LOST's Greatest Achievement and Failure

Watching LOST has been a blast.  I can’t tell you how many interesting conversations LOST has spawned for me with friends, acquaintances, and even people I really don’t know at all.  I particularly found this last season fascinating because of the massive questions about life, faith, morality, and human free will that the show was throwing around.  Over the years I threw out my fair share of theories about the island, the Darhma Initiative, “the Others,” and so on–it was simultaneously entertaining and humbling to witness my many well crafted theories get obliterated by the fantastical plot twists that came to epitomize LOST.

I don’t remember a television show that so many different people watched that considered the kinds of questions that LOST has.  I would also venture to say that I don’t think I have had more interesting conversations with people over any show than I have over LOST.  To me this is the most indispensable aspect of the show–and to be frank its mostly over now.  The discussions that will be had over LOST may continue for the next week or so but probably no longer than that. Then we will move on to the next piece of pop culture and sadly it will probably be far less interesting and will probably generate far less interesting discussion. 

This is largely why I am glad I stuck it out with LOST–because it was just too much fun to come into the office and chat about the show with the folks who would come in to visit, debate its merits with my wife (who gave up on the show midway through season 5), and discuss the competing philosophies of LOST with the good folks here at CaPC.  These are discussions that won’t be enjoyed in the same way by those who wade through all six seasons of LOST via DVD or Hulu in the coming weeks.  The investment over the last 6 years was worth it for this reason alone.

The second great crowning achievement of LOST was its ability to maintain an audience despite the incredible lack of coherency in the plot.  What kept me coming back to LOST again and again was its characters–they were mysterious, they were deeply flawed, they had individual relational problems that were seemingly smaller than the cosmic problems on the Island, but if you are like me with every episode I cared more about Sawyer maturing out of his self-centered ways, Jin and Sun healing their marriage, and Charlie overcoming his drug addiction and essentially learning what it means to be a father than I did about finding out who “The Others” were.  The acting in LOST was superb when it comes to relationships and the crazy world of the island provided the backdrop for these relational issues to be brought to the fore.  I couldn’t help but wonder sometimes why the characters didn’t ask more questions about the island, but nonetheless the characters were rich, dynamic, and their stories were fascinating stories of both redemption and tragedy.

In fact it is these relationships being on display in the finale which made that episode worthwhile.  The finale was as much a celebration of the dynamic characters of LOST and their growth as anything else.  I’ll admit to tearing up a bit when the various couples were reunited–though I was disappointed not to see the non-romantic relationships slighted in the finale.  As messy and disconnected the plot of LOST was, it really is amazing that it maintained such a large audience to the end–I think this is because the characters were so compelling and their stories so interesting.

This brings me to why LOST was an epic failure plot-wise.  None of the major questions were ever answered.  It has been argued that this is due to the show seeking to illustrate the fact that we often don’t know the answers to life’s biggest questions and mysteries.  Fair enough, but I am sympathetic to the nerdy sci-fi fans that wanted at least a few of these questions answered.  There were so many mysteries in LOST that it was fairly obvious to me that the show would never tie up all the loose ends, but I think its fair to expect a few of them to be tied up in the end and that never really happened.

For instance, what is the island?  How is it containing evil?  Who is the smoke monster?  How did Jacob/Smokey’s “mom” make them unable to kill each other?  Who is she?  What is the light?  Why was the Darhma Initiative so interested in “electro-magnitism”?  We still know very little about “The Others”–what were they up to?  Why did Sayid sell his soul to Smokey for his one true love who turned out not to be his one true love in the end?  Who was Dogan?  How come the light turned Jacob’s brother into the Smoke Monster?  Why was Jacob such a sissy boy?  How could Jacob/the Island heal people and do miraculous things?  Who is Jacob?  What was the point of the hatches?  Where did the polar bears come from?    What was Widmore after?  What happened to Michael?  I could go on and on.

I get the feeling that early on the writers probably intended to answer many of these questions and it just got more and more out of hand–I had hope in the first few seasons that everything would come together–I think if we are honest most of us did–that hope faded over time until Season 6 when it actually became quite comical to think that LOST could solve even one major mystery.  This is where I can sympathize with the typical sci-fi fan who was watching the show for the very reason of hoping some of these great mysteries would be solved (don’t tell anyone but I am a bit of a sci-fi nerd myself).  The reason I can sympathize is that the advertisements for the show reported before every new season that “mysteries will be solved” and that really never happened–not in any significant way at least.

Certainly life is full of mysteries–but the biggest conundrum of life–how can fallen man be reconciled to a holy God–has been answered in the gospel of Christ.  I think God created us with a natural desire to ask big questions–to ask “why?”  And it is also natural for us to long for those questions to be answered. Will we always get the answers?  No certainly not–at least this side of eternity, but the question presupposes that there is someone out there who does have the answers and sees the purposes that we fail to see.  Perhaps this is where Jack landed in the end–he became the man of faith, but it still seems pretty muddled.  As a Christian, I can, however say with great joy that life’s greatest mystery has been solved for me–”God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).  God doesn’t give us all the answers but he certainly gives us the answer to the greatest question of all–how can I know Him?

LOST’s many unanswered mysteries resulted in a plot that was largely nonsensical.  In most cases we would consider such a nonsensical plot an epic failure, but LOST managed to give us a disjointed plot that if we gave it serious thought would implode on itself and yet it kept our attention, lured us in and kept us coming back for more and in the end gave us unforgettable characters whose stories were worth telling.   I feel for the sci-fi fan boys who were thrown to the curb, but LOST was in the end a show about people confronting their demons–and it did this fantastically well.  Its many philosophical and religious ponderings spawned many worthwhile conversations that probably wouldn’t have happened otherwise.  LOST is one of the greatest shows ever made despite the nonsensical plot. The characters and the experience we had watching it together made it all worthwhile.

About Drew Dixon

Drew is an editor at Christ and Pop Culture and editor-in-chief of Gamechurch.com. He is also a pastor, soccer coach, and writer. Drew also regularly writes for Think Christian, Bit Creature, and Paste Magazine. He has also written for Relevant Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @drewdixon82

  • http://pofgblog.com Joseph

    I don’t think the plot was quite as nonsensical as you make it out to be. Certainly there were some story lines that were started, and then either aborted or abandoned. This is natural in a show that lasts 6 seasons. Plus, it tells the story of writers and producers who are willing to take risks and try new things.

    LOST’s writers did as much to explain some of the sci-fi stuff as the writers of some other great sci-fi shows. As far as I know, Star Trek never makes any coherent effort to explain how its warp drives or photon torpedoes work. Stargates SG-1 never explained the existence of the Goa’uld; they were just there, just evil (except for the Tok’ra, of course). Same with the Wraith in Stargate Atlantis.

    Part of the magic (but also the realism) of sci-fi worlds is suspending disbelief a little bit. We don’t need to know all the answers. We just need to accept that certain things are, or that certain other things happen the way they do just because that’s how they happen.

    We do this with God, too. There’s no coherent explanation for God. He just is. How did he create the universe? I don’t know, he just did. How does gravity work? I don’t know, it just does.

    I agree that a few more answers would have been satisfying. I, for one, would love to know more about the whole system of choosing ‘Candidates’. Did Jacob create the mirror in the lighthouse, or someone long before him? Ultimately it doesn’t matter. It just is. Like the Island, and the light, and the giant statue, etc., etc., etc.

  • Kevin

    I think someone was falling asleep in class. Many of the questions you claimed went unanswered were in fact answered during the course of the show. I acknowledge that they may not have been answered to the degree that we may have wanted them to be, but enough connects were made to help us make sense of the history of the Island and some of the character’s story lines.

    Personally, I found the finale to be rather satisfying. I’m not a sci-fi fan, but LOST has turned me on to a different kind of storytelling I was not so drawn to in the past. To view it as a sci-fi series I think limits the scope of what LOST was about. The finale, especially the closing scenes, proved that the show was about the people. It was never about the Island. As mysterious and beautiful as it was, the Island (within the scope of LOST) served a finite purpose. It has a history and a future. Both of which we will not fully understand, but that’s part of what made LOST great. In the end it asked more questions than it answered. That’s the quality that will give it endurance. Sure the light will fade, but most LOSTies agree that there will never be a show quit like it.

  • http://electexiles.wordpress.com/ Drew Dixon

    Joseph–you my friend far surpass me in your sci-fi-nerdom (totally messing with you bro)! I agree with you largely. Don’t tell Rich and David this but I have more or less come to grips with their take on LOST and have made peace with the show. I think this post was a little reactionary to my own frustrations but in the end–I think I made the point quite clear that this show was phenomenal.

    I would make a distinction, however, between some of what you bring up about previous sci-fi series and LOST. I haven’t seen Stargate SG1 so I can’t speak to that but in Star Trek, the warp drives and photon torpedoes are givens at the outset of the show. The show begins with those technological advances in place–plus you know that they are just that–advances in technology. Further the show begins in a futuristic world where space exploration is already common.

    Lost on the other hand begins in our world–in a plausible and realistic, present day environment. The show gained a following in large part because they slowly uncovered the mysterious nature of this Island.

    I am very much ok with mystery–I had naive hopes at times that it would all come together in an “oh snap” moment much like an M. Night Shyamalan movie, but I gave up on that and just started enjoying the show, but the great failure is leaving so much open that they could have tied up and really answering none of the biggest questions–especially about the characters. Like who is the Smoke Monster, who is the mom? What was the deal with Widmore and Ben? The Others and Darhma? Why were they summoned to the Island? Why is it so important to protect? There certainly were too many questions to answer and I like that it ended in mystery, but I also feel for wanted answers to at least a handful of questions.

    As I said in my post, I did not expect all the mysteries to be answered or even most of them, but I don’t think its unreasonable or silly for people to be disappointed that they didn’t get any. And I wanted to make the important point that yes faith requires us to be comfortable with great mystery but it also answers the GREATEST mystery in the universe, namely how may I know God. I wonder if we begin to celebrate mystery for mysteries’ sake. The reason that there is mystery in God is not because mystery is a wonderful thing, but because God is too massive for us to fathom.

    I do think plot wise LOST was more or less a jumbled mess. Was that intentional or accidental–probably some of both. I am not sure if the writers were taking big risks in hopes they would pay off or if they were making things up as they went along. It doesn’t really matter because in the end the final product was very much worthwhile.

    I think their greatest achievement was creating deep characters that you empathized with and longed for them to be redeemed (most of them at least–there are a few that I just never really liked). Perhaps this jumbled mess of a plot was the perfect backdrop for the character growth that takes place.

  • http://electexiles.wordpress.com/ Drew Dixon

    @Kevin–perhaps I fell asleep in the show–it was 6 seasons and I didn’t watch them all in the course of a few weeks but over the course of 4 years–so cut me some slack.

    I would also add given your comment that someone probably didn’t actually read my entire article because we are essentially making the same point.

  • Devin

    I agree with Kevin, I feel like I’m reading another “Lostfail” response from someone who never put in the required time for the show. “Where did the polar bears come from?” “What happened to Michael?” Are you being sarcastic?!? Hell, you even spelled DOGEN’s name wrong and misspelled electromagnetism! Ok, ok. /rant

  • http://electexiles.wordpress.com/ Drew Dixon

    I agree with my earlier comment concerning Kevin–it sounds like you didn’t really read this article either which is largely positive towards the show and regards it as largely a success, especially with regards to the characters and the questions it posed. I meant “what happened to Michael in the end–he didn’t get to hang out with everyone in the church at the end.”

    Sorry about getting the spelling wrong on DOGEN’s name, I didn’t know there was an official spelling–I suppose I should have checked with the writers–my bad. I don’t often proof my posts as carefully as I ought–so thanks for the reminder to do a better job of that.

    For the record–I watched all the episodes of the show, blogged about this last season fairly regularly and discussed the show with friends–I guess that doesn’t cut it in your book for having invested the time necessary. What should I have done? Read all the books and fan sites?

    I just think the massive amount of plot holes in LOST is its biggest failure–I think I made that point in the article so I won’t make it again. I think they gave up on trying to tie up any of these loose ends and some of them were worth tying up. I think its fair for some folks to be upset about that. I think getting too upset is unfair and misses the point of the show which I have admitted to being about the characters growing and being redeemed in the midst of great mystery. The fact that LOST failed to tie up any of the major plot questions (which doesn’t include polar bears–that list was for fun as much as anything else–I don’t care about the polar bears) and yet still kept me coming. It was very much a worthwhile show and largely a success in terms of television exherting itself as a worthwhile art form.

  • Devin

    Michael wasn’t in the end because he is forever (as far as we know) a whisperer/soul which cannot move on, on the island.

  • James Barker

    I’m doing a project for school about successful tv formulas and Lost had one of the best around so I was just digging around and came across this and thought I would throw my two cents in for fun. If at all I come across as being rude or anything it’s not my intention this is all in fun.

    what is the island? I believe the island is where life began, it is the source of good and evil where without it chaos would reign.

    How is it containing evil? By at all time having a guardian (Jacob, Jack, Hurley) who balances the evil with goodness.

    Who is the smoke monster? the smoke monster is the dark haired man’s soul that when entered into the light was not pure of heart so the dark seed of jealousy for his brother and wanting to have knowledge gave way and evil overtook him

    How did Jacob/Smokey’s “mom” make them unable to kill each other? they were only unable to hurt each other after guardianship was passed to Jacob (I think) then it is against some unwritten rule to tip the scales in favor of good or evil (like the old story that god and the devil have a bet for the human souls and while they can influence they can’t directly cause things to happen)

    Who is she? not answered (that is 1)

    What is the light? the good in the world what gives us hope (bottom of pandora’s box?)

    Why was the Darhma Initiative so interested in “electro-magnitism”? Because it could supply an seemingly endless amount of power, imagine powering the entire world from 1 island for almost nothing it could save the world (they were a bunch of hippies lol)

    We still know very little about “The Others”–what were they up to? They were the guardians minions while he could not directly interfere with people that were “brought” to the island he did have representatives

    Why did Sayid sell his soul to Smokey for his one true love who turned out not to be his one true love in the end? (I’m rewatching now for a school project and only on season 3 and I can’t remember this at all)

    Who was Dogan? Maybe an sect of the “others” that were more spiritual and strict on their teachings and guarding the most precious gifts the island has to offer

    How come the light turned Jacob’s brother into the Smoke Monster? I answered that above in “who was the smoke monster?”

    Why was Jacob such a sissy boy? he is the embodiment of good and kindness

    How could Jacob/the Island heal people and do miraculous things? do you need everything read between the lines it’s f’ing magic, ok (it’s all in fun I’m not that serious about this, mostly just trying to see what I remember)

    Who is Jacob? the guardian of the island which without the island would plunge into chaos releasing evil upon the world.
    What was the point of the hatches? to conduct experiments that would probably be illegal anywhere else

    Where did the polar bears come from? hydra island they were part of the experiment on animals taken out of their natural habitat as well as what, if any, effects the island had on their behavior

    What was Widmore after? he wanted the island because he knew he would own energy for the entire world but wanted it for monetary gain

    What happened to Michael? the things he done he couldn’t forgive himself becoming a restless spirit trapped on the island until he can find peace (whispers)

  • James Barker

    I totally didn’t know this was a christian page either, lol. I would of thrown more spiritual similes if I had know. I am an atheist but I do not despise people of faith, I used to be a preacher although it was very short lived. I am not trying to start a flame war, if that begins I will delete my comments I just thought I would throw in that even though I am an atheist I know my scripture and threw very little in as I thought it wouldn’t stick with a secular thread.


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