Frank Torres did it.
Not quite five and a half years ago, I was watching the pilot episode of a new ABC series out of idle curiosity. It opened on an extreme closeup of an eye. Pulled back to reveal it’s a guy. A guy on his back in a suit. In a suit in a jungle. He gets up, staggers, then runs toward a beach. There, we find the scattered pieces of a crashed airliner, a big one, and now we can see and hear utter pandemonium, because there are more survivors, most of them going batshit. Then Frank Torres walks in front of a huge, still-spinning turbine. Somebody yells at him and he turns back, but it’s too late: he’s sucked into the engine, and just like that, at 5:03 in the opening episode, he’s gone. Nothing but an asterisk, because the hysteria doesn’t stop at his demise; there’s much more also going on elsewhere, and we don’t waste as much as a music sting on this unfortunate guy. Holy moley: life is cheap on this show!
At that instant, I said to myself, I’m gonna keep on watching this, and so I have, for five full seasons. Because of a hotshot stuntman named Frank Torres, and a simple wire gag that’s been simulating the effect of shotgun blasts and big explosions for decades, I’ve never missed an episode of LOST. That turbine sucked me in, too.
Like DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, ABC’s other hit of the same TV season, LOST turned out to be one serial story, rather than individual episodes which return the situation to stasis each week, as most other series do. The CSI gang will be back at their posts at the start of next week’s show, ready for the latest outrage. But events in every LOST episode will have a bearing on what is still to come. We also found that this epic story opens up like a blossoming flower: first externally, as the survivors discover their tropical island is a very strange place. There’s a polar bear. A plume of black smoke which seems to be alive and malevolent. An anomalous metal hatch leading down to…where? And the gradual suspicion, then realization, that they are not alone. But there’s also a very important internal element: as we learn the survivors’ backstories, one by one, we find that they’re eerily interconnected. We’ll see another member of the ensemble walk by in the background as we’re learning what brought one particular character to the fateful plane flight. An ominous series of numbers appears again and again in various guises. And – I’m not spilling any beans here – we already know that at least some characters manage to escape the island and return home, but the experience has marked and changed them, and now they’re part of the powerful and warring forces in the outside world who are intent upon this outré place. The series ladles questions upon questions, and offers a constantly burgeoning mythology in which an offhand line from the fourth season will illuminate something from the first. LOST’s creators love to tantalize with stray references from science, philosophy and literature (THE WIZARD OF OZ figures strongly and repeatedly, and one of the central characters is named “John Locke,” for crying out loud!), but such details are just window-dressing: most importantly, there’s a “ripping yarn” to entertain those who fail to catch the eye-winks. (By the way, those are LOST’s actual two showrunners in the video clip I just linked you to. Above all, they’re having fun.)
LOST is filmed in Hawaii, and the remote location and large cast make it one of the most expensive TV shows ever, maybe the costliest. But I’ve read that none of the principal actors ever presumed to buy real estate, because their characters might be killed at any time. They’re all renters, and rightly so, for we’ve, er, lost some beloved recurring characters over the past five years. Nothing is certain, except for one thing. The show is about to end.
Midway through LOST’s run, even ardent fans like me noticed that the writers seemed to be exhausting themselves in their constant need to widen the story. Then, in May 2007, at the end of the third season, they made a startling announcement: LOST would conclude with a sixth and final season three years hence. They’d repeatedly assured us that an ending had always been in sight, and they knew the answers we craved – chief among them, what is this mysterious island? Now they drew their line in the sand. We’ll finish the story in 2010, they said. And that time has come at last.
The final season begins tonight, and four months from now we’ll have some answers. Maybe not all of them, but at least the kind of conclusion put forth by people who don’t think their audience is stupid. The respect comes right back at them, and I can’t wait to see what they’ve come up with. But with 16 final episodes to go, I guess I’ll have to — no, I get to — luxuriate in the wonderful spell they’ve cast for just a little while longer.