Time travel. Quantum physics. A plot twist straight out of ''Weekend at Bernie's.'' This is turning out to be the series' most daring -- and geektastic -- outing yet. And that's saying something. Doc Jensen sorts it out

By Jeff Jensen
February 05, 2009 at 05:00 AM EST
Mario Perez/ABC

Across the street from a neatly tended cemetery on the island of Oahu, there is a gated lot where the past, present, and future of Lost all come together. The Others’ submarine, Henry Gale’s hot-air balloon, Locke’s outrigger — all beached on the grass like so many Black Rock shipwrecks. And inside a large soundstage, hidden away from prying eyes, Lost‘s iconic castaways are huddled on a top secret set, trying very hard not to totally spaz out. The action being shot for the year’s 12th episode is almost spoilerifically indescribable, but we can report — perhaps to your great relief — that most of the gang is back on the Island after an early sweep of time-travel episodes that kept many of them separated by distance and history. Jack (Matthew Fox) sits tense and terse, dressed as…uh…can’t say. Sawyer (Josh Holloway) bursts through a door, freaking out over…someone. Someone who is bleeding. A lot. As Kate (Evangeline Lilly) eyeballs both her men, trying as always to decide between them, psychic hustler Miles Straume (Ken Leung) cradles a shotgun while fretting about — and we think we’re getting this right — the catastrophic collapse of the space-time continuum! (Or maybe he said ”the economy.” Same difference, though, right?)

No, Lost definitely isn’t playing it safe, even though it has every reason to do just that. Coming off a critically acclaimed, Emmy-nominated fourth season and entering its next-to-last year, ABC’s brilliantly odd, infectiously frustrating crypto-drama (airing Wednesdays at 9 p.m.) could have attempted to keep its no-longer-huge-but-still-fervently-fanatic base sated and stable until 2010’s Gimme all my answers NOW! series-capping season. Nope. Didn’t even try. Instead, Lost has opted to start season 5 by baring its potentially alienating geek soul and challenging its audience even more with gonzo storytelling. Thought the show was confusing before? Try this on for size: Time travel. Quantum physics. Hydrogen bombs. And a Da Vinci Code-meets-Foucault’s Pendulum-meets-Weekend at Bernie’s conspiracy to save (or destroy) the world, the linchpin of which involves U-Hauling the corpse of John Locke (Terry O’Quinn) back to the Island. When the gloriously strange saga of Lost finally concludes next year, season 5 is likely to be remembered as the one when the series came out of the closet and declared itself. But here’s hoping it doesn’t lose everyone in the process: So far this season, Lost is averaging 11.3 million viewers, down 3.4 percent from last season, and a far cry from the series-high average of 15.9 million in season 1. But the producers say: Come what may. ”The fear is that Lost just became an AP class, and really, what’s one’s incentive for taking an AP class?” says exec producer Damon Lindelof. ”But the show has gotten to that point where it had to let its freak flag fly. It needed to announce, ‘You wanna know what the Island is? You wanna know why these people were brought to the Island? You wanna know what their purpose for being there is? Well, it might be a little weirder than you would’ve hoped.”’

NEXT PAGE: ”There will be many, many answers, lots of things from past seasons that left the audience thinking, ‘That’s never going to pay off’ — but it does, in really cool ways.”