“We have to go back.” So said Jack Shepherd (Matthew Fox) in last season’s Lost finale. And so it will be now as season five unfolds. But how can we get back? To where? To when?
After four seasons spent trying to get off the island, the cast(aways) of Lost—or I should say just six of them now—are suddenly looking for a way to return to Smoke Monster Island. In May, when we last tuned in, these six castaways—Jack, Kate, Aaron, Sayid, Hurley, and Sun—had been three years back in the real world, a world of friends and family, celebrity, jobs, bills—and in Jack’s case, pills. Thanks to season four’s clever flash-forward storytelling, which replaced the flashback storytelling of previous seasons, viewers learned that these six castaways, termed the Oceanic Six, were the only survivors of Oceanic Flight #815 to return to the real world. Season four’s primary plot, however, continued in Island Time, showing viewers the pre-rescue events which would culminate in the season finale, when the Oceanic Six flew away in a helicopter. But at the very same moment that the Six made their escape, Benjamin Linus (Michael Emerson) moved the island, and fellow castaways like Sawyer (Josh Holloway), Juliet (Elizabeth Mitchell), and Locke (Terry O’Quinn) moved with it.
By moving the island, season five is able to provide a fresh storytelling twist: The question for the Oceanic Six is not where they can find the island, but when they can find it. As if the show’s writers borrowed Quentin Tarantino’s sense of chronology, Lost will chronicle the efforts of the Oceanic Six to locate the island in the present-day while simultaneously following Left Behinders Locke, Sawyer, Juliet, and company as they leapfrog through time—without the homey beach campsite to sustain them. After all, the campsite can’t be there if they technically haven’t crashed yet. No more Dharma peanuts for Miles, I guess.
Leapfrogging through time has its risks: Locke takes a bullet in the leg early in the episode from now-dead Ethan just after witnessing the crash of the heroin-carrying plane, which was already rusting on the island when Oceanic Flight #815 crashed. Most importantly, Daniel Faraday (Jeremy Davies) opens the premiere, suddenly working as a Dharma Initiative employee in what appears to be the 1970s, perhaps suggesting that time will remain in the 1970s despite the first two episodes’ chronological shifts. It seems, then, that the Left Behinders will have to grapple with the island’s previous inhabitants.
Looking out on the season’s horizon and searching for the futures of specific characters, it is easy to wonder what will become of John Locke, especially after seeing him in a coffin in last season’s finale. Indeed, he somehow made it off the island, and it was he who warned the Oceanic Six that it is up to them to return and save those they left behind. Season five also promises the return of Desmond and Ben, both of whom are key to the Oceanic Six’s return journey. Casting a long shadow over the series, which is set to end in 2010, is Charles Widmore, the man the show’s producers call “the big bad.” His more-than-likely ill-intentioned interests in the island have influenced events quite possibly from the beginning, and if the season opener is any indication, we have not seen the last of his meddling.
What can we expect with the show’s conclusion in view? Ben’s words to Jack early in the premiere are a harbinger of what’s to come: Pack your bag with whatever you want from life in the real world “because you’re never coming back.”