- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 31, 2008

NEW YORK (AP) - For eight long months, we had no contact with our friends on the island.

Now, at the start of the new season of “Lost” (at 9 tonight on ABC), we find the castaways right where we left them last May: thinking they’re about to be saved.

But nothing is ever what it seems on “Lost.” The guessing game is about to resume for the castaways — and for us.

This season has been whittled to just eight episodes, thanks to the writers strike, with 40 more hours before the saga concludes in 2010. Still, it’s not too soon to marvel at the ingenuity and wild ambition that “Lost” has displayed — and how, somehow, it has continued to surprise us.

When the series was announced in 2004, its basic concept seemed intriguing but also gimmicky and unsustainable. How long could a show keep plane crash victims on a tropical island without their getting found or its getting ridiculous?

“Lost” quickly demonstrated how. It created a world of seemingly limitless possibilities, thanks to the evolving set of personalities that continues to replenish the island population. Also, thanks to flashbacks that fill in its characters’ lives before the fateful crash of Oceanic flight 815, the series time-shifts and place-shifts wherever it might roam, expanding the show beyond any insular constraints and literally spinning its narrative around the globe.

“Lost” quickly demonstrated something else: a tendency to get inside our heads.

Central to the “Lost” experience are crazy-making questions like “What can you believe?” and “Whom can you trust?” Now, with the fourth-season return of the series, we are thrust back into that familiar mind-set plaguing the survivors, people with whom we already have shared much confusion.

In fact, there have been many times when “Lost” has made us feel like fools — especially during stretches when too much murkiness and too little action made us feel like fools just for sticking around.

Yet even when it took a wrong turn or bogged down — when “Lost” got lost in its own complications — it never failed to find its way again and hook us anew. Repeatedly, it has defied the odds and detractors alike.

Then, with last season’s finale, it cooked up yet another challenge for itself, expanding its tale into a new dimension: the future. That gripping episode caught up with Jack (Matthew Fox) and Kate (Evangeline Lily) beyond their “present-day” existence on the island. They were in Los Angeles, where Kate had a boyfriend, though his identity wasn’t clear. Jack, distraught at having lost her, was a pill-popping, boozy, near-suicidal wreck.

On tonight’s premiere, “Lost” trips into the future again. We see Jack, not quite so much in crisis. We also see yet another former island castaway, also living in Los Angeles, unhinged and terrified by eerie visions.

So “Lost” is upping the ante further and heightening the pressure on us as the show’s vast mythology continues to metastasize.

Tonight’s episode is titled “The Beginning of the End,” which says a mouthful. We find “Lost” has started preparing us, along with its characters, for the end — the kind of ending where they won’t live happily ever after.

Or will they? By now, we should know we can’t count out anything. That, most of all, is the charm of “Lost.”

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