I Loved Lost. The Whole Entire Thing. Even the Ending.
If I’m being honest, Lost and spouting about Lost was one of the impetuses for having my own blog in the first place. It was just that kind of show for me, one that synced to my sensibilities in uncanny ways. It wasn’t perfect, but no show is.
I said to a friend as the sixth season started, that the show was likely far simpler than everyone was making it out to be and actually hiding very little from the audience. When all is said and done, I think that’s true. The central question at the beginning of the show and all the way through was, what is this island and what connection do these specific people have with it? By the end, that was answered. It seemed complex because it was all going on against the backdrop of an incredibly dense mythology.
But that mythology really wasn’t the point. One of the central themes, if not the central theme, is how we, as human beings, need to make sense of things we can’t explain. We need there to be meaning and we’ll often force meaning on things. Then we’ll invest in that meaning, regardless of whether the reasoning is sound. Think back on the show. How much of our understanding of a particular aspect of the mythology turned out to be based around a character’s subjective misinterpretation of an occurrence? The actual reality would turn out to be somewhat logical, mundane even, certainly devoid of the higher meaning that was originally projected onto it. Conflict resulted when that subjective interpretation was then presented to others as a sort of unspoken fact. Further conflict resulted when the reality of the situation was revealed and what was once an ominous and mysterious piece of mythology turned out to be completely grounded in reality. I think this, more than anything else, is why so many people found the show to be ultimately unsatisfying. The show answers so many more questions than detractors think. I’m guessing people just didn’t like the answers.
Unfortunately, the key to a lot of this understanding comes from one of the worst episodes in the entire run, Across the Sea. That’s the awkward and clumsy episode about the origins of Jacob and the Man In Black (MIB). For many it was an utter disappointment and I was certainly among the disappointed. But my disappointment was from an execution stand point– it was simply dramatically dull. I got its point, though. I think a lot of people did. It’s just that the episode that was hyped to be full of answers was telling you that you’re watching the show wrong.
During the whole run of the show, there was a constant mentioning-pondering-arguing over “the rules”. so many people had different rules and they were invested in them like life blood. The rules were of the utmost importance yet they seemed to change based upon who was in charge and were never really nailed down. In Across the Sea, we found out why: they were mostly subjective. They were made up by an insane woman, Mother, to try and understand something that was beyond her understanding. Her son Jacob, ruler of the island for centuries was not some wise godlike being, just a dumb, primitive guy following an insane woman’s rules. Regardless of what he thought, there was the reality of what the island was and it didn’t care about anyone’s rules. It turns out the only power “rules” may have is that the follower believes they matter. It’s just like any belief system. Just look at modern religions. Religious rituals were designed to make you mindful of certain concepts. Over time, people get so caught up in the rituals that the rituals become the point and the meaning behind them is lost.
We also finally saw “The Heart of the Island”, or “the magic cave of light” as many fans bitterly dubbed it. After waiting for six seasons to find out what the point of it all was, we’re pointed to a glowing cave. It looked a bit cheesy. The thing is, I’m willing to bet money that it was supposed to look cheesy. We were seeing it through the eyes of ancient people; people with no scientific knowledge of any kind. In that same scene there’s a shot where the camera is placed inside the cave looking out. It’s a very deliberate choice. This shot is accompanied by that same electro-magnetic hum that we’ve heard in The Hatch, with the Donkey Wheel, during The Incident, etc. This “magic cave” was the source of the electro magnetic energy that made the island so batty and wonderful. But since Mother and the twins had no knowledge in the way of science, no way of measuring or studying the energy or even perceiving it as such, it just looked like a magic cave of light to them.
MIB is thrown down there at the episode’s end and becomes the smoke monster. We never get an explanation as to what causes a man to become a sentient, shape shifting pillar of smoke by going into the cave. But based off of events we’ve seen previously, I feel like future generations would find the logical, scientific explanation. In this very episode, we have very early scientists on the island who are studying “the strange things metal does” on the island, or magnetism to modern audiences. Magnets were once as weird to people as a man turning into a smoke monster is to us.
It’s an inference on my part but that was this show worked. Very few things are explictly stated. They’re shown. Lost was the ultimate example of “show, don’t tell” filmmaking. For example, one of the early mysteries is why a polar bear is on a tropical island. The answer is, The Dharma Initiative brought them to the island for use in the “frozen donkey wheel” chamber. A strong animal was needed to turn the wheel that moves the island and since it was freezing in the chamber, using a polar bear made a certain level of sense. No one ever says this is why there are polar bears on the show. Instead we get a scene in the Tunisian desert where Charlotte finds a polar bear skeleton with a Dharma Initiative collar. Later on, both Ben Linus and then John Locke on separate occasions, turn that wheel in the frozen chamber and both are transported to that same spot in the Tunisian desert afterwards. That’s the answer and it’s how Lost almost always answered it’s mysteries.
But now Across the Sea is telling us to forget about the mysteries. The dense mythology is not the point, it’s window dressing. It’s not life’ss mysteries that are important, it’s the effect the mysteries have on us as human beings. It’s a theme Damon Lindleof would revisit in The Leftovers.
Remember how Locke thought the whole point of them coming to the island had to do with The Hatch because a beam of light shot out of it? Turns out that beam was just Desmond checking to see who the hell was banging around up there. But just because Locke was wrong doesn’t make it any less important. It got them to open The Hatch. And while The Hatch didn’t contain the secrets of the universe by any means, it was how they met Desmond and came to understand the island a bit more and figuring out what it wanted from them– why they were there.
Just about every aspect of our lives, every little thing we do is based on something we believe to be true. We project importance onto things whether those things deserve it or not. It’s the human condition. Like the show, sometimes that projection is warranted or at least serves a short-term purpose. Other times the need to believe something overtakes common sense. There’s probably no greater example of this in the world of Lost than The Others. Their strict adherence to following and enforcing those “rules”, the origins of which they didn’t fully understand and at the bidding of Jacob, who falsely claimed to be speaking on behalf of a greater entity, was behind most of the conflict on the island and a great deal of bloodshed.
Going into the final stretch the complexities of the island’s history were being whittled away. There was no big overarching twist or purpose outside of what was there on the surface. It’s this island and the role these specific people have in saving it and the world. In the end, Jack succeeds by discarding all the superfluous details– the rules, the things he’s “supposed to do” and simply puts his faith in the people he cares about and listens to his inner reasoning.
That’s not to say that everything that was ever brought up got a proper explanation; some things did indeed get lost in the shuffle. It happens on a major network show, where you can plan major character arcs that are pivotal to the overall picture only to have actors suddenly quit. Or having a writer’s strike fall right in the middle of a densely plotted season. I’m sure those things messed up some well-laid plans. That’s also not to say there weren’t some bone-headed creative choices. But I give them a pass on those things because they got so much more right than wrong. A show that features a healthy, positive spiritual element in this day and age, one without any agenda is rare. A major network allowing a complex sci-fi plot is just as rare. Take both of those and combine them with a character drama, one that has about twenty main characters and you have a show that will never happen again. I’m glad I was around to watch it happen.