During its first season, Lost achieved a synergy quite rare in television, garnering a mainstream audience large enough to make it a flagship program for the network while at the same time generating the kind of cult-like fan obsession typically reserved for shows with far less media visibility. The better the episode, the more viewers hungered for the next chapter in the story, until it reached a point where nearly every decision ABC or the producers made became the subject of incredible scrutiny. Season One's cliffhanger ending angered viewers. Typical network scheduling of holiday breaks and scattered repeats angered viewers. Switching timeslots angered viewers. The powers that be soon realized that Lost could not be aired with traditional techniques, so for the third season, they tried something new: instead of spreading 22 episodes across a Fall-to-Spring schedule, they aired a 6-episode mini-season in the Fall, took off for the Winter holiday season, and returned in February for a run of 16 rerun-free episodes. Not surprisingly ... this angered viewers. However, something happened as Lost approached its third season finale. The writers found their footing after stumbling through Season Two, the producers began directly addressing fan complaints, and the final run of episodes became so intense, that when the title card flashed on the end of the jaw-dropping finale, nearly everyone who was still watching the show embraced it as they did at the beginning. The producers even had a clever plan to fix the scheduling problems, turning the final 2 24-episode seasons into 3 seasons of 16 episodes each that could be aired without breaks or repeats. Everything was finally right in the world of Lost, and the next installment was just around the corner ... and then the writers went on strike. It's not too difficult to guess how viewers will react. As we anxiously await that Season Four premiere (January 31, 2008), Lost makes its debut on the Blu-ray format with "The Complete Third Season (The Unexplored Experience)".
N.B. At this point in a television series, particularly one with such a meticulous mythology as Lost, there really are only two types of people reading this review: those who have seen the first two seasons and want to know whether to buy the third on Blu-ray or DVD and those who have seen all three seasons already and want to know whether to buy the third on Blu-ray or DVD. I doubt there is anyone thinking to himself, "Hey, that Lost series sounds interesting. Let me read a review of its third season to see if I might want to try it." (If you're that person, I sit corrected. You may want to start here.) With that in mind, I am making every effort in this review to avoid giving away any key points of the third season (and only the third season) to viewers who have yet to see it, but the first episode introduces so many new things to the show that it would be impossible to discuss the season without addressing them on some level. You have been warned.
Lost stumbled a bit in its second season. The flashback technique that was used to perfection during the first season started to wear thin, and repeated journeys into the pasts of characters like Kate and Charlie simply weren't that compelling. Other characters, such as Claire and Shannon, weren't even interesting in the present, the latter tied into a terribly silly and manipulative romance with Sayid. One of the ways the show tried to combat this problem was the introduction of the "Tailies", providing the chance to explore Mr. Eko, Ana Lucia, Bernard, and Libby. More importantly, we also got to meet Desmond and "Henry Gale", and the writers began exploring unique ways to approach the episodic flashback structure as well. Introducing new characters while tweaking the formula helped reinvigorate a show that was losing its charm, and those techniques are employed with even greater success in this third season as we meet even more new individuals and see the flashback concept evolve in unexpected ways.
The closing moments of "Live Together, Die Alone" left Jack, Sawyer, and Kate held hostage by "Henry" -- whose real name, we soon learn, is Ben -- and the first few episodes of Season Three deal almost exclusively with their capture and their new surroundings. It is during these episodes that the organizational structure of the Others starts to come into focus. The shadowy figures lurking about in the wilderness and kidnapping children are now realized as individuals within their own society, and we learn more about important characters like Alex (Tania Raymonde) and the ominous Walt-stealing Tom (M.C. Gainey). The best part about visiting the Others' camp, though, is the introduction of Juliet (Elizabeth Mitchell). Her specific position in the Other hierarchy is not entirely clear, but she is definitely an authority figure, and the evolution of her character is more compelling than most of the original lostaways.
In fact, as the third season delves deeper into the experiences and purpose of the Others, we find that they are every bit as interesting, if not more, than the survivors of 815 we've come to know. It helps that the performances of both Emerson and Mitchell are outstanding, forcing everyone else on the show to elevate their game. Ben's calm demeanor and assuredness are the perfect contrast to the spastic behavior of everyone else, and Emerson is deservedly credited for making the series better with his haunting portrayal of the ostensible island leader. Watching the season again for this review, though, I found myself frequently in awe of Mitchell's work in the role of Juliet, particularly in episodes like "D.O.C." where she balances tenderness with strength in a way the show hasn't seen before. While I thoroughly enjoy watching Kate's adventures on the island and have noticed a marked improvement in Lilly as an actress, Lost desperately needed a strong female character like Juliet to fill in some of the holes and bridge the gap between Jack and Ben. After a full season with Juliet and even longer with Ben/"Henry", it's hard to imagine the show ever existed without either of them.
Another change for this season that cannot be overlooked is the promotion of Drew Goddard to co-executive producer. While it's difficult, if not impossible, to pinpoint the specific contributions of each writer/producer, I could not help but feel that without David Fury, the series lost some of its dramatic punch, and without Javier Grillo-Marxuach, a little of its heart disappeared as well. The increased involvement of Goddard seems to have helped cover both of those holes, deftly handling the tender relationships of Jin & Sun in "The Glass Ballerina" and Desmond & Penny (Sonya Walger) in "Flashes Before Your Eyes", while proving equally effective for the darker themes that permeate "The Man from Tallahassee" and "The Man Behind the Curtain".
As in other seasons, Lost's third also relies heavily on some remarkable talent in the supporting roles for the flashback sequences. The chemistry between Julie Bowen and Matthew Fox is absolutely heartbreaking, and she is back for more, as well as more outstanding work from John Terry and Kevin Tighe as Jack and Locke's respective fathers. New to this season are the always perfect Nathan Fillion as a man from Kate's past, Robin Weigert as Juliet's sister, and some wonderful work from James Lesure. But wait there's more! Cheech Marin and Billy Dee Williams. That's right: Cheech Marin and Billy Dee Williams! While the show is inching further away from flashbacks that don't directly relate to events on the island, they are still an integral part of the show's design, and it simply would not hold together without these incredible guest actors anchoring it from the past.
What becomes clear while watching this third season is that the writers and producers are finally figuring out the sweet spot of just how to present their ideas. The first season was very flashback-heavy, taunting us with a few too many mysteries. In the second season, the flashbacks got a little boring, with a lot of wink-wink coincidence that got on viewers' nerves, and spending much of the time in a small room arguing over a button didn't help. With this third season, though, the series has found the proper balance. There are still a few wasted flashbacks, including pointless journeys into the pasts of both Kate and Locke, but most everything else that happens in the show has a clearer and more defined purpose. Flashbacks are increasingly informing the viewer more about the events of the present than emotional memories from the past, answering questions about the mysteries of the island at a rapid pace; and the fear of getting X-Filed by some lame finale a few years down the road is almost completely washed away. Who are the Others? Who are the Dharma Initiative? Why did they come to the island? What is the purpose of the different stations? How did Locke end up in a wheelchair? These mysteries are all being answered, and while many more questions are raised by the events of the season, the patience is paying off as the show starts worrying less about what happened in the past and more about how these characters are going to react to the here-and-now.
Something else happens this season that I did not expect. They find a way to make Charlie interesting. Poor Claire is still almost completely useless to the show, but finally, Charlie's story has taken form. When the time comes for his flashback episode, it's not another "here we go again" moment into the druggie past of the rock star, but an episode we're actually looking forward to, and it is handled incredibly well with a surprisingly beautiful performance from Dominic Monaghan.
If there is a misstep, it's the introduction of the universally despised Nikki (Kiele Sanchez) and Paulo (Rodrigo Santoro). Ana Lucia was a beloved treasure compared to these two lostaways, who are awkwardly shoehorned into numerous scenes as a setup for their mid-season flashback episode. When "Exposť" aired during the original broadcast run, viewers found it infuriating to wait a whole week only to see a wasted throwaway episode that did almost nothing to further the plot and may as well have been a repeat or clip show. However, being able to watch all the episodes back-to-back on DVD or Blu-ray, I found that I rather enjoyed revisiting this fun tip-o-the-hat to The Twilight Zone, largely because of the way Kiele Sanchez owns the role of Nikki. It still isn't necessary to the show and was definitely a poor decision for a series fighting a ratings slide, but I imagine viewers will look on it a little differently when given the opportunity to see it again in this manner.
With the exception of "Exposť", one of the great strengths of this third season is its building momentum. Something that really irritated me about the second season was Jack approaching Ana Lucia at the end of "The Hunting Party" and asking, "How long do you think it would take to train an army?" It was such a weighted question that implied some grand battle in an upcoming episode, and then ... nothing. I was so enthusiastic about Jack and Ana Lucia training an army to stand up to the Others, and it just fizzled out. That doesn't happen with this third season. When a plot point is introduced, the writers stick with it, driving the story in a way that continues to build momentum until there are numerous concurrent issues all coming to a head in an electric finale that does not disappoint. By the end, the third season of Lost proves a clear improvement over the previous effort, and I'm inclined to argue it's even better than the first. No longer able to rely on its new car smell, Lost is now thriving entirely on quality storytelling and action-adventure entertainment, and if you bailed on the show during the second season, I highly suggest you use this opportunity created by a strike-shortened television abyss to get caught up on this engrossing tale and prepare for its fourth season.
Lost arrives for the first time on high-definition spread across six Blu-ray discs, five for the episodes themselves and an entire disc devoted to bonus features. The first four discs contain five episodes and one audio commentary each, with the remaining three episodes on Disc #5. The discs are housed in a clear blue case that is the same height as a standard Blu-ray case at about twice the thickness. That housing slides into a sturdy cardboard enclosure that opens and closes via a flap and a small section of Velcro-like material. The final product looks similar to the DVD releases and would probably look OK on a self with the previous two seasons if the Blu-ray enclosure weren't a good half inch shorter. A small foldout is included that describes what is on each of the discs. The Blu-ray discs feature animated menus similar in style to the DVD menus but more involved, and with the exception of some of the bonus material, they are easy to navigate and do an excellent job conveying the tone of the series. Make sure you let the menu on Disc #2 play all the way through.
On the back of the case it reads, "Experience Lost like never before in mind-blowing 1080p and 5.1 48kHz, 16-bit uncompressed audio." I can't really disagree with that description. The video is presented in 1080p at a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, and "mind-blowing" is probably a fair assessment, as Lost looks stunning on Blu-ray and is even an improvement over the high-definition broadcasts on ABC. Colors are rich, black levels are deep, and the lush greens of the island paradise pop off the screen in a way I hadn't seen with this show before. I was afraid that packing five episodes onto a disc would create a drop in quality, but I had a difficult time finding much wrong with it beyond some rare and very minor haloing. The level of detail is incredible, with well-defined textures in the clothing, and I found myself frequently staring at the stubble on actors' faces and the objects in deep background of various scenes. On top of that, there's very little visible noise artifacting, which is quite impressive for a series that is shot largely outdoors under the often overcast skies of Hawaii. If I had to nitpick, every once in a while I felt the colors were just a tad oversaturated, but this is a minor complaint for a fantastic video presentation.
Audio is available in English in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and uncompressed 5.1 (Dolby Digital 2.0 is available from the menus, but isn't listed on the box). French 5.1 and Spanish 2.0 are provided as well. The uncompressed audio is as wonderful as the video and is dramatically superior to the soundtrack that accompanied the high-definition broadcasts. It's pretty rare to find a television series that does much of anything in the surround channels, but Lost uses them to great effect to create atmosphere and immerse the viewer in the island experience. Lower frequencies are utilized effectively as well, and when the scene calls for an explosion, it isn't just observed on screen, but felt through the speakers as well. What's great about this soundtrack is that everything comes through crystal clear. Even when someone is running through the jungle with creepy whispers surrounding the scene and musical score swelling in the background, dialogue is never out of balance. It's still a television show and exists largely in the frontal space, but for a program that cannot afford to spend months enhancing the audio in post-production, it sounds incredibly good.
WHISTLES & BELLS:
Perhaps the most prominent theme of Lost is perspective. What appears one way because of your life experiences may seem completely different to someone else, and there's rarely a "correct" interpretation. In its third season, Lost brings that theme even further into the forefront, toying with our preconceptions and taking us to the home of the Others to show us life on the island from their perspective. In the process, many of the show's mysteries are addressed in detail, and the newly created ones set the stage for what is sure to be a crazy fourth season. When I reviewed the previous season, I noted that while I was often frustrated, I was still entertained and thirsted for more. With this third season, the frustration is almost completely gone, leaving only the engrossing and thoroughly entertaining television series. There are a lot of bonus materials on this set, and a few of them are worth watching, but I cannot say that any of the Blu-ray exclusive content merits special attention. However, the audio and video quality on these discs is absolutely superb and definitely worth the additional cost of the Blu-ray release. If you lost track of the series during the scheduling confusion of the second season, now is your chance to come back and get caught up on one of the few remaining broadcast dramas that consistently entertains. If you never left, you're going to love watching these episodes again in glorious high-definition. Highly Recommended.
N.B.: Images in this review exist to look pretty and are in no way representative of the quality of the high-definition transfer