Note: I have tried mightily not to include any major spoilers in this review, but be forewarned that some major plot points are discussed.
I was rather heartened last year when, upon coming to Lost's defense in my third season review, I received scores of emails from you faithful readers thanking me for my take on the series, one in which I contravened "conventional wisdom" to argue that the show was as strong as ever, perhaps stronger. Now I am not immune to the incredible stupidity ABC has shown in its puzzling decisions to shift the show's timeslot (repeatedly--in fact, when it returns in a few weeks it will be on Wednesdays at 9), not to mention the maddening decision to broadcast shortened seasons with mind-bogglingly large gaps in between (only exacerbated by last season's writers' strike, which devastated Lost's producton schedule, foreshortening its season even more and leading to the dropping of several backstories, as is described in some audio commentaries). But ABC's idiocy has nothing to do with the show itself, and the great thing about DVDs (and Blu-rays) is that you can get the throughline and momentum of a show at your own convenience without waiting (and waiting and waiting) for some dunderheaded network executive's idea of "broadcast excellence." And so I once again say, take yourselves out of your anger over the patently dimwitted decisions of ABC vis a vis Lost and get back to the show itself. You will find the series as compelling as ever, perhaps even moreso, as it moves into its endgame and finally begins to deliver at least a few answers to the plethora of questions it raised during its first three seasons.
I must admit I never watched Lost co-creator J.J. Abrams' previous ABC drama, Alias, but I had a good friend who did, and who refused to watch Lost as a very result of his at least initial love for the Jennifer Garner series. "Abrams is really, really good at raising questions," this friend told me, "but really, really bad at providing answers." Perhaps Lost's co-creator Damon Lindelof is then to credit for the fact that Lost is actually providing some long sought after answers after running up a seemingly insurmountable laundry list of enigmas and quandaries for scores of episodes. If Season Three ended with a sort of trompe l'oeil which completely upended the audience's perspective of the entire series (and I'm going to try very hard not to include any spoilers in this review), Season Four capitalizes on that time-bending conceit to show massive changes in virtually all of the major characters.
I don't think it's any secret that Lost plays with time (and now with one of the major surprises that caps the fourth season, space), showing several timelines whose activities resonate with each other in often extremely compelling ways. Without divulging anything too specific about how Season Three changed that format, Season Four started to depict a sextet of survivors from the horrifying crash of Oceanic Flight 815. Season Four spends much of its time ping-ponging back and forth between events on the island where the castaways are stranded and in their eventual lives as unenthusiastic media celebrities once they're rediscovered. If Season Three was largely about John Locke's character arc, Season Four returned to the romantic triumvirate of Jack, Kate and Sawyer, with events both on the island and the intervening year(s?) consistently reilluminating sequences in both timelines in unexpected and frequently extremely brilliant ways. There is simply no underestimating the skill of Lost's regular writing crew, including producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, who also provide some at times hysterically funny audio commentaries (their comments about Sayid's hairstyle in his assassin phase had me laughing so hard I had to pause the disc for a moment). Segues between timelines are frequently so intelligently handled that the viewer can only shake his head in wonder and admiration as little secrets about each character are revealed in unexpected ways.
Lost, as always, is enigmatic both on its surface and the deeper one delves into its characters. This fact was only heightened in Season Four with the new "Other Others," the putative rescuers who got to the island and whose arrival set up the climax at the end of Season Three. It's probably no great divulgence to say that this new set of cast members has their own secrets, some of which are hinted at in maddeningly short clues and throwaway lines, hints which according to Lindelof and Cruse were meant to be more fleshed out had the writers' strike not intervened, and which they promise will become major plot points in Season Five. But adding to the manifold mysteries of Lost are the incredible changes in characters we've come to know and love (and in the case of at least a couple, hate), changes so radical, and as yet unexplained, that they make this season compelling even as it may be seen as a transitional one between what was and what is. Jack is a mess, Kate not much better, Sayid has turned into a ruthless killer (OK, maybe that's not so much of a change, now that I think about it), Hurley is crazy again (or at least certifiable, not that they're the same), and Sun has undergone perhaps the most revelatory transformation of all, and one which portends some great fireworks in Season Five. As always, the performances are simply top-notch, with Matthew Fox's Jack and Yunjin Kim's Sun taking home top honors in my book for this season. In fact Kim's performance in the final episode is about as affecting as anything I've ever witnessed in series television.
Of course the major mystery that intrigued so many people toward the end of Season Three was "who's in the coffin," something that Season Four brings to a satisfying conclusion in the dying shot of this season. This opens up a whole new can of worms for viewers who are now presented with yet another death of a major character (has any other show been this ruthless with offing regular cast members?), and a lingering sense of dread that the mayhem isn't over yet. That's confirmed in one of the audio commentaries, where Lindelof and Cruse warn viewers not to get too comfy with those who are supposedly safe off the island.
Having Lost on DVD and Blu-ray is indispensable for a show of this complexity, one which regularly interweaves storylines and character arcs as well as blatantly (if subtly) calling back to previous episodes. I once again insist that Lost has--er--lost none of its mojo, and that a lot of what regular fans complained about last year was simply the result of both ridiculous broadcast strategies and the havoc wreaked by the writers' strike. The fact that the show stayed as strong as it did is testament to the incredible creative forces at work both behind and in front of the camera. When the history of early 21st century television drama is written, I have no doubt that Lost is going to be the series to beat for top-spot honors. There's simply no more regularly compelling and thought-provoking show on the air right now, let alone one that is couched in such an exotic and mind-boggling array of times, characters and locales. If you haven't yet found Lost, it's not too late--and DVDs and Blu-rays are a great way to catch up on what you've been missing.
In fact in an overall caveat, I had problems getting all of the discs in this set (especially the bonus disc 5) to load properly on my player. I found that after loading had supposedly occurred, I had a blank screen on four out of the five discs. Pressing my "menu" button then seemed to complete the loading process and everything was fine (with the exception of one bothersome hiccup on the final episode, which I'll put down to a faulty pressing). I'd welcome feedback from other purchasers of this set to see if this is a problem or not.