By People Staff
Updated February 03, 2010 12:00 AM
Credit: Mario Perez/ABC

The cloud of secrecy surrounding two pivotal Lost mysteries was lifted with one breathtaking reveal in Tuesday’s highly anticipated premiere: John Locke is the smoke monster!

Since last May’s finale … … which disclosed that Locke had, in fact, died at the hands of Ben — fans had theorized about the entity that had taken over his body. But few might have expected the answer to be the thick plume of black smoke that has captivated and mystified them since Lost’s 2004 debut.

“People would ask us all the time, ‘What’s the monster?’” says executive producer Damon Lindelof. “It was fun to finally be able to say, ‘You’ve been asking the wrong question. You should’ve been asking who.’”

Continues Lindelof, “The audience’s hope that Locke wasn’t really dead clouded their ability to see him for who he really was.”

Not to mention Terry O’Quinn’s. “I was like, ‘I’m Smokey? Well, now that’s freaky,’” says the actor, who learned of the twist when he read the premiere script. “I thought, ‘There goes a bunch of possibilities — and here comes a whole bunch of new ones!”

Considering Smokey has briefly taken on other human forms before, including Ben’s slain daughter Alex, one of those theories would still seem to be that Locke Monster and the mysterious Man in Black are the same. MIB’s cryptic season-5 conversation with man-in-white Jacob has led many fans to believe that Lost’s final season is building to an epic good-versus-evil showdown. But O’Quinn isn’t ready to label his character the show’s Big Bad. “I won’t say that about Locke until the wrap party’s done and everybody’s hung over,” says the actor, who’s now more than halfway through shooting the final season. “You never know what these writers have planned.”

Of course, Locke Monster, who proved he could wipe out a bevy of Jacob’s bodyguards in a flash but, curiously, seems scared of a little black ash, was just one twist in a pulse-pounding premiere. Among the others:

The Bomb: Juliet’s detonation of the bomb at the end of last season was both a success and a failure. In one timeline, Oceanic 815 landed safely at LAX (and the island was revealed to be completely underwater!). In the other — thanks to a new narrative device producers have dubbed “flash-sideways” — the characters are still on the island and they’re not very happy about it. (But hey, at least they got out of the ‘70s!) How in Jacob’s name is all this possible? Not so fast! “The fundamental mystery of season 6 is, why are we showing you these two stories and what is their relationship to each other?” Lindelof says. “The audience is gonna have to be very patient.”

Parallel Lives: Despite (or because of?) Juliet’s reset, the lives of Oceanic 815’s passengers aren’t quite the same. Sure, Jack‘s still got a God complex (which helped him save junkie Charlie), and Kate’s still a fugitive (who, in a bid to escape, hopped into a cab with a still-pregnant Claire). But instead of pushing buttons in the hatch, Desmond was flying the friendly skies in the same row as Jack, still-alive Boone was sans sister Shannon, the once-cursed Hurley professed himself to be the luckiest guy alive, Sun claimed not to speak any English, and Locke — ah, the faith-spouting, good old Locke we know and love! — was still in a wheelchair. But for how long, considering spinal-surgeon Jack passed along his business card and the claim that “nothing’s irreversible?”

But On the Island: Juliet died in a heartbroken Sawyer‘s arms and, thanks to the bullet he took in last year’s finale, Sayid also kicked it — only to be seemingly resurrected in the episode’s final moments. Did the Temple’s healing waters actually work their magic, or does their murkiness foretell something far more sinister? “We’ve always said that when you die on the show, you’re dead,” says executive producer Carlton Cuse. “What does that mean for Sayid moving forward? That’s something that plays out over a whole series of episodes.”

Welcome back, Lost! You and your knotty mysteries were missed! –Shawna Malcom

Tell us: What did you think of the premiere? How do you explain Sayid’s reversal of fortune?

Mario Perez/ABC