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My Lost Experience: A Look Back


Note: This article contains spoilers for the series and its finale.

As an English major, I often find myself in conversation concerning the “canon” – novels that are widely read and accepted by the community at large as being important works of literature. High school often instructs students in the traditional canon while collegiate students use novels such as The Great Gatsby, Shakespeare, The Odyssey and Dickinson as building blocks for lesser-known and more niche works. Canonical literature is the cornerstone to serious scholarship of any literary genre and holds a somewhat revered status as a pinnacle of written narratives.

The television world can be viewed in the same way. There are some shows that are part of the television “canon”, works that must be viewed to understand the power of the medium. Just as with literature, this list is purely subjective and defined by the breadth of the survey. While a show such as Stargate SG-1 might be required viewing when examining important science fiction series, it is not a “must watch” with the culturally accepted greats of television. Not all of these pieces had to have been popular at the time: My So-Called Life, Freak and Geeks and Firefly all would be considered required viewing by television aficionados, but none lasted more than one season. And these lists are generational: Years ago, shows such as Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, Matlock or Just Shoot Me! would be placed by some on lists of canonical television. Not anymore.

Currently, cable dramas such as Mad Men, Dexter, Breaking Bad, Big Love, True Blood and Damages dominate the television landscape creatively. New shows such as Boardwalk Empire and The Walking Dead will most likely join their cable brethren in the television canon sooner rather than later. It’s rare that compelling and complex dramas can succeed on broadcast networks; it seems that networks have all but abstained from on interesting and intelligent programs in favor of reality television and procedurals. And even when networks like Fox take a gamble on highly acclaimed “cable-like” pilots such as Lone Star, it falters when finally aired to the masses (go ahead and blame the Fox marketing team in the comments). As a television aficionado, I feel that it is my duty to eventually watch shows that are considered to define its past and present. And while series like NCIS and Two and a Half Men continue to dominate the Nielsen ratings, most of these genre-defining experiences are on cable.

Enter Lost. Or really, enter Lost six years ago. One of the most expensive pilots ever, ABC took a giant gamble on a smart, intricate, character driven serial series, filmed in the gorgeous (and expensive) island of Oahu. Eventually consisting of world-ending buttons, wheels to move through time, flash-everywheres, and even a monster made of smoke, the narrative was largely dependent on viewers’ solid knowledge of events that occurred episodes (and even seasons) ago. Shows such as these are rare as they often alienate viewers with their complex mythologies and science-fiction premises. How is it that Lost spent some seasons averaging audiences upwards of twenty million?

I was always intrigued by Lost, but never watched it. It was a show that I felt I could not get into because I never started to watch during its inception. While my friends talked jubilantly about hours such as “Through the Looking Glass,” “Ab Aeterno” and “The Constant”, I picked up on slight and seemingly meaningless details concerning a series I never thought I would get into. Flash-forward? Flash-sideways? They can’t get pregnant? And while friends cried during the final hours of the series, I wondered what the big deal was.

Once I became more interested in television as a means to tell compelling and important narratives, I started to plow through current shows such as Fringe and Supernatural so that I could enjoy the surprises and twists with everyone else. It became increasingly clear, however, that the more invested I became in the television industry, the more important it would be that I experienced the entirety of Lost. Not only was it one of the most watched scripted shows in recent memory, it was a paramount example of how intelligent, serialized dramas can succeed on network television. Networks did not need to be a lowbrow graveyard of law, medical and police procedurals; the medium can achieve something greater. Lost is a concrete piece of the modern television canon.

I began this foray into the mysterious island about three weeks ago, forgoing much of my social life in the process. Life became about class, Lost, homework and the occasional beer. Topics of conversation seemed to only concern the latest development in my Lost experience. I even tried to conceive a Lost­-themed party (beyond tapping a new keg every 108 minutes, the plan never seemed very realistic).

The series wove its themes gracefully into its mythology and plot. The duality and polarized view of the world was apparent from the beginning juxtaposition of the ideologically distinct Jack and Locke. The writers utilized the dichotomy of faith and science throughout each season, expanding the scope to DHARMA versus The Natives, Linus versus Widmore and finally Jacob versus his brother. Even the worlds of the island the mainland existed in separate faith and science spheres. Faith and science existed at the heart of the island and its story, permeating the philosophical backdrop of each episode. Ultimately the show does provide an answer to its most significant question: was it faith or science? Jack says it best in the finale: “Turns out [Locke] was right about most everything. I just wish I could have told him that while he was still alive.” Science only led to frustration and cynicism; once the Man in Black exiled himself from Mother’s realm, he became infatuated with finding a pragmatic way to escape the island. Widmore’s rejection of Jacob motivated his fruitless and gory search to return. It was only until he realized his folly and accepted Jacob could he return to protect what he had once attempted to destroy. Even in the afterlife, characters could not on without peace with themselves and faith in each other. There is a reason that Ana Lucia, Charlotte and Daniel were not at the church. Coincidently, Ben was at the yet declined to enter. While he certainly had faith in the island, he lacked the self-worth and faith in his final judgment that each Oceanic 815 survivor had. One day, maybe.

As I witnessed every twist, accumulated more and more questions and began to fall in love with the island, I understood why Lost has not been successfully emulated since its inception. The show ultimately was not about the mysteries of the island; they were central to the plot, yes, but the show truly thrived on its strong characterization and development. Their personalities were strong and defined. Relationships were palpable and compelling (except Sayid and Shannon, of course). Motives were realistic and had consequences. The show was not about DHARMA or The Temple or the hieroglyphics or the source. It was about broken people who ultimately came together to overcome unbelievable obstacles with each other. After watching multiple episodes of shows such as FlashForward or The Event, I still could not recall the names of even the most important characters.

For example, I disliked Claire, Shannon, Sawyer and Jin at the show’s onset. Yet over the course of (a truncated) six years, I watched his apathy dissipate and his true potential develop. I watched him fall in love with the most well written female character on the show (I love you, Juliet). And I watched as he threw his engagement ring to the wind after she was taken from him. At one point during “What They Died For”, a flash-sideways Kate mentions that she doesn’t think that Sawyer “seems like a cop”. But in fact, that’s what Sawyer had become. Instead of a disgruntled con man, he became a protector of the Oceanic survivors. He didn’t need the island to disappear for him to make the decision between being a criminal or doing the right thing.

One of the reasons the compelling finale provided such an emotional closure was its focus on the strengths of the series: its characters and their relationships. Instead of a convoluted attempt to solve many of the unsolved (and frankly, trivial) remaining mysteries, the series provided a poetic finale that stressed the transformation of each survivor. Most importantly, a man of science had truly become a man of faith and defeated a non-believer. For once, Jack found his own purpose, not his father’s, and could move on. Jack was no longer the cynic.

I have faith that one day another show will combine immense mythology and character development as successfully as Lost did. There is a mass audience willing to accept a smoke monster, whispers, wheels and polar bears. Writers must be prudent, however: Anyone can come up with an elaborate tale. It takes something entirely different to create Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Hurley, Jin, Sun and the rest.


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