Namaste, Losties, and happy anniversary!
Ten years ago today, a new show called Lost aired its first episode on ABC. It was ostensibly going to be Survivor as a scripted drama series, pitched as part Survivor, partGilligan’s Island, part Lord of the Flies and part Cast Away. A group of people crash land on an island and have to survive, both against nature and each other. Sounds simple enough, right?
Lost would go on to become one of the most important and iconic television shows of all time, which completely changed the way we consume episodic storytelling. As the seasons progressed, the mythology of the island expanded further and further and audiences across the globe tried to piece together what was happening. Just about everyone who watched Lost had their own personal theories that they’d debate with fans endlessly. Today, just about every popular show has message boards and podcasts dedicated to it and to some degree, this phenomenon traces back to Lost, which trained us to pick apart every single frame and debate what it all means.
But aside from the mystery, the show told an incredible, emotionally impacting story with dozens of characters and concepts but a few core themes that carried through to the end. What began as a pretty humble idea grew into an epic, 121 episode adventure about what makes us human, about faith, about love, about trust and about destiny, with massive stakes but small scale character journeys. It taught us to believe, to let go, and that if we don’t live together, we’re gonna die alone. It’s an incredible journey and, despite suffering some of the limitations of network storytelling, still stands as one of the finest stories ever told on television.
Across all 121 hours of story, here’s just a taste of some of the finest scenes Lost had to offer. (WARNING: This list will contain massive spoilers for the entire series of Lost.)
10. The Incident
Next to maybe Sun and Jin’s death from the final season, Juliet’s shocking death in the Season 5 finale “The Incident” stands as one of the most emotional moments in the show. Sure Charlie’s death was devastating, but Juliet’s is all the more tragic because while Charlie was prepared for his death, and willingly died as a sacrifice for his friends, we had just recently grown so attached to Sawyer and Juliet as a couple. In this one moment, they’re ripped apart from each other (quite literally).
There’s a moment in the scene that it dawns on us that Juliet really is doomed, and we can see the look on her face as she understands that she must let go so that Sawyer can live. “It’s okay,” she pleads to him. It’s a devastating moment as she tells James Ford she loves him and slips away one last time, as he’s left weeping in the most vulnerable moment for Sawyer in the series.
But that’s not the end of it. A few minutes later, we’re surprised when the camera cuts back to Juliet at the bottom of the well. Just as we’re trying to process what the point of this could possibly be, the camera pans over and there it is: the bomb which, if set off in the past, might be able to prevent all of the characters from coming to the island, and save everyone who has died on it. In her dying breaths, Juliet grabs a rock and begins smashing it on Jughead, screaming, “Come on you son of a b***h!”
By this point, the language of the episode has basically suggested that the plan to blow up Jughead is a bad idea and that it won’t work. But to our amazement, Juliet hits the bomb and we smash cut to white. The LOST title card appears with the colors inverted. In these five seconds, our entire understanding of the show and its future has changed. It’s my favorite cliffhanger in the show’s history, and it created this brilliant uncertainty over that summer between Season 5 and 6 and sense that, now that the past has been altered (or so we thought), the show could really go anywhere from here.
9. “He’s the only one who will have me.”
Bejamin Linus is a complicated character. He began his role on the show intended as a short character arc, where the Losties capture a man who claims he isn’t one of the others, and they debate if he’s telling the truth. We later find out he’s the leader of the others, and thus begins our relationship with the pretty despicable Ben Linus.
But over the course of the show, something funny happens. Although we hate him, it’s really hard not to sympathize or connect with Ben on some level, and this scene is the peak of that. Sure, he does horrible things, he’s killed many people (including John Locke), and yet in this moment, when we see him at his most emotionally vulnerable, it’s hard not to forget about all that and just see a sad, confused, desperate man.
At this point, Ben expresses his feeling of betrayal and loss, having gone through the death of his daughter all in the name of the island and of Jacob. He feels lost, and seeing a man previously known for being so in control completely out of his element, crying and having lost everything, we forget about all of our hatred for him and sympathize with him just like any other character on the show.
He pleads with Ilana to let him leave back to the Man in Black who is obviously evil, but is the only one who will have Ben. He’s completely alone. But then Ilana responds, “I’ll have you.” At this point, Ben may be on his way to finally finding his place, and experiencing some sort of redemption.
8. Sawyer tells Jack about his father
A lot of the scenes on this list are pretty bombastic and obviously great, but this is a much more subtle one that shows how powerful small, one on one conversations on Lost could be. In a previous Sawyer flashback episode, we saw him actually run into Jack’s dad Christian Shepard in one of the show’s many examples of characters’ lives intertwining.
In this scene, one of my favorites from the first season, Jack and Sawyer speak for what they believe could be the last time, with Sawyer getting ready to leave the island on Micheal’s raft. Sawyer tells Jack the story of him meeting a man in a bar, who he by this point has realized was Jack’s father. He tells Jack that the man had gone through a falling out with his son, which he realized was his fault. He wanted to call his son and tell him he was sorry and that he loved him. “Something tells me he never got around to making that call. Small world, huh?”
It’s a beautiful moment that accomplishes several things at once. It gives Jack some degree of closure with his father, knowing that Christian loved Jack until the end and, despite their fight, wasn’t angry with him before he died. It also helps us sympathize with Sawyer more, a character who earlier in the season probably would have held on to this story to spite Jack. And finally, it helps hammer in the show’s theme of fate, and the Oceanic survivors directly or indirectly helping each other let go.
7. Jack and Locke’s hatch conversation
“Why do you find it so hard to believe?”
“Why do you find it so easy?”
“It’s never been easy!”
In these three lines during the climatic scene of the Season 2 episode of “Orientation,” we have a beautiful, concise summary of one of the major themes of the series. Jack and Locke find themselves at conflict when presented with a machine with a countdown and a button. Supposedly, if the button isn’t pushed, the world ends. Now the timer is running out. What do you do? It sound ridiculous, right? But maybe it’s not. Do you push the button and take a leap of faith? Or do you reject the notion and hold firm in just what you can see in front of you?
It’s a sort of psychological experiment turned into a real situation for Locke and Jack. After all, Jack is a man of science and Locke is a man of faith, as Locke suggests in Season 1. Locke pleads with Jack to trust him and take a leap of faith, even as he finds it so hard to let go and believe in something greater than himself is at work. It’s an intense scene that so perfectly summarizes both the Jack and Locke characters, and one of the central themes of the series of science vs. faith.”
6. Locke banging on the hatch door
For a lot of people, the end of “Walkabout” is one of the best moments of Lost: the shocking realization that John Locke was in a wheelchair before the crash, and the emotions that follow as we experience Locke’s transformation from a sad office worker into a confident hunter and fierce leader.
This is no doubt one of Lost‘s most iconic moments, but my pick for iconic Locke scene has to go to the end of “Deus Ex Machina.” In maybe the most emotional moment of Locke’s entire character arc, his spirits are high as he reconnects with his father, only to be conned into giving away one of his kidneys. In the flashback, Locke drives down the road crying and banging on the roof of the car, driving up to his father’s gates in an angry daze.
The Michael Giacchino score swells and we cut back to the island, where Locke has gone through something equally devastating, possibly leading to the death of Boone all while he was doing what he thought was his destiny. He bangs on the hatch door screaming, “I’ve done everything you wanted me to do, so why would you do this to me?”
It’s a sad, chilling moment where we can’t help but sympathize with Locke and get caught up in the emotions. And then, out of nowhere, the hatch door lights up. Locke is shocked and suddenly we cut to black.
This is a scene that perfectly captured how Lost can both overwhelm us with emotions and powerful imagery, and then shortly after knock us over with a shocking cliffhanger that keeps us guessing. Even 10 years later, I still get chills as that hatch door lights up, and an entire world of possibilities of what could be in there and where this show could be going lies ahead.
5. Make Your Own Kind of Music
This is maybe the best example of Lost totally screwing with us in the best way possible. To understand why this scene is so good, you have to keep in mind the context. A few months prior, the finale of Season 1 aired on television. After setting up the mystery of what was in the hatch for so long, fans were shocked to find the finale left the question up in the air as we were forced to debate all summer.
Now we get to the Season 2 premiere. Everyone’s frustrated with the series for not giving them answers, and wondering when the heck we’ll finally find out what’s in the hatch. We open on a man waking up out of bed and typing at a computer. A song plays as he takes a shower and makes breakfast.
What is this? We assume we’re watching some character’s flashback – Jack’s, maybe? After all, the language of the show has trained us to see water, beach and jungle and think “island,” and see beds, computers, chairs, etc, and think “flashback.”
Then, suddenly, things spiral out of control. There’s an explosion, and our character runs and grabs a gun from a massive gun cabinet. It slowly dawns on us that this isn’t a boring flashback – we just saw what was in the hatch, and we weren’t even ready for it! It’s an early example of Lost gleefully disorienting us to the point where many viewers, in the age before online streaming, wondered if they tuned into the wrong channel.
4. The Constant phone call
The Desmond and Penny relationship is one of the most unexpected joys of Lost. Desmond doesn’t appear until the Season 2 premiere, and was initially thought up as a one time character, essentially providing Jack and Locke with exposition about Dharma before running off into the sunset. His romance with Penny isn’t introduced until 48 episodes into Lost.
Yet their relationship ends up being one of the most affecting in all of Lost, and this scene is a perfect example. In the episode, Desmond’s consciousness is traveling through time due to funky electromagnetism around the island. He has limited access to a phone on the freighter, and so when his mind travels into the past, he desperately tries to get Penny’s number so he can call her in the present.
That leads up to this scene where the couple, after being apart and searching for one another for three years, finally hear each other’s voice again. The acting combined with the Giacchino score make it virtually impossible not to feel the absolute euphoria of being reconnected with a loved one, if only briefly, and knowing that they’re still out there waiting for you. It’s an absolutely magical moment which shows how well Lost handled its relationships in a way that never veered into soap opera territory.
3. Sawyer and Juliet/Claire and Charlie remember
This is actually more than one scene, but really, they both follow one plot line that continues throughout the finale, which is among my favorite things the show ever did.
The final season features what was known as the flash sideways: a mysterious alternate timeline, seemingly created when a hydrogen bomb went off in the past, where Oceanic 815 never crashe, and none of the events since Episode 1 of the series ever happened.
As we first experience the show, it seems like a kind of “what if” scenario to explore the impact the island had on these people, how it actually helped them, and how different their lives would be without it. Instead, as learn in the final scene of the show, the “alternate timeline” thing was a complete red herring. The flash sideways is really the afterlife – or rather, a pre-afterlife that you go to after you die before moving on to whatever comes next.
But nobody does it alone, and in these two scenes, the characters as “awakened” and remember their previous life, and suddenly all the memories they shared with this person come flooding back. This happens a bunch of times throughout the finale, but especially impactful is the reuniting of Charlie and Claire. Within the show, the two have been apart for 3 seasons, but within the show’s timeline, they have been separated due to Charlie’s death by decades.
And in another brilliant scene, Juliet and Sawyer finally reunite after her horrifying death last season. These scenes are especially brilliant and emotional on a second viewing when we know the true nature of the flash sideways. The show suggests that when someone dies, one day we’ll see them again so they can help us remember, let go, and move on.
2. We have to go back!
As far as I’m concerned, this is the best twist ever in television, and it’s probably the defining moment ofLost‘s history. By early to midway through Season 3, the show had sort of begun to slow down. Not that the early season was bad, but in terms of island plot, there wasn’t a significant amount of progress all things considered.
And then after a pretty kickass rest of the season, this one moment changes everything. Like with the flash sideways twist, we’re lulled into a sense of knowing what’s going on as we watch what seems to be a pretty standard Jack flashback, except this time he’s depressed and with a beard. We’re a little confused about where it fits in chronologically, but we just assume it’s sometime in between the flashbacks we’ve seen before. It really doesn’t seem that important, and at first is kind of a weird distraction from the rest of the episode.
But then Jack asks a mysterious woman to meet him at the airport, and Kate walks into view. My stomach dropped watching this on television for the first time, and the entire show changes in that one moment as we realize this is actually the show’s first flash forward. The castaways have gotten off the island. That alone is a lot to process, considering by this point a lot of people had dismissed the idea that the characters on Lost would ever leave the island at all.
But not only have they left the island, after trying to get off it for three seasons, they want to go back to it. It’s mind blowing to try to wrap our brains around what might have happened in the missing period of time to make Jack think leaving the island was a bad thing. We then have to consider questions from earlier in the “flashback,” such as who was in the coffin that Jack was obsessing over, who does Kate mean when she says “he’s gonna be wondering where I am, etc.”
It’s a brilliant twist that is easily one of the series’ finest moments.
1. Moving On
Not everyone agrees with this, but in my opinion, Lost ended in the absolute perfect way. It was an incredible emotional achievement that left me feeling satisfied and incredibly impressed with what the writers had accomplished.
It’s hard to boil down Lost to being about one thing, but if I had to try, I’d say it’s a show about learning to let go and learning to work with and connect with others. The flashback structure of the first few seasons serves not only to fill in our understanding of these characters, but it presents us with their problems that they must let go of on the island. Jack must let go of his desire to fix everything, even when it can’t be fixed. Kate must forgive herself and learn to stop running. Sawyer must learn to live in a community and let go of his anger. Hurley must learn to stop doubting himself. The list can go on and on.
As Christian Shepard explains to Jack in the final scene of the show, “nobody does it alone. You needed all of them and they needed you….To remember, and to let go.” On the island, Jack returns to where his journey began, having let go and having embraced something bigger than himself. After his death, he joins with the people who shared this journey with him as they prepare for the unknown and to move on.
Lost is a show that suggests that beyond all our conflicts, what’s most important is finding the people in our life who we care about, who can share this journey with us and help us – our “constants”, if you will. Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Hurley, Desmond, Charlie, Claire…they all do this throughout the course of Lost. They learn to let go of their past, to fix the island and themselves, to love each other and to be worthy of love, and to find their purpose.
As the script for “The End” reads, “Jack Shephard has done what he came to this place to do. He has found his purpose. He has found love, and been loved. He has finally found a way to love himself.”
The Oceanic 815 survivors prepare to move on as the white light surrounds them. Throughout the course of our six year journey with them, they have learned to live together. They don’t have to die alone.