Nothing ‘Lost’ in transition

In the history of television, only a few shows have inspired a fan base as devoted as that of ABC’s phenomenally successful Lost, which began its third season Wednesday night.

Like Star Trek, The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Lost has created a unique mythology that never ceases to surprise audiences. Lost chronicles the lives of the survivors of the Oceanic Flight 815 plane crash, an event that leads them to a mysterious island teeming with dark secrets.

A deft balance of character study and science-fiction adventure, Lost manages to follow more than 15 main characters by centering each episode on a different cast member. Using flashbacks to illustrate how the characters’ pre-crash lives intertwine with their experiences on the island, the show places an emphasis on character, even as the main plot on the island continues to develop.

Although Lost was an immediate smash when it debuted in fall 2004 (winning the Emmy for Best Drama Series its first season), the series began to lose steam midway through its second, as critics and fans became frustrated and impatient with the mounting number of unsolved mysteries. Although the castaways have encountered an irate Frenchwoman named Rousseau, a potentially cursed set of lottery numbers and a series of underground surveillance hatches, Lost‘s most intriguing enigma is the group of people known only as the Others.

Despite the marked disappointment in last season’s narrative, the show finally seems poised to reveal the mystery of the Others, who have been known to infiltrate the survivors’ camp in order to abduct a select few. At the end of Season 2, the show’s three most popular characters – doctor Jack (Matthew Fox), con-man Sawyer (Josh Holloway) and convict Kate (Evangeline Lilly) – were led into a trap by the Others and taken captive. With this as a setup for Season 3, Lost‘s creators have all but guaranteed viewers will learn much more about the Others and their true motivations.

Although the season premiere didn’t reveal much about the Others, it indicates they are very much on the horizon. Titled “A Tale of Two Cities,” the season opener began with an immediate twist as viewers witnessed new character Juliet (Elizabeth Mitchell) and her friends in their seemingly normal suburban neighborhood when they are suddenly interrupted by a loud noise.

As it turns out, this friendly neighborhood is actually the center of the island, and the thundering sound in the skies is the plane bringing the survivors of Flight 815.

Right from the outset, this flashback scene provided a different perspective on the seemingly unfeeling Others. For the first time, viewers are asked to question whether the castaways or the Others are justified in being on the island, and in that respect, it essentially sets the tone for the entire season.

From this point on, the episode focused entirely on the plight of Jack, Sawyer and Kate as they grapple with the reality of what life with the Others will entail. While the episode’s flashbacks chronicled Jack’s struggle to let go of his ex-wife, the action on the island is what truly captured the viewer.

Although only a few hints were given regarding the true nature of the Others, the episode eased viewers into the world of the Others as the three heroes seek, with growing desperation, to free themselves from their captor’s clutches.

Much of the episode remained fairly low-key, establishing the fact that Jack, Kate and Sawyer will have to accept their captivity – at least for the time being. The seeds have clearly been planted for how their story will unravel, and the captivity of the show’s three most media-friendly stars is the ideal device to gradually reveal the truth about the Others, all the while maintaining the suspense and mystique that has become Lost’s trademark.

If Season 3 of Lost manages to remain focused on the dichotomy between the castaways and the Others, viewers should be in for an exciting ride as television’s most innovative series ratchets up the tension between these two opposing worlds.