“The universe has a way of course correcting and—and I can’t stop it forever.”—Desmond Hume (Henry Ian Cusick)
And that’s the end of that. Last night we said farewell, I hope, to the worst idea in the history of a series that’s given us “the magic box,” a couple of polar bears on a tropical island, and entire episodes dedicated to Rose and Bernard and Ana Lucia. I am, of course, referring to the presumed passing of the much derided Nikki and Paulo, a couple of photogenic Cousin Olivers, uncomfortably shoehorned into the Lost universe last fall, instantly earning the scorn of the show’s fans across the world.
Two “red shirts” if ever there were ones, Nikki (Kylie Sanchez) and Paulo (Rodrigo Santoro) represented the show at its absolute laziest. Desperate to replace the void on the beach created by actor exits (Cynthia Watros, Rodriguez, Harold Perrineau) and plot necessity (the abduction of Jack, Sawyer and Kate), the producers clumsily dropped two attractive but bland characters into the middle of a highly exclusive setting and prayed no one would notice. Unprepared for the immediate backlash, the show froze in its tracks. Afraid to enrage fans further, the show seemed to go out of its way to ignore Nikki and Paulo, affording them less than a combined two dozen lines over the course of the first 13 episodes of the third season, quickly reducing them to walk-ons. Yet all along, show runners Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof assured fans that there was a master plan for the characters that would justify all the hand-wringing.
If last night’s episode was any indication of how the show plans on executing its future “master plans,” we’re in for a long ride.
“Exposé” (from the writing team of Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz) swept Nikki and Paulo under the carpet like dust-bunnies, confirming that yes, these were the two worst characters in history before giving into fan bloodlust and literally burying them alive. The episode seemed dedicated to rectifying earlier mistakes and appeasing critics at the expense of narrative advancement, in a sense creating fan fiction with a multi-million dollar budget.
Like much fan fiction, the episode was peppered with self-aware humor, frequently commenting upon its own artifice. Beginning with an Alias-like scenario the finds Nikki half naked and clinging to a stripper pole only to segue into a back-office shoot-out, it’s revealed that we’re on the set of a cheesy Australian TV show where Nikki is a bit player (har har) who’s just been killed off. She’s even reassured by her director/much older lover (Jacob Witkin) that her character can be written back into the show, and if that Charlie Kaufman-esque stab at post-modernism (mirrored in the episode’s closing seconds) doesn’t scare the living daylights out of you than nothing on this show will.
Nikki is no mere ingénue however. Like seemingly half the cast of Lost, she’s actually a con-artist, working with boy toy Paulo to murder her director-lover and rob him of several millions of dollars worth of diamonds. And they would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for that meddling airplane accident. It’s here the show falls into a self-defeating bit of revisionist history, inserting these human afterthoughts into some of the show’s greatest hits (the chaotic moments following the crash, Jack’s “live together, die alone” speech on day six, etc…) Forrest Gump-style as well as, more ominously, depicting them stumbling across the Nigerian airplane that killed Boone and the Pearl station before everyone else.
The show retroactively justifies these incongruities by placing their discoveries amidst a covert search of the jungle for their missing luggage (containing, of course, stolen diamonds). Yet more than anything, these moments vindicate fans who never trusted the duo in the first place. As the rest of the castaways struggle to carve a new life from their exotic surroundings, Nikki and Paulo cling to the futile hopes of sailing off into the sunset, rich beyond their wildest dreams, scheming against one another over shiny trinkets that have no value on the island. Not only did these two characters stunt the progress of their fellow survivors, they actually placed them in mortal danger by remaining silent all this time (we witness a scene from Paulo’s point of view where Ben and Juliet conspire together, a moment that can be directly linked to the fatal shootings at the end of last season).
The upside to this trip down memory lane is it finds the show dedicated to slavishly recreating some of the series’s most visually dazzling moments at untold cost (more than two years later, the staging of the crash site is still terrifying) and taking us back to a time when all of these characters seemed flush with possibilities. But really, isn’t that what clip shows are for? I’ll admit to feeling pangs of nostalgia at the sight of bickering step-siblings Shannon and Boone (Maggie Grace and Ian Somerhalder hiding under wigs) back from the grave, but does this show really need another excuse to travel back down its own rabbit hole?
In a fate befitting their greed, Nikki and Paulo doom one another to a fiendish demise Quentin Tarantino would no doubt approve of. After finding the diamonds and going to great lengths to keep them hidden, even stashing them in the toilet of the Pearl (a nod to the character’s internet nickname of “Takes a Shit Guy?”), Paulo’s deception is discovered by Nikki who devises a Hitchockian-ploy to exact revenge. With the help of a poisonous “Medusa spider” (gathered by Daniel Roebuck’s Azrt in a nice callback), Nikki temporarily paralyzes Paulo (we’re told the toxin is effective for up to eight hours), retrieving the stones from his person but not before falling victim herself to a swarm of arachnids. The episode is intentionally misleading in this respect, as we’re told earlier in the hour the pheromones of this particular spider will attract every mate for miles. Yet over the soundtrack we hear the familiar clucking and shuffling (which fittingly enough has always reminded me of the sound the Medusa made in Clash of the Titans) of the island’s “security system.” Whether she, like Eko, was felled by a manifestation of her past transgressions our was simply careless with her spider hormones I will leave to the forums to decide.
Bitten, and short on time, a fading Nikki buries the diamonds before racing out of the jungle and collapsing in front of Hurley (Jorge Garcia) and Sawyer (Josh Holloway), seemingly dead. With what appears to be a double homicide on its hands, the show reunites the dynamic duo of Hurley and Sawyer to play out a tropical island variation of the procedural, leading to many of the episode’s funnier moments. (After being told that he’s tampering with a “crime scene,” Sawyer cracks, “There a forensics hatch I don’t know about?”) With every able body chipping in to piece together what happened, the bodies of Nikki and Paulo lie in the island’s makeshift graveyard—dead to the outside world, yet only hours away from their own resurrection.
Oh, if only the castaways took the Anna Nicole Smith/James Brown approach to burial. Wasting no time at all, Nikki and Paulo are placed into the ground, awaiting their entombment, when Nikki’s eyes flutter open ala Bride of Frankenstein, just in time to eat a face full of dirt. As the mountain of earth placed atop them grows larger and larger, we breath a sigh of relief while at the same time remain ever-wary that at any given moment one or both characters could reenact the last scene of Carrie and usher in the era of “undead” Ken and Barbie on Lost. It’s almost a looming threat from the producers of the show should bloggers continue to antagonize them. “Don’t make us bring back Nikki and Paulo” is now to television what “Don’t make me turn this car around” is to road trips.
To be honest, I can’t begrudge the show for “course correcting.” This was clearly a misguided attempt to introduce new story-lines into a show that’s over-stuffed at fifteen (now thirteen) regulars deep; not every new addition is going to be as captivating as Eko (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) or Ben Linus (Michael Emerson) so better to cut their losses now rather than letting the characters drag out indefinitely. Still I can’t help but take some small amount of responsibility for joining the screaming masses in asking for the removal of Nikki and Paulo; now that I’ve seemingly been acquiesced to I can’t help but wonder what role these characters might have played had they been given the time to reach their full potential.
Or perhaps, in a way, they already have. The b-storyline of the hour involved Charlie (Dominic Monaghan) coming clean to Sun (Yoon-jin Kim) about his and Swayer’s role in her kidnapping attempt last year. It’s a nicely underplayed turn of events, lacking the expected histrionics and protracted drama I’d anticipated. Sun confronts Sawyer with the truth, but save for a slap to the face, she declines to make an issue of it. Sawyer is a thief and a liar, an opportunist scoundrel in the Snake Plissken/Han Solo mold. Ultimately, though, he has made the decision to follow Jack’s advice of living in harmony with the rest of the survivors, and I suspect Sun realizes, as we all do, that at this point Sawyer’s almost lovable. While Nikki and Paulo’s greed and distrust found them literally trying to kill one another, the hour finds Sawyer at his most civic-minded, volunteering to dig their grave and declining to give the distraught Nikki a handgun in order to maintain the peace. When given the choice between worldly riches and the trust of his fellow castaways, Sawyer picks the latter, depositing the “worthless” jewels in the open grave.
If this really is goodbye for Nikki and Paulo, I send them down the river Styx with a nod of gratitude. On a show with adulterers, addicts, murderers, escaped convicts, thieves and egomaniacs, they’ve reminded us of how much worse things could have been; those people could have been petty and dull as well.