With the sixth and final season of Lost about to hit DVD, the temptation to re-examine the series in one sitting is greater than it’s ever been. But let’s be frank. We don’t all relish the idea of sitting through 121 episodes of flashbacks and wry hints when we already know where it’s all heading. So, the question needs to be asked: can a series as rigidly sequential as Lost work in stand-alone instalments? Is it possible to revisit individual episodes and still be entertained? Well, we think so.
And to prove it, here’s our list of the top ten Lost episodes, all of which can stand proudly as an entertaining 45 minutes without the twin crutches of plot revelations and shock tactics to keep you hooked.
10. The Shape Of Things To Come (season 4 episode 9)
Season four of Lost started out at a fantastic pace, with the writers seemingly eager to fully explore the new opportunities afforded by the re-jigged flash-forward structure. This was perfectly apparent in this episode, in which Ben and Sayid, both of whom had left the island, teamed up to take revenge on those who had wronged them.
As well as touching on almost every element of the series’ mythos, this episode also featured the death of Alex, Ben’s adopted daughter, showing us one of the few times that Ben failed, and as a result, one of the few times he lost his cool, summoning the smoke monster as an act of revenge.
Oh, and of course, the sight of the master manipulator getting physical on his enemies (with a collapsible baton!) was a genuinely fun scene too!
The high point of the episode, though, comes in the concluding scene when Ben breaks into Charles Widmore’s bedroom and vows to kill his daughter. It finally showed us that, far from being opposites, Ben and Widmore were simply two sides of the same coin, both claiming ownership over an island neither truly deserved, and the rest of the cast suddenly felt like pawns in their game.
Original review: Lost season 4 episode 9 review
9. Jughead (season 5 episode 3)
The first few episodes of season five were a scrappy affair as the principal cast found themselves jumping back and forth through time, seemingly at random, heading towards their eventual destination in the 1970s. It was Jughead, though, which gave us the best use of time travel, having Locke, Juliet, Sawyer, Daniel et al repeatedly encounter Richard Alpert and The Others, revealing much about the past of the island and setting up the biggest Chekov’s Gun of them all: a nuclear bomb buried somewhere on the island.
At the time, the most surprising element of this episode was the presence of a young Charles Widmore, a man we knew would go on to greater things. But at the time, we didn’t know that his friend “Ellie” was Eloise Hawking, nor that Daniel was Widmore and Hawking’s son. So, in retrospect, the chance to see the family in action makes the episode worth revisiting.
The use of time travel would rarely again approach the kind of Back To The Future-style cleverness that occurred in this episode, and that makes it a unique and entertaining one.
Original review: Lost season 5 episode 3 review
8. The Life And Death Of Jeremy Bentham (season 5 episode 7)
When this episode originally aired, viewers were unaware that it was the final time we would see the real John Locke alive, concluding as it does with Ben giving John some of the answers and encouragement he was looking for, before killing him.
Locke’s death kicked off the arc that would bring the series to its eventual close, and his attempts to bring the Oceanic eight back to the island, no matter how failed they seemed, formed the character’s final significant act.
The episode’s brilliance comes from the way it takes Locke, a man comfortable and sure of himself on the island, and places him back in the ‘real’ world for the first time, where none of that matters. He’s got a mission, but away from the island, he starts to wonder if he’s no longer as special as he had come to believe.
Once again confined to a wheelchair, Locke fails over and over again until he’s forced to take the ultimate leap of faith, only for Ben to intervene in spectacular fashion. Gripping and sympathetic stuff, all the way through to the end.
Original review: Lost season 5 episode 7 review
7. The Other 48 Days (season 2 episode 7)
Early on, the idea that people besides the main cast might have survived the crash of Oceanic 815 was only faintly alluded to. So, it was a real treat when we got to see a very different side of life stranded on the island.
Compared to the familiar cast, the Tailies were struggling, under constant threat of abduction from The Others and endangered by their own mistrust and infighting. The concerns of Jack and his pals suddenly seemed quaint by comparison, as the Tailies start to go all Lord Of The Flies under the headstrong leadership of Ana Lucia.
The Other 48 Days was the first episode to put aside the now familiar flashback structure in favour of a chronological examination of a season’s worth of events from the perspective of these recently introduced characters. As well as introducing Bernard, Eko, Libby and Ana Lucia (all of whom would become important in their own right), the episode gave us a better look at new parts of the island, the Dharma stations, and the modus operandi of The Others, all of which we benefit from re-examining with the advantage of hindsight.
Despite knowing how it turns out, the group’s slow unravelling makes for a tense episode, while its summary nature gives it the re-watchable ease of a clip show, the only difference being that we didn’t see these clips the first time around!
6. Through The Looking Glass (season 3 episode 22)Three years after we were introduced to the Losties and the Island, this two-part episode finally gave us (and the characters) what we’d been waiting for: the arrival of a rescue party.
Of course, the rescue party wasn’t quite what we expected, and the episode’s true surprise wasn’t that at all, but the reveal that the ‘flashback’ for this episode was actually a flash-forward, revealing that Jack and Kate would eventually make it off the island, and soon come to regret it.
In light of that surprise, the events of the flash-forward merit an instant re-watch, but there’s also more to enjoy.
Charlie’s solo mission to the Hydra jamming station, culminating in his death, remains one of the series’ better attempts at a tense action scene, and the conclusion, where he delivers the simple message “Not Penny’s Boat” to Desmond, easily ranks as one of the series’ most memorable moments, as does Hurley’s surprise appearance in the Dharma van!
5. The Man Behind The Curtain (season 3 episode 20)
Ben was the fan favourite character we loved to hate almost from the moment he appeared. So, it wasn’t surprising that the first Ben-centric episode ranks as one of the greats. From the moment it opens with a flashback to his strained birth at the side of the road, 32 miles outside of Portland, we realise that he isn’t all he has claimed to be, and finally get a glimpse at the truth behind Benjamin Linus, as well as some long-awaited information about the Dharma Initiative.
As usual, what makes a good episode great is the relatable, human story at the centre of these fantastical events. We always knew Ben was a bastard,but did we ever suspect he’d kill his only living family and friends? It makes him a gloriously watchable villain, and never more so than in this episode.
Of course, there’s another reason to re-visit this one. At this point in time, Lost was starting to forge ahead in dropping some of the bigger mysteries into its plot, including the earliest appearances of Jacob and the weird cabin. Rewatching this episode means a fine chance to see how those pieces fit with the story we eventually saw make it to the screen, if, indeed, they do at all.
4. Across The Sea (season 6 episode 15)
Every Top 10 list has to have its maverick entry, and this one is mine. When Across The Sea was initially broadcast, it received nothing but disparagement from almost every quarter. Critics and fans alike poured scorn on it. And all I could think was simply: Did you lot watch the same episode I did?
The episode itself is set a thousand years in the past, and answers one of the series’ ultimate questions: who are Jacob and his brother, and where did they come from? The answers are unexpected and ambiguous, and yet strangely satisfying.
The mystery at the centre of Lost‘s entire mythology is finally explained in an almost fairytale-like fashion, as two boys and their adoptive mother are driven apart by the secrets they are charged with keeping.
The episode plays up Lost‘s core themes – nature versus technology, myth versus fact, faith versus science, good versus evil – and it does so without forgetting to place a very simple human drama at the centre.
At the conclusion, we see Jacob for who he is, not a god or omnipotent being, but a man, as flawed as any other, capable of mistakes and regret.
As I said at the time, if this episode had been the series finale, I would have applauded its brilliance, and having since seen the actual series finale, I’m more convinced than ever that this probably should have been it.
Original review: Lost season 6 episode 15 review
3. Walkabout (season 1 episode 4)These days, it’s hard to imagine Locke not being one of the central figures of Lost, given how important he became. But cast your mind back to the dark days of 2004, when Lost had only just begun and characters like Boone and Shannon occupied our thoughts. Back then, and for the first few episodes, at least, Locke was an enigmatic, almost shamanic figure, apparently holding a deeper understanding of the mysterious island than those around him.
Of course, in true Lost fashion, this feeling didn’t last long. There’s not a single character on Lost that seemed cool and collected who wasn’t eventually shown up as being as confused and frightened as everyone else (Jacob, Ben, Eko, Richard), and the first person to get this treatment was John Locke himself.
In Walkabout, we discover that Locke, the apparent wild-man with military training, was actually a cubicle jockey in a box factory, obsessed with war games and given the derisive nickname “The Colonel” by those around him.
Oh, and he was confined to a wheelchair. It was the first time a character flashback knocked us for a loop, and unlike many episodes, Locke’s story here is actually strengthened by the knowledge of what is to come.
2. Ab Aeterno (season 6 episode 9)
Richard Alpert was one of Lost‘s more intriguing characters, made so by the slow, deliberate attempt at building him up from a mere background player to an ageless and immortal right-hand man to Jacob.
In the season six episode, Ab Aeterno, Lost fans finally got the story of precisely how Richard became involved with the island, and it was nothing short of fantastic.
Let’s leave aside the fact that this episode answered a huge number of questions about the series mythos: where the Black Rock came from, how the statue got destroyed, how Richard became immortal. Let’s leave aside the fact that it focussed on one of the series’ most long standing and enigmatic characters. We can even leave aside the fact that it finally gave us a Lost episode with pirates in.
Even when you strip all that away, what you’re left with is a stand-alone piece about a man, torn away from his wife by the cruellest of circumstances and driven deeper and deeper into a mad world determined to break him. And somehow, he makes it out the other side, and finally gets the chance to speak with his wife one last time.
In focussing almost exclusively on Richard’s story, Ab Aeterno was the most cinematic Lost ever got, and remains as utterly gripping and heartbreaking as the first time you saw it, even on repeat viewings.
Original review: Lost season 6 episode 9 review
1. The Constant (season 4 episode 5)Lost was always at its strongest when it broke away from the formulaic interleaving of flashback-present-flashback-present, but at no time was this more evident than in The Constant, an episode which transcended both its genre and medium and which I feel able to say, without hyperbole, is one of the most satisfying pieces of TV that has ever been broadcast.
For those that are unaware of this masterstroke, the episode follows Desmond as he finds his mind untethered in time, Slaughterhouse 5-style. Bouncing back and forth throughout history, he frantically works to alert his one true love of his island bound fate before his brain overloads. He needs a constant, an emotional connection he can focus on that’ll stop him from being cast adrift forever, and against the odds, he manages to find one.
The climax to the episode is so cathartic and moving that it probably makes Richard Curtis jealous.
When it was originally broadcast, there was a fair degree of novelty in the time travel element, which had only been hinted at in the series up until that point. But even without that novelty to prop it up, it undoubtedly remains the best that an episode of Lost ever got.
It certainly helps that the amazing script heavily featured both Desmond and Daniel, two fan favourite characters who were, at the time, in their prime.
Ultimately if I could only watch one episode of Lost again and again, there’s simply no question of which it would be. The answer is The Constant.
Original review: Lost season 4 episode 5 review
Agree? Disagree? Defend your favourites in the comments….