As we move further away from Lost‘s amazing three-part finale, I find myself tempted to analyze the season as a whole.  I truly believe that the show was firing on all cylinders in its fourth year.  The writers managed to strike a perfect balance between plot momentum and intriguing character dramas, while also broadening the show’s mythology and juggling numerous timelines.  People will look back on Lost‘s fourth season as not only a great year of television, but one that completely changed the direction of the series.  After three years of teasing us with numerous sci-fi possibilities, Lost finally came bursting out of the science fiction closet in season 4.  The decision to embrace the sci-fi may have cost the series a few fans, but I think it’s destined to make the final two years of the show even better.

To examine Lost‘s sci-fi roots, we first have to take a look back at the career of co-creator J.J. Abrams. Abrams often creates what I like to think of as “sneak attack sci-fi.”  His projects tend to have a shell of normalcy on the outside, but the longer you watch them the more you start to realize you’re watching hardcore science fiction.  This is one of the reasons he’s so successful and respected.  With few exceptions (Star Wars being a huge one), Americans just don’t seem willing to embrace complicated sci-fi.  Transformers has about as much science fiction as most people care to handle.  This is why I love Abrams’ work.  He hides the medicine that people don’t like to take inside tasty candy, and often tricks them into loving genre entertainment.

Most people think that Abrams started smuggling sci-fi onto television with Alias, but his love for the genre even shone through on Felicity.  There was one installment filmed entirely in black and white to resemble an old Twilight Zone episode, and the final plot line of the series actually hinged on time travel.  These digressions didn’t fit in as well on a down to earth show about a girl in college, but they were interesting nonetheless.

Next came Alias, which still remains one of my favorite shows of all time due to its comic book inspired wackiness.  Much like Lost, Alias started out with a few hints of weirdness, like a strange floating red ball of liquid.  However, for the most part it remained a relatively normal kick-butt spy show for at least half a season.  With the audience comfortably settled in, the show then went on to include ancient prophecies, evil clones, red-eyed zombies, brain transplants, people hunting for immortality, and a thousand other impossible things I don’t have time to list.  Some people turned against the show as it got more sci-fi, but I completely loved it.

With that epic preamble out of the way, let’s talk about Lost.  I’m not giving Abrams much credit for anything that’s happened on the show, mainly because he’s had very little involvement since the first season. However, he did help to develop the concept, and Lost is one of the most successful examples of sneak attack sci-fi that I can think of.  It’s certainly my favorite out of his numerous projects, and obviously the one that will have the strongest impact on television history.

For a show that often receives the complaint that “nothing happens,” it’s mind boggling to think of how much we’ve learned since Lost‘s pilot episode.  Like I mentioned with Alias, there were certainly hints of the sci-fi to come, but we definitely weren’t thinking of time travel and frozen donkey wheels back then.  There was a polar bear in the jungle, a 16-year-old transmission, and something deadly in the trees.  We knew something was weird about the island, but we truly had no idea what we were in for.

The beginning of Lost contained enough strange elements to hook genre fans, but not enough to scare off the sci-fi haters.  The show wisely allowed the audience to fall in love with the characters throughout the first season, and slowly (some thought too slowly) started setting up the mysteries of the island.  People who normally wouldn’t dream of watching science fiction tuned in to Lost because it was a great character drama, and they became hooked on a genre show without even realizing it.

It’s safe to say that Lost got weirder as it went on, though I’d say that it really started flashing its tasty sci-fi core with Desmond’s time travel story line in season 3.  As Lost became more complicated and started to embrace its sci-fi elements, a lot of people tuned out.  The show has lost about three or four million viewers since season 1, but I’d say that’s to be expected.  A lot of people don’t want a show that requires tons of thought, and others just aren’t into anything that involves time traveling bunnies.  I can’t blame people for thinking the show’s not their cup of tea, though I can certainly decide not to hang out with them.  If you don’t enjoy time traveling bunnies we probably don’t have much in common.

While the first three seasons contained elements of science fiction, I think that season 4 is when Lost became hardcore sci-fi.  There’s simply no hiding it now.  There are ghosts, people who can talk to ghosts, confirmed time travel, and giant wheels that can move islands.  There may not be spaceships and robots, but it’s obvious that nearly anything is possible on this show.

Season 4 of Lost will always be remembered as the year the series pulled back the curtain and showed off its sci-fi roots.  Because of that, it’s been a somewhat divisive season among the fan base.  Some people think that the show gets more ridiculous as it goes along, while others see the sci-fi as the show’s natural evolution.  I’m obviously in the latter camp.  I’ve heard some people complain that Lost suddenly became a science fiction show this year, which is just silly to me.  It was a science fiction show from the very first episode.  It’s simply more obvious now.

As we move into the final two seasons of Lost, I’m certain that the sci-fi is going to become a more central element of the series.  There’s no turning back now.  Sometime in the next two seasons the mysteries of the island will all be explained, and that’s going to require the sci-fi to move to the forefront.  If you’re not a big fan of that particular element of the series, I’d say you’re in for some disappointment.  Frozen donkey wheels may seem positively quaint compared to some of the reveals to come.

That’s the problem with sneak attack sci-fi: Even when you hide the science fiction inside a shell of normalcy, a lot of people still reject it once it becomes too apparent.  Lost simply isn’t the show for those people.  It’s absolutely brilliant science fiction, and after season 4 it’s out, proud, and ready to get even weirder.  Bring it on.

– Don Williams, BuddyTV Staff Writer
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Staff Writer, BuddyTV