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Ladies and Gentlemen, M.C. Gainey

By RD Heldenfels Published: January 18, 2006

Sometimes we know too much about television. Take, for example, M.C. Gainey. He's a steady, sturdy character actor who appears in a lot of things, and is good enough that somewhere along the line I made a note of his name. And noticed when he popped up on ''Lost'' before, for the taking of Walt.

Noticed, too, when his name was in the opening credits of ''Lost'' tonight. Seeing his name, I figured we were going to get a closer look at the Others tonight. I was a little disappointed to lose that element of plot surprise. But the show still delivered, about what haunts Jack, about Hurley's looking for love and yes, about the Others.

Even with a look that recalled some discount-store Halloween get-up (a very cheap Wolfman, say), Gainey had a great moment, and some good lines -- and helped set up that fabulous, chilling moment at the end when Jack wondered what it would take to train an army.

In fact, this ''Lost'' felt tantalizing like a huge episode, a great leap in the saga of the crash survivors and the Others, and one full of cultural imagery.

How could you not look at the Others in this context and not think eventually of Native Americans confronting unwanted settlers? The scene illuminated last week's -- and this week's -- increasing focus on the survivors' camp as a town, making it even more a colonial outpost, or a miners' settlement in the farthest reaches of the Wild West. It made ''Lost'' a companion to ''Deadwood,'' only while ''Deadwood'' is so often about the lack of civilization and law on society's fringe, ''Lost'' is about building that civilization and finding law. And, even though I keep harping on it, that nation-building also suggests strongly that the people of ''Lost'' are involved in a social experiment, perhaps one set up as part of the Dharma Initiative.

(A footnote: In 1970, ABC briefly aired a series called ''The New People,'' about a group of young Americans stranded on an island after a plane crash. The crash survivors had to create their own society in the buildings left over from a U.S. atomic test site. (See ''The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows'' for more.) Rod Serling wrote the pilot for producer Aaron Spelling, though Serling biographer Gordon F. Sander says Serling didn't have much to do with the series -- and that it wasn't very good. I remember it only dimly, although I have a paperback novelization of the show somewhere. But I keep hearing echoes in ''Lost.'')

Now that I am done overthinking this, let me get back to those revelations. Because the episode moved so suddenly forward, ''Lost'' had the air of a three-hour action movie that has finally reached the last 30 minutes and has to get things moving to the big stunt. I know that ''Lost'' isn't really doing that, because it has to keep its story going for the rest of this season, into the next and, Nielsen willing, beyond. But the telecast still energized me.

And I needed that. This was another night of meetings. By the time my wife and I were home, we needed just to watch some good TV. And there it was, ''Lost,'' engaging, teasing, advancing, satisfying. It took me out of my world and into the one it created. I appreciated the chance to visit.

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