If you attempt, as I recently did, to describe the events of the first two episodes of the new season of "Lost" to someone who hasn't watched the show in a while, you will find it a humbling experience. So much cool stuff happens it is difficult to articulate properly -- rescuers arrive, except chances are they aren't actually rescuers. And anyway, Locke (Terry O'Quinn) killed one of them last season, so he's probably smart to heed the words of the long-lost Walt (Malcolm David Kelley) and high-tail it with as many as will join him to the compound that once belonged to the Others. After all, Charlie's last words were "not Penny's ship," which means whoever is communicating with the survivors via that weird walkie-talkie, they definitely aren't who Jack (Matthew Fox) and Kate (Evangeline Lilly) et al. think they are, as the ever-creepy Ben (Michael Emerson) surely knows.
Even if you could explain such things in an orderly fashion, you would still sound absolutely insane. And you will see this reflected in the face of your friend as he or she slowly, carefully, edges toward the door.
Not that it matters. At this point with "Lost," you're either in or you're out. Which doesn't mean you can't enjoy this season just because you've missed what's happened before. For one thing, ABC is nicely recapping things before tonight's season premiere. For another, what happened is not nearly as relevant as you might think, because "Lost" is the ultimate postmodern television show -- all about living in the moment.
The show is crazy, man, now more than ever, and I mean that in the best possible way. Crazy like a really big roller coaster, the kind that goes backward, or the first time you have a full-on, drama-delicious blowout with your lover in public. An hour's worth of emotion-churning chemical dump right in the old brain stem -- horror, hysteria, regret, adrenaline and what, oh what, will happen next? Who knows? But as Jack says to Kate, "Let's just let this play out."
There's so much spoiler potential here it's difficult to offer a review except in the vaguest of terms. Most important, the flash-forwards that brought so many fans to their knees last season -- Jack, a drunken mess, insisting to a placating but ultimately dismissive Kate that they were wrong to leave the island -- continue, making it clear that rescue is by no means the end of the story, or the show. How very far we have come since the discovery of the hatch door.
Meanwhile, four dubious newcomers land on the island with all sorts of high-tech gear and mixed motives at best.
"Rescuing your people," says one (Jeremy Davies), a high-strung physicist (or so he tells us) by the name of Faraday. "Can't really say it's our primary objective."
Ben continues to embody pale, sweaty, rodent-like evil, evading death at the hands of various vengeful or just plain irritated characters by saying things like "I have information -- information you need," then never quite delivering. Locke and Jack fight for the support, and possibly the soul, of the group -- Jack wants off the island no matter who's on the boat, while John intends to burrow further in -- and no one but Hurley (Jorge Garcia), I mean Hugo, seems too terribly broken up by Charlie's (Dominic Monaghan) death last season. But then it's a jungle out there.
The shack with the crazy . . . guy? ghost? voice talent? . . . is back in play, as are gas masks, polar bears and Locke's missing kidney. Seriously, the show is so whacked that at one point, when it flashed forward to an excavation site in Tunisia (Tunisia! never a good sign), I fully expected some blind priest to totter forward bearing the skeletal remains of a jackal. Yes, that's right, the answer to the mystery is: Ben is the Antichrist.
OK, it's not. At least I don't think it is. And frankly, the answer to the mystery is now almost beside the point. We're long past the hope of some big "click" moment when everything and everyone falls into place, and that's OK. After years of watching the survivors, not to mention the show's writers, grope around in the green, wet dark, it's enough that there are clearly events in play that will result in some sort of resolution, if only in the existential sense.
"Lost" is a show that has long required surrender, to the creative process if nothing else -- I often found myself rooting for the writers as much as for the characters, and that was before the strike. Just when you think you've got it figured out, a monster made of smoke blows out of the verge or that hatch leads to a hepcat bachelor pad or it all turns out to be a big fertility experiment. But Kate and Jack, Jin and Sun, Sawyer and Hugo, Locke and Sayid, Claire and her baby, they're real enough and we want to see them through to the end. Or maybe (cue booming, eerie "Lost" soundtrack) the beginning. . . .
When: 9 to 10 tonight
Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)