FAQ: Returning to 'Lost'

What a difference a year makes. After a wobbly start to its third season, "Lost" rebounded in a big way in its final episodes, leading up to the mind-blowing, instant-classic finale "Through the Looking-Glass." That episode—particularly its game-changing flash-forward element—almost single-handedly won back the good faith of many television critics (this one included) who thought the labyrinthine plot was a dog getting shaggier by the episode. But now that "Lost" has gone from hot to lukewarm to tepid and now back to hot again, the question for newcomers or abandoners of the show is "Should I start watching?" As the show makes its long-awaited return, here is a list of frequently asked questions about "Lost"'s fourth season, and helpful answers.

Q: I've never watched "Lost" before. Should I start now?
A: Not without a little preparation first. Would you grab a foil and challenge an Olympic fencer if you'd never done it before? Of course not, and similarly, if you start watching "Lost" now without any knowledge of it, there's going to be exposition flying around, and some of it will poke you in the eye. Luckily, ABC understands this, which is why before each season premiere or return from hiatus, they broadcast a recap special designed to give newcomers and the forgetful faithful the Cliffs Notes version of what has happened so far. To fill in the gaps, there is the handy, exhaustive Lostpedia Web site. It'll also help to watch both the recap show and the premiere with the "Lost" geek in your life. (If you don't know one, it's because someone is keeping secrets.)

Q: How are there new episodes? I thought there was some kind of writers' strike going on.
A: There is, but the "Lost" gang was able to complete eight of the scheduled 16 episodes before the strike began. It has been speculated that if the strike ends soon enough, the cast and crew will be able to produce the remainder of the season, so let's all cross our fingers. From what I've heard, the eighth episode ends with a doozy of a cliffhanger.

Q: I used to watch "Lost," but I started watching "Heroes" instead. Should I switch back?
A: That depends. Do you like "Heroes" because of the hammy acting, stilted dialogue and utter lack of internal logic, or in spite of those factors? If you're in the former group, by all means stay away. If you're in the latter group, it's probably because you got impatient with "Lost"'s layering mystery upon mystery. Fair enough, but depending on when you checked out you may be surprised at how much information we've gotten. The show's writers are far more generous than they're given credit for. Besides, the show may not be the most forthright, but its writing and ensemble cast are among television's best.

Q: 1. Have you seen the season premiere? 2. Is it good? 3. Will you tell me what happens?
A: 1. Yes. 2. Um … yes. 3. Oh, God no. I hesitate on the "Is it good?" question only because I will admit that following the explosive "Looking-Glass," the season premiere feels a bit as though someone slammed on the brakes. The show's pace can be glacial at times, and while the payoffs are often huge, that doesn't make getting to them any less frustrating. While we do get some information, the answers only open the door for more questions, which is the show's modus operandi. I won't spoil anything major in case the folks at ABC are mobbed up, but I will say that we find out the identity of another castaway who escaped the island with Jack and Kate. We also find out how many others (or is it Others?) escaped with them.

Q: This show already has too many characters, and I heard it's getting more. Say it ain't so.
A: Afraid I can't. There are five new characters introduced within the first two episodes (two in the first episode, the rest in the second). I can't tell you anything about them, but I'll tell you who plays them and you can speculate all you like: Lance Reddick ("The Wire"), Jeremy Davies ("Saving Private Ryan"), Rebecca Mader ("The Devil Wears Prada"), Jeff Fahey ("The Lawnmower Man") and Ken Leung ("X-Men 3"). I guess I can say that they are mysterious, but that's stating the obvious.