[Update: We’ve added even more Lost explanations!]
If you’ve visited our Lost series finale review and discussion, you know that opinion is sharply divided over how one of the biggest TV shows of the last decade came to a close.
Some people thought the ending couldn’t have been any sweeter, while others are either frustrated or disappointed with how Lost ultimately wrapped.
However, there are those out there who are currently feeling confused about how Lost came to a close and ‘what it all meant.’ So to help these (snicker) lost souls out, we thought we’d at least try and offer some quick explanations of some of the lingering questions. Hopefully it helps and doesn’t just further confuse.
It must be noted that unlike sites like Lostpedia, I haven’t done years and years of research on this. I’m just a moderate Lost fan who happens to have a good mind for literary analysis. So here goes nothing. And in case you haven’t guessed already:
[MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!!!]
THEY WERE NOT “DEAD THE WHOLE TIME”
I don’t know why people are having trouble understanding this, as it is CLEARLY explained in the final minutes of the finale episode by Christian Shephard (Jack’s dad). The original Oceanic 815 plane crash happened. Everything on the Island through seasons 1-6 happened. The “flash sideways” universe introduced in season 6 was a sort of stop-over point between life and afterlife (referred to here as the “purgatory universe”).
Each person in this “purgatory universe” created a reality for themselves based on their lingering issues in life – that which they could not “let go” of. For Jack it was Daddy issues; Kate, the guilt of murder; Sawyer, the quest to find “Sawyer” and be a better man; Sayid, the unrequited love of Nadia; Charlie, looking for something “real” in his hollow life of fame, etc…
Everyone was still attached to their Earthly concerns (we’re getting very Buddhist here, bear with me) – but when they made contact with those people they’d met on the Island, they remembered the journey and growth they had experienced because of the Island, and could finally understand the connections and “purpose” brought into their damaged lives by being there. With that greater understanding of themselves, they were each ready to “leave” or “move on” to the next phase of existence – i.e., the true afterlife.
WHAT WAS THAT FINAL IMAGE OF THE CRASHED PLANE?
Some people are convinced the final image during the end credits of the Lost finale was the “clue” to the characters being dead the whole time. OK, let’s think about this: The image appears during the closing credits, after the final appearance of the “LOST” logo. That means that the story had officially ended. Saying that the biggest reveal came while the end credits were rolling is like saying a movie’s climax happens during the end credits. Not bloody likely.
The image of the plane crash (if you look closely) has memorabilia from the Lostie’s time on the beach where they first made camp. Shacks, towels, etc… it was one part nostalgia (remember where it all began?) and also one part commentary on the circular nature of the Island.
Like the Black Rock ship that brought Richard to the Island (“Ab Aeterno“), or the downed plane with the heroin that had Mr. Ecko’s brother’s corpse inside of it (“The 23rd Psalm“), the remains of Oceanic 815 and the evidence of a small community built on the beach are just more monuments of the Island. The next time somebody crashes there, they’ll see that stuff and wonder what the “mystery” behind it is…
Then they’ll whine and complain about how unsatisfying the answer is. (“What? That’s how that mystical guy “Hurley” came to the Island? LAME.”)
WHAT WAS DESMOND’S POWER?
One of the biggest things people seem to be questioning is how Desmond was able to “wake up” from the purgatory universe and how he had the know-how to “wake up” the other Losties. For that answer, you really just have to look back over the history of Desmond.
Desmond (specifically through his connection to Penny Widmore) is a sort of “constant” in the show. No matter what happens, when, or where, Desmond seems somehow immune to the Island’s energy (which has electromagnetic properties) and has a sort of awareness that can transcend space and time (his consciousness shifts seen in episodes like “The Constant“). These “shifts” and Widmore’s explanation that Desmond is special because of his resistance to the Island’s energies, imply that Desmond would even be able to “shift” his consciousness back and forth between this universe and the purgatory one, catalyzed by Widmore’s team placing him in that huge electromagnetic machine in the season six episode, “Happily Ever After“.
So, it does stand to reason (at least Lost reasoning) that Desmond – after having his consciousness “shifted” to the purgatory reality – would “wake up” after encountering HIS constant, Penny. It’s another fast and loose metaphysical explanation, but one that (for me) still works within the framework of the show.
WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH THE ISLAND’S “RULES?”
Over the course of the show people have wondered about the mythology of the Island – where it came from, what it is and what are the “rules” that govern it and its mystical protectors? Admittedly, this is an area where the showrunners played things fast and loose, hoping that the momentum of the characters’ story arcs and the whole “good vs. evil” showdown would be enough to appease most fans. Alas, not so.
Season six of Lost did a great deal to semi-explain what the island was – a sort of container for a very important energy that seemingly links this world with worlds beyond… or something. That energy is represented by light and water, and if that light goes out and the water stops flowing, the world is basically screwed. Everything magical or fantastic about the Island stems from this energy, and many of the technological oddities found on the Island (the Swan Station from season 2) are a result of the Dharma Initiative trying to harness and control that energy (i.e., man trying to bend magic and mysticism to the will of modern science).
However, there are some things that were definitely left unexplained: Why did the Man In Black become a smoke monster when he was exposed to the light (was it a manifestation of his corrupted soul)?; What is the nature of the “rules” that governed certain aspects of the Island – who could come and go, who could kill who, who was healed from injury (Locke, Rose), who lived forever (Richard). How were these rules established and maintained?
The Jacob/MIB origin episode, “Across The Sea”, attempted to fill in that aspect of the Island mythology, but what we came away with were a lot of vague pseudo-explanations. The protector of the Island basically makes up the rules and once those rules are established they are set until somebody (a new protector?) changes them. This is the reason why the MIB was obsessed with “finding a loophole” in order to kill Jacob; it’s also why Jack was ultimately able to kill the MIB. Smokey was connected to the energy source, and when Jack had Desmond “turn off” that energy, Smokey lost his powers and was merely flesh and blood again.
Makes sense…doesn’t it?
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE BABY MAMA DRAMA?
One of the earliest sub-plots of the Lost mythos was the notion that pregnant women died on the Island before they could successfully give birth. This was especially important during season one, back when Claire was pregnant with Aaron and got kidnapped and experimented on by Ethan, a memeber of The Others (“Raised by Another” & “Homecoming“). Of course we now know that Ethan was likely working with baby-doctor Juliet to help Claire – that is before Charlie killed Ethan (oops!) – and that Aaron was likely born on the Island without incident because Claire was already far enough along in her pregnancy before coming to the Island (just like Jacob and the Man In Black’s mother).
However, the pregnancy issue popped up again in season 3 when Sun learned that she was pregnant (“The Glass Ballerina” & “D.O.C.” ) and was a the prominent focus of Juliet’s flashback arch (“One of Us“). So whatever happened to the mystery of the baby mama drama?
Simple answer? Story developments made the issue a moot point in later seasons. Aaron was born fine, Sun eventually gave birth OFF the Island and Juliet died, even after she had no more pregnant patients to tend to. So really, when you think about it, there was no more of this story left to tell.
But does that excuse the fact that we never found out why pregnant women were dying on the Island? It might be bugging you, but I’m chalking this one up to being another random “rule of the Island.” Or maybe electromagnetic mystical lights just aren’t good for fetuses. Either way.
WHAT WAS WITH THE STATUE?
This is one Lost mystery I don’t really need answered. Who built the statue, why they built it and what did represent are all things you can probably find out with some historical research on ancient cultures. People who have done the research claim the statue represents a goddess or fertility or something along those lines, linking the broken statue with the Island’s baby mama drama. Personally, I can neither confirm or deny the historical relevance of the statue – if you’re curious, you should do the research.
As for the relevance of the statue to the Lost mythos: to me was evidence that the Island had been around for a long, long, time, and that people had been coming to it throughout history. So basically, it was a way to let viewers know, “This place plays a pivotal role in mankind’s existence.”
I’m not trying to look much deeper than that.
THE WIDMORE/LINUS CONUNDRUM
Ok… so there’s implication of what the Island’s “rules” are, but that gets a bit problematic when you think back to season 4 of Lost – which is basically about Charles Widmore sending operatives to the island to do what he cannot (get revenge on Ben Linus). There was that whole sub-plot about how it was ‘against the rules’ for Widmore to return to the Island, and how Widmore “changed the rules” by killing Ben’s adopted daughter, Alex. But why would the “rules” of the Island’s protectors apply to these two guys?
In the end, I think the showrunners went for an “It is what it is,” approach with the mystical rules governing the Island; they are convenient plot devices that support the story at various points, but don’t really hold up when looked at in conjunction with the entire series. The Widmore/Linus conundrum is simply one of those holes – a weak point of the Lost mythology, for sure.
WHAT HAPPENED TO ALL THE BLACK PEOPLE?
Remember when Lost had African-Americans as part of its “groundbreaking international cast?” Yeah, I vaguely do too. One friend of mine (and I’m sure of yours) watched the finale chanting “They better bring back Walt!” over and over – but no such luck.
Walt and his father Michael did make latter season Lost appearances: Locke visited Walt off the Island in the season five episode “The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham” and Michael appeared to Hurley as a ghost in season six, explaining the whole “whispers on the Island” thing. Still, many fans wondered why Walt, Michael and the “tailie” priest, Mr. Eko, didn’t reunite with the other cast members at the purgatory all-faith church in the finale.
Well, Michael we know is stuck on the Island as a “whisper” because he can’t move on, due to his killing of Libby and Ana Lucia in season two. Walt was freed from the Island early on, so the journey that bonded the Oceanic passengers in the purgatory universe was one that Walt was never really part of.
As for Mr. Eko, his death in the season 3 episode “The Cost of Living” showed that Eko had come to peace with his life. When told by the ghost of his brother Yemi to “Confess his sins,” Eko refused, saying that he had no guilt to confess; in his life, he did what he had to do to survive. The smoke monster evaluated Eko, who stood resolute about himself, his sins and the faith and redemption he’d ultimately found. After smokey beat Eko to pulp, Eko’s last vision was his young self walking away with his brother, holding the soccer ball they used to play with.
In short: Eko, by finding his faith and coming to peace with himself, had no reason to be in the purgatory world with the others. Wherever his soul was going, it was prepared for that journey – unlike the other passengers, who still had to come to peace with themselves and their deaths.
That all sounds deep, sure, but I’m sure off-screen conflicts with the actors and the fact that Macolm David Kelley (the kid who played Walt) hit puberty were also major factors.
WHAT ABOUT THE POLAR BEARS?
If you’re asking this question, you weren’t really paying attention to the show. Go rent Lost season 3 on DVD and see if you can’t figure out the polar bear “mystery” when the rest of us did… back in 2006. I’ll give you a hint: Dharma Initiative experiments.
WHAT ABOUT THE NUMBERS?
In the season six episode “The Substitute” Un-Locke takes Sawyer down to “Jacob’s cave” on the cliff (where Jack ultimately killed MIB) and in that cave, Sawyer observes that Jacob’s list of “candidates” for his replacement – our Losties – have numbers by their names. The list of candidates (Sawyer, Jack, Locke, Hugo, Sayid and “Kwon”) equate to the numbers 4-8-15-16-23-42 – the numbers that both steered Hurley to the Island in the first place (he went to Australia to find out about them), and served as the code for releasing the Island’s tapped energy in The Swan station. The numbers also showed up again and again throughout the show (Danielle’s papers, on medicine Claire and Desmond take, on Mr. Eko’s stick, etc…).
So in the end the numbers had to do with fate, and were a nice little numerology motif for the showrunners to play with (and a mathematical mystery for fans to agonize over). THE END.
BEN CONTROLS SMOKEY?
In the season 4 episode “The Shape of Things To Come” Ben Linus witnessed the murder of his daughter Alex at the hands of Charles Widmore’s mercenaries. Ben then accessed the secret room in his Dharma house and disappeared into a secret passage covered in hieroglyphics. When Ben returned, he brought the smoke monster with him, which murdered the team of Widmore’s assassins. Now we know the smoke monster was the Man In Black, but some viewers are still confused why Ben was able to “control the monster” in this season 4 episode, but not later in season six.
However, it is never said that Ben “controls” the smoke monster – the best word would be “summons.” This makes sense to the story, as Alex’s death is the event that makes Ben turn to the MIB for a favor – a favor which he later repays in season 5 by killing Jacob for the MIB. It’s the ultimate corruption of Ben Linus – the moment where he goes from being a blind servant of Jacob to serving evil. So I don’t quite consider this a loose end – just another case of misinterpretation by some viewers.
JACOB vs. THE DHARMA INITIATIVE
Ok, so this is MY major question. In one of my favorite Lost episodes, “The Man Behind The Curtain“, we learn all about Ben Linus’ childhood with the Dharma Initiative. The episode ends with the chilling revelation that Ben – conspiring with Richard – betrays “his people” in the initiative and mass murders them using nerve gas – including his own father. Ben then reveals to Locke what ultimately became of the Dharma Initiative: The Others threw their bodies into a gruesome mass grave.
Looking back from the series finale and the “Across The Sea” episode about Jacob’s past, I can’t help but wonder: did Jacob murder the Dharma Initiative?
We know that Richard is an emissary of Jacob – that is, Richard does Jacob’s bidding. So if Richard instructed Ben to kill the Dharma members, doesn’t that imply that Jacob instructed Richard to do so, much the same way Jacob’s “mother” slaughtered the men on the Island when the Man In Black got to close to them?
I find it hard to explain the death of the Dharma Initiative any other way, and that’s a huge narrative problem when you consider that our Losties – many of whom lived with and befriended the Dharma Initiative in the 70s – ultimately serve Jacob as well. They’re serving the man who most likely gave the order to murder their friends and co-workers!
It also blurs the lines between good and evil. Mass murder is never a good thing, so the fact that Jacob at least allowed the mass murder of the Dharma Initiative (it’s his role as “protector,” right?) is pretty ghastly when you think about it. This is the embodiment of “good” we’re supposed to root for? Makes you think the Man In Black wasn’t ALL bad…
WHAT ABOUT THE BOMB?
For me this is also a major problem of the Lost mythology. For much of season 6, many fans assumed (based on the opening to the season six premiere, “LA X“) that the bomb that Jack and Co. detonated in the 70s (the season 5 finale) resulted in the Island sinking and an alternate timeline being created, in which Oceanic 815 never crashed, and things were slightly different in the lives of the passengers.
Now we know that the “alternate timeline” was actually purgatory where the Losties all met up when they were dead, and the whole “alternate timeline” bit was a red herring. So what, exactly, did the bomb do?
The obvious answer is that the bomb propelled the Losties back through time to the present day, where the the Swan station (a.k.a. “The Hatch”) was now a slightly different version of its former imploded self (see the photos below).
Like most time travel narratives, the situation with the hatch raises a ton of logistical questions, such as: Would Desmond still be on the island if the hatch had been destroyed in the past? Wouldn’t that alteration to the time stream have a ripple effect that disrupted everything else regarding the Oceanic 815 crashing? And so on…
Instead what we got was a time travel scenario where that one location, the 70s Swan station, seemed to “overlap” on its present-day self, while leaving the rest of the time stream unaffected (or something like that). It’s confusing and very problematic – yet another reason why time travel is something you probably want to stay away from as a storyteller…
In the end though, the outcome is the same: Whatever conduit to the Island’s energy source that the Dharma Initiative tapped when they made the Swan station was ultimately exhausted. Whether it was exhausted by the bomb Juliet set off, or the the moment in season 3 when Locke lost his faith and refused to push the button (“Live Together, Die Alone“) the energy was released, and The Swan was destroyed. The Losties made it back to the present, and there was never two timelines, apparently.
Try not to think too hard about it, I guess… But it certainly is a major thread left dangling.
These are just some of the lingering question Lost has left us with. Did our explanations make sense or are you just as confused as before? For those of you who feel cheated by the finale – did any of these explanations help?
[Check out this video of the unanswered questions of Lost]
Sound off in the comments.