“We have to go back”
Seven years after the plane crash, I find myself in Jack’s shoes, craving to go back to the island and catch up with the Losties. Not because I didn’t get closure (I did, more on that in a bit) but because there will never be a show as deep, as philosophical, as enigmatic, as adventurous, as funny, as romantic, as introspective, as thrilling, as scientific, as spiritual, as geeky and freaky as Lost.
I still remember downloading and watching the Lost finale at four in the morning, alternating between tears of joy and sadness, as the bittersweet climactic moments of Lost left me with a choking feeling. It was the end of life as we knew it on the island, as six years flew past with the most memorable fictitious characters ever created… in the best story ever told in our times.
Lost is a triumph of storytelling, be it in terms of form, structurally (show me another story where storytellers have played with linearity in all possible ways – Flashbacks, flash forwards, time travel, sideways) or in terms of content, beyond genre (show me anothe story that traverses as many genres as this one – drama, romance, adventure, mystery, science fiction, period, fantasy, thriller, horror, action, feel-good, tragedy and comedy).
Yes, I know a lot of fans and regular viewers were disappointed with the way the show ended and I will go all out to call these guys infidels – Ye, of little faith. While some sci-fi geeks wanted more answers than the show provided, some just didn’t even understand the obvious answers and blamed the show for it.
I had been meaning to blog about the show and what it meant to me for over a year now but always kept putting off because I wanted to watch it all over again from start to end. Sadly, though I have the DVD box set and have watched all the Bonus features and finale quite a few times, I have never got the time required to watch it from start to finish all over again.
But I already have all the answers I needed and I am going to try and explain in this post why there’s nothing else I want to know about the story or the characters. I am fully satisfied with the answers the show has provided and anything that’s not is a little outside the scope of this story.
This show Lost obviously is about a bunch of people who find themselves lost metaphorically in their lives and physically on the island – a place they don’t fully understand after a plane carrying them crashes. The crash is a metaphor, we all have plans for life and suddenly there’s one thing that hits us and throws our lives completely out of control.
“We must let go of the life planned we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.”
This Joseph Campbell quote is even mentioned in the Hero’s Journey bonus features in case you thought I was just reading too much into its significance with Lost (which was inspired by Star Wars, which in turn was inspired from the hero’s journey as outlined in Campbell’s book ‘The Hero With a Thousand Faces’.)
So what do we do when life as we know it, crashes into a zone from where there’s no escape but to confront your past, the ghosts that haunt, your greatest fears and darkest secrets? The island is a physical manifestation of that zone.
Season 1 was all about the people who crashed there and the lives they had before they got on to that plane and it played out beautifully through flashbacks introducing us to characters we would root for over the next few years while parallelly showing us the interconnectedness of the universe and the hidden mysteries – the Wonderland underneath. Like Alice, the castaways need to go down the rabbit-hole and find the answers. Jack never made peace with his Dad, neither did Locke. Kate was a murderer who killed her father, Sawyer a con-man who wanted to kill the man responsible for his mother’s death. Charlie was druggie, Claire an unwilling mother, Sun & Jin were an unhappy couple, Shannon & Boon siblings with secrets, Hurley was unlucky for his family, Sayid scarred by his past and Michael had to make peace with his son. They all had issues with people closest to them in one way or the other. Mostly, Daddy issues.
What do you do when you are lost? You look for answers. From who? Or from where? God or Science? And the central conflict plays out through Jack (the man of science) and John Locke (the man of faith) as they find a mysterious hatch on the island – the rabbithole that probably had all the answers.
And what do they find? A weird system of science that employed rules of faith. You have to push the button every 108 minutes to save the world? What? Why? Faith, either you have it or you don’t. What happens when you challenge that faith? Season 2 was an examination of that conflict as we were introduced to the people who lived outside the system of faith – people who took life into their own hands, the savages, the Others. The people in hatch, though men of science believed in a system of faith while the Others were the epitome of mistrust and doubt. They didn’t trust anybody from outside.
“Two sides – one is light, one is dark.”
There’s always a temporary solution you can find that helps you escape the problem. It involves cheating, letting down a few people, it’s a compromise and sacrifice. All of that happened after Michael cheats them at the end of Season 2 and the group decides to take the easy way out. The helicopter, even if it meant leaving the rest behind. They all have to choose between doing the right thing and what’s easy.They hadn’t yet confronted their ghosts, they were just looking for a quick getaway which they get at the end of Season 3 when we also realise that they had to pay a heavy price for what they did – Death of faith – John Locke employing for the first time in the series – Flashforwards.
“We have to go back”
Season 4 then showed us their attempts to get back to the island to set things right again and hit upon the perfect opportunity to mix up flashbacks and flashforwards to explain the physics of the island, it’s location, the key to enter and exit it and the fact that it can be moved. And if you manage to piece together the jigsaw structured Season 4, you would get the answers to every question – How you could exit one part of the island by pushing the wheel and enter from Tunisia but the flip side (and the reason why it’s not done frequently) is that you lose control over time when you manipulate space. There’s obviously a distance between island time and the real world because the island is a moving entity, a sort of an undiscovered black hole at the centre of the earth located in the middle of the Ocean between Australia and Los Angeles. The island because of its control over time, has a glitch that nobody has been able to fix. While it is able to heal the wounded, it is incapable of producing life on its own. The dying manages to live and the birthing manages to die. Something the science guys at Dharma initiative haven’t been able to fix. The Others can bring back the dead by the more primitive belief of selling your soul to the Devil and letting darkness inhabit you.
“See you in another life brotha”
As the castaways left back on the island travel back in time, they get the opportunity to live a life together, far away from the present. In the past and pretend like nothing happened. A happy existence in denial when truth shows up in the form of Jack and the Oceanic Six at the Dharma stations. And the losties must choose – do they want to embrace a life where they never met and continued on with their lost lives or do they live in denial? At the end of Season 5, they choose a life where they never met and explode the bomb and mess with the rules of time travel and end up belling Schrodinger’s Cat.
Season 6, the final season was a juxtaposition of the parallel universes with its Flash Sideways narrative. On one hand, we had this alternate reality playing out in the event that the plane hadn’t crashed and on the other we have the castaways back on the island thinking that the bomb blast didn’t work. When science does not have the answers, we are left with no other choice but faith. Exactly what happens to Jack haunted by the burden of being responsible for Locke’s death. Though Jacob’s flashback, we understand that the island is the place where the balance of the world is maintained. There’s good and evil. Good makes sure evil does not escape. There’s science and there’s faith. And we learn that science and faith go in search of the same thing. Truth. Answers. Evil wants to escape truth and Good keeps it in check by showing it the truth. Jacob and the Man in Black, old friends. The island gave them both the same powers to make sure they cannot destroy each other and the only way Evil could escape the island was if it turned one of Jacob’s own against him and killed him.
Jacob knew it would all happen and that’s exactly why he had brought this Lost group to the island so that he could pick the right candidates for the job to replace him. It was all pre-destined. It was a matter of time before someone stopped pushing the button (to rephrase, stopped believing in what they were supposed to do – Dharma, duty).
And everytime there is a crisis of faith, God takes an avatar. Cometh the hour, cometh the man.
The island has its way of restoring balance. So even if Jacob dies, there’s someone else to take over the job. One of the candidates. Jack volunteers because he has become a man of faith by now. He knows he’s supposed to do this, save the island.
Desmond, the fail-safe guy who rebooted the island, is the connect between the island world and the sideways world, just like how he was the connect between the island world and the real world through the love of his life, Penny. The beauty of Lost again is the perfect symmetry in its storytelling. The first and the last seasons are almost identical (mirror image) to the final frame. If the second one began with the hatch, the fifth ends with the hatch, if the third was about leaving the island, fourth was about coming back to the island.
And Lost brings us to its riveting finale with its key players spelling out the answer to life.
Jack simply believes. He has no answers. He knows protecting the island and making sure that evil does not escape is his duty. He has full faith in the powers that be that he will be aided. He is rooted in reality. He knows whatever happened, happened. There’s no escaping that.
Smokey (Locke) believes that you can escape your destiny if you cheat. He knows that pulling the plug on the island will relieve him of the curse of being imprisoned on the island. He thinks he can escape because there are always loopholes to every system.
And Desmond believes that it doesn’t matter because he has seen what happens in the Flash Sideways where everyone lives happily everafter.
Obviously only one of them is right.
Juliet: “I’ll tell you a secret. You just pull the plug out and put it back in”
Sawyer: “It worked” (when he puts in a dollar bill in the automated snack box and his snack gets stuck, Juliet offers this advice in the Sideways narrative)
As simple as that. When Desmond pulls the plug out of the heart of the island and the light goes off (I like how the plug is phallic like a Shiv Ling), Smokey realises that he’s probably turned off what has kept him indestructible but it’s too late because now, he has become human and can be killed. Jack didn’t know this but he believed that he was meant to do this. He does exactly that.
And we slowly realised that the Flash Sideways narrative was Karma – the fruit of things you did. While the island narrative was Dharma – what you have to do, what you were meant to do. Lapidus, was meant to fly the plane out, Hurley was meant to take over, Ben was meant to stay back and atone. The Lost were meant to find the right thing to do.
The right thing for Jack to do was to make peace with his father. As they do things they were supposed to do in the island life, it changes things in the Sideways life, which in the end we realise is afterlife – where there is no concept of time. No today, no tomorrow.
The Sideways life was the place you pay for your sins and reap the fruit of the life you lived. The purgatory.
The Island life was the test of your life, the place you found yourself and did what you were destined to do. The real world.
It’s popular belief that we live together, die alone. We learn through the Sideways narrative that THAT is not true. We all meet up again in the place we were all made, we reunite and move on.
To remember. To let go. And to move on.
While it is too much to expect a TV show to give you all the answers and explain the meaning of life, this is the closest a modern story has come to being so epic in its content and form, in philosophy and spirit.
“Now you’re like me”
Else, shoot me your questions and I will give you my interpretation of what the answers are in the comments below. Namaste.
Yeah, yeah Lost is an awesome show and a triumph of storytelling but still not a patch on the greatest story ever told… Veda Vyasa’s Mahabharatha.
Mahabharata is a collection of myths, a fictional account of real people who existed with gross inconsistencies, written, rewritten and corrupted over centuries of interpretation and cannot be compared to a TV show with a clear definitive overarching theme and a specified set of characters. I’m sure it is a rich body of literature with guiding principles but so is every culture’s mythology, not just Hindu. All myths have so many common elements that it is possible that some cultures plagiarised some elements for their stories. The birth of Krishna for example defies all possible logic. If Kamsa knew the eighth born would kill him, why would he allow them to have sex all those years, especially if he was able to imprison them? The baby in the basket in the river story is another recurring element you will find across cultures involved in the birth of many messiahs. The veracity of the origin of whose idea was it originally can be debated. Let’s not mix up myths that evolved over centuries of interpretation with focussed modern storytelling.
Superb writeup Sudhish! Got up at about 6 on that day & watched the finale live on Justin.tv Of all the episodes, ‘The Constant’ has gotta be my favorite! That is where my doubts lie too, Desmond meets Daniel at the university during the time shifts, but doesn’t recall him when they meet again on the island, which is weird because Charlotte is able to recall Faraday as the guy who warns her when she was a child.
What’s common to Charlotte, Minkowski & Eloise the lab rat? 😉 They all die because of brain aneurysms cause by frequent time shifts/exposure to high doses of electromagnetic energy. Time shifts have different effects on different people having the experiences. While it was Desmond of 1996 whose consciousness timetravels, Desmond of the island life wouldnt have remembered him… Charlotte remembers only while dying after all those time jumps. It is possible that Desmond would’ve recalled meeting Faraday had his island consciousness time travelled. The key to what can be changed and what not are established in the episodes – The Constant and its companion piece The Variable. It’s the constant that keeps them connected to their real selves. According to Lost, there are some things that can be changed and some that are inevitable, what’s predestined to happen. While the explosion of the hatch was inevitable and predestined to happen (and referred to as the incident that lets loose a pocket of electromagnetic energy that leads to the requirement of pushing the button every 108 minutes), what they can change is how it happens. In the Sideways universe, we get a glimpse of what would’ve happened had the plane never crashed, again something that goes to prove that the universe course corrects to maintain a balance between what’s supposed to happen and what you can change, evil loses its value without good and good loses its value without evil. The island needs them both to maintain the equilibrium.
I had watch this show over a period of 4 years. After reading this post everything i felt for LOST came back. I had watch the final season while i was going through tough times at office, and LOST became my alternate reality where i too was one of them. But there fight for finding answers and love towards each other comforted me. And at last one of my friend Shounak once summoned this series by saying, ” It’s here where you find an answer but it would leave you with more questions.”
Beautifully explained. I had some questions and you answered them for me. I never really had time to think on each episode as it took me two weeks to watch season 1 to season 6 with finishing the finally today. I thought it ended like it should and it was beautiful.
I just read the beginning of ur article and stopped for fear of spoilers(midway thro 5th season).i think maybe this is ur favourite tv show ever???
but hav u checked out dexter??? ur thoughts on it?
I started watching Lost only a year back and regretted not watching it sooner. The show is simply epic. The only problem i had with it was that it had too many storylines and didnt seem to resolve all.
1. Why build up The ben and charles widmore dispute when concluding it simply ?
2. Whats the real deal with numbers ? The first few seasons were building up all this suspense surrounding them but they never get explained. I know that each of those numbers were against the name of each of the candidates.
3. Since Jacob was the authority of the Others, did the others massacre the Dharma Initiative under his orders ? If so , how can he be considered good ?
4. Who was making the supply drops or how was is it happening since the island was shown to on a completely different plane than the rest of the world ? The fourth season was about it was difficult get to the island but those drops had no prob?
5. What was the deal with Walt ? We know he’s special , has some powers , got experimented on but then he’s forgotten completely ? ( I know the show producers couldn’t use the actor as he got too old but still )
6. Why was libby in the asylum with hurley ? I know this is a minor one but that ending which showed her in the same asylum as hurley was one of the best lost endings i can remember .
7. Was the Christian Shephard who appeared in the freighter and LA the Man in Black ? Then how could he leave the island ? If its not him then who is he ?
In season 6 apart frm life on the island, u r also shown what wld hav happenend if the plane hadnt crashed.i guess this is what they refer to as flash sideways..so basically two sets of directions life cld hav taken, one if the plane had crashed or two if the plane had landed safely.so life b4 the crash shld be the same ryt??? the difference in their lives wld be after the crash..if that was the case how come jin and sun aren’t married in the flash sideways???
if you liked lost, you will fall in love with battlestar galactica mate. now THAT is a truly character oriented drama.
(not that lost is any less) and the gayatri mantra used in the casting is lovely as well.
Venkatesh: You need to invest in the Lost box set. You will like the special features. Clearly you have missed a lot and the show has gone over your head and I don’t know where to start. 🙂
Siddharth: No, your basic assumption about the flash sideways is wrong. The flash sideways is not what happens if there was no crash. The flash sideways is the purgatory, what happens to them if the bomb did indeed go off. Season 6 is about dual truths. Schrodinger’s Cat.