“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.

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