And what they'll be doing is kicking things off with a meaty sweep of story. In addition to being a flash-forward adventure for globe-trotting Ben, in which his war with British billionaire Charles Widmore (Alan Dale) over control of the Island will intensify, episode 9 revisits a long-simmering subplot: Sayid's romance with Iraqi love Nadia (Andrea Gabriel). According to Lindelof, a new dimension of Smokey the monster's mercurial nature will also be revealed, per the Lost rule that ''you learn something new about the monster whenever it appears.'' And Cuse says a major story line will begin for Claire (Emilie de Ravin), Aaron's Aussie mommy, who lost boyfriend Charlie in last year's finale: ''Mysterious things are happening to Claire that set up the next few episodes and the next few years, too.''
''The Shape of Things to Come'' will be followed by a flash-forward installment for Jack. ''We're starting to close the loop on the end of last season,'' says Fox. ''Jack in the future is a man marked by weakness, but the Jack of the present is strong. You're going to understand how he made that transition.'' The last three episodes include only one flashback, which the producers say will be a mythically significant outing for...someone. The rumor: Locke (Terry O'Quinn). Fans will also see a new Dharma station called the Orchid all three levels of it that might shed more light on the Island's time-warping properties. Peripheral faves like Penelope, ageless Other Richard Alpert (Nestor Carbonell), and off-Island mystery man Matthew Abaddon (Lance Reddick) will pop up. But due to the strike, two breakout freighter newbies frazzled physicist Daniel Faraday (Jeremy Davies) and ghost-whispering hustler Miles Straume (Ken Leung) won't be getting their spotlights until next year. The May 22 finale will complicate the Jack-Kate-Sawyer love triangle by featuring ''a spectacular kiss'' and elaborate on Jack's flash-forward ambition to journey back to the Island. ''This year's finale will sum up exactly how difficult it may be to accomplish that,'' says Lindelof, who adds this cryptic response to speculation that flash-forwards will vanish once Island present meets off-Island future: ''There could easily be a time when the word flash becomes irrelevant.''
While fans wait to see what form Lost's future takes, the cast waits to see whether they'll be part of it: Peril abounds for the castaways in the next five episodes. During EW's stay on the set, Garcia prepared for an encounter with Smokey, and Holloway was spritzed with fake sweat and a touch of blood in advance of a raging gunfight. After fishing that mystery corpse from the surf, Daniel Dae Kim addressed a reporter's question about Jin's uncertain flash-forward fate (he seemingly died in the March 13 episode) with a mock-frantic cry: ''I don't know!'' As it was at the start, Lost is once more the show where anything can happen. Drying out in the sun after scurrying away from a big wave that washed out the scene, Yunjin Kim sits in the tall grass of the beach and sums it up: ''It feels like season 1. And I love it.''
More Lost: See Doc Jensen at the filming of the series' first post-strike episode (airing April 24)! In part 1, he visits Ben's house and interviews Josh Holloway and Michael Emerson:
In part 2, Jorge Garcia talks about Jack and Hurley, and Doc stakes out the sub: