#3: “Lost.” [TV Aughtrospective]

It’s a show about a group of poor souls trying to get back to human civilization after their plane crashes on a remote Pacific island. No wait, it’s a story about a mysterious island inadvertently discovered by the plane-crash survivors, and the mysteries that lie within. Hang on! It’s in fact about the survivors battling against a mysterious tribe known as the Others. Hey, there are actually more plane-crash survivors than we originally knew about! OK, it’s also about this weird group called the Dharma Initiative and their ill-fated research mission to the island. Hmm, this is interesting, the plane crash survivors seem to be mightily interconnected. Wait, who the heck are the Others again? Run, the smoke monster is coming!!

All right, start over. The show is about survivor’s guilt, as seen through the experiences of the people who get off the island. No, it’s about daddy issues. Wait, is the island actually the afterlife? Is it hell? Purgatory? Whoa, this Jacob dude just showed up and now I think it’s all a battle between good and evil…or is it a showdown between free will and destiny? Holy crap, now we’re traveling through time. What the heck is going on?

It sounds confusing as hell, and it is – but awesomely so. For consistently keeping viewers glued to the screen and puzzling over what just happened for hours afterward, we declare “Lost” to be the 3rd best television show of the aughts.

The show opens in horrifying fashion: a plane traveling from Sydney to Los Angeles rips apart in midair, and the fuselage crashes on a remote island. As the survivors begin to regain their senses, it becomes clear that there are mysterious creatures or forces on the island that they must contend with. As they struggle to survive amidst the wreckage, we begin to learn more about the plane-crash victims through flashbacks to their past experiences.

Jack (Matthew Fox) is a neurosurgeon who becomes the survivors’ leader after urging them to work together to stay alive. Kate (Evangeline Lilly) is a beautiful, brave woman with a dark past. Sawyer (Josh Holloway) is an antisocial jerk who hoards supplies for himself and antagonizes the other survivors. John Locke (Terry O’Quinn) is a formerly paralyzed man who finds himself able to walk again on the island; he becomes intrigued by its power and potential and provides a faith-oriented foil to the logically-oriented Jack. Hurley (Jorge Garcia) is a upbeat, chubby dude with a history of truly bad luck. Sayid (Naveen Andrews) is a former Iraqi Republican Guard interrogator. Claire (Emilie de Ravin) is a pregnant woman about to give birth on the strange and mysterious island. Charlie (a Hobbit) is a former Oasis-like rocker addicted to heroin and seeking a fresh start.

Other characters emerge during the first season: Boone and Shannon, step-siblings with a complicated relationship; Michael Dawson, who has recently reunited with his son Walt, and tries to be a good father to him despite their complicated relationship; Jin and Sun, a Korean couple with a complicated relationship. Getting the picture? There are LOTS of complicated relationships on this show, and the web of interrelated characters only gets more tangled as the series rolls on. (Don’t worry, it’s a fascinating process.)

We soon learn that there is another group of people on the island, ominously known as “the Others.” They antagonize the survivors, infiltrating their group, abducting Claire, and generally terrorizing everyone in a bid to keep them confined to the beach. It soon emerges that the tail section of the plane also landed on the island, and we meet another group of survivors known as the “tailies,” who have also been antagonized by the Others. They discover a troubled, paranoid woman named Danielle Rousseau who claims the Others stole her child. Additionally, there is a very strange creature on the island: a “smoke monster” that appears to possess violent strength as well as some measure of intelligence.

While Jack marshals a large group of the survivors in a bid to escape the island and make it home, Locke is more interested in the mysteries of the island, particularly a strange hatch that he has discovered…

It’s difficult to describe the plot any further without indulging in serious spoilers, so we’ll simply run down some general groups of characters and plot threads:

  • We eventually meet and learn more about the Others, particularly their leader Ben Linus (Michael Emerson), his advisor Richard Alpert (Nestor Carbonell), and recent joinee and fertility specialist Juliet Burke (Elizabeth Mitchell). Their presence on the island is a long-standing one, and it’s unclear just how long the Others have been around or what exactly they are up to. After five seasons, their back story is still shrouded in mystery.
  • The Dharma Initiative is long gone by the time the “Losties” arrive on the island, but through exploration of their abandoned research facilities, flashbacks and trips back in time, we learn that they were a group of researchers devoted to saving the world by changing the parameters of an end-times equation through their work on the island. Their frequent clashes with the Others, who they call “the Hostiles,” leads to their massacre in the event known as “The Purge.” (This episode absolutely rules.)
  • Charles Widmore (Alan Dale) is a wealthy man seeking to take control of the island, bent on revenge against Ben Linus. We later learn that he was once the leader of the Others. He employs a variety of scientists (including Charlotte Lewis), mercenaries (the odious Martin Keamy), and a spiritualist (Miles Straume) in his bid to regain control over the island, and presumably, its powers.
  • Desmond Hume (Henry Ian Cusick) is in love with Widmore’s daughter, Penny; after being lost at sea, he is shipwrecked on the island. He later discovers that he has mysterious “special” powers and finds himself increasingly drawn into the mysteries surrounding the island.
  • Daniel Faraday (the totally underrated Jeremy Davies) is a physicist who is interconnected with Widmore, who funds his research, and Desmond, who he meets at various points in time and space. His mother, Eloise Hawking, is a former Other and has a complex relationship (there it is again) with Widmore.
  • Most bafflingly and intriguingly, the island is the home of a character named Jacob, who appears ageless and has extensive powers. The Others are the only ones who are aware of Jacob, and they treat him like an ultimate leader. Not only that, but Jacob has a nameless, similarly ageless nemesis bent on his destruction – they seem to have a longstanding conflict over the wisdom and consequences of luring people to the island.

The show’s producers, headed by Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, manage to juggle all these characters across five seasons, skillfully employing flashbacks and flashforwards to reveal what has happened to them, or what will happen. In the fifth season, extensive time travel begins to occur, adding additional complexity to the plot.

But let’s take a step back here: “Lost” works not because of sci-fi hocum pocum, but because we care about its dozens of well-drawn characters. Through the flashbacks, we learn about their troubled lives and emotional scars; in more lighthearted scenes, we laugh along with them even in the midst of frightening circumstances.

In the meantime, “Lost” does it all: creating a complex web of narratives, consistently changing things up with amazing plot twists and cliffhangers, and introducing one compelling new character after another. Mysteries lead to payoffs, or more often, lead to further mysteries. “Lost” was MADE for the internet age: it is the perfect topic for a wiki, with its hundreds of interconnected strands, curious screengrabbable moments, dozens of unexplained questions, and endless subtle references. (We encourage baffled viewers to check out Lostpedia.)

The show has also drawn viewers in with online puzzles and alternate reality games that allow them to decipher information about the series that otherwise remains oblique. “The Lost Experience” is a particularly good example. First, a website for the Hanso Foundation — the money behind the Dharma Initiative — appeared, and was slowly hacked by a fictional character named “Persephone.” A novel entitled “Bad Twin,” which turned up in manuscript form in the plane-crash wreckage, was published, and contained interesting tie-in elements. Then the Hanso website was shut down and a blog by “activist” Rachel Blake appeared with further information about the nefarious Hanso group. Blake herself made an appearance at the 2006 Comic Con, causing an outburst at a Lost panel and accusing the producers of covering up the truth – thus leading to the discovery of yet another website. “TLE” even manufactured a fictional brand of candy bar in the process of revealing the mystery.

Players of the game ultimately uncovered dozens of video fragments that could be pieced together to assemble this video, which explains the meaning of “The Numbers,” an early mystery of the show:

This is one reason why “Lost” is one of the decade’s greatest shows: instead of hiding from the modern technology era, by keeping spoilers under lock and key and bemoaning the prying eyes of the Internet, the show feeds the monster by continually leaking information in the most compelling ways. One can enjoy “Lost” simply by watching the weekly broadcasts, of course, but the show also caters to its most devoted fans by dispensing all manner of interactive entertainment that ties in with the plots unfolding on TV.

Time magazine said it well, when declaring “Lost” one of the best 100 shows of all time:

In a way it’s a misnomer to call Lost one of TV’s best shows—it’s a fine show on the level of character and writing, but what makes it a classic is that it’s the finest interactive game ever to appear in your living room once a week. An elaborate fractal pattern of intersecting stories concerning plane survivors on a not-quite-deserted island, a secretive international organization and a monster made of smoke, Lost only begins with the 60 minutes you see on TV. Its mysteries, clues and literary-historical allusions demand research, repeat viewing, freeze-framing and endless online discussions.

And in a medium where executives assume that viewers will flee anything that remotely challenges them, Lost proves that millions of people will support a difficult, intelligent, even frustrating story—as long as you blow the right kind of smoke at them.

“Lost” has a lot of work to do in its final season, which premieres in a few weeks. It’s quite possible that the process of explaining some of its mysteries away will be a little bit like when George Lucas ruined The Force. Still, you have to have some faith in the producers and writers after all they’ve accomplished thus far, continuing to yank the audience deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole while blowing minds on a weekly basis. Additionally, they have assembled a truly magnificent ensemble cast that is up to any challenges that might be thrown their way.

Empire Magazine called Lost the fifth-greatest show of all time, and explained:

Only time will tell whether it’s as clever as it seems, but few TV shows have gripped viewers’ imaginations like this hybrid of Swiss Family Robinson and Twin Peaks. An innovative structure in which each episode hones in on a different character, with flashbacks and flashforwards expanding their backstory, ensures the entire cast is fleshed out beyond the constraints of the primary narrative.

But aside from the host of unique and colourful characters – from earnest Jack to cocky Sawyer, noble Jin to bug-eyed Ben – it’s the epic mysteries at the core of the story that keeps us coming back. What powers does the island have? What’s that polar bear doing in the tropics? And how come Hurley never loses weight despite being marooned on an island?

So many mysteries, so many questions. So many great episodes, baffling cliffhangers and amazing reveals. Regardless of the show’s ultimate payoff, the seasons of “Lost” that graced television screens during the aughts were simply masterful. Here’s hoping they finish strong and cement the series’ place as one of the best of all time.

TV Aughtrospective:
Introduction and Runners-Up
#10: “Six Feet Under.”
#9: “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.”
#8: “The Daily Show.”
#7: “South Park.”
#6: “Mad Men.”
#5: “Arrested Development.”
#4: “American Idol.”
#3: “Lost.”
#2: “The Sopranos.”
#1: “The Wire.”

About Alpine McGregor
Just like you, man. I got the shotgun, you got the briefcase. All in the game, though, right?

One Response to #3: “Lost.” [TV Aughtrospective]

  1. benlinuslost says:

    Oddly, I’d never seen that Hanso vid before. Thanks!

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