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Fionnula Flanagan (#110 of 6)

Lost Recap Season 5, Episode 14, “The Variable”

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Lost Recap: Season 5, Episode 14, “The Variable”

ABC

Lost Recap: Season 5, Episode 14, “The Variable”

One of my favorite American novels of the last 30 years is John Crowley’s Little, Big, a book that straddles the line between realistic fiction and genre fiction, between the mundane and the miraculous. Briefly, it’s the tale of a large, rambling family in upstate New York who seem curiously devoted to a strange belief system that they refuse to spell out in its entirety for either their baffled new son-in-law or his son (the two point-of-view characters). The reader gradually grows aware of just what’s going on inside the giant home, Edgewood (a house with its own secrets), but everything fantastical is kept just off the page, as it were, until the climax, which seems more like a post-apocalyptic phantasmagoria than anything else. It is, above all else, a story about faith. About people in thrall to a force beyond their power that they’re not even sure they can understand or control. It contains some of the most beautiful writing I’ve ever encountered. And it reminds me a lot of Lost.

Lost Recap Season 5, Episode 8, “LaFleur”

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Lost Recap: Season 5, Episode 8, “LaFleur”

ABC

Lost Recap: Season 5, Episode 8, “LaFleur”

Let us now sing the praises of Josh Holloway and Elizabeth Mitchell.

Lost’s cast has always been there to carry us through the show’s rough patches. Even when the writing was especially weak or making the characters go through bizarre contortions just to push the various players into the right places on the chessboard, the actors almost kinda made you buy it. Now that the show’s plotting has (mostly) caught up to the actors and the writers are giving them subtler stuff to play, people like Holloway and Mitchell are proving week after week that they’ll make the most of what you give them, so just give them better stuff, and you’ll have a better show. Holloway, in particular, who had a tendency to get lost in the shuffle last season, has what might be his best episode in the series’s history with this one, where he manages to play his character, Sawyer, as both a man who is forced into a leadership role in an almost de facto fashion and a man who is content with himself and his place in the world. This dude should be a movie star.

Lost Recap Season 5, Episode 5, “This Place Is Death”

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Lost Recap: Season 5, Episode 5, “This Place Is Death”

ABC

Lost Recap: Season 5, Episode 5, “This Place Is Death”

If Lost’s greatest romance, the one between Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick) and Penny (Sonya Walger), is all about a couple that is always connected by some sort of deeper link, even when time and space conspire to keep them apart, then the show’s other fine romance, that of Jin (Daniel Dae Kim) and Sun (Yunjin Kim), is all about a couple that has traditionally been disconnected. Even when Sun and Jin were on the Island together and rebuilding a marriage that had been hurt by infidelity and bad job prospects, they were frequently separated from each other either via language barriers (what with Sun able to communicate with most everyone else and Jin only able to communicate with Sun) or through simple plot mechanics. It’s this quality that drives a lot of Lost fans nuts when they watch Jin and Sun episodes, but I tend to really like that sort of thing. It’s as though Lost takes two hours or less per season to tell a really tiny story about people struggling to overcome domestic issues that may as well be written by John Updike or something (except for the occasional gangster riffs), and it’s in Korean, no less.

Lost Recap: Season 5, Episodes 1 and 2, “Because You Left” and “The Lie”

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Lost Recap: Season 5, Episodes 1 and 2, “Because You Left” and “The Lie”
Lost Recap: Season 5, Episodes 1 and 2, “Because You Left” and “The Lie”

I suspect when all is said and done that the history of Lost will cleave it pretty neatly into two different shows.

There’s already been plenty written about how Lost’s two-hour fifth season premiere (which is really two episodes that probably could have been stitched together more neatly but most likely weren’t for syndication reasons) more overtly tugs the show into science fiction territory, while the stuff off the island with the Oceanic Six delves into the character-based side of the show that has kept it from having ratings so low it was canceled midway through its first season. But this divide between genre show and character drama is not specifically where the great divide falls for Lost. The great divide falls between the first half of the show’s third season and the last half of that season (which roughly matches up with when executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse convinced ABC to let them set a hard end date for the series). Before season three’s 13th episode, “The Man from Tallahassee,” the series was much more meandering and much more prone to fits of stupidity. But it was also a show with more time—time for things like visual poetry or narrative tangents that occasionally seemed like dead ends (fans hated season three’s “Tricia Tanaka Is Dead,” but it was really a fine little piece of television—it just didn’t advance the master narrative in any way). This series also was slowly shrugging off some of the pitfalls from first season, mostly set there via the original series conception by J.J. Abrams and Lindelof (Abrams has since left the series as an active creative force for the most part, enmeshing himself in Fringe, which actually is starting to feel a lot like Lost in some ways), and that could lead to some really ridiculous things like long flashbacks where we learned why Jack got a tattoo.

Lost Recap: Season 3, Episode 17, “Catch-22”

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Lost Recap: Season 3, Episode 17, “Catch-22”
Lost Recap: Season 3, Episode 17, “Catch-22”

I’ve long contended that the writers of Lost use the show as the world’s most expensive message board, employing its very text to address fan concerns and critiques, often in the body of the same story that’s causing consternation.

Apparently some of the writers have been known to blog, and executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse conduct regular podcasts on ABC’s website where they clear the air, but I’ve never quite seen the point. When you watch Lost you almost always have a pretty good idea of where everyone stands.

To wit, Lost doesn’t just name check the pop culture phenomena that have inspired and co-exist with it (most recently evident in the episode where Sawyer has to go around being nice to everyone or else he’ll be “voted off the island”). Occasionally, it seems to step outside of itself and offer reassuring nods to its viewership—no doubt one of the most savvy audience in all of television—that it has at least anticipated their eventual complaints. Arguably, that’s not quite as impressive when you consider how many corners the show has written itself into over the years, but they do say admitting you have a problem is the first step.

Lost Recap, Season 3, Episode 8, “Flashes Before Your Eyes”

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Lost Recap, Season 3, Episode 8, “Flashes Before Your Eyes”
Lost Recap, Season 3, Episode 8, “Flashes Before Your Eyes”

Almost halfway through its third season, Lost has established such an ironclad and unvarying format that even the most casual viewer can probably anticipate its movements with ease. Each week we shift point-of-view to a character at the center of the episode’s storyline, cutting between the present and a self-contained incident from his or her past. These expository digressions usually have prescient themes and pertinent parallels, with the episode’s running time equitably split between “off the island” and “on.”