Everybody Off the Island

I see dead charactersThe men behind the curtain have spoken: “Lost” will be wrapping up.

Not too soon, mind you — the AP reports ABC has just ordered three more seasons of the show, which means the final episodes will air in the spring of 2010.

The upcoming seasons will be shorter than previous years, with runs of just sixteen episodes instead of the customary 22, and they’ll run in uninterrupted blocks, probably from February to May.

ABC’s mysterious serial drama has been suffering an exodus of viewers, to say nothing of a critical drubbing, over the course of this season. And I’ll allow that the show’s sense of direction has gotten a bit foggy this season, particularly when compared with the unerring arcs of years one and two, which were strong enough, and weird enough, to get the show noticed as one of Entertainment Weekly’s top 25 science-fiction entries of the last 25 years.

But I still have confidence in the producers, who’ve been guiding each episode with an assurance that says they knows where this is all leading, even if we have to take a couple of detours to get there. (Nikki? Paulo? I’m talking to you.)

Still, the one thing I think could jolt the series back to gotta-see status is the one thing they’ll never allow.

It’s time to abandon the flashbacks.

In the first couple of seasons, tracking the “main” story with an episode from one character’s past was a brilliant hook, slowly filling in the connections between the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 and letting the audience grow accustomed to a slower pace than most hour-long TV series could accommodate. But the trade-off was that there could never be more than 20 or 25 minutes of that main story per episode, which is barely enough to let us check in with a few characters. Sometimes that works beautifully, like in the episode where Hurley found the van; sometimes, it means the show does a lazy circle around its own subplots, just marking time.

Of course, dropping the flashbacks would radically change the nature of the series, which is why they’ll never do it. And I wouldn’t want them to abandon them before Vincent the Dog gets a chance to have his own episode. I’m pretty sure he knows more than he’s telling.