HONOLULU – After guardedly making his way through a darkened tunnel, Dr. Jack Sheppard (search) found himself bewildered and facing a harrowing decision. His trust and character are tested again in ABC's "Lost," which won the best drama series Emmy on Sunday and returns for its highly anticipated second season on Wednesday.
"Anytime people are in very extreme circumstances, dealing with life and death and dealing with survival — I think we can find truth in those moments," said Matthew Fox (search), who plays the reluctant leader of a group of plane crash survivors stranded on a mysterious island.
"Lost" fans, who have patiently waited all summer for answers following last season's two-hour finale, will finally find out what's beyond the metal hatch that leads deep into the earth.
The answer — while still cryptic — was revealed last week to thousands of frenzied fans who turned out at Waikiki Beach (search) for a special screening of the new season's first episode and to catch a glimpse of the "Lost" stars. It was a red carpet event like no other, complete with screaming fans, crashing surf and a sunset over the Pacific Ocean.
It was in marked contrast to last year where the crowds who turned out to see an unknown ABC pilot filmed in Hawaii didn't know who the actors were.
"There is a slight difference, isn't there? It's quite shocking," said Naveen Andrews (search), who plays former Iraqi soldier Sayid.
With thrilling twists, unpredictable story lines and a diverse cast, "Lost" has attracted a loyal following. The official "Lost" magazine comes out soon and the recently released DVD box set of the first season is a top seller at Amazon.com (search).
"The success of a show to this level is always surprising. It takes on a level of pop culture which you can never fully predict," said Dominic Monaghan (search), who plays rock-star junkie Charlie. "Because of that, it's a little trippy."
The show's first season was so well received, cast members realize they must deliver a standout sophomore season.
"We're dealing with an immense kind of pressure to keep the quality up," Andrews said. "It's make or break this season, quite frankly. ... We have an audience now. We can't let them down."
"There's more pressure now because we're not the hot new show, we're just the hot show," he said. "So we kind of have to back that up now instead of being about the hype. We have to deliver."
"Lost" co-creator Damon Lindelof (search) said viewers can relate to the characters, often picking their favorites.
"At the end of the day, the show at its core is about the characters," he said. "I think the reason people really love this show is they find the island mysteries are compelling, but they watch every week because they really bond with the people."
One of the most popular characters is the enigmatic outdoorsman Locke, played by Terry O'Quinn, the oldest cast member at 53.
"One of the reasons I've been able to make it work is because I'm very sympathetic with the character," O'Quinn said. "He's a seeker for answers and for something to believe in. He's skeptical. He's dubious and he's been burnt and I've been all those things."
Through flashbacks, viewers this season will see different sides of the castaways, who may share more in common than just sitting in coach seats on the ill-fated Oceanic Airlines flight No. 815.
Fox said his character is trying to rationalize the paranormal experiences on the island.
"Jack is a very scientific man, very logical and obviously with everything he has seen on this island, he's going to have to find a way to snap out of this denial and start confronting this real reality he's existing in," Fox said.
Evangeline Lilly, who plays sexy jailbird Kate, said viewers will see a more aggressive character.
"I just think the environment she's in is very savage and eventually the savage side of Kate is going to have to come out a little more than we've seen so far," she said.
Michael, played by Harold Perrineau, struggles this season. In last season's finale, Michael's young son Walt is kidnapped on the high seas by a group of men. Walt makes a startling appearance in Wednesday's episode.
"After the plane crash and all the other stuff, someone snatches your kid. It can't get any worse than that," Perrineau said. "Michael goes from bad to worse this year. You'll see him dig deep to really deal with what's going on."
In all the madness, there will be some love on the island this season.
"We're in the 9 o'clock slot now," Andrews said, referring to the show's new time. "Men and women alone on the island, they have needs. Needs that must be fulfilled."
"Lost" has been a ratings winner for ABC, which took mostly unknown actors cast by Lindelof and J.J. Abrams and created one of the network's most expensive pilots ever around them.
Fans have also embraced the diversity of characters.
"That's what's great about it. Everyone is so different. Different ages. Different nationalities," said Australian Emilie de Ravin (Claire).
The characters include a young Korean couple who exclusively speak to each other in their native language. Lindelof said English was not an option for Jin and Sun.
"I think there's this sort of interesting American conceit, `Everybody else on the planet should speak English,'" he said. "The fact that there are people who don't speak English, we sort of demand they adapt to us, as opposed to the other way around.
"So we wanted to make a commentary on language."
Lindelof said as long the characters "bounce off each other" in interesting ways, have real conflicts and continue to develop, the show will continue to be compelling.
"For how long? Who knows," he said. "But all I know is we write one episode at a time and we've been doing OK so far."