Saturday, February 2, 2008
"I get the feeling they're jerking me around," my mother once said, "but for some reason I don't mind as much." She was talking about Lost, having just started its fourth season on Thursday night as everyone's favorite current jerk-around show; and while she didn't complete the thought, it's a safe bet that she was comparing it favorably to Twin Peaks and The X-Files, both of which set the gold standard for yanking their fans' chains.
Viewer patience, of course, has worn thin on occasion with Lost as well, reaching its nadir in the first half of last season: keeping popular characters offscreen for long stretches; devoting too much time to characters nobody cared about; and narratively chasing its own tail. But J. J. Abrams isn't an auteur like David Lynch or a dick like Chris Carter; he's an eager-to-please populist whose creative team responded to criticisms and regrouped down the homestretch, culminating in a season finale that was at once a deeply satisfying payoff for the first three years and (in the last scene) a mindblowing set-up for things to come.
As far as openers go, the fourth season's was decent, making good on the promise of last year's climax that flash-forwards would now be employed more than flashbacks. In addition to Jack (Matthew Fox) and Kate (Evangeline Lilly), we learned that Hurley (Jorge Garcia) is one of the "Oceanic Six" -- a half-dozen of the plane crash survivors who evidently get off the island. (How and why are as yet unclear, but as we've already seen Jack turn into a drunk and Hurley returning to the loony bin, it is obvious that this is not a good thing.) As others have mentioned, the flash-forwards are an effective device because they've reinvigorated the sense of mystery that the flashbacks can no longer provide. The episode was also good at bringing the ensemble together quickly and not delaying the reunions like in previous seasons. Even if it divided them again at the end, it was into two clear-cut groups: those who allied themselves with Jack in waiting for the rescue to arrive; and those who joined Locke (Terry O'Quinn) in retreating from the threat they perceive is coming.
If my words sound less ecstatic about the premiere than Alan Sepinwall's prose orgasm, it's because I don't invest that much in the "secrets" -- what's the four-toed statue? who is Jacob?? what's the bird that uttered Hurley's name??? -- that are doled out like Pez candies: that way madness (and disappointment) lies. I watch Lost for the unique story structure and for the characters. I had predicted that Kate would be the first episode's focal character, so I was surprised and delighted that Hurley was employed instead. As played by the underrated Garcia, Hurley has always been the most human of all the castaways, and humanity is a good place to start.