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Plunging Back in The 'Lost' Maze

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By Tamara Jones
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 31, 2008

Eight months without an episode and "Lost" returns with an opening shot of a pile of pears? No, wait, maybe those are potatoes. What does breadfruit look like? Perplexity is such a Pavlovian response to ABC's megahit mystery that even a still life stirs anxiety.

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That produce pyramid gets blown to smithereens soon enough, though, and we're happily trapped again beneath the huge, delicious mess of TV's most aptly named series when it returns tonight for a fourth season.

Fans have been stranded longer than the castaways on "Lost's" creepy South Seas island, and the first two of 16 promised episodes this season -- only half are in the can -- speed the complicated plot along with little mercy for stragglers. Hurley, left behind on yet another trek through the jungle, utters the best deadpan prelude of the whiplash twists and turns to come:

"Uh-oh."

A special hour-long recap will precede tonight's season opener, a vital cheat-sheet given the show's large cast and the writers' penchant for flashbacks, mini-stories and deeply drawn-then-gone characters (write when you find work, Mr. Eko!).

(For the determined newcomers who need a prep course before attempting even the recap: Some 40 survivors are stranded after a Los Angeles-bound jetliner crashes. The core group of castaways discovers the remnants of a cultish research station, where they become the next experiment for the human-but-ruthless Others. Fighting for control of the island and its strange powers, Survivors and Others commingle in unexpected ways, leaving it unclear whether members on either side are turning traitor, playing spy or falling in love. Think "Gilligan's Island" gone terribly wrong. Martooni, Lovey?)

Last season's thrilling finale had the survivors making radio contact with a freighter and awaiting imminent rescue. Charlie, the junkie rock star, sacrificed himself to unjam the radio signal; his dying act was to try to warn them that the putative rescuers weren't what they seemed. The cliffhanger was a flash-forward of protagonist Jack (Matthew Fox) back home as a suicidal, pill-popping surgeon who is the sole mourner at a funeral where he identifies himself as neither friend nor family of the deceased.

Message boards and bloggers went wild with speculation over who was in the casket. (Was it Walt, the missing mystic boy? Or Ben, puppetmaster of the Others, his evil Orphan Annie circle-eyes closed forever?) We know only that it's not Kate (Evangeline Lilly), since Jack summons her to the airport for a tense parking-lot rendezvous. She has clearly built an apres-island happily-ever-after without him, and seems unswayed by Jack's desperate insistence that they "have to go baaaaaaack" to the island. The implication is that some horrible mistake has been made and must be undone.

The fate of some of the Oceanic 815 survivors is hinted at, but not revealed -- the series creators have declared the show will end in May 2010, after three more seasons of 16 episodes each -- and only one key character is followed into the future for more than a moment.

ABC released the two-episode preview with so many restrictions that it's nearly impossible to describe how the plot advances, but the inventive writers haven't done away with certain "Lost" givens:

¿ When there's a choice of two paths to take, Kate will defy Jack to follow one of them on her own, ever the headstrong (and kind of murderous) Nancy Drew in a clingy sweat-stained tank top instead of penny loafers and plaid skirt.


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