Anyone remember the ABC series about a plane which crashes on an island, forcing its survivors to craft their own society while fighting off both each other and various boogie-men? While probably very few remember The New People, a 1969 ABC drama that lasted half a season pitted against then powerhouse Laugh-In on NBC, current television fans may well be wondering what they remember about that other ABC series that itself was a powerhouse a mere year or two ago, Lost. Dealt some serious blows by truly stupid scheduling issues at ABC (changing timeslots, frequent pre-emptions, and even more frequent reruns disrupting the flow of a show that is labyrinthine, to say the least), Lost lost some of its mo-jo during its third season, at least according to conventional wisdom. Well, conventional wisdom be damned. What this splendid boxed set proves is, taken as a whole, and without the enforced breaks in continuity the show suffered during its broadcast run, the third season of Lost is arguably its finest yet and bodes well for its announced return in February 2008 (in a shortened 16 episode run, without repeats, or so they promise).
The first season of Lost set up the series' compelling premise: a downed flight's survivors find themselves both literally and metaphysically lost on what looks like an island paradise, but one that (like all of the individuals themselves) hides many a dark secret. The series immediately established its modus operandi, usually concentrating on one character both in the "present" island castaway time period, while also focusing on flashbacks which over the course of the first two seasons revealed not only what had gotten them on the doomed flight to begin with, but also, in a remarkably detailed and at times brilliantly executed series of denouements, how many of the characters were deeply interrelated, sometimes without even knowing it. The way this consistently brilliantly written drama played the two time periods against one another, each revealing information about the other, set a new standard for excellence in series writing.
The second season started to focus more on the mysterious "Others," a purportedly evil bunch of kidnappers (literally--they took the children who survived the plane crash) whose nefarious motives were shrouded in mystery. There also turned out to be a whole second set of survivors, from another section of the plane, and as these three disparate groups came into contact with each other, sparks flew, bodies fell (sometimes shockingly so) and backstories collided in what can only be described as a television novel of epic proportions, ending with the three "heroes" (a relative term, since all of these characters are damaged in their own way), Jack, Kate and Sawyer (and, briefly, Hurley) captured by The Others.
The third season shows it's going for the metaphysical jugular right off the bat with its ironic opening chorus of Petula Clark's "Downtown" (calling back to the second season's opener with Mama Cass' "Make Your Own Kind of Music", itself perhaps a trenchant self-reference to creators J.J. Abrams, Jeffrey Lieber and Damon Lindelof and their attempts to do something different with series television in this bold experiment). Gorgeous Other mystery woman Juliet (Elizabeth Mitchell in an increasingly well-modulated performance) gets weepy listening to the song, a reaction that seems at once obvious (she is, after all, on the island, nowhere near any kind of city), but which, as the season progresses, reveals (as so often is the case in this unbelievably intelligently developed series) levels of poignancy that its first introduction only hints at. To state that the next scene, showing the plane falling out of the sky, and revealing The Others' camp for the first time, puts everything in a new perspective is surely a major understatement. Lost plays with time as no other series before it ever has.
What soon develops is a chilling game of cat and mouse between chief Other Ben (Michael Emerson, perfectly cast with his Marty Feldman eyes as one of the creepiest characters to ever inhabit a major television drama), crash survivor Jack (Matthew Fox, stolid and tormented), and, oddly, Juliet, who, as the season progresses, proves to be the lynchpin of a new triangle augmenting the previously prominent romantic threesome of Jack, Kate (winsome Evangeline Lilly) and Sawyer (Josh Holloway, part surfer dude, part bad boy extraordinaire). While some fans argued that the third season got "lost" itself by spending too much time with The Others, what watching the show on DVD now proves is that while the first episodes do indeed concentrate on the captives and their captors, there's no real dearth of "quality time" with the remaining castaways, though they are relegated more than usual to supporting player status as the machinations concerning the captives play out. What is also obvious is that at this point in the series' history some significant time needed to be spent with The Others, to flesh out their backstories and to finally give a few answers to questions which had hovered troublingly over the first two years.
What ultimately puts the lie to these fans' complaints is the fact that, even with this concentration on The Others, the real focus of Season Three is the increasingly dark character arc of Locke, fiercely portrayed by Terry O'Quinn in a performance that has seen numerous twists and turns over three years. Season One set up the dialectic between Jack, the rationalist, and the ironically named John Locke, the mystic "believer." As Season Three progresses, the two subtly change roles, with Locke's newfound (and finally suitable, considering his name) cynical empiricism casting a very long shadow over what promises to be an eventful Season Four.
It's impossible to go into too much detail about various characters without at once confusing those not already familiar with the spider-web of interconnectedness that routinely plays out on the show, while simultaneously revealing spoilers to those who may have seen Lost but not caught all of the secrets each episode contains. Suffice it to say that Season Three provides new insight into many characters, including Desmond (like The Others, already on the island when the plane crashes), Sayid (the former Iraqi "blackguard" op), and Charlie (the druggie rock star). It also makes one of its few missteps in focusing on two characters who were supposed to be an in-joke, Nikki and Paulo, but whose one episode arc plays like a second rate Twilight Zone. Also strange is the virtually season long disappearance of Rose and Bernard, whose marriage provided some of the most heartwarming moments of the first two seasons. But these are minor quibbles in an otherwise stellar year of a simply superb drama.
The series performs one final sleight of hand in its final two-part episode, one which will completely "change the game" (if it's capitalized on) for the remaining seasons of the series. Without revealing too much for those who may not have seen the season ender but are still more or less following Lost, the flashback motif of the series is given a stunning development that will probably be unpredicted by even ardent "guessers" of twists, and will catch all but the most astute viewer offguard when it is revealed in the final few moments of the season.