This article contains spoilers for the entirety of Lost.
ABC’s classic genre hit Lost is remembered fondly in the annals of TV for many reasons. The J.J. Abrams co-created series (that was eventually shepherded by Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse) understood the fundamentals of its storytelling mission well. The characters were satisfyingly complicated, the philosophy was on point, and the mysteries were intriguing.
And *whispers* guess what: the ending was good. But we can argue that particular point some other day. Because right now, it’s time to talk about another, and perhaps the most important, reason why Lost was remembered fondly: its dedication to near constant shocking twists and turns.
As an episodic TV series in the mid-2000s, before the streaming binge model took off, Lost needed a way to keep viewers interested in returning for its sprawling sci-fi saga week after week. And the formula it chose for doing so was a simple one. At the end of each episode, a character and/or the audience would make a stunning discovery just as Michael Giacchino’s brilliant score would start to buzz before cutting to a black screen adorned with only the “Lost” logo accompanied by a crashing BOOM.
Through six seasons and 121 episodes, Lost built up a staggering amount of *BOOM* LOST moments that left viewers positively clawing at their skin to get to the next chapter. And oftentimes, the show didn’t even bother to wait until the very end of an installment to blow its fans’ minds. Some entire episodes of Lost are as shocking and unexpected as anything you’ll ever see on television. So let’s remember 15 of those truly stunning hours now.
Season 1 Episode 1 and 2: Pilot
Original air date: 9/22/04 and 9/29/04
The two-part Lost pilot episode (which was the most expensive episode of television ever filmed at the time of its release) contains as many shocking moments as some entire series. The 83-minute story opens as Dr. Jack Shephard (Matthew Fox) awakens on a beach to pure chaos. The plane he was in moments ago is destroyed, wounded people are screaming, and then some poor schmuck gets sucked into the still whirring jet engine causing a major explosion. And that’s just the first 10 minutes.
The rest of this supersized installment would establish many of the series-long mysteries that Lost would become best known for. There’s the looming specter of a monster out in the wilderness, a mysterious decades-old S.O.S. signal, and a rampaging polar bear in a tropical environment. That lattermost reveal leads to Lost’s first iconic *BOOM* LOST moment when heroin-addicted rock star Charlie Pace (Dominic Monaghan) wonders “Guys, where are we?”
Season 1 Episode 4: Walkabout
Original air date: 10/13/04
It’s one thing to pull off a compelling pilot episode, but then there’s a whole TV show to make after that. Every series must eventually prove that it’s more than just one good idea. Lost provides that proof in its fourth episode, “Walkabout.” This installment follows the mysterious and soft-spoken John Locke (Terry O’Quinn). Though he’s a capable survivalist and man of action on the Island, we find out via flashbacks that he was anything but that before the crash.
The John Locke of old was a meek pencil-pusher looking to go on an Australian walkabout to prove himself. Unfortunately for him, he was denied the opportunity to go on the arduous trip, which is what put him on the Oceanic 815 flight from Sydney bound for L.A. in the first place. And the reason he was rejected for that walkabout? He was confined to a wheelchair! Talk about a *BOOM* LOST moment.
Season 1 Episode 16: Outlaws
Original air date: 2/16/05
As if the central mystery of “what’s up with this Island” wasn’t compelling enough, the first season of Lost quickly revealed that much of the interesting bits about would come via character flashbacks. “Outlaws,” the show’s second James “Sawyer” Ford (Josh Holloway)-centric installment is a prime example. Though the on-island storyline of this episode is pretty straightforward (Sawyer hunts a boar that symbolizes more than a boar), the flashback is gobsmacking.
The hour opens with a flashback within a flashback to the time Sawyer was a child and he witnessed his father killing his mother then killing himself. Then later on, Sawyer travels to Sydney to attempt to kill the man who conned his mom, which eventually led to that murder-suicide. When he finds himself unable to pull the trigger, Sawyer heads to a local bar where he meets the provocotively-named Christian Shephard (John Terry) a.k.a. the father of our very own Jack. Lost would go on to reveal that its characters lives were entwined with one another in ways that they didn’t understand. But this first example remains the most shocking and unexpected by far.
Season 2 Episode 1: Man of Science, Man of Faith
Original air date: 9/21/05
One might have expected the Lost season 1 finale to end up on this list, as a finale is a perfect time to provide some shocking answers to some shocking questions. But in the immortal words of Lee Corso: not so fast my friend! The Lost season 1 finale is a good episode that features some shocking moments but they don’t quite rise to the level of *BOOM* LOST of other installments. Thankfully, Lost rectifies that issue with the superb season 2 premiere.
“Man of Science, Man of Faith” is the rare Lost episode with a first scene that’s arguably more shocking than a final scene. The episode definitively answers the season 1 mystery of “What’s in the Hatch” with “Some Scottish guy named Desmond.” After 25 episodes in the jungle, it’s genuinely unmooring to see the trappings of civilization inside the hatch. And it’s even more shocking when Jack just so happens to recognize the man living in it.
Season 2 Episode 20: Two for the Road
Original air date: 5/3/06
Lost had a lot of tools in its inventory to produce surprising moments. But sometimes when shocking an audience, it helps to have the oldest tool in the shed: a good old-fashioned character death. Character deaths were a frequent occurrence on Lost. By this point in the show’s run, it had killed two major characters and many more recurring players. The two deaths featured in “Two for the Road,” however, are particularly shocking.
This episode sees the return of Michael (Harold Perrineau) after his time with “The Others.” As it just so happens, his friends have a suspected Other, Henry Gale (Michael Emerson), in captivity themselves. When Ana Lucia (Michelle Rodriguez) confesses to wanting to kill Henry but is unable to do so, Michael offers to do the deed himself. But when Ana Lucia passes the gun over to him, Michael promptly shoots her dead, then does the same with poor interloper Libby (Cynthia Watros) before entering Henry’s chamber and shooting himself in the arm.
Season 3 Episode 8: Flashes Before Your Eyes
Original air date: 2/14/07
Desmond Hume (Henry Ian Cusick) is invariably involved in many of Lost‘s most shocking moments. Not only was he the show’s introduction into the world of the DHARMA Initiative and the larger history of the Island, but once Station Three “The Swan” went up in flames, Desmond received some temporal brain scramblies that tied him to the larger history of just about everything else.
We are first introduced to Desmond’s time-hopping abilities in the season 3 episode “Flashes Before Your Eyes.” After the hatch exploded, Desmond gained the ability to see into both the past and the future, the latter of which culminates in the realization that poor Charlie is destined to die. To this point in its run, Lost had flirted with sci-fi but this is the first episode that truly dives into the sci-fi pool headfirst. It also serves as a precursor to season 4’s “The Constant,” one of the best ever episodes of Lost…and television at large.
Season 3 Episode 13: The Man from Tallahassee
Original air date: 3/21/07
The first half of Lost’s third season is understandably regarded as its weakest run, a perception that showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse largely concur with. That’s because the first six episodes of season three represent the last time that the show operated without an end date in sight. Thankfully, the producers and ABC came to an agreement to conclude the show after six seasons during the season 3 hiatus. By the time season 3 episode 13 rolled around, Lost was finally starting to get out of its wheel-spinning doldrums.
“The Man From Tallahassee” is technically a Locke-centric episode as it flashes back to reveal how he came to be paraplegic. In reality though, Locke, Jack, Sawyer, and Benjamin Linus (the aforementioned Michael Emerson a.k.a. Henry Gale) all get equal play here – and it rules. Somehow, the one question that fans wanted to know the most (how did Locke get in a wheelchair) becomes the least explosive revelation in this episode. In its place is the news that Locke’s father Anthony Cooper (Kevin Tighe) is the man who not only ruined his life, but Sawyer’s as well. Oh, and he’s on the Island. Oh, and Locke blows up a submarine.
Season 3 Episode 20: The Man Behind the Curtain
Original air date: 5/9/07
After getting that much sought after end date, Lost came to life in the second half of season 3. It’s just banger after banger here and one of the most shocking installments is undoubtedly episode 20 “The Man Behind the Curtain.” This is the first episode to feature a flashback to the one of the series’ most important characters: Ben. We get to see how the current Other leader grew up with DHARMA Initiative hippies and how he came to betray them for his new family. But it’s in the present where things really get going.
Ben has made mention of some sort of Island deity named “Jacob” to Locke. But surely, there is no such thing. Ben is a known liar and why wouldn’t he lie about the existence of an Island God to Locke to keep him in line? When Ben offers to take Locke to Jacob’s “home,” a cabin out in the woods, obviously they won’t find anything of note there. Welp: cue the poltergeist activity, brief sight of an old specter in a rocking chair, and a tortured disembodied whisper of “Help me.”
Season 3 Episode 22 and 23: Through the Looking Glass
Original air date: 5/23/07
We’ve chosen to assemble this list in chronological order rather in order from least to most shocking. But trust that if we were to rank these episodes, “Through the Looking Glass” would come in at number one and by a comfortable margin. The season 3 finale is a spectacular action movie of an episode as our heroes finally confront The Others while also attempting to make first contact with a nearby boat they suspect was sent by Desmond’s love Penny.
That leads into two of the most surprising reveals in all of Lost history. Honestly, if you’ve only heard of one Lost moment, it’s probably one of these two. The first is when Charlie makes contact with Penny, only to discover that she is unaware of any boat. As his capsule fills with water and he begins to drown, he hastily scribbles “NOT PENNY’S BOAT” on his hand for Desmond to see. The next, of course, comes in the form of the episode’s flashback, which isn’t a flashback at all. That’s right, friends, this is the “We have to go back!” episode.
Season 4 Episode 9: The Shape of Things to Come
Original air date: 4/24/08
The most surprising episodes of Lost combine the show’s mythological reveals with shocking character deaths. Case in point is season 4’s “The Shape of Things to Come.” This hour, a much-coveted Ben episode, features the major reveal that Ben came summon the Island’s Smoke Monster (or at least politely request its destructive presence).
The real shock, however, comes with something a little more traditional. When bloodthirsty mercenary Martin Keamy (Kevin Durand) abducts Ben’s adopted daughter Alex Rosseau (Tania Raymonde) and puts a gun to her head, he has a simple request to let her free: turn himself in to the mercy of Charles Widmore’s goons. Ben declines and just like that, that rat bastard Keamy shoots and kills a teenage girl.
Season 5 Episode 8: LaFleur
Original air date: 3/4/09
In hindsight, it’s safe to call Lost a science fiction show. For the folks watching the series in real time though, that classification took quite awhile to crystalize. While Lost had dabbled in time shenanigans previously, thanks to Desmond’s fractured consciousness, season 5 represents the first time that it indulges in honest-to-goodness time travel. And it does so in the most surprising fashion with episode 8 “LaFleur.”
“LaFleur” is the episode that reveals that not only were our heroes passive objects in the Island’s past, they were active participants. Sawyer, consummate survivor that he is, finds a way to incorporate his crew into the DHARMA Initiative in the ’70s. And if that isn’t unmooring enough, this hour’s climactic moment reveals that Sawyer and Juliet (Elizabeth Mitchell) are a couple! And a damned good one at that.
Season 5 Episode 14: The Variable
Original air date: 4/29/09
Interacting with one’s parents as young people is a time-honored tradition in the pop culture time travel canon. But while Marty McFly came dangerous close to banging his mom, Daniel Faraday (Jeremy Davies) somehow has an even more tragic interaction with his. “The Variable” serves as a spiritual sequel to season 4’s “The Constant” as Daniel’s background is revealed.
Daniel’s mother, the mysterious character known as Eloise (Fionnula Flanagan), always had high hopes for her son and guided him down a very specific academic path to become a scientist. Unfortunately, it seems she always knew that that path would lead to him being gunned down by her younger self on a mystical island in 1977. This show is wild.
Season 5 Episode 16 and 17: The Incident
Original air date: 5/13/09
Though “The Constant” is almost certainly the best episode of Lost objectively, “The Incident” is my personal favorite. It’s difficult to even catalogue all of the shocking twists that the show packs into this two-hour installment. The first scene is astonishing: the god-like Jacob (Mark Pellegrino) is finally revealed and surprise! He has an equally god-like, yet evil brother (Titus Welliver). Their enigmatic conversation on the beach as they await the arrival of the Black Rock and Richard Alpert sets the tone for all the madness to comes.
That madness includes: Jacob meeting basically every character out in the real world via flashbacks, Jack’s team in 1977 detonating a hydrogen bomb in an attempt to reset the timeline (and the subsequent cut-to-white cliffhanger), it being revealed that John Locke is definitively dead and a malevolent force has been impersonating his resurrected form all season, and of course: Ben Linus meeting God and killing God in the span of five minutes. This is just a preposterously stuffed episode of shocking reveal after shocking reveal.
Season 6 Episode 1 and 2: LA X
Original air date: 2/2/10
In some ways, the first episode of Lost‘s final season was just as mysterious as the first episode of its first. After Jack and Sawyer’s gang in 1977 detonated a hydrogen bomb in the season 5 finale, no one knew what would happen. Would it merely get the Oceanic 815 survivors back to their correct timeline on the Island? Would it create an alternate timeline where their plane never crashed? Or would it just kill everybody?
The two-part season season 6 premiere “LA X” reveals the answer to be: a little bit of option A and a little bit of option B. Indeed Jack and company end up back on their correct timeline on the Island. But also, unbeknownst to them, they end up in an alternate timeline where none of this stuff ever happened…or so we think. The Island portion of this premiere isn’t too shocking. It “only” features a mysterious temple and the zombification of Sayid (Naveen Andrews). But the reveal of a “flash sideways” universe is one of Lost‘s biggest surprises.
Season 6 Episode 14: The Candidate
Original air date: 5/4/10
Full disclosure: this is the last entry on this list. You will not see the Lost series finale “The End” after it. Our reasoning is two-fold. One, there’s no value in relitigating the Lost finale until we have the energy to do so. That’ll have to be a whole separate article. Two, save for one reveal at the very end, the Lost finale isn’t that shocking! It’s more of a warm goodbye to the characters audiences spent six seasons with than a revelation fest.
Instead, however, let’s talk about the fourth-to-last episode of Lost. “The Candidate” is shocking in its brutality. This installment kills three main characters, a record for any episode of the series. Sayid Jarrah, Jin-Soo Kwon (Daniel Dae Kim), and Sun-Hwa Kwon (Yunjim Kim) all perish in a submarine explosion and subsequent flooding. The loss of the latter two, a married couple and the show’s unambiguous soulmates, is particularly devastating and cruel.
All six seasons of Lost are available to stream on Hulu and Freevee in the U.S. and on Disney+ in the U.K.