Review: Lost's first two seasons on Blu-ray aren't just worthwhile—they're essential

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Lost is one of the best sci-fi shows of the last decade, but if you're a longtime viewer, it can also one of the most frustrating. After an explosive start, it struggled to find a comfortable rhythm, answering its initial mysteries at the same time as introducing new ones, abandoning plot developments and new characters even as it constructed even more mythology.

The release of The Complete First and Second Seasons on Blu-ray not only affords viewers a chance to look back at the show with superlative presentation and bonus materials, but it encourages them to revisit the beginning of the series as it—and they—discovered when and why it originally felt great to get lost.

As a buddy of mine recently observed, Lost Season One seems almost quaint in retrospect—"Oh yeah, remember when they were just hanging out on the beach, arguing about what to do?" J.J. Abrams' pilot is one of the great first episodes in television history, achieving a level of cinematic sweep that would set the stage for all that followed.

He deftly introduces a substantial ensemble—including Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Locke, Sayid, Hurley and others—while mounting a re-enactment of a destructive plane crash and keeping their initial reactions to the events distinct and specific, providing a context for their behavior even before we quite understand it.

Meanwhile, the rest of the season discovered the sort of chemical serendipity that practically defines "catching lightning in a bottle"—everyone wondered whether Kate would choose Jack or Sawyer, Locke regained his ability to walk even if he didn't always have a sense of direction, and Michael and Walt and Sun and Jin revisited devastating backstories that gave the show genuine poignancy and power, even when it wasn't subjecting the characters to physical danger.

At the same time, a return to the series even a few years later—or at least having seen where the characters have since gone—occasionally makes it difficult to separate their "current" selves from their future behavior. As much as it once seemed impossible to not love Jack, he's surprisingly less sympathetic and even likable, even in season one, given both the flashbacks in subsequent seasons and his behavior on the island, which sometimes feels too anguished or self-torturous to generate much sympathy for him. Ditto both Charlie and Claire, who were always supporting characters at best, but who offer little in the way of dramatic backbone and are often overwhelmed (or at least the actors playing them are) by the weight of the script's challenges.

While the show was an immediate success, season two suggested that its creators were less sure about what would or needed to happen to drive the story forward, or perhaps became more interested in seeing how far they could push viewers without paying off the ideas they set up. The mysterious hatch had viewers riveted at the end of season one, but the creators spent two full episodes chronicling what happened when the survivors went in there for the first time; perhaps the decision was forgivable thanks to the show's current story-flashback structure, but given the fact that most episodes covered two days and those two collectively covered less than two hours, many fans (myself included) rightfully felt cheated.

The bigger problems with season two evolved because of the show's broadcast schedule, which the creators couldn't quite figure out for almost another season, but also because of the way in which story, character and viewer frustrations dovetailed into one another. Locke spent much of the season sitting in the hatch pushing buttons, and especially with the benefit of watching multiple episodes at the same time, it's disappointing to realize how many times the writers revisited the same problems, including Sawyer's indefatigable ability to make people hate him, and especially how and whether "the button" would be pressed in time. Thankfully, the Blu-rays rescue viewers from having to wait a week or more for each installment, but when viewed close together the episodes often feel repetitive and frustrating.

Visually these sets offer incredible picture quality, and the high-definition transfers provide images of the Hawaii locations that are almost as crystal-clear as Evangeline Lilly's complexion. Shots of the beach, the jungle, the water and the sky are all gorgeous and perfect, with little to no artifacting but just deep, resonant clarity and color. Meanwhile, these sets are essentially a repackaging of the standard-definition DVDs that BVHE released a few years ago, so there's little to speak of in the way of extras that isn't already available to fans; that said, the discs are filled with extra flashbacks, audition footage, making-of materials, deleted scenes and more, so anyone wanting any or all of the available content connected to seasons one and two will still have a field day diving into the show.

Additionally, the discs allow fans to watch the show with SeasonPlay, a system that keeps viewers updated as to how far they are in each season, and it tracks their experience so they can return to the place where they stopped if, God forbid, they need a bathroom break or a snack in between Jack-Kate-Sawyer showdowns. But while these season sets do indeed reveal the show's problems, they also rekindle audience involvement and investment in what happens on the island, even if the end result is to mirror Locke's irritation at the sameness of the episode-to-episode experience or, more likely, to look at watching future episodes and seasons with the same tortured resignation as Jack.

Lost was and is a terrific show, and it comes as no small comfort that the show regained its footing in later seasons. But it's possible that even with its shortcomings and comparative disappointments, we needed to see precisely what we were missing in order to understand when we finally found it again, which is why, ultimately, The Complete First and Second Seasons are not just worthwhile, but essential viewing.