DarkUFO - Lost

And down the rabbit hole we go. Or should that be wormhole? Lost plunged into brain-boggling sci-fi in last night's premiere, and the show itself seemed anxious about our reaction. The self-conscious opening sequence — with Dharma laborers drilling into the Island's ''exotic matter'' and melting their bits; the Dharma hardhat who rolled his eyes at the Dharma Dude of Many Names as he bleated about time travel — spoke to and for those who have always worried that the show's overtly out-there elements would turn the series into silly hokum. If you got a cathartic thrill out of seeing Sawyer slap Doc Faraday across his scruffy theory-spouting mug (ouch!) and then threaten scientist sidekick Charlotte Lewis with the same (''Shut it, Ginger, or you're getting one, too!''), then you're probably one of the wary. Me? I've always liked Lost's geeky side, and more, the adventurous storytelling it inspires. ''Because You Left'' — which skipped back and forth along the Island's timeline, leaving the castaways (and us) to puzzle out their time/space whereabouts — was a wild winner in my book. And it was made possible, no doubt, by all the bandwagon fans that have fallen off over the years — the ones Lost doesn't have to worry about alienating anymore. ''Because You Left.'' How ironic.

Still, for all its risky choices, the premiere did what all Lost premieres aspire to do: activate a wide swath of story in deft, dynamic fashion and remind us just who these characters are. Jack the reluctant hero. Kate the lonely fugitive. Hurley the cursed clown. Shirtless Sawyer, the abandonment-forged rogue, distraught over departed and dead friends, best expressed the episode's tenor of heartbreak and disorientation. He also best embodied its nervous subtext. The producers have joked that leaving Sawyer half naked for the whole episode was meant to pleasure those for whom the genre stuff might be displeasing. Yet he also stands for a show that took the risk of exposing a big part of itself to the audience — a part that it has often had to keep hidden for fear of being rejected.

The episode made clever use of a Willie Nelson tune called ''Shotgun Willie.'' (More on this in a minute.) But I found myself humming Nelson's more iconic hits, ''Always On My Mind'' and ''On The Road Again,'' as ''Because You Left'' went about its business of reintroducing our haunted, Constant-deprived heroes and then putting them in perilous transit. Two notes about what you're about to read. (1) Out of respect to those who may have only watched the premiere, this piece contains no spoilers of ''The Lie,'' which I'm giving its own recap. (2) This recap is very, very long. Much longer than I intended, much longer than it should be. My apologies. But let the length be proof of how much ''Because You Left'' engaged me — and I promise to be more concise, beginning with my take on ''The Lie.''

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