Sunday, May 16, 2010

Lost: The Ten Best Episodes

Since I've been pretty harsh on Lost this year, I wanted to go back and write about my ten favorite episodes of the series, going into the end. Since I watched it in a pretty compressed time frame, it can sometimes be tough to remember what happened in specific episodes, but I did my best to break them out and find my ten favorites.

10. Orientation (2x03) - This episode finally resolved the three episode long Mexican standoff that opened season two, but that's not why it's memorable. To this day, no moment on Lost has been as astonishing for me as the 16mm Dharma Orientation film, which raised so many new questions and ideas, ideas that took four seasons to fully pay off. That film was such an astonishing piece of world building, even after a season long flashback to the 70s, I still want more background on Dharma.

9. There's No Place Like Home (4x12-4x14) - Though less goundbreaking and game changing than any of the previous three season finales, this episode still has a bunch of killer moments. This is the end of the line for an era of the show in which Ben was the main character motivating the action and he goes out with the incredible high point of moving the island through the frozen wheel device. It's a moment of almost religious power, and ties in wonderfully with the emotional hit of Sawyer abandoning the helicopter and washing up with Juliet. The rest of the episode is filled with great moments, including a key Jack/Locke confrontation, but those two moments linger.

8. The Shape of Things to Come (4x09) - Alex's death was one of the most shocking moments in the series, and Ben unleashing the Smoke Monster one of its best action sequences. As I mentioned above, this was an era where Ben ran the show, and he was never better than here, his emotional attachment to Alex contrasted with his power hungry nature. It also featured a great off island story, with an exotic James Bond feel. This was an era where the show's world was expanding, and the island was just one piece of something larger.

7. Some Like it Hoth (5x13) - I really loved all the 70s era stuff, but this is one of the high points. It hits on a comedy level, with Hurley's attempts to write The Empire Strikes Back, but also has some of the most spot on emotional content of the entire series, as Miles finally comes to terms with the father who he believes abandoned him as a child. Science fiction devices can be used to literalize emotions in a way that isn't possible in reality, and the scene with Miles watching his father tending to a younger version of himself, and seeing that he did love him does that perfectly. And, unlike every other character on the show, Miles gets to confront his parental issues and come to terms with them. Miles was already a great character, but this made him even stronger and deeper. It's a shame they gave up on developing him this year.

6. Through the Looking Glass (3x22) - The end of an era for the show, this episode is best known for the shocking flashforward revelation at the end, which was great and integral to the series' evolution. But, it's also got a great fight with the Others, the chaotic promise of rescue from Naomi and the freighter, and the fantastic action setpiece in the Looking Glass Dharma station. The emotional high point is Charlie's death, and the classic “Not Penny's Boat” scene. A really fantastic, epic finale.

5. Greatest Hits (3x21) - But it's topped by its precursor, this incredibly sweet episode that goes a huge way to redeem Charlie from his season two “Darth Hoodie” era, and earn him serious fan affection that continues to this day. Charlie and Claire worked really well as a couple in late season three, and this episode solidifies that family. It's also the farewell to the beach camp era of the show, sending the flashbacks out on a high note. The emotional stakes of the finale are so high because of this episode laying the groundwork.

4. La Fleur (5x08) - The show's most ambitious gambit, sending all our characters to the 70s for half a season, begins here, and it opens up the show's most rewarding era. This episode gives us the series' most satisfying romantic relationship, Sawyer and Juliet's. Those two characters had both grown to be favorites before they got together, but together they're each matured and grow in really interesting ways. It's a great example of showing character change through action happening in the present, in a subtle, but revelatory way, rather than explaining it through pop psychology. I love the world they build here, I love the three year time jump and I love just seeing our characters happy and engaged in this world. To be totally honest, I'd rather have seen an entire show about the Dharma Initiative than the Lost that we got, and that's thanks to episodes like this.

3. The Incident (5x16) - This episode had some off elements to it, notably the fluctuating motivations of Juliet and Kate, but it's also perhaps the series' most successful fusion of its scientific and religious mythologies, all wrapped up in an emotionally intense, riveting hour. After three seasons of buildup, the episode finally introduces Jacob, and manages to make him live up to the hype. We get a better sense of his character and motivations here than in all of his season six appearances, and even the could have been out of left field idea of the Fake Locke fits perfectly with what we've seen before. Other highlights include the Rose/Bernard farewell scene, the Jack/Sawyer fight, and of course the series' single strongest emotional moment, Juliet's fall down the hole and Sawyer's raw emotion as he struggles to hold her. This one's a winner all the way through.

2. The Man Behind the Curtain (3x20) - Just as “Orientation” was a massive download of information that opened up infinite story possibilities, this episode gave us an entire world to explore through his flashbacks to Ben's experience with Dharma as a youth. I love the world they built here, and no episode contains the density of information we get here. In addition to our first glimpses of the Dharma world, we find out that Richard is immortal, and also see the massacre that wiped out the Dharma Initiative. It's one of the show's most shocking, brutal moments, and something that I'd have loved to return to before the series ended. Still, talking about answering questions, this one resolved a lot. It also featured one of my favorite scenes in the series, Locke and Ben's trip to the cabin to see Jacob. The scene is creepy and has a strange aura of mysterious power about it, going right to the subconscious. Ben's backstory is one of the greatest 'answers' the show ever gave.

1. Live Together, Die Alone (2x23) - While I obviously tend towards the later years of the show, no single episode has topped what this one did. I'm sure people are wondering why “The Constant” is on here, and I do really like that episode, but even more dazzling is how efficiently the Desmond/Penny love story is set up here. Desmond solidified his status as one of the show's best characters here, and the flashbacks in the Hatch are some of the strangest, most disturbing the series ever did. That stuff alone would make this a classic, but we also get the great confrontation between the Others and Jack/Kate/Sawyer and the first appearance of the mysterious statue. But, the high point is the incredible sequence in which Locke decides to not push the button and Desmond is forced to detonate the hatch. This is a sequence with a religious power, and watching it, I was just in it emotionally. It's the series' greatest moment, and the show has never quite matched the apocalyptic swirl of power this episode contained.

See, I don't hate the show! And, I'd love for one of the final two episode to join the list here. Other than the dreadful first season finale, which, while not the series' worst episode by any stretch, is its most disappointing and exemplary of what makes show frustrating, they've never failed to nail an ending. So, I'm keeping the faith and eager to see how it all plays out. Until then, these are the series' finest hours.


Anonymous said...

Hey patrick, loved reading these. I agree with a lot of these series highlights.
I've a good feeling they can hit a high note going out with the finale. As you've said they usually nail the endings and give good pay-offs.
I possibly differ from you in that I think the side-ways stuff this year has the potential to deliver a rewarding and powerful emotional climax to the character arcs if exploited to its fullest in the finale. At least I'm open to that being the angle they go for.

suncore598 said...

I also think the finale is going to end on a high note. And I think the final season of Lost is shaping up to be one of my favorite final seasons ever. Yes, there could have been more development for certain characters like Miles but the way I see is that the reason why characters such as him weren't developed further this season was because their emotional arcs have came to a close and all that matters are their movements through the plot of the season and their ulimate fates in the story.

Lost has had its share of flaws. I myself have a phobia about going through parts of the early years of the show that have annoying moments of soap opera like the Jack/Kate/Sawyer triangle. But, I'm glad that the creators have put the triangle on the backrunner to a point of nearly non-existent and Lost, in my opinion, is one of the few shows I've known that felt like reading a book or a book series and that's an amazing experience to have. It's also rare in the current climate of TV shows, which a number of them are cliche crap.

Craig said...

"Live Together, Die Alone" is definitely my favourite episode (well, it's technically two, but hey!) of the show. We've got three/four great storylines going on - Jack and his group's journey to the Others and their capture leading to Michael and Walt leaving the island; Locke vs. Desmond vs. Eko in the hatch; Sayid, Sun and Jin discovering the mysterious statue; and of course, those great flashbacks to Desmond's time in the hatch. This episode had everything I wanted in the series - character development, mythology, action, adventure and most of all, emotion.

And much like you, I would have preferred to see more of the DHARMA Initiative stuff explored. I always thought that was much more interesting than the Jacob stuff.

Hopefully the finale will deliver. I've enjoyed reading your posts on Lost and I will be looking forward to reading your thoughts.

Shlomo said...

Hey patrick,

1) I thought your point (from the last review) about how the flashbacks this season should have all involved Jacob, and told his history. Would have been a great addition. (perhaps there will be spin-off graphic novels--i think i read in EW that someone thinks thats a good idea.

2) I like your choices about great episodes, especially the top pick. I had stopped watching, during the second season, and picked it up with the second season finale. I always loved the way they paid off the idea of pushing/not pushing the button in that way.

3) Ive felt for a while that the writers are not "bad", and are actually very clever. But from almost the very start of the show, theyve boxed themselves in with their restrictions: the flashbacks, but even more so their cliff-hangers. This show relied on that so heavily--because they so fully embraced the conventions of serialized storytelling. They also went crazy overboard in the their adherence to "show, dont tell" mantra of television and other visual media. But perhaps it couldnt have been any other way. I've still enjoyed so much of it, I'm glad they went for it.

Shlomo said...

sorry for my slight incoherence, writing quickly at work.

Also, its almost bold of you to refuse to pick any episodes from season 1 or season 6, the supposed character seasons. but great choices nonetheless.

Patrick said...

I think the greatest myth of the series, perpetuated by the creators themselves and a lot of fans, is that the series was character centered in the first season. I don't think the flashbacks soured as they went on, I think they were fundamentally flawed from the beginning because they position the characters as a sum of experiences that happened prior to the show, rather than people who grow and change during the show.

My great problem with the series has always been when they choose not just to not tell, but not to show either and wind up with characters sitting around not talking about mysteries that they're not also trying to solve. The greatest moments of the show center either around characters who do know what they're doing and do things (think Ben during 3-4 or Desmond for a lot of the series), or moments like the Dharma arc when Sawyer and Juliet give up on trying to win the battles and just exist as people.