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It looks like the wheel of Dharma, er Karma, is rolling again. And Benjamin Linus is smack in the middle of the trail, looking like potential roadkill.

With this second episode of season three, the “Lost” team wasted no time in uncorking the revelations and further drawing the lines in the Losties’ camp. Unlike season three, which spent its first six episodes — the “mini season” — warming up to answering questions and setting up new conflicts, this season is rolling along with big leaps that are rapidly broadening the “Lost” universe. For “Lost” addicts, the long wait is paying big dividends.

Last week, we learned that Hurley made it off the island, presumably as one of the “Oceanic Six” alongside Kate and Jack. This week, we’re confronted in the opening scene with apparent physical evidence that Oceanic 815 did, in fact, crash into the sea, complete with pilot Seth Norris eerily strapped into his captain’s chair.

That revelation kicks “Lost” and its whole riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma right into Oliver Stone-“JFK” territory: It takes some kind of extensive and well-funded conspiracy to drop a whole airliner into the ocean, complete with dead pilot, doesn’t it?

This episode, titled “Confirmed Dead,” introduces us and the Losties to the four folks who dropped in via helicopter from the mysterious freighter (“not Penny’s boat,” as Charlie warned). But despite Ben’s dire admonitions, it doesn’t look to me like these four pose much threat to anyone but Ben himself.

Yeah, they carry guns and talk tough … sort of. But as we see later in the episode, Naomi was the muscle of the group. Daniel Faraday (Jeremy Davies, in photo below) is some sort of physicist, Miles Straume (Ken Leung, above) looks to be a ghost whisperer/con man, Charlotte Lewis (Rebecca Mader) an Indiana Jones wannabe, and Frank Lapidus (Jeff Fahey) a pilot who claims to have been the originally scheduled captain of Flight 815).

Judging from Dan’s bumbling and apparent ignorance of basic sneaky protocol (apparently Miles and the rest of the team didn’t even clue him in on the secret “Tell my sister I love her” tipoff), this team isn’t exactly prepared to reconquer the island.

My guess is that they’re Dharma techies and workerbees, and that they really are just trying to protect themselves from a Ben-style “purge” (they brought gas masks, so they’ve clearly heard about the big Dharma wipeout) and that they’re back on the island to sort out all of its mysterious anomalies and maybe set things right. Maybe. This is the Dharma Initiative, after all, and I’ve never trusted that Dr. Marvin Candle and his cohorts were in it just for the science.

As part of its flashback intros to Miles and Charlotte, the episode throws us a couple of other juicy nuggets, though I think hardcore fans might be a little unnerved with Miles’ backstory.

For me, Charlotte’s find of a Dharma-collared polar bear skeleton in Tunisia was one of those great goosebump-inducing moments, on a par with (and almost an homage to) the scene in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” in which Claude Lacombe finds a squadron of lost WWII planes, completely intact, in the middle of the Sonoran desert. It’s that “Hey, something big’s going on here” feeling that “Lost” delivers so well.

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On the other hand, the introduction of Miles as a sort of huckster speaker to the dead instantly conjured feelings of “uh-oh.” The last thing I want in “Lost” is for that sort of “Medium”/”Ghost Whisperer” pseudo-science and spiritual housekeeping to creep into the show. “Lost” has always done a smart job keeping its internal logic firmly — or at least mostly — in the realm of plausable extrapolation. Yeah, Miles shows up sporting a gadget that suggests it’s scientific, but only in the “Ghostbusters” sense. Mostly it looks like a Dustbuster with a buffing attachment.

I can buy John Locke and Hurley seeing dead people. It seems to fit within the show’s logic, and the writers are always keen to wink to let you know even they’re not sure you should buy the concept. Witness tonight’s gunshot moments: Locke shows his followers he really did get shot by Ben, but notes that it passed right through and probably would have killed him if he didn’t already have that kidney conveniently removed. Then Charlotte takes a couple of slugs to the chest, also courtesy of Ben, but seems to have a miracle of her own when she sits up and shrugs it off. Ah… bulletproof vest. Thank you, writers.

As for Ben, he continues to do what he does so well: manipulate everyone on all sides. The man’s taken some bloody beatings over the last three episodes, from Jack, Sawyer and Locke, but he keeps on ticking and plotting. And once again, his knowledge of the big picture might just save his bacon yet again.

Naomi looked to be the likeliest of the freighter folks to put some hurt on Ben. We haven’t yet met the mysterious George Minkowski (which has to be a key part, since he’s slated to be portrayed by Fisher Stevens), but none of the foursome who dropped in on the island in “Confirmed Dead” looks likely to be punching out anyone soon.

I could easily see Ben not only surviving but thriving again, perhaps even plying his knowledge of the island and the newcomers to team with Locke and his group. Certainly the episode’s final revelation, that Ben has a man on their boat, seems to give him another strong hand to deal from.

– Brian Cochrane

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