[29 May 2008]
Let’s begin with a flashback to one of the most famous flash-forwards in TV history.
The night is May 23, 2007, and about 14 million or so jaws have just hit the floor at the same moment. Jack Shephard (Matthew Fox) - bearded, soused, full of sound and fury - is screaming at Kate (Evangeline Lilly), “We have to go back ... we have to go back.”
Back - he means - to the island. Back to the past. Back to some answers.
At that very moment, it became perfectly obvious to viewers that “Lost” was suddenly in a world it had never been in before: The future. Key characters had gotten off the island and just to up the ante - as though enough antes hadn’t already been upped by this startling fact - the man who had apparently led them off now wanted to go back to that homicidal-smoke-spewing, Others-infested, electro-magnetized wackjob of a place.
One uses the word “bombshell” advisedly when discussing finales, but the final episode of “Lost” was the bombshell di tutti bombshells in the 2007 season. TV’s greatest shaggy dog story had just grown much shaggier. Still picking up their jaws, fans were suddenly presented with a thousand more questions, as if (say) 500 hadn’t been perfectly adequate to that point.
Most shows that head-game their audience to this degree can usually discover one or (possibly) two consequences, both related: Mass confusion, ultimately followed by inglorious cancellation. But something else happened to “Lost” in 2008. This show became bigger, richer, deeper and indisputably smarter. “Lost” is now the best show on television, period. This fabulous tapestry of allusion and illusion has engaged its fan base in a way that is almost impossible to explain to the bemused (or appalled) nonbeliever.
Let’s just call it an “obsession.” All thanks to a little ol’ flash-forward, or two.
Nevertheless, as “Lost” wraps a strike-abbreviated fourth season (9 p.m. EDT Thursday, ABC), this presents both a blessing and curse, to ABC, the creators, fans and newbies.
Foremost, there’s little point in trying to hitch a ride now. If you’re not a Lostie by this point, don’t even bother. “Lost” is steaming toward a conclusion (just about 35 or so episodes from now) that will make only the true believers perfectly happy. To accomplish this, an insanely complex mythology must be unraveled. (There’s barely enough time left to do that, which is why a “Lost” movie is starting to make sense.)
Meanwhile, for the fans, anything short of a miracle Thursday night will be a letdown. Though “Lost” spoilers are floated with caution because they can turn out to be so dead wrong, Thursday’s “There’s No Place Like Home” may resolve the story line that leads Jack to want to go back to the island. If so, this could mean an answer to one of the grandest “Lost” puzzles of them all. (Who lies in the coffin?)
The episode may then reveal how the Oceanic 6 gets back to the island - let’s call this a flash-forward flash-forward - then the show may zap back in time to explain how the Oceanic 6 got off the island in the first place (a flashback flash-forward).
So here’s a guarantee. Thursday’s finale will be a joy ride. Just keep the Excedrin close by.
SO MANY QUESTIONS. WHERE TO BEGIN?
As “Lost” ends a glorious fourth season, here are just a handful of brainteasers raised in recent episodes that may or may not be answered Thursday night:
OK, we give up - Who is in that coffin?
Is Claire (Emelie de Ravin) dead or alive?
Why is Jack/Claire’s dad, Christian Shephard (John Terry) so tight with Jacob?
When Richard Alpert (Nestor Carbonell) gave the young John Locke a series of objects to chose from (in the first hour of the three-hour finale, “There’s No Place Like Home”), what was the book he placed before him?
Why does Jack want to go back to the island?
What exactly is the “Orchid?”
When Ben (Michael Emerson) was in the desert (during a flash-forward sequence this season) why did he have an Orchid jacket on (and what did the word “Halliwax” mean)?
Why does Charles Widmore (Alan Dale) have it out for Ben?
When does Hurley actually take the Camaro - the one he jumped out of when he saw the numbers on the odometer - for a wild joy ride, which is how this season began?
Who exactly is Matthew Abaddon (Lance Reddick)?
Where is Walt (Malcolm David Kelley)?