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''Lost'' season 4 secrets

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At the end of their first week back at work, Lost majordomos Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof hit the Disney commissary in Burbank for a salmon risotto lunch cooked by visiting culinary whiz Jean-Luc Chassereau. ”It really is Christmas twice in one week,” says Cuse. ”The strike ends and Jean-Luc shows up. Fate is shining on us after a long 100 days.” And now, a gift for you: Scoop! Their strike-imposed publicity ban lifted, the exec producers treated EW to some dish on the show’s fourth season. Consider this a flashback to the season preview they never did — plus some tantalizing flashes of the future.

”THIS YEAR IS ALL ABOUT the castaways’ relationship to the freighter folk,” says Cuse of the season’s four intriguing new characters. ”Our heroes will find themselves defending the island they wanted to leave.” Adds Lindelof: ”How did some people get off the island — and what happened to the people who didn’t? That’s the mystery that we owe the answer to at the end of the season.” Another mystery that’ll be answered: the identity of Coffin Corpse from Jack’s flash-forward.

THE FEB. 14 EPISODE REVEALED THAT bug-eyed über-Other Ben is living off-island along with Jack, Kate, Hurley, and Sayid. So is he one of the Oceanic 6 whose fates have been teased this season? The producers suggest that Ben could have passed himself off as a passenger; after all, he has all those fake passports. But they also promise that the guessing game will end on March 13. By the end of the seventh episode, ”all the candidates will have been fielded,” says Cuse.

WANNA KNOW WHO JACOB IS? Well, you’ll have to wait. We’ll see more of the ghostly entity’s roaming cabin this year, but Cuse says Jacob is an important endgame mystery that will be fully unpacked in the final two seasons. As for that polar bear skeleton that freighter passenger Charlotte found in the Tunisian desert, the producers won’t be able to flesh out the freighter folks’ backstory just yet due to the strike-shortened season. However, you will visit the freighter and meet another group of people who live on board — characters who have their own names and secret agendas.

THE BEST NEWS FOR LONGTIME FANS IS that the five new episodes the producers are about to shoot will continue to emphasize the original cast — including Michael (Harold Perrineau), who’s finally slated to return. ”It’s great to get back to the season-1’ers,” says Lindelof. (That said, Juliet will be showcased in the March 6 outing.) ”If the major criticism of season 4 is going to be ‘I wish you had given us more about the freighter folk’ — we’ll take that.”

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