“Rescuing you and your people… I can’t really say it’s our primary objective.”
Lost season 4 pushes the show into to new science fiction heights, upping everything that made the show great already and dropping the things that didn’t quite work. It does all this despite the production problems rocking Hollywood at the time and a reduced episode count. Gone are the show’s signature flashbacks, which were starting to feel a touch repetitive by the end of season 3, and are replaced with the much more unique and interest flashforwards. The narrative moves at a good clip too, partly due to the reduced episode count but mainly due to the renewed urgency and stakes the arrival of the freighter crew bring to the season.
The season opener, “The Beginning of the End”, follows Hurley’s life post-Island. At this point we’re made aware of the ‘Oceanic Six’ – six survivors of Oceanic flight 815 who made it off the island. We already know Jack and Kate make it off after the flashforward at the end of season 3, but it’s still a mystery at this point who the full ‘Six’ are. Back on the island the gang split into 2 groups, one following Jack ‘The Man of Science’ and the other following ‘The Man of Faith’, Locke. I loved the narrative device of the flashforward,; it can build tension in such a unique way. For example, after we’d seen Hurley confidently go with Locke’s group on the Island, the flashfoward shows Hurley revealing to Jack that this was a mistake. We don’t know yet know what goes so wrong on the island to make Hurley regret his decision to go with Locke but damn if it doesn’t keep you hooked. The following episode “Confirmed Dead” introduces us to the science team from the freighter crew and one of the best characters from the whole show, Daniel Faraday (Jeremy Davies). He’s such a fantastic character and is used just short of enough, always making you want more of his story. The two island gangs don’t initially trust the science crew but by the next episode, “The Economist”, Sayid, Desmond and Frank the pilot (a wonderfully confused Jeff Fahey) are flying back to the freighter to get answers. This episode drops the bomb that not only does Sayid get off the island is one of the ‘Six’ but that he then works for Ben Linus as an assassin. It’s the classic Lost thing of providing more questions than answers but it’s so well done, you don’t care.
The next episode “Eggtown”, is a bit slower but it drives home that John Locke might be a bit crazy as he goes full-on dictator in Dharma-ville. The flashforwards of Kate’s post-island murder trial are great too, as all the stuff with the Oceanic Six is. The next episode is a big one though, although maybe more in terms of reputation than actual scale. “The Constant” is still often referred to as one of the greatest episodes of television ever and it certainly lives up to that reputation. It’s the moment all the best parts of Lost come together; the character drama, the high concept science fiction, and the flashback/forward/sideways narrative device. It helps that it’s anchored by stellar central performances by Henry Ian Cusick and Sonya Walger, playing Desmond and Penny. Their relationship is the strongest and most believable in the show and despite the drama around them, it never goes full blown soap opera like some of the other relationships in the show. The central concept of Desmond’s consciousness travelling through time is still mind-blowing today, even after countless other sci-fi shows have tried similar high concept ideas. “The Other Woman” has reputation of being a weaker episode but I enjoyed it, especially the stuff with Juliet and Goodwin. “Ji Yeon” is strong episode with perhaps the best flashback/forward in the shows history. Just when you think the show can’t do anything new it has a simultaneous flashback following Jin and a flashforward following Sun. It’s clever and oh so tragic.
“Meet Kevin Johnson” is yet another great episode as it brings back Michael, who we haven’t seen since he offed Libby and Ana Lucia and escaped the island. His attempts at suicide are comically bleak and is another interesting concept as he finds out the island won’t let him die. In lesser hands Michael would be an unredeemable character but Harold Perrineau is so good you end up rooting for him all over again. “The Shape of Things to Come” demonstrates perfectly what’s great about the season. As the mercenaries from the freighter lead an attack on Dharmaville and Locke’s people to get to Ben, you’d be forgiven for thinking the show would drag this out for multiple epsiodes. That’s what had been done in the 24 episode long previous seasons. But here things escalate so quickly; first Rousseau is killed off and then, in one of the show’s most shocking moments, her daughter (and Ben’s adopted/kidnapped daughter) is brutally gunned down. It’s a turning point for Ben and is fantastically acted, as always, by the great Michael Emerson. “Something Nice Back Home” has some more bleak flash forwards of Jack sliding into a crazy depression, which are always brilliantly acted by Matthew Fox. The episode also features the last proper appearance of Claire until season 6, which was one plot line I thought was dropped rather hastily (a victim of the writers strike perhaps?). “Cabin Fever” introduces more of that crazy Jacob stuff but on a rewatch it’s so much clearer that this is all the evil machinations of the Man in Black. It’s also got some great Richard scenes in it, played by the great Nestor Carbonell, whose ageless nature is one of the great background mysteries in the show.
The finale this time, “There’s No Place Like Home” is a big one and is three episodes long. Locke and Ben’s quest to move the island is brilliant and ridiculous in equal measure and the scene of Ben turning the wheel, scored by Michael Giacchino’s always stellar and wonderfully melodramatic music, is one of the shows all time greatest moments. Michael’s death is a great moment too, allowing for some last minute redemption for the character (and a fun little appearance for John Terry’s Christian Shepard). The final flash forward reveal, that the mysterious Jeremy Bentham is actually a deceased John Locke is a gut punch and sadly, Locke’s story only gets more depressing next season (which is weirdly enjoyable in it’s bleakness). The lie the Oceanic Six decide to tell is slightly convoluted but it perfectly wraps up any loose ends and allows these characters to escape the Island. It’s a unique ending as this is a happy moment for them but as flash forwards throughout the season have shown us, all of them will come to regret leaving. Season 4 as a whole is one of the strongest seasons of the show, with no real weak points. I feel it’s the turning point for the show, between the first three seasons with their survival thriller vibes and the last three, more outlandish, science fiction and fantasy seasons. This change will polarise some watchers but I love it and believe these final seasons to be the best in the entire show. And season 4, with it’s tight scripting, fantastic characters, and it’s wonderfully realised science fiction concepts, might just be the best of the lot.