Thousands of people crammed into the ballroom at what may be the first 'must see' event of Comic-Con - the Lost panel. People showed up two hours prior to the start of the event, and the room was full to capacity a full half hour before the panel started.

So what did this throng of fans learn? The first thing we learned, which was reported on Tuesday at the TCA meetings, was that Harold Perrineau, who plays Michael, will be returning to Lost, and it won't just be in flashbacks. They won't reveal when or how he'll return to the island, but expect it to be quite an occurrence. Second, we learned that the fourth season, as previously reported, will start in February 2008 and will run 16 episodes, as will the following two seasons. Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof, the co-executive producers of the show, feel that the extra time will allow them to keep the quality level of the show very high. "It's a tightwire act," Lindelof noted. Unlike previous seasons, the show will not air until the last few episodes are being filmed. In the past, they could make adjustments based on fan response, a luxury they won't have this year, "which means we have to not screw it up," Cuse added.

Most questions came from the audience, some of which led to some interesting, if mysterious answers. When asked about the level of violence in season three compared to season one, Lindelof mused that there may have been more violence in the first season committed by our survivors, but they are prettier than the Others. "Our group is just better looking," Lindelof laughed. It's a lot easier to take a punch from Sawyer than Mr. Friendly (especially if Sawyer has his shirt off).

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Next up, a question about the writing process and how much control individual writers have over their episode. Cuse noted that it is a very collective process. The entire staff of writers work through the stories together, beat by beat and then break off, usually into pairs, to write their episodes. Each writer tends to have a favorite character to write for, and usually they differ from writer to writer.

One big question left at the end of season three was, what was up with those flash-forward scenes? According to the panelists, we'll be seeing more of those flash-forwards as well as the flashbacks we're used to seeing. "There is a whole chapter of this story that happens off the island." Cuse and Lindelof teased the audience with rhetorical questions about the show - who is in the coffin? Does anyone besides Jack and Kate make it off the island? As for things we could expect next season, Libby's backstory will be addressed, and they hope to cover Rousseau's backstory either this season or next.

The highlight of the event was the presentation of a recently discovered film in Norway for the Dharma project. It turned out to be an orientation video for Station 6 - The Orchid, which, as the Asian scientist on the video informs us is not actually a botanical research lab. It has something to do with dangerous fluffy rabbits with the same numerical markings as the rabbit we saw Ben holding last year. I don't know if the video will show up online (probably eventually), but keep an eye out for it...there were some hidden messages spliced in there, too fast to see.

Here is an abridged, but more fleshed out, version of what Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof had to say about the show, its future and what the fans can expect.

Season 3 had a lot more violence, do we eventually find out that The Others are the good guys?

Carlton Cuse: We wanted to make the season tell a complete story, the story this season was the story of The Others, with a beginning, middle and an end. We wanted a final conflict between the groups and that involved a body count. That's just the way the story unfolded.

Damon Lindelof: I would argue though, that were you to go back and look at season 1, that more acts of violence that our guys committed against each other than the violence committed by the others against our guys. It's just that our guys are much prettier. When Sawyer is punching you in the face, you're kind of like, "More please. You're so attractive, do you want to take your shirt off and continue the beatings. When Picket or Friendly is beating you up it's like brutal violence, not the kind of violence we subscribe to. So we promise as the show moves forward, that violence will be perpetrated by catastrophically good looking people.

So where is Michael?

Carlton Cuse: Probably most of you saw this, but it was announced yesterday at the television critic's meeting that Harold Perrineau will be back on the show.

Damon Lindelof: This was kind of a bummer for us because we got spoiled. That was an announcement we were hoping to make at the con...

Carlton Cuse: We'd planned to announce that to you guys here, but we hadn't been aware that the other event was the day before Comic-Con, so the timing wasn't really in our brains. Harold will be returning.

Is the story going to remain on the island?

Carlton Cuse: Going forward, you're going to be seeing story in the past, present and future, in all three timezones. What you saw with Kate and Jack was not the end of the show.

Damon Lindelof: We wanted to communicate to the audience that the show has never really been about getting off the island. People have been asking us all along, 'Is there going to be an After-Lost?", to see what their lives are like once they're rescued. We've been sitting on this knowledge that there's a whole chapter of the story that takes place off the island. But we couldn't start telling that until we could say that the show was going to end, because if you'd seen the Kate & Jack story as just another episode instead of "one less" episode, you probably would have thrown up your hands and said, "they're f-ing stalling!" But in the context of moving toward the end, we're saying come with us to the end. We're not wasting time.

At this moment, Harold Perrineau comes out to a great deal of applause.

Damon Lindelof: I know I speak for everyone on the show when I say how excited I am to have Harold come back. Harold is actually the first and only actor who's ever left the show and part of a design to have them come back. It was excruciating to keep our mouths shut for a season.

Harold Perrineau: And for me. And they've had more information than I had. I'm really excited to be back in Hawaii and hanging out with friends.

Carlton Cuse: Michael's story is one of the most compelling for us on the show. Here's a character who will do anything for his son, and took some very extreme actions. In a series that deals a lot with the power of this island to be redemptive, and what characters need to do to redeem themselves, we feel that Michael's foray is going to be really compelling next season.

Damon Lindelof: We can confirm that Harold's not coming back for a quick pop. He is coming back to the series as a regular. He has rejoined the cast. We just won't tell you when, but it will be early in the fourth season. I think the way that we're doing it is going to be fairly awesome.

There has been talk that Libby possibly worked for Dharma, will we have a flashback with her in the future?

Carlton Cuse: It is our intention to get to her story, and we think you'll be very happy when we do finish that.

Damon Lindelof: You're not exactly barking up the wrong tree with your speculative online questioning.

Lost Season Four will begins February 2008 on ABC.

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Evan Jacobs