Review: 'Lost' finds itself again in new season

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So "Lost" found me again.

Ain't DVD a glorious thing?

And I really thought "Lost" had lost me for good, after we burned the first half of last season watching Jack, Kate and Sawyer brutalized in The Others' animal cages amid rainstorms, while the rest of the castaways (and sunshine and the ocean) were perversely MIA. I wrote in our TV Zone blog that I'd had it with the show.

And I meant it. I stopped watching. My esteemed colleague Verne Gay tirelessly filed dispatches on further episodes to fuel "Lost" fans, while I turned my attention to "Heroes," "The Shield," "The Sopranos" and other definite-payoff delights. (OK, except "The Sopranos.")

Then they sent me the "Lost" season 3 DVD (last month's seven-disc Buena Vista release).

And I found myself losing myself again.

After studiously avoiding spoilers all year, I sat down last weekend to watch last season's last 10 episodes, fresh, uninterrupted and consecutively. And suddenly I understood why so many of my friends say they don't watch "Lost" or "24" or "Heroes" each week anymore. They wait for the DVDs to come out so they can, well, lose themselves, in immersive storytelling.

Thus could I be blown away all over again this weekend, converted back into the fold by spellbinding telling of a jet-fueled tale that later in the season was actually speeding someplace.

Then on Monday, ABC sent me the first two episodes of the new season, which begins Thursday night at 9. (There's a handy 8 p.m. one-hour recap Thursday, plus tonight's 8-10 p.m. repeat of last spring's season-ender with added "pop-up"-style text info.)

Whoa. This stuff is good. No, superb. The new-season episodes provide some socko payoffs, while also managing to confound expectations and present savvy new wrinkles. Remember how dissolute Jack looked in that finale's surprise flash-forward? All lost and drugged out? Well, there's an entirely different picture in a flash-forward in this season premiere. Remember how he met Kate in L.A. in the last one? He meets a different survivor this time, who's got a lot more to say (read: reveal). Remember how Jack told Kate, "We have to go back"? That future prospect stirs quite a difference of opinion tonight, at the same time the present potential for getting off the island by helicopter and/or freighter creates its own serious split. Among the living survivors. And the dead ones. And who's to say which are which?

"Lost" left behind some fine breadcrumbs last spring, too. Remember Naomi, the parachuted rescuer whom we were warned (like, duh) may not be what she seems? She's got a key role to play. Even though Locke lethally shot her. Other "rescuers" arrive on the island bearing their own creepy "primary objective." And devious Ben, captured king of The Others, just keeps stirring the pot.

What, you want to know more? That would be telling. And I don't play that. Plenty of people online are proffering spoilers. But advance plot details are called that with good reason. They spoil things. Yes, there are "Lost"-ies who must know all twists beforehand and hash 'em over endlessly afterward. No, thanks. I don't want to dissect. I only want to be insanely entertained. And I want you to be, too.

So let's just say the mind games keep on coming, with truth and trust as always hard to come by. Yet this season opener of "Lost" feels like the start of a solution - and I felt that way even before I looked up the episode title: "The Beginning of the End." The producers knew going in they had 48 episodes left (supposedly three seasons of 16 hours each), so they could judiciously advance toward a climax rather than trying to stave one off. They now seem devoted to keeping the tale moving, briskly, and often physically, while still peeling away layers of insight into character and community behavior. And that's what makes "Lost" more than just another eerie mystery with which-guy-will-she-choose goop on top.

"Lost" exhibits a sense of wonder again, and irony, and some wit and joy, along with the clues, frights, foreboding and occasional "I love you." Hurley proves himself anew the conscience of the island, and the show. Jack and Kate and Sawyer and Locke and Ben face off in new permutations. Sides must be chosen. And the new characters feel like parts of the central puzzle rather than subsidiary riddles.

In more ways than one, the story keeps moving forward - even as it doubles back to give old clues new prominence and bring everything full circle. Time to pay attention again. "Lost" seems to have found itself, too.

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