It is generally accepted that Lost was a TV show that both amazed and frustrated in equal measure. Like a painfully inconsistent footballer or a school genius that refuses to apply themselves, Lost failed to maintain the incredibly high standards set by the show’s initial two seasons. Indeed, many casual viewers jumped ship either during the largely directionless season three, or in season four when time-travel shenanigans kicked the show into more fantastical, and more complicated, territory.
Those who stuck around beyond this, however, were rewarded with a vastly improved final two seasons but even the show’s most passionate fans, myself included, would surely have to admit to occasionally wondering if the writers were working on an episode-by-episode basis. This is a nice way of saying “they made it up as they went along.” Certainly at times it felt as if plotlines or events were introduced solely to spice things up in the short term, with no real intention of providing the show’s attentive and dedicated fanbase with an explanation. Executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse have even stated in various interviews that answers to “smaller” questions were forsaken to make time to deal with the show’s more pressing plot points.
For some viewers, the ambiguity provided by these remaining mysteries adds to Lost’s enigmatic mythology and provides interesting areas for fan discussion. But we’re geeks dammit, we need answers and we need closure and with no Lost related projects even rumoured to be in the works, it looks like we’ll have to figure things out for ourselves…
The Flash-Sideways World
Season six’s flash-sideways has arguably been the most misinterpreted element of Lost’s ending. Many people believe the parallel world represented a purgatory or indicated that the cast were dead all along. In actual fact, the Flash-Sideways Universe was simply a place where the survivors of Oceanic 815, who had forged such a unique bond of kinship, could meet one last time and say goodbye after they all died (individually) before “moving on.”
Sadly, this interpretation is probably only marginally less frustrating than the purgatory route, although considerably more sappy and the story would’ve probably been better served without this sentimental nonsense.
While we may know the purpose of this parallel universe however, it’s never explicitly stated just how it got there in the first place.
Speculative answer: Although the creation of the flash-sideways universe was left deliberately vague, most available evidence seems to point to the detonation of the nuclear bomb in season five’s finale as the likely point of conception. Jack envisaged that detonating the device would either kill them all or reset their lives so that their plane never crashed but in the end, neither actually happened.
But the script placed so much emphasis and weight on the consequences of the bomb that for it to have no significant impact on the overall story would be cheating both the audience and the characters. Yes, the characters were returned to their original timeline post-explosion but that was mostly a convenient plot device. Quite honestly, if the nuke didn’t create the Flash-Sideways happy-meet-up world, then Lost is responsible for one of the most underwhelmingly pointless nuclear detonations in television history.
Further proof in support of this theory comes shortly after the survivors find themselves returned to 2007. With Juliet recently buried, Lost’s resident medium Miles Straume stands over her grave and delivers a final message: “It worked.” She’s wrong of course, considering the intention was to ensure Flight 815 never actually crashed; it definitely did not work, however this cryptic message confirms that the nuclear explosion had consequences beyond returning the islanders back to modern day. And what else could that consequence be other than the creation of the flash-sideways timeline?
The Outrigger Chase
This scene from season five’s “The Little Prince” is a confirmed example of an explanation being cut from a script in order to make way for more critical matters. As recently as 2014, Lindelof and Cuse stated that an answer to this mystery was drafted but have helpfully declined to divulge the information as of yet (perhaps some bamboo might do the trick, right Sayid?).
In this sequence, Sawyer’s band of survivors are shot at while in a canoe, with the fight interrupted due to the island experiencing a time-jump. The mystery revolves around who exactly was in the other boat, as there were no clear antagonists giving chase and most other characters (including prime suspect Ben Linus) were off-island.
In the grand scheme of Lost, it’s not an Earth-shattering enigma but it is an irritating one. To introduce a new mystery to the audience and not see it through feels amateurish and implies a lack of foresight that is hard to justify given that the show’s ending was in sight by this point. The more cynical viewer could easily see this incident as an example of prioritising the short-term over the long; the gunfight undoubtedly adds to the episode’s tension and excitement but it simply doesn’t make a great deal of sense in the context of the overall story.
Speculative answer: Seeing as how the islanders were in an unspecified year during the fight (any time from 2007 onwards), the assailants could easily be future visitors to the island that had no previous mention in the show. However, the fact their identities were scripted and later edited out suggests an explanation more pertinent to the overall plot.
A potential explanation can be found on the Complete Collection DVD set which includes journal entries from the Black Rock (the slave ship Richard Alpert arrived on) as a bonus feature. One of the entries details a party of sailors leaving the main ship to get a closer look at the island and “exchanging musket fire with another vessel that promptly disappeared in a flash of heavenly light.”
This is unmistakably a reference to the outrigger incident, however, the debate lies around whether this DVD extra is considered canon and whether this explanation is in line with whatever was originally scripted and envisaged by the show’s writers.
Other possible assailants could be Claire, both unaccounted for and peeved enough to shoot things at random, or maybe the gunfire was from a brand new set of bad guys that the showrunners later decided they couldn’t shoehorn in.
It was foreshadowed, it was talked about and it was shoved in our faces like a big red flag: Walt is special. The lad was special enough to be stolen away by The Others (at Jacob’s command one would assume), he was able to appear to people, Locke in particular, without being dead, and he seemed to have a penchant for killing birds with his mind.
But when puberty hit, it hit hard for actor Malcolm David Kelly. While the show remained set mostly in 2007, time in the real-world pushed inevitably onwards and the physical difference between actor and character by season three meant that Walt’s role was dramatically scaled back for the remainder of the show.
Although subsequent guest appearances did little to expand on why Walt was special or what he was capable of, Walt’s story didn’t quite end there. Some fans may not know of a special (and completely canon) mini episode, “The New Man In Charge,” that was filmed as a DVD extra and provided answers to mysteries such as “Who’s conveniently dropping food packages on the island?” and “Did that bird really say Hurley?”
It also brings back Malcolm David Kelly as our favorite bird-murderer, currently institutionalised in Santa Rosa. Walt is visited by island-protectors Ben Linus and Hurley who want to return him to the island. The duo also confirms that Walt has a deep connection with the island and that the young man still “has work to do.”
Speculative answer: Walt exhibits his powers both on and off the island suggesting that they are an inherent part of him, much like Desmond’s resistance to electromagnetism or Miles’ mediumship. Unlike these characters however, Walt’s abilities seem harder to define, with a variety of capabilities, perhaps explaining why everyone deemed him to be so “special.” Furthermore, in the post-series mini-episode, Hurley says he wants to talk to Walt “about a job,” the implication being that Hurley wants Walt as his successor in protecting the island.
Interestingly, in the final episode’s infamous church scene, Walt is notable by his absence. In all likelihood, this was a casting decision (his father isn’t there either). However, it’s just possible that there’s a little more behind this. The flash-sideways was, of course, revealed to be a place for the Losties to meet up after death to say goodbye and whatnot. If Walt isn’t there, perhaps Walt simply doesn’t die. It would be somewhat poetic that the reason he is considered special is that his abilities and affinity with the island mean he could take the job of protector on a permanent basis.
The Relationship Between The Island And The ‘Real World’
A difficult one this. Too much explanation as to the exact nature of the island would’ve killed a large part of the show’s intrigue in the same way The Phantom Menace did for the Force with its Midichlorians. However, when the island begins to disintegrate in Season Six finale, The End, the sense of doom and destruction is lessened by the fact the audience has no clear idea what the consequences of the island’s demise would be.
In “Ab Aeterno,” Jacob offers up the “bottle and cork” analogy: the island is a cork that stops evil (wine) from escaping and while some interpret this as a reference to the real-life stone cork that Jack has to plug back into its hole in the final episode, it could also be a metaphor for the island acting as a prison for the smoke monster who we know wants to escape.
The other significant explanation as to the island’s purpose comes from the Mother (we’ll get to her later) who describes the Heart of the Island as “life, death and rebirth.” Literally couldn’t have been more vague.
Speculative answer: We can be fairly certain that the fates of the island and the wider world are tied together, otherwise it wouldn’t need protecting so vigorously. But the exact nature of the consequences should the island be destroyed depend on which explanation you put more value in.
If Jacob’s cork metaphor is what you go for, then had the island crumbled into the sea in “The End,” a great evil would’ve been released into the world; perhaps the evil that was responsible for creating the smoke monster or perhaps just a dangerous wave of electromagnetism.
If however, you choose to accept the Mother’s explanation, then surely the end of the island would mean the end of the world due to the source of life and death ceasing to exist. This idea is reinforced further when the ever-cryptic woman tells her two adopted sons that if the light in the Heart of the Island goes out “it goes out everywhere.” If this is indeed the case, the final episode’s title, “The End,” suddenly takes on a more sinister meaning.
So Was Desmond Really Saving The World In The Hatch?
It certainly looks that way. Much of Season 2 revolved around whether inputting The Numbers every 108 minutes was an elaborate experiment designed by The Dharma Initiative or not; a debate that ended in “Live Together, Die Alone” when Desmond was forced to use his Failsafe Key to prevent an impending electromagnetic disaster.
At the time, it seemed as though he’d managed to save the island and everyone on it but as the show’s secrets became clearer, Desmond’s actions turned out to be more heroic than first appeared. It’s certain that failure to input the numbers would have resulted in the island being destroyed or at least severely damaged and as we established above, this would have been bad news for the rest of the world.
The conclusion therefore has to be that not only did Desmond save the world when he used his Failsafe, he saved the world every 108 minutes for just over three years, something that was never really picked up on in the show itself. Cheers Brother!
The Man In The Cabin
In “The Man Behind The Curtain,” viewers had their first glimpse of who they assumed was the elusive Jacob. A man with long hair and a beard, looking suspiciously like Jeff Lebowski, appears to Locke and Ben in the cabin and seems to exhibit great, mysterious powers by moving objects and throwing Ben across the room. When Jacob is introduced formally in a much later episode however, he looks a completely different man, begging the question of who exactly Locke saw in the cabin.
Speculative answer: There are two different possibilities for this. The first is simply that the mysterious bearded figure was intended to be Jacob before actor Mark Pellegrino was cast in the role; the appearance is very brief after all.
The second theory, however, fits more neatly into the show’s mythology. We know that at some point, the Man In Black took up residence inside the Cabin and we also know that, unlike Jacob, the Man In Black has the ability to change his appearance to resemble the deceased. It’s entirely feasible therefore that the figure Locke saw was not Jacob at all but his evil brother taking the form of a bearded, long-dead island resident. This theory would also explain the hostility shown to Locke and Ben during their visit. Jacob’s a nice guy, he wouldn’t throw someone across a room now would he?
Going into Lost’s final season, some of the big remaining questions were who exactly Jacob and the Man In Black were, where they came from and what their purpose was? These questions were answered in “Across The Sea,” however they were answered by introducing yet another mysterious, omnipotent character with unknown origins in the form of the two brothers’ adoptive Mother.
Precious little information is given about this pivotal character other than she landed on the island by accident and later became its protector. She does however, utter one of the most significant lines of the entire show, telling Jacob’s birth mother “every question you ask will only lead to more questions”; a clear message from Lost’s creators to its audience.
The episode itself came in for much criticism, some claimed that it revealed too much and devalued the island’s mystique, whilst others attacked the vague nature of the explanations offered, pointing out that the episode probably created more mysteries than it solved.
Speculative answer: There are very few breadcrumbs to follow with this mystery. It’s unclear whether the Mother was the original protector of the island or whether she took over from someone else, although we do know that she, like Jacob, was a normal person before taking on the job.
One area of intrigue, however, is an off-camera incident whereby the Mother massacres a large group of people before filling an entire empty well with dirt, all in an inhumanly quick time. These abilities have more in common with the Smoke Monster than any power Jacob displays, suggesting that perhaps the Mother was both the island’s protector and the Black Smoke.
It’s an interesting theory, as it also accounts for her often malevolent nature but unfortunately, it doesn’t help explain the extent of her relationship with the island.
The Cork in The Heart of the Island
Although the Heart of the Island and its electromagnetic properties are natural occurrences, the stone cork is very obviously not due to its design and clear hieroglyphic engravings. Publisher Dorling Kindersley’s official Lost Encyclopedia lists these markings as being Egyptian and Cuneiform (super, super old) which gives us some idea who was responsible for its creation. But if the cork is man-made and removing it results in global catastrophe, there is clearly a story behind how the electromagnetic death-hole was first plugged and what necessitated this measure in the first place.
Speculative answer: Prepare for a miracle because Carlton Cuse has actually expanded on this mystery in his audio commentary for the “Across The Sea” episode. Cuse states that it would be an “incredibly likely deduction” that the cork was built after the Man In Black fell into the Heart and became the Black Smoke, a claim that has a wide range of implications for the show’s mythology.
Firstly, if the Mother was in the role of protector before the cork was created, the protector’s purpose cannot simply be to stop people from removing it. Nor can the island simply be a “stopper” to prevent the release of electromagnetic evil into the wider world. At one point in “Across The Sea” Mother heavily implies that her role is to stop visitors to the island from using the light found at the Heart for their own ends. It would be entirely feasible that this is what the role of protector was originally intended for.
Secondly, we previously hypothesised that Jacob’s “bottle and cork” metaphor was either referring to the literal stone cork or to the island and its protector imprisoning the Smoke Monster. Perhaps, however, these two scenarios are one and the same. If the Man In Black’s transformation was the reason behind the need for a big stone cork, could the Black Smoke be a physical manifestation of the “death” that according to the Mother’s description, is a part of what makes up the Heart of the Island.
And thus our foray into the remaining mysteries of Lost comes to an end. Undoubtedly there are more points for discussion than just the ones covered here. ‘Who killed the remaining Ajira flight passengers?’ and ‘Who built the Lamp Post station?’ are two unanswered questions that spring to mind but that unfortunately have very little in the way of useful clues.
At times, it can seem a disappointment that a TV show many people invested a great deal of time in ended without wrapping up all of the details. But it’s a testament to the show’s originality and legacy that almost five years after its last episode, Lost is still being talked about and analysed. Will this landmark piece of television ever be revisited on screen? At the moment it doesn’t look likely, however if a new project was announced, there’s very clearly still plenty of ground to cover…