Constants, Favourites, and the Overlooked: 10 Important Episodes of Lost

Constants, Favourites and the Overlooked: 10 Important Episodes of Lost

February 1st, 2010

When you start listing your favourite Lost episodes, you’re inevitably going to overlap with other people’s lists. However, this overlap occurs for many possible reasons: it just isn’t that these episodes are the best, but rather that they are (as James Poniewozik’s list at Time points out) important. Yes, we pick the “Pilot” and “Walkabout” because they are stunning episodes of television, but we also pick them because of how they informed how we understood this world and its characters, and if they hadn’t worked then the show would never have been what it was. Similarly, we choose “Through the Looking Glass” and “The Constant” because they managed to introduce hugely complex narrative devices while remaining grounded in emotional stories of love and loss that broke/healed my heart, respectively.

And while those other lists cover why those episodes are constants on these futile efforts to focus our love for the show in such a narrow fashion, I want to focus on some other relatively common episodes and similar episodes that are not nearly as common on these types of lists. While it might mean that some of the episodes are not equal in quality to others, it nonetheless demonstrates that Lost is a show that had its roadblocks, and the ways in which it managed to overcome those concerns and anticipate/reconcile potential problems may be its most important televisual legacy.

So, after the jump, the six episodes that (in addition to the four mentioned above) round out my lost of “10 Lost Episodes that I have Deemed Important for the Sake of This Particular Article, but Which Do Not Constitute a Definitive Top 10 List, Which Would Be Impossible to Write.”

“Man of Science, Man of Faith” and “Not in Portland” are not equally good episodes (“Not in Portland” is above average at best), but they both have the same task. When Lost ended its first season on a blank cliffhanger, a shot of the blackness of the hatch without a single glimpse of what, precisely, was below, it was pure tease: it was nothing but a question of “What’s in the hatch,” a question the show had been asking for weeks already, which made some viewers doubt the show’s ability to live up to its first season.  And when Lost ended the much-maligned six-episode start to the third season with Kate and Sawyer running into the jungle, viewers were almost waiting to pounce on the show should its return not live up to their expectations.

But the episodes show an intense confidence, the former in terms of delivering that arresting opening of Desmond going about his day in the hatch and the latter by resisting that type of broad storytelling in order to tell a small story about its most important new character. “Not In Portland” isn’t Juliet’s best episode in the third season (“One of Us” should have seen Mitchell grab an Emmy nomination), but the fact that they resisted a big story in order to provide important back story to Juliet’s character is demonstrative of the show’s willingness to be confident in both big and popular mythology stories and smaller stories that, while less popular, are integral to developing the show’s creative vision in the long term.

And speaking of development, “The Other 48 Days” and “Expose” offer two important glimpses into how the show develops characters. Both are often tossed aside due to their relationship to Ana Lucia and Nikki and Paolo (although the former is seeing more love as time passes, compared to the latter), but the stories they tell are far more important than some fans realize. “48 Days” is actually a really nice piece of dramatic television, as it manages to pack an entire Tailies narrative into a single episode that does actually depict Ana Lucia as a character who offers a unique perspective on the island and the castaway experience. The Tailies never fully integrated, as the show never quite figured out how to balance the regular cast and the Tailies in the subsequent episodes, but the episode showed that the writers knew what they wanted if not how to achieve it, and they did better with both the Others and the Freighters in the following seasons.

I’m not the only one who has a higher opinion than everyone else about “Expose” (Poniewozik had it on his Honourable Mentions list), but I think the episode is the most honest Lost has ever been. They knew Nikki and Paolo were an experiment that wasn’t working, but rather than trying to make them more important by tying them into a mythology story they chose to kill them in a complex morality play that results in the pair buried alive for their sins. It might not have anything to do with the island, but it took two irrelevant characters and turned them into an investigation of themes important to the characters who remained amongst the living. It was the perfect example of Lost making lemonade out of lemons, as opposed to trying to sell us on the fact that lemons are extremely relevant on their own.

Meanwhile, while everyone is rightly singling out “LaFleur” from the show’s fifth season, I believe quite strongly that “Greatest Hits” is fantastic for many of the same reasons. “LaFleur” is responsible on selling us an emotional side to time travel, as we join our time travelling heroes in the early 1970s having been living there for years, and it does so by making an entirely new relationship between Sawyer and Juliet work. Josh Holloway was fantastic throughout the fifth season, as was Elizabeth Mitchell, and their story ended up the emotional core of a season that needed something to keep it from falling off the rails with its complex physics and the like. If we had left “LaFleur” thinking about how Sawyer and Juliet’s relationship was forced, her death in the finale would have been far less meaningful, and the season would have likely not been the same.

Similarly, I believe that “Through the Looking Glass” would have been infinitely less effective if “Greatest Hits” had not preceded it. Before “Greatest Hits,” Charlie was one of my least favourite characters. Yes, he was reforming in his time with Claire and Aaron, but his flashbacks were becoming repetitive and he had behaved like a jerk enough that I wasn’t really sold on his character’s reformation in his new role as stepfather. And while Charlie’s death is brilliantly staged to give him a hero’s exit, I don’t know if I would have cared if we hadn’t gone back through Charlie’s past and witnessed his efforts to define his life through his list of memories. While it wasn’t, like some other pre-finale episodes, listed as part one or something similar, the most powerful moment (if not the most jaw-dropping one) in the show’s best finale was entirely dependent on it, which makes “Greatest Hits” a memorable episode for me and what I would deem the show’s most overlooked classic.

In conclusion, Lost starts tomorrow. And that’s really, really, exciting. Huzzah!

Cultural Observations

  • While I think “Expose” deserves a spot on a list like this because it is both an important episode and quite good independent of the hate for the unnecessary characters, “Stranger in a Strange Land” is equally important to the show’s growth (in that it demonstrated to ABC executives that the show would need to expand further to remain interesting) but is also pretty terrible, which keeps it away from a list like this.
  • In terms of the sixth season, the show’s biggest challenge may be reintegrating Emilie de Ravin into the cast – it’s rare to see an actress “skip” a season of a series like this, and I’m really curious to see how that’s handled by the first few episodes of the season.
  • Did I mention I’m excited?


Filed under Lost

5 responses to “Constants, Favourites, and the Overlooked: 10 Important Episodes of Lost

  1. I too enjoyed Expose and The Other 48 Days. I love it when they switch up the narrative like that.
    I’m so afraid to make a top ten list of the episodes. I guess after Season 6 I’ll be more likely to do it, but I’ll still be afraid of missing things or not being objective enough.

  2. You hit on pretty much everything that I feel about “Greatest Hits”, and have always felt about it. When it was over, I cursed the show for making me care about Charlie Pace.

    On the flip side, it’s pretty much the only pre-finale episode that doesn’t feel like massive amounts of trekking through the jungle and putting everyone in place to do their thing in the upcoming two hours, which is refreshing since I always dislike the pre-finale episodes (to that end, the S5 finale was largely unsatisfying because it felt more like getting everyone in place for the S6 premiere).

  3. I always thought Greatest Hits should have been the show’s Emmy tape in season three, not Through the Looking Glass.

  4. bbsting120

    Just going to add into the chorus agreeing with what you said about Greatest Hits. I think that was my favorite episode from the season overall. And, yeah, the impact of Through the Looking Glass would have been much weaker without it.

  5. Pingback: The Lost Weekend: Reflections on Reviewing Lost « Cultural Learnings

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