Razzle Frickin’ Dazzle

We're alive!I can’t describe how much I liked this week’s episode of “Lost.” No exaggeration, it’s one of my favorite episodes of the entire series, and maybe even one of my favorite episodes of any television series. It’s like Darin Morgan “X-Files” good.

The reason I thought of Morgan is because “Exposé” does the same for “Lost” what Morgan’s episodes did for “The X-Files.” They’re darkly comic, they work on a bunch of different levels, and they make fun of the series and its format without being too heavy-handed or breaking out of the show’s mythology. Here’s some of the ways “Exposé” worked:

As its own story: The more cynical in the audience can object, but watching this show I lost track of how many times it surprised me; there were at least four twists in the first ten minutes alone. Every single reveal worked for me. Each one either genuinely surprised me, made me laugh (intentionally) at the implausibility, or just impressed me with how clever it was. Towards the end I, like I’m sure most of the audience, started to piece together what really happened, but there was still one last gruesome twist I hadn’t seen coming. And to go from the cameo at the beginning to the really creepy ending — that’s just plain good TV. And in just an hour, they had more character development than some of the regulars have after three seasons.

As part of the larger story: Sure, it started to drift into Zelig territory, seeing as how Nikki and Paolo were at even more of the major events of the island than Jack, Kate, or Sawyer. But it took a lot of balls to force them into so many places, and they all worked. I really couldn’t tell what was filmed new and what was taken from existing footage. No, there weren’t any huge revelations, but this series has had enough — what’s been lacking is fleshing out existing storylines and tying up loose ends. And all of them, from Juliet and Ben’s appearance, to the mention of Mr. Eko’s mysterious line after he encountered the monster, to Locke’s line about secrets, to Sawyer’s change of character, to Paolo and the toilet; just worked.

Did they have this planned from the first introduction of these characters? Hard to tell, but almost certainly not. Does it matter? Not one bit. In a way, it’s even more impressive that they had to work backwards and still managed to make everything fit together.

As commentary on the series: This was heavy on the self-referential humor, but never too heavy-handed. The comment about “you know what happens to guest stars” started it off, and it ended up being the most blatant one. (Well, except for the obvious joke of the whole episode, that they’re the characters nobody knows and nobody likes.) They poked fun at the implausibility of what happened to Boone, Locke’s nonsensical behavior, the reunion of dead characters, and Shannon’s over-the-top bitchiness at the beginning of the series.

If I remember correctly, Juliet reacted with disbelief when she heard about Ben’s “master plan.” That struck me as a great way to retroactively shoe-horn a “we meant to do that all along” rationalization for the convoluted plot of the second to third season, and at the same time poke fun at how convoluted it was. All with just one expression from Juliet.

As a reminder of “Lost”‘s potential: The series has been so dry lately, it’s easy to just remember what happened in earlier episodes but forget why it seemed like such a big deal at the time. At the end of the pilot, the show had already introduced a horrible plane disaster, flashbacks, numbers stations, a monster, a burgeoning love story, a jungle, and hints at mysticism, all on top of the marooned-on-a-desert-island concept. And it seemed like it could go anywhere from that.

As the show’s progressed, it’s taken some pretty big risks more than a few times, but has also settled into a pattern and a formula. Even big plot-revealing episodes (or at least as close as we ever get on this series) are still mostly straightforward. This episode showed that the series can be formulaic, and still have as much potential as an anthology series. Really, what other series on TV can show a black comedy film noir set on a tropical island?