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October 27, 2012

MRP Day 24/25 – Back to the Island – Season 2 Review (long)

Filed under: the month of relentless positivity,Uncategorized — lexifab @ 12:24 am

Finally we arrive at the end of Lost Season 2, with the Hatch blown comprehensively to bits and the Others manifesting as something more complex and sinister than the sharpshooting jungle ninjas we have assumed them to be. Did the followup to the tremendously popular first season meet expectations? Were our burning questions anwered? Have our favourite characters changed? Who lived and who died and what made no sense at all? Read on!

It’s been over a year since I wrote the wrapup review of the first season and I look back on the detail of that essay with a certain amount of horror. I really wrote over 3000 words on stuff like ratings? Eesh. That won’t happen this time, let me tell you. Unless it does. So let’s get to my ratings!

The ratings

Counting the two-part finale as a single episode, my average score for the season was 7.43. That’s slightly up on the 7.3 I rated Season 1. I think that Season 2 cemented the show’s rythmn. Smoothing off some of year one’s rough edges helped to avoid complete stinkers, with the exception of the dreadful ‘Abandoned’. On the other hand, there weren’t too many episodes that reached for the stars either – for me the only real standouts were the Hurley psychodrama ‘Dave’ and Sawyer’s ‘The Long Con’. Everything else ranked from okay to pretty good. A flat curve seems about right. Season Two of Lost was remarkably consistent in terms of quality – the show found its feet, paced its character development out a little more evenly and introduced new ideas and mysteries at a steady rate.

The new characters

Boone’s corpse was hardly cool before we had a whole swag of new characters join the cast – and to complete the deck-clearing, one of them shot Shannon to death on sight. Trigger-happy boozehound Ana-Lucia, sweet neurotic Libby, calmly seething spiritualist Mr Eko and Bernard the dentist (not counting the brief return cameo of Oceanic flight attendant Cindy, who only hung around long enough to remind us she was in the pilot and is still an Australian). Desmond Hume became something of a framing device for the season, abandoning his post in the Swan Station in the first episode and returning in the finale to (eventually) save everyone. And before we forget him, Henry Gale the fake balloonist was also a commanding presence.

The barrage of new characters was an interesting gambit which could easily have gone wrong. Despite my aggravation about the method in which she was written out, I don’t think the show suffered for losing Shannon at all – although following her death Sayyid played a remarkably low-key role for most of the season. Despite the fact that Ana Lucia and Libby were both bumped off before we really got to know them [1], I think the addition of the Tailies was a good play, if for no other reason than it spared us from even more angsty backstory episodes. Jack and Kate’s pre-Island stories in particular seemed to bottom out during Season 2.

A couple of the character arcs worth noting: Locke finished another season with a crashing collapse in his self-confidence. It’s apparent at this point that if Locke is Lost‘s Man of Faith, then his faith is possessed of both overweening arrogance and a glass jaw. The man goes to pieces faster than a hand grenade and with much the same result – other people tend to get hurt. This is an arc that will get old fast, I think – Locke finds something new on the Island to believe in and dupes at least a delusional few others into buying into his nonsense, Locke looks more closely at the miracle and finds it has feet of clay, Locke goes bugshit nuts and tries to break everything with hammers. I guess we will see in Season 3 whether this is a pathological condition with him.

Another character who goes through the wringer a bit in this season is Charlie. He makes some bad choices, true, but mostly everyone just assumes the worst about him and ostracises him to be on the safe side. I can see why the producers of a primetime network television show might not want to portray a heroin addict too positively, but apart from getting tetchy and strung out early in Season 1, I don’t recall any reason for the other characters to assume he’s dangerous. Why not, in fact, just shrug and let him have his junk? Who was he hurting, exactly? Worst case, he’d have OD’ed and died, but more likely he’d just wander round with a dumb smile on his face most of the time. I can see why Claire might not want to let him carry the baby around but still, everyone freaks the hell out about his supposed addiction when they could just have chilled. It was pretty sanctimonious, really, and I’m glad that Charlie recovered at least some cred by the end of the season. Mind you, terrorising Sun to help with Sawyer’s gun-stealing plan was still a major dick move, so no credit there.

The deaths

Having firmly established at the end of Season One that Lost is not a show where characters can expect to be safe, no time was wasted in get Shannon into a shallow beach grave right next to her brother. Add Ana-Lucia and Libby to the list of shooting victims, and what do you get? Well, for one thing you get three of the six regular female cast members gone gone gone [2]. That’s…hmm, a bit problematic, isn’t it? All three were shot for sudden and horrible dramatic effect, unlike all the male regulars who were dramatically not shot dead at all. And really the only one of the three deaths I thought had significant emotional impact at all was Libby’s – and that was mostly because she seemed to have an intriguing story that we still don’t know. I think it’s a little unfortunate that the necessity to cull the burgeoning entourage cast came at the expense of the women.

Come to think of it, Michael and Walt aren’t dead, but they did get off the Island, which probably means they’re not coming back. And those guys were two of the three black people in the cast [3]. Sigh. Maybe the show runners should get the benefit of the doubt – but if Sun and Jin end up buried on the beach in Season Three, we may have a problem…

The changing mystery

Not much changed about the format of the show – by and large each episode centred on one character and showed flashbacks to some time before the Island. Claire’s flashback episode conspicuously broke the mould – her flashbacks were to events that occurred during her kidnapping in Season One. The purpose of that kidnapping is still unclear, although it’s obviously something to do with the fact that Claire was pregnant and now has a child. The Others are still up to something (maybe more than one thing).

Obviously Season Two was focused mainly around the various Dharma Initiative stations and what purpose they served. The finale suggests the path that Season Three will take – exploring the Others and getting to know (partly) what they’re about. Hopefully someone will remember there’s a Smoke Monsters roaming about the Island as well, and maybe we’ll find out what’s going on there.

As for the Others, we have a few hints – Henry Gale says they work for a great man and have what sounds suspiciously like a religious fervour for some task he has set. Then again, if we know only one thing about Henry, it’s that he’s an accomplished liar and nothing he says should necessarily be believed. It’s likely we’ll see more of what makes him tick as well.

But the big central mystery remains – what (and where) is the Island? Why is it that you can only leave if you sail on a particular bearing? What’s the problem with babies? What is the weird electromagnetic energy pocket that builds up and builds up until it is released in a burst of powerful magnetic attraction/repulsion and turns the sky loudly purple? Why did the Dharma Initiative build the Swan Station on top of it? Who came up with that clunky Numbers-computer-every-108-minutes-or-the-world-ends procedure? What the hell kind of cockamamie psych test were they running on the poor bastards in the Pearl Station? Why do the Others have a fake primitive village setup, complete with fake Hatch? Why does the statue only have four toes? WHY DOES THE STATUE ONLY HAVE FOUR TOES? And how is it that Penny knows to watch for the crazy electromagnetic signature of the Swan Station explosion from the Arctic, no less? We don’t know any of this yet.


I guess the conclusion I come to is that Season Two changes things up from Season One, but not much, and more in terms of cast than format. Desmond and the Swan Station provide the backbone of the Season. Desmond with his unhinged flight in the first episode and despondent reckless return at the end. But the real star is the Swan Station, which throughout the series not only provides a change of scenery and a new source of firearms, but also goes from being an intriguing question to what we assume must now be a gigantic smoking crater. Along the way we learn about a lot of new concepts – Dharma, Hanso, the food drops, the network of underground stations, the Others – but we’re still wondering about a lot of stuff from before, not the least of which is the Smoke Monster.

It was an interesting departure to do away with the survival imperatives – food, water, shelter – as a dramatic device, by having the Swan and the food drops essentially supply everything (pretty much by magic, if you want to get all cargo cult about it). It’s obvious that the producers think that they have a compelling enough mystery underway now that the audience doesn’t need to see Locke hunting boar any more [4], so they felt safe in taking the spotlight off both the natural hazards of the Island and the confrontations over limited resources (although there were still a couple of instances of that, most notably when Sawyer got all the guns).

As a whole I think it worked well, though there were definitely lows and highs. Michael and Charlie both went through pretty dark character arcs, and only Charlie emerged with his reputation (and then only arguably). Several new characters were alive long enough to whet our appetite for their story, but not long enough to give us a good meal. Shannon died even more uselessly than she had lived. Most of the central cast stuck to their usual guns of arguing, waving guns and going on poorly-planned jungle expeditions.

Season Two demonstrated that the degree of interconnectedness between the characters is both fantastically complex and unlikely to be a coincidence. CIA spook Kelvin is a good example of this – he has direct ties to Sayyid’s past, indirect ties to Kate’s (through her soldier father), he was on the Island with Desmond and in fact his death contributed to the crash of Oceanic 815. He and Christian Shepherd and other lesser-profile characters are woven throughout the crash survivors’ stories, binding them together in some significant way we can’t see yet. The coincidences and the connections point to a new and probably important series of questions:

Who are the survivors of Oceanic 815, what is important about them and have they been brought to the Island for some reason? And why?

On to Season Three…

[1] And how suspicious is it that the two characters written out just happened to correspond to the two actors who were picked up by the Hawaiian five-oh for drink-driving? My guess is not very suspicious at all.

[2] I don’t count Rose. She’s not in most episodes and anyway, she’s obviously a favourite character of the producers. Nor Rousseau, for much the same reason.

[3] Not counting Rose again.

[4] Alhough come to think of it, having all their needs supplied by the Hatch meant that the survivors no longer need to depend on Locke’s skills for their lives. That might actually help to explain his otherwise somewhat unconvincing emotional collapse towards the end of the season.

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