Tales of the Expected

Okay, the “Lost” people are totally making this stuff up as they go along.

At least, I hope they are, because if the season finale of season 4 really is what they’ve had planned since the end of season 3, then they’ve been yanking our chains for a year.

It’s not that it was bad; it’s just that the story started off so strong, and it hinted at all kinds of fantastic twists and turns that were going to be coming. And then it ended with pretty much the most obvious resolution to every new plot point that was introduced. It felt so predictable that I don’t want to believe that was what they predicted; I want to believe that they had more in mind, and then fell back on plan B.

What I like best about episodic television is those moments when it seems like the writers have painted themselves into a corner. And then right as you’re about to give up on them, you turn around and see that not only have they painted the entire room, they’re pointing at the elephant in the center of the room and saying, “What, you didn’t notice that before? It’s been there the whole time.” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” was best at this; there were several times I’d thought the series was in a nosedive, and not only did they manage to pull up in time, they started doing loop-de-loops. (If that’s too many metaphors for one paragraph, I’m talking about the bit where they turned the awful “Initiative” storyline into a Frankenstein’s monster story with one really awesome and unexpected scene).

Season 4 of “Lost” started out so well, it was promising even more than the beginning of season 2. And the season’s been solid overall. It’s just that all they did was gracefully close up most of the loose ends and set up the next batch of episodes. They didn’t do all that and drop a bombshell on us.

(And the rest is spoilers for the season finale and the season in general).

I was even wrong about the identity of the body in the coffin. I was convinced it was going to be Michael, since Locke was way too obvious. Was that clever misdirection on the writers’ part, or did they just fall back to plan “B” when the writers strike hit and the season seemed overly ambitious? I really can’t tell.

And again, it wasn’t bad, since it makes sense, and it does a good job of setting up season 4. It just wasn’t as big a pay-off as I’d been led to expect was coming. (To their credit, it turns out they’re doing a good job of keeping up the theme. I wasn’t aware that Jeremy Bentham was a philosopher who was influenced by (the real) John Locke).

The opening scene was probably the worst offender. I can’t tell whether they filmed the entire thing at the end of season 3, or if they’re just really good at continuity. (Or if continuity is a lot easier when you only have to deal with obviously fake beards and airport backgrounds that are obviously composited in). The part that was shown at the end of season 3 was a great example of how to pack a season’s worth of intrigue into a few seconds of dialogue: who’s the “he” she has to get back to? Why does Jack want to get back to the island? Why hasn’t she returned his calls? Why do they have to meet in secret?

But the part that they wrote to follow is at the absolute other end of the subtlety spectrum. It’s like a minute of Kate and Jack trying to out-exposition each other. “Don’t mention his name, and by his name I mean Aaron, your half-nephew via Claire, because I am angry at you for exactly the reasons I will now list.” It was especially hilarious how she stopped the car, all “oh wait we’re not done with this scene yet?” style. Like the rest of the episode, it felt a little rushed, and a little bit uninspired and utilitarian.

But then, considering how much flak they’ve gotten for setting up plot threads that don’t get resolved at all, I can understand their wanting to set them up and knock them down.

One thing I realized while watching the season finale is that this season has been pretty much all plot. There’s been some character development for Ben Linus, and I guess a little bit for Locke and the barest hint of a little bit for Michael. But for the most part, they just concentrated on what happens. No philosophical discussions of faith vs reason, no symbolism, no character arc other than your standard TV-issue love quadrangle. The most complex themes of the season have been Ben reacting to his daughter’s murder and being sad he has to leave the island, and then right at the last minute, Sun’s turning into a bad-ass.

Which is fine by me, especially when the plot has been dodging and weaving as much as it has this year. In fact, I think this season may be the most solid, beginning to end, of all of them. But if I’d started watching this year, I doubt I’d have become a huge fan. Again, it’s good stuff, it’s just not mind-blowing stuff. It’s not spending several episodes exploring a bunker and an Apple II with a code you have to push every 108 minutes. It’s spending a few minutes hinting at a station for doing time travel experiments, then immediately blowing up the chamber and instead focusing on a marine wandering a hallway and a bunch of guys staring at a bomb. When angry ghostbuster Miles clumsily told Boring British Freighter Woman, “What DO I mean?” it was almost like a parody of “Lost,” clumsily trying to build intrigue. OR WAS IT?

In the end, though, I have to look at where they’ve left the story and how they’ve set it up, and marvel at what they’ve managed to do. Here’s a show on network television, one of the most popular series in production, that’s now based on the premise of a bunch of plane crash survivors trying to get onto a deserted island. And that’s the twist that I never would’ve seen coming.

And here’s what I’m predicting for season 5. Actually, “predicting” is a bad term, because I can’t tell what they’re going to do with the story. Here’s where I think they’re headed and what I hope happens:

  • The “present” is now three years after the Oceanic Six got off the island. The “main” story is going to be Jack, Ben, and Sayid trying to get the rest of the gang back on the island (with opposition from Sun and Widmore), and the flashbacks are going to be what Locke has been doing in the three years since.
  • Dead characters are going to play a bigger part — Jack’s dad definitely, probably Claire, and almost certainly Michael. Which means that Miles is going to be useful, finally. And that there’s still a good chance we’ll get some resolution on Libby’s story and Danielle’s backstory.
  • I’m hoping that Jin found some way to survive the freighter explosion. Not just because I’d like to see a happy-ish ending for that story, but because he got one hell of an anti-climactic send-off if he didn’t. Even Boone’s had more impact. I predict that Jin will come in at the last minute, right as Sun is about to do something evil to Jack and the rest of the guys.
  • I can’t imagine they’ll leave Desmond and Penny out of the picture, if only because her dad is the bad guy. I’m hoping that his time-travelling didn’t just end when he found Penelope, and we’ll get more resolution there.
  • Faraday’s on a raft with a group of redshirts from the plane. They’ve set it up so that he’s in some kind of time loop, and apparently he “remembers” something really terrible happening in the future. (Or was it just the freighter explosion?) I’d bet that he’s somewhere in the mainland, and he becomes essential to getting the guys back onto the island.
  • Boring British Freighter Woman has a mysterious history on the island, apparently. I’m guessing she was either born in the Dharma Initiative and escaped, or she’s descended from the Others. I’m skeptical they’re going to make her any more interesting, but they’re going to try.
  • Lots of double-rebound sex for Sawyer and Juliet.
  • They wouldn’t have made a point of showing Rose in this episode if they were just going to kill her and Bernard off in the freighter explosion, right? I lost track of what happened to them. I’m guessing they’re still on the island, and will watch Sawyer and Juliet having sex.