After a shaky first six episodes, Lost's second season gets onto steadier footing in the second quarter, rallying with two remarkably tense installments, followed by three episodes with useful flashbacks, emotional swells, and actual forward momentum on the island. (And then? A total dud but more on that in a minute.) As I mentioned last week, my sense is that the Lost writers froze up a bit at the start of Season Two, unsure how much of the master-plot to dole out with so many hours left to fill. By the middle of the season, they seemed to have figured out the trick: Focus on the episodes themselves, and write a bunch of really good scenes, charged with tension and pathos and mystery. I guess they thought there'd be plenty of time later to sort out what really matters.
First though, how about an all-time classic Lost episode, full of edge-of-the-seat excitement and new additions to the mythology? "The Other 48 Days" is the first Lost installment to ditch the conventional flashback structure, for a straight, chronological retelling of the Tailies' journey from crashing to killing Shannon, complete with the mistaken imprisonment of one of their own (alas, poor Nathan), and so much more direct engagement with The Others than our main cast ever saw over their first six weeks on the island. (What, is the beach just too far to walk for Ben's cronies?) "The Other 48 Days" is fast-paced and frequently terrifying, and it succeeds in making Ana-Lucia seem more tragically heroic for a time anyway.
I'd forgotten how good the episode that follows is too. "Collision" deals with the aftermath of Ana-Lucia's Shannon-shooting, as she compensates for a series of bad choices (stretching all the way into her flashback) by tying Sayid to a tree and trying to bully her former allies into sticking with her. Meanwhile, back at the beach, everyone's playing games and settling into a domestic routine. The contrast between the two groups of survivors is almost painfully poignant, and culminates in a moving series of reunions: Michael with Vincent, Rose with Bernard, and Jin with Sun. I almost don't hesitate to mention that in terms of moving the plot along, "Collision" only takes us a little bit past where we were at the end of the sixth episode, because in terms of the story–which is different from the plot, as I hope you all understand–"Collision" is a winner.
Next up? Three straight episodes where the flashbacks largely carry the day: "What Kate Did" finally solves the mystery of why Kate's a fugitive (as well as introducing some complicated new parent/child issues); "The 23rd Psalm" at the time made Mr. Eko my new favorite character by recounting the heart-wrenching story of how he became a criminal to spare his brother, and then inadvertently led that brother to an untimely death; and "The Hunting Party" details the dissolution of Jack's marriage, as well as the end of his run as a miracle worker. (Interestingly enough, this is the last Jack flashback episode of Season Two.)
My only complaint about these three episodes? In retrospect, the actual island business sets up a lot of potential conflict/coolness that eventually just peters out. Eko gives Locke the missing piece of the orientation film! (But it just warns not to use the computer to communicate with the outside world.) Michael apparently chats with Walt via computer! (But we never find out how, or even if it is Walt.) Jack and Sawyer and Locke have a sit-down with Mr. Friendly! (But it never occurs to our heroes to ask The Others any questions about who they are, why they're here, or what the island is.) Jack talks to Ana-Lucia about forming an army to go after The Others! (But nothing will come of this either.) Charlie's hoarding heroin! (But he's not using it, and his stash is quickly discovered by Locke, and Claire, and Eko, and pretty much everyone else.)
And oh yeah, all that Charlie business leads to what may be the worst episode of Lost I've seen in this trip back through the series. As bad as "Adrift" and "Hearts And Minds" are, ladies and gentlemen can I interest you in "Fire + Water," the episode in which Charlie kidnaps Aaron in order to baptize him, all while flashbackin' to the last days of Drive Shaft, when the band was reduced to doing a commercial for Butties Diapers, and his brother apparently made enough money from selling Charlie's old piano to start a new life in Australia? (So did the piano have heroin in it, too?) Nary a redeeming moment in this one folks, outside of the continuing parallels between Charlie and Eko, both of whom are the only remaining people on the island at this point with "brother issues" instead of "daddy issues." (Though I'm betting the Lost folks aren't done with the brother theme.)
Still, five out of six of these episodes were quite good–better than I'd remembered, really. Do they fit seamlessly into the series as a whole? I'll need to see more of Season Two to answer that, but the flashbacks certainly do. As for the present day material, it mostly consists of a string of well-written, well-acted scenes that may not be necessary to the overall story, but sure make for good TV.
-There are handful of questions raised/connections made in this batch of six episodes. For example
-In "The Other 48 Days," we meet Kate and Emma, two kids who were traveling to LA to be with their Mom. Who is their mom? And what role are Kate and Emma going to play in this story? Also, why did The Others take whom they took from the Tailies? What did they want with Eko (who killed two of them rather than letting himself be kidnapped)? And why don't they wear shoes?
-In the opening scene of "What Kate Did," a shirtless Jin walks out of Sun's tent looking very satisfied. Was that the moment little Ji-Yeon was conceived? (Meanwhile, in the very next shot, Sayid's digging a grave for Shannon, re-emphasizing the idea that there's no life created on this island without a little death. See also: Aaron's birth happening while Boone croaks.) As for the training film edit who cut out that bit about the computer, and why? (And why did Ben and The Others allow Desmond to park himself in the Swan station for so long without stopping by to say hello?) Lastly, I have to think that there's more to the story of Kate's two dads: the one she killed, and the one she mistakenly thought was her real dad. Even though Kate flashbacks/flash-forwards often suck, I hope the writers come back to this.
-"The 23rd Psalm" opens with Eko recounting the Biblical story of Aaron and Moses, two brothers. And at one point, Charlie says to Eko, "It was my brother's fault I became an addict." After all the speculation about "twinning" that has burbled in the fan community since the publication of The Bad Twin, I hope this brother stuff pays off someday.
-Two notes from "The Hunting Party:" The patient Jack can't save has a tumor on his spine, just like Ben. Also, whatever happened to Geronimo Jackson?
-Hey, tomorrow, I'll be talking with Lindelof and Cuse for an interview feature that should run the week Lost returns. I don't know how much time I'll have and I've got a lot of questions written already, but if there's something you'd like me to ask them, let me know. If it's a good question, and I have the time, I'll spring it. (Just so you know though, I'm probably not going to ask too many, "So what's the deal with the Black Rock?"-type questions, since I don't imagine they're going to spill spoilers to me.)