''Lost'': The mystery of Nikki and Paulo solved!
Before we begin, a pop quiz. Pencils ready? Let's begin.
What do these three television artifacts have in common?
Lost Flight A 1969 TV movie about the survivors of an airplane crash struggling to live on a deserted jungle island. ''An adult version of Lord of the Flies,'' according to imdb.com.
The New People A short-lived 1969 TV series on ABC about a bunch of young punks who crash on an island that was supposed to be used as an atomic test site but never was. (Maybe the military got spooked by the giant smoke monster that liked to bang them around like an angry baby with a rattle.) Forgotten by the outside world, the kids settle into the abandoned facilities on the island and take a stab at starting an idyllic civilization.
Lost An ongoing ABC television series that last night fielded a frequently clever if not altogether successful episode about two of its least compelling characters, Nikki and Paulo, a.k.a. ''Little Miss Who the Hell Are You?'' and ''Hunky Brazilian Guy Who Poops a Lot.''
The common denominator?
Billy Dee! Billy Dee! Billy Dee!
Yes, folks, it's true: With his fleeting, winky-winky appearance in last night's Lost, Billy Dee Williams can now claim to have graced each of these similar-sounding enterprises with his singular talent, rakish charm, and good humor. Interesting, don't you think?
Doc Jensen Insta-Theory! The island in Lost is the island in The New People. The kids who landed there in the late '60s? They all grew up and became...the Others!
Oh, but I digress. Which isn't a bad way to sum up the Nikki-and-Paulo-centric ''Exposé'' a digression, and not a welcome one. I'd wager that many Lost watchers will be gathering around the watercooler today to complain about the episode. The critique will go something like this: ''Man, I can't believe they wasted a whole hour on those two, especially after last week, which was one of the best episodes of Lost ever! I wanted to see how Jack and Juliet dealt with the destruction of the submarine! I wanted to see if Ben let Kate and Sayid leave Otherville! And I wanted to see what happened with Locke and his dad! What I didn't want to see was @#$%! Paulo and @#$%! Nikki! The best thing about this episode is that they got killed because at least I know my time will never be wasted on those two ever again.''
Or something like that. I know there's a lot of animosity out there toward Nikki and Paulo the same kind of antipathy that, say, Star Wars fans may have felt toward a certain treacherous administrator of Cloud City by the name of Lando when he entered the mix and took precious screen time away from our favorite characters at a crucial moment in their respective and collective stories. I have to admit I was one of those Lando haters. Put me on trial for crimes against geekdom, but yes, I resented how he seemed to muscle his way into my cherished fantasy and usurped moments that I felt belonged to others. Like the climactic space battle in Return of the Jedi, for example that should have been Han Solo and Chewie in the Millennium Falcon leading the charge on the Death Star, not Actor Dude From the '70s Who I Don't Care About and that yukking lump of Muppet whatchamacallit! Needless to say, you won't find a Lando in the collection of action figures currently collecting dust in my parents' basement. (Yes, Dad, I'll get those out of there someday.)
But the producers of Lost have been keenly aware of how viewers feel about Nikki and Paulo, and ''Exposé'' was both a coy acknowledgment of that frustration and a rejoinder to it. To me, the episode was an ode to all those easily disposable ''guest stars'' who help keep a show running not to mention help allow the stars of the show to slack off for a week. The story was about anyone who dreams of living a sexy A-list life but instead finds himself eking out a modest, mediocre existence as a supporting actor or day player in someone else's show and what they're willing to do to reverse their fortunes.
And so it was that we learned that prior to the crash, Nikki was an aspiring actress who had scored something of a break a guest spot on a campy Aaron Spelling-esque jiggle drama with a guilty-pleasure cult following called Exposé, about crime-fighting strippers who work for a mysterious, pimped-up boss named Mr. LaShade, played by Williams. It's the kind of show where characters say things like ''Razzle-dazzle!'' right before they karate-chop bad guys in the neck. After her character got blown away by Mr. LaShade (turns out he's actually the show's shadowy villain, code-named the Cobra), Nikki accepted her sudden unemployment with a journeyman actor's stoic resignation, even turning down an offer to have her character resurrected next season. Nikki pretty much stands in for any wannabe starlet willing to flash her boobs and say stupid things for the sake of a SAG card and a paycheck. God bless you all.
The sly humor continued when we were introduced to Paulo, who was working as the personal chef to Howard Zukerman, Exposé's moneybags producer and Nikki's sugar daddy. (Casting couch, anyone?) When Zukerman told her that Paulo was ''the Wolfgang Puck of Brazil,'' I couldn't help immediately recalling how Rodrigo Santoro, the actor who plays Paulo, has been called ''the Tom Cruise of Brazil'' in more than a few press clippings I've come across. In these early scenes, ''Exposé'' crackled with an impish wit, and I found myself hopeful that Nikki and Paulo were on their way to earning their redemption as characters. But then the twists kicked in, and it all slipped away from them.
Because Lost just doesn't have enough criminals and con men on the show, it turns out that Nikki and Paulo were partners in crime and love, working a scam that involved poisoning Zukerman and stealing his diamonds. (Whether they're professional swindlers or just a pair of desperate kids looking to exploit their good fortune to score an even bigger fortune wasn't made clear.) After killing and stealing, they hopped aboard Oceanic 815 with dreams of living happily ever after in the United States. Oh, well.
We learned that while they'd been on the Island, Nikki and Paulo had kept mostly to themselves as they searched for the lost bag that held their diamonds. They intersected with many Lostaways, including an ironic encounter with the late Boone and Shannon (very game of Maggie Grace and Ian Somerhalder to return for some scenes that helped flesh out the whole ''Nikki and Paulo were always there'' conceit), as well as some Others, most notably when Paulo eavesdropped on Ben and Juliet inside the Pearl Station and overheard them plotting to kidnap Jack, Kate, and Sawyer. In other words, Paulo basically knew that the terrorists er, sorry, the Others were plotting an attack but sat on the knowledge and did nothing to stop it. Yep, he's a Poo-Poo Head, all right.
Paulo and Nikki began their tragic descent when Paulo found the jewels and, for complicated personal reasons, decided to hide them from Nikki. From there, the relationship between the two imploded in a Treasure of the Sierra Madre-meets-Romeo and Juliet kind of way. As nifty as that sounds, it ended ridiculously. Nikki figured out her boyfriend was cheating her and got back at him by...throwing a spider at him. But not just any spider one of Dr. Artz's icky Medusa spiders, whose poison induces a paralysis that resembles death. Nikki snatched the diamonds out of Paulo's crotch, then got bit by a Medusa spider, too! Oh, the deadly and implausibly poetic symmetry of it all! Their bodies were found, mistaken for corpses, and buried at Boone Hill, and just as the first pile of dirt splashed across Nikki's face, yes, her eyes blinked open. But the castaways failed to see it, and so they buried Nikki and Paulo alive.
And so, rest in peace, Nikki and Paulo. Ultimately, their arc on the show was revealed to be part morality tale, part elaborate inside joke, one that finally answered a question that really didn't need to be answered: How come we never see any of the other castaways on the beach? Whether this was the intention or not, I did appreciate the episode as a playful, ironic, and affectionate nod of respect to the actors who toil on behalf on Lost, especially those who labor and wait for a moment to shine and then recede again into background, if not disappear altogether. (Bernard and Rose, where are you?)
At the same time, I don't think it was an episode that will do much to change anyone's minds about these two. For months now, many fans have been speculating that Nikki or Paulo or both would be revealed as Others. And for the past few weeks, I've been promoting the notion that Nikki and Paulo would be used as proof of Desmond-triggered alterations to the time stream (i.e., thanks to Desmond's meddling, the pair took the places of Bernard and Rose on the plane), or that Nikki and Paulo's bodies would be hijacked by the souls of some deceased Others, such as Mikhail Bakunin or Ms. Klugh.
Nikki and Paulo were destined to be, for better or worse, merely Nikki and Paulo. What we saw was what we got. They are the Landos of Lost, useful yet unlovable, and years down the road, I doubt you'll find their action figures collecting dust in anyone's basement.
Till next time, some questions:
1. I suspect that scene from Exposé that we saw in which Mr. LaShade is revealed to be the villainous, murderous Cobra is actually foreshadowing a similar betrayal in Lost. What do you think?
2. Do you think Ben and/or Juliet really left that walkie-talkie behind in the Pearl by accident or do you think they left it behind to be found?
3. Am I getting this wrong, or was the episode suggesting that some of the spiders that Dr. Artz had caught in his bottles had metamorphosed into butterflies?
4. Do you think Sun is going to slip and tell Jin that it was Sawyer and Charlie who actually abducted her last season?
5. And finally, might my pet theory that the Others are angling to snatch and possess the bodies of dead castaways still be in play? Might we see a hand or two or more shoot up through the graves at Boone Hill, just like Carrie, or am I beating a dead horse of theory?
(For more Lost theories, news and crazy talk, check out Doc Jensen on Mondays and Wednesdays!)