Like returning to a beloved novel after a few years to rediscover old friends and nemeses, and suddenly remember unexpected plot twists and turns, I got to go back and revisit the second season of probably my favorite series still on the air, Lost, as I watched this newly released Blu-ray set. The second season was epochal, with a slew of new characters, the really shocking deaths of several others, and, last but certainly not least, the gradual exposition of who exactly the mysterious Others really were, including their ostensible leader, Ben (or is that Henry?).
For those of you who have been marooned on a desert island for the last several years--oh, wait, that's probably an inapt metaphor considering Lost's premise, so I'll begin again. For those of you who have been living under a rock for the last several years, Lost follows the travails of survivors of a horrific airline crash. The people who made it out alive find themselves on a completely mysterious uncharted tropical island which they slowly discover has preexisting inhabitants (those pesky Others included), as well as a whole range of baffling phenomena, from polar bears to horses to, most terrifyingly, a monster made out of smoke.
Lost's first season introduced us to the core castaway characters, carefully constructing the series' main conceit--each episode ping ponged in time, showing flashbacks relative to the focal character of any given episode which commented, often quite brilliantly, on what they were going through in "present" time. I simply don't have time to go into the labyrinthine machinations and interrelationships that are the hallmark of Lost. Suffice it to say virtually all of the characters are intertwined in completely fascinating ways, and those strands, often quite subtle, are one thing that made Lost such a phenomenon during its first season. Whole websites were devoted to unraveling which characters were popping up in the background of other characters' backstories, and it made for one very intriguing puzzle which Lost has yet to really fully explain, even as it nears its endgame (the upcoming fifth mini-season will be the series' final one).
The second season deals mostly with a few major plot strands, all of which come colliding together in the superb two part finale. First, we have the previously unknown "tailies," a whole second group of survivors who were seated toward the rear of the plane when it went down. Chief among these are the soulful yet damaged Ana Lucia (Michelle Rodriguez) and the heroically stoic Mr. Eko (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). Second, we have mysterious "Henry Gale" (Michael Emerson), obviously named after Dorothy's uncle from The Wizard of Oz, who (and I don't think I'm spoiling too much here) turns out to really be Ben Linus, evidently the big bad guy of the show (I say evidently because as any Lost-ophile will tell you, things are rarely exactly as they seem, especially with Ben, one of the most devilishly complex characters ever to inhabit the small screen). Third, there's the anguish of Michael (Harold Perrineau), whose son Walt (Malcolm David Kelley) was abducted by "pirates" at the end of the first season. And finally, there's the dialectic between Man of Faith John Locke (Terry O'Quinn) and Man of Reason Jack Shepard (Matthew Fox), a debate which informed a lot of the first season, specifically with regard to the mysterious hatch they find, but which here gets turned on its head as the characters catapult toward a literally magnetic climax by season's end.
What has always set Lost apart, aside from its fascinating premise and gorgeous locations, is the uniformly brilliant level of its writing. Characters are so incredibly well bared in both their present trials and their past lives that virtually each episode has at least one gasp-worthy moment of surprise and revelation. Whether it be Kate's (Evangeline Lilly) noble if misguided criminal past or Jack's equally noble and misguided compulsion to "fix" things, Lost is full of fine delineations that make each character come fully alive, warts and all.
But of course there's also the underlying sense of menace and dread that plays like a discordant counterpoint to the lush locations. What are those haunting whispers heard deep in the forest? What exactly is going on in the hatch? Do the numbers really need to be punched in according to the mind boggling schedule Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick) has been following for years? And who exactly are the Others? We begin to learn at least a little about them in this season, but many more revelations await the faithful viewer, some which completely recast events of this second season in an unexpected light.
As wonderful as I think Lost is, I have to say the most recent season had some close encounters with jumping the shark. If the show managed to ultimately evade that leap, the dorsal fin was clearly evident at least a couple of times. What is more apparent in returning to the show now is that, yes, it can be rather overwrought at times (the climax involving Sayid, Shannon and Ana Lucia for example). What is also becoming clear is that there are still quite a number of questions which haven't even really been addressed yet, let alone sufficiently answered (despite the fourth season's rather admirable attempts to begin to craft some satisfying explanations as to what exactly has been going on). What, for example, is the deal with Walt? His story has pretty much disappeared as the show has gone on, but there are lingering questions about his "special" abilities and what exactly the Others wanted with him. Speaking of Walt, what's the deal with one of the iconic images of this season, the shot of kiddie feet walking by hidden castaways, with one child dragging a bedraggled teddy bear? What has happened to all these children? I have high hopes that J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof and Carleton Cuse have a big, honking book full of unanswered Lost questions that they will be ticking off answers to as the show enters its final episodes.
What is remarkable about Lost is how well these early episodes hold up in light of what has come after. You think someone's a good guy--wrong. You think someone's a bad guy--equally wrong. You think you know what's going on with any number of relationships, but, if you've watched the show faithfully through intervening seasons, you know that the second year is full of misdirection and sleight of hand. Despite these parlor tricks, the characters themselves remain inerrantly well written and performed. The lasting mysteries of Lost may indeed never be adequately addressed, but the real mystery of the series is how something on this workaday schedule has managed to be so consistently brilliantly produced for so long. The second season may be more than a bit of a downer at times (don't get too attached to any character), but it's simply a paradigmatic season of a paradigmatic series.