Thursday, September 30, 2010

Rescue Comes For Some: Lost Season Four Makes A Great DVD Set!

The Good: Great story, Interesting new characters, Decent acting, Amazing DVD bonus features
The Bad: Slightly repetitive feel to the narrative technique
The Basics: Brilliant, if slightly repetitive and inaccessible to new viewers, Lost Season Four is an indispensable DVD for anyone who loves weird, serialized television!

I have developed a pretty simple i.q. test for television viewers in the last few years; it's one, simple question: "Are you into Lost?" From this question, I am able to derive much. I can easily take the answers: "Yes, I love it, would you like to spend the next eight hours comparing notes on it?!" or "No; I've seen it, but it didn't grab me." I'll associate with either of those types of people, no problems. It's the ones who say "I don't understand what's going on" that I've decided to weed out of associating with. That might sound elitist, but frankly, for all of its supernatural elements and the shiftings in time back and forth, if one only watches the show and pays attention, it's pretty easy to tell what is going on. How one interprets what is going on is a different matter, but those who are lost (no pun intended) simply by what happens on the show paint a pretty bleak picture for the future of humanity.

Nowhere is this more true than with the fourth season of Lost, now out on DVD in a pretty magnificent boxed set. Cut down to only thirteen episodes (fourteen hours) by the writer's strike, Lost - The Complete Fourth Season is many things, but hard-to-follow is not one of them. For sure, there are elements that might not be immediately comprehensible, like for example the time travel elements that Faraday quickly discovers indicates that the island in the show is not in temporal synch with the rest of the world, but by this point, the story of Lost is becoming very - almost ridiculously - clear. In the fourth season of Lost, a freighter off the island comes on a mission to recover someone or some thing from the island.

Set up in the last episodes of Lost Season 3 (click here for my review!), an offshore freighter comes near the island and some of the people trapped on the island make it off. This season charts a ridiculously simple course: two groups come from the freighter to the island: scientists and hunters. While a paramilitary group from the freighter hunts for Ben Linus, Daniel Faraday and his group try to understand the unique properties of the island while Sayid, Desmond and Jack work to escape the island and get the survivors of Ocean Flight 815 home. With the usual technique of flashbacks now mixed with flashes forward, Lost - The Complete Fourth Season tells a powerful season-long story that leads to six people escaping the island!

After just over a hundred days on the mysterious island where they crashed, six people have made it back to the United States from the doomed flight 815 from Oceanic Airlines. The Oceanic Six, as they are known, have become celebrities and have worked to keep the people of the world ignorant of the existence of the island or any other survivors from the crashed flight. But as the survivors of flight 815 divide over the issue of whether or not to attempt to leave the island with the crew Naomi's presence insinuates, life on the island becomes increasingly complicated. As Locke leads most of the crash survivors deeper into hiding in fear that the freighter crew has come to kill the survivors, Jack, Kate and Juliet find themselves in the company of people from the freighter, including the scientist Daniel Faraday.

Faraday is a physicist and he almost immediately lets slip that the freighter did not come to the island to try to find survivors of Oceanic 815. Instead, he and his associates Miles and Charlotte reveal that Oceanic 815 was recovered from the bottom of the ocean, though several like chopper pilot Frank Lapidus suspect a conspiracy. With Jack working with Faraday to try to get off the island, Sayid and Desmond take a trip to the freighter and a commando named Keamy leads an operation to the island. Keamy's intent is clear: to find Ben Linus and as he cuts a swath of destruction across the island, his actions forever change the balance of power between those off the island who in a struggle for the powers the island represents!

In its fourth season, Lost progresses with two parallel tales, consisting of the known and the unknown. The known story is what was set up in the prior season's finale: from that we know that Jack and Kate both get off the island and season four is concerned on one level with how that happens and who else manages to get off the island with them. The unknown story is with John Locke, Ben Linus and Keamy, who essentially get into a war on the island. The story is strangely direct, despite the puzzle-piece way it is assembled, leading rather directly to the answers many have sought while still maintaining enough of a mystery to come back for a couple more seasons.

Lost is ideally presented on DVD as this is a heavily-serialized television show and the episodes in the fourth season blend from one to the next very naturally.

The truth is, though, that this season is not for newbies. By this point in the Lost story, you're either onboard or out of the loop. This DVD boxed set very clearly illustrates that the show has gotten to a point where it is so self-involved and self-referential that it is not even geared toward those who had not been watching before now. The plots are sufficiently complicated and the characters have developed so far that those who pick up just this DVD set will be lost. The story so far is so extensive that trying to hop in now is just pointless. That said, it is the character elements and the extensively detailed backstories that prevent it from being accessible to a new audience, not the plot elements or the narrative techniques. The fourth season of Lost does not take the time to educate new viewers to the extensive allusions detailed in the prior seasons and as a result, it is difficult for new viewers to pick this boxed set up and get caught up.

The characters in Lost continue to develop over the course of the season and more of the backstory for each of them is revealed. As well, stories from how the characters who escape the island - flashes forward - act and are treated are told as well. Unfortunately, given how massive the cast is by this point, not all of them have plum roles this season. Still, there is enough that is engaging to keep those who have been with it engaged. Here is how the fourth season finds the principle characters on (and off) the island:

Jack - One of the Oceanic Six, he has returned to civilization where his work is no longer satisfying him. Drunk, falling apart and failing to adapt to the return to civilization, Jack becomes convinced that he and the others must return to the island. On the island, Jack struggles to get the people he has kept safe off the island, leading half of them back to the beach when John challenges him. Also, his appendix begins to act up and he and Juliet get closer,

Kate - Leaving with Locke to be with Sawyer, Kate becomes curious as to the motivations of the people who have come to the island. She allows Miles to meet with Ben, which compels Locke to banish her from his camp. Abandoning Sawyer, she becomes one of the Oceanic Six with . . . of all people, Aaron, Claire's son,

Sawyer - Accepting that he has nothing he wants off the island, when Locke splits the survivors up, he happily joins, eagerly taking up a house in the camp the Others used to occupy. He acts as Locke's lieutenant and when Kate leaves, he is deeply hurt,

Hurley - One of the Oceanic Six, Hurley is suffering more than ever from his mental illness which causes him to see the dead, including Charlie. On the island, he reacts to Charlie's death and the message that the freighter is not from Penny by joining Locke and going into hiding. Locke uses him to try to find Jacob's cabin and this leads Hurley to a new sense of despair,

Sayid - One of the Oceanic Six, Sayid becomes involved with a sinister force off the island as a hitman following the death of the woman he loves. One of the first off the island, he trades Charlotte with Locke in order to get on the chopper. Flown out by Lupidus, he and Desmond struggle to secure the freighter and he encounters an unlikely person on the freighter,

Jin - Looking forward to being a father, he promises Sun he will get her off the island,

Sun - With her pregnancy threatening to kill her, she works to get off the island and her secrets are exposed by Juliet to Jin. Off the island, she becomes allied with an unlikely person for what appears to be a sinister reason, though she does have a bright spot as well,

Claire - Reacting to Charlie's death, she joins Locke's camp and eventually meets with the most unlikely person, leading her to abandon her son, Aaron,

Desmond - Eager to get off the island, he and Sayid fly out with Lupidus. Unfortunately for him, leaving the island triggers something as far as his temporal slipping and he is forced to find Daniel Faraday in his past. Struggling to maintain his life, he desperately tries to contact Penny off the freighter,

John Locke - Convinced that Charlie's message supports his theory that the crew of the freighter has come with a sinister purpose, Locke calls upon the survivors who want to live to fall back with him to the homes of the Others (who have abandoned that section of the island). Struggling to make sense of what is going on, he searches for Jacob's cabin and gets into a war with Keamy,

Juliet - Desperate to get Sun off the island, she exposes Sun's secret to Jin. She build's Jack's trust by removing his appendix and she strives to get off the island herself,

Daniel Faraday - A scientist from the freighter, he has a boyish enthusiasm for studying the effects of the island and the unique properties it possesses. His past and present soon collide, though, when it becomes clear that the temporal experiments he did back in college have been realized by some on the island, including Desmond,

Miles - Having lived as a ghost hunter for profit and treasure, he joins the "rescue team" to try to collect the bounty on Ben, but ends up as a pawn in the machinations between Ben and Keamy,

Charlotte - Ostensibly the leader of those who parachute onto the island and the brains behind keeping alive there, she is connected to the island,

Martin Keamy - A psychopathic commando who storms the island searching for Ben, he initiates a bloodbath that changes everything,

Michael - Aboard the freighter, under an assumed name, the only adult to escape the island earlier returns to the island to redeem himself for the murders he committed while there. With Walt safe on land, he has nothing to lose,

and Ben Linus - The leader of the Others (for the most part), captured by Locke, he quickly becomes the subject of the hunt from those on the freighter. On the island, he trades information for his freedom, saving the lives of some from Locke's camp, including Claire, only to end up in a situation where he loses what is most important to him. When that happens, he declares war on his greatest enemy and begins a hunt that spells future doom for at least one person on the island!

The new and returning characters make for an interesting new blend, with the return of Michael being well-explained and a real gift to the fans of the series. Daniel Faraday, who initially seems like a plot device to explain some of the mechanics of the island for those who did not get it from the film strips shown in prior seasons (or the whole purpose of the hatch), quickly becomes an interesting and viable character. He's hard not to like. And he interacts beautifully with Henry Ian Cusak. In fact, the episode "The Constant" in this season, which focuses on Desmond, Faraday and Penny is easily one of the best hours the series has produced.

The acting in the fourth season is more honed than new and the continued chemistry and conflict between Ben and Locke is masterfully handled by Michael Emerson and Terry O'Quinn. Perhaps the best new performances, though, come from Yunjin Kim and Matthew Fox. Fox set up his distraught performances for this season in the prior season's finale with Jack becoming increasingly messed up by leaving the island. In this season, Fox capitalizes on that and takes Jack in the flashes forward into new territory where Jack is completely unlikable. Fox makes the transition appear perfectly normal and rational, though, which is the real and impressive challenge.

But it is Yunjin Kim who deserves an award (and if she's not even nominated this year for her performances in "Ji Yeon" and the later episodes, then the nominators shall lose the last shreds of respect I once had for them) for acting in this season. Previously, she has had to act like she did not understand English and throughout the series, she has tended to present Sun as somewhat submissive. In this season, she recasts the character as completely strong and at times beautifully cold-blooded, performing with a strength and clarity that is eerie to see and amazingly executed.

On DVD, the series looks great and has incredible bonus features. In fact, this might well be the television DVD boxed set of the year, as far as DVD programming goes. With two discs packed with bonus features, Lost The Complete Fourth Season makes up for its shortened amount of source material with an impressive array of bonus bits. There are audio commentaries (I could always use more of those!) on several episodes and they are informative and entertaining, definitely adding value. While the set does not include the pop-up "Enhanced" feature that aired with the reruns of episodes from this season, there are a number of incredible features that make up for that. There are ten featurettes on everything from the guns to the freighter crew to the music of Lost. There is a blooper reel that is predictably funny and a bevy of deleted scenes that will make viewers wish they could be branched back into the episodes. Fans will be very pleased with all of these bonuses as they truly do reward us for our devotion with all sorts of goodies that cannot be found elsewhere.

This is the DVD of the season for fans of compelling, surreal drama, despite being impossible to recommend for those who are not already into the series. With this set, viewers get a whole lot of payoffs for the investment in the earlier seasons, though, while setting up a few final mysteries to keep us coming back for more!

For other works in the Lost universe, please check out my reviews of:
Lost Season 1
Lost Season 2
Bad Twin (A Lost Tie-In Novel)
Lost The Complete Series


For other television reviews, please check out my index page!

© 2010, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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