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Dave Roepke, Published January 15 2009

Return of ‘Lost’ promises more drama, questions

The fifth season of ABC’s sci-fi island drama “Lost,” my favorite still-airing TV show, is six days away from starting, and I’m getting twitchy.

This is partially because the fourth season ended with an intense cliffhanger – the island disappeared – and eight months is a long time to wonder. I’m yelling “Marco” inside my mind, straining to hear the island’s “Polo.”

(Pre-emptive nerd-out: So my theory is it had to move in time, because of the clip of the rabbit shown before Ben went down and turned the ancient icy magic wheel. Also, questions that must be answered soon: Why does Richard not age? How was Locke tapped as special from birth, and why is he dead now under a different name? What are the very bad things that happened after The Oceanic Six left, and why does them going back change anything? And finally, the numbers’ meaning, the four-toed statue, Jacob, Widmore, the nature and source of the island’s mojo: What gives?)

Yet figuring that stuff out isn’t what has me most psyched. I’m in countdown mode because it sounds like the elaborate tale will be unfurling in a new way again.

One of the show’s creators, Damon Lindelhof, says in a wire story in today’s Life section that the show is taking on “a new model in terms of the way we tell stories.” Of course, there’s little further explanation.

Were he a writer from any other program, I’d chalk this up as pretentious bluster. But “Lost” has a history of yanking the narrative rug from underfoot, and its storytelling tricks are its saving grace.

Yeah, the show’s a doozy of a mystery, but it’s the wrong kind of mystery for optimal appeal. Whether it’s “Law and Order,” “House,” every reality show ever made, a two-year presidential election or one of the 57 flavors of “CSI,” the couch-bound like guessing. But they prefer resolution by the end of the hour, unless it’s eventually mandated by the U.S. Constitution or the relevant tribal council.

“Lost” takes the riskier torture-drip route of lots of questions and a syrup-slow deployment of answers, a recipe for cancellation before the full reveal. Even when serial shows make it – “Twin Peaks” and “X-Files,” looking at you – the supposed ah-ha is too often blah-blah-blah. People who dig this sort of stuff are wary of the series-long set-up.

Despite many other upsides – beautiful setting with lightly clothed beautiful people never hurts – it is the structure of “Lost” that helps it overcome the inherent frustration of unrewarded tantalization.

For the first three seasons, it seemed rigid. Each show started and ended with a plot burst, with flashbacks and other exposition in between.

Then near the end of season three, when the rabbit hole was getting deep enough to be too dark, ABC said it would be over after six seasons. The end wasn’t near, but at least it was. At the same time, the show began flashing forward as often as it flashed back.

It’s a gimmick, but it’s a good one. Before, viewers were struggling with a jigsaw puzzle that came with no box and hence no picture. The forward jumps and the end date are that box, albeit one with a blurry photo, assuring fans and letting the writers work from both ends of the story for maximum effect.

Now the storytelling rules will supposedly change again. How? No clue. Betchya it involves time travel, though.

I can’t wait. And when the credits start rolling I imagine I’ll immediately reach for my DVD remote and try to skip to the start of the next episode. It really stings when you realize it’s a week until the next one.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at droepke@forumcomm.com