WHAT CAN surpass the beginning of a new presidency? Nothing less momentous than the beginning of a new term of Lost. After a ten month hiatus, last week’s three-hour encore presentation of last season’s finale and an hour-long summary of four seasons of non-linear twists and revelations, the foreplay is done. Why is Locke in a casket? Did the gang survive the blinding flash that mysteriously “moved” the island? Will Jack ever shave that hideous beard? All of us who are hopelessly hooked found some answers in the first two hours of season five, subtly entitled Lost: Destiny Calls.

During the opening recap, hosted by executive producers Carlton Cuse and shorter, balder Damon Lindelof, we enjoyed simplified portraits of the central characters. Sawyer, for example, well, “he’s a rogue, he’s a scallywag, he’s dangerous, he’s charming”; a Lady & the Tramp-esque reminder that Sawyer is the ravishing bad-to-good boy of the show (and that ABC is bed with Disney). We also reflect on some of the philosophical themes of the show, such as love, redemption, the desire for a fresh start, the impossibility of escaping your history. Or, as Lindelof puts it, “The island is like the worst AA meeting you could possibly imagine because it forces you to relive your past over and over again.” The producers also offer an abstract to the upcoming season: “They don’t have much of a life in the real world. They begin to think that maybe they made a mistake. Maybe they never should’ve left the island.” Brrrrring! Hello? Hi, this is Destiny, calling!

And with that, we’re plunged into the ecstasy of new Lost footage at long last. [Warning: If you do not care about the show enough to experience the Special Premiere Event with the rest of America by planting your bum on the couch in front of the television, but care enough to be mad at me if you read this before you’ve watched the episode on Hulu, click over to The Scanner right now.] The mysterious Dharma Initiative Video Host explains – sort of – that the island offers “proximity to limitless energy, which can be harnessed to (rescue the ozone layer? lower gas prices? no…) manipulate time. But there are rules, rules that can’t. Be. Broken.” Duhn duhn duhn. Or, as puppy-faced Freighter-Scientist Daniel Faraday explains, time travel is like a skipping record – you might find a way to jump back and forth between different grooves, but you can’t ever change the recorded tune.

As the episode continues, we experience many more wondrous things. We learn, along with Sun, that international air travel is under the thumb of the enigmatic, possibly evil Charles Widmore, father of Hatch-Button-Pusher Desmond’s Long-Lost-GF Penny. We accompany Hugo on a little gas station shopping excursion to purchase an XXXL bright yellow T-shirt with the slogan “I Heart My Shih Tzu.” We are treated to a replay of probably the most horrible scene in television history, when an assailant is impaled on Sayid ’s open dishwasher’s tray of steak knives. And we enjoy nearly forty minutes of Sawyer running around on the island half nude, fortunately unable to convince anyone to give him their shirt.

Amidst all the craziness, Lost continues its brilliant tango of entangling the answer to one mystery with the opening of another. Scenes that fill the gaps of last season’s flashbacks and flashforwards also present new confusion, as the leftover survivors on the island grapple with its instability in time. Locke asks, “When am I?” and gets the response, “Well, John. That’s all relative.” And the island continues its work on the characters who have left. As poor gentle Hugo carts around Sayid’s unconcious form, we see tiny buds of the survival skills that come naturally to Kate, Jack and the hardier characters. Then Kate, on the run with darling Turnip-cum-Aaron, is soft and uncharacteristically likable during her brief conversation with Sun about Jin’s apparent death in the freighter explosion.

The show has always explored the nature of trust, how it is built and rebuilt, how to determine what is true and what is a smoke monster, and it seems such contemplations will remain prominent. In the recap, Lindelof and Cuse coyly feed rumors that season five will be Lost’s last, promising that “this season, the show is answering more questions than it’s asking.” The episode's final scenes verify this promise as honest Hugo confesses the jumbled tale of their crash, survival and rescue to his mother. She stares at her large son, a fugitive from the nuthouse and a murder suspect, then pats his hand, saying simply “I believe you. I don’t understand you.” We might have to learn the same attitude, accepting along with the Oceanic gang that the truth sometimes seems like it can’t possibly be real. The happily ever after isn’t always happy. Destiny Calls. And, hey, we all have cell phones now … we can’t escape it.

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