Saturday, May 22, 2010


With the exception of Season Four, which was an incredible way to wrap things up, but simply didn't have enough of a jawdropping revelation to top the previous season's fun with Bearded Jack and flashforwards, each season finale always winds up being the best single episode to date, tying up the many loose ends of the season (well, let's be fair, enough of the loose ends) while catapulting the narrative into exciting new territory that we can't wait to explore (though then, of course, we get to wait eight months). So, it didn't seem fair to compare finales to "normal" weekly episodes when deciding which ones were the best of all time. Therefore, we have two lists, the first of which is ordered by airdate, the second by rank.

Terry O'Quinn didn't have to audition for the role of John Locke, J.J. Abrams just asked him if he wanted the part. They had worked together on ALIAS and knew each other's strengths. Abrams apparently told O'Quinn that there wasn't much to the character in the pilot, but that they were "hoping to develop the character." Well, they didn't drag that one out, at least. My passion for the show has certainly grown over the years and subsequent developments, but I'll never forget the way that episode ends, Locke's original, now overly-quoted "Don't tell me what I can't do! Ever!" over the Giacchino strings swelling and then the camera pulls back and shows him in the wheelchair, then cut to the survivors on the beach burning the wreckage and Locke looking at the chair, flashback to the first minutes of the series (I guess MATERNITY LEAVE wasn't the first on-Island flashback, after all, come to think of it) and appreciate the guy jumping up from the crash to help Jack from a totally different angle, those strings just pulling us along, then cut back to that tight shot of Locke, the look in his eyes, that smile that was just barely there, and it all made sense, this guy had never been happier, the crash was the best thing that had ever happened to him, he was finally in his element. At last, he was home. That is the moment that L O S T trapped me. We didn't have TiVo, but the next week, I started taping the episodes on VHS and watching them as soon as they finished airing, to fast-forward through the commericals, because I couldn't bear to wait.

Easily one of the more crushing single outings of the series, this is the one when Boone dies and Aaron is born. It's the second Jack-centric, the one when he can't write his vows and he and Christian drink vodka out of the bottle with their feet in the swimming pool. There is also unbearable tension throughout the episode, due to the fact that the final shot from last week was the Hatch light coming on for Locke, so we'd spent a week wondering if it opened a minute later or he'd been hypnotized or the aliens had finally decided to come out to play or what. So, of course, no Locke to be found anywhere, instead we rock the circle of life duality especially hard, Jack has to learn to let go, he can't fix everybody, while Kate shepherds Aaron into this world, which of course resonates in all kinds of ways a few seasons later. Giacchino's "Live Together, Die Alone" theme over that last scene, when everyone crowds around Baby Aaron while Jack spots Shannon & Sayid walking up the beach and runs over to tell her, words we never need to hear, just so so flattening. Not sure what it says about me, but the first minute I had my daughter to myself, still in the hospital when she was about 28 hours old, I threw this on to show her, seemed important to go ahead and get some of that in there right away.

For the opening scene. For Mama Cass, alone. The rest of the episode was incredbly frustrating when it aired, not really caring so much about how Jack and Sarah met, but years later, when you're not freaking out about What's In The Hatch, then you can really appreciate their performances, that last scene with the pen is pretty stunning. Plus, hey, "Let him go, or I'll blow his damn head off, Brothah!"

2.10 23rd PSALM
A strong, strong way to come back from Christmas break. Cool to tie Eko into the plane that killed Boone, even though it was hardly a shocking twist. It's always nice on this show when you can't wait to get to a character's -centric and then it winds up being almost the most best thing that's happened yet.
(which went down with Sawyer, Sayid, Hurley, and Desmond, too, just off the top of my head)

2.21 ?
After a long season that tested the faith of many on both sides of the screen, it was wonderful to be reaffirmed by Eko's speech at the end of the episode. And to get another clip of old Marvin Candle. Why isn't he moving that arm? AND to find out what the ? at the center of Radzinksy's map was, just a month later. That's like an eyeblink on this show. Am also just remembering that that scene of Eko cleaning up Michael's carnage is at the top of this one, which, see his character entry below. Another classic. Plus, maybe the all-time defining episode title for this entire affair. And the perfect think to watch if you've just seen James Brown live for the first time and are pretty much already annihilated, from an emotional and sobrietal standpoint.

Oh, man, but then Brothah takes it to just a new level. Airing on Valentine's Day 2007, this is the first time a flashback formed the bulk of the episode's content with Island scenes only serving as bookends. It was also the first time that someone in a flashback remembered the future. Oh, the possibilites! Great touches like past Charlie singing Oasis lyrics that were relevant to his current Island situation, Finoula Flanagan's performance (looooong before even the writers knew she was Faraday's mother, I've no doubt), and the recurrence of Mama Cass not once but twice made this one for the ages, and made Desmond seem even cooler than ever, all before flipping it and passing Charlie's death sentence in the final scene.

Team flashback! The season premiere was all right, but had an opening scene that wasn't even close to as stunning as the three that preceded it. Why, then, didn't we open with this episode? Sure, it might have been a little strange, seeing Naomi's crew's flashbacks before they actually landed, but you can't convince me that opening with those underwater remote cameras finding Widmore's staged crash wouldn't have been a much better way to kick things back in. Plus, we get DHARMA polar bears in Tunisia, Lapidus as the original pilot of Oceanic 815 and Ben confessing that he's got a mole on the freighter. After getting beat up, of course. Ultimate Drew delivers, and we are back off to the races.

Hands down, one of the best episodes of the entire run. The seamless cut between flashes that editor Mark J. Goldman developed goes so far toward propelling the viewer all the way to the Christmas miracle at the end. One brilliant aspect is that we still don't know if Desmond changed things by talking to Faraday or if they were rocking Whatever Happened, Happened and Faraday just forgot after the experiments. Was the bit about Desmond being his constant in his notebook before the end of this episode, had it always been there or did it just appear? We don't need to know. Brilliant work here, the series at its best.

The first episode back after the Writers' Strike and here came the thunder. What was originally broken down for eight episodes got compressed into five, and man, you could tell, it was Time. We get to see what bastards Kimi and Ben really are and what a scared helpless girl Alex was in her last minutes, one of the most brutal scenes I've ever sat through. Said it before and will say it again, Emerson so so so deserved an Emmy for just his face looking out the window after that gunshot. Also, wild at the time, the way it made it look like the rest of the series was going to be Linus VS Widmore for the fate of the Island with our survivors and Desmond & Penny caught in the middle.

5.06 316
Just an absolutely shocking way to open the episode, the first scene redux, causing at least a few people watching it after the fact on their computers to stop and make sure they didn't accidentally order up the pilot. It seemed natural that the duration of Season Five would be spent getting the Oceanic Six back to the Island while catching up on the three years on-Island that they had missed, so to have a few but not all of them bump into Desmond and then walk into Faraday's mom's church, then the next week, them already being back, that was so psycho and brilliant. Talk about kick-starting the narrative. Maybe the best Jack-centric, too. I think he's in every single scene and just does not quit, nails every beat. Plus, I love the way Hurley freaks out when Ben boards the plane. Ooh, and Lapidus's face, "We're not going to Guam, are we?" An all-time classic.

And of course the Jeremy Bentham run was excellent, but then we get what amounts to a three-year flashforward starring Sawyer in the 70s. Which is as great as it sounds. The whole thing lives or dies through the chemistry between Sawyer & Juliet, which, even though it had been set up as early as the previous season finale, still seemed like something of a dicey endeavor. They both do nothing but slay it. Her standout moment is the way she clamps down on "It doesn't end well!" in the garage, and his best part is that infectious joy he can just barely contain right after she tells him that it's a healthy baby boy. Of course, we know they're totally doomed, but this one makes you believe in true love, for as long as it lasts.

Season Five was really quite strong. NAMASTE, too, just almost made the cut, but I had to go with this one for two reasons. Sayid on LSD is one of the greatest things ever, thinking about him just breaking down everything that's going to happen for the DHARMA guys, tothe DHARMA guys, is nothing short of riveting. I'm running out of fresh superlatives here, writing about this entire series all at once like this, but Naveen Andrews could not have delivered a better performance. That laugh about using just the right dosage. Second reason: the cliffhanger. Sayid shoots Ben and runs into the jungle, leaving us to spend a long week wondering if he didn't just break reality, or if this has in fact always happened and Ben has always known this, recasting quite a bit since 2.14 in a different light. Even though they welshed on both options, it doesn't make the cliffhanger any less shocking, and I feel bad for people who are just jamming the DVD and go right on to the next episode without even pausing to feel the shock and wonder.

Because of the scene in the bus with Hurley and Chang and Miles, which should have been three times as long. Because Hurley is writing THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK from memory. Because the title is one of the greatest things that has ever happened. Because Faraday comes back and, we, foolish people that we are who cannot learn a simple lesson, believe that next week we'll start getting some, by God, answers.

You knew the Faraday-centric was going to be amazing. It had a lot to live up to, coming on the heels of THE CONSTANT. The angle that they went with, the title, is so inspired. So cool to finally plug right back in to that opening scene from the season. I've already said that it seems ridiculous and needless the way that Faraday went out, particularly on the heels of the Lil' Ben bait-and-switch, but Davies delivers such an affecting performance (as, let's be honest, himself) that you can almost forgive it. Plus, "I'm gonna detonate a hydrogen bomb," is one of my all-time favorite moments, the look on Jack and Kate's faces.

We had been waiting and waiting, but it was still surprising when they went ahead and dropped The Secret Origin of Richard Alpert on us this early in the season. Also the first time we had seen Jacob and his brother since their first scene together last year on the beach, so, certainly worth the price of admission alone. Particularly notable for solving the mysteries of What Smashed the Statue? and How'd The Black Rock Get So Far Inland? in a single scene, my mind wouldn't let me believe it was happening. What would have happened if the Monster had drank that bottle instead of smashing it?

The 108th episode. Desmond firing on all cylinders, by way of Dr. Manhattan. Lindelof, Cuse, Bender, Chahlie, Minkowski, Penny, and the Widmores as a functioning nuclear family (no pun intended). Possibly Dom Monaghan's greatest single performance. Concluding with Desmond's decision to run as berserk course-correcting maniac for the duration of the series. From top to bottom, this one's perfect.


So yeah, that means that one gets left out. The aforementioned fourth season finale. As great as it was, though it didn't disappoint me in the slightest, ending up with the revelation that it was Locke in the coffin and that Jack & Ben had to gather the others up if they wanted to go back just had to fall short of all that had come before. Here's why.

The first season finale, a two-parter that was essentially a triple-length episode, tied up the inaugural season and set the standard for L O S T finales, resolving a great deal and giving answers while leaving us gasping for more. 23.4 million viewers tuned in, but about a third were so enraged at the way that it ended, revealing nothing more down the blackness of the Hatch than a few isolated rungs of a ladder, that only 15.8 came back four months later to make Brothah Hume's acquaintance. We got our first glimpse of the monster, which looked a lot like the black smoke billowing on the horizon, we found out that the Black Rock was a ship (more jungled than beached, I guess you'd say?), and we finally saw the Others, who appeared to be nothing more than kidnapping pirates. Was that Tania Raymonde on that ship, even back then? We also got to see everybody board the plane before take-off, which was much more fascinating than we might have thought. Oh, and we bumped into Ana-Lucia at the bar, who never seemed so carefree again, even when Jack brought her booze. Best of all, though, we got everybody pitching in to launch that raft, which is still just about my favorite moment of all time.

So, of course they had to up the game the following year. This was the long-awaited return of Desmond, who was also experimenting with alcohol. So much went down, a bird cawed out Hurley's name for the second year in a row (and what was up with THAT? honestly), we found out whoever wasn't Henry Gale was the leader of the Others and stood on the threshold of at last learning what their deal was as the romantic triangle was taken prisoner, Sayid and the Kwons saw the foot of a four-toed statue (interesting grouping, there), we found out what one snowman said to the other snowman and all of a sudden had Desmond/Locke VS Eko/Charlie for the fate of the Swan to determine once and for all what would happen if you didn't push the button. ANSWER: The show would get better than it already was, but it would have to take a little dip in the fall first before the serious business kicked in. Desmond, Locke, and of course Eko were my favorite three characters at the time and it was murder sweating out the summer and two. additional. weeks. to find out if they'd even survived the implosion.

Otherwise known as The Bridge. I don't think I really need to belabor the awesomeness of Bearded Jack or flashforwards anymore, it just keeps happening. This is simply the show at the top of its game, all of a sudden flipping it and rendering all-time series questions like Will They Get Off the Island? and Will Kate Choose Jack or Sawyer? utterly moot with answers so compelling, we were foaming at the mouth for eight months. Or, um, at least I was. Dude, I will abuse vodka with you at any time of the day. Now, write us out a scrip.

And this is how you climax a time-travel arc, dangle the entire paradox VS cyclical/self-perpetuating causality debate the entire time and then leave us hanging in that final flash of pure white. Zealot Jack almost rivals his bearded incarnation. The firefight in DHARMAville when Roger shoots Sayid is vintage. But the craziest thing in the entire episode has to be opening up on Jacob, after all this time, weaving his tapestry, catching some fish, and chowing down while watching another boat drift on in before his brother shows up to talk some more shit, like they've been doing all this time. To say nothing of him showing up in pivotal moments throughout our folks' lives. The damn angel hair pasta/counting scene. After all of this time. No, actually, the craziest thing was leaving us hanging, Juliet accomplishing the mission with one last Sawyer catchphrase, which seemed to leave us with two options. Either this was what always happened, Jack and Sawyer and Kate and Juliet were the Incident, and were now atomized in 1977, leaving the final season much more wide open than anyone would have imagined. Or the Incident was just about to happen and they averted it and, though they were annihilated, none of this really happened and they would go about leading their lives in a world in which they never crashed. Leave it to the writers to find a way to straddle that line in a way that would have driven Schrodinger insane. Or maybe made perfect sense to him, he was a pretty smart guy.


That's the list. I have total confidence, though, that everything is shifting down one place in just a few hours. Just this one last time, the best is yet to come.


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