Well, it’s the first Thursday without Lost. How are you doing? Doing OK? Need anything? A soda? A stiff drink? A hug? I hear ya. Absence supposedly makes the heart grow fonder, although given Sayid’s reaction to running into Michael on the freighter, I think we all know that’s not always the case.

But just because there’s no Lost doesn’t mean we can’t act like it’s business as usual around here. And that means, among other things, another edition of "Letters from the Flame," a recurring feature here on the blog in which I air reader comments and questions. It’s our own little bit of democracy on an otherwise totalitarian site. Then again, I pick and choose what reader bits get published, so really, you’re still under my thumb. Meet the new blogger, same as the old blogger.

Not as many questions this week, but those I received were quite good and deserve semi-lengthy replies. On with your inquiries! The first is from Stephen M.

I enjoy reading your recaps of Lost on Zap2it but a couple of your assumptions have me scratching my head. Near the end you state Ben took out those closest to his daughter. With the helicopter taking off [in "Ji Yeon"] and no signs of the sharpshooters on board, Ben warning his daughter they would do anything to her and the scenes to come with Locke’s camp loading up their guns for battle, wouldn’t you think that the freighter people have her?

First of all, I’m glad only a couple of my assumptions have you scratching your head. Usually people question every single assumption I make. So score on my part!

Part of my initial impression that the Others were in the brush taking out Karl and Danielle stemmed from my incorrect assessment that those were blow darts, not silenced bullets, flinging about there at the end. I didn’t peg the Freighters as the blowdarting kind, so I ruled them out. In addition, everything we know about Ben indicates that he’s three steps ahead of everyone. Given that he handed Alex and Company a map to the Temple, and that they were ambushed along that path, I figured he simply took out those who posed a threat to his supremacy via his psychic connection to Harper (another potentially head-scratching assumption, but one I think is in play).

Now, does the fact that bullets, not blowdarts, ended the life of Room 23’s most recent occupant change my theory? No, but it means that your take is equally likely at this point. Gault and the military boys could have debriefed Faraday, figured out a strategy, and just happened upon Alex and Company while approaching from an unknown location. While "Meet Kevin Johnson" showed the military types to act like macho lunkheads, let’s not assume they can’t get the job done while on a mission.

My biggest reservation about the Freighters being the ones firing at the end of the episode then stems off Ben, and his seeming inability to be outmaneuvered this season. Having the Freighters essentially counter his move and take his most valuable piece of the metaphorical chessboard seems like a large stretch at this point. That being said, it would indeed raise Team Widmore to the level of equal adversary for Ben, which thus elevates the entire war.

Moreover, given that Ben’s first line this season was him asking Danielle to take Alex to safety, it would be consistent motivation and psychology upon his part to try and send them to safety and NOT into a trap. (This sadly assumes Ben’s telling the truth, and we all know what a slippery endeavor THAT is.) If there were an action that could start a literal war on the Island, you could do worse than kidnap Alex. Thus, if the freighters are there, I won’t be disappointed, contingent upon the follow-up.

Let’s look at a question from Jeff, who also has those Freighters on his mind.

Assuming the people who shot Danielle and Karl were the commandos from the freighter:

1) Do you think their agenda really is to exterminate everyone on the Island?
2) Why?

I have to think that the whole "everyone’s gonna die" thing should be taken with a silo of salt. It’s not quite as bad as a Jar Jar Binks "Yousa people gonna DIE?" but Ben’s whole genocidal warnings could in fact be hiding a truth, one alluded to earlier: the capture of Alex could be the one thing that could bring Ben to his knees.

Remember, Ben’s a master of emotional manipulation, but by the same token, is keenly aware of his own emotional weak spots. One of those is Annie, another is his mother, and the third is Alex. Just as Michael turned into the equivalent of a human zombie, mindlessly performing the will of others due to the loss of his son, so too might Ben be rendered powerless in the face of losing his daughter.

Remember, all this "daughter" talk is a straight-up lie, a lie so forcefully believed by Ben that we as an audience have a hard time remembering that it’s a falsehood. Given his endeavors to propagate childbirth on the Island, one can only imagine the psychological devastation that would occur should Team Widmore get hold of her.

Having said all that, would G.I. Freighter have a problem poppin’ a cap in a feisty Lostaway? Probably not. Are they there to Armgeddon It, Def Leppard-style? Probably not.

Having brought up Michael, Mark O. has a question about him…

Why does everybody hate or not care much for Michael’s character?

Now there’s a spin-off show: Everyone Hates Michael. Heh. It’d be just him running around shouting, "WAAAAAALT!" no matter the situation.

Fast Food Employee: You want fries with that?
Michael: WAAAAAAAALT!

Hilarity would ensue.

As to your actual question: I don’t have any scientific backup here, but I think it’s fair to say that Michael’s not exactly a popular character on the show. He’s no Paolo, but he sure as heck ain’t no Desmond, neither. Did you miss him in Season 3? I didn’t. Which means the story didn’t need him. Thus, his absence mattered not.

Now, we do miss Walt though. The first Michael/Walt-centric episode, "Special," marked the second time strange things were afoot off-Island (with "Raised by Another" the first to imply mysterious forces off-Island as well as on), but "Special" brought the kooky and the crazy up-front with Walt’s amazing Bird Killing Mind Trick. With "Special," one marked Walt as one to watch, while Michael just stood on the side and built rafts all season.

Now, with Walt’s kidnapping, the show gave Michael’s character a unique status: the father of a missing child somewhere on the Island. A compelling storyline in theory, but downright frustrating in execution. Rather than turning it into a situation in which he could have reached out to others in order to rescue Walt, the show instead turned him into a stubborn, pig-headed man who abandoned reason and logic in order to achieve his selfish goals. Live together, ride off on a boat alone.

Now, Michael’s actions might make sense psychologically, but that doesn’t mean that they worked dramatically. Season 2 already suffered from relationships established in Season 1 splintering at the seams (those on the beach versus those in the Hatch, the introduction of the Tailies taking screen time away from Lostaways), and with Michael’s descent into himself, he ceased to be part of the collective whole of the show and splintered off into his own agenda. Plus, he instantly tossed aside all good will earned by killing Ana-Lucia by then capping Libby. Party foul, Michael. Party foul.

I look at all this the way I look at Season 6 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer ("growing up is angsty"): yes, I know what the show’s going for, but that doesn’t mean it translated into completely enjoyable television, either. Michael’s redemption arc might go a ways towards repairing the damage done by Season 2 to his character. But the widespread knowledge of Michael’s return seemingly gave a lot of people time to remember that they didn’t much miss him in the first place, stunting both the surprise of his reveal and the impact of "Meet Kevin Johnson" as a whole.

Now that we’ve treaded along the topic of spoilerish info, let’s go to the last question of the week, from Blue Sean.

What do you make of Darlton [in this week’s official Lost podcast] giving the code name of the jaw-dropping scene in the finale as "The Frozen Donkey Wheel"?

Here’s what I make of it: absolutely nothing. Why? Because they’ve taught me to do so.

I’m not going to pick at old scabs here, but c’mon: they’ve told us time and time and time again that the only thing that matters is the show. Period. An interview highlighted to me by reader Sean R. has this whopper in it from Damon:

So, watching the show Lost, you watch it and the data is there for you to form whatever theories you have, and you can’t factor in anything that even the creators or actors are saying about the show outside of the show, because at the end of the day the show will be processed in six DVD box sets.

Hear that, people? They don’t want you listening to them talk, reading what they’ve said, or engage the show in any meaningful way outside of the episodes themselves. Now, that’s perfectly within their rights, and I can understand the pressure involved in hedging every answer in every interview lest you give away too much too soon. I get it, honestly. But it’s also within my rights to avoid anything and everything Lost-related up to the return of new episodes of Season 4. It works both ways.

Now, maybe that’s a bit harsh of an assessment, I know. And I don’t really bring that much vitriol to the table, because I simply can’t be bothered to do so. I spent the last two years soaking up every bit of Lost that was served up, in the form of ARGs, DVD commentaries, podcasts, mobisodes, webisodes, videogames, interviews, enhanced episodes…and more fool me, turns out that was all a pleasant diversion meant to put my eyeballs near advertising. And yes, many of you took them as such from the get go, and love to tell me how stupid we all were for trying to apply the Valenzetti Equation to Room 23, and hey, awesome, y’all. Congratulations. Here’s a handshake and a $10 coupon to Red Lobster for being right from the get go.

So they can call the secret scene "The Hidden Donkey Wheel" if that tickles their fancy. More power to ’em. They produce a fantastic television program, but the problem is, they seem to know it. And that makes things like "The Hidden Donkey Wheel" arrogant, not clever. They want me to parse that out? No thanks. I spent two years parsing out non-episode related material, and you told me and millions just like me that it was a fool’s errand. I guess that makes us the donkey, and you’ve run us over with your wheel, Darlton. Enjoy the title of your scene, guys: I’ll enjoy it when it airs in May.

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And on that happy note, I’m bringing this week’s edition of "Letters From the Flame" to a close. Remember, there’s still time to vote for the topics you’d liked discussed in the weeks until Season 4 starts up again. Vote early, vote often!

Ryan also posts every 108 minutes over at Boob Tube Dude.

Posted by:Ryan McGee