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February 4, 2008 |

By Daniel Carlson | Lost Recaps | February 4, 2008 |

“It feels like a hundred years ago that we came out here,” Jack says toward the end of the fourth-season premiere of “Lost,” and damn if he ain’t telling the truth. One of the admittedly many quirks of the series has been its gradual progression through an approximation of real time in the fictional universe while often dragging for ages through the seasons. The first episode of the new season, “The Beginning of the End,” takes place on the 93rd day of the survivors’ time on the island, but the pilot episode aired on Sept. 22, 2004 — three months doled out over the run of Bush’s second term. And even though “Lost” has had some missteps along the journey, including most of the repetitive and downright sleep-inducing second season, the show has recently managed to recapture most of the momentum and fun and sheer watchability of its early days. When “Lost” really fires on all cylinders, it works as a relatable drama, compelling mystery, and hypnotic puzzle all at once; basically, it’s the best pop TV show in years, and “Beginning of the End” was a solid episode with enough engaging moments to reassure viewers that there is an end in sight, and it’s gonna be big.

Last season’s finale, “Through the Looking Glass,” pretty much tipped the series’ storytelling universe on its ear by not using one of the flashbacks featured in every episode but instead using a flashforward to a future after Jack et al. had been rescued from Hell Island by, one assumes, the crew of the unseen but offshore tanker everybody was trying to radio for help at the end of last season. And “Beginning of the End” starts the only way it can: With another flashforward, this one showing a relatively dapper Jack in L.A. watching a car chase on TV. The driver turns out to be Hurley, who leads a pack of police cruisers on a dash through town before crashing and attempting to flee. All kinds of questions are running through my head at this point — is the same future as the last one, is it earlier/later in the future, etc. — but then Hurley gets himself arrested and starts howling, “Don’t you know who I am? I’m one of the Oceanic Six! I’m one of the Oceanic Six!” And this is when I just can’t help but think: I love this show. “Lost” just threw out another puzzle piece, and despite the (rightful) criticisms leveled against some of its expositional habits, it’s great at using dialogue in moments like this to suddenly blast open whole new unexplored story areas that you know will be important, but that for now remain something at which you can only guess. So right now it looks like only six people make it home, and then they wind up going back to maybe rescue everyone else. Theories?

After being interrogated by Ana Lucia’s partner, Hurley’s flashforward ends and the timeline reverts to the present. Back on the island, Kate and Jack and Sawyer and everyone else is still sweaty and unkempt and in various states of emotional and physical disrepair. Jack starts rounding everybody up and herding them toward the beach, where they’re set to be picked up by the as yet unseen members of the ship. (And yes, that voice on the other end of the phone is totally Fisher Stevens.) Down on the shore, Hurley and Bernard exchange some really awkward pleasantries, after which Hurley does a slow-mo run down the beach that’s so off-the-charts, unintentional hilarity-wise, that I almost passed out. Of course, my laughter died when the story took a hard left from Hurley’s Moment of Relative Peace to Hurley’s Moment of Deep Anguish when Desmond and his crew arrive on shore with the news that Charlie’s dead. Hurley takes this moment to grow a spine, chucking Sawyer’s radio into the ocean when Sawyer attempts to contact Jack, which Sayid says would alert the evil ship people in a bad way. Back in the jungle (again), after shipping everyone off to the beach, Jack teams up with Rousseau and Ben — who’s led around on a leash — to track the surprisingly non-dead Naomi, who didn’t let a knife in the back stop her from crawling off into the trees.

Hurley’s next couple flashforwards (flashes forward?): Safely confined in the nuthouse, Hurley seems content to wear a bathrobe and play Connect Four with other patients, which seems like a pretty nice vacation. But then he gets a visitor who sends him yelling across the room. Matthew Abaddon announces himself as an attorney for Oceanic, but tips his hand when he freaks out Hurley and everyone else by asking, “Are they still alive?” This is another great, chilling little moment that hints at what (depending on your perspective) will happen or has already happened, and how that will affect what will happen even further down the road. Later on, Hurley’s outside when he sees the vision that made him freak out back at the beginning of the episode: Charlie, acting as normal as ever. Hurley says, “You’re dead,” to which Charlie responds, “Yeah, but I’m still here.” He pushes Hurley to admit that “they” still need him, but before long Hurley closes his eyes and wishes Charlie away.

Back on the island, the main action follows three groups of castaways: Jack, Rousseau, and Ben, who are traipsing through the jungle on what turns out to be a false trail laid down by the wounded Naomi; Kate, who’s on the right trail and eventually finds a badly damaged and dying Naomi, who manages to fix the satellite phone and lying about the nature of her injury before croaking; and Hurley, Sawyer, Sayid, Jin, and probably a couple other people, who are on their way to meet up with everyone else. Sawyer, displaying the Tim Riggins kind of sensitive bad boy vibe that he’s really good at, approaches Hurley — whom he calls Hugo out of respect — and tries to make nice in the wake of Charlie’s death, but Hurley blows him off, so Sawyer leaves him be and catches up to the rest of the group. This is when “Lost” takes another hard left and gets really creepy, reaffirming that the show, which was already pretty dark, is going to get downright eerie from now on.

Hurley, lost in the jungle and just beginning to realize that this is a bad thing, hustles to catch up to Sawyer et al., only to come across Jacob’s Ghost Cabin. Hurley, having never seen a horror film and apparently struck with a momentary amnesia that’s blacked out the three increasingly disturbing months he’s spent on the island, approaches the cabin to look inside, where he sees an old man in a suit sitting in a rocking chair. I’m pretty sure it’s Jack’s dad, whose corpse has been missing since the crash, but before you can get a good look at it, someone else appears in the window and scares Hurley (and, let’s face it, me). Hurley turns and bolts, only to somehow once more run into the cabin, which can apparently move around willy-nilly like the Black Fortress of Krull. He shrieks, closes his eyes, and wishes the thing away, at which point John Locke reappears, helps him up and escorts him on his way.

The various search/evacuation parties all eventually meet up at the same spot in the jungle, which is another one of those “Lost” quirks that’s necessary to overlook in order to have a good time. But everyone finds everyone else, at which point Jack and Locke have another speech-off to see who gets control of the castaways’ collective fates, with Jack saying they should go with the ship and Locke saying that the ship is bad mojo. Hurley speaks up and sides with Locke, reasoning that Charlie’s dying act of warning must mean that the people on the boat are not who they say they are, or at any rate aren’t who the castaways believe them to be. The group splits up, with Hurley, Sawyer, Claire, Rousseau, Ben, Alex, Alex’s boyfriend, and various extras siding with Locke, while Kate, Rose, Bernard, and some other folks go with Jack. A storm breaks, the rain falling down as if washing away the relationships that had built up while the group splinters again. It’s also great that, for the thousandth time, the conflict is basically back down to Jack and Locke, who have always battled for emotional control of the castaways with the slick mind games usually reserved for political battles. It’s not that Locke wants to harm them; he legitimately believes he can and will do the group good, and good vs. evil isn’t nearly as interesting as misguided good vs. misguided good. Jack and Locke are on the same team, but will never realize it, and that makes their struggle an epic one.

The final flashforward sees Jack visiting Hurley at the nuthouse, where they play an awkward game of horse. Jack says while they play, “I’m thinking of growing a beard,” and while on one level it’s just a moderately dumb bit of exposition meant to remind people that this future is before the one we saw in the third season finale, it works on a whole other level by cementing the future(s) as real. “Through the Looking Glass” was the first episode to use the future visions, and for all its style and power, it still could have been written off as a one-time gimmick meant to hint at a possible outcome of the events on the island. But by continuing to utilize the glimpses of the future, the writers and producers are saying that the future they’re showing for these characters is a real one, and will matter every bit in the coming months and years to the story. Like it or not, everything here is really happening.

Anyway: Jack, who’s apparently gotten really creepy since escaping, has a pretty blunt talk with Hurley. Hurley accuses Jack of just checking in on him to see he’s going to “tell,” to which Jack responds, “Are you?” The nature of what happened, and what the Oceanic Six are keeping secret, is of course still in the dark, but it’s clearly eating Hurley up from the inside just as we know it eventually will do to Jack, who in “Looking Glass” was an unshaven bundle of nerves all keen on going back to the island. But that was then, and later, and this is now, and before. Hurley looks at Jack and says, “I’m sorry I went with Locke. … I don’t think we did the right thing, Jack. I think it wants us to come back.” Jack yells, “We’re never going back!” At which point Hurley, as you knew he would, says, “Never say never.” The scene is quick, weird, and ominous: In other words, right in the wheelhouse.

The show’s ending cliffhanger — because every episode must end on one — features a man parachuting out of a helicopter and landing near Jack and Kate, who’ve been reminiscing by the creepy wreckage of the fuselage. The man, presumably with the rescue ship, is played by Jeremy Davies, which is shorthand that he will most likely be up to no good: Whether it’s freeing the wrong German in Saving Private Ryan or going crazy in Solaris (or Rescue Dawn, or Helter Skelter, for goodness’ sake), Davies is never helpful. I don’t know what’s gonna happen, but I know it’ll be bad. And that’s what “Lost” is bravely doing now by broadening the story, sketching a rough outline for an ending, and using the flashforwards: It’s no longer building on the survivors’ past traumas as a way to illustrate their current plights, but showing how things will end up for some of them and then milking that suspense for all it’s worth. We don’t have to wonder if Hurley’s siding with Locke will go poorly; years later, he has himself committed and begins to cry just thinking about what he did. “Lost” has now swung around on itself completely. Instead of going forward by looking at the past, it’s coming to an end by looking at the future. And I know I’ll be there for every step.

Daniel Carlson is the managing editor of Pajiba and a low-level employee at a Hollywood industry magazine. You can visit his blog, Slowly Going Bald.

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