Lost: Season Four

With only a week to go now until the final season of Lost begins, I’ve been continuing my re-watch with season four. It was a season hugely affected by the 2008 WGA writers strike, cutting down the number of episodes from the planned 16 to just 14. This did, however, help to further increase the pace which had already improved since the middle of season 3, with the fourth season featuring some of the best episodes in the entire run of the show.

As usual, be warned that this recap contains spoilers for people who haven’t seen all five seasons so far…

The season begins directly where it left off, with the group of survivors reuniting by the plane cockpit, where things first started to get weird 70-or-so episodes earlier. A fundamental split divides between those who await rescue from the freighter, and those who want to heed Charlie’s warning that it is “not Penny’s boat”, with some following Locke to hide in the Barracks and others following Jack to the beach. We’re introduced to the science team from Charles Widmore’s freighter, who parachute their way in, amnesiac physicist Daniel Faraday, sardonic psychic Miles Straume, English archeologist Charlotte Lewis and their helicopter pilot Frank Lapidus.

In a series of flashforwards in these early episodes, we piece together the identities of the Oceanic Six, the only survivors to leave the island, discovering some startling facts along the way – they’re lying about what happened to them, Kate is pretending that Aaron is her son and Sayid is working as a hitman for Ben Linus, who will also be off the island.

Although this is seen by many people as the best season of Lost, on rewatching I found that the quality of the first five episodes is really quite varied from one episode to the next, with Confirmed Dead still being quite intriguing while The Economist and Eggtown, which relied on big revelations, have little impact on second viewing. But things improve in a quite incredible way with the sublime The Constant, where Desmond becomes unstuck in time on his helicopter journey to the freighter, an episode that stands alongside the best hours of television drama ever made.

The run of good episodes continues with The Other Woman, an episode much more memorable for it’s flashbacks than it’s present-day story, filling in the gaps in Juliet’s past on the island with a terrific call-back to The Other 48 Days. The episode opened with a great trick, following several episodes showing us the future lives of the Oceanic Six, we saw Juliet talking to a therapist about just arriving and being treated like a celebrity, only for Tom to pop his head around the door and show that this was a flashback to the days after her arrival on the island. But an even better trick was employed in the following episode, Ji Yeon. Flashforwards showed Sun about to give birth to her daughter while we also saw scenes of Jin rushing to buy a panda bear to bring to the hospital. In a jaw-dropping, heartbreaking twist, it is shown that while we were seeing the future of Sun, Jin’s scenes were flashbacks, the baby he was going to see at the hospital was the grandson of the Chinese ambassador, running an errand for Mr. Paik just months after marrying Sun. Before we can ask where Jin is in the future, we’re given an answer, with Hurley turning up and going with Sun to visit a grave. I’m not afraid to admit that, even now in the knowledge that Jin was really alive and well, when rewatching the end of that episode I bawled like a baby. As well as Yun-Jin Kim’s wonderful performance, I put the blame squarely on Michael Giacchino, whose beautiful music tugs the heartstrings like nothing else.

And the great episodes continue, with Meet Kevin Johnson, where we see what happened to Michael since he left the island, becoming overcome with guilt and repeatedly trying to take his own life, having an unexpected visit from Tom in a Manhattan alleyway and ending up being Ben’s spy on the boat. This is followed by the epic Shape of Things to Come, in which the brutal, villainous Keamy (easily Lost’s most basic and broad antagonist, but also one of the most fearsome) murders Ben’s adopted daughter Alex before his stunned, disbelieving bulbous eyes. There’s so much to enjoy in this episode, from the action-packed shoot-out at the barracks to the flashforwards showing Ben suddenly appearing in Tunisia in late 2005 and tracking down Sayid in Iraq.

Things then take a step down with Something Nice Back Home, where Jack has his appendix out. While there’s not very much of interest happening on the island aside from Claire going missing, the episode is a lot better than it really has any right to be, thanks to some great flashbacks showing Jack’s slow decent into breakdown, drink and prescription drugs, just as he’s on the verge of a great new life with fiancé Kate and his nephew Aaron.

Another one of the all-time great episodes of Lost follows, Cabin Fever. It begins with a similar format to many of the season premieres, with a character we’ve never seen before, in an unfamiliar location, putting on a record. This character is the teenage Emily Locke, it’s 195X and she’s about to prematurely give birth to her son, John. When he’s just old enough to be taken out of the incubator, a stranger is looking on – Richard Alpert. Through a series of flashbacks, it emerges that Alpert has been keeping track of him all through his life and it’s also revealed that the idea of going on a walkabout was first suggested to Locke by Matthew Abbadon, a mysterious man played by the excellent Lance Reddick, who works for Widmore. Locke visits the cabin again, this time finding Christian Shepherd his very relaxed looking daughter, Claire. He is told to move the island, something that actually does happen in the season finale, a thrilling, action-packed climax to a brilliant set of episodes.

On the other recaps, I’ve not mentioned much about the bonus features on the Blu-Rays, but there’s a great one here, which allows you to piece together all of the flashforwards until you can watch them all in chronological order. This is a really interesting way to piece them together and fill the gap in the story of the Oceanic Six between the end of season four and where things start off in season five. It also includes Lost Missing Pieces, a series of 13 very short “mobisodes” which were released to mobile phone customers between seasons three and four, showing scenes which fill gaps in previous episodes. Most are entertaining enough, allowing us to see characters we’d not seen for a while, like Dr Arzt, or meeting Neil Frogurt for the first time, but there was one in particular which seemed quite significant:

where it starts

Although this is a very good season, The Beginning of the End ranks at the bottom of all five season premieres so far. Even the opening scene, usually something very special indeed, is fairly ordinary, starting off with a simple gag which makes us think we’re on the island for a few seconds before putting us in downtown LA. Perhaps more casual viewers might have been surprised to see Hurley in the car, but many would have recognised his red Camaro straight away.

The events on the island, too, are not hugely exciting, seeming to be more of a tying up of loose ends from the season three finale, and getting everything in place for the fourth season to begin properly with the following episode, Confirmed Dead, where we meet the people from the freighter.

One moment in this episode sees Hurley find Jacob’s cabin, looking inside to see Christian Shepherd sitting inside. Last year I attended a Q&A session with writers Damon Lindleof and Carlton Cuse, who said that they originally planned for him to see himself sitting in the chair, but ABC executives ruled it as “too weird”, which is a bit strange considering some of the other things that have happened so far.

the best episode

The Constant is frequently voted as the best episode of Lost by fans, and it is a magnificent piece of television, which would stand up extremely well if viewed as a standalone episode but means so much more in the knowledge of how many years Desmond has been waiting to speak to his beloved Penny again.

Affected by turning the failsafe key back at the end of the second season, going through the electromagnetic field which surrounds the island does something unusual to Desmond. Much like Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse Five and Captain Picard in “All Good Things…”, the final episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (both noted as influences on this episode), he becomes unstuck in time, his consciousness from 1996 flitting back and forth between then and Christmas Eve 2004. As well as being a great concept, it’s wonderfully well executed, with Henry Ian Cusick brilliantly conveying his character’s confusion, and some wonderful direction and particularly editing, making the audience feel the same sudden jump from one time to another.

Although this is a great science-fiction story, what makes the episode so good is it’s emotional core. In 2004, Daniel Faraday tells Desmond to meet him in Oxford in 1996, where he explains that the only way to stop unstuck himself in time is by contacting someone familiar in both time periods, his Constant. This is, of course, Penelope Widmore, and when he finally gets to call her up and restore his 2004 consciousness, it brings one of the greatest, most moving scenes in all five seasons of Lost so far.

the best scene

Shape of Things to Come is a brilliant episode, for so many reasons, but perhaps none more so than the closing sequence where we finally get to see Ben Linus and Charles Widmore share a scene together. As well as the excitement of finally seeing these two hugely important characters on screen together for the first time, some interesting things are revealed about their relationship, and

Although when we watch these scene, most the audience finds itself firmly against Widmore and on the side of Ben (after all, just moments before the flashforward we saw him at his most human as he grieved for Alex), we’re suddenly confronted with the news that Ben is determined to seek revenge by killing Widmore’s daughter, someone he can hardly remember the name of, but who means so much to us as Desmond’s long-lost love, Penelope.

A special mention has to also go to another great scene, the quite brilliant moment at the end of Cabin Fever, with Hurley offering Ben a bit of his chocolate bar as they wait for Locke outside the cabin, an excellent piece of silent comic acting from Jorge Garcia and Michael Emerson.

the best line

Those things had to happen to me. That was my destiny. But you’ll understand soon enough that there are consequences to being chosen… Because destiny, John, is a fickle bitch.

Much of this season is focused around Locke’s journey to the leadership of The Others, and Ben being apparently shunned by Jacob, something which reaches a climax during season five. Here Ben reminds him that being destined, being special, something which Locke has spoken about ever since arriving on the island, isn’t always everything it’s cracked up to be. Ben knows first hand what being the leader of the Others has done to his life and what it has led him to sacrifice.

the worst parts

This season was full of great episodes, but unfortunately was affected by the writer’s strike. This means that there is a marked difference between the pace at the start of the season and at the end. Without this knowledge, it seems that some of the early episodes are comparatively very slow and not as good, when in fact they aren’t bad at all, but just running at a slightly more leisurely pace compared to the later episodes when lots of story has to be crammed into fewer episodes than expected.

Apart from this disjointed feel, there’s very little to fault with this season except that it, of course, is over very quickly!

questions asked

A few of the questions posed this season are answered before it ends. We’re left to wonder what happened to Claire and whether she is dead. What is Christian Shepherd’s relationship with Jacob? What the heckins is that wheel Ben had to turn? One big question which is answered at the start of season five is where the island moved to (we should have been asking “when”) and what happened to the people left behind.

questions answered

Many of the questions answered this season are ones that were posed only at the end of season three. Revelations include the identities of the people on board the freighter and who it belongs to, the reason why the outside world believes everyone on Oceanic 815 are dead, whether or not everyone or just a small number of crash survivors escape the island, and who is in the coffin.

We also learn a little bit more about the Others and the Smoke Monster but most of the big answers are left for later seasons.

what we know now

One of the major questions posed during this season was regarding Charles Widmore’s relationship with the island, and just how he knew Ben. This has now been explained, as season five showed us Widmore at several stages of his life on the island, clearly an important leader of the Others alongside Elouise Hawking, and later being forced into exile after being discovered to have a family on the outside world.

We’ve also discovered why Alpert was so interested in Locke as he was growing up. At the time, everyone was wondering whether Alpert was time travelling or simply not aging, but most people agreed that this was a sign that John Locke was special. Since then, in season five, we’ve learned differently – the reason for Alpert’s interest was because a time-travelling John Locke told him he was special, that he’d one day lead The Others, and told him when he’d be born. This self-fulfilling prophecy has led to Locke growing up being told he was special, when perhaps he never was. He was only leader of the Others for a few minutes, perhaps seconds, because as soon as Ben left and turned the wheel, they all vanished before his eyes. Perhaps Locke was destined for nothing more than being murdered in a hotel room by Ben – I’m sure we’ll learn more in the upcoming season.

where it ends

The season four finale, There’s No Place Like Home, takes place over three hours. The first features flashforwards to the time just a few weeks after the present island timeline, in 2005, with the Oceanic Six first arriving home, including a news conference where they give their fabricated story of what happened after the crash. On the island, meanwhile we see everything start to fall in place for the final two hours, ending on the brilliant montage below showing the Oceanic Six all completely spread out in many different locations, leaving us to ponder how on earth it comes to be them who leave the island.

The second hour starts with a “Previously on Lost” reminding us of the famous “We have to go back!” scene, but then shows us what happens immediately afterwards, with the flashforwards for the final two hours of the finale all focusing on 2008 and the aftermath of the death of “Jeremy Bentham”.

There are several incredible moments in this episode, including a fantastic fight sequence between Keamy’s men and the Others, who certainly are the good guys for once, and a showdown between Jack and Locke where the man of science is eventually persuaded by the man of faith to lie about the island if they escape. And escape they do, with Saywer sacrificing his place on the helicopter to allow his friends to get off, who then discover that there’s a bomb on board the freighter, causing the Oceanic Six (plus Desmond and Frank) to escape before Jin can join them, Sun screaming as the helecopter flew away in a very powerfully emotional scene.

Meanwhile, deep under the island, Ben Linus was about to do something extraordinary…

Just as it seemed that this episode couldn’t get any more special, we’re treated to a moment we thought perhaps we’d never see, and if we did it wouldn’t be until the very end. Desmond and Penny, the lovers separated by space and time, were finally reunited and for once we had a happy ending. It was her boat that found them, manned by those Portuguese speaking guys from the end of the second season.

The fourth season of Lost ends in the same place as the third, back at the Hoffs/Drawlar funeral parlour, where the question that had been asked for a whole year was answered at last:

Season four of Lost is very good indeed. It might have the lowest number of episodes, but perhaps has more ten-out-of-ten episodes than any other season of Lost so far. Now, with a matter of days until season six begins, it’s time to look again at 2009’s brilliant time-travelling fifth season. I think it’ll be very interesting to see it again, this time in the knowledge that a certain someone isn’t who he says he is…

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