Exposé (S3, ep. 14)

Nikki: “Thanks, but I’m only a guest-star, and we all know what happens to guest-stars.”

Exposé is a wickedly good time on its own terms – a darkly deft and tragi-comic etching of two background characters that made such a negative impact on audience opinion that the show’s writers decided to destroy them.

What was Nikki and Paulo’s true sin? Why did they inspire such a heated response from Lost’s fan base? It certainly wasn’t because of their copious screen time. Before ‘Exposé’ aired, we’d probably been treated to 15 minutes worth of their presence in total, most of which involved them tagging along with Locke to the Peal Station. And yet, despite this, the folks who watched the show clearly wanted them dead. Why?

Well, mostly they were kind of boring. Nikki was certainly no more selfish or self-absorbed than Shannon or Michael. Paulo was no more surly and dickish than Sawyer. But neither character made much of an impression outside of the fact of their increased presence. They just sort of….stood there. Undefined. Vague. Drifting on the edges.

Which brings me to what I think was the real reason that Lost’s fans wanted these characters murderized, rather than deepened and explored: impatience. Watching the show like this on DVD, where the wait between installments is precisely as long as you decide it will be, is a decidedly different experience from sitting on the edge of one’s couch as the latest episode slips by and the knowledge that the next installment won’t air for upwards of a month hangs in your brain.

The latter state of mind, I’d argue, is responsible for most of the criticisms leveled at Lost during the series’ run (though not all of them, obviously). Sheer impatience led a bunch of folks to drop the show in Seasons 2 and 3, convincing themselves that the show was ‘making it up as they went along’ – a charge that is as absurd as it is beside the point. Impatience, I’d argue, lead to wanting to see Paulo and Nikki die messily – because sitting on the edges of our couches, every second we spent with these two unformed lumps of character clay were precious seconds we weren’t spending with the characters we’d come to know and enjoy – characters that intrigued in ways that Paulo and Nikki did not.

Rewatching the show at my own pace on DVD, what I’ve noticed is just how tangential Nikki and Paulo really were. Boring, yes. But agonizingly painful to watch? They were barely onscreen long enough to make that kind of call.

And watching Exposé – which, if you haven’t already guessed, I pretty much love – makes it clear what a double-edged sword that kind of impatience is. On the one hand, had the audience relaxed a little, and had the writers had a little more faith in their ability to develop Nikki and Paulo in ways that would make them interesting, dangerous, funny, mysterious, or just, y’know, watchable, then Lost would probably have added another two solid characters to their line up. But, on the other hand, we wouldn’t have gotten ‘Exposé,’ which feels like someone smuggled a Tales From The Crypt episode into the middle of Lost’s season and really, as fun as the episode is for me, it’s obvious that these characters weren’t worth keeping around – they hadn’t been built with the same degree of care as the Ekos and Lockes and Rousseaus of the Island.

All that said, there isn’t a ton of stuff worth commenting on in ‘Exposé’ in terms of Lost’s larger narrative, but it’s definitely worth watching. What follows is a rundown of the highlights, lowlights, and instances of potential portent that Exposé offers up.

Thoughts:

• I believe the operative word I’m searching for here is ‘yowza.’

• The opening scene of the episode is a mini-marvel, combining a cheesy, dead-on parody of B-TV schlock, Billy Dee Williams, and the best damn catch phrase I’ve heard in ages. If nothing else, ‘Exposé’ should be respected solely for introducing the battle cry of “RAZZLE DAZZLE!” to a television audience. Brilliantly inane.

• The image of the Russian Doll that Nikki finds the diamonds in works as a nice visual shorthand for the kind of storytelling that Lost has attempted, and is attempting in this episode – layers within layers, stories within stories, enclosing and containing themselves within each other.

• I’d mentioned above that this episode resembles something we might have seen on Tales From The Crypt, but Alfred Hitchcock Presents also seems like a good touchstone for this installment.

• I enjoyed the way that the writers weave Nikki and Paulo in and out of the events we’ve already seen, making Nikki one of the people that Boone seeks a pen from in the pilot, having them meet Leslie Arzt and Ethan in the first season, and discovering the Nigerian smuggling plane and the Pearl Station before anyone else.

Great Sawyer/Hurley exchange:

Hurley: “I’m with Jin. Its the Monster.”
Sawyer: “Yeah because that makes the most sense.”
Hurley: “It does. Locke said when Eko died, his last words were you’re next. And Nikki and Paulo were with them. He was talking about them.”
Sawyer: “He wasn’t saying you’re next about them, he was saying you’re next as in, you’re all next.”
Hurley: “Yeah that’s not really better.”

Sawyer: “What the hell’s Exposé?”
Hurley: “Only of the most awesome hour of television ever. It’s like Baywatch only better. Its about Autumn and Crystal, two strippers that solve crimes with the help of their suave, smooth-talking club owner, Mr. LaShade.”

• We’ve seen Hurley and Locke watching episodes of Exposé in their respective flashbacks, which is a neat touch. I’m in love with the way that Hurley describes the show. It’s an amalgamation of so many terrible, cheesecake-heavy shows, from ‘Relic Hunter’ to ‘Silk Stalkings.’

Hurley: “Dude, the Cobra’s this big bad guy. His identity’s been shrouded in mystery for four seasons.”

• I remember thinking when this episode first aired that Hurley’s line of dialogue hinted at a similar betrayal within Lost’s castaway ranks – that one of the people we’d grown to love and/or care about would turn out to be ‘the bad guy.’ And I suppose that’s what’s happened with Locke/the MiB, in a way.

Arzt: “You’re all out of control. The pigs are walking. The pigs are walking!”

• Moments like this one make me wish Arzt had survived his Season 1 encounter with dynamite (not that I’d trade his out-of-nowhere explosion for anything). He’s a fun character, and the actor does a great job with him. The allusion Arzt is making here, in case you’re wondering, is to George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ – specifically the point in Orwell’s allegory where the pigs, previously the leaders of a socialist uprising on the titular farm, begin to emulate their former human oppressors. It’s a clever, goofy line to put in Arzt’s mouth, and it illustrates the way in which the sort of collectivist utopia that Bakunin championed can be transformed into yet another power structure of the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots,’ fulfilling Bakunin’s warning that all governments evolve to oppress.

• We see Ben and Juliet enter the Pearl Station while Paulo is down there hiding his diamonds. It’s strongly implied here that Michael was talking to Ben, not Walt, over the Swan computer. That makes perfect sense when you think about it. We’ve discovered that the Stations are linked, and that the Pearl Station allows people to observe the Swan inhabitants. Ben would see when Michael was alone with the computer, and would use those opportunities to contact Michael and convince him to come and find the Others.

• It really cements Paulo’s overarching doucheiness to discover that he knew about Ben and Juliet, about the Pearl and their plans, and simply decided to keep his mouth shut about it.

• Vincent, the Canine Harbinger of Doom, actually appears to be trying to save Nikki and Paulo in this episode, which marks a first for our favorite dog o’ death.

• Charlie admits to Sun that he was the one who knocked her out and dragged her into the jungle, something that I didn’t remember happening in this episode. It’s nice that he mans up and admits it, and it’s of a piece with Charlie’s journey this season, which sees him making peace with himself and the castaways in the face of looming fate.

• Best Eulogy yet:

Hurley: “Nikki and Paulo. I guess we didn’t really know you very well. And it appears you killed each other for diamonds. But I know there are good parts to you too. You were always nice to me. And you’re a member of the camp. And, er, I really loved Exposé. OK then, goodbye…”

• To clear this up once and for all: Yes, you hear the Monster in the moments before the spiders appear and paralyze both Nikki and Paulo. Yes, the spiders are a form of the Monster. Lindelof confirms this HERE.

• Exposé doesn’t yield up much in the way of larger plot or theme, but it does offer a killer example of Lost’s writing prowess, and the show’s ability to listen to, and respond to, it’s audience’s criticisms.

*****

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Season 3

• The Man from Tallahasse (S3 ep. 13)
• Par Avion (S3 ep. 12)
• Enter 77 (S3 ep. 11)
• Tricia Tanaka is Dead (S3 ep. 10)
• Stranger in a Strange Land (S3 ep. 09)
• Flashes before your Eyes (S3 ep. 08)
• Not In Portland (S3 ep. 07)
• I Do (S3 ep. 06)
• The Cost of Living (S3 ep. 05)
• Every Man for himself (S3 ep. 04)
• Further Instructions (S3 ep. 03)
• The Glass Ballerina (S3 ep. 02)
• Season 3 Premiere

Season 2

• 
Season 2 finale
• Three Minutes (S2 ep. 22)
• ? (S2 ep. 21)
• Two for The Road (S2 ep. 20)
• S.O.S. (S2 ep. 19)
• Dave (S2 ep. 18)
• Lockdown (S2 ep. 17)
• The Whole Truth (S2 ep. 16)
• Maternity Leave (S2 ep. 15)
One of Them (S2 ep. 14)
The Long Con (S2 ep. 13)
Fire + Water (S2 ep. 12)
The Hunting Party (S2 ep 11)
The 23rd Psalm (S2, ep. 10)
What Kate Did (S2, ep. 9)
Collision (S2, ep. 8)
The Other 48 Days (S2, ep. 7)