The show I keep waiting for the writers to screw up...
That said, Lost is the first television show I've become intent on watching every week since Twin Peaks. It somehow masterfully manages to dance along the line of mysticism and mystery without requiring a dramatic leap into suspension of disbelief. What some consider a problem with the show, I consider to be its leading strength: Its failure to reveal the answers to exactly what is going on.
The cast consists of unlikely survivors of a plane crash. At one point we are shown survival by anyone would have been pretty much impossible, since the plane broke apart in mid-air. They are a thousand miles off-course and no one is looking for them. The first issue is survival. The next is trying to get off the island. In the midst of this is thrown the knowledge that this is no ordinary island. This is what we have for a premise. The writers could insult our intelligence by simplifying things and explaining things in a clear and easy manner, but they avoid this. Every question that is raised has more than one potential answer, and the viewer is invited to draw their own conclusions.
For those who have not watched the first season of Lost and intend to, there may be spoilers below.
Paying close attention to the characters focused on in the storyline, you come to realize that in reality none of these people really has a reason to go back to civilization and yet they are all pretty much intent on doing so. Here is one of the reasons I'm drawn to the show... There are 43 survivors and we only really meet a dozen of them in any depth. At one point one of the secondary characters rants about how no one pays any attention to them. It is a clever exchange of dialogue that answers viewers' questions about "Why isn't anyone paying attention to the rest of them?" Supporting characters complaining about not getting enough air time. And when they do, they tend to die, a clever parody of the old "throwaway characters" we all knew were fated to die on shows like Star Trek. These are my kind of writers.
What becomes obvious in the first season of Lost is that these survivors are facing essential "tests." The unresolved issues of their lives are haunting them in very vivid and real ways, and they are gaining the ability to overcome the obstacles that once stood in the way of what they desired in life.
John Locke, confined to a wheelchair, a cubicle and a low end office job dreams of a survivalist trip through the Australian Outback. He is declined the opportunity because of his handicap, despite years of training for this "mission." When the plane crashes, he is able to walk again and he is in the midst of the survivalist adventure he dreamed of. This is the most obvious "gift" quality of what sometimes seems to be a psychotic Fantasy Island. Yet these are not simply gifts or fulfilled fantasies, they are accompanied by difficult tests. Consider a heroin junkie wanting to kick the habit and being forced to quit cold turkey because of the crash. In his backstory we see that he once prayed to the Virgin Mary to give him the strength not to indulge in the first place when those around him were overtaken by it. What happens? He comes upon a crashed plane used to smuggle heroin... and there it is, stashed inside hollow Virgin Mary statues. This might become trite if it was resolved quickly, but it isn't, this will torture him for quite some time. We're left again to wonder when someone sees him with one of the statues and says, "I didn't know you were religious." He responds, "I'm not," even though we know he is, and it is left at that. What starts as a simple question of "Will he or won't he shoot up?" becomes a larger question of whether he will persevere in the battle with his inner demons.
The "failure" to quickly resolve any of the issues the characters face is a torment to viewers who are used to television being a source of instant gratification. Lost isn't about instant gratification, and it will torture you if that is what you are looking for.
Why am I waiting for the writers to screw up?
There has been a slight slippage, which I hope is only minor. The show has a habit of pounding certain elements into our heads, perhaps in the interest of viewers who haven't been paying attention from the beginning. The story of Michael, a father who gave up custody of his son too easily and regrets the decision, now has an opportunity for nothing but quality time with him. This storyline is becoming redundant, even as it relates to his son being taken away from him again. We know the deal here, and as the second season started we were shown basically the same backstory for the third time with only minimal new information, as interesting as that new information might have been. If the writers start dumbing it down, getting into needless repetition, rushing the story to satisfy impatient viewers or using cheap plot devices, they'll lose the show.
As someone who spends an awful lot of time thinking about purgatory, I've found the show to mirror in many ways my own beliefs about the nature of life and death. There are things to be resolved, tabs to be paid and blessings to be given. My conclusion about the nature of the island is that it is a kind of purgatory, whether "real" or manmade in nature. Are you willing to pay the price to achieve what you truly seek? If I were to identify with a character, I'd be Locke with hair.
The key is that any conclusion you may draw about what is happening or the nature of the island will never be proven or disproven, and this is very intentional. The show floats very cleverly in the land of "maybe" and that is what, in my opinion, makes this a great show in an age dominated by black and white answers and television shows that think we aren't bright enough to connect the dots unless they are in a straight line. How long can they balance on this high wire? Like I said, I keep waiting for them to screw up...