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“We’re not going to Guam, are we?” — The Great Lost Rewatch Project: Season 5!

March 15th, 2010

It’s time to begin wrapping up my post-game assessment of my Great Lost Rewatch Project by beginning my thoughts on season 5!  Click here for my thoughts on season 1, season 2, season 3, and season 4.  As always, folks, MAJOR SPOILERS lie ahead, so beware.

“OK, so what?  We’re gonna go back and kill Hitler?”  “Don’t be absurd. There are rules. Rules that can’t be broken.”

Coming after the magnificent season 4, my favorite season of the show since the first year, I wasn’t sure if season 5 would be able to maintain that high level of quality and narrative momentum.  But I shouldn’t have doubted.  Season 5 is another home-run, one that deepens our understanding of the show’s characters and of the larger backstory of the island.

Here in season 5, Lost fully embraces the sci-fi aspects that have often been a peripheral element of the show, as the writers dove into a complex time-travel storyline to begin the season.  Lost has played tentatively with time-travel before, most notably in the two Desmond episodes “Flashes Before Your Eyes” (click here for my detailed thoughts on that critical episode) and “The Constant.”  Those episodes had allowed us to begin to get some sense of the “rules” of time-travel in the Lost universe.  This isn’t Back to the Future type time-travel, where one could alter the past and thus change the future.  Here in the world of Lost, it seems that “whatever happened, happened” — that making major changes to the timeline are impossible.  (Season 6 will tell us definitively, one hopes, whether that is indeed the case.)

After Ben moved the island in the season 4 finale, something goes wrong and our castaways find themselves unstuck in time, jumping around into the past and the future.  Over the course of these jumps, much of the secret history of the island and its inhabitants is peeled back for us to examine.  We travel back to the ’50s, meeting a young Eloise Hawking and Charles Widmore (I LOVE the revelation that he was once an Other!) and learning of the US Army’s use of the island as a test site for nuclear weapons.  We learn the reason for Richard Alpert’s interest in a young John Locke (see in last season’s “Cabin Fever”).  We see what befell Rousseau and her team.  We see how Ben came to raise Alex.  And we learn a LOT more about the Dharma Initiative.

The time-jumping storyline is great fun, but things get even more fascinating once Locke turns the frozen donkey wheel himself.  The castaways (Sawyer, Juliet, Miles, and Daniel) wind up back in 1977, and become members of the Dharma Initiative.  I did not see that plot twist coming.  It’s a brilliant way for us to have an opportunity to explore what things were like when the much-mentioned Dharma Initiative was on the island, conducting their experiments and building their hatches in the years before the Others’ Purge (which we saw in season 3’s “The Man Behind the Curtain”).  As always, though, the success of that storyline rests not just on our getting answers to some of our questions, but on the strong character arcs that center the stories.  The strong, stable relationship that Sawyer and Juliet are able to create for themselves, and Sawyer’s transformation from angry loner to the trusted, well-liked LaFleur, are wonderful.  It’s a credit to the writers and actors involved at how well they’re able to pull off those story-lines, and they bring great heart to the tale as it unfolds (and, upon rewatching, great tragedy, as well, since we know how this is all going to wind up in “The Incident”).

“Third day we were here I was on line in the cafeteria and my mother got in line behind me. That was my first clue.”

Things are every bit as fascinating off the island as well, as in the season’s early episodes we watch Jack and Ben’s efforts to reunite the Oceanic Six and find a way to return to the island.  As in season 4, what’s great is the intensity and energy these story-lines have (in contrast to some of the goings-on in seasons 2 & 3 that felt at times like we were treading water).  There’s a strong narrative thrust to these story-lines, as Jack and Ben have a clear goal (a return to the island), and we see them struggle with the many obstacles in their way.

On my initial viewing, I was quite shocked at just how quickly the Oceanic Six did manage to get back to the island (by the sixth episode, “316”), but pleasantly surprised, since this meant the show could focus on even more interesting story-lines — our characters’ lives amongst the Dharma Initiative in the 1970s.  This also upped the dramatic stakes even further, since while we could be pretty certain that the Oceanic Six would, eventually, find a way to return to the island, once they found themselves stranded in the ’70s viewers had no idea what was going to happen next.  Good stuff, and clever story-telling.

“They come. They fight. They destroy. They corrupt. It always ends the same.”

Then, of course, there’s the finale, “The Incident.”  The opening scene, in which we FINALLY meet Jacob, is a tour-de-force sequence that forces us to entirely reevaluate everything that we have seen so far in the show’s first five seasons.  For along with Jacob we also meet his mysterious enemy, the Man in Black.  We see that the Black Rock is about to arrive on the island, and the huge Egyptian statue is still standing.  The M.I.B. accuses Jacob of having brought the ship there, and says that he hates him and will one day find a loophole that will allow him to kill him.

Suddenly we are forced to completely reevaluate almost everything that has come before on the show.  For five seasons we’ve tried to puzzle out the meaning behind all the strange things that we’ve seen happen on the island, including the many visions our characters have seemingly been granted by the island (often in the form of dead friends or relatives).  Many of these visions have seemed to have been contradictory.  (An example that jumps to mind is the way, back in season 1, Locke’s visions of the drug-plane seemed to indicate that the island wanted him to find that plane — and yet when his legs mysteriously give out in the jungle it seems that the island DOESN’T in fact want him to find the plane.)  We’ve seen mysterious “apparitions” that may or may not have been real, such as the many appearances of Christian Shephard, and all the strangeness of the encounters with Jacob’s cabin.  We’ve tried to figure out what this all means, and what the island wants from our castaways.  But now we must consider the idea that there have been TWO forces attempting to influence the denizens of the island, and that these forces have been in OPPOSITION.  This puts a fascinating new spin on everything we have seen to this point (and perhaps helps explain some of the seeming contradictions).

Case in point: when I watched season 5 originally, I was bugged by the whole idea that the Oceanic Six had somehow damaged the island by leaving (causing the crazy time-jumping), and that somehow it was their destiny to return.  This was the position suggested by Locke.   Since he was able to stop the time-jumping when he left the island to bring the Oceanic Six back, it seemed to me that the show was suggesting that he was correct.  But I didn’t understand how the Oceanic Six’s leaving could have caused the island to go crazy, when we’d seen plenty of other people leave the island (Michael, Charles Widmore when he was exiled, Ben, Richard, Ethan, Tom Friendly, etc. etc.) before without causing similar problems.

But during my rewatch, it became clear to me that, in fact, Locke’s suggestion was entirely incorrect.  It was Ben turning the wheel that caused the island (and/or the castaways) to jump in time – the Oceanic 6 had nothing to do with it.  Once we learn in the finale that the M.I.B. has been inhabiting Locke’s body, it clarifies the scenes seen in the penultimate episode, “Follow the Leader,” and we can now understand that the whole idea that the Oceanic Six must return to the island was planted in Locke by the M.I.B. (when we see the M.I.B. in Locke’s body tell Richard Alpert exactly what he needs to say to the time-jumping Locke of the past, who Richard is about to help with his bullet wound).  The whole thing was a ruse to get dead Locke back to the island so the M.I.B. could take his place and get Ben to kill Jacob.

That is genius!!

It’s also fiendishly complicated, and we still have an extraordinary number of outstanding questions that I really hope season 6 will address.  But I applaud the Lost writers for their creativity and their cleverness.  It’s exciting that a show entering its final season still has so much creative energy and juice left in the proverbial tank.

Of all the seasons of the show, season 5 is the one that I most enjoyed during my rewatch.  It is so full of tiny little details and connections — many of which I missed when watching the show for the first time, week-to-week.  But it’s delightful to notice all of those little elements of the tapestry that the makers of Lost have cleverly woven into the fabric of the show, purely for the attentive fans.  (I’m going with a weaving metaphor here in honor of the scene that introduces us to Jacob in “The Incident.”)  This is bold, inventive television, and I sure hope that season 6 is able to stick the landing.

“When I was little, living here, there was this man, this crazy man. He really scared me. And he told me that I had to leave the island and never ever come back. He told me that if I came back to the island, I would die.”

See you back here tomorrow as my Great Lost Rewatch Project draws to a close, and I give you more in-depth comments on my favorite and least-favorite moments from season 5!

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