After an increasingly torturous wait, Lost has finally snuck back on our screens, and it’s celebrations all around. Well, except that Season 4 will consist of a 8 new episodes due to that pesky WGA strike that’s still going on. However, you can read about that just about everywhere right now, so let’s just skip it and start reminding ourselves exactly why the writers deserve to get paid in the first place…
Season 4 opens in traditional Lost fashion – by yanking the rug out from under you. It begins with a blue sky framing a pile of fresh-looking lemons and limes, draped in tropical sunlight, while the sea roars peacefully in the background. The shot lingers for a few seconds, before it’s explosively disturbed by… a vintage Camero, which careens its way through the produce, Starsky & Hutch-style, while a trio of police cruisers bear down in pursuit. The shot cuts wider, and we realise that the fruit is stacked in boxes, the azure sky is on an advertising billboard, and the roar of the sea was in fact the roar of Los Angeles traffic. They’ve tricked us again, for the third season in a row, and already I’m hooked.
A car chase follows, while Lost‘s leading man Jack watches the action on TV. He catches sight of the car, and his disappointment is clear as he realises who the driver is even from the helicopter footage. Your mind races trying to figure out which of Lost’s familiar rogues Jack could be thinking of. The Camero runs itself off the road. The police order the driver out, and the answer comes slowly, one limb after another, stepping out of the car with its hands up, revealing the criminal in question. Is it Sawyer, the smooth-talking conman? Kate, the murderess with a heart of gold? Or even Jin, the gangster heavy trying to escape his past? Nope. In fact, it’s Hugo “Hurley” Reyes, the bumbling millionaire slacker, a character usually reserved for down-to-earth pathos and gentle comic relief. Not one scene in and already, my mind has been blown twice. And this, friends, is why I watch Lost.
After the Season 3 finale featured the first ever flash-FORWARD, which revealed that Jack and Kate, at least, do make it off the island, expectations for this episode to deliver some revelations of equal size were high. While we’ve been promised a mixture of flashbacks and flash-forwards, Season 4 wisely begins with the latter, if only to avoid any sense of anti-climax – a lesson learnt from Season 3’s lacklustre beginning, perhaps. There’s nothing even approaching the tedium of Season 3’s opening arc in this episode, as the plot developments finally come as thick and fast as we always wished they would. The “rescuers” might not be who they say they are, and reacting to the message Charlie died to deliver, the group once again divides up into two camps under Locke and Jack – one intending to go with the rescuers, and one intending to hide from them and – if necessary – defend themselves. It’s tense stuff, but it’s not half as gripping as what’s going on in the future.
We witness Hurley’s fall from grace as he’s arrested and voluntarily returns to his old mental institution. Brilliantly, we can now slot in new some new pieces of the Lost puzzle. Add Hurley to the list of people who make it home. Add the “Oceanic Six” to the list of mysteries that need expansion. Try to figure out just what is making Hurley want to return to the island, and why Jack won’t hear of it. And then wonder why he’ll change his mind some time in the future. Lost has always been a show that rewards its viewers for their attentiveness, so if you’re not already doing this sort of thing, you probably gave up on it years ago. This episode is titled “The Beginning of the End” and if that’s half as sincere as it sounds, it looks like Season 4 – and beyond – will pay big dividends to those of us who stuck with things this far.
Of course, like any Lost episode, it’s not without its flaws. Given the show’s labyrinthine continuity, a short pre-credits recap can only go so far. When Desmond wades purposefully out of a sea a good 10 minutes into the episode, I’d almost forgotten the character existed, let alone what he was doing. Naomi’s body is a focal point of the action on the island, but it took me a while to remember who she was and, more crucially, why exactly she had a knife in her back. The experience of watching Lost might be massively improved by making mental annotations to every episode, but god help you if you’re feeling a bit rusty. It’s going to look brilliantly seamless when future viewers move swiftly from DVD box-set to DVD box-set, but c’mon! Here, now, it’s been almost nine months! A little extra exposition would certainly not be amiss.
Still, that flaw is the same one that almost every episode has had since the show began, so it seems a little pointless to complain about it now. Not so much a running start as never missing a step, the fourth year of Lost promises to be yet another season of the same intricately-plotted, character-infused drama we’ve come to expect – and who could ask for more?