“I can’t go play a rock concert after this! This…doesn’t matter. None of this matters. All that matters is that we felt it.” –Charlie Pace (Sideways world), 6×11 Happily Ever After
LOST was one of the most creatively ambitious, epic, and polarizing shows on television. Debuting in 2004, it was an immediate hit that, over its six seasons, developed a rabid cult following of people who both thought it was great and people who felt cheated by the entire series. With a large, international cast, LOST told the story of a plane of people who crash-landed on an island (also known as the Island, a character unto itself) that possessed, among other things, mysterious smoke monsters, magical healing properties, remnants of a sociological experiment gone wrong, and the actual manifestation of the demons of the past that haunted each character.
Season one was very deeply about the characters themselves, with every episode focusing on a different character and the audience learning, through flashbacks timed perfectly to parallel with events on the Island, who these people were before their plane crashed, and just how broken their lives had been. The mysterious happenings of the Island took a backseat to the ways in which these characters began to wipe clean the slate of their existence with the fresh start they had been given in this place.
Season two delved much further into the mythology of the Island, focusing centrally on the existence of a hatch that was opened at the end of season one, that housed secrets of people who had been there before, and also introduced a creepy clan of Others that shared the Island with the survivors and appeared to worship some benevolent god-like man named Jacob (who is introduced much later).
Over the next four seasons, the show attempted to balance its storytelling between Island mythology and character development, and it didn’t always work. Many, many questions were asked and never answered. The final season, which finally introduced Jacob and suggested that he was, all along, the very central key to the show, chose to go back and centralize the kind of excellent character storytelling that they did in season one, to the frustration of many (including myself) who just wanted answers. Jacob was only an idea for five seasons, until suddenly he was everything the show was supposed to be and apparently held all of the answers. Only Jacob’s character served to further confuse the mythology of the show without actually answering any of the questions before him or after. The concept of Jacob had thrilled me for five seasons but when we finally got him, I was disappointed that he wasn’t what I thought he was going to be nor was I even sure what he was at all. And the most disappointing part of all is that Jacob didn’t even really seem to fit into the story lines told throughout seasons one through five, when I thought he would close the circle of the show and bring everything together.
Full disclosure: I was obsessed with LOST. When I was in high school, my parents bought me the first season for Christmas because they thought I would like it, and so I sat down with the DVDs and a bowl of clementines and marathoned the first season (my first ever binge-watch!), which hooked me almost instantly. It then became a sort of hobby through the second half of high school and all of college. I would watch the episodes, and then I would re-watch them and devour them. I would go online and discuss it with strangers. I would read theories and form my own. I would research philosophy, religion, freaking quantum physics (though with that last one “research” is synonymous with “Wikipedia”); anything that I thought could help me better understand and appreciate the depth of what I was consuming. I would quote the show constantly. I had to create a website for a Digital Publishing class I took my junior year and I created a fan website for LOST. I had to give a speech once and I chose to talk about “Fate vs. Choice” because of the themes I studied while watching LOST.
I was obsessed, but not maniacally so. I just loved it. It was so much fun to me to take part in those things, to become more intelligent overall because I could take one show I was watching and branch out from it to learn things about the world, and myself. I felt this way growing up with Harry Potter, too. You better understand other things you’re learning in school because you can see those things applied in media you love and admire. In loving LOST the way that I did, and assigning it value in my own life, LOST made me a better student, a better writer, a better consumer of media, and a better person and friend, because that’s just what healthily engrossing yourself in things you love can do to you. And when LOST was over, I very seriously asked myself, “Well…now what am I going to do with my life?” There has never been a show before nor after that was so central to what I chose to do with my time.
LOST still remains one of my favorite shows of all time, but four years after the series finale, I do see its flaws in a way I didn’t when I was so much a part of it. I still find the show absolutely brilliant, but I also can’t deny my disappointment with much of it. Like how it never really seemed to choose what it really wanted to be about, which left the series as a whole feeling a bit lopsided and all over the place. This also contributed to the opening of storylines that the writers could never devote proper time to, because they had to continuously introduce new story lines that were apparently more focused on where the show needed to go. (I’m looking at you, mysterious painted woman holding a rat from Ben’s past. Like, what?)
When fans demanded answers to these questions, the ones the writers gave seemed to be afterthoughts and were wholly unsatisfying. (The Numbers were really just Jacob writing a chalk list on a wall of potential candidates to replace him? What? I read a way better theory online two seasons prior where the Numbers were an equation that was part of a Chaos Theory. And I loved that fan theory so much more, because it made the Numbers intriguing and important without really needing to be explained or a part of the story beyond that they existed on the Island and suggested something terrible was coming. That’s so much better! Chalk list??? CHALK LIST? But I digress.)
So yes, the show went off into a million directions, many of which led nowhere. Again, things either weren’t explained (like, um, WHAT IS THE ISLAND?) or were explained poorly and to nobody’s satisfaction (the whispers are the voices of dead souls trapped on the island? I would have preferred you left that one unexplained). By the time LOST was to its final season, there was no way everyone could ever be satisfied. There were too many doors (hatches?) that had been opened, that they couldn’t possibly ever shut all of them, even if they wanted to or tried. I understand the biggest angers among fans, I do. I wanted to know what the Island was, too. But I have a feeling that if they answered it concretely, I would be disappointed (much like the Numbers), and as someone who spent a large amount of time enjoying dissecting the mystery myself, I thought, “Isn’t it better to speculate about something long after it ended than be disappointed in the moment? Isn’t it more satisfying that way?”
I think many would say no. But what I have come to decide about LOST is that it shouldn’t be about the big picture. From the beginning, LOST was a story of a group of people who were figuratively lost in their lives, who then crash landed on an island and then were literally lost in the world. But the core of the show, and the show at its absolute best, was these people. Who they were before the Island, and who they became after it. How they changed each other. And when you make that the most important idea that the show could explore, what the Island was doesn’t matter, really. The only thing that matters is that it’s where these people found redemption. (Which I believe is what Christian is telling Jack, in this scene.)
All of the other sci-fi stuff, that was cool—the Others, the Hatch, the Numbers. It was cool and I liked it and I don’t know if 4 years later I really feel particularly cheated that many of those questions weren’t answered either. For me, LOST has always been about how it made me feel. I think it’s possible to have profound scenes throughout a series with arguable flaws, and the series can still be great, because those scenes made you feel something at all. When John Locke has a crisis of faith over the meaning behind pushing a button in a hatch on an island, I don’t necessarily need to know what that button means or why it’s there or how it fits into the story. That stuff doesn’t matter to me! I mean, don’t get me wrong, I still desperately wanted to know. But my desire to know wasn’t greater than or equal to the emotions I felt when I realized the button was a metaphor for faith, and the way that fit into John Locke’s life as we knew it through flashbacks and his time on the Island.
And it’s the scenes like that that make LOST a great show. Is it flawed that the catalysts they threw at their characters to incite amazing scenes like the Man of Science, Man of Faith conversation ultimately led nowhere? Perhaps. But LOST was so ambitious, with such a deep and sprawling story and it’s not surprising that they maybe couldn’t get it all right. (Also of note, season 3 of LOST—widely accepted to be its worst season—was a victim of the infamous 2007 writer’s strike. All shows suffered.)
The ending of LOST was the most polarizing moment of the series. But I found it absolutely breathtakingly perfect. And I still do. Four years later, the moments I recall when I think about the end of the series aren’t the answers, or the showdown between Jack and Locke/the Man in Black. The thing that I remember is the emotional moment of all of them reuniting in the church, and how that made me feel.
In the end, LOST became a series of striking character studies. I’m not sure if the Island was ever supposed to make sense, or if it just existed to propel our characters towards their destiny, or if the writers just screwed up. I can understand if you needed it to end a different way. But to me, it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that I felt it.