TV TONIGHT: Lost Season Five Finale


And so, the fifth and penultimate season of ABC's Lost concludes tonight, and with it will end one of the more bizarre, frustrating, and, strangely entertaining stretches in the show's history. And for this show, that's saying something.

Throughout its history, Lost has never shied from its sci-fi tendencies, though it did manage to de-emphasized the mystical and paranormal stuff a bit by giving it equal screentime with human drama. The truth, of course, is that any show that deals with things like a mysterious series of numbers and paraplegics who are miraculously healed - as Lost did in its first season - is going to attract a cult following of obsessive types, even as such things were balanced out by things like the Jack-Kate-Sawyer love triangle and the struggle between Jack, the man of science, and Locke, the man of faith. This season, though, the show has embraced its position as a cult show that requires a certain suspension of disbelief by sending half of its cast back to 1977 for reasons we're still not totally clear on. While we've been waiting for the final explanation, we've received lessons on the two different theories of time travel ("open loop" v. "closed loop"), an extended look at the Smoke Monster, a hydrogen bomb, some hints about ancient Egypt, and something close to confirmation of the Island's ability to raise the dead. 

This turn towards harder sci-fi has yielded mixed results for the show. On a week-to-week basis, the show is as entertaining as it's ever been, certainly. We got to see Sayid's sadness as he came to terms with his violent existence. We saw Sawyer and Juliet in a state of domestic bliss so convincing it can only mean something horrible is going to happen to one of them (ditto that - hell, double that - for fan favorites Desmond and Penny). We saw a brilliantly effective role reversal for John Locke and Ben Linus, expertly played by Terry O'Quinn and Michael Emerson, respectively, wherein Locke is now the one with all the answers and Ben is the the one following along hoping to somehow figure out what's happening. And Miles and Hurley (pictured above) have given us some of the funniest scenes in the show's history. We've even seen, for the first time, something truly unexpected: competent acting from Evangeline Lilly.

Yet at the same time, the time-travel gambit has raised the expectations for the season finale (tantalizingly titled "The Incident") in a way the show may be unable to deliver on. In short, if this episode doesn't give a damn good explanation for why certain people wound up in the past, then this whole season will feel like a bit of a dodge. Lost received a lot of praise when it announced its end date, simply because it gave them a clear goal to work towards. But if the time-travel stuff doesn't have some genuine game-changing significance, and instead was just an elaborate way to kill some narrative time before the big finale, then it will be disappointing to say the least. And if the whole idea was to get them there so they could prevent the inital plane crash from happening, that, too, would be disappointing; there's been too much talk of destiny and a "coming war" over the last five seasons of this show for it not to pay off somehow. The show has been catering to its cultist audience all season; they can't let them down now.

Of course, it's just as likely show runners Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof will pull off a mind-melting twist like season three's legendary flash-forward. Michael Emerson's words are heartening:

"Ours is a show that specializes in big shock endings, but I think season five... None of the other shock endings left me wondering how the show goes on. We have two kinds of huge shocks at the end of this one. Each one alone would be enough to keep an audience eating its own soul for the whole hiatus, but with two, I don't know what you can do with that."

So, obviously, as we are without a donkey wheel or Daniel Faraday's notebook of temporal omniscience, we'll just have to wait until 9 pm to see what is in store for everyone. Either way, the reaction will be swift and public.

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