The answers are coming to us almost as quickly as they came to Ben (the creepy, mom-pant-wearing Michael Emerson), who, during a flashback to the Others’ discovery of Oceanic Flight 815 falling from the sky, instantly orders Ethan (William Mapother) to find the wreckage, pretend to be a survivor, and “listen, learn, don’t get involved,” without batting a bug-eye. And details of the Others’ “work”—at least part of it—have finally been disclosed: curing the islanders’ female infertility. If some of the Others have lived on the island all of their lives, as Ben claimed in a recent episode, then they’re in danger of going extinct. Perhaps the writers were inspired by Children of Men, but the pieces—Claire’s (Emilie de Ravin) nightmares, the reasons behind her kidnapping, etc.—fit together too perfectly for the writers to be making this up as they go along.
Of course, there’s always the concern that some viewers’ patience has already gone the way of the dodo bird, and slipping ratings (aided by a move to 10 p.m. to avoid the American Idol juggernaut) prove that Lost’s audience is slowly being whittled away. Two new characters, Paolo (Rodrigo Santoro) and Nikki (Kiele Sanchez), were inexplicably despised by hardcore fans and then killed off (a move more damaging to the show’s integrity than if the producers had just committed to their storyline), and guest stars like Bi Ling, though not bad, threaten to turn Lost into Gilligan’s Island. Will Paris Hilton pop up next as an imaginary love interest for Charlie (Dominic Monaghan)? (God knows Claire isn’t putting out any time soon.) A silly subplot involving Sawyer’s (Josh Holloway) redemption among the survivors following Paolo and Nikki’s “deaths”—perhaps a flashback will show their narrow escape after being buried alive—are seemingly irrelevant to the central thread of the show.
There was a time when every plotline was as important, and every word spoken was part of a web as complex as the Dharma map John Locke (Terry O’Quinn) found on the hatch wall in season two. But these are minor bumps in a ride that’s turbulent in all the right ways. By the end of last season, we began to question whether the Others were really “evil” at all (indeed, after two seasons’ worth of flashbacks detailing the main characters’ thieving, murdering and otherwise torrid pasts, it wasn’t implausible, and it wouldn’t be beyond the writers to flip the script so dramatically). After all, great television doesn’t simply tap into the zeitgeist, it challenges it. The Others might be terrorists, but they have families, homes and moments of humanity just as real as the show’s protagonists.
Which brings us to season three’s biggest asset: Juliet. Played by Elizabeth Mitchell with equal parts kindness and toughness, Juliet has become the heart of the show, despite being an Other, reintroducing us to an island whose mystique had been slowly fading. If possible, we care more about her than we do the original cast of survivors. Lost’s flashbacks don’t always work—an explosive season-two cliffhanger revealed Desmond’s (Henry Ian Cusick) former fiancée is searching for him, but that story remained virtually untouched until this week’s episode, “Catch-22”—but Juliet’s flashbacks are as consistently rewarding as Kate’s (Evangeline Lilly) or Sun’s (Yunjin Kim) from season one. Juliet’s story began to unravel in February, her flashbacks detailing how she wound up on the island, and even from her very first frame on screen, we knew she could be trusted, even if Jack (Matthew Fox) didn’t.
After the Others ostensibly abandon Juliet in the recent episode “Left Behind,” Jack brings her back to the beach where the survivors live, and, despite Sayid’s (Naveen Andrews) suspicions, the slow process of integration begins. At this point in the episode, the implication that Juliet could be brought to the “good” side betrays Lost’s central conceit: that, George W. Bush be damned, good and evil aren’t so easily defined. In the next episode, “One of Us,” she boldly dares Sayid and Sawyer—a former Iraqi special guard torturer and a con artist and murderer, respectively—to pass judgment on her. While Lost’s direction and cinematography leaves a lot to be desired, this particular episode is told almost entirely through visuals, revisiting past events via a different perspective, literally and figuratively; in fact, you could even watch the episode on mute. The look of stifled terror and relief on Juliet face as she walks away from Sayid and Sawyer unscathed is telling of both the depth Mitchell gives her character and the layers of her motivation the writers have yet to reveal to us.
Lost is never without its twists and turns, and, in a last-minute revelation, we learn that Juliet’s desertion was planned by Ben. Whether Juliet will stick to the plan, or if she has her own agenda, remains to be seen; she, as always, doesn’t belong to either side of this battle between good and evil. These unanswered questions are what keep us coming back to the island. That and, unlike other mythology and conspiracy-based shows like The X-Files, it seems like the writers know where they’re going—and there is an end in sight. Difficult to believe since, despite the creators’ claim that we’ve already reached the halfway point and the fact that season four isn’t rumored to start until next January, ABC will try to milk the show for all its advertising worth. As John Locke might say, you just have to have faith.