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Second excellent "Lost" in as many weeks, and in the real world outside the show has returned to its comfortable cultural equilibrium. At the beginning of the season it seemed like ABC was doing everything in its power to reach first-season viewers who'd abandoned ship somewhere along the way. Ratings would suggest that the effort didn't take, and the show is back to being obsessed about by those who bought in a long time ago and avoided by all else. Even friends of mine who've never watched it seem afraid to begin.
Well, it is definitely worth watching. I'd say it's even worth the investment of taking the time to absorb all of the first three seasons, even with the parent network running spoon-feeding recap specials on a week-to-week basis. What's particularly distinctive about "Lost" right now is the way it's subtly, necessarily, and yet surprisingly changed its question-to-answer ratio. We know stuff for sure now! In the first season there was complete confusion about how many distinctive groups were operating on the island -- a more complicated question than it seemed then because of the island's flavorful history and its habit of bringing people from different times into the same space. But now we have a filled-in timeline with some understanding of the Dharma Initiative, the Others, the pseudo-Others (folks like Ben and Juliet recruited from the outside world for some reason or another), Team Rousseau, the freighter folk, and the two now three distinct groups of plane crash survivors.
So the major questions of seasons four and five have involved powers outside the island, and the picture has grown clearer: Widmore planted the fake plane and hired Lt. Daniels to follow the Oceanic 6 around, Ben killed Locke and Abbadon and sent the authorities (?) after Kate's baby. Locke, figuring out that Christian Shephard was aboard Flight 815 as a corpse and very much alive afterward on the island, resolved to die as the only means of bringing Jack on board with is plan to return. (Which worked great. Watching the Season 3 finale again right after the new episode shed a whole new light on it, and also reminded me I don't give enough credit to the cast of "Lost" for continually having to emotionally react to things that haven't happened yet.) Ben talked out Locke out of suicide just to string him along enough to extract one vital piece of information and then killed him in cold blood. I love Ben. He's so much smarter than everyone else on the show.
And everywhere loose ends come together: Locke's one chance at love in the real world has an endpoint now, or at least a tombstone. (Very possibly faked by Widmore's people, but a good catch by the writers to have Locke at least explore the possiblity before committing himself to die for the island.) Walt having been used as a pawn for a time but never actually committing himself voluntarily to island's intrigues is free to live off of it with Locke's blessing; his father was compromised (obviously) and had to return there to die. Or the polar bears in Tunisia. You have to be hip to a number of minor points of "Lost" mythology for that one to scan: the Dharma Initiative used polar bears for experiments, for some reason. There's a wheel on the island that sends things to Tunisia. The recently deceased Charlotte Lewis found a polar bear skeleton there on an excavation. So when you see Locke lying on the ground in the desert with a camera pointing at him (one not there when Ben emerged at the same point three years beforehand), you know exactly what's going on. And who put the camera there? Well, either Widmore or Ben. In an earlier era the writers would have left that hanging just to increase confusion for its own sake. Nowadays, two scenes later Widmore himself admits to placing the surveillance.
The other thing that would have been terribly confusing a few seasons ago about the "Jeremy Bentham" episode is the means by which the Oceanic 6 survivors left the plane. The survivors of the new crash, who meet Locke on the beach (they weren't really given a lot of time to play it, because like the show needs yet another faction's agenda at this point, but imagine from their perspective the extreme weirdness of a guy coming out of the ocean, claiming to be both back from the dead and utterly unsurprised about where he is now), actually crashed. Some saw Hurley, Jack, Sun, Sayid, or Kate disappearing.
This shouldn't be confusing now! That group was in a lifeboat just a little off the coast of the island when Ben turned the freeze-wheel for the first time. They were between the freighter and the shore. Jin was in the water immediately adjacent to the freighter (thus further away from the island than the lifeboat group) and we've already seen that the time jumps, prefaced by a blinding flash of light, affect Jin along with Sawyer, Juliet, Locke and the others who were left behind when Jack and the others escape. Therefore, within a certain range of the island (Locke after leaving stopped being affected by time shifts) those who were present when the island first "vanished" will be subject to the flashes. A flash occurred when the plane was within range, and that brings us to where are now.
What happened to Lapidus, the pilot? Logic suggests he must have disappeared as well. That would explain why the plane crashed, if not how he got back to the beach (the passenger to whom Locke spoke said the pilot was with their group but had left). But notably, Ben did not arrive on the island in a flash like the other established characters. He crashed with the plane. He wasn't supposed to be on the plane (they were supposed to recreate the original flight and Ben watched 815 go down from the island) and he didn't know about the Looking Glass station (he fooled Locke into thinking he could return without dying to get that information). He isn't affected by the flashy time shifts because he was the one who started them, by turning the wheel. When the force that gave Jin, Sawyer, Faraday, and everyone else the Billy Pilgrims did its thing, Ben was already in Tunisia.
So... we have the heroes of the Oceanic crash reunited, but skipping in time along with what remains of the freighter group (including probably Lapidus). We have Ben, having gamed the system and gotten back to the island even though it's possible he was telling the truth when he told Locke earlier that the process of "hiding" the island would cost him the ability to return. Ben lies consistently and reflexively, but only when it is in his best interest to do so. Although it certainly would have swayed Locke to help Ben get to the Orchid station if he thought that doing so would get the little troll out of his life for good, for all we know at the time Ben could have believed it to be true. If Locke and everyone else who was on or near the island shortly after Ben left via freeze wheel is still skipping in time, Ben is going to have a lot of time alone and unsupervised with a terrified and paranoid new plane crash group.
So... you can actually tell where they're going with this, for the first time in forever. But that's fine. Having watched it on a week-to-week since the beginning of Season Two, I can say that "Lost" is more fun right now that in has been at any point during that time. The path is all laid out, but only if you've absorbed and are willing to continue re-viewing and studying many old episodes. Instead of rewarding obsession with more confusion, they're paying off the trainspotters from here on out. On behalf of the rest of my kind, I'm very grateful to the "Lost" brain trust.