Coming into “Confidence Man,” Sayid has been KO’d by a branch, the transceiver destroyed. Meanwhile, Shannon’s inhalers have gone missing and she’s having trouble breathing. Sawyer has an alibi for the knockout, but Shannon’s brother Boone is convinced he’s behind the theft of the medicine.

And he’s got good reason. After Kate approaches him, Sawyer shows her a letter from a boy whose father was bilked by Sawyer, then killed himself and the kid’s mom. In flashback, we see Sawyer’s a confidence man. He beds a fine young lady and deftly manipulates her into pledging her husband’s money into a phony oil drilling investment. After a meeting with the husband in which Sawyer tries to walk away, the husband is ready to hand his money over to the man who’s seduced his wife. “Seduced” here means “sexed the hell out of.”

How do they attempt to wrestle the inhalers out of Sawyer? By siccing Sayid in him. Who, in addition to being a communications officer with the Iraqi Republican Guard, also did some torturing. His methods on Sawyer are blunt and to the point: sharpened bamboo under the fingernails. And then threat of knife to the eye. That’s enough for Sawyer. After coercing a kiss from Kate, he confesses he never had the inhalers in the first place. She discovers the letter wasn’t to Sawyer, it was from him; in trying to track down the fraud who ruined his family, he wound up becoming him. A disbelieving Sayid stabs him. After Jack saves Sawyer, Sayid, disgraced by his own actions, exiles himself to map the island shores.

Zero movement on the supernatural front in “Confidence Man,” then. Instead, we get a look under the hood of fully human bad guy Sawyer, who, as a tall, impossibly muscly, stubbly, long-haired blonde, shattered the glass ceiling for tall, light hunks everywhere and set the stage for True Blood‘s Eric.

The flashbacks and characterization are once again thorough yet unexpected, giving us a strong understanding of one of the leads while fleshing him out beyond the stereotype, humanizing Sawyer as a rough man driven by a much softer heart. After being stabbed, he wants to die–in fact, I thought it was pretty obvious he didn’t have the inhalers and was instead seeking punishment while forcing Dudley Do-Right Jack and others to confront the fact the world’s a pretty mean place so you got to be mean, too.

That predictability may be why I was left a little disappointed with “Confidence Man,” as if Lost has a pretty good trick when it comes to its characters, but that’s the only one it’s got. On the other hand, the career of M. Night Shyamalan proves unpredictability and twists can’t carry a story on their own; plenty of worn-out plots have made for pretty great stories. Still, Lost has, by its 8th episode, already established a pattern it seems content to repeat without pushing itself, and that can’t help but lead to diminishing returns.

On the other hand, it’s not afraid to push some serious damn buttons. An Iraqi soldier torturing an American civilian? It’s totally removed from the context of war, sure, but even so–that’s bold. Doubly so for a colossal mainstream network drama airing its first season just ~18 months after the (new) Iraq War began. Whether the incorporation of elements like that is insightful or exploitive depends entirely on the handling, of course. So far, Lost is somewhere in the middle of that range; Sayid’s former enemy soldier isn’t so far shedding any light on anything, but he’s definitely no mustache-twirling caricature, either. Frankly, he’s interesting just by virtue of being there at all.

I feel like “Confidence Man” might be an extremely illuminating episode of Lost as a whole. Strip away the monsters, the strangeness, and the mythology, and what do you have? Decent characters told well with just a little bit of edge to it. In other words, enjoyable enough–but without the Smoke Monster, there’s no chance I’d be writing about this show nearly a year and a half after its final episode aired.

“Pilot Part 2.” Yes. Ten times yes. If all episodes of everything were as good as “Pilot Part 2,” there would be no more episodes of anything, as we would have all merged with our couches and been eaten by our starving pets. But until our undignified end as the smell on a puppy’s breath, it would be glorious.

Two episodes in, Lost is firing on all cylinders plotwise. After scuffling with Sayid over the transceiver they need to contact help (and the interesting revelation Sayid was a member of the Iraqi Republican Guard), Sawyer leads an expedition inland for high ground and better reception–and winds up shooting a charging polar bear. In the middle of the damn jungle. Sure, grolar bears can live in less-frigid climes, but I have this funny feeling that’s not what’s going on here. Also I’ve watched enough nature documentaries to know polar bears can swim like hell, but I’m guessing the Island, wherever it may be, isn’t quite in spitting distance of Alaska.

Oh, and when the makeshift team gets to high ground? They discover their signal’s being blocked by another. It’s in French. It says she’s alone and the others have all been killed. And it’s been repeating for over a decade.

To sum up–the plane crash survivors aren’t the first on the island. They have no way to contact help. And whatever killed the French woman and her people, you can bet it’ll be coming for Jack, Kate, Charlie, Sawyer, and all the rest right quick.

Oh, and Charlie is a heroin addict and Kate was the criminal in cuffs being transported by the U.S. marshal.

Holy shit. It’s no surprise Lost is rocking on the plot. This is a high-concept show driven by mysterious supernatural forces in the confines of an unknown island. What’s really impressive here is how the show isn’t at all coy with its characters’ histories. This seems like it should be elementary. To get really involved in a show, you have to be able to know the people it’s following. But you contrast this with a show like Jericho, a show inspired by Lost which got off to a strong start but was canceled midway through its second season, and it’s night and day. Jericho tried to milk all the suspense and hooks it could from the oh-so-mysterious pasts of its two leads (played by Skeet Ulrich and Lennie James). It hardly told us a damn thing about them until halfway into the first season. Who are these two guys? Why do they know so much? Where did they learn to kick all this ass? Fun questions for a few episodes. By the time you’re eight-ten deep, those questions dwindle to a single one: Ah, who gives a shit?

That’s not what Lost is doing. Lost could have played up the mystery of the missing prisoner for several episodes. It could have stretched out that one thing over an entire season if it wanted. Instead, it’s (almost completely) answered over the span of “Pilot Part 2.”

It’s Kate. She fled to Australia to escape prosecution in the U.S., then got turned in by a kindly farmer who couldn’t resist the reward. The episode does a nice job playing on our expectations here; at one scene, Kate’s going through some money stashed away, and I’m pretty sure we’re supposed to think she’s stealing from the nice older man who gave her a room and a job. Instead, it’s the money she earned. The show can’t help itself from holding back the question of whether she’s guilty of the crime she’s wanted for, which kind of irks me. When you’re juggling so many other unknowns, you have to reveal some things or we’ll start to resent the show for being one big tease. But it’s kind of true that, as Jack decides, it doesn’t matter. What matters is they’re trapped on the island and they need to trust each other to survive. On the other hand, he clearly wants to jump all over Kate, and learning for a fact that she’s a murderer or what have you could definitely be a boner-wilter.

So is Jack doing right, prioritizing the here and now rather than the past? Or is he letting his thing for Kate cloud his judgment? At this point, either would fit his character. Could be both. Can’t say. But I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more of this decision and its consequences down the road.

And I can say why Lost was such a smash. Right off the bat, we have people struggling with compelling, unknown, dangerous circumstances–and we have reasons to care about how they do.

That’s an incredibly basic formula, which makes it a constant surprise that other shows, movies, and books don’t even seem to be trying. Then again, maybe they are trying, and it’s just a whole lot harder than it looks. Maybe that’s why the ones that get it right connect so hard.

Somehow I watched “House of the Rising Sun” without taking down any notes. Or possibly I accidentally deleted them all, having thought I’d already written about it. This means either a) it was so great I had to watch the next episode immediately or b) so disposable I forgot that I hadn’t even said anything about it yet because there was nothing to say in the first place.

This episode takes a look at the isolationist Korean couple, kicking off with an apparently unprovoked and brutal attack of Michael by Jin-Soo Kwon. Neither he nor his wife Sun-Hwa can explain–neither speaks English.

Jin, to this point, has been a fairly large asshole. Not large enough to drop a bowling ball through, but he could handle a coffee cup with no problem. He spends most of his time bossing his wife around, correcting her modesty, and then reminding her he loves her. (In fairness, there was that one cool sequence a few episodes back where he harvested urchins and brought their meat to the others.)

Once upon a time, though, Jin was a humble waiter. In flashbacks, we see how he wound up married to Sun, the daughter of a very rich (and, it’s implied, fairly dangerous) businessman. Jin’s not intimidated. He speaks to her father, gets permission to marry her. Gets taken into the family business. He does well at whatever it is he does–sometimes coming home covered in blood–and along the way, transforms from a charming, down and out young man to a callous, rich, wife-stomping (metaphorically) prick. In fact, at the airport where they wound up boarding the doomed flight, Sun was about to run away from him forever. She changes her mind, however, when he flashes a remnant of his old ways; instead of sneaking off, she boards the flight with him.

On the island, it turns out Sun speaks English. And that Jin is outraged that Michael has her father’s watch, which he’d found in the wreckage. Michael approaches Jin, who’s been handcuffed to part of the wreck, and angrily returns the watch.

Meanwhile! The others have been exploring the caves, finding food and water. Oh, and two corpses who have been in their current corpsey state for decades. Locke and Charlie have begun to bond when Locke reveals he knows Charlie’s in heroin withdrawals–but if he gives up his stash, the island will bring him his lost guitar, which Charlie claims to miss even more than the drugs. Charlie hands over his ball of dope. Locke points up, where the guitar’s hanging from a tree.

Yet all is not so sunny in Lost-land. Jack thinks they should move into the caves rather than constantly shlepping water to the beach, but others, Kate among them, thinks they need to remain on the beach on the lookout for rescue. The survivors split roughly in half, some going to the cage, the others remaining on the shore.

Good episode. Not much in the way of island-development other than the bodies and the stones on them, though. One rock’s black, the other’s white. Parallels to Locke’s little backgammon scene in the first episode. I’m getting the idea the island has something to do with good versus evil, or at least two opposition forces struggling for control. Over what, I don’t know–the survivors, their souls, the last unopened bag of Ruffles. Maybe I’ll know more in a season or five.

The flashbacks continue to be highly effective. If there’s one thing the writers of Lost are showing right off the bat, it’s that they can tell vast character arcs over the span of a single episode that’s also got drama and infighting and tree-mangling monsters. Six episodes in, we already know the fairly complete backgrounds of what, five characters? Jack, Kate, Locke, now the Kwons. Over the 20-odd-episode run of the first season, they should be able to flesh out the entire main cast with ease. To a degree, these characters are still coming off as types (the reluctant leader, the woman on the run from the troubled past, the propriety-obsessed Asian man, the junkie has-been rocker), but still–we’re only six episodes in. An awfully long time remains for us to be introduced to the deeper wrinkles, faults, and quirks of the marooned passengers.

A group we’re finally starting to see some serious divisions within. Sure, we’ve seen Locke and Sayid and other individuals go after each other, but in “House of the Rising Sun,” not everyone’s blindly willing to do whatever Jack says. Any society, no matter how small, is going to be composed of a number of different actors and interests. I’m glad to see the ad hoc island society is no exception.

“Good vs. evil will be a running theme” is my only speculation ginned up for “House of the Rising Sun.” That, and it seems like people wash up to the island on a regular basis, at least once a generation or so. As for whether they’re brought to the island by accident or some devious island-mind intent? That, I once more have no idea.

So. Mr. Charlie isn’t doing too hot with his heroin addiction these days. I sympathize: I’m trying to quit smoking literally as we speak, and it isn’t easy. In one way, it’s terribly easy: just don’t buy more. If you don’t have anything to smoke (or, in Charlie’s case, rub on your gums/shoot up/snort), you have nothing to continue feeding your addiction with. Once the substance is gone, it’s just a matter of getting through the detox stage. For most chemicals, that’s just a matter of a few days (nicotine has a half-life of just two hours; it’s out of your body completely in three days). After that, the physical addiction is flushed from your system. Then it’s purely mental.

But your brain is tricksy. Your brain is a lowdown rat bastard. Due to the power of rationalization, your brain can make you think just about anything, especially when it’s trying to trick you into supplying it with more delicious chemicals. Every time you’ve acted against your better nature, that’s you rationalizing and letting the addiction win. I know. Two days ago, I smoked my “last” cigarette. I was going on the patch. But the patch made my sick (honestly, it did), so now I’m trying to wean myself down by smoking fewer cigarettes per day. Then I’ll go on a lower-dose patch. Then I’ll quit completely. That’s what I want and intend to do.

We’ll see.

For Charlie, Locke takes his drugs away and tells him if he really wants them back, all he has to do is ask three times. Here’s some more reinforcement of Locke as a mystical figure who guides you to enlightenment. For Charlie, though, as we see in flashbacks, he never wanted to wind up a druggy; he just wanted to play the music, and his no-account brother kept sucking him back in, first using him to get fame and glory, then sticking him right back in his place when he tries to get out.

Meanwhile, Locke tells Charlie that silk moths are the strongest of all, because they have to struggle so hard to break from their cocoons. For all of us who’ve ever been locked into an addictive behavior–whether that’s smoking, World of Warcraft, or lifting weights–let’s hope he’s right.

On the other end of things, Jack tries to talk Kate into coming to their home in the caves, but she wants to help Sayid with the transceiver. Which is out of batteries. The only one who has batteries is Sawyer. Back at the caves, Jack gets trapped by a landslide; former construction worker Michael tries to dig him out while the others, unaware of Jack’s predicament, try to figure out where the mysterious radio signal’s coming from. As Charlie digs Jack out, motivated by feelings of helplessness and failure with his band, the others work to track down the signal–until Sayid is clubbed down by a mysterious person.

Jack escapes. Charlie’s vindicated. Kate, who rushed in to help once she heard, is brought back to Jack. Charlie goes to Locke and asks for his heroin for a third time. A disappointed Locke hands it over–but Charlie throws it into the fire.

I should probably give “The Moth” another watch now that I’m going through a similar event, if far less serious and life-threatening, than Charlie. At the time, I felt like this episode was effective, but a little.. lacking. A little pat. The writers of Lost are doing an excellent job of giving us the broad strokes of their ensemble cast, but sometimes it feels a little too broad. I liked Charlie’s story, but I felt like I’d seen it before. Rock star. Drugs. Downward spiral. Redemption. I did buy him burning the last of his drugs, though. He realized they were never what he wanted, and even in the deepest throes of addiction, you can make a gesture toward quitting, understanding you don’t really have to, that you can just go buy more tomorrow. Charlie, though, he doesn’t have that option unless he starts farming poppies and constructing a steam-powered drug factory. Maybe I need to go get stranded on an island.

Meanwhile, there’s little to no advancement of the secrets of the island. Sayid tells Kate there’s now way they could have survived if the plane’s tail came off like it did, which may or may not be deep foreshadowing. I can’t say.

I also have no fucking clue who KO’d Sayid. In the “Lost repeatedly defies our expectations department,” Shannon is clearly supposed to fail at helping the others triangulate the French woman’s signal, yet does her part in the end. Good for her. Her character is still terrible.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Hurley needs a Hurley-centric episode post-haste. That means “now.”

On the macrocosmic end of the spectrum, I’m enjoying Lost‘s use of flashbacks. I feel like they’re going to get a lot of mileage out of these, potentially developing the hell out of their characters. Considering how big their cast is, that’s good. That’s a good thing. Also: the writing is ambitious. Locke’s moth monologues are potentially embarrassing and pretentious, but they work well with the plot of “The Moth,” spelling shit out for us without being too obnoxious. (I credit the actor for that one. But not enough to click over to the other tab for his actual name.)

Still, this episode left me a little wanting. I like Charlie a lot, and I feel like if I watched “The Moth” after rewatching the entire series, I might appreciate it more. But this one did very little besides humanize Charlie. It feels like the heart-wrenching momentum of the first few episodes is flagging.

Is that enough to make me question whether I should keep watching? No. Not at all. It’s just a moment of early skepticism about Lost‘s enduring greatness. I still look forward to being proven wrong.

And to quitting these goddamn cigarettes.

Now that’s what I call a pilot.

Jack wakes in a jungle. He stumbles onto a beach, where he discovers a plane crash–the same crash he was on. With no ado, he begins treating the survivors–setting a tourniquet around a man’s gushing leg, ensuring a pregnant woman’s going to be okay before sending him away, restarting the heart of the woman who sat next to him on the plane, despite the worst efforts of a lifeguard boy to cut her throat open needlessly. Jack is, quite clearly, participating in triage, the battlefield art of treating those who most need help when they need it. He’s machinelike, the perfect man for this tragic circumstance.

It’s a wonderful introduction to the man who I can only assume will be the main character throughout the 120 episodes of Lost. He’s strong. He’s capable. He’s just about fearless. And the acting, from Matthew Fox, is top-notch. We’ve seen this Jack before: confident, handsome, competent, take-charge. We’ve seen this Jack a thousand times before.

But this Jack is something different. It’s the writing, the directing, and the acting. He doesn’t discuss, to others or himself, why he’s treating the people he’s treating. He does so instinctually. With humor, even, sending the lifeguard away to fetch a senseless pen while he brings a woman back from death. He saves multiple lives on that beach, and even then, among the cinematic explositions, blood loss, and death, does he retreat to the woods, where he treats his own wound–perhaps first realizing it’s there, perhaps understanding it’s of far lower priority than the events on the beach–enlisting Kate, the clear love interest, even this early, to help sew up his own wounds, with an aplomb that’s far too encouraging for her to resist. It’s a defining moment not only for him, but for her, defining two characters while reacting to epic disaster. Jack’s monologue about operating on the spine of a young woman is disgusting and brave and revealing.

Now that’s a hell of an introduction.

The immediacy and confidence of Lost is clear from the start. The crash itself, on a remote island, is gripping enough to demand viewers tune in for the next episode. Then they kick it up another notch: there’s something in the jungle, a creature enough to stir the palms from trunk to crown. We’re watching a high concept on top of a high concept.

Meanwhile, there are moments from others–the federal marshal, the Korean couple, the young lifeguard and his entitled sister, and Hurley, the designated comic relief. Moment after character moment pile up in a span of minutes. In no time at all, we have a window onto a half dozen characters who’ll play an imporant part of everything to come. Or so I believe. I understand there are monsters. Monsters tend to eat people. The one here is excellent, unseen but heard, a metallic, trumpeting call that’s so unearthly we’re immediately clued in that not all is right in this place.

Meanwhile meanwhile, there are flashbacks. Jack seems pretty intent on his drink, for reasons which become more evident a few episodes on (I have, at this point, watched the first six). He and the woman in the seat on the plane next to him are developed at the same time as we see the run-up to the crash.

We also get a good look at Charlie, from the always-great Dominic Monaghan, as a girl-chasing, heroin-addicted rocker. Again, not the most original of characters, but there’s something about him. He’s funny, for one, which absolves just about every crime. (Except the felonious kind. Trust me on that, violence-doers and drug-dealers.) Already, this seems to be a common thread for Lost: taking a familiar, archetypal character, and showing us something about them we haven’t necessarily seen before.

Also: the moment where Kate is looting better shoes to go for a hike, and Locke watches her, with apparent disapproval, only to make a clown-face with the orange peel in his mouth, complete with the clown-like scar running down his right eye. It’s an absurd, funny, troubling moment that gives a good indication of how many cylinders this show is already running on.

The morning after the crash, Jack goes after the plane’s transceiver. Charlie goes with, where we get his background, along with Kate. The island breaks into sudden and intense rain. Jack, Kate, and Charlie find the cockpit, along with the pilot, who’s injured but alive–but not for long. He reveals a radio problem forced them to divert the plane a thousand miles off course. As the howling monster rolls in, the pilot leans out the window–fatally, as it’s made abundantly, inevitably clear by the shot of him leaving the transceiver behind on the seat–and gets hauled away.

Before that, the others flee into a chaotic race through the dark jungle. Charlie falls, only to be rescued by Jack, who gets lost himself, leaving Kate to track him down. They regroup. The rain stops. They find the gruesomely mutilated body of the pilot. What caused it? How could anything be that disgustingly brutal?

I never watched an episode of Lost previous to this one, but I’d heard plenty about it. I know the monster is the Smoke Monster, an ill-defined presence that haunts them all from start to (I think) finish. I’m not aware of its significance. I know, as a first-time viewer, it’s creepy and unsettling, a clear indication that what’s to come can’t be judged or predicted by what we know is true in our own day-to-day lives.

Two big concepts, nearly a dozen characters, many of whom are already well-defined, and a distinct shooting style. It’s no wonder the pilot got picked up for a season–nor that it caught on for a six-season run of 120 episodes. From its first episode, Lost knew how to entertain like few shows do.

So how did I do on my last (and first) set of predictions? The one where I guessed that, now that the survivors have their food and water situation under control, they’d move on to shelter?

Pretty terrible! In “White Rabbit,” it turns out they don’t have so much water after all. In fact, they’re down to 17-odd bottles of water. And they’ve eaten most of the boar Locke caught, too.

Faced with the water-based version of starvation, the group turns to Jack for leadership. He wants nothing of it. He’s haunted by memories of his father, who told him he couldn’t handle the pressure of being a hero–unlike himself, a mighty surgeon who saves and fails to save lives every day–a point hammered home to Jack after the events of the morning, when a woman’s drowning out to sea. He tried to save her, but could only bring in the lifeguard kid who’d gone out first, who denies that he was drowning and blames Jack for the loss of the woman. Not a terribly fair accusation, that. Psychologically sound, though–the kid no doubt feels guilt about his own failure to save her. That and he’s a teenager, and teenagers aren’t good at much except getting mad at people who are older than them.

Between this and the possibly hallucinatory visions Jack’s been having of a man in a suit, he’s got no interest in leading. Instead, he goes off to find about the man.

The others, meanwhile, discover the water’s been stolen. Hurley and Charlie, the ones who were supposed to keep watch on it, naturally suspect Sawyer. They bring Kate into the fold, who discovers Sawyer’s stash of black market goods. (His little market was established nicely earlier in the episode, when the lifeguard’s sister (I’ll learn all their names eventually!) tries to buy some bug spray from her and learns that unlike Charlie, Sawyer’s too canny to fall victim to her good looks.) But Sawyer’s not behind it: water, he points out, is worthless. It just falls right out of the sky.

Jack continues to search for the man in the suit. In flashbacks, we learn that his dad succumbed to the pressure on a regular basis, disappearing for days on end to go on drunken benders. When he disappeared again, Jack’s mom browbeat a reluctant Jack into tracking him down in Australia. There, Jack found he’d died of an alcohol-related heart attack. Jack was bringing his body back to the States when the plane crashed.

And the man in the suit in the jungle, it turns out, is his father. Or a vision of him. In chasing him down, Jack falls off a cliff, catching hold of the vines . Locke hauls him up to safety. After learning what’s going on, Locke convinces him the island is somehow magical (he infers he saw the Monster), and that Jack needs to continue his search.

Continuing on, Jack finds his father’s coffin. It’s empty. But he finds fresh water, too. When he returns to the camp (where it’s been discovered the lifeguard boy stole the water), Jack takes on the mantle of leadership. They might be stuck on this island for a long time. If they don’t start working together, people are going to continue to die.

Jack’s dad was wrong. About himself and about Jack. He was the one who couldn’t handle the demands of being a hero. Jack might well be what he never could.

I was surprised the group hadn’t already secured a source of water, or started collecting rain or whatever. Water, after all, is the kind of thing you need. Like, lots of, every day. Could be they’re still in denial over the crash, which is reasonable enough, or they just lack the leadership to organize them, which is, well, the whole point of “White Rabbit,” I suppose. Still, it seems crazy, especially that none of the 47 people alive at episode’s start had done anything about it for six whole days. Does this seem insane because I’m the kind of person who would go mad if I didn’t immediately start trying to solve the problems in front of me? Or am I coming at this from a skewed perspective, aware they’re gonna be out there for 120 episodes, so get your dumb asses in gear already? Or is it more because I’m forgetting about how they might be sticking to the beach because of the crazy tree-thrashing, people-eating monster that lives out in the jungle?

Some of all, I’d wager! Still, Lost is sticking to its dozen-odd main characters pretty tight so far, leaving the others to be Red Shirts who don’t do much besides whatever the important characters tell them and also die every few episodes. Dramatically, it makes sense to keep the focus on your main characters–and Lost has a ton of them already, leaving precious little screen time to go around–but it would be nice for a previously unseen character to do something important soon, just to show that they can.

Now: onto the island and its unfolding mysteries. Jack’s seeing his dad, who’s dead, and whose body is missing. What does this mean? Does this mean the survivors actually de-survived the crash, and they’re also dead in the afterlife? Stuck in a purgatory of sorts, or some strange heaven or hell? Maybe it’s none of the above, and the island is just toying with them the same way an insane, supernaturally-powered cat plays with a group of 48 (now 46) shipwrecked mice. Or was Jack just hallucinating from stress, trauma, and lack of sleep? Which explanation best fits the evidence?

You know what? I can’t say. The fact is, you can cherry-pick all the evidence you want, but at this point in the show–and given its length, probably much, much deeper into the series–we have no idea where this is going. All we know is the writers have a plan, and they’re cluing us into it tidbit by tidbit. Or they have a plan, and they’re deliberately misleading us, planting red herrings and puzzles and contradictions while sliding in the truth too stealthily for us to notice. Or they don’t have a plan, not a real one, anyway, maybe just an idea of the starting conditions on the island, and they’re feeling it out as they go along, knowing they can cobble together something that explains it all (more or less) over the course of time.

Jack could be seeing his dead dad. Jack could be hallucinating. The island could be forcing Jack to hallucinate his dead dad because the island is a big green jerk. With the rules of normality clearly suspended, there’s no real way for us to know anything right now. It all depends on who’s telling the story, how good they are at it and what they’re trying to achieve at this moment in time. I’m currently enjoying the ambiguity of these supernatural elements, but if some hard, fast rules aren’t laid down now and then, I wonder how I’ll be feeling about it in a season or two.

On the storytelling side of things, it looks like Lost is likely to continue to be heavy on the flashbacks. I like that. As they’ve done already, it’ll help parcel out the characters’ back story and help to contrast who they were with what they’re becoming. It’s good to get off the island once in a while, too. It’s claustrophobic. The claustrophobia is part of the point, but still. 80+ hours of jungle, beach, and waves would probably get kinda boring after a while.

Despite my screed about how it’s impossible for us to know what’s going on right now, I’m going to go on making predictions, if for no other reason than to maintain a record of what I was thinking and what the show seemed to be wanting me to think. So: clearly Jack’s going to try to get things organized, which means he’s going to face hardships and resistance. Sawyer’s likely to be involved in that. The island’s paranormal what-have-yous will definitely be involved in making things harder for the tribe to weave their huts and such.

As for the particulars of that paranormal activity.. if I had to forward a theory right now, it’s that they died in the crash and are in the afterlife. It’s just the most logical explanation. And the inherent hilarity of that last sentence is exactly why such speculation is so pointless–and so much fun.

(Note: I haven’t had time to write up the first three episodes yet, but I couldn’t resist watching the next one anyway. I should have the earlier ones up within a week or two)

Well, I guess Locke isn’t thousands of years old after all.

That was my fiancee’s theory after the first couple episodes. The main clue was his declarative statement that backgammon is older than Jesus Christ. But Locke had a kind of gravity to him, mysterious authority. He seemed serene and wise. Really, given Lost‘s atmosphere and reputation, it seemed more than possible he’d turn out to be some weird immortal, and the backgammon line would be the first of many sly hints.

Nope. Turns out before the crash, Locke was a factory-working loser, tormented by his much younger boss and delusionally in love with a woman on some kind of customer service line (or possibly a phone sex worker, but I think they charge more than the woman quoted here). And that before the crash, Locke was–

Wait, let’s rewind. Cover the plot first. On the island, we have two main threads, both of which have to do with dead bodies: 1) what to do with the ones in the fuselage, and 2) how not to become them, because they just ran out of food.

For 1), Jack insists on burning the bodies, a course of action that mildly horrifies some of the others. They don’t have a choice, though, because Jack is too convincing, too pragmatic, but in a humanistic way that makes it hard to argue. It’s interesting just how pragmatic he is to this point–that also seems to be one of the defining traits of Sawyer, but coming in from the opposite direction of Sawyer’s Darwinian, dog-eat-dog philosophy. I’m guessing that’ll be a continued point of conflict over the series, and one I’m looking forward to.

Then Jack gets cooler yet: when Claire asks Jack, quite naturally, to head the funeral proceedings, he flat-out refuses. He’s not the ultimate do-gooder, which is nice, because when a dude just wants to do good all the time, you just want to trip him when he walks by or shoot spitballs at him when his back is turned. Instead, Jack goes off to comfort the woman whose husband was lost in the crash, drawing her out of her grief and back into the group.

For 2), an invasion of wild hogs inspires Locke to organize a hunting party. Disturbingly, his luggage is full of extremely large knives, and a flashback in which he’s referred to as “colonel” had me thinking his factory job was a cover for his real job of jaunting around the world assassinating any fool who dares cross him.

I was wrong. Wronger than six wrongs in a wrongboat. Though Locke seems wildly competent, facing down the Monster and dragging back a big ol’ pig to camp, it turns out he really was a desperate old man. A desperate old man who, it’s revealed, used to be paralyzed, until the plane crash healed him.

Now that’s a reversal. That’s a reveal. Already, Lost is anticipating its audience’s reactions and expectations and subverting them almost immediately. That “almost immediately” thing is huge: a short time before this, I’d been watching Jericho, a show Netflix promised I’d like but instead turned out to be an endless string of episodes about mysterious badasses whose mysterious pasts still weren’t well-revealed a good 15 episodes into the mysterious, mysterious show. Showrunners: that isn’t enticing. It’s annoying. It makes people want to boo loudly, then change the channel, maybe to something with some of those cops who solve the crimes.

So far, Lost has a firm handle on its exposition. There are several overarching mysteries–the Monster, the island, what caused the crash, and who those guys in suits are near the end of “Walkabout”–but it’s not playing games with its characters. If a question arises about them, that question is answered in the same episode, often the very next scene. That’s how you keep a show moving. That’s how you keep us demanding to see the next episode. The last two episodes have hardly been disappointments, but “Walkabout” lived right up to the pilot’s potential.

Where do I think it will go from here? No idea, really. I expect there’ll be a Sawyer-centric episode soon, maybe even the very next episode, because right now they seem to be exploring one character per ep and you need the ongoing source of internal group tension Sawyer provides. Now that they’ve got a source of food and water, the logical next step is to build permanent shelter. Locating the French woman’s signal seems like it’s going to be a big deal, too. I think they’ll resolve that over the next few episodes, but right now I have no damn clue how the details of that will play out.

But I’m sure looking forward to finding out.

For years, the only way I watched Lost was from a distance. I heard it had several things relevant to my interests–monsters, survivors trapped on an island, a good critical reputation–but two things stopped me from diving in. First, with television if nothing else in my life, I’m a completionist; I like to start with the first episode and finish with the last, and I’d missed half a season or more before getting clued in that it might be watching. Second, as the series rolled on and people started to grumble about wheel-spinning, I began to worry its creators might not actually have any idea where they were going with it, and that it might end up canceled, or continuing into self-parody, or getting wrapped up with an idiotic conclusion–maybe it was all just a dream!

Then it ended. Opinion about how it ended ranged all over the map. I read a summary of the ending, which struck me as less than perfect, but at the very least ambitious, and, depending on how all that mythology played out over its run, possibly highly satisfying.

So I started watching two nights ago. I’m only three episodes in. The show is over 100 episodes long, and I hear a lot of those in the middle involve more running in place than a jailed marathoner. But I loved the pilot–that opening scene, smart dialogue, some fine actors with intriguing characters–and thought the next two were pretty sharp as well.

I’m a latecomer. I won’t be able to get caught up in the same heights of speculation and theory-making as the first-run fans. But being removed a ways means that maybe I won’t be so anxious about its outcome, either. I know going in that it has an ending, and while it may not be the glorious capper such a beloved show deserved, it doesn’t sound like anything I’ve ever seen before, either.

I’m going to see about writing about Lost episode by episode, then, with an attempt, from here on out, to cover each one I watch before moving on to the next. I don’t know if I’ll make it. It’s a big commitment, and I’ve got a lot of other projects to keep up with (some of which even pay!).

But I think there’s a chance I’ll love Lost. If so, all that work will be worth it.

The New York Times‘ review of HBO’s A Game of Thrones has stirred up a minor geeky shitstorm over Ginia Bellafante’s statements, among them the ironically patronizing claim that it’s “boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.” She believes, apparently, that women have little to no interest in Tolkienish epic fantasy, and that HBO amped up the sex in A Game of Thrones just to draw in the ladies.

This is pretty dumb, of course, or simply ignorant. A nice refutation can be found on Geek with Curves. The main point is this: tons of women read fantasy in all forms. If you still picture fantasy as a fandom of sweaty male shut-ins, your stereotypes are at least a generation behind the fact.

Frustratingly, I think Bellafante does reach some highly relevant conclusions about A Game of Thrones itself, criticizing it for “serv[ing] up a lot of confusion in the name of no larger or really relevant idea beyond sketchily fleshed-out notions that war is ugly, families are insidious and power is hot.”

My god! It sounds as if HBO’s version is actually an incredibly faithful adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s well-written but manipulative and mentally bankrupt book series! A series I threw down in disgust midway through the fourth novel when I just couldn’t take it anymore.

The fact I’d read to the fourth novel proves Martin’s series is highly readable and initially engaging. But after a while, I started to get impatient for the long, long, looooong setups to pay off (give me the fucking ice-monsters already!); for his enraging habit of ending every chapter on a cliffhanger and then, when we return to the cliffhung character 50-80 pages later, we’ve found all the action has already passed; for his Saharan lack of ideas besides “people with power should be good, but they usually aren’t”; for the utter inability for the good guys to come out with a single victory (I like grit as much as the next guy, but throw me some hope now and then); for his creepy sex scenes of old men and teenage girls; for his ever-expanding roster of side characters that draw us further and further from the reasons we were reading in the first place…

So for Bellafante to nail down one of the most valid criticisms of A Song of Ice and Fire, only to have her observation lost beneath her hilariously bygone stereotypes? Man, that’s frustrating. For all it insults women, it manages to insult another subset of fantasy fans: those of us who should be inclined to love Martin’s work, but instead find it manipulative, foolish, and overrated.

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