Our expectations were perhaps impossibly high. Jen was counting down the weeks, then the days, until the premiere of Season 4. “I can’t frickin’ wait,” she’d say, simultaneously eager for “LOST” to return and afraid it wouldn’t live up to the hype. I have absolutely no doubt the return of “LOST,” especially in the barren wasteland of the writers’ strike, was indeed the most anticipated television event this year. And tonight, we got what we were waiting for, returning to the story of the island exactly where we left off. And it was good. But was it great?
As “The Beginning of the End” cut to black with the show’s trademark thud, we weren’t quite sure what to make of it. Jen didn’t say a word as the “Eli Stone” premiere picked up after the credits, so we watched Jonny Lee Miller lose his mind in amusing ways for the next hour before sitting down to tackle “LOST” head on. Was “The Beginning of the End” a good episode? Sure. But it wasn’t great. It was no “Fire + Water,” don’t get me wrong, but it felt like a middle, a piece, a fragment of a beginning. Perhaps it was impossible for “LOST” to blow our minds the way we dreamed it would. But there were definitely solid dents in tonight’s big “television event.”
One, I think part of the unease is natural, and is rooted pretty deep in every “LOST” fan’s heart. As holy-hell good as the Season 3 finale was, with its game-changing flash forward, the brilliant twist came at a price. Think about it: For three years we’ve been invested in a story that we’ve broadly envisioned as a survival story. A long arc exploration of human nature, sure, but one where the natural endpoint would be escape, or not.
But now we know about the “Oceanic Six.” We know Jack, Kate, and now Hurley are half of the known survivors of Oceanic Flight 815. To be sure, there is a lot of mystery and conflict left. Who are the other three? Why do Hurley and Jack want to go back? What the heck happened in between? And obviously, that’s what the next 48 episodes will give us, and probably a lot more. But at a total gut level, I think the stakes suddenly seem not so dramatic. These flash forwards haven’t yet given us The End, but they’re a drastic enough jump to be jarring. Like suddenly skipping a few hundred pages ahead in a good book.
Two, there’s something familiar about this setup. One that the “LOST” creators have explicitly confirmed. Season One? All about our survivors, who we know and love. Season Two? The Tailies. That didn’t end well. Season Three? The Others! An interesting bunch of people we can’t quite figure out. Now we’re starting Season Four, and here come The Rescuers Or Not. Another set of characters whose loyalties and motives are unknown and will no doubt be explored. Will they be as interesting as the Others? Or as the Tailies? We’re not even done with the Others. Is my brain big enough to keep track of all this?
Three, we’ve had eight months to imagine a million stories to fill the gap between “rescue from the island” and “desperation to go back.” I don’t think even the best writers out there (of which “LOST” writers certainly are) could compete with that. The longer we go between seasons (and it looks like this next hiatus will be a doozy), and the bigger holes we get in the timeline, the more likely we crazy fans are going to run away with the story.
But “The Beginning of the End” was disappointing for simpler reasons as well.
It did pick up right where “Through the Looking Glass” left off. Rescue is coming! But who are these rescuers? What’s the deal with Jacob and the creepy cabin? And that’s pretty much where we are now. And as much as I love and miss Charlie, it’s hard to miss a guy when you see him every ten minutes, either as an apparition, or as a wholly unnecessary replay of his death scene. We get it already. It was sad. It was hard to get misty eyed when Claire got the news (though I still did).
And speaking of dead people, frankly the nebulous definition of “dead” on “LOST” is getting downright comical. Mikhail the Energizer Bunny from Season Three was strange enough, but… why exactly did Naomi not die? Then die for real? All it gave us was that odd scene between Kate and Naomi, which was so odd it no doubt holds a clue or two (Naomi’s sister?). But having Naomi expire twice made about as much sense as… well, as Kate stealing the satellite phone from Jack.
“The Beginning of the End” is at least a beginning. Of the future we learn of the aforementioned “Oceanic Six,” and that the “lies” that Jack is tired of telling relate to the existence of other Flight 815 survivors. And on the island, it’s clear Locke and Jacob are getting along swimmingly… but Hurley also caught a glimpse of someone in that chair. And spanning both worlds, we see our survivors again split up, following either Jack or Locke. Hurley goes with Locke, which seems the better bet. But we learn that he thinks it was the wrong decision in retrospect.
We love “LOST.” But there are only seven more episodes left, so we can’t spend the first six getting up to speed this time around. With a set endpoint for the series, the writers have an unprecedented strong foundation on which to build the rest of the story. We hope they make the most if it.
Notes and Notions:
- The reappearance of Hurley’s Camaro was a nice touch, and the prompt reveal with Jack that we were getting another flash forward.
- If Charlie is dead (and he is), how did Hurley’s friend in the asylum spot him?
- Did Sawyer seem out of character to anyone else? Here’s a guy who just strangled the man who ruined his life; who has been cold and surly and shut off from the rest of the community ever since; who has turned cold to his love interest out of deep-seated jealousy… and he’s now Mr. Warm-and-Fuzzy, Let’s-Talk-About-Your-Feelings?
- It was good to see Big Mike again. It was not so good to hear the line, “Dark hair. Gorgeous.” Channeling a Calvin Klein ad?
- Loved Ben’s line, “It’s good to know somebody around here knows what the hell we’re doing.” And the way he flinched when Jack looked at him.
- Also loved Ben’s desperate plea to Danielle to save Alex. And the way Danielle slugged him.
- Thought it was great that Hurley was in a convenience store buying a Slushee. But wondering why it wasn’t a Slusho.
- Rose decides to go with Jack because she doesn’t trust Locke. “I’m not going anywhere with that man,” she tells Bernard. I can’t remember when Locke fell out of favor with her, though. Or maybe throwing a knife in a woman’s back would be a deal breaker for anyone?
- Couldn’t resist taking a look back at the opening shots of the previous Season Premiere episodes. Season one? The iconic eyeball. Season two? The disorienting “Make Your Own Kind of Music” hatch reveal. Season three, another musical interlude (“Downtown”) introducing us to suburban Othersville. Somehow, a pile of papayas doesn’t quite do it for me.
- Lost Location Notes: The Laniakea YWCA returns as Santa Rosa. The grassy yard of the institution, however, was played by Windward Community College. Hurley crashed his Camaro in an industrial yard in Kalihi (not sure which). Didn’t recognize the convenience store, and I’m not sure if the aerial view of the freeway was filmed here.