Lost: Season Three

After a little break over Christmas, I’ve got stuck in to my Lost rewatch once again, preparing for the final season which starts in less than a month! Today, my thoughts on the third season, in many ways a turning point in the series. As usual, this recap is for people who have already watched all five seasons so far, so if you haven’t caught up yet, there will be spoilers.

Structurally, the third season is quite strange. Part of this was to do with the scheduling, with the first six episodes shown several months before the remaining 16. There are then a few meandering episodes of various quality before things start moving much more quickly in the final ten episodes of the season, which were made after writers and producers Damon Lindleoff and Carlton Cuse were given a 2010 end date by ABC.

The season begins with Jack, Sawyer and Kate all held captive by the Others on the Hydra island, with Jack manipulated into performing surgery on the man we first knew as Henry Gale, but learned here to be, of course, Ben Linus. Also in these early episodes, one of the series’ most popular characters, Mr Eko, had to be written out before his time due to the personal circumstances of the excellent Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. His final episode The Cost of Living, where we see Eko in flashback posing as a priest and killing a gang leader, and then being judged by the smoke monster which kills him after he refuses to ask for forgiveness, was the best of the first part of the season. Many fans dislike these opening six episodes, but unlike Stranger in a Strange Land which was just as terrible as I’d remembered (more on that on the next page), these episodes weren’t too bad when watched again. Although they weren’t among the best episodes of Lost ever made, I think a lot of the negativity towards them was due to the original scheduling, with the story only slightly moving along before everyone had to wait a few more months. They work a lot better when you can watch the next episode on the DVD or Bluray straight away.

The opening episodes also introduce us to one of the Others, Juliet, who we discover in the first episode when the series returned, Not In Portland, did not grow up on the Island and was only recruited three years previously to try to solve their strange fertility problems. This is followed by one of the most important episodes in the whole of Lost and one of the best of the season, Flashes Before Your Eyes, which sets up the time-travel concept and the new powers Desmond has received after turning the failsafe key.

Following this is a mixed bag of episodes, which tend to increase in quality after the awful Strangers in a Strange Land. One of these mid-season episodes, Exposé, was loved by some fans and hated by others. I loved it, as flashbacks showed Nikki and Paulo appearing in various moments in the first 80 days since the crash, searching for the diamonds they stole in Sydney while interacting with long-lost characters Boone, Shannon and Doctor Artz. In between the flashbacks, the beach dwellers try to work out what apparently killed them, giving the episode the feel of a murder mystery. The chilling climax to this episode, with it’s brilliant soundtrack, gives me goosebumps each time:

After this, things start to really move quickly, with some great episodes which see parachutist Naomi arrive on the island, Locke meet his father who came from the metaphorical “magic box”, Sun is relieved to discover that Jin is the father of her child, despite the danger that brings, and we learn much more about Ben’s past. The final episode has it all – heroic sacrifice, major characters in real jeopardy, a couple of awesome battles with a surprising hero and a shocking, game-changing ending.

Season three is a mixed bag, and the episodes that aren’t good are not good at all. But this is more than made up for by the good episodes, which are absolutely outstanding, with the final five hours of the season being the best consecutive series of episodes in all five seasons so far. Season three introduces us to Juliet and brings two of Lost’s greatest characters, Ben and Desmond, to the forefront. This season also sees some of the greatest music composed for the series, such as Juliet’s theme, a melancholy version of Ben’s leitmotif, a sad new theme for Jack and, when Naomi’s helicopter is first spotted, a taste of season four’s freighter theme. We already knew Lost was very good, but by the end of season three – and particularly “that” ending – we knew that we were watching something very, very special indeed.

where it starts

As has become tradition, the opening scene of the season introduced us to a character and setting we’d never seen before. In season two it was Desmond in the Hatch, and this time it was Juliet and a suburban book club who left us all wondering whether we were watching the right channel. Millions of jaws must have dropped when we suddenly saw Ben, Ethan and Goodwin, witnessed flight 815 break up overhead and then realised that this idyllic village was the Others’ home on the island.

The episode saw the introduction of the Hydra zoological station, the former home of the polar bears, where Sawyer and Kate were being held in cages while Jack was kept underground. In flashback, we saw Jack start to break down following the collapse of his marriage and even wrongly suspected his father of being involved.

This episode, A Tale of Two Cities, was the final contribution of JJ Abrams to Lost, and his first since the early part of season one. Despite this, many people still think of it as his show, when for most of it’s life he has had very little involvement.

the best episode

Ever since he first appeared in season two, claiming to be balloonist Henry Gale, viewers were looking forward to seeing flashbacks for the Others’ manipulative leader Benjamin Linus. This finally happened in The Man Behind The Curtain, which really is the second best episode of the season, behind the season finale we’ll look at later.

Flashbacks showed Ben’s birth, not on the Island but near Portland, Oregon. His father was recruited by the DHARMA Initiative (which was thrilling to finally see for the first time) and he grew up and went to school there with his best friend Annie. Like many characters on Lost, he had daddy issues, wanting to run away from his father and join the “Hostiles”, including the 1970s Richard Alpert who doesn’t look a day younger than he does in 2004. In 1992, when Ben has grown up, he actively takes part in The Purge, the massacre of every member of the DHARMA Initiative by poisonous gas.

In the present day on the island, this episode continues to build up Ben and Locke’s struggle to be the true custodian of the island and leader of the Others, something which started a few episodes earlier when John Locke turned up in Ben’s bedroom and noted that he was still in a wheelchair after his operation, and continued until (and perhaps beyond?) Locke’s death. Locke, speaking for the audience, demanded answers from Ben and demanded to be taken to see the previously mentioned leader, Jacob. Eventually he takes him, and it’s quite a surprise when we see the disheveled cabin in the middle of the jungle, surrounded by a ring of ash.

It’s even more surprising to see Ben apparently talking to himself, making Locke and the viewers wonder whether Ben is playing a trick or just completely insane. But that’s not as surprising as it is when things start to fly around the room, we briefly glimpse a figure who we, at the time, think is Jacob, and then hear those two creepy words, “Help me”. The episode ends on a brilliantly scripted moment, as Ben takes Locke to see the mass grave and then shoots him.

This episode is full of terrific writing and terrific acting. Lost, or any TV show in fact, hardly gets better than when we see Terry O’Quinn and Micheal Emerson on screen together.

the best scene

The end to a very long-running story, first introduced in the first few episodes of season one, sees James Ford finally meet the man he’s been searching for his whole life, and the man he’d named himself after, Sawyer. When he does, he exacts brutal revenge which we the audience, knowing what Anthony Cooper had done to John Locke, knew was deserved.

I’d never especially rated Josh Holloway as an actor, but throughout this third season, and especially this scene, he was brilliant. Also excellent here was Kevin Tighe, letting a little nervousness show behind the conman’s bravado, and an understated appearance from Terry O’Quinn.

the best line

I tried, brother. I’ve tried twice to save you, but the universe has a way of course-correcting, and I can’t stop it forever. I’m sorry – I’m sorry because, no matter what I try to do… you’re gonna die, Charlie.

A huge plot running throughout the season, Desmond’s flashes foretold of Charlie’s demise. Time and time again, Desmond saved him, but no matter what happened, in Final Destination style, it seemed that fate would find a way for Charlie to meet his end. Eventually he embraced his fate, with the thought that his death would cause a chain of events leading to Claire and baby Aaron being rescued. The penultimate episode, Greatest Hits, took us through the five best moments in his life, including rescuing Sayid’s long-lost love Nadia from muggers in London and the time he first met Claire with the words “So, first plane crash?”. Everything in the episode, from the flashbacks to Desmond’s visions makes us belive that it will be his last, so it comes as a surprise when he survives the episode. He finally meets his fate in the next.

While talking of quotes, it’s worth mentioning Sawyer’s nicknames, such as the time he calls Hurley, Charlie and Aaron “Three Men and a Baby” (“I was counting Hurley twice”) or the moment when he’s teaching Jin some English words, pointing at a car and saying “Car”, pointing at a can of beer and saying “Beer”, and then pointing at Hurley and saying “International House of Pancakes”. At one point in the season, Hurley beats him at table tennis, meaning he wasn’t allowed to use any nicknames for several days, but he was back at it soon enough.

the worst parts

This season contains the worst episode of Lost in the opinion of most fans, Stranger in a Strange Land. And it is a very poor episode, containing some ideas and story threads which do not seem to make much sense or contribute much to the overall plot. Almost everything about this episode is terrible, from the flashbacks telling the boring and story of how Jack got his tattoos in Phuket, to the story on the island where we’re introduced to the Others’ sheriff, who is never mentioned again. However, there are a few good things about this episode (and no, I’m not talking about the sight of Bai Ling not wearing very much, there’s plenty of that on the Internet).

For one thing, this episode ends with a wonderful rousing orchestral piece, Juliet’s theme, one of the best bits of music in the whole show, memorably later heard in the season five finale. It also quite importantly gives us an implied timeframe for the “flashbacks” in the season three finale, helping to allow that particular trick to work. But, most importantly, this is the episode which finally convinced the network’s executives to give the show an end date and allow the writers and producers to close the show on their own terms rather than continuing to tread water, churning out filler episodes like this because there was no end in sight. For this reason alone, we should all be glad this episode was made.

One other thing to be picky about is the depiction of the UK in this season. Nearly everything we’ve seen in all five seasons of Lost was shot in Hawaii, from the war-torn streets of Iraq to snowy Berlin, and most of the time they do it amazingly well. Now, maybe it’s just because I’m British, I’ve no idea really how accurate the scenes in South Korea are, for example. But, things like the streets which look nothing at all like London, with posters prominently using the American spelling “Honor” instead of “Honour” and a very false-looking pub in Flashes Before Your Eyes, and some terrible accents in Greatest Hits and Catch-22 (an episode where they used green screen to improve the street scenes) really stick out like a sore thumb in a series which is usually so good at getting the details and authenticity right.

questions asked

There were a few questions in this season that we are still waiting for, such as why Richard doesn’t age (although we now know that it’s something Jacob did to him) and the true nature of the smoke monster.

Other questions posed were answered quite soon after, such as the true nature of the crew of the freighter, and who sent them to the island, while we had to wait until late season five to be certain of the reason why the wreckage of flight 815 was found in the ocean.

questions answered

Much of this season was spent learning more about the Others. We learnt that most of the current group were not born on the island, including Ben, and that they have some very particular cultural traditions, plus the reason why they kidnapped Claire in season one. We also got some more insight into the DHARMA Initiative and found out why they’re no longer on the island, as well as learning what was at the end of the cable Sayid found leading into the ocean.

what we know now

We thought we were seeing Jacob’s cabin, but now know it was nothing of the sort. The cabin was built by Horace Goodspeed, and while Jacob was living under the four-toed statue, the cabin was inhabited by a mysterious, sometimes invisible figure, perhaps the “man in black”, Jacob’s enemy.

We also now know that when Locke was shot by Ben, he survived because he was shot where his kidney would have been, had it not been stolen by Anthony Cooper.

In the early episodes on the Hydra island, Kate and Sawyer are made to break up rocks and clear land. Later, Juliet explains that they were building a runway, before jokingly adding “for the aliens”. We now know that it was indeed a runway, ready for the arrival of Ajira flight 316 in 2007. The first appearance of Eloise Hawking in Flashes Before Your Eyes is even more interesting now that we know a little more about her.

One thing that’s very different when watching this season the second time around was my perception of Juliet. Back when this season was originally broadcast, even after seeing her back story, she just wasn’t to be trusted, and by extension, neither was Jack. This was all intentional, of course, with the audience firmly siding with the likes of Charlie and Sayid when they decided to keep the discovery of parachutist Naomi secret from the pair. But watching a second time, it’s the Juliet we grew to know and love, and the perception of her is completely different.

And, of course, now we know the answer to the question that was on everyone’s lips after the finale aired – we know who was in the coffin.

where it ends

The season finale, Through The Looking Glass, was one of the greatest episodes of television ever produced in the medium’s history, and my favourite episode of Lost. It was a joy to watch once again.

There was the story of Charlie, completing his mission to turn off the signal-blocking systems on the underwater station, communicating with Penny before drowning as prophesied after passing his message on to Desmond by writing the words “NOT PENNY’S BOAT” on his hand. A very moving end, with a last sign of the cross, for this much missed character.

The main action of the episode was back at the beach camp where Sayid, Jin and Bernhard were lying in wait, ready to blow up the Others who were coming to kidnap any women who might be pregnant. After successfully getting a few of them, they were captured, and for a while it looked as if they had been shot. But they hadn’t, and while Saywer and Juliet looked on, trying to work out how to help without any weapons, of all people it was Hurley who came to the rescue, running a couple of Others down in the DHARMA van. With his hands tied behind his back, Sayid awesomely snapped an Other’s neck with his legs, and then Sawyer shot Tom Friendly in cold blood, saying “that was for taking the boy from the raft”.

Meanwhile, most of the other castaways were led by Jack to the radio tower, where Danielle was finally reunited with her daughter Alex, her first words after 16 years apart: “I’ll help you tie him up”. She was also reunited with the radio studio where she recorded her message all those years ago, switching it off so that he could talk to the freighter and finally get rescue.

All throughout the episode are what appear to be flashbacks of Jack, already emotionally damaged and bearded, become suicidal when he reads a newspaper report of someone’s death. It seems that we are containing to watch Jack struggle with the aftermath of his divorce, as seen in his other flashbacks this season, until the very final scene, when he arranges to meet someone outside an airport. Shockingly, when he gets there it transpires that the person he’s meeting is Kate. The first thought running through my mind was “What??? They knew each other before the crash? That doesn’t make any sense!”. But just a few seconds later, when they talk about pulling people from burning wreckage being an old habit, and golden passes Oceanic have given them, the truth becomes jaw-droppingly apparent: this is the future, they are off the island, and it wasn’t anything like the happy ending we were expecting. For three years we thought Lost might end with the remaining survivors flying home, and suddenly we were confronted with the sight of a disheveled Jack Shepherd in Los Angeles screaming “We have to go back, Kate! We have to go back!”.

This was a devastatingly shocking ending which left me speechless the first time I watched, and to this day makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.

Season three of Lost was, despite it’s many faults, on the whole a fantastic season of television. Next up, season four, a season curtailed by the 2008 writer’s strike which made the pacing even more frenetic.


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