At the close of Season Four of ABC’s “Lost,” all the information that viewers had about what connected the events past and present was a haunted statement from the former island hero and leader of the Oceanic 815 survivors, Jack Shephard.

“He told me that when I left the Island some very bad things happened… and that it was my fault for leaving.”

As cryptic as it may be (as everything is on “Lost,”) that strange statement sets up the premiere of Season Five, titled, “Because You Left,” and hints about the shape of things to come – as dark as they may be – in the final 34 hours of the series.

As most people know, the series began in 2004 and became an overnight sensation. Following the story of 48 survivors of plane crash on a seemingly deserted island, the series became unique for its blend of detailed characterization through the use of “flashbacks” and mythology that bordered on science fiction. Season One averaged 18.6 million viewers per episode and won six Emmy awards including Outstanding Drama Series. Twenty-one million viewers tuned in for the premiere of Season Two in 2005, which questioned the mystery of the Island and set up an inevitable collision with its previous inhabitants called “The Others.”

However, midway through the second season, fan approval began to slip and ABC noted the abysmal drop in ratings, especially after “repeat” airings of episodes, which frustrated some viewers to the breaking point. One fan even made a website called IsLostARepeat.com. ABC tried to amend this by breaking the 22 episodes of Season Three into two “nonstop” runs from September to October and then again from February to May. Season Three, which dealt with who the Others are and what they want from the plane crash survivors, continued to lose viewers and reached a low of 11 million. It became apparent that fans were dissatisfied not only with repeats, but the sluggish storylines slowed down even more by irrelevant flashbacks (an episode’s flashback was entirely devoted to how Jack got his tattoos) and equally irrelevant characters (two of them being Nikki and Paulo, introduced in Season Three as survivors of the plane crash that viewers had supposedly not noticed on screen for the previous 48 episodes).

Co-executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse understood the only way to appease fans was to give them what they want. ABC and the producers came to an agreement a few weeks before the Season Three finale: all the answers of “Lost” would be revealed in three more seasons with a series finale in May 2010 at the conclusion of Season Six. Two weeks later on May 23, 2007, Season Three concluded with a shocking change of format: a “flash-forward” where six survivors are rescued, but Jack, who was perhaps the most determined of all to get off the Island, now sorrowfully and drunkenly proclaims that they “have to go back.”

Season Four’s 14 episodes used the idea of “flash-forwards” and relevant flashbacks to revitalize the show, as well as delving deeper into its science fiction aspects. By the season’s end on May 29, viewers received their answers of who the “Oceanic Six” are and how they were rescued, while writers threw another stunning, sci-fi curveball as the Island and those left behind literally vanished. Winning critical praise, Season Four tied up character histories in previous flashbacks by having the Oceanic Six come home, introduced intriguing new characters (some with “special” abilities), explored the supernatural “power” of the Island, and presented the uncanny idea that the survivors may have not only been lost in space but also in time.

With the premiere of Season Five six weeks away, some details have already been leaked about what to expect.

Michael Emerson, whose character is Ben Linus, the former leader of the Others, “pulled the switch” that made the Island vanish and was teleported to the middle of a desert in Africa – 20 months into the future – hinted at the possibility that the Island may now be lost in a separate time as well as location.

At the end of Season Four, three of the main cast were supposedly “killed off,” which is a relative term on “Lost” – Michael Dawson

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