Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Reconsidered: "Expose"

For more about "reconsidered," see this.

"Expose" is the 14th episode of the third season of Lost. It's also the episode that featured, and brought to a close, the story of Nikki and Paulo, two characters who were supposedly "in the background" the first two seasons.

Ask any Lost fan about their least favorite episodes, or the "worst" episodes, and "Expose" almost always comes up. (Not as frequently as the universally derided "Stranger in a Strange Land," but often enough to merit consideration here as a "reconsidered" feature). To put "Expose" in context, you have to understand what the producers were trying to do with Nikki and Paulo in the first place. Obviously, there were more survivors of the crash of Oceanic 815 than we, as viewers, saw in the regular and ongoing cast. They were typically represented by extras milling about in the background, and when it served the story, an actor would be cast to portray one of those additional survivors, such as what happened with Leslie "Doc" Arzt. Darlton wanted to bring two more of those background characters to the forefront, and in season three (beginning with "Further Instructions," though the actors were listed as part of the primary cast starting with the season premiere) we started seeing more of Nikki and Paulo, who were presumably there on the island with everyone else since the crash.

Despite casting two extremely attractive and capable actors, the fan reaction to Nikki and Paulo was not quite what team Darlton hoped for. Part of it was probably due to some of the overall malaise that infused season three as a whole (unfortunate split scheduling by ABC, producers still not knowing how long the show would last and trying to drag things out too far, momentum being stalled by the endless "Kate and Sawyer in the cage" story, etc.), but Nikki and Paulo's insertion into some of the island adventures was also less than elegant. Given the production schedule and break in the airdates, Darlton had time to assess the fan reaction to the characters, and truncate Nikki and Paulo's arcs, which come to a head in the episode "Expose."

For an episode focused on these two, it's interesting to note that very, very little occurs with Nikki and Paulo in the show's "real time." In fact, the only thing that happens in "the present" is Nikki running out of the jungle and face planting on the beach, before muttering something that the gang initially interprets as "plywood." Or "powerlines." Or "Paulo lies." The rest of the Nikki and Paulo story takes place via flashback, starting with the opening scenes of a stripping Nikki encountering a mysterious villain known as Mr. LaShade, played by Billy Dee Williams. (trivia: Mister LaShade? Anagram for "Dharma List"). Turns out this vignette is really just a scene from an episode of "Expose," a TV show in the Lost universe about strippers who fight crime, which Hurley says is "like Baywatch, only better." Nikki, an actress, was a guest star on the show, who was having an affair with the show's producer as part of a long con (with Paulo) to get at the producer's stash of $8 million in diamonds. These flashbacks show us the couple's growing distrust and insecurity once the diamonds were acquired (and lost in the crash, then found in the lagoon) filtered through several known island events.

Building an episode around the perspective of secondary characters is nothing new, and several genre series have done it with aplomb. For example, Star Trek:TNG did it with the classic episode "Lower Decks," X-Files did it with the Lone Gunmen characters (before they got their own short lived spinoff) and Angel did it with a very funny Harmony focused episode called "Harm's Way." (The Wolfram & Hart employee orientation video is worth the price of admission alone). So "background players stepping to the forefront" isn't exactly groundbreaking, and at the very least, it gave the producers a chance to effectively wrap up a truncated Nikki and Paulo story, and give us a very entertaining episode to boot.

Yes, I said "entertaining." While "Expose" won't go down in Lost lore as one of the best episodes ever, I think it accomplished what it set out to do, and provided some fun and laughs along the way.

Some of the amusing meta-commentary from "Expose:"
ZUKERMAN: Alright, that's a series wrap for Corvette! Let's hear it for Nikki!
[Most of the production crew clap and whistle.]
NIKKI: Thank you.
ZUKERMAN: Brilliant, Nikki. As always. You know, you don't need to die. We can bring you back next season.
NIKKI: [laughs] How?
ZUKERMAN: Well, let's say that, uh, Corvette was wearing a bullet-proof vest?
[Nikki pulls away her jacket to remind Zukerman that she is wearing nothing but a bikini underneath.]
ZUKERMAN: Bullet-proof breast!
NIKKI: [covering back up] Look, I'm just a guest star, and we all know what happens to guest stars.
Or this gem from Sawyer:
HURLEY: Dude.... Nikki's dead.
SAWYER: ... Who the hell's Nikki?
You also have the diamonds being hidden in a matryoshka (Russian nesting dolls), which itself is a commentary of the nature of the Lost plot, with riddles being encased in other riddles.

And...back to Sawyer:
HURLEY: [interrupts Sawyer with a shout] "Paulo lies"! That's what she said! "Paulo lies", not "power lines". "Paulo lies".
SAWYER: Who the hell's Paulo?
Then there's the flashback to Nikki and Paulo at the airport, where they encounter a squabbling Shannon and Boone:
NIKKI: Promise me we'll never end up like them.
Which of course, is funny, given what happens to both couples.

The producers also did a fantastic technical job of integrating Nikki and Paulo into the existing footage and scenes of "original" island events like the crash and subsequent beach confusion, and the "live together, die alone" speech.

In addition to the amusing meta-ness of many scenes from "Expose," we also had some plot advancement and interesting tidbits concerning our "regular" cast of characters:

  • Charlie revealing to Sun that he had been responsible for her attack.
  • The fascinating Juliet and Ben scene in the Pearl (which ostensibly explained how Paulo got a walkie talkie), where Ben lays out how he intends to play Jack into doing the surgery: "Same way I get anybody to do anything. I find out what he's emotionally invested in, and I exploit it."
  • Ominous quotes from Locke: "Every man's entitled to his secrets Paulo." And "Things don't stay buried on this Island."
  • Arzt's Orwellian declaration: "The pigs are walking!"
  • Shannon complaining about the newly found guns, which have been kept secret from the rest of the gang by "Kate and her two boyfriends." Hee!
  • Also, take a look at the screencap from the scene where Hurley is examining the Nikki's script for "Expose." Notice a familiar surname as part of the show's regular cast?

So while "Expose" wasn't "The Constant," it certainly wasn't "Stranger in a Strange Land," either. The creative team knew they had a problem on their hands (admittedly, a problem of their own making), and found an interesting, funny and somewhat tragic way to deal with it. For characters that weren't exactly beloved, it's still a pretty haunting and awful way to die, being buried alive side by side. With their diamonds, no less.

Nikki and Paulo may have been a mistake, but in my opinion, "Expose" wraps up their story in a taut, amusing episode that's a lot better than it's given credit for.

"Expose" Reconsidered: B+


  1. Great job on this, and I agree that this episode gets a bad rap. Of course, I watched the first three seasons on DVD in one summer (season 4 was the first one I watched "live"), so I didn't feel the pain of the scheduling disaster, but I thought this episode served as a nice little change of pace in the middle of the season.

  2. It's funny, I had this on my TiVo from over two years ago (complete with Atlanta local commercials) to come back to, and finally did after all this time. It's much tighter and funnier than I remembered at the time (and than it generally gets credit for in fandom). Hate on the characters of Nikki and Paulo all you want (and we all do), but this was a solid ep.

    Your enjoyment of it as you watched it also probably helps. S3 was a mess to watch in real time. 6 "cage" eps, with no real closure or typical cliffhanger, then LONG hiatus, then return to the story, which was kind of meandering along anyway. That long hiatus gave fans lots of grumbling time, since the first 6 dragged so much. On the other hand, it also gave Darlton some "recalibration" time, which served the series well in the long run (and gave us S3's awesome last episode), so all water under the bridge.

    Bottom line, Expose made me laugh out loud, and all the "wink wink" stuff at the fans was well crafted. And no Bai Ling!