Michael Emerson and Matthew Fox

"If the first episode of Lost that you ever see is the first episode of Season 5, you will not understand a majority of it," admitted co-executive producer Carlton Cuse, speaking to reporters at ABC's winter-TV previews in Los Angeles. Hopefully you're already a regular viewer. (If not, get going on those DVDs!)

Even so, it has been eight long months since the last new episode (Wednesday's three-hour premiere event begins with a one-hour recap episode at 8 pm/ET). Even if we have been watching, we can't be expected to remember every detail of such a rich, complicated show, can we? We've compiled this catch-up guide that tells you where most of the main characters (don't worry, Rose and Bernard are OK) were when we last saw them, and where they're headed this season.

A quick recap: Six survivors of the crash of Oceanic Flight 815 — and Desmond — were rescued and returned to civilization. The remainder disappeared into thin air when Ben "moved" the island. Where they moved, and how the Oceanic 6 will return to the island will be the season's two major narratives, but don't expect them to be simple or straightforward. In fact, don't focus on where the island is now; instead you should ask when it is.

[Full disclosure: Although I've seen the first three episodes of the new season, this guide is made up of pretty vague teases, and as such is basically spoiler-free. If you want to know more about Lost's new season, check out my colleague Matt Mitovich's reviews of Epsiodes 1, 2 and 3, which offer a bit more scoopage.]

BENJAMIN LINUS (Michael Emerson)
WHERE WE LEFT OFF After moving the island with that "frozen donkey wheel" thing, Ben apparently left the island, since he pops up at the Hoffs/Drawlar Funeral Home to offer Jack & Co. assistance in getting back to the island.
WHAT'S NEXT Ben is in Los Angeles, and he has a mission. And... he has help from one familiar and a few unfamiliar faces.

CHARLOTTE STAPLES LEWIS (Rebecca Mader)
WHERE WE LEFT OFF Charlotte tells Daniel that she needs to stay on the island, so she can locate the place where she was born.
WHAT'S NEXT That Charlotte-Daniel relationship is brought into sharper focus, as she begins to exhibit familiar behaviors.

CLAIRE LITTLETON (Emilie de Ravin)
WHERE WE LEFT OFF A dazed and confused Claire wandered off in the middle of the night, leaving Aaron behind. Part of the Oceanic 6's lie/story gave the baby a new mommy: Kate.
WHAT'S NEXT Lindelof and Cuse have announced that De Ravin will not be a series regular in Season 5, but that Claire will return at some point.

DANIEL FARADAY (Jeremy Davies)
WHERE WE LEFT OFF Daniel was in a raft heading to the freighter when the sky went all crazy.
WHAT'S NEXT It's clear that Daniel has some extra insight into the island's workings, which will come in handy as strange events begin to occur.

DESMOND HUME (Henry Ian Cusick)
WHERE WE LEFT OFF His phone call to Penny spurred his unrequited love into action, and it's ultimately her boat that saves the Oceanic 6, whom he bids farewell as they leave to fake their rescue story.
WHAT'S NEXT He may be off the island, but Desmond will continue to be a crucial element of the show's ongoing storylines in ways you might not have imagined.

HUGO "HURLEY" REYES (Jorge Garcia)
WHERE WE LEFT OFF Hugo's post-island life takes place in the Santa Rosa mental institution, where a very grown-up-looking Walt visits him to ask why they're all lying. Soon after, Sayid arrives to break him out of the loony bin.
WHAT'S NEXT It will take a lot of convincing to get the jumpy Hurley to go back to the island.

JACK SHEPHARD (Matthew Fox)
WHERE WE LEFT OFF Sad Jack breaks into the Hoffs/Drawlar Funeral Home on the day of the wake for Jeremy Bentham (aka John Locke). Ben surprises him there and tells him that everyone — including Locke's corpse — have to return to the island together.
WHAT'S NEXT Jack and Ben have a lot of work to do if they're going to reassemble the Oceanic 6.

JAMES "SAWYER" FORD (Josh Holloway)
WHERE WE LEFT OFF When the helicopter ran out of fuel because it was too heavy, Sawyer jumped out of the helicopter and swam back to the island, shirtless, where he met a sad Juliet on the beach just before the island disappeared.
WHAT'S NEXT Lindelof and Cuse have dubbed the new episodes "the season of Sawyer," saying that the focus will shift from the post-island Oceanic 6 to those left behind.

JIN KWON (Daniel Dae Kim)
WHERE WE LEFT OFF Freighter went boom with Jin onboard. It doesn't look good for him, especially since we already know that Sun erected a gravestone for him back in Korea.
WHAT'S NEXT But guess what? Kim is still a series regular! The producers have declined to say whether Jin is alive or dead, but as we all know, that hardly matters on Lost.

JOHN LOCKE (Terry O'Quinn)
WHERE WE LEFT OFF Now we know it was a pseudonymous Locke in the coffin, dead of an apparent suicide. Before he offed himself, though, he visited Jack and Kate to recruit them in a return trip to the island, where "very bad things" had happened since they left.
WHAT'S NEXT A lot of time elapsed between the departure of the Oceanic 6 and the funeral of "Jeremy Bentham." Locke's role among those left behind — and those who were already there — will be significant.

JULIET BURKE (Elizabeth Mitchell)
WHERE WE LEFT OFF Juliet promises to stay behind to make sure everyone who wants to gets off the island. When she sees the freighter explode, she sits on the beach drowning her endless sorrows in a bottle of Dharma Initiative rum. She shares a significant smile with Sawyer when he washes ashore.
WHAT'S NEXT Juliet knows more about the island than most; her former Other status will serve everyone well.

KATE AUSTEN (Evangeline Lilly)
WHERE WE LEFT OFF Kate tells Jack there's no way she's going back to the island. To reinforce this point, she is visited in a dream by Claire, who warns her, "Don't you dare bring him back!"
WHAT'S NEXT Someone knows the truth about Kate and Aaron, which prompts her into action.

MICHAEL DAWSON (Harold Perrineau)
WHERE WE LEFT OFF Michael was also on the doomed freighter, a suicide mission that he saw as his path to redemption.
WHAT'S NEXT "I'm working for the same network so anything can happen," Perrineau told the press while stumping for his new ABC cop dramedy The Unusuals. "You never know what Carlton and Damon are going to do."

MILES STRAUME (Ken Leung)
WHERE WE LEFT OFF Miles unilaterally decides to stay on the island, why is unclear.
WHAT'S NEXT Don't forget why Miles was picked for the freighter team to begin with. He has some serious ghostbusting skills, and he will definitely use them.

RICHARD ALPERT (Nestor Carbonell)
WHERE WE LEFT OFF The creepy, ageless Richard and his band of merry men helped Kate and Sayid subdue the freighter commandos, and welcomed Locke to the Others' fold.
WHAT'S NEXT At the winter-TV previews, Lindelof and Cuse reported that once CBS' Cane was canceled, they immediately secured Carbonell's services for the remainder of the series. Since he plays a big part in the Lost mythology, not doing so "would have been catastrophic," says Lindelof.

SAYID JARRAH (Naveen Andrews)
WHERE WE LEFT OFF The once-and-future assassin packs some heat to break Hurley out of Santa Rosa.
WHAT'S NEXT Hurley and Sayid are on the run together, but toward what goal?

SUN KWON (Yunjin Kim)
WHERE WE LEFT OFF Embittered by the loss of her husband, Sun uses her Oceanic Air settlement to buy a controlling interest in her father's company. Then, she pays a visit to the insidious Charles Widmore in London, and — shockingly — offers to help him.
WHAT'S NEXT Sun and Widmore's "common interests" become clearer. Not as clear are Sun's intentions.

Have a few episodes of Lost to watch before Wednesday's premiere? Watch them in our Online Video Guide