This week we're kicking off a new series in the television section, titled (for now) "___'s Best Episode." Each week a different writer will pick out a different episode of a TV show and argue why it is definitively, absolutely the best thing the show ever did. Arguments will be started, tears may be shed, but we're here to start some conversations and make some arguments for really, really good TV. Katey kicks things off by looking back at Lost, and next week Sean continues things with a Halloween-appropriate Buffy the Vampire Slayer retrospective. Read below, argue with us in the comments, and enjoy the new series!
Lost changed course so often throughout its six-season run that it's impossible to find an episode that perfectly represents the show as a whole. But if you love Lost, you love particular things about it, be they certain characters, the especially good flashbacks or even Sawyer's best nicknames. And for me "Lockdown," the 17th episode of season 2, has all the best parts of Lost in one place, namely deep philosophical conversations between John Locke and Ben Linus, a flashback that stands out as an exciting story on its own, and one of the best cliffhanger endings the show ever did. It's concise and gripping but not as bare-bones simple as the first season, and in focusing on the show's two best characters Ben and Locke, it's the best example of what Lost did well, with none of the stuff it faltered at. Especially viewed in the context of where the show went after, it's the best thing the show ever did.
But it's not one of the standout marquee episodes you could show any newcomer, with the second season in full swing and all the button-pushing, Dharma initiative madness of the Hatch in play. Most importantly for this episode, Henry Gale (Benjamin Linus in disguise, of course) has been imprisoned in the Hatch for several days, and what makes "Lockout" so spectacular is that he and Locke are stuck together in the Hatch for the entire episode. Watching it now you can't help but think of how immensely complicated and rewarding their relationship got later on, but even this early it's great to see Ben disguised as the nervous, rabbity Henry Gale, already getting under Locke's skin. When the hatch goes into lockdown and Locke has to rely on Ben to push the button, you see the beginnings of their tense, dependent-but-distrustful relationship that later becomes the heart of the show.
Locke always had some of the best flashbacks in the early episodes, and "Lockout" has one of his best, revisiting his complicated relationship with his kidney-stealing dad and how it eventually ruined his relationship with the patient, wonderful Helen. It's not just that this flashback stands well as a story on its own, about a man whose past keeps him from properly seeing his future, but that it contrasts so nicely with what's happening on the island-- when he sees the map on the blast door, Locke begins to understand how the island and the hatch will shape his destiny, while in the past, we see him completely lose sight of it. There's also a nice parallel of him falsely putting his trust in his father again, while on the island, he trusts Ben and is rewarded for it-- only temporarily.
Oh yeah, about that-- this episode ends on one of the best cliffhangers the show ever did, with Sayid returning from his mission to find Henry Gale's balloon only to find the corpse of the real Henry. Lost always did cliffhangers so well, but this one packs extra punch because the relationship we've seen Ben and Locke develop, and also because Michael Emerson is so delightfully shifty you can't wait to see where he goes next. A lot of people prefer the Lost endings that went for the big emotions or the grand gestures, like the departure of the raft at the end of Season 1, but the cliffhangers always felt more organic to the show's twisty nature, and this was the best one they ever did.
There are B and C stories happening on the island to support the central Locke action, and while Ana Lucia, Charlie and Sayid's journey to find Henry's balloon is mostly just plot setup for the end, the poker game between Jack and Sawyer on the beach is a neat, light and funny distillation of their rivalry that sometimes got overly heavy in later seasons. It's hard to remember now that in the early seasons, before there were submarines or freighters or helicopters or frozen donkey wheels, Lost was a lot about people sitting around talking about the crazy stuff happening around them, and "Lockdown" comes at the exact point in the series where we know these characters well enough to watch them talk about pretty much anything. Putting its focus on its most important character, pushing the story forward just enough while taking the time to also relax on the beach, "Lockdown" isn't Lost's biggest or most mind-blowing episode, but it is the best.