Most avid television viewers can rattle off a list of their favorite shows. Many of us can take that list and narrow it down to a few classic shows that will stand the test of time to us. Then, there’s that next layer of obsessives who take things a little bit further and examine their favorite seasons of a show. What makes a single season of a series stand out? That’s exactly what we’re looking at in this series, “Standout Seasons.” This week, Caemeron Crain looks at Lost Season 2.
Season 2 of Lost is meaningfully when Lost became Lost. There were some weird things in Season 1, sure, but the inexplicable polar bear never did that much to tickle my imagination. It’s true there were intimations of the Smoke Monster, but this felt to me more like an abstract representation of a threat than anything to sink one’s teeth into. And as for Jack seeing Christian running around The Island, well…that one actually does stick with me as pertaining to one of the show’s biggest mysteries, but more from the point of view of trying to make sense of all things Christian at the end of the day than that of how it struck me at the time.
I’m not saying there weren’t questions or mysteries—there were. All I am contending is that these only really start to feel concrete and deep as we reach the end of Season 1 and enter Season 2. The two big ones pertain to the Others and the hatch. Both are truly introduced at the end of Season 1, but these aspects of the show aren’t really explored until Season 2.
Season 1 largely focused on the drama of these people trying to live together in line with any number of other fictional works that play on notions of the State of Nature and the Social Contract. It’s interesting stuff, and those themes continue throughout Lost in a certain way, but it is Season 2 that opens things up through its introduction of the hatch, the DHARMA Initiative, and the Others.
It’s not just that our friends have to figure out how to live together in a situation that is absent all of the social institutions we are used to. Now there is a threat stemming from other people. And while it is true that such a notion of the Other can serve to help bind a group together, the threat of the Other can also rend it apart—one question being, of course, who exactly is Other?
The opening scene of Lost Season 2 is one of my favorite in all of television. After Locke et al. have blown open the hatch at the end of Season 1, we cut to the life of the man within. But we don’t necessarily know that at first. We don’t know what we’re seeing as this man, whom we ultimately learn to be Desmond, goes through his routine. And we aren’t shown his face. Add to that “Make Your Own Kind of Music” by Mama Cass, and we get a sequence that sticks in my memory perhaps more than anything else in Lost’s run—the music makes it haunting, and I don’t think any other song would have been as effective.
This is another thing worth mentioning: Desmond is not introduced until Lost Season 2. He might be my favorite character when all is said and done, but he enters the series as an enigma. Who is this man in this hatch? Why is he there? Just what the hell is really going on when it comes to this island?!
Man of Science, Man of Faith
Season 2 is also bookended by episodes whose titles give us what I take to be the primary slogans of the series. S2E1 is “Man of Science, Man of Faith,” while the two-part finale is called “Live Together, Die Alone.”
Certainly we already saw the themes of both running through Season 1, but Season 2 brings these questions to a head. Does it make sense, for example, to push a button every 108 minutes because someone said this was necessary to prevent catastrophe? With no other information, this is a question of faith. Season 2 ultimately finds John Locke losing his in this regard (though I will argue this occurs with reference to another faith on his part). That we have to learn how to live together is a theme that is there from the beginning of Lost, but as Season 2 gives more prominence to the Others, the question deepens.
When we first meet Ben Linus, he is posing as a man named Henry Gale. He claims to have crashed on The Island as well. That isn’t true, of course, and the survivors of Oceanic 815 ultimately discover this, but the way Ben’s character is rolled out is also a testament to the series.
We might be tempted to believe him at first. We’re in more or less the same position as the characters on the show. Rousseau says he is one of the Others, but do we believe her? Are we comfortable with Sayid torturing him? And so on.
Who is an Other and what makes them such? It might not be until a bit later in the show that we start to see this group humanized, but the groundwork is already being laid in Lost Season 2. The complexity of Ben’s character, for example, is pretty much there from the beginning. He may be lying about who he is and infiltrating our group of friends, but he helps Locke when it comes down to it. He doesn’t just run away while Locke is stuck under the blast door.
This question of who is Other is brought home even more with “The Other 48 Days,” which depicts a group from the tail section of the plane that we have never met before. I’ll admit that I wasn’t a huge fan of this episode the first time I saw it. It takes us away from the people we’ve grown to care about and throws us in with a new lot. And, frankly, I found Ana Lucia to be a bit annoying the first time around.
But in retrospect, this strikes me as a pivotal moment in Lost. It expands the narrative and asks, what if things had gone a different way? Ana Lucia is not a bad person, she’s just not Jack. She’s more authoritarian, but also the experiences of her group were more extreme from the get-go. They weren’t able to settle in and pretend everything was going to be OK so much as they felt the threat of their circumstances fairly immediately.
So how do you respond to that?
But it’s not just that the circumstances are different—the people are different. Yet Ana Lucia and the rest are doing the best they can. Maybe Jack seems more reasonable or thoughtful, whereas Ana Lucia is more brash and dictatorial, but there is a question here: when the sh*t goes down, which style of leadership is the one we need?
It’s fair to say that Lost lands on the side of Jack with regard to that question, but what if the Others had been even more hostile? Isn’t there a chance that Ana Lucia could have been right?
Then there is the question about integrating the people from the tail section into the main group. Are these others Others? Are they a threat? Their hello involving Ana Lucia shooting Shannon doesn’t exactly get things off to a great start. It was a mistake, sure, but a hell of a one. It would be easy enough to see the main group we have come to know never trusting these newcomers.
But this gets to one of the fundamental questions Lost explores: how do we trust one another, and should we? Stuck in the middle of Season 2 is “The Long Con,” which features Sawyer conning Cassidy in the past and pretty much everyone on The Island in the present. I love the episode in part because I love a good con story, and I feel like there aren’t enough of them, but it also gets to a question about one of our central characters. Can we trust Sawyer? Should we?
I think that, at the end of the day, the answer to that question is, “Yes,” but it isn’t necessarily that in the midst of Season 2. And it isn’t for any of the other main characters, either. In flashbacks, we see Kate kill her father. We see Jack wreck his marriage. We see Locke wreck his relationship with Helen because he can’t get over what his dad did to him. We see Mr. Eko basically get his brother killed. And on The Island, we see Claire lose faith in Charlie. We see Hurley losing faith in himself as he confronts Dave. We see Sayid revert to the torturer he once was, and we see Michael betray everyone.
This is all exemplified in the two main questions that run through Lost Season 2: do we trust Henry Gale, and should we trust what Desmond says about pushing the button?
Trusting “Henry” almost certainly seems to have been a mistake—this is Ben Linus, after all—but the question with regard to the button is more difficult. Desmond says they need to push it to “save the world,” but while the consequences of not doing so do seem to be severe, it’s not clear that they are as extreme as all of that. Perhaps that’s because Desmond turns a key to set off a fail-safe, but if he knew there was a fail-safe…
I suppose the important thing to think about is that Desmond himself did not know what would happen. He was told that this button needed to be pushed, and he never knew what would happen if he didn’t push it. Did he ever wonder if it was all bullsh*t? Every single day, brother. But when someone tells you that you have to push a button to save the world, are you really not going to do it?
In this way, Locke’s decision to stop is even more of an act of faith than his decision to push it in the first place. The “man of science” actually might continue to do so, precisely because we do not know what will happen if we don’t. Desmond is not unreasonable, as he puts that code in for years. If you don’t know what is going to happen, well…maybe err on the side of caution?
Live Together, Die Alone
Along with its theme about trust, Lost Season 2 sets up the stakes of where the series is going, not just in terms of its expanding mystery, but even more so with its characters. At the end of the day, one has to ask what this show was about. And while it is easy to get caught up in all of the questions and mysteries that Lost presents, I think it’s clear that the answer is that it is about the characters.
They are all flawed. The flashbacks, besides deepening the story, show us this. So too do the scenes that are better characterized as a flash-forward, or a flash-sideways. The whole thing is really about working through the issues that each of these people encounter in their lives—their core traumas, if you like.
And maybe that is what connects so deeply with so many of us about Lost. We’re all flawed. We all have these things to work through. And maybe the fantasy of starting over—on some island or whatever—holds some appeal. Here, people can take us for who we are, or perhaps who we want to be, without all of the baggage of the past getting in the way.
At least, I think this is what Lost is about. There may be mysteries that are presented and not resolved to your satisfaction. The show may take a hard turn into the mystical in its final season that bothers you as it does me. But the theme is there: it’s about coming to terms with your past, and yourself. It’s about deciding that your past doesn’t define you and that you can move into the future.
And it’s about community—realizing that if we don’t learn how to live together, we’ll die alone.