|Naveen Andrews (left) and Jorge Garcia return in a two-hour episode of ''Lost.'' (Mario Perez/ABC)|
'When am I?" John Locke asks during tonight's fifth-season premiere of "Lost." And you'll know exactly how he feels, as the two-hour episode skips through time like a needle on a vinyl disc - during an earthquake. The "Lost" time-travel machine is set at full surge, as the narrative, the island itself, and the characters, both dead and alive, leapfrog crazily among the past, present, and future tenses.
Spoilers? Don't worry. The premiere, at 9 on Channel 5, is so riddled with clues, so crowded with incident, and such a jigsaw of time scheming, it's hard to imagine what major, as-yet unknown facts I could disclose here. There are 342 tiny reveals tonight, and yet no one plot wallop that's going to take the top of your head off. Still, please don't read any further if you're a purist and want to re-enter the temple of "Lost" unawares, to let the mystery fully work its chaotic logic on your imagination.
My response to the premiere was mixed, maybe even mixed-up. I knew I was in good hands throughout, as months of craving to revisit the ambiguous Ben, the anxiously maternal Kate, the not-crazy Hurley, and the rest of the massive cast were finally satisfied. I continue to feel confident that "Lost" executive producers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof know precisely what they are doing with this six-season global adventure. You can feel the intentionality of their storytelling, as each scene in the premiere rushes ahead with tip-offs and past allusions (the VW bus!), as if the end point is already clearly fixed in Cuse and Lindelof's minds.
Truly, the "Lost" premiere is riveting, which, for a two-hour episode in the later stages of a series run, is an impressive accomplishment. The feverish action is as tantalizing as ever, and so is the script, with lines such as this one: "Your camp isn't gone," Daniel Faraday says to Sawyer as they race around the island, "it hasn't been built yet." And the trademark humor is in play, too, with Hurley snapping at Sayid, "Maybe if you ate more comfort food, you wouldn't go around shooting people." Sawyer's endless cache of nicknames continues to charm, with one - "Dr. Wizard," for Faraday - referencing Mr. Wizard from the old "Tooter Turtle" time-travel cartoons. He was the guy who'd chant, "Drizzle, drazzle, druzzle, drome, time for this one to come home." The "Lost" allusions continue to be choice.
But the premiere did make me anxious about the coming season. As a re-creation of the psychological dislocation of time travel, the premiere is dynamic. But if the entire run of 16 episodes is going to be as scattered, and as chronologically challenging, it may become trying. As we move back and forth on the calendar, aware that the characters can't change events in their current moment, the rules of the show's big game are becoming dangerously hard to hold onto.
Also, I'm starting to begin to maybe feel the potential to be disappointed with the direction of the "Lost" plot, if there are not going to be any big change-ups between now and the end of the series. I may be alone in this, and I hope I will be proven wrong, but I expected the solution to "Lost" to be more metaphysical, and more original, than simply people being unstuck in time. There's something unpromisingly kitschy and old-school about the frozen wheel that Ben turned, and, tonight, the blinding white light whenever the characters slip across years.
Please, please, please don't let "moving the island" become the new three-word phrase for what happens when a show loses its sense.
Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.