I once was LOST
I had very little interest in LOST when it debuted back in 2004. I didn't want to add yet another show to my already extensive viewing list, and I couldn't understand why J.J. Abrams would be starting another show while (I thought) Alias was still going strong. Besides, there was something else on in the same timeslot, though I honestly can't remember now what show I was watching instead. All I know is that a dramatic version of Gilligan's Island with triple the characters probably wasn't going to make it past one season.
A few friends at work thought otherwise, and as we discussed it at lunch the next day, one told me he was hooked because there was “some kind of monster” on the island. This made me think it was less like Gilligan's Island and more like Jurassic Park. It piqued my curiosity enough to watch bits of the premiere when it reaired the following Saturday night. I have to admit it had one of the most captivating openings of any prime-time show. We start with a close-up of an eye snapping open, the pupil dilating like dissipating smoke to reveal the reflection of trees overhead. The camera pulled back to reveal Matthew Fox in a field of bamboo, wearing a disheveled suit. He reacts to some noise and turns to see a labrador run off into the jungle. Fishing in his pockets, he finds a small bottle of alcohol, the kind you might have on an airplane.
Fox eventually makes his way to the beach, passing a sneaker hanging from a tree, where the tranquility of his location is broken by the sound of screams in the distance. The camera pans over to the horrific wreckage of a plane crash, people screaming in mass confusion. Fox springs into action, taking charge and saving lives in a flurry of activity. These people are all strangers, but he's compulsive in his need to help. He is Dr. Jack Shephard, and though he doesn't know it yet, these will soon be his closest friends. One of the first ones he rescues will even turn out to be family, though we won't know that for a few seasons.
As exciting as that introduction was, my attention span wavered after that. I flicked back and forth, catching some of the early mysteries. Why were there handcuffs lying in the jungle? We find out in the same episode who they belonged to, but not why. A wheelchair sits by a fire, not to be significant for a few more episodes. We hear but don't see the monster. Trees fall, and there's a howling in the darkness. Whatever it is, it never shows itself, and the only person it kills directly is the pilot. It will be four years before we learn that pilot was never supposed to be there in the first place, and five before we learn why the monster couldn't directly kill the main cast. Mysteries grew as some of the castaways encounter a polar bear in the jungle while making their way to high ground, to get reception on a transceiver. What they instead get is a 16 year-old looping distress call from a Frenchwoman. “Guys...” asks Charlie Pace, a likable heroin addict and bass player, “Where are we?”
In hindsight, it's a great first episode, especially looking back on it six years later and realizing how much was established there that paid off in the finale. I think I skipped the next episode at the time, and tuned back in a few weeks later for an encore airing of Walkabout. While the pilot episode(cleverly called “Pilot”) gave us some flashbacks to these people on the plane minutes before the crash, this one went back a little further, cutting between our castaways on the island and one John Locke and his sad life, a lonely man working for a box company. He eventually makes his way to Australia to go on a walkabout, only to be stopped at a tour bus. “Don't TELL me what I can't do!” shouts Terry O'Quinn, hammering home the character's signature catch-phrase. Only then do we learn why he was always sitting down in every flashback scene, as we learn he's in a wheelchair. That chair on the beach in the pilot was his, but when he awoke after the crash, he found he could wiggle his toes. Now I was intrigued.
Locke would soon become a central figure of faith on the island, believing they had all been brought there for some greater purpose. He didn't know what it was, though he was one of the first ones to come face to face with the island's monster. Jack was more practical, more concerned with the safety of their people and finding rescue. Even when he saw his dead father, and followed him to some water near the empty coffin his father's body had occupied, Jack couldn't accept the more supernatural aspects of the island. Some viewers had trouble too, and dropped out when the answers didn't come as quickly or concretely as they would have liked.
In the first episode, Locke plays Backgammon with Walt, a young boy who survived the crash, owner of Vincent, the dog Jack encountered when he first woke up. He explains that there are two sides to the game, one light and one dark, holding up the pieces with the dark one on the side where a scar runs down his face. Years later, after learning the history of most of our castaways, saying a few tearful goodbyes, and meeting some adversaries already on the island, we'd learn of Jacob, a mysterious protector, and The Man in Black, his mysterious adversary. They were not the first to come to the island, nor the last, but the thousands of years they spent there were key to our plane crash survivors. Twins raised by someone other than their mother, they grew up in isolation until the Man in Black left to be with others living on the island and learn to tap into the mysterious electromagnetic energy at its core. When the Man in Black kills the woman who raised them, Jacob hurls him into the core cavern with the mysterious light, where his soul is torn from his body, creating the black smoke monster. Sometimes the man in black could assume his old form, and other times he could take that of any dead body brought to the island. Jacob believed there was good in man, and would use his powers to bring people to the island to prove this to his brother. He also sought a candidate to protect the island when he was gone.
When Jack and a few others escaped the island for three years, Locke sought to bring them back. Ben Linus, former leader of the “Others” who were already living on the island when the plane crash survivors arrived, killed Locke in a fit of jealousy. Ben would convince Jack and the rest to return, along with Locke's body, and believed the island had resurrected Locke when he appeared again alive and well. But it was only the smoke monster, taking Locke's form, manipulating them all. Ben would learn the truth too late, only after the Smoke-Locke tricked him into killing his brother Jacob. Jack would step up when the deceased Jacob appeared to him and his surviving friends around a campfire, and volunteer to be Jacob's replacement.
The stage was set for the ultimate confrontation between the monster, in the form of Locke, and Jack, now as much of a believer in the island as the real Locke had been. After six seasons, how would it all play out? LOST would always raise mysteries and answer questions in ways that only raised new questions. At the heart of it all, it was about an excellent cast of characters. My eyes never teared up as much watching a television show as it did for this one, thanks to the combination of great acting and a phenomenal music score. At the end of the fifth season, the detonation of a nuclear bomb back in the 1970s gave hope that perhaps history had been changed, even though a physicist on the show had previously stated that it was impossible to change the past. All through the final season, we saw these people in what appeared to be an alternate reality in which their plane never crashed, and the island was on the bottom of the ocean. It was great to see this ideal world in which characters who had died were alive and well. But, one by one, they began waking up to their memories of their original life. And, in the final stunning moments, we realized why they had these memories.
They were all dead.
Now, many misinterpreted the final moments of the show as a cheat, that everything we'd seen had been some purgatory and everyone died in the crash. This was not the case at all, and the producers were telling the truth any time they denied people's early theories that we were watching dead people. Jack, in his final moments on the island, helps lower Desmond Hume into the heart of the island, where Desmond's unique resistance to the island's energy allows him to remove the “cork” holding back dark forces(Hell itself?) from beyond. Desmond had glimpsed the other side and told Jack nothing on the island mattered, mistaking the afterlife for an alternate life. Removing that stone cork causes the island to crumble, even as a storm rages, because there's always been a storm during these dark moments on the island. The faux-Locke wants to be free, and knows destroying the island will allow him to get on a boat and leave it. But this also cut him off from the source of his own immortality. Jack is able to finally injure him, though “Locke” delivers a fatal blow with his knife. Kate Austen, Jack's on-again off-again love interest throughout the series, shows up in time to shoot Locke before he can finish Jack off. The monster is finally defeated, but the island is still crumbling. Jack and Kate exchange “I love you”s before he goes off to replace the cork and hopefully save the island, aided by Ben and Hurley, the castaway with the biggest heart.
Hurley and Ben lower Jack into the cavern, where he finds Desmond still alive. Jack is dying from his wound anyway, and ties the rope to Desmond, before restoring the cork. The glow returns and water starts to flow, even as Hurley and Ben pull up the rope, surprised to find Desmond instead of Jack. Jack has appointed Hurley the new protector, and he in turn accepts a reformed Ben as his second-in-command. They discuss how Desmond will return to his wife and child once he recovers, while Jack washes up downstream in a scene that parallels the demise of the the Man in Black's original form.
Jack staggers through the woods to that original bamboo field, past that same shoe from the pilot episode, now weathered. He collapses on the ground, the wound in his side making him look more like a Christ figure than before. Vincent emerges, and curls up alongside Jack, who will not die alone. Overhead, a plane flies, carrying Kate and his other surviving friends. His eye closes, mirroring the first shot of the series. But, as always, these final scenes are not restricted to the island. We keep cutting over to what we thought was an alternate reality, where everyone except for Jack seems to remember their true past lives. Jack, after meeting up with Kate, has been brought to a church for what he believes is his father's funeral. In this reality, Jack has just operated on John Locke and given him back the use of his legs. In this reality, Ben apologizes to John for killing him, and is the one to tell him he can leave that wheelchair behind. Hurley pokes his head out to say goodbye to Ben, who won't be joining them just yet, and to commend him for his years as a second-in-command, even though it seems like we just saw them take over the island.
Jack finds his father's coffin, and his memories. The coffin is empty, and his father, Christian Shephard, is standing behind him with the final answers. He explains that this place was one they all created together, because they were so important to each other in life, they'd want to find each other before moving on to whatever was next in their journey. Jack doesn't understand. If his father is dead, then he must be dead. If they're among the dead, then everybody he ever knew is dead. "Everyone dies some time, kiddo. Some of them before you, some of them long after you ... there is no now here." So even though Jack dies in the final scene of the episode, he arrives at this sort of “heaven's waiting room” at the same time as Kate, who may have lived for decades longer, or Hurley, who may have lived an even longer life as the island's new protector. Every soulmate, every constant is reunited in this unique chapel. Every time memories were jarred, we were treated to a hazy montage of key past scenes. It was a beautiful thing. The most pivotal moment for all these characters was getting on a plane from Sydney, Australia to Los Angeles, that never made it. When they died, they found themselves on that plane, successfully landing at LAX, to lead an ideal fantasy until they could all remember together, and take one final trip. Some, like Ben, will not be ready. Some, like Eloise Hawking, appear to know the truth of this existence, but prefer it because it is the life she never knew on Earth. In time, those like Ben's daughter or Eloise's son will become aware and be ready to move on. Jack, Kate, and the rest of the survivors sit in church pews as friends and family, not unlike when they all sat on an airplane together as strangers. Christian opens the doors and a light bathes them. On the island, Jack closes his eye, and LOST comes to a close.
When they decided to make it six seasons, it allowed the writers to tighten their outline, and though not everything will ever be addressed, the key things were. In the end, there were answers. In the end, there are plenty of questions that people will debate for years to come. There were a few things I would have liked answered, perhaps more information on the scientists that came to the island or the ancient Egyptians that once had a presence there. But really, all that backstory is secondary to the fate of these characters, and is less important. Some things have to remain a mystery. I like that they managed to be ambiguous and open-ended in some areas, while also providing a true sense of closure. I'm glad I followed this series. I'm glad it's over. I will miss Jack, Kate, Hurley, Locke, Desmond, Ben, Charlie, Claire, Sawyer, Juliet, Sayid, Sun, Jin, and the rest. Someday, when I've had time to process it all and find myself with the free time, I may watch it all again from the beginning. As Desmond once prophetically said, “I'll see you in a another life.”
”I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.”