At this stage in the game, it’s probably fair to say that no-one else in TV history has become as practised at the ‘WTF?’ storytelling genre as ‘Lost’ showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse. And you can add to that, in my view, an absolute conviction that, yes, they do know what they’re doing and where they’re going.
So when faced with a masterful piece of television like, particularly, the first of these episodes, all you really need to do is sit back and enjoy. As I said at the start of season 5, every single episode of ‘Lost’ is an event, in a way that no other show presently on TV can match, and the writers know it. Not only that, but their mastery of the whole process of producing the 21st century’s most speculated-about show has become absolute – Darlton have, somehow, managed to leak-proof the ‘Lost’ set, and neutralise speculation about which actors might or might not come back. Thus there’s still genuine and pleasant surprise when old characters crop up again – yes, there he is, and him, and her. Even Dominic Monaghan has popped in, taking a break from whatever it is he’s doing in ‘FlashForward’ (and I must confess that, without going back and looking, I’ve kind of forgotten, which doesn’t bode well).
And, in fact, episodes 1 and 2 were relatively uncomplicated pieces of work. By ‘Lost’ standards, that is. It looked like a straightforward telling of the post-Boom story along parallel lines: this is what happens back on the island if Jack’s plan doesn’t work, and this is what happens on Oceanic Air flight 316 if it does. So on the island it’s all about the usual ‘Lost’ stuff: hatches, torches, running about, Others and so on. The familiarity might have jarred had this been a few episodes in, but at the start of a season it all feels fresh again, and it’s good to have them back anyway. I’m not sure that introducing yet another gang of island natives is altogether helpful at this stage, but we’ll see where that goes.
Off the island, though, the action was at least as intriguing. We’ve invested so much effort in following the Losties through time and jungle that we’ve kind of lost sight of why they were all travelling from Australia to LA in the first place, and it was oddly moving so see flight 316 actually touching down safely after all. Thereafter everything’s as it was before the start of episode 1: Jack’s trying to get his dead father home; Locke’s in a wheelchair; Kate’s a criminal. How do these stories play out? (And what’s Desmond doing on the plane, brother? Just how much history has been rewritten?) Looks like we’re going to get a chance to see.
But back on the island, it’s pretty much Locke as Satan, I think. There’s what looks like some pretty explicit religious imagery of baptism and rebirth as well. One of the strengths of Michael Emerson’s performance has always been the delicious ambiguity he’s brought to the role of Ben, and it’s kind of looking again as if he and Jacob might, after all, be on the side of the good guys. If, that is, the world of ‘Lost’ can be reduced to concepts such as “good” and “evil”; something tells me that it’s not going to be that easy. If I had to hazard a guess about where this season is going, I’d speculate that the two storylines will converge at some point thus making some point about destiny, but, hell, I don’t know. And I like not knowing. Whatever happens, though, I hereby promise not to complain about the ending: as these episodes proved yet again, ‘Lost’ has always been about so much more than the Answer that occasional viewers think they’re entitled to. Welcome back, guys.