Lost: Two Hundred Dollars and a Decade Later

I was a teenager when the show Lost started airing on ABC. I have a strong memory of walking into my friend’s living room and their parents sitting in these old fashioned recliners, popcorn at hand, ready for the next exciting episode. I watched for a few minutes before concluding this entire thing was just a rip off of the reality tv show Survivor. Like, what if Survivor was real!? How edgy! What compelling television. Boo.

I didn’t think much about it then or for the next couple of years. I grew up, I moved out, and I gained and lost friends. But I found myself particularly isolated, living alone, and having nothing to really do. The hype of the show grew over the years and it became a must watch. I can’t confirm this, but I believe I started watching it on Hulu.

This, my dear reader, is where my nightmare begins. All the Spoilers.

I can’t tell you exactly what I felt watching this show back then, it’s been over a decade. What I can tell you is it slowly sinks its teeth into you. You start to get invested into the mystery of what is actually going on. If you don’t know anything about Lost, the entire premise is a plane crashes on a tiny island. The survivors of this plane crash attempt to survive and get rescued, but quickly realize they’re not alone on the island and the island is not what it seems.

The show is a thousand little curtains and every episode tries to open just one. The broader and grand mystery of the island remains ever illusive and at the end of each episode you find yourself with more questions. You want more. You can’t stop your thirst. You just want to find some solid ground to orient everything else. And every time it feels like you know what is going on, that ground opens into a maw and swallows you.

I remember at one point I was just waiting for new episodes. I don’t remember if it was season five or season six that was new to me, but I remember hoping that I didn’t randomly die, because what if I couldn’t finish my show!? What if I never knew the exciting conclusion!? And with suicidal ideation, there was even a point where sticking around to finish this show was a motivating factor some days. Not to be too obvious, but let’s just say I really related to a certain villain in Yu Yu Hakusho.

Anyways, the first five seasons of this show build into something that feels exciting and rewarding. Then the last season, after years of promise, hype, and intrigue, reveal the final curtain during the very last episode. And we see a shot of a writer, looking up from their desk. They haven’t showered for days and looked just straight unhinged. They’re wearing sweatpants that have holes everywhere and a faded metallic t-shirt. You can’t smell them, but you suspect you’d get body odor and vodka in heavy doses. You’re looking at them and wondering what could possibly be happening. What was the show trying to say? What point were they trying to make? And the man stands up, quickly and violently. They point at you. You. And they say, “I have no fucking idea what I’m doing.”

And the credits roll. And you feel empty. You feel lost and cheated. Is this itself a brilliant meta-critique and intended visceral experience? No. It’s something more mundane and human. It is disappointment that a conman tricked you out of a hundred hours of your life. And with the show over and the lights coming on, you can hardly remember why you cared. The Lost finale in 2010 was every bit as disappointing and hated as the Game of Thrones finale in 2019.

I thought that chapter in my life was closed. I thought that I had achieved what no character in the show really did — I had escape the island. I had moved on with my life. I had a future. But ten years later, I was talking to a friend about it. They had never seen it. What if we went back there? And they looked into my eyes with the three emoji pleading of a bottom and told me “Won’t you get Lost with me?”

How could I say no? I thought about responsibility in that moment. I wanted to keep them safe. As a veteran I could guide them through the rocky journey. I could warn them about that tattoo and dynamite. I could provide the support and encouragement I never had. What I had to do was clear.

Get it? Like take a Journey? But it’s also like how the game Journey functions? It’s like Layered? Ha ha, finger guns.

The very first thing that became clear as an adult and with the historical context of our society was how much this show was a post 9–11 show. Specifically, that they have a character name Sayid Jarrah, who is an Iraqi torturer played by a man born in Britain, who is ethnically of Indian descent.

His initial storylines heavily involved him torturing or being tortured on the island. Gee, I wonder what we were trying to say with that. The character Sawyer has a bunch of fun nicknames for him that are as follows:

https://lostpedia.fandom.com/wiki/Sawyer%27s_nicknames#Sayid

And while you could argue there is more to the character than that and that Sawyer was fairly toxic and awful to everyone on the island, you can’t remove the context of how they choose to create and portray this character.

They do seem to move away from a broader tokenization of him and his experience within the Iraqi Republican Guard proves useful in a number of storylines. He is more often used as a voice of reason within the first few seasons, but his storyline ends with him just being a corrupted murderer beyond any redemption. That there is just something evil with him. There are story explanations for this, but here is the rub, they’re made up. They choose for there to be story explanations for it. They choose for the character to become a soulless murder machine of darkness and arbitrary evil. They created that plot and followed through with it, even with just a final sacrifice to wipe their hands clean of it.

The first season starts off with a pretty logical through-line of conflict and adventure for trying to establish themselves on the Island and survive. That’s finding clean water, doing what they could to get help, starting to build a raft, and even sending a distress signal.

Intermingled with these mundane survival activities we’re introduced to a horrific monster that can sunder trees, a mysterious group of others that are attacking them, and a distress signal that had been playing for the last sixteen years.

The show continues to flirt with the notions of the fantastical and a main focal point tends to be around John Locke’s character. He often is moving the plot by himself to understand the purpose and mystery of the island and the season concludes with them blowing open a hatch.

A lot of runtime of the show is flashbacks of the characters before they got to the island to help explain them and their behavior. Most episodes serve as a flash-back of the week and pad out the runtime so we never get too far into what’s going on within the island. But it works to keep us guessing.

It is when you know where they will end up, that you know they had no idea where they were going. You start smelling Vodka. You can really see how lost they were. The most absurd way we see this is in how they introduce new stations or ruins in every season. All of these very obvious, large landmarks don’t exist until the story needed them to.

I criticized this show for being a rip-off of Survivor, but a more apt way to look at this show is as a survivor horror video game like Minecraft. As the story progresses you unlock new features of the island or more of the world loads. Now it has an underwater station! Now there are ruins! Now we have the big foot statue. We got the abandoned old ship that supplies infinite, but unstable dynamite. Wait…is this just Minecraft? Anyways, if you work at gathering resources long enough, you can even unlock the town and access to using the smoke monster.

I think a pressing question for folks reading this may be if it’s worth watching this show again. Is it worth watching this show for the first time? And that’s difficult to answer. I watched this show with a friend, a couple of episodes a week, for over a year. When I sat down to watch this, I didn’t know long it would take or that it would cost me two hundred fucking dollars worth of Hulu subscriptions to do it.

The show feels like the equivalent of scrolling through Facebook or Tiktok to find content you actually like. Most of it’s shitty or pulp. Most of it doesn’t matter. Yet, those moments that do matter, those posts or videos that you really connect with and stay with you…well they’re the skinner box reward to keep you coming back.

Lost as a story continues to reward you for investing in it. It rewards you with cool sci-fi elements around time travel or the ruins of a society or the nature of magic and destiny. You don’t know what the show is. It starts as a Survivor knock off, specifically so it can keep the mystery alive that much longer. You are not supposes to know exactly what the genre of the show is, you’re supposes to discover it at the same time the characters do.

Even knowing the answers, these stories are still effective, because they’re built into the characterization. Even if you’re not as lost as the characters, watching them figure it out and how they deal with it is interesting. The compelling case study of characterization is the dozens of hours we spend with these characters trying to contend with a world that may be much bigger and stranger than they ever thought.

The ending of this show absolutely sucks. It is the biggest copout ending they could possibly do. The writing practically falls apart, along with the characters, while they try to wrap it up into something they can sell. It looks, feels, and reads like a fanfiction.

I wrote an article on how we can determine if something is the worst. It was a framework to consider art within. And the only reason season six is disappointing or of note is because of what it could be. The show built itself on seasons of mystery, with the fifth season starting to provide a lot of context and solid grounding for the four seasons prior. We were at the edge of our seat trying to guess. The answers in season five were fun, exciting, and satisfying.

Season six should have built on that momentum. Every episode should’ve been around answers to the previous seasons mysteries. Instead it was back to form where nobody knew anything and nobody was saying anything. It was presented as a new mystery to slowly tip-toe around for the better part of 12 hours, until everyone was actually dead.

Below is a 20 minute video that reads like a Dom treating Lost like it has a praise kink. And I think it is a very condense look at what does work within the show.

The problem with Lost is that within its six seasons of runtime, you could make an airtight, compelling argument about it being the best and worst show ever made. But the two big sides within understanding the finale is that either it failed to answer the mysteries of the island or you failed to understand the show was about the characters.

And I believe that is too surface level of a critique of this show. I, instead, purpose that its final season not only failed to meaningfully tie up the mysteries of the island, it failed to meaningfully tie up the characters on it. It did not pay those characters respect. The plot was not just pointlessly meandering, it was cruel and empty. One of the pivotal characters helping the main cast and had a season of build up and background just exploded to dynamite. Ha ha, right? Man, you’re just criticizing the show because you don’t get it’s about the people! ha ha! Boom Boom.

I’m not mad that the show didn’t make sense of the several things it introduced into the island before. I’m not mad that they had a macguffin pool that was the light of all creation. I’m somewhat mad that I spent five hours watching a purgatory death rehashing of the greatest moments. I’m mad that none of the elements in the past or present tied meaningfully into the characters for growth and it was effectively just kind of a circle jerk at the end.

Wait a minute, Faye. I’m who you never expected. Someone who both has seen Lost and chose to read this. And you can’t tell me Jack Shepard doesn’t grow as a character? The whole show was his slow and meaningful growth throughout the seasons! It’s in that video you shared and I watched, probably didn’t think I’d do that either! Get rekt. He was nominated for an award. You’re objectively wrong and also dislike your opinion about pizza.

Well shit. What a strangely personal rebuttal that I didn’t make up and have no power to delete. Anyways, Jack is a terrible lead in the show. He rarely paints his face with emotions and instead sits in most scenes like just a guy hoping to leave a business meeting early to do questionable things in a closet. I don’t know, maybe he was Christian Bale’s stunt double and just waiting for that phone call.

He has no real presence and his changes are just so forced and arbitrary. He was written to be a leader, he is written to be a person of science, he is written to be someone who wants to make everyone live together or die alone, but most of his character is something we are simply told. They don’t have all of the supporting detail or dialogue or acting that sells any of it. His first season was okay and with some strong moments, but the rest is painful.

You know how some characters can steal a scene or a show or a whole damn movie? Jack is the opposite. And watching him go through every motion a second time in my own personal Timequake, I felt that much worse. I knew the show was his show. I knew the show started and ended on him. I knew he would eventually learn of the Island’s mysteries and take it upon himself to be the guardian and with that knowledge it sucked ten times worse.

I had to sit through another few hours of awkward moments between him and Kate, because the show didn’t know what they wanted to do. I had to watch his non-development a second time, knowing at the end the drunken and violent writer behind the curtain would give me 200 pages of script saying “all work and no play make Jack a dull boy.”

He would violently gesture it into my hands, while shaking his head up and down with clear conviction of a work well done. I would nod back, awkwardly and slowly, wondering if I was going to be safe to leave. He would be pointing at the script in one hand, thumbs up in another. He wasn’t even wearing his sweatpants anymore. The smell really was intense and it was vodka. I would start to say things about, I don’t know man, maybe another character would be good to focus on instead. He’d shake his head, clearly going completely non-verbal and just continue to point at that script. Eventually I’d raise it up and go, yup yup, great stuff, thank you, before he kicks me out the door and slams it. The distinct sound of not just one, but two deadbolts slamming shut. Huh.

I think Lost fails to tell a complete story that is satisfying. I think it manages to tell many little stories that are engaging, interesting, and rewarding. And if there is a reason to watch Lost, it is this. It isn’t the grand reveal or the story of Jack Shepard. It is the micro stories it manages to tell throughout the five good seasons it has.

Ben Linus is one of the most fascinating villains I have ever seen.

This man.

He is a small man and not particularly much to just look at. However, to know this man is to understand how controlling, violent, and intimidating he really is. He is the kind of character who you always feel like they know exactly what they’re doing. You know every word they tell you is probably a lie or exactly what they need to say for them to get you to do what they want.

There is a fantastic scene where the character Juliet tests her boundaries with Ben. The result is the man she was having an affair with is killed. Ben shows this to her, explains what he did, and tells her that he owns her. He sneers as he says it, dropping his façade of innocents for just one moment, before collecting himself, returning to calmness, and telling her to take the time she needs with this.

I’m not immediately thinking of another character for whom their delivery and presence was so perfectly understated, while being that scary. He often speaks in equivocation and half truths and nearly never breaks character. He at all times presents this illusion he is a man doing what he has to. That is a man forced by fate. That he does it all for everyone’s best interests. And it is so hard to see through it all to understand if it’s a lie he tells us or himself. Even now I can’t honestly say.

A pivotal character moment for him is losing his adoptive daughter. And while we’re supposes to understand within the story and the writing, that his daughter is someone who he really did care about — a more compelling read is that he stole his daughter. His daughter was his. And his rage isn’t grief, but at someone taking something of his. What he does after this is do everything in his power to kill the man responsible or to kill that man’s daughter.

This character has a sympathizing arch at the end of the show that I don’t feel was warranted or just. I think they just wanted to put a feel good bow on everything they’d done. Regardless, so many of his scenes just slap. The show is worth watching for his performance. And after reviewing this show, having watched it twice, once each decade, like a TDAP vaccine — he is the best thing this show has. (That’s a little vaccine humor for you!)

There are a lot of other good characters and stories. Desmond and Daniel make up some of the best story lines around the show and I feel like they would have been more compelling character leads than Jack.

I feel like John Locke was incredibly strong for most of the show’s run. The actor was perfect for the role and conveyed strength, compassion, and determination in earnest. He could be funny or carrying. He could be lethal. He could be deceptive. He was a fully realized and complex character and his backstory dealing with trauma and being manipulated by cults was really compelling.

He was a character that kept trying to find meaning, kept trying to find a place that he belonged, and struggled with if there was a purpose. It made sense why he took to the Island like he did. I’m not going to complain about the direction they took with him and the smoke monster. I disagree with it and feel like they could’ve done something better, but I don’t think it was a terrible choice either. It really sucks, because while we see the smoke monster wearing him like a sock, it feels to us like Locke is still there. But in practice, in reality, the man suffered his entire life and was killed in cold blood before he could find any real peace or answers. His destiny was taken from him and he ultimately died being manipulated and abused by higher powers — a pattern concluding as it started for him. I think that’s extremely sad and I rather have a Lost where Locke isn’t so Tragic.

Hurley is fantastic and extremely lovable. Sawyer has a lot of great moments in general. And Miles is the perfect asshole. The stories, the characters’ histories, and the connections they make on a mysterious Island make the show something that is probably worth seeing.

After a decade, two hundred dollars, and a hundred hours of my life I’m not entirely disappointed I rewatched it. There were moments I loved and loved that I experienced them again. That I awaken long lost memories. But let me tell you that several moments had me just shouting at my screen. The inconsistencies in story, characterization, or plot kept rudely knocking me out of my enjoyment. And finishing season six a second time, left me feeling like the people of Timequake waking up after ten years and just lost on how I was even suppose to feel about it all.

I think Lost will remain an important part of television history. It was such a big deal, not even that long ago. I’m not sure how many people still think about it. Not sure how many people have already taken their second or third dive through those mysteries. But I think there will always be value in seeing what so many people tuned into each week, with popcorn ready. And with that in mind, if you’ve never seen…maybe give it a try. If you already have, you could probably take a pass.

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Faye Seidler

I write essays on literature, pop culture, and video games. I mostly deconstruct and do comparative analysis on many topics in both a serious and goofy way.