This article is going to have a metric shit ton of Lost spoilers. So if you haven’t seen the series or want to watch it at some point without knowing what happens (something I recommend), you should probably leave now.
The promos looked pretty good. A bunch of recognizable actors survive a plane crash on some South Pacific island that has a monster on it for some reason. And hey, it had the guy from The Stepfather and Augustus Hill from Oz. The pilot for Lost looked interesting enough to check out. I was not disappointed. Whatever you may think of the rest of that show, by any objective viewpoint the pilot is an absolute masterpiece. I kept up with the show throughout its run, never escalating beyond casual, if loyal, fandom. I watched every episode once, and because of an article I had previously read in which JJ Abrams revealed he made up Alias as he went along, never speculated about the eventual resolution of the mysteries. I loved the show at times, hated it at others, and generally went through the normal cycle of the Lost fan, which is similar to being in an abusive relationship with a Buddhist monk. I was one of those who enjoyed the finale, and though it didn’t provide the perfect capstone the way the final episode of The Shield did, I felt it worked very well with what had come before, providing a satisfying resolution to plot and theme.
Mrs. Supermarket was working late on September 22, 2004, and thus missed the premiere. I desperately wanted her to watch it, but she demurred, saying she’d catch it at a later date. For my most recent birthday, a friend generously bought me the whole show (in that awesome pyramid box with the game and everything), and one evening when nothing was on, the missus and I started the show. After a slow start, we ended up plowing through the entire series, once putting away an auspicious 23 episodes over the course of a lazy weekend.
We both enjoyed the show a great deal, and the experience was interesting to me for a couple reasons. Because I had only watched episodes once, and some of them eight years prior, my memories were spotty. I got to rediscover favorites (especially “Walkabout,” “Numbers,” and “The Other 48 Days”) and found new highlights (“Maternity Leave,” “Live Together, Die Alone,” and “Not In Portland”) that didn’t quite resonate with me the first time through. Some characters, Hurley especially, were just as beloved for me on the second go round, and some characters just as obnoxious. And no matter how much Kate might have irritated me, nothing can compare to Mrs. Supermarket’s white hot contempt.
Desmond Hume is one of the most popular characters on Lost. Small wonder: he’s good looking guy with a soft Scottish brogue, inability to use buttons, enigmatic powers, and a love story sweeping in scope yet intimate in execution. He even has a cool catch phrase (“See you in another life, brother.”) Partly because of his popularity, Desmond slowly becomes one of the most important characters on the show. Yet, when he was introduced, I didn’t attach much significance to him, so I didn’t retain a ton of details from his story. Desmond’s unique relationship with time, as first explored in “Flashes Before Your Eyes,” an episode that bored me at the time but I love now and is at the fulcrum of the series. It’s even vitally important in the Sideways World. Yet this is a character introduced with maybe three episodes in the second season, is almost entirely absent for the fifth and much of the sixth. Lost should be watched in big chunks for many reasons, but none more compelling (or Scottish) than Desmond. The casual fan was not equipped to understand his importance.
The first knock anyone ever levels against the show is that it didn’t answer any of its mysteries, which is just false. Granted, some of the answers were unsatisfying. Worse still, some of the questions were delivered in a misleading way, making viewers believe that something was important that just wasn’t. Why was Libby in the asylum? Nervous breakdown maybe. Doesn’t matter. Who was Jack’s wife sleeping with? Not Charles Widmore, so it doesn’t matter. Why did Ben choose to terrorize Jack rather than just asking him nicely to remove the tumor? Because Ben is a dick.
The numbers bugged the shit out of me more than any of the other mysteries. They looked like the kind of thing the writers wanted to put everywhere without having the first clue of what they meant, and as they appeared more and more often, it became apparent that nothing could explain them. After their source were revealed in the sixth season, I was annoyed. The explanation offered was too small to justify the synchronicity of the numbers through the series. This time around, the numbers made warped kind of sense. All right, so the numbers correlate to the last six candidates, assigned according to the setting the magic lighthouse needed to spy on them (Jack’s at 23 degrees, so he’s 23, and so on). At first, I didn’t understand how the numbers would have been significant (stamped on the Swan Station, used as the computer code) before Jacob settled on those six people, or how the numbers would have been cursed to begin with. The Island exists out of time however, and to it, those numbers would already have been known. And as to why they’re cursed, they’re not. The Island was using them to bring Hurley to it to test his candidacy.
That’s right: the Island. Because the Island is a character with goals. You don’t know that on the first time through. Even late in the series, it’s easy to mix the Island up with Jacob and the Man in Black, both of whom are behind some of the supernatural phenomena. The interesting part is that neither Jacob nor the Man in Black truly understands what the Island is — it’s sort of unknowable, like the Old Testament God, with Jacob serving as a more dickish Jesus. Certain people — candidates — are important, and the Island will break natural laws to keep them breathing. The most tantalizing part of the series for me was that the Island itself was pretty much a deity, though one so alien it could neither directly communicate with people nor give a shit when someone unimportant was killed. Meanwhile, Jacob and the Man in Black were frantically guessing which of these people were important to a being they didn’t understand, and which could be used and discarded. One of the most important conversations occurs in one of the first couple episodes when Locke explains backgammon to Walt with the ominous decree, “there are two sides, light and dark.” On the Island that is quite literally true as Jacob and the Man in Black play a game with rules they don’t know and a goal they can only guess.
Lost made a lot of narrative hay between the contrast of Jack, the man of science, with Locke, the man of faith. Both guys end up dead, because the show posits that neither science nor faith is the answer. The answer is each other, as shown in the Sideways World and appropriately it’s Hurley who truly “wins.” Neither a man of science nor of faith, Hurley is a man of man. He’s a humanist, a gentle soul, the one truly good person on that Island. The show even tells us this, as Charlie has a vision of Hurley as Jesus. There’s a reason the dead choose to talk to the guy, even if it’s just to stop by for a nice game of chess. Hurley even redeems Ben, transforming him from Judas into hopefully a less misogynistic version of Paul.
Some people hate this show. That’s fine. I even understand it to a degree. Not me. Lost is a flawed show, but it remains a stunning achievement both in long form fiction and television.
(For more on Lost check out Tim’s piece on the ten craziest moments. For other shows that aren’t nearly as good, check out my review of the Blossom pilot.)
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But didn’t it bother you at all that they were all dead the entire time???
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