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'Lost': We've been here before

March 7, 2008 |  9:24 am

E_mitchell_jx7usonc_250 After the mind-blowing tour de force of last week, I'm willing to give this week's episode a pass. Which is to say that I enjoyed watching it, even though every critical faculty I had said that it was probably the weakest episode of the new season so far.

After a brief fake-out in which we were led to believe that Juliet was the sixth member of the Oceanic Six, the episode took us back to very familiar territory not just in structure (the flashbacks returned) but also in story content as Juliet's pre- and post-plane crash life on the island got more fleshed out. We got to see the crash of Oceanic 815 for perhaps the fourth or fifth time and we got to see the opening scene of Season 3 for the second time, although we got added shots of guest star Andrea Roth as Juliet's romantic rival.

While a few mysteries were cleared up, such as the identity of who sent the freighter (Charles Widmore), it wasn't information anyone who's been paying close attention to the show hadn't figured out already. And disappointingly, most of the revelations in the episode were of the "You know that I know that you know that I know" variety. To wit: the psychologist Harper (Andrea Roth) reveals that she knows that Ben knows that Goodwin and Juliet are seeing each other, and that she knows that Ben knows, but Juliet doesn't know that Ben has the hots for her. Is your mind blown yet?

Enough with the love triangles; bring back the smoke monster!

In other moments that made me feel as if I were stuck in a Desmond-like timewarp, we were treated to more scenes of an imprisoned Ben offering promises and revelations to the too-gullible Locke that seemed to come straight out of Season 2 and further scenes of Jack's conflicted feelings for Juliet that I thought for sure had been resolved last season. Oh well.

Yet another Dharma station, never previously mentioned, was revealed. This one was called the Tempest (not to be confused with the temple mentioned last season) and it is no doubt meant to make us think of a certain play about another island with mysterious powers and a manipulative sorcerer who brings people to the island for his own purposes. Is Ben some kind of wizard? It's likely. How else to explain his ability to communicate with the Others while locked in his cell?

Intriguingly, despite his seeming omniscient powers and detailed files on every survivor of the Oceanic plane crash, Ben claims his knowledge of his sworn enemy is based partially on guesswork. Unless he's lying once again (very likely), is it possible that Charles Widmore is something more than he appears? Is he some kind of entity that could defy normal attempts at information retrieval? Is he the devil? Ben certainly hinted at supernatural forces at work when he drew his analogy to the Virgin Mary appearing in the mold of a housing project in Florida.

The episode's most heartbreaking scene was probably Claire's conversation with Locke, in which she suggested that maybe she should be the one to talk to Ben. But she might as well have been begging the writers to give her something to do, because that's essentially what the character was doing. With the introduction of the freighter people, we've seen Sun, Jin and Claire pushed aside with just a few minutes of screen time total for the whole season so far. Poor Charlie died heroically so that Claire would be saved, only to be cruelly forgotten by an even harsher god: the writer.

Next week promises to bring back the return of Michael, the most unsurprising reveal of the season so far. Unsurprising in that actor Harold Perrineau's name has been appearing in the opening credits for the entire season and he has yet to appear. So when Ben hints at the mind-blowing nature of the identity of his spy on Widmore's freighter, we the audience can only shuffle our feet and wish they'd get on with it. It's Michael. It's got to be Michael. The only way it would be surprising at this point is if it's not Michael or if Michael is now a woman (which would not only be surprising, but would instantly elevate "Lost" above any other work of fiction ever produced).

"Lost's" producers claim they've had to compress a few of the season's storylines in the final five episodes they're currently shooting. If that compression will result in the elimination of space fillers like this episode, then maybe the shortened season won't be the loss we initially assumed it to be.

Was the episode atrocious? No, not by a longshot. But when the bar is set so high, the episodes that fall short appear so much weaker by comparison. And even this so-so episode of "Lost" stood far above anything else being shown on network TV this season.

-- Patrick Day

(Photo courtesy AP / Mario Perez / ABC, Elizabeth Mitchell as Juliet)