returns to this theme, tipping the balance between characters and within them. It also seeks to show us perspective on that balance. What may appear as one thing to a specific individual may seem quite the opposite to another. It all depends on your own experiences and how you perceive the events that have transpired. When a certain ominous character says, "We're the good guys, Michael", you believe him. From his point of view, it's probably the truth. The thematic core of failing fathers remains a part of the show, as it is already at the heart of Jack, Locke, Sawyer, Michael, and Sun, and it gains greater meaning for both Charlie and Kate's characters as well. However, it takes a bit of a backseat this season to the larger theme of the search for redemption. Michael, Jin, Hurley, Ana-Lucia, Eko, Charlie, Sawyer, Sayid, and even Claire and Kate are all looking for some form of redemption. Unable to hide from their new reality, the circumstances on the island are giving them opportunities to find that redemption. Some are more prepared to handle it than others.
What I found while watching these episodes a second time through on DVD is that, while flawed, they do play significantly better when watched in sequence without long breaks. Part of that is because the poor episodes aren't magnified as much. When you wait a week or two for an entire episode, and then it is underwhelming, the disappointment is magnified, particularly when you have to wait another week or two for the next one. On DVD, however, those flaws are minimized, and for all the complaining about this season from fans and critics, it is largely very entertaining, much more so when grouped together on DVD. Also, presented in this manner, it allows momentum to build between the episodes. Even with a proper "Previously on Lost", when a show such as this goes off the air for a few weeks, it's easy to forget the nuance between character interactions and the import of certain developments. Watching them back-to-back helps sustain the momentum across the episodes, making the major events of the show carry more weight and have greater effect. What proved frustrating for the audience throughout the original run should be much more entertaining a second time through.
Certain plot points still ring very hollow, though. The conflict between Sawyer and Michael on the raft never works and is wasted time, and the love affair between Sayid and Shannon is incredibly gimmicky and more than a tad manipulative. Also, throughout the season, there is a real frustrating sense that the writers and producers are just toying with us. The level of coincidence in the series is out of control, and while it is possible that one day there will be some grand satisfying explanation for it all, it seems likely -- particularly when you hear the producers talk about their "Easter Eggs" -- that much of what passes by in these episodes is there because someone thought it would be cute, not because it will be resolved later on. In most shows, that would be fine, but when building such a deep and intense mythology as this show is doing, and asking us to have patience and faith in its ultimate destination, I don't think it's fair to do that to the audience. It is a relatively small complaint, and I do hope it's not the case, but over the course of two seasons now, it's starting to get pretty annoying.
In the end, for all its flaws, Lost remains an incredibly entertaining show. The second season is not as compelling when it comes to character development, but it is largely offset by the mysteries of the island that I've tried so desperately to avoid discussing in this review. What is found within the hatch opens up a world of possibilities, taking the major characters through some serious trials and making them face aspects of themselves they may not want to see. This second season does a very solid job addressing the questions it poses, leaving us with a season finale that proves much more satisfying than the one that came before. I could nitpick this show to death, but when all is said and done, it entertains and leaves me wanting more. Few broadcast network shows do that anymore. I've spoken at length with many of the show's producers, and it is impossible not to recognize that they are very intelligent, capable individuals who understand what makes great television and are trying their absolute best to deliver that to us. And so I leave this second season in much the same way as I left the first: a little frustrated, a little hesitant, a little unsure whether the future will adequately pay off the present, yet all the while thoroughly entertained, anxiously awaiting more, and choosing to have faith that it will all be worth it.
"Lost - The Complete Second Season - The Extended Experience" is presented in anamorphic widescreen with English 5.1 and 2.0. The visual presentation is very good, but a little shy of great. While the varied colors look solid most of the time, particularly the greens of the jungle, there are areas where it is a bit muted, and some of the outdoor sequences on the beach suffer from understandable but noticeable grain. There are no real print defects and very little edge enhancement.
The 5.1 mix is very nice, and there are numerous special effects sequences where the surround channels are used quite effectively. Dialogue is crisp and clear, jungle sounds are expansive and creepy, and the more intense audio from the hatch comes through very well.
English subtitles are included for the episodes.
Like the first season, this set is spread across 7 DVDs, and they are effectively packaged in a folding cardboard case that extends to reveal 5 panels. The far left panel contains a partial pocket that holds the printed episode guide (and obnoxious promotional material), while the three inner panels hold two DVDs a piece in an overlapping manner that saves space. The remaining panel simply holds the 7th disc, which is devoted exclusively to special features. Each of the discs has nice artwork on its exposed side detailing a key prop from the show. Sadly, there's a giant "Technical Assistance" stamp on each disc that somewhat kills the charm. The cardboard package folds up nicely and slides into the bottom of a clear plastic sleeve. Thankfully, the obnoxious promotional quotes from the first season release have been removed. One complaint that I have with many television releases is that the box spines don't match up, and BVHE has made that mistake here. Because they have branded this set "The Extended Experience" (Why? I don't know. Some marketing genius probably thinks it makes a difference.), the big "2" on the spine is smaller than the "1" from the previous release and sits about a quarter of an inch lower, so the spines don't line up on a shelf. It's not a huge deal, but certainly something simple enough to get right.
The menus themselves are wonderfully done with really cool atmospheric animated backgrounds that evoke some of the more mysterious and creepy aspects of the show. Every menu that should have a PLAY ALL feature does in fact have one, and interestingly, there is no gratuitous SCENE SELECTION menu creating an extra obstacle for those who just want to see the episode. A lot of thought was put into these discs, and with a few small exceptions, it seems clear that Buena Vista Home Entertainment tried to do right by this DVD with very positive results.
WHISTLES & BELLS:
There are 5 Audio Commentaries on the relevant discs. The season premiere, "Man of Science, Man of Faith", includes commentary from executive producers Damon Lindelof, Carlton Cuse, and Bryan Burk, in addition to the episode's director Jack Bender. Lindelof, Cuse, and Burk are on hand again for "23rd Psalm", a very compelling flashback episode about Mr. Eko, while Jack Bender joins Jorge Garcia and Cynthia Watros (Libby) on "Dave" for his second commentary. "What Kate Did" has director Paul Edwards, director of photography Michael Bonvillian, and the star of the episode Evangeline Lilly. Finally, "The Whole Truth", one of the more powerful episodes about Sun and Jin, is accompanied by stars Yunjin Kim and Daniel Dae Kim as well as writers Elizabeth Sarnoff and Christina M. Kim.
The rest of the special features are gathered together on Disc #7 with a very clever presentation inspired by the Hanso Foundation and the DHARMA Initiative. These features are loosely divided into three "phases". Phase One contains three parts: Fire + Water: Anatomy of an Episode (31:45) is an in-depth look at all phases of creating an episode, from script to location to costuming to editing to actually transporting the physical product across the ocean. It is one of the better behind-the-scene pieces for a television episode that I have seen. Lost: On Location (44:44) is much the same thing from the first DVD release, with short 3- and 4-minute segments covering certain aspects of 10 individual episodes. Finally in Phase One is The World According to Sawyer (4:31), a fun piece that chronicles many of the beloved character's clever nicknames and witticisms.
Phase Two includes three of The Lost Flashbacks, similar again to the first season release. Two of them are for Shannon on the episode "Abandoned", titled "The Wake" (1:29) and "The New Au Pair" (1:08). Each seeks to provide more depth to the Shannon character, making her seem a little more human, but they feel a tad manipulative, so it's easy to see how they were cut from the episode. For "Lockdown", there is a flashback called "Locke's Father" (0:49), and it is somewhat interesting, but again easy to see why it didn't make the final cut. Also in this section are 11 Deleted Scenes (19:16), most of which aren't that interesting save a great moment between Hurley and Libby, as well as Lost Bloopers (4:06). Lastly in Phase Two is a really fun Channel 4 UK Promo (1:06) directed by David LaChapelle. Much like the Avant-Garde Trailer from the "Grey's Anatomy - Season One" release [review], this is a very stylized and clever way to promote the show.
The last phase contains 2 short featurettes and one very strange interactive piece. Mysteries, Theories and Conspiracies (10:17) is a collection of interviews with cast, crew, and fans on the street talking about their personal theories for the mystery behind the island. Some of them are really silly, but some are actually pretty interesting. Secrets from the Hatch (15:47) is all about the hatch itself, from a writing perspective as well as the physical construction of it before filming.
Phase Three's final feature is called Lost Connections, and the best way I can think to describe it is a pain in the ass. The idea here is to create a giant network through which to navigate through all the obscure connections between characters (Hurley on Korean television, Sawyer outside Ana-Lulu's car, etc). Clearly the producers of the DVD don't want to give you a simple way to just look at all the connections at a glance, probably thinking that takes some of the fun out of the process, but the way it is structured here has very little context and is just a giant mess of connecting wires required a lot of user effort to hop around and see short 5-second clips. You start with Jack and are presented with a bunch of unlabeled "links", graphically represented as wires to other characters. Click on one, and it takes you to that character's "node" and displays a short video clip on how that character and the previous one interact. Make a mistake and return to the same character (easy to do with no labels), and you'll see the same clip again. Moreover, a lot of the "connections" shouldn't even count. The fact that these characters bumped into each other at the airport before boarding the same plane is not compelling, and it's pretty disappointing when you follow a wire through the chain just to see that, shockingly, they were all at the airport together. I appreciate the effort here -- I honestly do -- but sometimes less is more, and I found myself more irritated with this than anything else.
Finally, as one would hope, there are numerous Easter Eggs to be found, and they're not that difficult to locate.
Watching Lost can sometimes be a very frustrating experience. There are so many characters with so much mythology that it can't all be compelling. Certain characters are more interesting than others, and some aspects of the show's mysteries seem to just dangle out there taunting the viewer. Lost's second season has some great individual moments for certain key players, but it also represents a noticeable drop in quality in terms of flashbacks and character development for many others. That said, the mysteries of the hatch and the Others and the island have taken on such a grand scope that, in many ways, it compensates for the poor execution in other areas. Furthermore, these episodes play much better on DVD than they did when originally aired on ABC. While flawed, Lost remains immensely engaging and still has some truly wonderful characters to explore, and with regard to plot revelations, I think this second season resolves some of its major mysteries more satisfyingly than the first. When finished watching it, you'll likely feel as I did: a little irritated and frustrated, yet thoroughly entertained and desiring more. Those who saw the first season and haven't seen this one should obviously get these DVDs, and those who watched them as they aired will not only enjoy a good slate of special features but will likely find greater enjoyment seeing all the episodes back-to-back. Highly Recommended.