By Ken Tucker
February 18, 2009 at 05:00 AM EST
Mario Perez/ABC

Most reviews of Lost? approach it as a devilishly complex fantasy-adventure saga with roots in comic books and science fiction. ?In other words: guy-nerd ?nirvana. But might I suggest a ?different lens through which to gawp at Lost‘s superb fifth season?

One reason the series has gained renewed momentum is that it tells so many stories about, with crucial plots that hinge upon, women. For example: Few of us would care as much about stubbly brooder Jack (Matthew Fox) were he not so long-lastingly involved with Evangeline Lilly’s Kate. And Elizabeth Mitchell’s Juliet is fully the equal of any male here for her hard-boiled realism and run-through-the-jungle fearlessness.

One of Lost‘s key writers, Brian K. Vaughan, created Y: The Last Man, a comic-book miniseries that posits a world populated entirely by women, except for one man. (Jorge Garcia’s Hurley was reading a Spanish-language ?copy of it in the airport in the Feb. 18 episode.) Lost‘s gender disparity isn’t that severe, of course, but the more nuanced centrality of the female sensibility — the importance of childbirth that’s been a key mystery on Lost‘s Island; the way Kate triangulates with brainy Jack and brawny Sawyer (Josh Holloway); and the way Rebecca Mader’s Charlotte became both a seer of future danger and a humanizing influence on the cold-fish scientist Daniel Faraday (Jeremy Davies) — is a fundamental source of Lost‘s power as high drama.

What’s great about the series this season is that you can dive deep into its familiar-yet-fresh bubbling stew of physics, ? numerology, and smoke monsters…or you can just skim across its blinding-sun surface, grooving on the thwarted romances, ?the time-shifting nosebleeds, and how great Kate looks in a business power suit and heels. (Sorry, was that my id talking?) ?Either way, Lost yields up pleasure and dread simultaneously. We’ve got to get back to the Island, insists one faction; but ”This place is death!” declares Charlotte, a ?very convincing argument against Island ?back-getting, since she’s dying as she says it.

And who is proving to be the ground zero, the earthy Mother Earth, the pit and the pendulum of Lost mythology? Fionnula Flanagan’s Eloise Hawking: doughty British schoolmarm type with witchy vibes, Faraday’s mother, dispatcher of Jack on a crucial mission.

To be sure, there’s a lot of Lost man-power: Michael Emerson still deserves that Emmy he was nominated for as Ben, and Locke (Terry O’Quinn) — well, Locke totally rocks the Feb. 25 episode.

But as Hurley might say: Dude, the chicks are awesome. A