Now that we’ve actually had five seasons of Lost I can do a Top 5 about them! Hurrah! So here I present, in order of LEAST IMPRESSIVE to THE BEST, the Top 5 Seasons of Lost. (I realise this is bound to cause controversy and disagreement – but that’s what the comments are for.)
Number Five: Season 4
It should be remembered that this was the shortest of the five seasons and was hampered by the writer’s strike, so Season 4 comes with it’s own in-built defence right off the bat.
As you may recall, Season 4 was pretty much the Season of the Oceanic 6, where we learned about who they were and how it was they managed to get themselves off the Island. And it was also the Season of The Freighties; their arrival on the Island and how the likes of Keamy and co threatened the whole thing.
In Season 4’s favour, the second episode that introduced the new Freighter people (Confirmed Dead) was a highlight, and remains the best introduction of new characters Lost has ever pulled off. Likewise, Keamy made for a terrific villain (compare and contrast with, say, Radzinsky – it’s no contest who was the meaner bastard).
When Season 4 was good it was very good. Episodes like The Constant (an instant classic and major highlight of the whole show) and The Shape Of Things To Come (time-travelling Ben summons a full-on Black Smoke attack before a showdown with Widmore – woo!) were heavyweight sluggers. But for every cracker, there were some duds – notably Eggtown (Kate in legal proceedings over – surprise! – custody of Aaron) and The Other Woman (Juliet sleeps with Goodwin and Ben minces with jealousy –
– before we are ‘treated’ to the worst Dharma Station ever: The Tempest). They also made a big pre-season song and dance about the return of Michael only to have him blow himself to bits having not really done much anyway. And the finale, with the last scene ‘Locke in a box’ conclusion probably would have been more effective if we had really believed Locke was dead. Turned out he really was, but at the time we figured it was just going to be a temporary thing and Locke would somehow be OK.
Season 4 was too short with too many bad patches and, as such, is considered the weakest of the bunch in my opinion.
Number Four: Season 2
If it wasn’t for a fairly weak first half, spinning its wheels in the mud for too long, Season 2 would have given me a serious headache about where to rank it. From the very moment Henry Gale dropped onto the screen with his ‘is he-isn’t he?’ dilemma the whole show ratcheted up a fantastic momentum.
Sayid tortures him and feels certain he’s a liar, whereas Locke takes him into his trust and stays on his side. Who’s right? Before the killer moment when the real Henry Gale’s balloon is found and the I.D. card shoved in Ben’s face, there was some terrific mindgames and tension going on – from Jack forcing Locke to give up the door combination as the button timer ran down which prompted this blood-draining-from-face dread reveal. . .
. . . to Locke pinned under a blast door, reliant on ‘Henry’ to reset the timer (did he? didn’t he?) before the BLAST DOOR MAP pulled our frantic eyeballs out on stalks. It was excellent drama based on character rather than pseudo-scientific blather. We were introduced to Dharma and pushing the button in The Swan, before the rug was pulled out from under us over at The Pearl and Locke lost his faith (not for the first time, not for the last). And there were other gem episodes in the mix (Maternity Leave - Claire, Kate and Rousseau taking a trip down memory lane to Claire’s abduction, The 23rd Psalm - Mr. Eko’s black-hearted gangster is confronted by the Black Smoke and we see it for the first time!).
And did I mention this:
To this day it remains the most starkly shocking end to an episode ever.
Sure, as stated, Season 2 had a weak first half, with a lot of filler material padding out the episodes after ‘the tailies’ had merged with the beach camp, and making Charlie a snivelling villain – a threat to Aaron! he and Sawyer attacked Sun! – don’t sit well in hindsight.
But there was that ace opening sequence with a then-unknown Desmond living beneath ‘the hatch’ just before the camera swooped up to where Season One had ended. And the Season started with the beep-beep of the timer and by the finish unleashed the devastating carnage of what happens when the button didn’t get pushed (“I was wrong,” Locke lamented, as hunks of metal flew around about his head). All that and there was this show-stopping kiss off:
Make no mistake, Season 2 was utterly tremendous once it got going, and not lightly did I place it this low down the pecking order – but there were others that were stronger. . .
Number Three: Season 5
Controversial? Maybe. I know a lot of Lost fans are still basking and rejoicing in this most recent Season being the best one ever. Well, they can have that view, but I don’t share it. It was great, for sure, but it was also riddled with flaws. I’ve said it before, but Season 5 really only does work well in hindsight. These fans extolling its brilliance now perhaps may be forgetting just how fucking annoying the show was watching it week on week.
Key question: Who were the people in the canoe that shot at Sawyer and Locke and co?
We don’t know. It was one revelation never shared with us (deleted scene?) and that really bugs me. It’s such frustration that was indicative of Season 5 as a whole. Whether it was Sawyer and co bouncing around in time, threatening paradox and sense-defying twists at every drop-point, or the convoluted Oceanic 6 return to the Island plot (there’s people after Sayid whilst Sun is keeping tabs on Ben who is killing Locke despite needing to re-create Oceanic 815 for Ms. Hawking. . . Jesus!)
Key question: What was in the box Ben retrieved from the ventilation of his motel room?
We don’t know. There were some weak episodes, like 316, where the biggest plot-clunk ever was literally shoed-in; Jack’s (too-young to really be) granddad just happened to have Christian’s shoes ready to donate. *cough* Bullshit! *cough* Also, if there are any more fucking mothers or fathers of passengers of Oceanic 815 or The Freighter kicking around then now is the time to declare yourselves because having someone else rock up and deliver a ‘bombshell’ about who they’re related to is getting real old, real fast. And don’t even get me started on what the hell this guy was doing alive and kicking.
So if there was so much wrong with Season 5 how come it placed at Number 3? Because despite its flaws, for sheer momentum and gusto and balls-to-the-wall fan-pleasing thrills and revelations, Season 5 was riotously good. Like the whole mini-sequence of Rousseau’s French team landing on the Island, being attacked by Smokey (so that’s how Montand lost his arm – holy SHIT!) before Robert went crazy-weird and got shot.
Dispensing with the drama-sapping flashbacks also meant every minute of every episode was intense and important. Watching Season 5 was more than entertaining, it was exhausting (you can induce a migraine just trying to track the movements of that bloody compass between Locke and Alpert over the decades). Throw in the awesome (especially in hindsight, now we know Locke really died) The Life And Death Of Jeremy Bentham or Ben’s showdown with the Black Smoke and there’s all the evidence you need for my statement that Season 5 was riotously good. But it really hit the motherlode with the introduction of these two:
In the Season Finale Lost shifted the goalposts, made us re-evaluate all of Locke’s actions since he returned to the Island and potentially set the stage for making us re-think what the whole show was about. It seems the crash of Oceanic 815 was way more important than anyone imagined – potentially bringing the key people that will swing the battle Jacob has with Nameless in his favour.
Like the reveal of the four-toed statue in all its majestic grandeur, Season 5, flaws and all, was awesome.
Number Two: Season One
OK, so probably you’re thinking ahead now, bristling with the realisation of what has taken the top spot. But we’ll get to that. For now let’s concern ourselves with the more laid back, methodical and wondrous first Season of Lost. Watching it now it seems slow, and concerned with stuff not really worth getting concerned about. Like can you imagine there being a whole sub-plot about wanting to get a game of golf going – and that this would be the climax of the episode!?
It’s unthinkable, now. But that’s what makes Season One great, because it was unburdened with the need to bring killer revelations and jaw-dropping twists. Back then we were anticipating each new episode purely in the hope that we’d get a spotlight shone on particular characters we’d encountered but never had a flashback for so we could find out their story.
It was great to see that the redneck bastard Sawyer was really a small boy inside with a fake name on a revenge mission. That Jin and Sun were a couple falling apart, with her able to speak English and him tortured by the despicable things he had been made to do out of his love for her. And how about learning Hurley was actually a millionaire with a curse, all linked to these obscure numbers – 4 8 15 16 23 42 – that were then revealed to be engraved on the side of ‘the hatch’. In one fleeting scene Lost blew our minds.
Indeed, they spent the final third of the Season digging up that bloody hatch and drove us all nuts about what was inside (and when Locke pounded on it and the light shone from within still kicks ass). And then, at the end, they had the raw nerve to not even show us what was down there! It was outrageous and frustrating and. . . and. . . and it made us love it, and kept us coming back for more, and we haven’t looked back since.
Sure, Season One has some eye-rolling, groan-worthy aspects (like Locke comparing Charlie to a moth (The Moth) or Kate robbing a bank for a model airplane (Whatever The Case May Be) and such standards of episode now would be absolutely flayed. But don’t go considering Season One as the poor, naïve cousin to its more showy later Seasons – when it needed to bring the goods it brought them big-time.
The real beauty of Season One is best exemplified by the episode Walkabout. Easily one of Lost’s finest, and it works because we don’t know about Locke. We slowly learn that this cool hunter on the Island wasn’t quite the same man before the crash – being a bullied office-worker using chatlines for company – but the sublime reveal of him rolling into view in his wheelchair, exclaiming “Don’t tell me what I can’t do!” is top drawer stuff. Forget having to appreciate the thing in hindsight, Season One works best first time - not something Lost can do easily anymore.
Number One: Season 3
I reckon I am alone in thinking Season 3 was Lost’s best. I think many rate it the worst, and I know that even Darlton consider it one where they went off the rails. And you know what? They’re dead wrong. Everyone and anyone that laments it is dead wrong. Season 3 is Lost’s finest.
Two words the naysayers will use: One is ‘Nikki’, the other is ‘Paulo’. A prime example of why Season 3 sucked. Again, I think they’re dead wrong. For one thing I don’t believe these characters were done justice (check out all the deleted scenes they featured in – if they had been used they would have been given a better chance at earning your affection), but what I really like is that they were allowed to fail on the show, and went out with the episode Expose that was brilliantly unnecessary.
Season 3 was one where they could toss out a fun episode like Expose – showing us the story so far from an alternate point of view and wrapping it up with an Edgar Allen Poe-esque buried alive horror ending (Nikki’s eye opens!). Lost can’t do that anymore. Can’t afford to. And it’s to the show’s detriment.
Another reason people didn’t like Season 3 was that six-episode ‘mini-season’ opener gambit they tried. Mainly dealing with Jack, Kate and Sawyer in various cages at the hands of The Others, it was basically the story of Jack being made to operate on Ben. For some reason viewers didn’t like this. Didn’t like seeing the polar bear cages, or having Sawyer conned as the reveal of the second Hydra Island was laid out, or watching Kate and Sawyer get it on whilst a pained Jack looked on. (I'm being sarcastic. Of course Lost viewers enjoyed it - they just forgot to mention it amongst all their moaning about having to wait in between episodes 6 and 7.)
Not to mention the fact that tucked away in these episodes was that bizarrely ace dream sequence of Locke’s; Boone turned up and wheeled him around an airport where all the various characters were symbolically depicted. It was fantastic and, once again, is precisely the kind of thing Lost doesn’t have time for anymore.
The ‘mini-season’ also allowed time for an extra season opener – the one where Juliet, having walked past Ethan, then pulled open the curtain to reveal she wasn’t on the Island but was in Miami! That was just ace, but probably you’ve forgotten all about it. (Incidentally, this was the same episode where Alpert first turned up.)
For all the knockout episodes of previous and later Seasons, I can present two episodes from Season 3 that are just as good, if not better: Flashes Before Your Eyes and The Man Behind The Curtain. Desmond’s mind time-travel into his own past played out like a self-contained tragedy (even knowledge of the future doesn’t save him from being doomed to his fate on the Island) and the story of young Ben’s arrival into the Dharma Initiative, culminating in ‘the purge’ played alongside him taking Locke on a trip to a certain cabin to meet a certain Jacob – a scene that ruled first time, but in hindsight now takes on a whole new level.
All this and I’ve not even mentioned other sensational moments: Mr. Eko’s bone-crunching death at the ‘hand’ of the Black Smoke; Juliet working her way into the beach camp and then at the end, whilst tying a double-cross in her tent rope, we learn Ben sent her there all along; Naomi landing on the Island and telling Hurley that Oceanic 815 had been found and all the passengers were dead; Cooper shoving Locke out of a building; Sawyer strangling Cooper; Desmond’s prophetic visions of Charlie dying being averted, only to be fulfilled in that heartbreaking sacrifice in The Looking Glass. All terrific, all in Season 3.
Weaknesses? Sure. Stranger In A Strange Land is the worst Lost episode ever, bar none. And that stupid stuff with the van and breaking the curse in Tricia Tanaka Is Dead isn’t too hot either (but it did introduce us to skeleton Roger ‘Workman’ and paved the way for Hurley to mow down Others in the Season Finale). But it’s the top and tail of Season 3 which really mark it out as a different class.
The opening of Season 3: The never-bettered sequence beginning with Juliet burning muffins to stepping outside to see ‘Henry Gale’ and the mid-air break up of Oceanic 815. . .
. . . before the gasp-inducing pull back showing ‘Otherville’ nestled on the Island. No Season Opener to any show has ever been that stunning. And the Season Finale? A nailed-on, cast-iron mindblower. Jack meeting Kate at the airport and five words: “We have to go back!”
It was a game-changer, all right. The best damn surprise Lost ever pulled. Jack’s story was a flashforward – a concept none of us had even considered and now one we take for granted. That, for me, was what Season 3 was all about – it made Lost the most exciting show around; the one with the coolest ideas and the best tricks up its sleeve. Pound for pound, episode for episode (one of which, quite aptly, is called Greatest Hits) Season 3 packs the goods. Marrying character-focus with grandstanding revelation, I doubt Lost will ever be this good for its final run. I hope I’m wrong.