Back to the Island

Good news for "Lost" fans, aside from the fact that the show returns Wednesday: He doesn't come right out and say it, but co-creator J.J. Abrams strongly implies that he and the show's writers know just where this season is going.

Abrams, after a year spent mostly away from the show while he was directing "Mission: Impossible III," co-wrote the third-season premiere with fellow creator Damon Lindelof, and he says he'll direct an episode at some point later in the season.

"For me, writing the first episode with Damon was just an absolute joy, getting to write those characters again and be inside the heads of those characters," he says. Here's the kicker, though:

"As it goes on this season, especially where it goes, I'm looking forward not to just directing an episode down the line but -- we have a structure in place for the remainder of the year, and I think when we get to the end of the season it's such an exciting an unbelievable conclusion ... I would love to be able to work on the finale."

But let's not get too far ahead of things. "Lost" opens its third season with an episode that focuses on Jack (Matthew Fox), Sawyer (Josh Holloway) and Kate (Evangeline Lilly), who were taken captive by the Others at the end of last season after being sold out by Michael (Harold Perrineau, who's left the show, at least for the time being). Executive producer Carlton Cuse, who runs the show with Lindelof, says fans will notice a change this season.

"[Last season] we were interior, we were down in the ground in that hatch. It was very monochromatic, and I don't think the show will be as dark and as intense this year," Cuse says. "I think we'll be oriented more on the character axis than on the mythological axis. We're really always kind of concerned about overwhelming the audience with the mythological questions of the show."

It's not that that stuff -- the numbers, the Others, that giant four-toed statue glimpsed in the finale -- will recede. Cuse even says that the polar bear may make a return appearance. "People have been asking, 'What happened to the polar bear?'" he says. "So we will be doing some polar bear story."

Both men, though, emphasize that the mysterious, sci fi-ish trappings of "Lost" that so enthrall obsessive fans have never been their primary focus. As Abrams puts it, "It's not a puzzle before it's a character piece. It's not a science-fiction series before it's a character drama and an emotional drama."

It's that aspect of the series, he thinks, that has allowed the show to become one of TV's bigger hits while more genre-driven material like "Invasion," "Threshold" and "Surface" -- all of which seemed like attempts at making the next "Lost" -- didn't make it out of last season alive.

"I'm sure [they] had great promise, but they all kind of happened in response to something that I feel like wasn't really about genre at all," Abrams says. "Genre is secondary. It was all about what really makes Locke [Terry O'Quinn] tick, and what has Jin [Daniel Dae Kim] gone through that we don't quite understand in terms of making sense of his behavior."

ABC has scheduled "Lost" this season so that there will be no repeats, which is more good news for fans who have been frustrated in past years when a new episode would be followed by several weeks of reruns. The downside is that after six episodes to start the season, the show will take a long break before returning in early 2007 for a long run to May's finale.

"We're ecstatic about it. We couldn't be happier," Cuse says of the scheduling pattern. "We see those six episodes as like a little miniseries, and it's going to be intense and high-octane. We're very excited about the way [ABC] figured out how to do it."

And yes, the show will leave viewers hanging off some sort of cliff at the end of those six episodes. Cuse allows that "it's going to be pretty big." Abrams agrees, but he also has this warning: "I wish I could promise you that we're not going to make you crazy. I'm sorry."