In Defense of: “The Exposé” episode (aka the Nikki and Paulo episode) of Lost
The first season of Lost was one of my most memorable television experiences. I was instantly drawn into the mysteries of the island, shocked at the revelations found in episodes like “Walkabout,” and couldn't wait to find out more about the Dharma Initiative. And I wasn't the only one. The first season was a massive hit, gaining a following of fans who were keen to offer their own theories and analyze nearly every element of each episode. It was the first time I felt like there was an interactive experience with a fictional show, and it was the first time I jumped to the Internet to become involved in the experience. The end of that season offered a finale that added even more twists and had audiences on the edge of their seats for what was to come in season two. Then season two arrived. Along with more mysteries, there were also more characters introduced, and the show started to lose some of its first-season luster. Season 3 had a tough job. It had to recapture the magic of season one, continue to propel the story forward (or backwards, or sideways) and do some damage control for some of the more lackluster parts of season 2. Amid the damage control was the addition of even more characters, survivors who had been there since the crash but just hadn't been a part of the story yet: Nikki and Paulo. They mostly floated around in the background, never seeming to add anything significant to the plot, but the “Expose” episode seemed like it would fix that. Much to the surprise (and delight) of many of the show's fans, that episode also served as their swan song, as by its end both characters were dead and buried (just not in that order). The episode is typically praised for eliminating some of the show's dead weight, but I think the Nikki and Paulo episode deserves more praise for being a wildly entertaining hour of television. Here's why I love the episode, and why I think Nikki and Paulo get far more hate than they deserve:
The Show was Lost Itself:
Had Nikki and Paulo shown up during the first season, I could certainly understand the universal loathing of their characters. There was so much more I wanted to know about Jack, Kate, Sun, Sayid, Locke, the island. There were enough new mysteries introduced in that season that adding more main characters would have created a convoluted show. When the “Tailies” were introduced in season two, it kind of made sense. It wasn't too surprising that another part of the plane held some survivors, and it was great to see Rose and Bernard reunited. Still, the show kept piling on characters and mysteries, and the audience was getting frustrated. Of course, we never got all the answers, and the mysteries kept piling on, but the second season is where the fears of unanswered mysteries, and the possibility that any plot points were being made up on the spot instead of carefully planned out all started to slip into the minds of viewers. So during the third season's attempt at damage control, it did seem like adding more Oceanic survivors wasn't exactly the smartest choice, but at the same time, there wasn't immediate reason to think that it wouldn't work.
Desmond, Ben, Juliet, some of the most popular characters on the show weren't introduced in the first season, they showed up in the uneven second season. But they quickly became bright parts of the show and their stories added to the history of the island and the development of some of the original characters. So attempting to add more, especially in a show that was often losing characters, could have worked. It didn't, but the end of season three offered one of the greatest twists and most shocking finales of the series, so even if adding Nikki and Paulo didn't work, something did, and I was once again eagerly anticipating the next season.
Nikki and Paulo were in Good (Bad) Company:
Like I said, they certainly weren't the first time new characters were added, and of all the times someone new showed up, I don't think Nikki and Paulo deserve being known as the worst. I am a huge Daniel Roebuck fan (as I am of anyone who was a main character on Matlock). So when Leslie Arzt was introduced at the end of the first season, I was ecstatic to see Roebuck join the show. But by the end of that season he was dead, and though he showed up later in the series (including in “Exposé”) and his death was responsible for one of the best Lost lines (“You got some Arzt on you”) his character didn't seem to add too much to the show. But since he was killed so quickly, nobody complained. And there was Alex Rousseau, who was only really interesting because of who her mother was. And all those Dharma stations. Those once promising, but mostly amounting to nothing, Dharma stations. To say Nikki and Paulo were not good or needed additions to the show is fair. Just recognize that they were not the first or the last of these additions, and their overall time on the show was relatively harmless. Most frustrations aimed at them should really be aimed at the reason they were brought to the show in the first place.
“Exposé” was a Fantastic Twilight Zone Episode:
I've already said a million times that the show was one that was constantly adding new mysteries, where fans had more questions than answers, and all most of us wanted in the third season was some piece of the puzzle. So I do understand how frustrating a stand-alone episode, one that doesn't seem to build on previous mysteries but serve as nothing more than another piece of damage control aimed at killing off two despised characters, was not what fans were hoping for. Even though it did feel separate from the rest of the series, as a single hour of television, I thought “Exposé” was great.
Yes, the episode did perhaps try a bit too hard to show us that Nina and Pablo—er—Nikki and Paulo had been on the island since the plane first crashed, but even those moments injected some mystery and comedy and also showcased the characters in a way they should have been shown throughout their time on the show.
Fans who hated the characters not only got to see them go, but there were even jokes about the unnecessary twosome. When Hurley tells sawyer that Nikki died, Sawyer's immediate response is: “Who the hell's Nikki?” It was a question that left many haters chortle with glee. And in the first flashback of the episode, Nikki steps off a show's set and her lover says to her, “You know you don't need to die. We can bring you back next season,” to which she responds, “How? … Look, I'm just a guest star. We all know what happens to guest stars.” Not only did the show eliminate Nikki and Paulo, it acknowledged they probably shouldn't have been there in the first place. And most of the flashback story the duo share gives fans even more reason to dislike them and cheer their demise.
But even better was the way that the two died. At the top of the episode, Nikki is seen running, digging, and frantically burying something before stumbling out of the jungle and interrupting Hurley and Sawyer's game of table tennis. She collapses, barely able to talk, but gets one, maybe two, stilted, slurred words out. Hurley has no idea what she's said, but just a moment later it seems it doesn't matter, as she goes still and Hurley realizes she has died. As a small crowd gathers to examine the body, they are perplexed. She has no apparent wounds, but poisoning is brought up as a possibility. The rest of the episode is a great mix of mystery and comedy. I love the guesses as to her last word(s). Plywood? Power lines? Paulo lies (followed by Sawyer asking, “Who the hell's Paulo?”)?
Through the episode, it's revealed that the two had a secret stash of jewels, one that Sawyer thought he'd get to keep. After Sun reminds him that diamonds are useless on the island (and also gives him a much-deserved slap in the face for his kidnapping idea), Sawyer ultimately decides the loot should be buried with the couple. He scatters the jewels over their bodies, and it seems like the Nikki and Paulo story is a wrap. But then one more flashback, set a mere 8 hours before their funeral, exposes the truth behind their mysterious deaths. In what had seemed to be a throwaway line earlier in the episode, Arzt told Nikki he'd discovered a number of new species on the island. In one of his many specimen jars was a Medusa spider. Nikki quickly threw on the charm after this line, but the name and the spider were the key to the entire episode.
The diamonds the two were buried with had been lost during the initial plane crash. They had both searched for the bag (which is why Nikki needed Arzt's help in the first place), but Paulo had decided they'd never find it. After Nikki found Paulo's nicotine gum, she realized he'd found the bag and kept it from her, so she lured him deep into the jungle, exposed the truth, then threw the Medusa spider at him. As he squirmed in panic, she explained that the spider was named after Medusa because just like her ability to turn people to stone, one bite from the spider caused paralysis. Not a deadly bite, but a bite powerful enough to keep you paralyzed for 8 hours, making its victim seem dead. Nikki was so caught up in her own brilliant plan (both during Paulo's paralysis and during her flirtation with Arzt), she forgot another very important thing Arzt told her about the spider: One whiff of its pheromones, and every male Medusa spider within miles would come flocking to her. Soon, Nikki is bitten by an eager spider and then we once again see the opening scene, except now the audience knows that Nikki doesn't say “power lines,” or “Paulo lies,” but “paralyzed.” As the 8 hours of paralysis is nearly over, Nikki's eyes open in a flash, just quick enough to be covered by a shovelful of sand. The episode ends with ominous music and the grave that holds two living bodies. Again, no major mythology was better understood by the show's end, but the ending was definitely one of the greatest of the series and the episode as a stand-alone nightmare is definitely worth defending.