Monday, October 4, 2010

Better With More Viewings/Features, Lost Season Five "Dharma Initiative Orientation Kit" Is For The Fans!

The Good: Intriguing plot twists, Decent acting, Amazing Blu-Ray bonus features/limited edition swag.
The Bad: Light on character development
The Basics: The limited edition release of the Blu-Ray of Lost Season Five offers fans some real boons, as well as great television!

Give up. Give up and stop reading this review now. Yes, I'm talking to you, the reader who has never seen an episode of Lost, doesn't understand what the hype is about and is wondering if this makes a good gift for someone. It doesn't . . . unless that person is a fan of Lost. Lost is a show which is take-it or leave-it. You're a devoted fan or you're not and if you've never heard someone talk about their love of Lost, they probably are not the devoted fan who would want this DVD or Blu-Ray set. Moreover, the "Dharma Initiative Orientation Kit" packaging of the season is limited edition, more expensive and intended only for the true fans of the show.

Seriously, give up. There's no reason to read this review. No one needs a review of Lost Season Five. The people who want it, bought it three days ago when it hit stores, have asked for it on their holiday wish lists or have some plan to buy, rent, steal it or pick up the complete series set (reviewed here!). If you are not one of the people who has seen Lost and is waiting, keep waiting. If you're thinking about getting into the show, this is absolutely the last thing in the world to read. The reason for this could not be more simple: Lost is like a novel for television. Each season is a "volume" within that novel. As a result, picking up and watching Lost Season Five is like picking up the fifth book in a series or turning to a fifth chapter or section within a single book. Lost Season Five moves at a pace that is fast, continuing a story so deep in progress that it does not even make an effort to backtrack and repeat old information to viewers. Thus, anyone who has not seen Seasons One through Four will be missing vital pieces of information and have no clue about the significance of certain peripheral characters.

. . . and in the fifth season, peripheral characters in the Lost storyline become incredibly important. As well, what is going on in the main plots are confusing enough (though fans who know what came before expect the show to be smart and doing new things and will easily catch what is going on), having to have others explain it to viewers is pointless. Stop now, go back and watch from the beginning. By the time you get to "Season Five," you'll want this boxed set. You'll buy it . . . or you'll hate the show and have given up on it. There is truly little middle ground with Lost.

Despite that being the very best advice anyone can give readers on Lost Season Five, here is what to expect when buying this DVD:

Following the climactic event of the fourth season of Lost, where six members of the crashed Oceanic 815 flight and Desmond Hume were rescued and returned to civilization and those left behind were besieged by a commando force, Ben's attempt to move the island has an unforeseen consequence. Those left behind on the island, along with Jin (who survived the destruction of the freighter), find themselves unwillingly skipping through time at unpredictable intervals. As John Locke carefully pieces together what has happened, with the help of Daniel Faraday and Richard Alpert, and seeks to set right the relationship the mysterious island has with time and space, off the island, Ben makes contact with each of the Oceanic Six and tries to get them to return to the island. Three years after they were rescued, Ben, Locke and the Oceanic Six find themselves on a new plane headed to the new location of the mysterious island they randomly crashed on before.

But those left behind were not restored to time and space in a normal fashion. Instead, when Locke rescued them from the dangerous shifts in time, Sawyer, Juliet, Jin, Miles, and Daniel found themselves in the past, where they took up with the Dharma Initiative. When the second plane with Ben and the Oceanic Six crashes on the island, it does not do so normally: Jack, Kate, Hugo and Sayid end up in the past, complicating the lives of their peers working for Dharma. That leaves Ben and Sun in the present, on the island, dealing with an incredible mystery: the resurrection of John Locke!

In its fifth season, Lost becomes an even more complex mystery, one that seems to have the Island as a playground for two avatars who have arranged the principle characters as pieces, from long before any of them ever ended up on the island. The initial concept seems to stem from a very subtle piece of acting in the fourth season finale, where Ben knocks a mysterious wheel awkwardly while turning it. That one moment knocks the island off its temporal axis and causes the characters left behind to time shift. The involuntary leaps through time have dangerous consequences, weakening the bodies of those who have been there the longest and killing Charlotte.

The episodes hardly stand alone in the fifth season as the character groups each are given very different "quests" and in most episodes, only one decision is reached in each group and one corresponding action is taken. So, for example, in "Jughead," Faraday determines that a bomb found on the island needs to be buried and Locke makes the decision to return to the Orchid, though it isn't until the next episode that he and his group actually journey there. Similarly, while it had been teased for two season finales now, the process of Jack rounding up the Oceanic Six with Locke's body takes five episodes.

Lost Season Five is also hampered, in part, by a lack of character development. Viewers know that Jack's return to life as a doctor in the United States left him tortured from Season Four. In season five, we just see the end result of that as he desperately tries to get the Oceanic Six to come with him and how. But Jack does not so much grow and change this season (save for the fact that he is able to take orders from LaFleur - Sawyer - when he joins the Dharma Initiative in the past). In fact, only Sawyer and Juliet have real character arcs this season; everyone else is caught up in plot arcs. And the plots are incredible with essentially two arcs the entire season: the round-up/timeshift plot and the return to island/conflict with Dharma plot. Of course, it is vastly more interesting for fans than just those two concepts, but the truth is, the season does boil down to those two (or, I suppose, four) arcs and the characters in them tend to encounter plot challenges - like the sudden presence of a nuclear bomb on the island - as opposed to character challenges.

Even so, for that hypothetical reader who is determining whether or not to shell out $100 on the limited edition "Dharma Orientation Kit" version of the fifth season of Lost (snicker!), it helps to know who the principle characters in this season of Lost are:

Dr. Jack Shephard - Getting himself off drugs, he teams up with Ben to bring everyone back to the Island, believing that leaving was a huge mistake and everyone there is in danger. With the second plane crash, he finds himself in the past where he is happy to slum under the radar of the Dharma Initiative while LaFleur solves the problems,

Kate Austen - Having met Sawyer's girlfriend and finding herself hounded by Claire's mother, she reluctantly gives up Aaron and returns to the Island. There, she finds herself coming between Sawyer and Juliet and working in the motorpool. She risks everything to save the child Ben Linus, which changes everything,

Sayid - Having made a split with Ben, he is captured by Ilana and is forcibly returned to the Island. There, he finds himself in the past, where he comes to believe his destiny is to set everything right . . . by killing Ben in the past,

Hugo ("Hurley") - Rescued by Sayid from the mental institution, Hugo continues to have conversations with the dead and his second plane ride puts him in 1977 where he is happy to work for Dharma and write "The Empire Strikes Back,"

Sun - Now in charge of her father's company, she has allied herself with Charles Widmore. However, a visit from Ben which proves to her that Jin is alive gets her to return to the island. The only one of the Oceanic Six left in the "present" when the plane crashes, she soon learns that the others ended up in the past and works with Ben and John to figure out how to get them back,

Jin - Having been knocked clear of the freighter and ended up back at the island for the time shifts, he is rescued in the past by Sawyer and finally learns English. Pining for Sun, he is happy to do whatever might reconnect him with his wife,

"Sawyer" ("LaFleur") - After the loss of Jack and Locke, he takes over as the natural leader of those on the island and helps them weather the dangerous time shifts. He convinces the head of Dharma that he is not a hostile and even negotiates with Richard Alpert (an ageless denizen of the island) to save everyone's life. He masquerades as "LaFleur" and becomes the Dharma security chief. As a result of their struggles together, Sawyer forgets about Kate as best he can and develops a relationship with Juliet,

Juliet - Trying to save the lives of the timeshifting survivors when the time shifts have serious health consequences, she is relieved when the shifts end and she settles in with the Dharma Initiative. She and Sawyer soon fall in love, but with the return of Kate, it is her strength that will change the course of history,

Miles - The psychic specialist from the freighter quickly figures out the identity of one of the chief Dharma scientists and comes to realize exactly how his fate has been tied to the island all along,

Daniel - After the death of Charlotte from the time shifting (don't look at me that way, it happens ridiculously early in the season!), Farraday loses it some and is saved by discovering Charlotte in the past living as a child in the Dharma Initiative. He uses the time in the past to return to the mainland to figure out how to right the course of history and return everyone to where and when they belong. His return to the Dharma Initiative, though, sets off a chain of events which will inspire the entirety of season six,

Ben Linus - The villainous leader of The Others works to return to the island and against all odds and reason is successful. As he, John and Jin struggle to figure out what happened to the others and he works to atone for the death of his daughter, his past is revealed as a child in the Dharma Initiative. And when Sayid tries to kill his child counterpart, it is Richard who steps up with a way to save him that changes him forever,

Desmond - (is he even in the season?!) Briefly seen in only a couple episodes, Desmond is happy with Penny, but may fall prey to Ben's lust for vengeance against Penny's father, Charles Widmore,

Ilana - A bounty hunter who captures Sayid and leads a new team with a nefarious purpose across the island,

and John Locke - After timeshifting around and meeting Richard Alpert in various time periods to have clues scattered for him, John returns to the United States the same way Ben did . . . but fixes what Ben screwed up. Once back, John works quietly to get the Oceanic Six to return to the island, but ends up dead at the hands of Ben (which is no surprise to viewers). But the trip back to the island resurrects Locke and he uses Ben to gain access to the ruins of the temple on the island, where a much bigger showdown is brewing.

In the fifth season of Lost, there are no new real parts (Zuleikha Robinson Ilana is a supplemental character whose presence is hardly as inspired as prior cast additions, like Daniel or Desmond or Juliet), so by this season, all of the principle actors have their beats down. Henry Ian Cusack is neglected for the season, while Jeremy Davies gets a real chance to shine as Daniel. But for the most part, the actors are performing within the established greatness of their abilities. Actors like Matthew Fox, Terry O'Quinn, and Evangeline Lilly give unsurprisingly wonderful performances in the roles they had had for four years prior.

In fact, the only real surprise on the acting front comes from Josh Halloway and Elizabeth Mitchell as "LeFleur" and Juliet. After years of working together, Halloway proves he can mix it up by developing real on-screen chemistry with Mitchell. Together, they make the Sawyer/Juliet arc not only plausible, but enjoyable to watch. They deserve some serious kudos for shaking it up well.

On DVD and Blu-Ray, the brief sixteen episode season of Lost comes loaded with bonus features. There are the usual episode commentaries, deleted scenes and a gag reel. As well, there are featurettes which include Nestor Carbonall on-set while shooting his last scenes for season five (very entertaining) and Michael Emerson off-camera wandering the Burbank Lost studios (also very entertaining!). As well, there is a video of the celebration thrown for the 100th episode of Lost! But the grail for Lost fans come in the "Dharma orientation kit," a deluxe packaging that includes an annoying VHS tape (with all of the orientation videos shown so far on Lost spliced together properly), a c.d. single ("Dharma Lady" by Geronimo Jackson), and patches from the show. Among the non-programming swag are maps of the island, the truce with the Others and the patches (one is limited edition, if you manage to pull it). The VHS tape is an actual tape and that's annoying, but the bonus swag reminds one of the postcards put in the Gold Box Twin Peaks Complete Series Set and it is hard for die-hard fans to complain about all of the extra goodies. Those with a Blu-Ray player with an internet connection may use the discs to connect with Lost University, which is an interactive experience that makes the viewer one of the Dharma Initiative!

So, fans of Lost get a slightly above-average season with exceptional swag with the limited edition packaging. And while the season is a little rockier than I would have liked, my faith in the show has not been shaken. For those who have the same faith, this is THE way to get the penultimate season of Lost!

For other Lost works, please check out:
Season 1
Season 2
Bad Twin (a tie-in novel)
Season 3
Season 4


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

© 2010, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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