Part of me wants to agree with the guy who did those Youtube videos about Lost that Bassey and I always go on about and say that S4 is actually good, but really that's mostly just appreciation for the story's directness after a lack of that last season. While it's true that a lot of the charm and characterisation comes from the "downtime" episodes—table-tennis, vans, etc—it's also true to say that both need to exist. You need something to have downtime from, otherwise it's just indulgent meandering. This series skewed hard against the meandering—almost every episode sees some degree of advancing of the central conflict. We move to chiefly flash-forwards (for which I'm heartily grateful as the flashbacks in the last season were feeling very thin), including this stone-cold banger:
On other other hand, it also gives us all the Oceanic Six material, some of which is all right but some of which is real artificial drama nonsense. I understand that dramatic reveals can be fun but the longer they're telegraphed—and LOST has a really unfortunate tendency to make it very clear that they're about to telegraph them; the blocking and framing when they're trying to deliberately obscure someone's identity in a shot is cock-obvious—the more it just feels like nonsense.
We also get the freighter storyline in the present day, moving Charles Widmore to center stage as the series' new primary antagonist (the nadir of Lost's policy of All Side Characters Serve At Least Two Roles). However, in his hired gun Keamy, we get one of the more effective LOST villains. As a Youtuber commenter said a decade ago:
I'm slightly joking, but it is somewhat refreshing to have an opposing character whose motivations are clear and whose behaviour is explicable. Seasons and seasons of The Others and the Monster and people favoured or not seemingly at random; here's a man who wants to kidnap Ben and kill everyone else and just goes for that.
We get some real Lore Nonsense here; the Dharma station that was just full of poison gas(?) the one for time travel(??) and also Miles just being able to straight up, canonically, talk to the dead. Hurley can also suddenly just do this. I've argued with friends before about how present elements of the ~phantastique~ are in LOST, and I would maintain that while there are definitely supernatural elements (Locke regaining his legs, Walt's implied powers, the Monster etc), they felt more... mythical? mystical? They didn't feel like a push-button-for-reliable-output affair, as they do here. We move away from the "magic" being, in any meaningful sense "magical", and toward it just being poorly explained and inconsistent natural phenomena.
Not that I think this is wholly bad—the idea of Miles being a character who can literally speak to the spirits of the deceased but is solely concerned with money is one I really like, but unfortunately that aspect of his character is jettisoned pretty swiftly midway through the series in favour of just being sarcastic and wisecracking; like a less likeable Sawyer. The other additions from the boat, Charlotte and Daniel aren't much better. Part of me likes Daniel, despite myself, but Charlotte is just a wet blanket. Actually, I tell a lie: I really like Lapidus. He's an excellent Just A Guy Trying To Do His Job-type character, and those are always fun. It's nice to see Michael back, and we also get some absolutely A+ Ben screwiness.
We're definitely on the downward slope, but the Locke-in-the-coffin reveal did cause CM to ask whether he'd been poisoned by the Nikki and Paolo spider poison, which was better than pretty much any on-screen moment.
Only one series to go until Dogen.