If you’ve taken a look around Tome of Nerd, it’s pretty obvious that Lost is one of my favorite shows. I have written about it from a completely ridiculous perspective and also from a fairly analytical point-of-view. No matter how you spin it, I love Lost.
That being said, Lost is undeniably one of the most controversial shows of our time. When you’re sitting around the dinner table with family, remember to avoid talking about politics, religion, and Lost. I’ve heard everything from “Oh yeah… Lost… sigh…” to “Oh my God Lost is so dumb!” When I admit that I love the show, suddenly I’m on the defensive. How could I possibly love such a mess of a show?
Well, this is my defense and justification for loving Lost. I am not arguing that everyone should love Lost. Nor am I saying the show is perfect by any means. I have a lot of complaints about the show myself. My hope is merely to state clearly why some of the common arguments against the show aren’t the greatest and why it remains one of my favorites.
It goes without saying that I am going to talk about moments throughout the entirety of the series, including the end. If you don’t want spoilers for a show that has been off the air for over seven years, turn back now.
“They were dead the whole time”
A common complaint about Lost is that the characters were “dead the whole time.” I won’t spend a lot of time on this because it stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of the plot. This belief is mostly perpetuated by casual viewers (those who didn’t watch the entire series) or those who simply read headlines the day after the series finale. I certainly don’t blame anyone for believing this, but it simply isn’t correct.
For those who watched Lost as it aired, the “twist” in the finale actually has an added meta-textual layer. As many folks probably remember during the early seasons, a common theory about the show was that the “survivors” had in fact died in the crash and everything we were watching was some sort of purgatory. I firmly believe that the idea of the “flash-sideways/afterlife” plotline emerged as a callback to this original fan theory. After the “dead the whole time” theory ran its course and it became apparent that wasn’t the case, BOOM, one final swerve to actually bring that scenario about.
But the intricacies of the twist didn’t really make it into the greater zeitgeist and this notion that they were dead the whole time perpetuates. Simply put, it isn’t true. The only aspect in which they were dead was the “flash-sideways”, not the whole time.
I’m not necessarily defending the twist itself. For those of you unhappy with it, I have no qualms. This is purely to rule out the notion that the entire show took place in some type of consequence-free purgatory. Whatever happened, happened.
“The show didn’t answer any questions”
One of the main arguments against Lost is that for a show entirely built around mysteries, it sure didn’t answer a lot of questions. Many fans felt betrayed by this. They promised us answers and all I got was this crappy DHARMA shirt!
That being said, I can’t think of one justifiable question that wasn’t answered. But I also understand that I am a hardcore Lost fan and that a lot of the answers aren’t exactly laid out for you. I would argue that the problem isn’t that questions weren’t answered, but that they weren’t answered in a satisfactory fashion. Here are a couple examples:
The mysterious whispers in the jungle were introduced very early in the series, all the way back in Season 1 Episode 9: Solitary. For much of the following episodes, the whispers appear to be associated with The Others, often preempting their arrival. But then we also see the whispers occur before manifestations of known deceased characters, such as Christian Shephard. And then they appear before a manifestation of Walt, who is very much not dead. Mr. Eko also hears the whispers before the smoke monster appears.
These events continue to occur throughout the series, being associated with seemingly everything mysterious on the island. It was if they had no rhyme or reason… I fully believe this is an example of the show creators writing themselves into a corner. If they had a clear plan for the whispers, that plan was derailed at some point. But because the whispers were so ingrained within the show, they simply had to have some explanation. In what has to be one of the worst scenes in Lost, we get this:
To summarize: The whispers start. Hurley goes, “Oh wait guys, I think I figured it out.” He walks into the jungle and dead Michael is there. “The whispers are dead people, huh?” Hurley asks. Michael is like, “Yep.” Hurley is then all, “Okay cool, peace out.”
This is what happens when people demand answers to every mystery. And of course, the explanation never does justice to the years of anticipation. You can hear the air being let out of the balloon. Instead of leaving the voices as a mysterious trait of the island, we are given a terribly boring “answer”. Personally, I am happy that many things were left to be interpreted and not directly addressed as above. Attempting to answer everything leads to disappointing fan service.
The backstory (or lack thereof) of Libby is definitely a frustrating element of the show, because we know there was going to be more to it. We know she had interactions with multiple characters pre-Island such as with Hurley and Desmond. But was it more than mere happenstance? My guess is that initially, yes, it would have been. But Damon Lindelof specifically stated that, “I have learned that if you kill someone off the show, they are less likely to cooperate with you.”
Thus, we are left simply with what we learned about Libby. She was married a few times. At some point ended up at Santa Rosa Mental Health Institute. Then she got better and sold Desmond a boat. Finally, she was in an unfortunate plane crash with everyone else. Not exactly the most satisfying of “answers” to a mystery.
But can we really blame the show creators for this one? I think not. Feel free to be disappointed about it, I certainly am. But there were clearly a few examples throughout the show of unintended course corrections (Mr. Eko) that hampered the greater mythology of the show.
Every question I answer will simply lead to another question. – Mother
Not only do we have the problem unsatisfactory answers, but viewer expectations were through the roof. The show creators continually told the viewers to be patient and that answers would come. But every answer led to a new question. When those questions were answered, more questions arose. Eventually it became questions all the way down.
As the show made its way into its final season, it became apparent that there wasn’t some grand unified theory of Lost. Fans of the show who wanted everything spelled out for them weren’t going to get that. And that left a lot of folks unhappy.
While I understand the unhappiness of not getting what felt like a promise, at some point you have to simply accept “answers” as they are presented within the show. You have to accept axioms instead of further theories. There has to be a beginning, a creation story, something that simply “is” because otherwise you will never get all the answers you want. Lost tried to do that, but people didn’t accept it.
The point, ultimately, is that questions were answered, just not to everyone’s liking. To be upset over unsatisfactory answers is perfectly justifiable. Being upset that Lost “didn’t answer any questions” isn’t.
They made it up as they went along
The dissatisfaction with “unanswered questions” is entangled with this sense that the show creators made up Lost as they went along. I have heard a lot of people unhappy about this fact. This once again stems from expectations set by the show creators.
I am not arguing that Lost wasn’t made up as it went along, because it clearly was. My argument is: what show isn’t? This is standard operating procedure in television. The question is why did fans of Lost get so frustrated by it?
The frustration stems from two points. The first is that the show creators continually expressed the idea that they knew where everything was going, that they had a plan. From everything I have read and seen, I believe this is true in a sense. But having a roadmap does not mean you aren’t making things up as you go.
Take for example how the show ends. The creators claimed they knew how the show was going to end seasons ahead of time. Even Matthew Fox claimed to know the ending. But that notion was walked back on. It became clear that it wasn’t so much of an “ending” as it was a final image, that of Jack’s eye closing (in contrast with his eye opening to begin the show). There are literally an infinite amount of ways to get to that ending. They still had to make it up along the way.
The creators most likely had ideas for big moments/themes and made up everything inbetween. Along the way, some of those big moments were added, changed, or dropped. There was always going to be some ultimate struggle between good and evil, but is what we got what they had planned from Season 1? Unlikely.
Making it up as you go along isn’t a bad thing, but my second point would be that you can’t do it so transparently, especially when you make lofty promises. This is why people were upset, because you could see the zigs and the zags all too clearly at times. This leads to less investment in the story and ultimately leaves people upset or disinterested.
The Others are a perfect example of where you can see the story being made up along the way. First they are jungle people with mystical powers. Then they are just normal people dressing up. Also they have a suburb somewhere on the island that has gone unnoticed. Also some actually do have quasi-mystical abilities at times. It isn’t that the story necessarily contradicts itself, it’s that you have to suspend your disbelief a bit too much.
When you watch the show alter course in such an obvious manner, you undoubtedly can get frustrated. Making it up as you go along is fine, as long as it’s imperceptible. But Lost was anything but and it was combined with the fact that the show creators insisted otherwise.
I get it. It is frustrating. But don’t say you hate the show because “they made it up as they went along” because that isn’t the problem. The problem was that it was obvious. And fans tried to fit these obvious course corrections into a greater theory, further perpetuating unrealistic expectations.
Don’t tell me what I can’t do!
I don’t blame anyone for not liking Lost. More power to you! There are a lot of things to dislike. I do hope though that the above at least helps you understand why I don’t buy some of the basic anti-Lost arguments.
But there is more to it than simply not hating Lost. In the second part of this article, I focus on why I actually do love the show. There’s lots of good stuff to enjoy!
All images courtesy of ABC Studios.