Lost Season PremiereWe all have our addictions. Some we enjoy more than others. Sometimes our addictions enjoy us. That’s the feeling I get from the writers of Lost. Actually, it seems to be how I feel about anything in which J.J. Abrams is involved. But, as the saying went with Cloverfield, expectations are everything. And since the writer’s strike kinda ruined the second season of Heroes for me already, and there isn’t much interesting on T.V. right now except The Wire (interesting connection now that you mention it), let’s just say there’s a lot of anticipation. Fact is, I could probably put out a house fire at this moment. At this point in time Lost only needs to not be bad to make me happy.

Suffice to say, the writers of Lost are back to their old tricks again, doing their very best to subvert every expectation. To spice things up, they’ve reversed the flashbacks. In season two, the flashbacks were the perfect emotional balance to counter the weightiness of the mystery. In season three, they began to get tiresome and a bit pedantic, revelatory in terms of story but without the emotional weight. Now, everything we are seeing on the island is in the “past” and everything in the modern world is “present.” Just when you thought they couldn’t put off answering what the island (eyeland, as the soundtrack calls it) really is, they did. And you kinda have to take it. Because you’re addicted. And writer’s strike blows. You have to hand it to the producers who had the guts to say, okay, we just won’t have TV this year.

Mysterious “help” arrives in the premiere of Lost.

So, without spoiling too much, here’s what happened in the episode. The “help” that the folks on the island have been waiting 80 days for has finally arrived. The question, of course, is whether or not “help” is the right word. From the end of season 3, we know that some did leave the island and Jack, in particular, regrets his decision to leave. By the end of tonight, though, we still don’t have the full story of who left the island, and how it actually went down. You get the impression that big things have happened that you still have yet to find out about. Really, more boxes have been opened, and even more characters have been introduced. And like any good television show, those who have died never die. The moral of this episode? Be prepared to wait some more.

I kind of like to think of Lost like the Moby Dick of television. It’s epic enough, it happens out in the middle of the sea, and involves a crazy man leading the way (okay, more than one). One of my personal favorite theories was that the people of Lost were stuck in Purgatory (I’d totally become Roman Catholic if there were even a chance Purgatory were that interesting). While the producers denied this, the religious overtones are undeniable. The flashbacks, and now flashforwards, only confirm the sense of an overhanging fate. The problem is that we never really know who to like and who not to, as the show is constantly in the process of sifting the moral being of the characters.

Lost is, on its best days, a sort of ensemble morality play. The characters drift in and out of view, only to come back in, right when you forgot them, and cast the moral dice, shifting the plot completely. It is not unlike that other great show on television that I just mentioned: The Wire. Interestingly enough, while Lost is clearly a construction under the very tight control and watchful eye of the producers The Wire has a similarly maniacal producer, though The Wire ostensibly happens in a “real” world, with very convincingly “real” actors. But, if you’ve noticed in the past season or two, The Wire has come to rely more and more on the similar “chance” casting of the moral die. Characters drifting in and out, and reappearing right when you least expected to make momentous plot decisions.

Michael Emerson as Benjamin Linus, leader of “the Others,” in last night’s premiere.

While I don’t think I would call Lost the same sort of great American art, a term that something like The Wire might warrant, I would call it part of the great American pastime, which is an art unto itself. It’s like baseball, with its last minute lineup shifts, great comebacks, the occasional home run—heck, even the strike. You stand up and cheer for it, you boo when your beloved player doesn’t love you back, sometimes you even get bored with it and change the channel. But you always come back to it. Maybe it’s more than an addiction. Maybe it might even be called a little bit like love.

We are in an era when entertainment can (and should) stretch across multiple mediums to hold our attention. J.J. Abrams is a master orchestrater when it comes to this. He knows what makes us tick, and consequently, what he can sell to us. And while we might complain about the $4 hot dogs and the long lines, we still do it. Sometimes it pays off. Sometimes, the game loves you back, and you might just get a chance to kiss some random hot chick on the kiss-cam.

So where does this leave us viewers? At the mercy of the producers, I’m afraid. And as unsatisfying a sentence as that is to write, I suppose it’s where we’ve always been.

Micah Towery is working on his master of fine arts degree at Hunter College in Manhattan. He is the founder and co-editor of The Cartographer Electric.

Previously in On TV: How the final minutes of _Lost_ season three changed the paradigm for season four. Why Bobby Barnhart is really the loser on A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila.

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