Review by KC Carlson
In which a creative compromise set an endpoint and revitalized a meandering TV series.
Lost: Season 4 (6 DVD set, Buena Vista Home Entertainment, $59.99) set some very high standards for the future of scripted network programming — still somewhat in doubt over the shortsighted dominance of low-cost “reality” programming at the big networks — as well as once again demonstrating that the DVD is the perfect format for shows like Lost, which improve with — some say, demand — repeated viewings.
After four seasons, Lost is incredibly complex to summarize beyond the basics of “survivors of a plane crash on a seemingly deserted island struggle to survive.” Thoughtfully, the producers have realized this, and so this set begins with Lost in 8:15, a mind-boggling flurry of clips and somewhat snarky narration that summarizes Lost Seasons 1-3. It originally appeared on ABC’s website before Season 4 debuted last January. An update, Lost in 4:24, was produced after the first 8 episodes of Season 4 and can be found here (page down). It was used to promote the return of the show following the writers’ strike, which temporarily halted production.
At the end of Season 3, we discovered that the Lost writers had thrown a new storytelling device at us: flash-forwards (as opposed to the flashbacks that had been a part of every Lost episode up until this one). And it was here we learned that, somehow, at least Jack and Kate (and somebody in a coffin) had made it back to civilization. Unfortunately, the writers, sneaky bastards that they are, neglected to tell us exactly how that happened.
That’s what Lost: Season 4 is all about.
The flash-forward concept became a brilliant move, one that adds a brand new level of excitement and intrigue to the series, because now the viewer is faced with a new (slight) element of surprise with each episode: Will it feature a flashback sequence (still needed, as there is much to explain) or a flash-forward sequence? The writers are clever enough to make us wonder which is which until we are well into the episode — and are not beyond messing us up completely by further playing with the format in a couple of key episodes this season, most notably The Constant and Ji Yeon.
The other thing that revitalized the show happened behind-the-scenes. The producers and writers, perhaps sensing that the show was meandering a bit during Seasons 2 and 3, told the ABC brass that they wanted an endpoint to their story, preferably shutting down at the conclusion of Season 5. ABC, knowing that the show was a big moneymaker, as well as being a prestige hit, wanted to keep everybody lost as long as possible, but agreed to discuss a Season 6 finale. Further negotiations reached an important compromise: The Lost folks agreed to Season 6, but wanted — and got — a reduced episode count for Seasons 4, 5, and 6 of 16 episodes, 6 less that the standard 22. The writers strike screwed that up a little — Season 4 had only 14 episodes — but ABC announced that the “lost” episodes will be added to Seasons 5 and 6, which will now be 17 episodes long.
Creatively, that’s a victory for everybody, as knowing when the story ends means that the remaining episodes can be structured in advance to make sure that all of the characters have satisfying endings, all the mysteries are solved, and that no superfluous storylines or characters — a complaint of previous seasons — need be added to complicate what has already been set up. And you see the benefit of this in the episodes of Season 4, in one of the fastest-moving shows on television.
The season begins with the mystery of the “Oceanic 6,” which we quickly learn are the six people that are “rescued” from the island and returned to civilization. But if only six return — and as it turns out, that number may not be accurate — than what of the others? Well, many of them seemingly don’t survive the season, and others are involved in mysteries of their own, including what exactly is going on, and who owns the freighter supposedly 80 miles away from the island. What is the strange time displacement happening on and around the island? Why do supposedly dead people keep appearing? Whose “side” is Ben really on, and does it really matter? Why is there a polar bear skeleton in the middle of the desert? And the big question that will propel the upcoming Season 5: Why do the Oceanic 6 have to return to the island and how exactly do they manage to accomplish it?
The real beauty of these DVD season sets is in the ease that you can gather together various episodes from all the seasons and create your own little programming night of re-viewing. Say, for instance, if you feel like studying the Jack-centric episodes in the ongoing search for clues, it’s fairly easy to do that. Desmond’s backstory confuses you? You can watch all his episodes in a single evening! Or if you’re looking for something lighter — or just feel like chicken that night — a big, heaping helping of Hurley eps is just the ticket! It seems that the DVD producers have caught on to this kind of treasure hunting, and on this set, provided us with one of the best Bonus Features yet: Course of the Future, a complete, albeit slightly edited, chronological look at all of the flash-forward segments to date! Not only a fascinating refresher course in Lost, but an intense study of bad facial hair!
Speaking of Bonus Features, Lost Season 4 offers up a plethora (two discs’ worth!) of amazing behind-the-scenes secrets, the usual Lost on Location features, bloopers, deleted scenes, plus spotlights on the new characters (The Freighter Folk) and the new location, an actual freighter anchored off of Hawaii (Offshore Shoot). In addition, there are commentaries for four episodes, including the double-length There’s No Place Like Home, Part 2 — the first time the producers have been able to do a commentary for a Season Finale episode.
Some of the standout features include The Right to Bear Arms, a tongue-in cheek mini-doc about guns on Lost (everybody’s got one!); Soundtrack of Survival, a in-depth look at composer Michael Giacchino and his amazing music for Lost, wrapped around the story of the preparation for a live concert of his Lost music, The Lost Symphony, and The Oceanic Six: A Conspiracy of Lies, a tabloid-TV style faux documentary which completely discredits the fabricated story of the survivors, but may actually be a set-up for future problems for the Six.
Also, the DVD set collects the 13 “mobisodes” — now called Lost: Missing Pieces — that first appeared as part of a Verizon mobile phone promotion and later appeared on ABC.com. Taken together, the Missing Pieces contribute over a half-hour of “in between” scenes to episodes from the first three seasons that are considered as a part of the official canon. They are all written and produced by the existing creative team and feature much of the regular cast. They are a real mixed-bag of puzzle pieces ranging from major foreshadowing to mystery-creating and from heavy drama to lighthearted fun.
And, as usual for a Lost DVD set, there are a ton of Easter Eggs. I counted at least 15 eggs on Discs 5 and 6 alone. The major one that everyone will want to see (and the only one I’m going to tell you where it is) is the alternate endings to the Season Finale, aka “who is in the coffin?” To keep a lid of secrecy on the whole thing, the producers shot alternative endings to the episode featuring other cast members in the coffin, and the Easter Egg can be found on Disc 5 on the Lost on Location menu, just to the left of The Constant.
For those looking for clues to the future, there are two Easter Eggs that you must find, both of them featuring co-creator, executive producer, and head writer Damon Lindelof. In one, he discusses the concept of reincarnation, and in the other, he talks about the “reach” of the island, Plastic Man, and “the coffee cup is Jack.” That’s all I can say. The other Easter Eggs cover everything from talking to stand-ins to filming the Oceanic 6 Press Conference to Ben and a cameraman goofing around on-set to Hurley wondering about his ongoing prowess at games like horseshoes and “horse.” And then there’s the really moving scene between Jin and Bernard — until a passing jet ski breaks the mood.
By the way, don’t be scared if you suddenly notice that the menus on Disc 6 seem different after a while. I think it’s a manifestation of the time-displacement effect, as sometimes the menus picture the location of the frozen donkey wheel (Orchid station), a desert in Tunisia, and a cloud-covered (purple?) sky over the island. Oddly enough, Easter Eggs can only be found in one set of menus.
Finally, the funniest Bonus Feature isn’t on any of the DVDs at all. It’s the Oceanic Airlines Safety Brochure — like what you would find in the seat pocket next to the barf bag if you were flying Oceanic. Lots of good safety tips and Lost in-jokes such as the combination of numbers needed to open the emergency hatch (do I really have to tell you?), or the suggestion to request noise-cancelling headphones if you hear “scary whispering sounds within the cabin.” You are also warned “if the plane is forced to land on a deserted island, expect chaos and a series of flashbacks.” Plus, it’s laminated! Smooth!
All in all, Lost Season 4 is an excellent DVD box set (it helps when all of the episodes are four or five stars!), with an insane amount of really fine Bonus Features. Overall, it is probably the best Lost DVD collection produced to date and provides gigantic pieces of the the ongoing puzzle/myth that is the Lost experience. It’s also available in the Blu-ray format.
And don’t forget, Season 5 begins on January 21, 2009, on ABC. Some of us have been trying to find the Orchid Station to get a jump on the upcoming episodes! Red Robin!
(A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the studio.)