I don't know if I have said this before, but ''Lost's'' episode tonight reminded me once again how the show is sometimes like watching Sugar Ray Leonard against Marvin Hagler -- Leonard hanging back, letting Hagler dominate most of a round, then revving up in the final moments to impress the judges. While there were many good things in the episode, which focused on Mr. Eko, it felt a little too methodical at first. Eko's back story was interesting enough, and there was a nice twist ending the speculation that he had actually been on the drug plane. Still,it was as if it knew the audience had been away for a long time (since the show had gone through an extended rerun period) and needed to be brought gently back into the story. (The recap telecast preceding it was part of that re-entry process, of course, and I saw first-hand how important those shows are. As we caught the remainder of the recap, my wife looked at one scene and said, ''I forgot that!'') And I have to say that the smoky entity just looked silly,
But when it kicks in, gosh it kicks in, and it did so in the closing scenes tonight. The images in the camp, for one thing, suggested that the survivors are no longer just people in the same situation; they're a community, living in their own small town, and they have begun to build lives where the idea of being rescued is no longer front and center. And there was the bending of our emotions, from sadness over Charlie's exile, to the evidence that Charlie's demons may be far stronger than even the most cynical of viewers thought.
I was even more impressed by ''Lost'' after watching the first hour of the new season of ''24.'' You're going to see a grittier, grimier, pulpier Jack Bauer, but this show is only peripherally a character portrait. There are currents of politics, with clear allusions to the Nixon era, but it will always sacrifice political meditation for the sake of melodramatic action. The first hour includes the deaths of two significant characters, and nostril-flaring on a level that recalls daytime dramas at their most overwrought. I have three episodes to go before I pass judgment on ''24's'' start; still, at this point, it feels even sillier than in previous years.