UPDATED May 21, 2010: Now that there are only a few hours left in Season 6, where do you think it will fall?
In anticipation of the final season of Lost premiering next week, there will be a lot of discussion around the Interwebs about which episode is the best, or top [insert number here] episodes of Lost, or... you get the idea. But around here, we're thinking about which season was the best.
You see, Lost lends itself better than most shows to be divided by season because each is a chapter in an unfolding story. It's like a not-so-mini-series as opposed to an open-ended drama. The clearly defined series ending allows the writers to truly tell the stories their way (in these very distinct chapters) and deliver a satisfactory ending to each. Most programs don't work in the same way; exceptions being shows like The Shield, Damages, and The Wire (the best seasons of which are ranked this way: 4, 2, 3, 1, 5, and this isn't up for debate).
I've asked all my Lostie friends how they rank Lost's seasons, and everyone has a different answer. There are trends (Season Three is universally ranked towards the bottom) but for the most part, you'll get a different answer from everyone as long as mathematics allows it. What I'm trying to say here is this is solely my opinion, and yours will almost certainly differ. And not be as correct. Wink.
5. Season Four
The Oceanic Six World Tour
First, let me say this. Even the worst season of Lost is still great, so please don't kill me in the comments section. I liked Season Four, but in terms of looking back on each chapter, Season Four got lost in the Black Smoke. There aren't any shining moments that come to mind immediately. It was just... some Lost. At only 13 episodes, it's also the shortest season of Lost.
The highlights of the season were unfortunately dragged down by the story of the Oceanic Six, which, though necessary, wasn't terribly exciting. We have to spend a season watching them get back to civilization? Seeing them in the real world through their flashbacks in the earlier seasons was great for character development, but in Season Four it was all plot. Plus, we knew they would end up back on the island, defeating a lot of the suspense the show is famous for.
On the plus side, Season Four gave us the brilliant segment "The Constant," considered by many to be Lost's finest moment. We also met the freighter folk, who were a welcome addition to the crew (Daniel Faraday in particular). And for those who like action, Season Four has plenty of it.
4. Season Three
Uhhhh... treading water
Yeah, most of you will say this belongs in the basement, but I'll defend Season Three in a few words: "Through the Looking Glass." That season finale is possibly the best two hours of television I've ever seen, and undeniably Lost's best season finale.
But what most of you will remember is the midsection of the season, which spun its wheels for several episodes and included the bombs "Stranger in a Strange Land" which saw Jack in Southeast Asia and tried to make a big deal out of his tattoos, and "Expose," a Twilight Zone episode, the sole purpose of which was to thankfully kill off Paolo and Nikki. I wasn't as bothered by the Sawyer, Kate, and Jack in the zoo as most people were, but I certainly wasn't delighted by it either. However, when producers and ABC agreed on an end date, the season finished like a Hydrogen bomb detonation.
This was the season where we lost Charlie to an act of heroism, and when producers pulled the biggest trick of the series by messing with our internal clocks with a flash-forward. "We have to go back!" was one of those "where were you when..." moments. One of the greatest bang-bang moments on the small screen.
3. Season Five
Nosebleeds and Headaches
I don't care what anyone says, I loved the time travel in Season Five. The first few episodes hit, and they hit hard. With sets needing to be redone for different time periods, the same characters appearing in the 1950s, '70s, and the 2000s, and the introduction of being able to change the past, keeping Season Five manageable for viewers was a feat unto itself, and the producers did admirably.
The off-island shenanigans were largely a continuation of what dragged down Season Four. In "Whatever Happened, Happened," the action on the island was moving at a ridiculously fast pace, but it took the whole other half of the episode to explain that Kate wanted to go back to the island to see Claire. That kind of story telling worked a lot better in the earlier seasons, where characters' actions earlier in life dictated their actions on the island. Here, it just seemed tedious compared to what was going on elsewhere.
Still, Season Five offered several huge reveals: the four-toed statue, Jacob, and an insiders look at the Dharma Initiative. Add to that some weird hums and crazy bright lights in the sky, and it's a very satisfying season.
2. Season 2
Now Things are Heating Up
Season Numero Dos is celebrated by some, shunned by others. It's a pivotal moment for a Lost fan because it signifies a point of no return. If you liked Season Two, you were going to hang around for the duration of the series because your passion could carry you over the humps that plagued the next chapter. If you began to lose interest, then you probably never looked back once you Sawyer snack on some fish crackers he won in the polar bear cage in Season Three.
Things got really WTF-worthy in this chapter. The entire opening scene with Desmond (face obscured) eating protein shakes and working out in the hatch is forever etched into my brain as the moment Lost became a game to me (so this is how they're going to play it, eh?). And the introduction of the Tailies (Ana Lucia and company) may in hindsight be fairly pointless, but at the moment it was a total Godzilla foot crushing everything we thought we knew. Remember "The Other 48 Days"? Riveting.
The same great formula from Season One applied (for the most part) to Season Two: pick a character, follow them, flashback to their past. But added to these flashbacks, which began to wear a little thin in this season, was an extra layer of mystery and an inkling of exactly what Lost is about. Not many shows take a few seasons to really show their true colors, but Lost definitely was one.
1. Season One
Hello, My Name is...
And here we are at number one. Here's a little story of how I got into Lost. I wasn't writing about television back in 2005, but I just so happened to be home on a Thursday night or whenever it was and caught an episode of some plane crash show on TV. That episode was "Special," the first flashback to Walt and Michael. Knowing nothing that happened in the previous 13 episodes, I didn't expect to leave very affected. By the end of the show, I was sobbing like a baby and chain smoking like a grandma. You always remember your first time. Lost took me to prom that night and had its way with me, and I loved it. I was already emotionally attached and began the agonizing wait for ABC to rerun the first episodes so I wouldn't miss a minute. And I immediately began telling all of my friends about this show, many of whom took my advice (for once!) and are now Lost addicts.
Characters, characters, characters. This is what Lost is about. The writers and producers knew that smoke monsters, turn-on-a-dime twists, and brain-puddifying time travel would be nothing without great characters, and they delivered. And not just how each character is on his/her own, but how they work in the group dynamic. That's what separates Lost from sci-fi shows that have tried to do similar things (and failed), such as FlashForward or V. Season One was all about the characters, and I've never met a cast as fast as I did with Lost's.
But the real moment Lost became a part of my life was the landmark episode "Walkabout." The pilot episode was incredible, "Tabula Rasa" was fantastic, but it was the series' fourth hour that gave me a clue that I wasn't watching any normal show. The pull out to reveal John Locke confined to a frickin' wheelchair is one of the series' greatest moments, but it's his chilling stare while the bonfire's flames dance off his face at the end of the episode that sticks with me. Who the heck is this John Locke person? These were characters I cared about. These were people I wanted to get to know better.
First impressions often resonate the most.
For the record, I predict Season Six will fall somewhere in my top three. What does your season ranking look like? There are no wrong answers, only less-right ones.