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19 Jan 2009

Season four of Lost – Seeing as season 5 of Lost is about to start in the States, I thought it would be a good idea to get my review of season 4 out of the way. Regular readers will know that reviewing each season of Lost right before the next season comes out is something of a tradition around here (simply because we watch each season at the end of the year on DVD), and I have no intentions of breaking with tradition now. This year’s review may not be as long as my previous reviews, mainly because I want to get it done and because it’s been a few weeks now since we whipped through the DVDs (and also because I’m trying to convince myself that I can write and post this in one sitting—something common for notes, but rare for journal entries). Oh, and before I dive in, I should note that today’s entry is going to be riddled with spoilers. Anyone who watches the show has most likely already seen the entire season, so it probably doesn’t matter, but I figure it can’t hurt to drop a warning.

“We’ve gotten a lot of answers, but we’ve definitely not gotten all of them.”

To cut straight to the chase, I was very pleased with season 4. The writers had promised that the series would be moving along much more quickly, and they certainly delivered. I think it was in the second episode of the season that they revealed why the freighter folk had really come to the island. I was a bit surprised at the time, thinking, “Gee, if this had been a previous season, we’d probably be halfway through the season before we figured that out.” On the other hand, even though we knew why the freighter folk were there, we didn’t really know why they were there—and by that I mean we know they wanted Ben, but we didn’t know why. This mystery, though, was more or less solved by the end of the season (even though it is never explicitly mentioned, it seems pretty apparent that Penny’s father was a previous “chosen one” on the island, or something to that effect, and that his position was usurped by Ben).

So we managed to maintain some of the mystery, but there were still enough minor pay-offs to make things worthwhile. I didn’t feel the same frustration I felt in previous seasons, mainly because things were moving along too quickly for frustration to develop. At first I was a bit worried about how fast things were going, but in the end I came to appreciate the quicker pace. It’s definitely an improvement over season 3, and I think it bodes well for the remainder of the show.

There are a few things I want to discuss in no particular order, so the rest of this entry may seem a bit jumbled—so be it. I’ll start with my thoughts on some of the characters. If you read my review of season 3, you’ll know that Charlie was one of my favorite characters, if not my favorite character, and I was rather pissed off when they killed him at the end of the season. In season 4, Desmond quickly became my favorite character, thanks in no small part to the episode called “The Constant.” Now, I don’t know how some of my more hard-core sci fi readers (I’m thinking of one sci-fi geek in particular when I say that) would react to the time travel plot—not being hard-core sci fi myself, I couldn’t tell you if they “got it right”—but I loved this episode. For me, it elevated Desmond from cool and quirky guy to the heart of the show. It’s interesting how a character who wasn’t even in the first season has become representative of Lost for me, but that’s what has happened. It definitely has something to do with Henry Ian Cusick’s acting, but I also think Desmond is an extremely well-written character.

After watching “The Constant,” Desmond suddenly went to the top of my “Boy, I hope this character survives” list. And that put some tension back into the season for me. If I can leave the topic of characters for a moment, I’d like to talk about the flash forwards. Previous seasons made excellent use of flashbacks, and I will freely admit that I looked forward to these little vignettes. Not only did they break up the island sequences, they helped flesh out the characters quite a bit. I had very mixed feelings about the flash forward at the end of season 3, though, and when it became apparent that flash forwards were going to be used regularly in season 4, those mixed feelings came back in force. In terms of storytelling, it does make sense—after all, we’ve flashbacked our main characters practically to death over the course of three seasons. It would be hard to continue exploring that territory without getting stale. So opening up the future as a mine for storytelling ore was probably a smart move on the part of the writers.

At the same time, though, it does relieve a lot of the tension that we experienced in previous seasons. I don’t remember which exact episode it was, but it didn’t take too long to discover the identity of each member of the Oceanic Six (although if I had been more observant, I would have noticed that it was given away on the cover of the DVD box). From then on, you knew that whatever happened with those characters didn’t really matter because they were going to make it off the island. So all those tense moments with Jack and Kate weren’t really tense at all, and I yawned through a lot of them. Everyone else was fair game, though, and I found myself becoming particularly concerned with the safety of characters like Sawyer and Desmond. I wasn’t so concerned with Locke’s safety, partly because I don’t like him as much as I used to (although I don’t dislike him either), but also partly because I knew that he wasn’t going to leave the island.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject of Locke, was I the only person who knew that Locke was the one in the coffin? I remember watching the season 3 finale, when Jack asks Kate if she went to the funeral, and Kate says, “Why would I go to the funeral?” The writers played coy, deliberately not mentioning a name, but it was as plain as day to me: “Oh, it’s Locke,” I thought. I’m not sure how I knew that—I guess it was Kate’s reaction. The only two candidates in my mind at the time were Locke and Sawyer, and you knew that Kate wouldn’t react that way if it had been Sawyer’s funeral, so it had to be Locke. It never even occurred to me that it might be Ben, although when I watched the DVD special features they said they shot three separate endings with those three characters to avoid spoilers. Even after the obfuscation and talk of Jeremy Bentham in season 4, my conviction that it was Locke never wavered. So when they had the big reveal at the end of the season, it fell a bit flat for me. I guess I was supposed to say, “Oh my God! It’s Locke.” It was more like: “Uh, yeah. No kidding.”

Anyway, back to the characters. I mentioned that the Jack and Kate sequences didn’t really do much for me, and I suppose I should admit that Kate doesn’t do anything for me period. Hyunjin hates her because she waffles back and forth between the two men in her life, I can’t stand her because she is pathologically incapable of being honest with herself or anyone else. I suppose they both boil down to the same thing, but the waffling is a symptom of her deceitful nature. No, “deceitful” is not the right word, I don’t think. It really is just an inability to be honest. Take Sawyer’s last request, for example (according to the internet, he asked her to find his daughter and tell her that he was sorry). When Jack asks Kate why she can’t tell him what she’s doing for Sawyer, she says, “Because he wouldn’t want me to.” Jack’s answer is basically what we’re all thinking: “Guess what? I’m here and he’s not.” And despite the fact that, even if the internet is wrong, it’s probably not a big deal in terms of Jack and Kate’s relationship, Kate is incapable of telling Jack the truth. This is not entirely responsible for the destruction of their relationship—Jack being his usual controlling and paranoid self doesn’t help matters—but it plays a big part. Anyway, Kate is becoming a less and less palatable character for me, and the knowledge that she was going to survive no matter what niggled a bit throughout the season.

Another character I grew more fond of was Jin, probably because he has matured a lot and become a real man, as opposed to a macho man (raise your hand if the Village People are singing in your head right now. You’re welcome). Needless to say, I started to worry about him when it became apparent that he was not a member of the Oceanic Six. Sun and Jin’s main episode, “Ji Yeon,” was the Lost equivalent of a kick to the gut followed by a steel pipe to the head. There were enough clues to pick up on the fact that Jin’s scenes were flashbacks and Sun’s scenes were flash forwards, but I got so involved in the story that I missed them all, and I was stunned at the end when I realized that Jin didn’t make it off the island. The question then became: does he live or does he die? And yet I wasn’t quite as gutted during the finale when the freighter blew up with Jin still on it. The chances of him surviving such a blast (“enough C4 to blow up an aircraft carrier”—which was, of course, just a slight exaggeration) would normally be pretty slim, but this is Lost. We’ve got an entire cast of characters who somehow managed to survive a plane breaking up in mid-air. My hopes were lifted even further when I watched the commentary on the finale and I think it was Carlton Cuse who said, as the freighter blew up, “Sun’s reaction when she thinks her husband is dead here is amazing,” or something to that effect. After he said this there was a moment of silence, during which I think Damon Lindelof was trying to think of something to say to cover it up. He (Lindelof) went on with the commentary and continuously referred to Jin as being dead, but only a short time later Cuse added, “If he is indeed dead.” I had to laugh, because it was obvious that Lindelof wanted to support the idea that Jin had died in the blast, while Cuse kept trying to sow seeds of doubt. I’m hoping that he survived, and I think there is at least a decent chance of that, but I guess I’ll have to wait for the season 5 DVDs to come out before I learn the truth (and no, I don’t want anyone to tell me in advance).

I suppose a discussion of Sun and Jin is as good a time as any to segue into my annual discussion of Lost’s portrayal of Korea. I don’t really have too much to say this time, because I’ve said a lot in my previous reviews and I don’t want to go around beating dead horses. I will say a few things, though. For one, I’m not sure why they had Sun take Jin’s last name. In Korea, women keep their own last names when they marry. Some Korean women who live or work in the West might adopt their husband’s names to avoid confusion, and if it were just that I might understand, but even in Korea her name is given is Kwon Sun-hwa, not Paik Sun-hwa. Actually, in “Ji Yeon” they got her name wrong entirely. When she gets her wedding ring back from the hospital after giving birth to the eponymous Ji Yeon, it’s in a plastic bag with a sticker that has her name on it. The camera lingers on the bag for a few seconds, and the name is clearly visible (in Korean): Kwon Seong-hye, which is actually wrong on all three counts. So while I’m tempted to give the writers the benefit of the doubt and say that they gave Sun Jin’s last name so as not to confuse audiences, it is also possible that they’re just clueless (yes, I did hear the theory that Sun was living under an assumed name, but that makes no sense, and apparently the writers themselves admitted that it was a mistake in the Lost podcast).

The other thing I’d like to mention about the depiction of Korea is something I’ve talked about before, but I can’t help coming back to it—how the heck is that in any way, shape, or form supposed to be Seoul? What kills me is that they have scenes where images of the real Seoul are inserted into windows with computer graphics, and then we go outside and we’re in some podunk town that looks nothing like one of the biggest metropolitan areas in the world. In the DVD special features they talked about how they used computer graphics to add buildings to the background in street scenes in Berlin—why couldn’t they do the same thing with Seoul? (Interesting side note: those scenes at the end of the season in London? That was actually London.) Hyunjin also pointed out something that I missed completely—there are no English signs in Lost’s Seoul, whereas the real Seoul is inundated with English signage. This is amusing because Daniel Day Kim specifically mentions how authentic all the signage is, when actually it’s not authentic at all. Come to think of it, Lost’s Seoul looks more like a Koreatown than the real Seoul. I think that’s one reason why “Seoul” looks so, well, podunk. But to harp on this anymore would be overkill, so I’ll stop. Suffice it to say that the depiction of Korea remains exceptionally unconvincing and, unlike other locales, seems to be more a depiction of what the writers think Korea should look like rather than a depiction based on research into the real Korea.

I suppose the last thing I want to talk about is the big mysteries of the show. I’ve probably mentioned before that I don’t really watch Lost for the mystery—I watch it for the characters—but that’s not to say I’m not interested in what the heck is going on on that freaky island. In this season, though, I think a lot of questions were answered. Not directly, of course, but the list of possible explanations has been drastically reduced. In fact, I think there is really only one explanation for a lot of the stuff that goes on, and that is what is known as the Vile Vortices theory. You can look it up on Wikipedia for a more detailed explanation, but basically it’s a theory that says there are a bunch of wormholes around the earth that link places together (the Bermuda Triangle is one of them). In our situation, the link would seem to be between the island and Tunisia. I really don’t see any other explanation for the phenomenon after everything we’ve seen in season 4. In a way it’s kind of a relief, because we know that the writers actually have an idea of what they’re doing, however outlandish the theory itself might be (although I think it’s been obvious from day one that the series was going to be founded on some pretty fantastic—as in fantasy—ideas).

Of course, there are still plenty of questions remaining, and not all of them have such clear answers. For example, where did the island go, and how did it get there? This probably has something to do with the wormholes, but if the island doesn’t show up in Tunisia, does that mean that it is some sort of wormhole Grand Central Station? That’s a pretty good possibility, actually—after all, how does a small prop plane riddled full of bullets that takes off from Nigeria end up in the South Pacific? And then there are questions about the properties of the island itself, like those “magnetic anomalies.” And what about all those shadowy organizations, like the Dharma Initiative and the Hanso Foundation? We’ve gotten a lot of answers, but we’ve definitely not gotten all of them. I think there will be plenty of mystery to take us through the next two seasons, especially since the writers are sure to introduce more weirdness in the future. (Feel free to share your thoughts with me about season 4, but please refrain, if you would, from talking about season 5. Thanks.)

Well, I suppose that about wraps it up. I normally wouldn’t write something like this in one sitting, and even then I would probably let it sit for a day and look it over once more before posting it, but, like I said, the new season of Lost is about to start and I wanted to get this out of the way. Apologies if it’s a bit of a mess—it’s more a jumble of thoughts than a bona fide review, but it’s done, and I suppose that counts for something. None of the other topics on my Liminality to-do list are time sensitive, so I should be able to get back to some things that I’ve been wanting to write for a while. Next up will be a long-promised and long-delayed musing on petitionary prayer.

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