After the first “pod” of Season Three failed to inspire viewers, Lost resumed its season in what might be a contrite mood. First, producers announced they are considering wrapping up the onetime ratings phenomenon as soon as next year, and more surprisingly, ABC executives haven’t dismissed the idea out of hand. Second, with fans frustrated at the show’s chronic lack of answers, the episode “Not in Portland” delivered some, however slight. The very desire for answers, however, strikes directly at the insular core of Lost: confined in space (though not time), the show relies on its expanding mythological narrative to maintain a storyline.
“Not in Portland” begins with the same sort of deliberate pacing that frustrated viewers this season. The teaser shows Juliet’s (Elizabeth Mitchell) pre-Other life, an angsty pharmaceutical drama that inched along until it ultimately revealed incidental details about her: she researched radical fertilization techniques and used her ailing sister as a guinea pig, her ex-husband (Zeljko Ivanek) was an amusingly callous subhuman (“Because you’re insufferable, and you’re mean… Well, you asked me for the truth, Mom”), she lived in Miami. The history led up to her recruitment by Mittelos Bioscience, supposedly a front for the DHARMA Initiative, all of which adds up to a relatively small bit of Lost mythology: yes, DHARMA exists in the real world.
To balance out the slow, piecemeal Juliet narrative, the little-o other part of the story — that is, the Jack (Matthew Fox), Sawyer (Josh Holloway), and Kate (Evangeline Lilly) triangle — provides more action-oriented spectacles: some chase scenes, Sawyer knocking an Other’s head into the electrified fish-biscuit dispenser, blood spurting from this-time-accidental artery-nicking, basket-weaving, Sawyer’s nicknames, physical intimidation with help from a shotgun aimed at a kneecap, and one Wookie Prisoner Gambit.
In the midst of all this mayhem, though, the couple’s plot was advanced as stingily as Juliet’s flashbacks; after being spirited away from their island by the Others at the end of Season Two, two of the three principal Losties are returning to their island again. In short, they’ve ended up back where they started, with possibly ex-Other Karl (Blake Bashoff) in tow, and Dr. Jock (maybe to become an Other?) left behind, and judging by the depressed ratings for “Not in Portland,” viewers weren’t satisfied with a qualified return to the status quo.
But even while blasts of action and humor are at best ancillary to the Lost mythology, they remain indispensable to enjoying the show on a weekly basis. The violence and black comedy in “Not in Portland” (e.g., Juliet’s ex-husband conveniently getting hit by a bus) were certainly inadequate substitutes for plot advancement, but they eased the show’s self-seriousness (see: Alias), preventing it from completely sliding into complete irrelevance or worse, tedium.