If it didn’t happen, it can’t happen.
— Daniel Faraday (Jeremy Davies)
I always chuckle when I hear the announcer say, “Previously on Lost…” Those three words can only sound preposterous, because trying to condense the series’ Möbius strip of a plot into any tidy summary is impossible. The Lost mythology has long folded back in on itself, revising and shifting and yet still always expanding. The island’s playful verisimilitude echoes the richest H.G. Wells novel, and ethical dilemmas seem culled from the quick-draw sci-fi philosophy of Philip K. Dick. This is old news to fans, who have from the start tried to stitch together the many thematic cross-references and plot pieces (thanks, Lostpedia). This despite the series’ tendency to undo all that it’s done with one crank of a frozen donkey wheel or the push of a button every 108 minutes.
As the fifth season begins, this structural fluidity — what makes Lost so exciting and unlike anything else on network TV — has been pushed to the forefront. That’s right: we’re officially talking time travel.
I’ll say upfront that time travel theory makes my brain hurt. There are so many contradictions and possible outcomes that trying to hold on to any fixed idea (much less reality) becomes exasperating. Luckily, Lost has brought in time-traveling veteran and Dharma Initiative physicist Daniel Faraday (Jeremy Davies) to establish some “rules that can’t be broken.” The primary rule is that time is linear, and even when the island skips from one time to another, you cannot change the past as it’s already occurred: according to Faraday, “Whatever happened, happened.” And for the survivors of Oceanic 815, that’s quite a lot.
Last week’s two-hour season opener opted for an obscure character reveal. The clock struck 8:15 (oh, you’re all just so clever) and a couple woke to care for their infant, to the tune of a skipping Willie Nelsen record (again, clever). The surprise was that this domestic bliss belonged to the multiple-aliased Dr. Marvin Candle (François Chau), that smug doctor first seen in Season Two on the Dharma Initiative instruction videos, the one who always gets interrupted by a fissure in the tape or an extraordinary discovery right before he’s about to impart some essential bit of knowledge. This time the disruption came in the form of a melted drill, which after coming too darn close to the island’s limitless energy source — which allows for the manipulation of time — threatened to end the world. In fact, the premiere began and ended with seemingly credible threats of apocalyptic annihilation, simultaneously too vague to be scary and too insistent to be dismissed.
What happened between these bookends was pretty much more of the same. Ben (Michael Emerson) and Jack (Matthew Fox) spent too long discussing their plan to bring Locke’s corpse (Terry O’Quinn) and the rest of the Oceanic Six — Sun (Yunjin Kim), Sayid (Naveen Andrews), Kate (Evangeline Lilly), Hurley (Jorge Reyes, and wee Aaron (William Blanchette) — back to island, a reunion necessary to avoid that world-ending disaster. Per usual, Ben was coy and withholding, Jack, self-righteous and vacant. The theme of the skipping record found its way off the island: as Jack wheeled Locke out of the funeral home, it was hard not to remember his last trip to the island, his father’s corpse in tow. More self-referential cleverness, you see.
And what of the Oceanic Six? Well, while Kate had little Aaron in front of a TV while she furrowed her brows at a series of events. A knock at her door by two lawyers demanding a blood sample indicated that someone important knows that Aaron is not really her son. She shooed them away and then did what Kate does best: she ran. Soon enough, she found herself in the hotel room of another one of the Six: Sun, now a business mogul and fairly badass to boot. With Aaron napping in the background, Sun suggested that Kate — you know, if she were a real mother — should stop at nothing, even murder, to keep him. “You’ve done it before,” Sun reminded her. (That is, Sun holds Kate responsible for Jin’s death on the island.)
While the ladies drank tea, Hurley, of all people, saw the most action. Freshly escaped from the asylum, he’s wanted for murder, and so Sayid swooped in to take him to a “safe” house. The rescue featured Sayid’s “crazy ninja moves and spy stuff,” as Hurley put it, but ended with Sayid taking several tranquilizer darts in the back, and Hurley having to opt for the safety of his own family’s house. Here, Hurley’s father (Cheech Marin) offered comic relief, but it was Hurley’s confession to his mother (Lillian Hurst) that stole the premiere’s second half. Distraught over the lie that the Six opted to tell the media and authorities (that Hurley and Sayid were the only survivors and that the fake crash site full of nameless exhumed Cambodians isn’t a huge Charles Whidmore-funded cover-up), Hurley reached out to his mother. His effort to summarize the story thus far was odd and affecting, and the mother-son exchange was easily the most touching of the two hours.
At the same time (if time means anything), things chugged along on the island, even if its temporal hiccups were too often reduced to flip dialogue (“When are we?” was the annoying question du jour). Sawyer (Josh Holloway) needed a shirt. Juliet (Elizabeth Mitchell) almost became a lefty. Charlotte (Rebecca Mader) had a nosebleed and a headache. Bernard (Sam Anderson) was outed as a failed boy scout. Frogurt (Sean Whalen) took a well-timed flaming arrow to the chest. It all culminated with a military-looking unit of unidentified British-accented hostiles taking Sawyer and Juliet hostage and proclaiming it was their island. Talk about a skipping record — we’ve definitely heard that before.