By Jeff Jensen
Jeff Jensen, an EW senior writer, has been despondent since the cancellation of ''Twin Peaks''And down the rabbit hole we go. Or should that be wormhole? Lost plunged into brain-boggling sci-fi in last night's premiere, and the show itself seemed anxious about our reaction. The self-conscious opening sequence — with Dharma laborers drilling into the Island's ''exotic matter'' and melting their bits; the Dharma hardhat who rolled his eyes at the Dharma Dude of Many Names as he bleated about time travel — spoke to and for those who have always worried that the show's overtly out-there elements would turn the series into silly hokum. If you got a cathartic thrill out of seeing Sawyer slap Doc Faraday across his scruffy theory-spouting mug (ouch!) and then threaten scientist sidekick Charlotte Lewis with the same (''Shut it, Ginger, or you're getting one, too!''), then you're probably one of the wary. Me? I've always liked Lost's geeky side, and more, the adventurous storytelling it inspires. ''Because You Left'' — which skipped back and forth along the Island's timeline, leaving the castaways (and us) to puzzle out their time/space whereabouts — was a wild winner in my book. And it was made possible, no doubt, by all the bandwagon fans that have fallen off over the years — the ones Lost doesn't have to worry about alienating anymore. ''Because You Left.'' How ironic.
Still, for all its risky choices, the premiere did what all Lost premieres aspire to do: activate a wide swath of story in deft, dynamic fashion and remind us just who these characters are. Jack the reluctant hero. Kate the lonely fugitive. Hurley the cursed clown. Shirtless Sawyer, the abandonment-forged rogue, distraught over departed and dead friends, best expressed the episode's tenor of heartbreak and disorientation. He also best embodied its nervous subtext. The producers have joked that leaving Sawyer half naked for the whole episode was meant to pleasure those for whom the genre stuff might be displeasing. Yet he also stands for a show that took the risk of exposing a big part of itself to the audience — a part that it has often had to keep hidden for fear of being rejected.
The episode made clever use of a Willie Nelson tune called ''Shotgun Willie.'' (More on this in a minute.) But I found myself humming Nelson's more iconic hits, ''Always On My Mind'' and ''On The Road Again,'' as ''Because You Left'' went about its business of reintroducing our haunted, Constant-deprived heroes and then putting them in perilous transit. Two notes about what you're about to read. (1) Out of respect to those who may have only watched the premiere, this piece contains no spoilers of ''The Lie,'' which I'm giving its own recap. (2) This recap is very, very long. Much longer than I intended, much longer than it should be. My apologies. But let the length be proof of how much ''Because You Left'' engaged me — and I promise to be more concise, beginning with my take on ''The Lie.''
JACK AND BEN
Ding dong, the beard is gone! Yet things remain pretty hairy for Jack on the inside. Like some clean-shaven Samson, Doc Shepherd was rendered a blind, impotent shell of his former self. His vaunted rationality — his eyes; his strength — has been proven meaningless in the face of Island magic and the inescapable fate worshipped by ideological nemesis, John Locke. (''What did he say to make you such a believer?'' Ben asked, believer landing like a snarky slap.) Now, he must trust another enemy to help him round up the rest of the Oceanic 6 and find an Island that currently doesn't want to be found. Ben not only appointed himself Jack's Island-tracking kemosabe, but as he revealed in the season's second episode, his Narconon sponsor, too. The exiled Other flushed the pills down the crapper and bought him a dapper new suit. If this manipulative mastermind thing doesn't work out, Ben should really consider a makeover show on Bravo.
Did you notice how Jack's story was basically rebooted? Season 1: Mom scolded Jack to duty, pushed his guilt buttons to save his father from a deadly Down Under bender. Season 5: Ben needles Jack to heroism, pushing his buttons to rescue his friends from their super-string reality-bender. To borrow from the giant on Twin Peaks: ''It is happening again.'' Or, to paraphrase Nietzsche: Eternal recurrence, baby! (Or, in your words: STOP IT.)
I know many of you don't like Jack, but I do. I find his jittery ruin relevant and his redemption yearning poignant. Bemoaning his god-awful life, Jack moaned: ''How did this happen?'' Ben snapped: ''It happened because you left.'' Two interpretations. (1) Sarcasm. Ben's basically saying: You know, if you stayed on the Island, things would be different, because… well, things would be different. (2) Something more cosmic. Ben's matter-of-fact declaration — combined with Richard Alpert telling John Locke that to save the Island, he had to bring the Oceanic 6 back — made me question: What really caused the Island to vanish? Was it the frozen donkey wheel — or was it actually the Oceanic 6? Could it be that the very act of leaving so disrupted the predestined flow of history that it knocked the Island offline? And can you explain to me what I just said?
More ambiguous line readings open to multiple interpretations: Ben asked Jack if Locke had spelled out exactly what had gone down on the Island after they left. Jack: Nope. Ben: ''Well, I guess we'll never know.'' Do you think the Machiavellian maestro is truly that clueless — or do you think he knows stuff and it serves his interest to make Jack think he doesn't? Think this through. The premiere gave us the answer to Ben's probing inquiry: After Jack and co. bailed, the remaining castaways started ricocheting through time. The opening sequence, in fact, revealed that at least Faraday is destined to make a stop in the mid-seventies Dharma Initiative past — perhaps right about the time Ben and his widowed father arrived on the Island. If this is where/when the season is going — if the rest of the time traveling castaways will be joining Faraday in the Dharma heyday — the implication is clear: Ben has probably known the castaways — or known about them — since he was a kid!
And what about this possibility: What if Jack's bluffing, too? What if Locke did tell him stuff, but Jack is playing dumb? It wouldn't be the first time; see: The Kidney Sack Bait-And-Switch; and The ''I Got A Plan To Kill The Others And I Ain't Tellin' Anyone'' Gambit from Season 3.
SUN AND WIDMORE
The Season 4 finale introduced us to a new Sun, all Lady Vengeance, as she confronted Charles Widmore on a London street with knowledge of his badassery — and the offer of an alliance. The power plays continued in the premiere. En route to L.A., Sun was pulled out of the airport queue and tossed into a security holding room. This time, Widmore had waylaid her: Penelope's Island-hunting father (he's been searching for 20 years — a conspicuous detail dropped by Miles Straume) wanted to accept her offer...and establish control in the relationship. And once again, Sun is the subordinate spouse, forced to walk behind her male mate. But is she hatching another betrayal? And another burning question that stems from the fact that Sun told Widmore she wants Ben dead. But do you believe her? Sure, Ben is a bad man. But was he responsible for Jin's death? No. That was Keamy the Merc whose bomb blew up the freighter. Which belonged to Widmore. Who wanted everyone on the Island dead. It should be Chuck's blue blood that Sun should want spilled. Maybe she's playing double agent, pretending to be a Ben Hater but really a Ben Friend tasked with spying on their mutual enemy. Maybe she's just getting close enough to shiv him when he's not looking. Those would be the simplest answers, though they hinge on the assumption that Sun is all about Jin grief. But what if she isn't? What if Sun has moved on? What if Sun has a new man, a man worthy of her station, possessed of money and power, a man whom Ben would want dead because he threatened his need to get all of the Oceanic 6 back to the Island? My friends: What if Sun is knocking boots with ''The Economist'' — the never-seen money man that Ben wanted Sayid to assassinate last season? What if Sun is trying to bump off Ben to protect her new life, not avenge her old one?
HURLEY AND SAYID
The safe house was not so safe. Having busted Hurley out of the loony bin, Sayid hooked up Food Addict's Bitch with some fast food burgers from Rainbow Diner (Mr. Cluck's must still be shuttered for repairs; meteorite damage, you know) and brought him to his apartment. ''You know, maybe if you ate more comfort food you wouldn't have to go around shooting people,'' Hurley told Sayid, whose unrepentant attitude after killing out of sheer paranoia was truly disconcerting. Motivated by a danger-detecting Spidey sense that's been on mega-tingle since the dubious death of Jeremy Bentham, a.k.a. 'He Who Shall Not Be Openly Referred To As John Locke,' the once-a-soldier, always-a-soldier Iraqi spoke of a falling-out with Ben, for whom he had been doing the flash-forward assassin thing, and implored Hurley not to trust Mr. McShifty. (Clearly, a flashback for a forthcoming episode.) At the safe house: ambush. Sayid got the best of his shadowy enemies — he tossed one off the balcony and impaled another on some dirty cutlery — but not before getting shot with a tranquilizer dart. Hurley was caught on phone-cam with the bad guy's gun in his hand and incriminating blood-red ketchup on his shirt: Oops. ''I never should have left the Island!'' he cried, carting his snoozing bodyguard to the car. On the run, nowhere to go, madness encroaching, no grease bomb to comfort him. The Curse, renewed. (More on Hurley in my recap of ''The Lie.'')
KATE AND AARON
The safety and security of their fraudulent post-Island lives officially imploded with the arrival of lawyers employed by a mystery client demanding genetic proof that Claire's kid was Kate's son. Busted! So Kate did what Kate does best: She ran. The conspicuous dote on the framed picture of Jack reminded us that Kate's heart is in flux. But after last year's smooch and whisper with Sawyer in the chopper — one of the most genuinely romantic moments in a show that has often struggled to generate credible love story drama — I can't imagine her really winding up with Jack. Can you? Debate. BTW: ''Dan Norton,'' ''Agostini,'' ''Goober'' — I unpacked them in yesterday's Doc Jensen column. Moving on.
JOHN LOCKE AND THE QUEST OF THE LOST DESTINY
When we last left the Man of Faith, Ben had anointed him the new leader of the Others. But his inauguration was rudely interrupted by time warp fluctuations. Locke and the Left Behinders first landed on the day the drug plane arrived — the one that brought Mr. Eko's brother and all those smack-stuffed Virgin Mary idols. (According to Lostpedia.org, this event occurred in the late 1990s.) Then, after getting shot in the leg by Tom Cruise's Cousin (i.e., Ethan the Other) with what appeared to be an old, WWII-era gun, Locke zipped forward in time to a point in Island history after Boone's death; we know this, because the drug plane was no longer in the trees and The Hatch was cratered. (It's possible that Locke had traveled to a point wayyy in the future of our story: when he was met by Richard Alpert, the ageless Other knew the Oceanic 6 had successfully made it back to civilization and that bringing them back would save the Island.) Alpert tended to Locke's gunshot wound and gave him an old compass — the same compass that Alpert used in his testing of Young Locke in last year's episode ''Cabin Fever.'' Then, before he swooshed away in another Scott Bakula hot flash — this time backward in time, to the early 2000s and the Desmond era of The Hatch — Alpert told Locke that to become the savior that the Island needs him to be…Baldie must die!
Loved the buzz-kill irony. Loved the crazy-deflating deadpan humor. (LOCKE: ''What is that?'' ALPERT: ''It's a compass.'' LOCKE: ''What does it do?'' ALPERT: ''It…points north, John.'') And yes, the Jesus/sacrificial lamb/resurrection foreshadowing is irresistible. For now, let us note that like many of the other characters, Locke looped back to his Lost beginnings, a maimed man crashed to earth who has an encounter with Island magic that puts him on a hero's journey and requires a major leap of faith. It is happening again. Maybe here, in the Island's past, Locke and co. will find the resolution and fulfillment they couldn't get in the Island's present.
DANIEL FARADAY AND THE ALLEGORY OF THE BROKEN RECORD
And now we know why Lost decided to put a guy on the Island with time travel expertise. Mr. Explain-It-All likened the castaways' quantum leaping to a skipping record, and the image I got was a dislodged record needle bouncing across vinyl, trying to find a new groove to settle into. That certainly fits the episode we saw, wherein the Island and/or the castaways moved erratically through history. But Lost gave us another example of a skipping record that was a little different: Dr. Pierre Chang's stuck-in-a-rut ''Shotgun Willie'' album. Over and over, we heard the refrain:
''You can't make a record.''
If this, too, was a time-travel analogy, it more accurately describes a different form than the one modeled by the episode's narrative. ''Shotgun Willie'' better exemplified the whole time loop thing, where one experiences the same events over again, à la Bill Murray in Groundhog Day or Desmond in ''Flashes Before Your Eyes.'' I wonder if this is where Lost is headed once the skipping stops and a groove is found: a twisty time loop tale, in which we witness the castaways in the past helping to generate the Island history that sets the stage for their future drama. Faraday's presence in the Dharma Initiative '70s suggests as much. Or maybe we'll see the castaways brought back to point when Oceanic 815 crashed and experience anew their whole saga.
Can the past be changed? Faraday said ''Nope.'' Apparently, Fate has rules. Lots of them, and not all of them were spelled out, so many questions we may have about time travel on Lost remain unanswered for now. For example: Can the castaways interact with their past selves? (Maybe this explains The Whispers: they belong to time traveling castaways observing their past selves, but forbidden by Fate from being seen or interfering.) But we were told and shown there are exceptions to the rules, given to those who are ''uniquely and miraculously special'' — and Desmond is one of those people. And because he is, Faraday was able to send Future Off-Island Desmond an SOS via Past On-Island Desmond. I initially thought ''Hey! Shouldn't Island Desmond remember Daniel Faraday?'' After all, in ''The Constant,'' we saw Pre-Island Desmond visit Pre-Island Daniel at Oxford. But that was an example of mental projection time travel, not physical time travel, and I'm guessing Lost adheres to the controversial perspective that memory resides not in the physical structure of the brain, but in the electrical currents of consciousness. Anyway, Faraday told Island Desmond to find his mother — and suddenly, 'Hiding Out From Charles Widmore on Penny's Boat In The Present' Desmond woke up recalling this Island event. That Desmond had no previous recollection of this really, really weird encounter — and you would think he would — leads me to draw this conclusion: the past CAN be changed, but probably not in anyway that creates catastrophic paradox. Bookmark this debate: Methinks Season 5 is all about this fluidity of time and mutability of history stuff.
Oh, and how much do you wanna bet that Daniel Faraday's Oxford-hanging mom is that lovely lady from Desmond's previous time travel jaunt, the one and only Ms. Hawking?
PIERRE CHANG…AND SHOTGUN WILLIE
The first line of season 5 was ''Baby's awake. Your turn.'' It was said to a character that has come to personify the show's sci-fi, puzzle-game aspects: Dr. Pierre Chang, a.k.a. The Dharma Dude of Many Names. Other fans might find it odd that the show would launch the season with this peripheral, polarizing player, but I wonder if a point was being made. Was this Lost 's way of saying that here, at this point in the Lost epic, nourishing the story with a big bottle of geek is exactly what the saga needs?
The subtextual messages continue with the Shotgun Willie record. Nelson's 1973 album is now recalled as an important achievement in his artistic development — but at the time, the people hated it. Says iTunes: ''Nelson's then new songs sound like they'd been around for decades, and the cover [songs] sound like they were his all along.…Naturally, [the album] failed miserably at the time, but its importance and influence continue to grow.''
Sounds like a time travel record. Sounds like a freak flag flown high. Sounds like what Season 5 aspires to be. Have you ever heard the title track, the one Dr. Chang listened to while feeding his baby? On the show, the tune starts skipping half a line into the refrain. The rest of it goes like this:
You can't make a record if you ain't got nothin' to say/ You can't play music if you don't know nothin' to play
Which reminds me of the song Lost used to open its second season, when it gulped hard and gave us the bizarre story of a man in a hatch that had to push a button every 108 minutes:
Make your own kind of music/Make your own special song
Make your own kind of music/Even if they won't sing along…
Translation: Yes, the producers do have a master plan. And now, it's time to play it out. Here's hoping it rocks.
+++ I've gone on and on — and there's so much we haven't discussed. Do you think Pierre Chang's baby is someone we know — maybe Miles Straume? And did you notice that both of Pierre Chang's arms were fine and functioning? (In the orientation film for The Hatch, it appeared his left arm was unmoving — a prosthetic.) When you saw all the Dharma people milling outside in everyday garb, and then saw the Dharma folks on the film set wearing Dharma jumpsuit, and then saw Chang pout like a petulant actor, did you find yourself wondering: How much of The Dharma Initiative was legit and how much of it was total theater? So much to talk about. And now it's time for YOU to talk about it.
Lost is back. Let the crazy begin.