The Lost Weekend: In Defence of “Exposé”

In Defence of “Exposé”

May 21st, 2010

As we come to the end of Lost’s run, people like to write lists: most of these lists will feature “Favourite” characters, episodes or scenes over the past six seasons, but there’s a chance that many of them will focus on the “Worst” of the same. I don’t know if I’m really up for making lists of my own (especially since I put together my own list of important episodes before Season 6 began), but I do want to say one thing:

If I see “Exposé” on a single “Worst Episode” list [like this one, which is even more despicable since it uses “Pointless”], I am going to be incredibly angry.

I may not have loved the episode initially (my “review” from three years ago is a little all over the map), so I can’t say I’ve always held this belief, but over time I have become part of the minority who feel that “Exposé” was an intriguing episode which successfully made lemons out of lemonade. While there are bad episodes of Lost (see: “Stranger in a Strange Land”) which in their failures elucidate some of the show’s growing pains at various points within its narrative, “Exposé” is precisely the opposite: it is a confident hour of television, entirely sure of its function of bringing to a close an intriguing, if failed, experiment in the series’ narrative in a meaningful and memorable fashion.

As Lost has continued, and we’ve learned more about the island and the central themes to the series, I’ve become convinced that there is no way anyone could argue that “Exposé” is not a pivotal episode in the series’ development. Whether you choose to view it as hidden foreshadowing or (more likely) as successful retroactive storytelling, the episode captures in a single episode the complex morality plays which have been unfolding for six seasons, crafting a compelling standalone narrative that we can now see as a microcosm for the series’ larger conflicts.

In other words, I’m tired of the haters, and I’m here to tell you why.

I will admit that, when it first aired, I understood some of the negative response to “Exposé,” as at times it can become a bit too ‘cute.’ The idea of using Nikki and Paulo as an excuse to bring back Boone and Shannon, or return to key scenes in the first two seasons, feels like fan service and doesn’t really play as effectively as I think Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz wanted it to play (based on their audio commentary for the episode). If you focus on the most basic meta-commentary within the episode, as the characters don’t quite recognize Nikki and Paulo as a nod to their sudden transplantation into the show’s narratives, I can see why you would get frustrated with the reminders that these two characters were pretty useless at the end of the day.

However, if you dig a little bit deeper, you find that its meta-commentary goes beyond a couple of quippy lines from Sawyer. While this was at the stage where fans expected new developments to have a big impact, anticipating that Nikki and Paulo must have been introduced to transition into some big new storyline or unlock a piece of the show’s mythology, the truth is that they exist to demonstrate an important point emphasized in Season Six’s “What They Died For.” Jacob brought everyone to the island because their lives were falling apart, and he didn’t want to think that he was taking his candidates away from some great, positive future. There’s a scene early in “Exposé” where Nikki and Paulo sit in the Sydney airport and watch Shannon and Boone arguing, and Nikki asks Paulo to “promise we’ll never end up like them.” There’s a surface irony in that they do eventually end up buried in the same cemetery as both Shannon and Boone, but there’s also the reminder that they are already just like them. They are also candidates, people that Jacob has deemed to be brought to the island to see if they have what it takes to carry on with his responsibilities, and they were as fated to come to the island as any other characters. While it may have simply been an experiment from Lindelof and Cuse to see if they could add to their cast from within their ranks, in retrospect it’s an early sign that they actually could focus on any of the red shirts in the cast and discover a past with a similar morally and ethically complex existence which would render them a candidate.

As soon as Jacob explained the island to Richard in “Ab Aeterno,” my mind began to return to “Exposé.” It made the island sound like one big morality play: people arrive on the island in order to be tested, to see if they have what it takes in order to survive and become the protector of the island. It effectively humanizes the conflict on the island: once they arrive, Jacob is “hands off” beyond Richard’s influence, and he simply allows human nature take over, which means that all of the terrible things that have happened are the fault of characters rather than nameless evils. It’s fitting that Charlie comes clean with Sun about his fake kidnapping in the episode because it emphasizes that the presence of shadowy threats does not mean that your kidnapper isn’t the British bass player right in front of you rather than the fiends in the jungle.

We have learned as the series has gone on that the Man in Black can’t actually kill the candidates himself, but we also learned that they can kill one another, and that’s the real message of “Exposé,” isn’t it? Nikki and Paulo eventually turn on one another, Paulo hiding his discovery of the diamonds from Nikki and Nikki eventually getting them both paralyzed through her inability to pay complete attention during Dr. Arzt’s biology lesson. “Exposé” plays out like an episode of CSI, as our regular characters struggle to figure out the circumstances surrounding Nikki and Paulo’s deaths, but they take forever to get there because they immediately jump to conclusions that it’s the smoke monster or the Others. The show conditioned us to see conspiracies and mysteries at this point in its run, but sometimes the answers (and the methods to finding those answers) are simple: Desmond’s psychic powers are no match for Sawyer’s knowledge of a good con, as there are some mysteries that simply boil down to human nature. They were their own microcosmic morality play, two characters who thought they were going to get away with the perfect crime but whose lives were anything but perfect once they arrived on the island where “things don’t stay buried” (to quote John Locke, discussing both the literal dangers of shore erosion and the metaphorical revealing of secrets).

This is all extended by the fact that it isn’t Nikki and Paulo who end up killing each other: to me, the ending of this episode is one of Lost’s finest moments, capturing the horrifying circumstance when you realize something (through flashback) that the characters aren’t going to discover. Watching two people get buried alive is the sort of thing that I didn’t personally forget, and yet so many people saw this as a “wiping of the hands” as it relates to this experiment that they simply threw the episode away. However, we’re not supposed to forget about Nikki and Paulo so much as the characters are supposed to forget about Nikki and Paulo: unlike Boone or Shannon, whose deaths sent shockwaves through the group, Nikki and Paulo were just another couple of redshirts, but yet their deaths are just as reflective of the mistakes that the castaways have made. The only character who still remembers them is Miles, someone who never met them in life and only cares because he can speak to the dead and wants some of those diamonds for himself (as seen in this season’s “Dr. Linus”).

“Exposé” is meant entirely for the audience: we’re meant to know that they were buried alive, and we’re meant to see that these characters who no one really knew were actually living this entirely different life that could have just as easily formed a long series of flashbacks. And while that could be read at the time as a cheap gag to expand the show’s cast, in retrospect it gives us a glimpse at the similarities between those who were brought to the island, and their deaths capture the fact that death on the island has more faces than smoke or Ethan Hunt. These are qualities about the show which have extended into the sixth season, and which have been revealed to be incredibly important to understanding the series as a whole.

People seem to have expected “Exposé” to justify or apologize for the inclusion of Nikki and Paulo in the series, expectations compounded by the narrative split which kept us away from some of our favourite characters for the start of the third season, but I think people expected it to justify past time spent with the characters rather than making a singular statement which would later seem more important. I think if people separate the episode from the season’s scheduling woes, and focus on its themes and its structure rather than the “useless” scenes with Nikki and Paulo in earlier episodes, you’ll discover an episode that works as a standalone story and also investigates themes key to the series at the time and even more crucial to our understanding of the sixth season.

And as stubborn as it makes me sound, I’ll not willing to accept any other conclusion – I think the internet got this one wrong, and I strongly believe fans should go back and give it another chance as we march towards the finale. Even if they didn’t plan for the episode to mean as much as it does, it says something quite important that the way they are choosing to conclude this story has made a seemingly “meaningless” episode like “Exposé” even more meaningful.

Cultural Observations

  • In another brief meta-moment that sometimes gets overlooked, Nikki’s “I’m just a guest star, and we all know what happens to guest stars” line is really untrue with Lost considering that Michael Emerson became such an integral part of the cast after only arriving as a guest star.
  • I knew that Kitsis and Horowitz went to the University of Wisconsin Madison (where I’m heading in September) for some random reason, but I will still pleasantly surprised to see Ethan in a Wisconsin sweatshirt in the episode.
  • My big open discussion question: we know that the Man in Black can’t kill candidates, but yet we wonder what happened to Mr. Eko, or what happened to Richard’s fellow passengers aboard the Black Rock. Is it that there are some people who come to the island who aren’t candidates and are thus expendable (see: the original pilot of Oceanic 815, who wasn’t supposed to be on the plane), or is it that some people like Eko choose to die? Expose doesn’t really give us any more material to analyze on that front, but it’s something that’s still sort of bugging me about the logistics of the candidate selection process.


Filed under Lost

10 responses to “The Lost Weekend: In Defence of “Exposé”

  1. Jeremy L

    Here’s what I wrote about the characters and the episode in a review I did of the 3rd Season.

    “And then of course, we have Nikki & Paulo. Oh, that infamous duo that was so eloquently summed up by Sawyer as, “Who the hell are you?” Sure, I wanted to slap them every moment they were breathing until they got an episode of their own, but once they did get a flashback episode, one could consider it one of the worst Lost episodes of all time, or one of its best. There was strippers fighting crime, hilarious flashbacks that tried REALLY hard to show that this duo was there the WHOLE time (What? You didn’t see them in the background doing nothing?), and really atrocious dialogue/acting. I mean, they even conceived an excuse for why Paulo was going to the bathroom in almost every previous scene we had seen him in before! But alas, these truly awful, annoying characters were literally buried alive, set to some of the most inappropriate clapping I’ve ever done. Oh, Nikki & Paulo, how will I ever get by without you? Just fine actually. “

  2. I’m a long-time fan of “Exposé” – as evidenced from my write-up back in 2007. So while I appreciate your defence, I also think that it deserves the moniker as “most pointless” episode of Lost. As I wrote three years ago, it is really the only episode of the series you could miss without having to have gaps filled in the plot from what you missed (which was the premise of Vulture’s piece). While plot isn’t the only “point” of Lost, comprehending the story is an overarching goal, and possibly the only one that all types of fans share.

    As to the crux of your argument, I think one of the great joys of Lost is the ability to play with interpretations and retcons – I find your thematic integration of “Exposé” to be impressive, I see it as a deliberately forced effort, not an organic or even intentional move. Again – that’s the fun of the show, but I’m not convinced that this episode is a key to open up the larger puzzle of the series.

    • I’ll gladly admit that I’m perhaps forcing the issue a bit, but I do want to raise two points:

      a) The show did take the time to have Miles unearth their diamonds, indicating that we’re not supposed to have completely forgotten the characters at this late stage in the series.

      b) I will agree that plot is a decisive “point” for many viewers, I think you’re giving the Vulture piece a lot of credit: while it does mention various qualities which could land a show in the “Pointless” category that would include “Expose,” it also claims to discern “which of the bygone episodes have no rerun value when it comes to studying the roots of the biggest Lost epiphanies.” And while I don’t think that this episode is a key to unlocking the larger puzzle of the series, I think its thematic relevance (as revealed by later seasons) makes it far from pointless.

      Admittedly, I found the Vulture piece frustrating in general (as they seem to include “character development for characters we don’t like” as pointless), but I feel as if “Expose” is so often placed into a box based on Nikki and Paulo’s storyline that people aren’t considering the ways in which the episode has greater meaning or could have greater meaning if they would be willing to take a chance. While placing a maligned episode like “Stranger in a Strange Land” on a skip list makes sense, suggesting skipping a divisive episode which in some ways offers a barometer for one’s fan experience with the show feels like it boils the show down so much to plot that one would miss out on half the fun.

      • I guess I’m sympathetic to the motivating question of the Vulture piece – can you skip any episodes in the series if you want to watch for the first time? Maybe the answer is simply “no,” but I do think that “Expose” is the most skippable episode – not because it’s bad, but because it’s inessential to the plot (but as you say, not to the experience of watching Lost).

  3. Nathan

    I enjoyed Exposé for the “retroactive storytelling” A show should be able to do one-off concept episodes like Buffy’s “Hush” without being criticized to the point of giving up all together.

    An another note, I enjoy your reviews a lot more when they are positive or at least able to find the good in something

  4. Jonathon

    Nice article Myles….and while I never hated “Expose”, now, in the larger context of the show, it does prove to be a significant piece of the mosaic that is “Lost”

    Some ideas for your big open discussion question. I’ve also been thinking about Eko’s death at the hands of the Smoke Monster and frankly all the other deaths that he has been responsible for or involved in; even Nikki and Paulo.

    First, I suppose that as long as someone remains a candidate, the Smoke Monster can do them no harm. But once they are no longer candidates, it’s open season.

    I also guess that your assumption that some people that come to the Island were never candidates is correct. Since they weren’t candidates, Smoke Monster just did away with them. He did so because these ‘wild cards’ might’ve gummed up the works of the elaborate long con he was planning.

    But Eko was different. I think he was a candidate at some point, but things changed. Eko lost his candidacy when he refused to acknowledge his past sins.

    In order to accept the responsibility of protecting the Island, candidates needed to believe in the redemptive power of the Island. In order to be redeemed, there has to be something to be redeemed for. Eko did not accept any wrongdoing in his past, would not accept redemption, and thus, was no longer a candidate. The Smoke Monster eliminated him because, once again, Eko might’ve been an X-Factor in his scheme.

    Conversely, Nikki and Paulo were still candidates. Sure, they had trust issues that needed to be worked out; but before their deaths, they seemed to be accepting of the Island’s renewing spirit.

    The Monster, seizing on an opportunity to eliminate some candidates through a loophole, created the situation by which some candidates (Nikki and Paulo) were killed by other candidates (Hurley, Sawyer, et. al.). It’s a similar scenario to the one played out on the submarine in ‘The Candidate’.

    Technically, The Smoke Monster wasn’t responsible for the deaths of Sun, Jin and Sayid. It was Sawyer who pulled the contacts assuring the bombs detonation. But the Smoke Monster was responsible for the situation in which the choice to pull the contacts was made.

  5. Matt

    apparently, the designer of the final poster print for Damon Carlton and a Polar felt the episode had some significance, because he included a reference to it in his series-summing montage.

  6. Charlotte K

    I agree with Jonathon above that Mr Eko stopped being a candidate (if he was ever on the list) by not acknowledging his sins. And I think Mr Eko was right not to do so, because as he says, he did what he had to do–he saved his little brother with his sacrifice of himself. I think he was killed by the monster and passed on; we won’t see his ghost on the island, although he did visit Hurley once off island. I wonder what that says about Hurley, ultimately.

    I loved Mr Eko and wished his character had remained on the show, but I think his defiance of the Monster AND Jacob was one of the most beautiful moments in the show. He knew he was right, and he had no fear.

  7. Pingback: Lost Finale Countdown: Some Light Pre-Finale Reading? « Cultural Learnings

  8. Allie

    I’m finding this post late, but felt it was worth to comment on how I agree that the writers were giving us thematic clues to their end game early in season 3. After a re-watch, I even liked “Stranger in a Strange Land.” Along with “Expose,” it seemed like the writers actually gave us some good narrative hints in these so-called most-hated episodes. Something important was actually going on.

    As you say about “Expose,” we as the audience are shown something important that the characters are meant to miss. Here, it’s the importance of not killing one another because – as we now know – it plays into the Smoke Monster’s plans. This also amplifies the show’s overall message of “live together die alone.”

    I’d encourage people to re-watch “Stranger in a Strange Land” as well as “Expose.” In “Stranger,” at least in the island storyline, you get the same themes Myles outlined here, that become important in the end game. In fact, Jack and Juliet have a conversation that’s almost word-for-word identical to the one Fake Locke and Sawyer have in the caves during “The Substitute.” In the cave scene, Locke reveals that all he wants to do is to go home. When Sawyer asks how, Locke gives us the frustratingly vague answer of “together.” This is the exact same thing Jack says to Juliet at the end of “Strangers,” when they discuss leaving the island.

    “Strangers” is also the episode where Jack saves Juliet from being executed for killing one of her own in an effort to help Kate and Sawyer escape. Jack’s willingness to do this represents, to me, his willingness to incorporate “the other” into his understanding of himself. Juliet is no longer an Other, but is now like him. And by saying they’ll leave together, he shows her he has her back. In fact, “live together die alone” only works if you can refrain from projecting “Otherness” on people and recognize the unexpected ways in which you are the same. This kind of acceptance is probably the only thing that stops us from killing each other – both literally and figuratively – and enables us to live together successfully.

    The Smoke Monster’s long con was to get all the candidates in an enclosed space and get them to kill each other. It is significant that he did this by using their own “live together” philosophy against them. That same moment of horror when Nikki opens her eyes at the end of “Expose,” arose in me when I watched Jack climb into the sub in “The Candidate” (having guessed that the rigged C4 was in his backpack). It’s the horror of realizing they’re about to kill one of their own.

    I can’t quite bring myself to defend “Strangers’s” Jack/Bai Ling flashback. All I can say is that re-watching it didn’t bother me, and Bai Ling actually impressed. Thanks for this post!

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