An awkward time has arrived for Lost, pun very much intended.
We have a rough sketch of three off-island years for Jack, Kate, Aaron (the Lie!Fam), and those other people, thanks to an entire season of flash-forwards. All we've got for the losers left back on the island is that life hasn't been too great for them sans Oceanic Six.
There are three years of story that need to be told. Three years, and we assume they need to be told in one season. No matter what, episode format is likely to change dramatically, since we're used to seeing about a month of time go by in an entire season. What we're struggling with over here--and what the writers are hopefully working on right now--is how do you tell three years of story without totally bucking the well-ingrained conventions of Lost?
I mean, we've been asking ourselves for weeks now how the show would even be able to incorporate flashbacks and flashforwards once we account for the fact that real time has now caught up with the flashforwards.
Plus, remember how much people disliked the first six episodes of season three? It was all messy having half of the main cast up with The Others while the rest of the camp was down at the beach. It took them all the way up to February sweeps to finally resolve that drama, and I have a hard time believing that Darlton would willingly venture into a season during which we know that the Oceanic Six has no hope of being reunited with the rest of the castaways for at least three years.
They won't. They have to have an impetus for the season, and as one producer said a few months ago, season five is about getting back to the island. This cannot be done if they were to pick up the season from where they left off, in what we've associated for four years with "real time" -- say, right after the Oceanic Six press "con"ference.
We think the more likely situation will be picking up the show three years in the future, picking up from Jack's conversation with Ben. That period, beginning the journey back to the island, will become "real time." Flashbacks can fill in more of the gaps between arriving on the mainland and Crazy!Jack time. The stories to tell here are about Widmore and Ben, Locke's time off-island, Kate re-meeting Cassidy, Nadia getting killed, and, of course, Jack and Kate's secret airport sexcapades. Real time stories are about the Oceanic Six venturing back to the island. It's about convincing Kate, finding out where Hurley and Sayid are hiding, getting Sun on board (yikes), figuring out the physics of the return, and ultimately doing so.
It's an active story that will ultimately involve all of the O6, unlike the in-between stories, which have so far been about the Lie!Fam and the other three in very separate realms.
Meanwhile, there are island stories. What I don't know is whether or not episodes will contain both on- and off-island events. I think the way it makes the most sense for me now is to take a kind of Law and Order: Criminal Intent approach--you know, where you have your Mr. Big episodes and you have your Vincent D'Onofrio episodes. This makes it all the more jarring when the two eventually share airtime.
Anyway, so on-island, you've got real time, whatever THAT means. Is it the past, is it the future? Is it where it's always been? (Kristin Veitch says the island has moved in time, but she's, you know, herself and everything.) And in this story, the first thing you see is going to be three years (at least in terms of years experienced) from where we left off. Shocking, no? Everyone'll probably look a little different, act a little different. Imagine, say, the premiere opening on the Barracks. We're introduced to the same people we've known for four years, except they're in these totally seemingly random situations. Rose is a widow (sorry, Bernard!), Dan's taken over leadership responsibilities in Locke's absence, Richard Alpert is still wearing too much eyeliner and looking far too young, and Sawyer and Juliet are raising their semi-precious baby together. Actually, the drama would be if they have this baby together but are fighting, just so they can continue to draw out the effing love quadrangle. It could also be neat--if somewhat predictable--to see Sawyer having stepped into the leadership role.
Then we get to see these "horrible things" happen via flashbacks. Episodes get to more or less maintain the real-time-plus-flashes format to which we've grown so accustomed, they just have to adapt what real time is.
Darlton noted at the end of the season that we had "caught up" to the flashforward end of season three. No, it's not the most concise story (we're not even sure we've got all the flashforwards in the correct chronological order!), but there's no reason to waste the majority of the off-island storytelling on a tale we already know the ending to. I would, however, like to see flashbacks flesh out those three years a little more. Especially since I'm hopeful at this point that there's a second baby in the picture, born between the flashes of "Something Nice Back Home" and "Through the Looking Glass."
It needs to take a significant amount of time to get the Oceanic Six back to the island. Having it happen too early makes the whole leaving thing seem trivial--we've got to really see the decision-making and the struggle to make the story of leaving the island worth it. I'd expect it to take all season, with a dramatic reunion of Team Locke and Team Six happening in the finale. And by dramatic, I mean awesome. "Hi, Kate, cute baby." "Thanks, Sawyer! She looks just like Jack, doesn't she?" Best friends forever.