By Jeff Jensen
July 24, 2009 at 12:00 PM EDT

Take your seats, class: We love Doc Jensen’s ‘Lost’ course so much that we’re extending it on to next week, week 5 of EW University. Check out our gallery of 15 Must-Answer ‘Lost’ Mysteries, or jump ahead and test your knowledge with our final exam on season 5, but definitely look for part 2 of his diary of a super fan on Monday. Stick around all summer long for future EW University courses on Quentin Tarantino and more.

‘Lost’: The evolution of a super fan
About the same time that I was truly beginning to lose my mind over Lost, many viewers were beginning to lose their patience with the show — perhaps, in part, due to the discouraging example of nuts such as myself. Whereas fans like me enjoyed this kind of gamesmanship and the attention to detail (and facility with Wikipedia) that it seemed to require, other viewers were becoming convinced that Lost was just toying with them — and they didn’t like it. The arc of John Locke may have ironically spoke for these alienated fans. In season 1, he was the Island’s man of adventure, the embodiment of the joy of discovery. But in season 2, he spent less time outside and more time locked up in the Hatch, confined within its fabricated reality, being slowly, surely manipulated by a silver-tongued liar named Henry Gale, aka Benjamin Linus. This was the complaint of Lost at the time, as well: a show that was losing sight of its core strengths, that was losing its way.

So began the dark days. Season 3 — written to and hampered by a well-intentioned by ultimately misguided scheduling strategy (six consecutive episodes in the fall; a two-month break; 16 consecutive weeks in the spring) — got off to a sluggish start with stories that scattered the characters across The Island and kept its iconic stars trapped in literal cages; both gambits robbed the show of its enjoyable group dynamics. There were more deceptions, more cons, more schemes within master plans — it all added up to an overload of ambiguity that played to the worst fear of the audience and critics: that the producers really didn’t know what they were doing, after all. Even for diehards such as myself, it was becoming increasingly hard to defend — especially after the Bai Ling episode, “Stranger In A Strange Land.” Ugh.

And then, two things happened that changed Lost — and my fandom — forever.

The first thing is easy to explain. By the middle of Season 3, Lost simply got reallyreallyreally good again, culminating with its greatest season finale, which should not be described lest there actually be those among us who have not yet seen it. And behind the scenes, the producers reached an agreement with ABC to end the show after three more seasons, giving them time and ability to bring closure and resolution to their saga. The future of Lost suddenly went from dim to bright.

The second thing is more personal and trickier to explain. At exactly the time it started getting good again, my wife Amy was diagnosed with brain cancer. There was a surgery, an uncertain prognosis, and the double-whammy of intense chemo and radiation. Throughout the second half of Lost’s third season, I pretty much stayed at home, caregiving as best as I could. But here’s the weird thing that happens when your spouse spends most of her day resting in bed and your kids are at school learning stuff: you kinda get bored. You also find yourself with a strong desire to distract yourself from constantly thinking about mortality and loss. Not that those things shouldn’t be thought about; they should. But every damn minute? Hell no. So I immersed myself even more deeply in Lost. My usual short-and-crazy essays became long-and-crazy ruminations on Lost’s relevance to Post-Modernism, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche; to Buddhism, Freemasonry, and mystical alchemy; to Superman, Flash, and long-forgotten pulp novels. Every time I wrote one of these essays, I was convinced that I had finally “solved” Lost… that is, until the moment they posted at, when suddenly, something like a wave of instant-sobriety would hit me, and even I found myself saying: “Are you kidding me?!” If I was looking to Lost for distraction, what I ultimately got was confrontation. The back end of season 3 was all about cancer (see: Juliet’s sister’s cancer, a storyline that had Amy and I in tears), mortality (see: The Others’ mother-killing plague), and the roller-coaster of hope and despair (see: the freighter, offering the hope of salvation — and that twist ending we’re not talking about). Looking back on it now, I think that feverish season 3 pursuit of “solving” the fantasy-riddle of Lost was about solving any number of hard, unsolvable real-life mysteries.

It was a very weird time. And I didn’t realize how weird until the following year. Life had stabilized; Amy was on the road to beating her prognosis. When it came time to write about season 4… I couldn’t. Well, I could, and I did — but it was hard. And some weeks, I found myself resenting it. Just the very prospect of engaging the show in the same way that I did the year before left me feeling exhausted, defeated, even angry. It was like some kind of post-traumatic stress had kicked in from the drama of the year before. It wasn’t until late into season 4, with the episode “The Shape of Things To Come” (Ben: “He changed the rules…:”), when writing about Lost felt energizing and fun again. That momentum continued into season 5, my favorite season of Lost after its second year. The time travel storyline, the evolution of the faith/reason debate, and all things Jacob — delicious stuff. Lost has never been more exciting to me than it is now.

Soon, it will be over. And I’m ready for it. I get a kick out of theory-making, discovering new possibilities, and interacting with the readers; I’ll miss all of that. But as a fan of the show, I’m more excited by the opportunities at hand: for the series to finish strong; for the producers to achieve their ambition of creating a meaningful, closed story; and yes, for the chance to learn some answers. Not the answers that I’ve long theorized about or that I think I want, but the answers that the producers have been waiting for several years to share with us. I am eager to see, finally, their vision of Lost, fully revealed. Whatever waits for us at the end, I hope it does the thing that Lost has always done best — capture my imagination — and more than that, I hope that it remains so deep and emotional that we see and feel something of ourselves in it. For me, the journey of Lost fandom has been an idea first expressed by J.R.R. Tolkien: that the best fantasy fiction doesn’t help us escape from reality, but escape into reality.

For more ‘Lost’ EW U:
‘Lost’: Jeff Jensen’s diary of a super fan (Part 1)
‘Lost’: The cult of “cult-TV” (Part 1)
‘Lost’: The cult of “cult-TV” (Part 2)
‘Lost’: 15 Must-Answer Mysteries
EW U Final Exam:  ‘Lost’ Season 5

See all EW University courses