For weeks, ABC hyped the Season Four premiere of Lost as an oasis in these dry, writers-struck times. Along with the dramatic trailers came Cliffs Notes-style primers, complete with pithy pop-up commentary. As much as these clip shows aimed to indoctrinate newcomers to the series and reignite the juggernaut of the first season, they also seemed yet another effort to make up the series’ perennial problem of disappearing for months at a time. But I’m beginning to think that Lost really isn’t all that complicated at all. It’s possible we’ve been had.

Sometime between Hurley’s (Jorge Garcia) car chase and Naomi’s (Marsha Thomason) unlikely resurrection, it occurred to me that I’m never going to get satisfactory answers to Lost‘s fast-accumulating questions. And yet, there I was, glued hooey-blooey to my set, waiting for something, anything to happen.

Last week’s season premiere was astoundingly unremarkable. It opened on a flash-forward of Hurley having a freak-out in a convenience store. Forty minutes later, the cause was revealed: he had spotted Charlie (Dominic Monaghan), who perished in an underwater Dharma station in last season’s finale. The exchange between Hurley and his dead friend was full of mysterious allusions (“They need you, Hurley”), exactly the sort of aphoristic nonsense that frustrates me about the show. There’s more pressing business to resolve on the island before the dead start roaming Los Angeles in the future.

And indeed, things weren’t going well in the present. After John Locke (Terry O’Quinn) impaled Naomi at the close of last season, leaving her for dead as he and Jack (Matthew Fox) had their showdown, she managed to crawl away with the all-important satellite phone. Though Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick) warned that the freighter Naomi contacted was not interested in rescue, it wasn’t exactly a nail-biter as to whether they’d finally get off the island. Even less surprising: the group divided into two factions: Locke’s people headed to the barracks to hide from Naomi’s gang, while Jack’s headed to the beach to await rescue by the dubious freighter.

Even with this plot already revealed, the premiere’s flash-forwards revealed scant information. When Hurley exclaimed to onlookers as he was arrested that he was part of “The Oceanic Six,” we could only guess, given that we’ve seen Jack and Kate (Evangeline Lily) in the future, who would comprise the remaining three. Only it didn’t appear that simple: Jack and Hurley have both talked about wanting to “go back,” as if they left other survivors behind. That the Six had to forfeit others for their own rescue seems plausible, especially considering that Jack showed he was capable of making such a decision when he fired a pistol at Locke point-blank, only to realize that the gun wasn’t loaded. If this premiere had an illuminating moment exposing Jack’s unraveling integrity, I believe that was it.

Fallen heroes aside, Lost is looking shabby elsewhere as well. A true letdown, considering the series once boasted great sets and innovative cinematography (remember those cool “running in place” shots in Season One?). But it opened this season looking almost threadbare, especially during the “exciting” car chase, which lacked any visual dash and daring, focusing instead on going to great lengths to conceal the driver until the last possible moment.

These sorts of aesthetic decisions say everything about what Lost chooses to privilege, namely, appearing mysterious when convenient, instead of actually being mysterious when necessary. A case in point was the irritatingly instructive, even invasive, score, which careened straight into melodrama instead of intrigue, particularly during the group’s pathos-filled reunion on the beach. And, when news of Charlie’s death spread across Hurley’s face like a bout with Bell’s Palsy, it seemed that no effort was made to reign it in and ask the appropriate important questions. My first thought: why is the group so quick to believe Desmond’s account of Charlie’s death? He was, of course, the only one there. It appears that Lost wants us to overthink everything, but refuses to do the same.

RATING 4 / 10