My Thoughts on Lost

One of the American television shows that I heard a ton about but never had time to watch was Lost.  My wife borrowed the season sets from her brother, but only made it as far as season three before life took over.  During that time where we weren’t watching, fan groups and some of my trusted friends were still abuzz about the series, so when the complete series boxset came available after the series finale in 2010, I knew that it was a series that I had to invest in.

For those who don’t know about Lost, this post will involve spoilers.  If you intend on watching the show and want to experience it without knowing what’s coming, you probably want to stop reading and come back afterward.



What is Lost?
Lost was billed as a drama series, and ran on the ABC network from September 22, 2004 to May 23, 2010 over six seasons.  The show is centered on the survivors of the crash of Oceanic 815, a commercial passenger jet traveling between Sydney, Australia and Los Angeles, California.  The crash occurred on a mysterious, unnamed tropical island somewhere in the South Pacific Ocean.  The show was told in episodes that primarily focused on the events on the island, with secondary stories that amplified events in the life of the central character for each episode.  Lost was the brainchild of Jeffrey Lieber, J. J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof, and Carlton Cuse.

When I say that Lost was a drama series, that classification is a very generic brush stroke to apply.  On its face, Lost was a character drama, but once I got invested, it was apparent that the show was part-drama, part-science fiction, part-fantasy, part-supernatural, part-hero quest, and part-mythological.  The blessing and the curse of the show was that the mythos brought up a plethora of questions that spanned all six seasons before being answered.  It was both frustrating and intriguing, and that was what I loved about it.

The frustration was amplified by the broad spectrum of cast members.  In the show, of the 324 people on Oceanic 815, 70 people and one dog survived, spread across three sections of the plane.  Season one focused on the survivors of the middle section, predominantly Doctor Jack Shephard, fugitive Kate Austen, con-man James “Sawyer” Ford, heroin-addict rock star Charlie Pace, former Iraqi soldier Sayid Jarrah, paraplegic John Locke, lottery winner Hugo “Hurley” Reyes, construction worker Michael Dawson and his son Walt, Korean couple Sun-Hwa and Jin-Soo Kwon, fueding siblings Boone Carlyle and Shannon Rutherford, and Claire Littleton, who is eight months pregnant.  As the show went on, some characters died, others were introduced—especially after the discovery of the tail section and the people who were on the island before the crash—and links between all of the characters are established from their lives before the show.

What starts as a simple show about people stranded on a desert island starts getting into the science fiction within the first few episodes with the introduction of a monster made entirely of smoke.  Characters also start seeing visions of dead friends and relatives, and eventually discover a mysterious hatch in the middle of the jungle.  Also woven throughout events of the show and the characters lives before the island are The Numbers:  4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42.

As the show went on, we discovered that the survivors were not alone.  First, there is the hostile seemingly primitive group known as The Others.  Second, there are the remnants of the mysterious Dharma Initiative.  Finally, there are the almost otherworldly inhabitants who have a greater purpose on the island.

Why I liked Lost
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a sucker for epic mythology.  Lost had that in spades.

One of the major complaints I heard about the show was that it was a victim of meandering stories that eventually headed in a somewhat decent conclusion, and I think that was a benefit to watching this on the DVDs.  Watching without the waiting between seasons or over writers’ strikes helped me to see this more as a mini-series rather than a six-season series.

Seasons one, two, and three of the show were standard American seasons with 25, 24, and 23 episodes, respectively.  Season four was supposed to have 16 episodes before the Writers Guild of America went on strike, and eventually ended up with 14.  Season five went with 17 episodes, and season six ended the show with 18.  The latter three seasons capitalized on the fact that the showrunners limited themselves to six seasons, particularly after the storylines started to wallow in stagnation in the third season.  The ratings show how the show started to suffer in season three.

Lost had an overarching mythology that, once it finally got assembled, really kept me rolling.  All the talk of The Numbers and Jacob and The Man in Black really came to a head for me with the eighth episode of the last season, when the show finally explained why everything was so important.  Sure, The Numbers were retconned in to correspond with the remaining survivors of Oceanic 815 who were potential candidates to replace Jacob, the guardian of the island and protector of the world, but I didn’t care because it made sense to me.  Jacob was a man who was forced into a sacred role and immortality without a choice, and a mistake he made in the nascent days of his role unleashed a great evil that had one goal:  to take over the world.  To get there, the evil Man in Black has to kill his brother, which he cannot do directly.  The rest of it, from the button that has to be pushed every 108 minutes to prevent the destruction of the island to the quest to control the energy at the heart of the island speaks to me as the folly of man.

While a great deal of the show’s events relied on destiny and fate, that’s what myths depend on as well.  Epic fantasy and science fiction, driven by powers outside the control on man, be it God, the Force, or whatever you want to call it, depends greatly on the possibility that certain things are destined to occur.  In Lost, the candidates were destined to arrive and be tested on the island, and they were selected not because they were strong or smart, but because they were flawed.  Only a flawed person, one who recognized and was willing to improve their shortcomings, could fill the role of protecting the island.  More so, Jacob wanted his successor to choose to be the protector, not be pushed into it.  Jack chose to take the responsibility directly, and Hurley chose indirectly by his continuous empathy and caring for his fellow survivors.  Jack continually jockeyed for the leadership position with Sawyer and Locke, but everybody truly loved Hurley, and relied on him for support.

Religion and faith also played a major role from day one in the show, and I had no problem with the final resolution of the “sideways” storyline being nothing more than a waiting room for the Oceanic survivors before moving on to whatever lies beyond this life.  Simply put, it was a method for each person to resolve any unfinished emotional business in their lives and remember the most important thing they did in the living world.  Watching all of these people, who had fought each other while struggling to survive, come together with a common goal in mind moved me, and I thought the intent was beautiful.

But the thing that moved me even more was the poetic ending for Jack.  He ended his journey exactly where he started it, and I bawled like a baby when he collapsed on the ground and Vincent—the dog who always had a knack for progressing the storyline when it needed a motivational kick—laid down next to Jack to ensure his last moments were not spent alone.  I’m getting weepy even now as I put these words to the page.  When a television show or a movie has the power to move me to tears, it takes a special place in my life.  I can count on one hand the media that has accomplished that.

That was the effect that Lost had on me.  It wasn’t just a drama series about survivors on an island with sci-fi and fantasy elements tossed in.  When I partake of any story, but in particular science fiction, I look for how it applies to the human condition.  Science fiction has always been an examination of the human condition by use of metaphor, and Lost did that.  Each character was three-dimensional in my eyes, and character motivations were, for the most part, genuine.  What solidified the characters for me was not only that genuine flavor, but the fact that they could evolve in believable ways as the plot progressed.

I know that the writing wasn’t always stable, and that there were problems with retroactively adding new characters into old situations as if they’d always been there, but for me, what I gained from experiencing the series far outweighs those minor quibbles.
Lost is a series I will go back to again in its entirety, and is a series that I feel has made a profound impact on my life.


Ratings graphic sourced from Wikipedia, © www.mysona.dk.  Image is used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike Unported 3.0 License.
Lost title card image is copyright ABC, intended for use under terms of Fair Use for review of the series.

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Follow Your Bliss

Now, I came to this idea of bliss because in Sanskrit, which is the great spiritual language of the world, there are three terms that represent the brink, the jumping-off place to the ocean of transcendence: Sat-Chit-Ananda. The word “Sat” means being. “Chit” means consciousness. “Ananda” means bliss or rapture. I thought, “I don’t know whether my consciousness is proper consciousness or not; I don’t know whether what I know of my being is my proper being or not; but I do know where my rapture is. So let me hang on to rapture, and that will bring me both my consciousness and my being.” I think it worked.

  –Joseph Campbell

Star Wars Fandom and The ForceCast

The debate over the Star Wars Expanded Universe is a tale of us versus them that’s been raging for some time, but only recently has it exploded within fandom. The Expanded Universe (EU) matters greatly to me for reasons I’ve previously discussed, but in particular because the novels were my major gateway into Star Wars fandom. Unfortunately, that segment of my fandom has fallen under attack from people I trusted.

The ForceCast has become the podcast where there is no fan left behind unless they disagree with your particular version of fandom, in which case they will publicly mock and shame you on their program.

That’s why I have no choice but to stop listening.

Continue reading

Religion in Science-Fiction

Tiffany Vogt at Airlock Alpha recently asked, “Is Religion Killing Good Sci-Fi Shows?”  In her article, she uses three recent series – Lost, Caprica, and the Battlestar Galactica reboot – to prove her point. Now, before I go too much further, I have to admit that I haven’t watched Lost beyond the first season, although I do have the complete series set waiting on me to dive in. I also haven’t had the chance to watch Caprica beyond the pilot, although I do hear mixed reviews from friends.

But, from my experiences with Battlestar Galactica, from the 1979 and recent versions, along with entertainment like Quantum Leap, the Stargate franchise, Star Wars, and Star Trek, I have to argue no. The first thing we have to do is eliminate the “us vs. them” concept of religion and science-fiction. The important part isn’t the gadgets or technology, it’s the story. That’s what religion is based on, isn’t it? Read any holy text and you’ll find it chock full of parables with a lesson attached, much like Aesop’s Fables. Even the trope of preachers delivering the typical fire and brimstone sermon focuses on telling a tale and learning a lesson from it.

So what is science-fiction? It’s the same thing: A story with an embedded lesson or speculation on a topic with a setting different than ours. Star Wars has a mythic story arc based around the Hero’s Journey with a focus on the mystical Force, which may or may not be religious in nature. Did the element of the Force ruin Star Wars? No, it didn’t, and most detractors argue that the series wasn’t harmed until 1999 when George Lucas tried to put a scientific spin on it.

Here comes the counter-argument: Star Wars didn’t tell a story without the Force and then tack it on at the end as a convenient way out of the plot. Fine. What about Quantum Leap?

Quantum Leap tackled this overall concept by changing the setting every episode for five years, while skirting the core issue of whether it was God, Fate, Time, or a botched science experiment that was responsible for bouncing Sam back and forth within his lifetime. The only real matter was that Sam was putting right what once went wrong, and the concept of potential religious ties came second. It only really came to a head in the finale when Sam came face-to-face with what may or may not have been God, who told him the truth about his Leaping. What that a cop-out? I don’t think so at all. First, it was supposed to be a turning point for the series, leading to a sixth season with harder trials for Sam without a guide. Second, as a finale, it works because Sam finally confronts what’s been happening over the last five years and grows from the experience. He gained the confidence to take on the extra challenge that lay ahead of him, whether we saw it on screen or not.

Battlestar Galactica in its original form made no claims to be anything but a show based on religion. Every episode made reference to gods and faith; entire episodes were based around the Colonials battling an incarnation of the Devil and interacting with Beings of Light with god-like powers. The quest for Earth was based on divine prophecies and guided by the Lords of Kobol. The reboot may have been rooted deeper in scientific storytelling, but it did not refute the genesis of the story. Characters on both sides of the conflict prayed to deities and talked about faith. Roslin had drug-induced hallucinations that showed the Colonials and Cylons the path to Earth, and even if the quest was undertaken as a hollow pursuit, it became a voyage of exploration for the psyches of each character. Some characters gave up along the way, some tried to use failures and setbacks as tools for personal gain, and some, like Admiral Adama, discovered potentials that they did not know existed. Even the concept of “what has happened before will happen again” is based in mythological roots of destiny and fate that reach back beyond the religions of Ancient Greece.

Star Trek, which has always shunned religion, even took a stab at religion in a seven-year arc with Deep Space Nine, which I argue is the best of the franchise. I can’t forget the religious threads of Babylon 5, either, but having only seen the series once, I can’t comfortably explore that territory.

I think that most modern views on science fiction are built around the staples of Trek and Stargate, which have inflicted considerable and irrefutable damage with numerous stories of persons with godlike powers who are evil or corrupted, and I believe that to be one of the longest tentpoles in the “us vs them” philosophy.

Religion is, at its base, a mythology. Faith is man-made creation, built around believing in that mythology and adapting it to everyday life. Science-fiction, part of the larger genre of speculative fiction, is a mythology, whether it tells of trips through a portal that takes you to a different planet or a quest based on faith. I can’t speak for Lost, but Galactica has always been an exploration of the human condition through the strength of faith, and I don’t believe that following that exploration to Ronald Moore’s conclusion ruined the journey.

We’re not talking about proving the existence of God here, but rather the basis of sci-fi which was exploring new fantastic frontiers with the power of human ingenuity. I, for one, want to see more science-fiction that goes back to the human condition, which includes faith and religion. Removing faith and religion only serves to strip an aspect from humanity that feeds into everyday decisions, and an exploration of that result ignores crucial motivations. Faith and religion need to be a core element in explorations of human nature because they are a core element in each man, woman, and child, even if they don’t believe in a higher power.

We can’t ignore the science in science-fiction, that’s true, but not every human being is motivated purely by science, and I refuse to believe that the answers to the speculation will all immediately come from science. The religious belief that Earth was the center of the universe motivated scientists to prove it otherwise. The same stands true in part for scientists seeking life on other planets or exploring the mysteries of evolution. Religion and faith are powerful motivators and cannot be ignored or cast aside.

Books like Contact, a well-regarded science-fiction story written by a scientist, have made me realize that neither brute force method of science or religion have all the answers to the questions about humanity. I believe that an exploration based in logical reasoning with an open mind and a faith that not all the mysteries have readily observable answers will reveal more than either approach would by itself. After all, theological exploration by the main character in Carl Sagan’s only fictional work didn’t destroy the story. It made the story complete.