“Exposé” (originally aired 03/28/2007)
Noel: When last we left Lost, Ben had used his “magic box” to bring Locke’s con-man father to The Island, while Sayid and Kate were being held captive by The Others after their failed attempt to rescue Jack—who himself was reeling from Locke blowing up his ride home. Over the previous few episodes, the show had loaded up on Island and off-Island mythology, while ramping up the conflict and edging fans ever closer to the “answers” they’d been demanding since season one.
So, naturally, we spend this week with Nikki and Paulo.
I bring the context of this episode up only to say that I understand why so many Losties were mad at “Exposé” back in March of 2007, and why so many hate it still. Season three’s addition of Nikki and Paulo was born of good impulses: It was an effort to replace some supplementary characters who’d been killed off, while also giving faces and names to some of the 815 survivors who’d been milling around in the background over the previous two years. But the introduction was awkward, and Nikki and Paulo themselves ultimately come across as generic attractive folk, with none of the quirks, color, or intrigue of Lost characters who were either already gone or who weren’t getting much screen-time. Add in the placement of “Exposé” in the second half of a season that was just starting to heat up, and the way that it brings in Nikki and Paulo’s backstory and then immediately kills them off, and sure… Worst. Episode. Ever.
Except that it isn’t. On its own merits, divorced from when it aired, “Exposé” is pretty terrific. At the least, it’s a fun experiment, imagining a different kind of Lost.
Myles, as an esteemed media scholar, you’re more up on TV terminology and sub-genres than I am, so I’ll be interested to get your take on what you think “Exposé” actually is. I see it three ways:
1. It’s an anthology episode. Carlton Cuse himself has made this comparison, which is the most obvious one to make—and not just because the O. Henry twist ending plays like something from The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents, complete with a rare poison that makes Nikki and Paulo look dead when they’re actually just paralyzed. This is the kind of story that ABC might’ve imagined when Lost was first pitched: an adventure-of-the-week, involving a fresh set of crazy castaways. Although it has a flashback structure, “Exposé” really only follows one plot, starting with Nikki killing her rich boyfriend with Paulo’s help, and then showing how the couple spends their time on The Island trying to find the pouch of uncut diamonds that they swiped from their victim. It’s a classic comeuppance scenario: two greedy killers, who don’t trust each other, outsmarting themselves and ending up dead.
2. It’s a clip-show. The other big gimmick of “Exposé” is that most of the flashbacks take place on The Island, as Nikki and Paulo play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to several major Lost events. This actually proves more clever than revelatory, since aside from Paulo witnessing Ben and Juliet at The Pearl hatching their plot to snag Jack, most of the rehashes are just that: old scenes replayed, with no new information. We see the plane crash again, and get another shot of Jack’s “live together, die alone” speech, with Nikki and Paulo fairly seamlessly inserted into the old footage. The effect is like a “Lost’s Greatest Hits” (and a chance to see characters like Shannon, Boone, Arzt, and Ethan again).
3. It’s a fill-in issue. Damon Lindelof is a comic book fan, so he undoubtedly knows the tradition in superhero comics of publishers banking an issue that can run any time the main creative team falls too far behind their deadlines. Sometimes it’s a one-off story, set during a lull between longer plot-lines; or sometimes it’s an “untold tale,” set during some well-known past exploit. “Exposé” is a little bit of both, with the flashbacks taking viewers back to familiar places while the present action plays out at a fairly sedate beach. It very much feels like the kind of story that’s an adjunct to the show—one that could’ve been written and filmed years after Lost went off the air.
“Exposé” works well no matter which category it’s slotted in, I’d say. The ultimate fate of Nikki and Paulo—paralyzed by spider venom and then buried alive—is pretty preposterous, but no moreso than the kind of genre anthology show that this episode is paying homage to. This is also an enjoyable episode to return to, because it’s a reminder of some of Lost’s more spine-tingling moments, and it’s a pretty low stakes affair in and of itself. Since no one really cares what happens to Nikki and Paulo, fans can relax and dig hanging out with Sawyer and Hurley and the rest again.
Or at least they should feel that way. I know that many don’t. Myles, where do you stand on this episode? And where would you file it?
Myles: “Exposé” is great, and I will fight anyone who suggests otherwise.
You will note that I am not saying I’d fight anyone who doesn’t like “Exposé,” which is a different subject entirely. Like you, I understand all the reasons why people might dislike “Exposé,” and admit its placement in the season is a little suspect. But returning to the episode has reinforced just how sharply-constructed this hour of television is, managing in forty minutes to make Nikki and Paulo’s existence and the anthological clip fill-in episode about them thrilling and meaningful.
I don’t know if I would try to pin down exactly what “Exposé” is. It certainly is unlike any other episode of Lost, and I don’t know if one could point to another episode like it on any other show, for that matter. The issue is that the three elements you identify never operate independent of one another—the “clips” all feature clues related to Nikki and Paulo’s Twilight Zone-like fate, while the adjunct nature of the episode’s story is positioned as a meta-commentary on the place of the “other castaways” in the clips featured. To call it one thing or another would be ignoring the other parts of its DNA, and fails to capture the complexity of the task put in front of Eddy Kitsis and Adam Horowitz with this hour.
That task is twofold. First, the episode needs to build an effective hour of television out of two characters that have had absolutely no character development to this point in the season. The smart decision here was that there is no point where “Exposé” asks us to sympathize with Nikki and Paulo in the way we’ve been trained to sympathize with a character like Locke (going back to the previous episode). The moment they’re revealed as murderers and thieves, their story becomes a morality play, as we’re asked philosophical questions about whether or not they deserved their eventual fate. When the pieces eventually fall into place, we’re prompted to ask ourselves whether or not selfish diamond thieves deserve to be buried alive, a question that runs deeper than just Nikki and Paulo. What do any of the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 deserve?
Around the time of Lost’s finale, I wrote about some of the ways “Exposé” echoes the themes of the show’s final season, with the questions raised by Nikki and Paulo’s journey crucial to how The Island functioned as an entity as the series progressed. I stand by those thoughts, but in retrospect the episode’s other task echoes “The End” specifically: whereas the series finale had to give meaning to an opaque structuring mechanism introduced for the final season, “Exposé” needs to justify why Nikki and Paulo have been milling about and worked into storylines since their unceremonious introduction. Why, in a season where characters were underserved by a split narrative structure, were we spending time with these two randos when we could have been spending time with people who really matter?
My favorite thing about “Exposé” is how Kitsis and Horowitz’s script doesn’t try to inflate the characters’ importance. Although Nikki and Paulo do stumble onto both the seaplane and the Pearl Station before any of the other castaways, it doesn’t mean anything to them because they’re not invested in the mythology happening around them. It would have been easier to use Nikki and Paulo to reveal something significant about The Island, but the episode is better for letting their story stand on its own even if that is what ultimately made the episode so dissatisfying for some viewers.
And while the episode’s appeal does rest on seeing Nikki and Paulo’s story as a reflective meta-journey through the series’ past, their fate resonates in “Expose” as well. Although you’re right that the stakes are low, Noel, the threat of the Others is still fresh for Sun, who sees their deaths as a return to the period in the second season where she was “abducted” by the Others and the beach lived in fear of another attack. While Sawyer is willing to chalk their “deaths” up to random happenstance, and Hurley is convinced it was “the Monster” (a theory supported by the sound effects heard before the spiders’ arrival, not that Hurley knows that), Sun has personal reasons to believe otherwise, which puts the pressure on Charlie as the person who actually abducted Sun at Sawyer’s behest.
And in this way, “Exposé” is like a strong episode of a crime procedural. The “case of the week” is twisty and twisted, with some great foreshadowing with Arzt’s spider and an extended wink to the audience reflective of the series’ past. However, that story also ends up becoming a crucial character moment for the detectives, here prompting a regretful—and, importantly, doomed—Charlie to tell Sun the truth, acknowledging a dark period for the character and extending the show’s reflection on its past beyond the flashback structure of the episode and into the characters themselves.
When Hurley eulogizes Nikki and Paulo, he has almost nothing to say about them, but that doesn’t mean that “Exposé” had nothing to say; in fact, it’s perhaps one of the series’ richest episodes, structurally ambitious and thematically bold in ways that would end up becoming more impressive—if not necessarily more satisfying, narratively speaking—as the series moved forward.
Noel: I’ve heard a lot of rumors and read a lot comments from insiders over the years about how “Exposé” came to be, and I wonder if the episode would’ve been better received if Lindelof and Cuse had gone with what I’ve heard was one of their original ideas: to satisfy a minor bit of fan curiosity by doing a standalone episode featuring one of the background 815 survivors, never really seen or heard from before. Somewhere along the way, they apparently determined that viewers would only care about such an episode if the background characters had appeared a few times, which explains the sudden, Poochie-like introduction of Nikki and Paulo (who came off a little proactive).
I suspect that even if Nikki and Paulo had appeared only in “Exposé,” a lot of Lost devotees would’ve complained—no matter when in the season it aired—because as soon as the show intimated in the pilot that The Island was a place of many mysteries, viewers started judging episodes based on whether or not they moved any closer to a solution. Personally, I’ve never understood this attitude toward serialized television, which has become so pervasive that some have complained that the recent episodes of Mad Men (of all shows) haven’t advanced the plot enough. But just because I don’t understand it doesn’t mean I don’t respect it. It’s perfectly fine that some folks would rather not enjoy an awesome hour of TV just because it doesn’t seem to lead anywhere.
Myles, I think you make a good case that “Exposé” actually does serve a narrative/character purpose in this season. But even if it didn’t, Kitsis and Horowitz draft a kind of defense for this episode with their show-within-a-show. As Hurley says, Nikki’s TV series Exposé is pure fun: “like Baywatch, only better.” It’s what television should be, featuring sexy-looking people, in wild life-or-death romps, spouting cool catch-phrases. (“Razzmatazz!”) Nikki even explains her fate at the start of the episode, when she says that she knows she was only ever a guest star on Exposé… “and we know what happens to guest stars.”
- As much as both Kiele Sanchez and Rodrigo Santoro felt out of place in their previous appearances, both ultimately serve the central story here effectively, with Sanchez offering some nice distinctions between a bad actress acting (in Exposé) and a bad actress reacting emotionally in a heightened situation. [MM]
- In an episode that features a show-within-a-show, it’s a nifty visual motif to have Nikki and Paulo’s diamonds hidden inside Russian nesting dolls. [NM]
- Speaking of nesting, I appreciated the opening argument about Nikki’s final words, which Hurley logically interprets as “Paulo lies” but exist as a clue that gains meaning as the story progresses, until we get to hear Nikki’s last words more clearly in the concluding “flashback.” [MM]
- Apparently, another writers’ room notion that led to “Exposé” was that they wanted to do an episode where the entire flashback would be revealed to be scenes from a television show. Instead, that’s just how the off-Island story begins. Again, I wonder how this (or any) episode would’ve played if the writers had followed through on that plan. [NM]
- I would be remiss if I didn’t note that Ethan is wearing a Wisconsin sweatshirt, an ode to Kitsis and Horowitz’s alma mater the University of Wisconson-Madison, and my current academic home. If they were going to make one of the characters a Badger, I’m glad it’s someone with seemingly superhuman strength. [MM]
- Maybe it’s because my head naturally drifts in this direction, but the Sydney scenes of “Exposé”—the ones where Nikki and Paulo poison the old man—remind me of the opening act of a Columbo episode. I think Lt. Columbo would’ve picked Nikki and Paulo’s plan apart pretty quickly, though. [NM]
- Between the purposefully cheesy Exposé score and the heavy use of strings and horns in the scene with Nikki and Paulo being buried alive, Michael Giacchino really gets to let loose here, and it’s a nice part of the episode’s stylistic flair. [MM]
- My least favorite of the Nikki/Paulo alternate-perspective flashbacks is the one with Paulo at The Pearl, because Ben and Juliet’s dialogue there is a little fanfic-esque—from Juliet calling Jack “cute” to Ben saying that he’s going to “find out what he’s emotionally invested in and then exploit it” in order to get Jack to operate on his tumor. [NM]
- I concur with this evaluation, but you’re missing my biggest issue: how did Paulo get out of the Pearl Station? There’s some dialogue covering the hatch doors being open, and Juliet blames Tom, but wouldn’t Ben and Juliet have locked the doors behind them either way, thus locking Paulo in? Boy, I really hope someone got fired for that blunder. [MM]
- The funniest line in the episode belongs to Sawyer, when Hurley complains that he’s being too sloppy at the “crime scene” where Paulo is found “dead.” Sawyer smirks at Hurley’s terminology and asks, “Is there a forensics hatch I don’t know about?” [NM]
- Sawyer gets lots of one-liners here: his parting words for Nikki after she tries to get a gun from him—“And who the hell are you?!”—earned a chuckle. [MM]
- Lost Book Club: Not only is it good to see Arzt again, but he has one of the other funniest lines in the episode when he references Animal Farm, grumbling about the undemocratic leadership on the beach and shouting, “The pigs are walking!” [NM]
- Myles has to go back: So 2007 Myles looked up “morality play” on Wikipedia and more or less shared 2015 Myles’ opinions on the episode, but he raised a big picture question that I feel confident in answering with “Mostly yes” eight years later: “As I say all of these good things about the episode…was that it? Were these two actors brought in simply for this one episode with little to no connection to the main storyline? The episode was very standalone, very indulgent, and didn’t really justify their salaries for their earlier episodes. Have we seen the last of Paulo and Nikki? If so, were they really worth it just for this hour of television?” [MM]
Spoiler Station (only read if you’ve seen the entire series):
- For the longest time I was sure that “Exposé” would end up being the key to unlocking Lost, and that the plot of Nikki’s Exposé episode—in which she finds out that her boss at the club (played by Billy Dee Williams) is actually the show’s big villain—was foreshadowing for how Lost’s story was going to play out. Ah well. We all had a lot of crazy-ass theories back then. [NM]
- That theory may not have played out, but the morality play dimension of the episode ended up being central to the Man in Black’s evaluation of the castaways, building on Eko’s death and extending into the battle with Jacob over control of the island. Given that it’s heavily implied the Smoke Monster is at least involved in their demise with the sound effects, this did ultimately end up being in line with where the story was heading. [MM]
- I suppose this probably could have safely gone in the Strays, but all the talk of forensics and the procedural elements of the episode brings to mind the Sawyer/Miles pairing in the Flash Sideways, which was floated as one of the logical—if unlikely—spinoffs during the sixth season. [MM]