Lost’s sixth season felt more aimless than previous ones. in large part, this was probably because the show is far better at raising questions than doing anything else. But the need to preserve a sense of mystery made the pacing of the whole season feel off. Parts of the plot felt completely stagnant, while other elements felt rushed and glossed over. And even though the season contained many good story elements, another pass might have made everything fit together better so that all of the pieces mattered.
And before we get into the details, I’ll reiterate that Lost remains one of my favorite shows of all time. So here are a few thoughts about the overall structure of the sixth season and questions the series left unanswered, slapped together after the jump…
Inconsistent storytelling and the attempt to try so many different angles than end up being dead ends are not just a weakness to the show, but also a strength. After all, Lost introduced time travel into the equation in order to show most of our main characters hanging around in Dharma Initiative jumpsuits.
Season 6 was undoubtedly successful in redeeming Jack as a character and making him interesting again. Matthew Fox gave depth to a character who had become little more than someone always making bad choices. Terry O’Quinn gave tremendous performances as both Locke and Smokey. Sawyer grieved over Juliet (even though she died far too many times.) As always, Hawaii provided spectacular locations and Michael Giacchino’s score drove right up to the edge of schmaltziness but continued to be dramatic, effective and epic. The sideways stories of Dr. Linus and the buddy-cop team of Ford and Straume needed to be told. Faraday had a glimmer of realization about the original timeline while Eloise was still working to redeem herself.
Most importantly, perhaps, for the show’s overall mythology, the season pulled back the curtain to see that Jacob, the main puppetmaster of the story to date, was also himself a puppet of the Island’s will.
The Final Layer
Lost avoided answering mysteries by simply adding a new level with some more compelling questions and mysteries. Ultimately, the question of “why is the Island special?” comes down to “It has a cave with something in it that makes glowy yellow light that’s good or can be a menacing red glow if someone pulls out a stopper. That’s bad. (But it comes with a free frogurt! That’s good. The frogurt contains potassium benzoate. Can I go now?) And speaking of Frogurt, we got a lot of Sideways Arzt, but not nearly enough Sideways Frogurt.
Here’s the case of both trying to explain too much and too little. I don’t think we ever really needed to know that there literally is a glowing cave of light at the heart of the Island that keeps good and evil in the world in balance. But we did need to know that yes, the Island really is a special place. The Island does matter. And it is a place where miracles happen. Whether this manifests itself in unique electromagnetic properties or a cave of glowing light, all we as the audience really needed to know is that John Locke was right. The Island deserved his faith. And the MIB really was monstrous because he exploited Locke’s faith. (All that said about the pointlessness of the cave of glowy lights, the scene in the finale with Jack and Smokey the Locke looking down the cave was excellent.)
And while some fans may be unhappy with the recursive idea that Island is a special place because it’s a special place, I’m not sure that we need any more explanation than that. The Island is a special place where weird things happen which many people are interested in and which set a story in motion.
Fix #1: Across the Sea should not have been the fifteenth episode of the season. Lindelof and Cuse apparently believed that they didn’t need to humanize the MIB until after he was thoroughly established as a monster by killing Jin and Sun. Or they didn’t want to reveal that the MIB was actually dead and the smoke monster is a manifestation of his spirit. But telling the story of Jacob, his brother and Allison Janney might have had more heft earlier in the season. Or better yet, split into two episodes. The first, coming early in the season, a flashback of those events from Jacob’s perspective (leaving out the part about him pushing his brother into the cave of glowy light and making him into a smoke monster.) The second, coming around episode 13 or 14 from the MIB’s perspective. Narratively, this parallels elements of the first season– the Sun and Jin flashbacks, where we saw events from Sun’s perspective (which made Jin out to be a bad guy) and then later from Jin’s (which largely redeemed him.) It also continues to keep Smokey from establishing much humanity.
This would have the benefit of fleshing out characters who lost much of their humanity over their centuries. It also would have more explicitly expanded the scope of the story by an order of magnitude. Even though Jacob and the MIB were at their game for a very long time, they were also mere pawns to the Island. This serves to expand the Island’s mystery and power.
Fix #2: Establish why letting the MIB off the Island would be disastrous. Ilana blew herself up real good to prevent this and Richard was pretty adamant about not letting the MIB get to the plane. Perhaps this was established in Ab Aeterno with Jacob’s analogy about the stopper in the bottle of wine. That wasn’t very convincing. If the big deal was that Smokey wanted to leave the Island, why did he need to kill Jacob to do so? Why was Jacob tasked with keeping Smokey confined to the Island? What’s the big deal if he does leave? Establishing some details of this in the early-season Jacob flashback (that Allison Janney selected Jacob to be the Island’s protector, the MIB tinkered with technology and the Others and that the MIB needed to be kept on the Island) and then revealing that Smokey is really dead and the smoke monster is some kind of floating malevolence manifested in electromagnetism and smoke might have paced this storyline better as an important part of Lost’s overall story arc.
Fix #3: Use more flashbacks. Season 6 largely limited flashbacks to a couple of episodes that were told mostly or entirely as flashbacks. But even when season 4 introduced the flashforward as a narrative device, the show mixed those in with flashbacks. The freighter crew all had some minimal backstory told via flashback. “Ji Yeon” mixed a Sun flashforward with a Jin flashback in the same episode.
Jacob, MIB, Richard and Dogen could all have had flashback episodes or flashbacks in episodes. The Jacob and Dogen flashbacks could have been merged into the same episode alongside an info dump about the theology of the Temple Others. Or the Dogen/Lennon flashbacks could have been used as misdirection between flashbacks from the main timeline versus flashes sideways to the alternate reality.
Fix #4: Make the time in the Temple matter. Tying in with my last point, why didn’t Lennon and/or Dogen have a larger role in the season as a whole? Even if we learn more information about the Temple and its importance to the Others, it still would have been somewhat mysterious, since, after all, it’s supposed to have some kind of on-Island religious-type of significance.
And after channeling the Island’s special properties through the filters of science with Faraday and the Dharma Initiative, perhaps seeing them through an institutional paradigm of faith would have given more balance to the science/faith debate that prior seasons set up. Some people react to the Island’s unique properties by wanting to study them or exploit them, others through faith and prayer. Dogen and Lennon could have given a more thorough introduction to the Other’s theology. Dogen’s story told through a flashback might have had more power than simply him sharing it with Jack.
And if not using the Temple Others to provide some background on the Others’ relationship with Jacob and the Island, why not keep Lennon around to guide the Candidates to the next place they needed to be, instead of killing everyone off in the same episode?
On another note, if the Temple Others were pretty established in the Temple in season 6, where were they back in season 5’s Dead is Dead when Smokey took Ben to meet the Smoke Monster at the Temple? Not much time was supposed to have passed between then, right? Aside from Claire adopting Squirrel Baby, did anything interesting happen with the Others on the Island between 2004 and 2007?
Fix #5: Pacing Characters disappeared from the narrative for weeks at a time. This might play better on DVD than on broadcast, but it would have been nice to see more of the core characters from week to week. Since the sixth season should play more as one really big story than the character at a time short story structure of the first season, it would have been nice to edit the episodes together so that core characters didn’t go weeks without any important on-screen actions. Ben, Sawyer and Desmond, in particular, were sorely missed at times throughout the season.
The Flashes Sideways
Ultimately, the sideways universe seems like more of a way of misdirecting the audience and bringing back fan favorite characters from the dead than a fundamental piece of the narrative. From the persepective of making the show, wasn’t it nice to have a way to bring back some favorite characters who died, like Charlie, Boone, Shannon, Ana Lucia?
And I don’t think that the idea of an imagined reality was a bad choice — coming after the time travel season, it does make sense to think about what would have happened if Oceanic Flight 815 landed in Los Angeles, rather than having crashed on the Island. But ultimately, it didn’t successfully tie into the main story. The stories in the Sideways universe, even the engaging and poignant ones (like Ben’s), didn’t have any consequences for the main storyline. So even though it was an opportunity for some characters to attempt to work out issues that they didn’t resolve on the Island, it didn’t make for great storytelling. The flashbacks in prior seasons showed how the characters became who they were and how they related to their actions on the Island. Did the flashes sideways inform action on the Island?
This may be the case that watching season 6 again, after knowing what everything means, might prove more emotionally satisfying. But did any of the sideways stories ultimately matter? Could they have tied in to the Island stories better?
If MIB somehow affected each Lostaway’s life in alternative LA to cause similar emotional issues as the characters dealt with on the Island, would that have been more powerful? If the sideways stories had more to do than just using near-death experiences to wake up characters to their Island life so that they could let go, they would have been more effective. And that doesn’t mean that the end result doesn’t have to be the same. If the characters come together to serve the same general purpose in the sideways world as on the Island and all come together at the Faraday/Driveshaft concert and/or Christian’s funeral and realized that the alternate world was a figment of their collective imaginations, might that have worked better?
But coming to the same conclusion, drawing the characters there in a higher-stakes manner, more related to the Island storyline — perhaps much more Smokey-related, with Titus Welliver as MIB in the alternative LA, might have made the Sideways world feel more directly connected to the original timeline and also given the season a more compelling sense of forward momentum. If both timelines were moving towards a similar big event, that might have made both feel more important and more connected. Giving the characters more active aim than simply having some realization that this was not reality would have given the sideways stories more relevance to the original timeline and connected with the audience more. And even if the Sideways world ultimately is still the waiting room at the end of life, what it’s revealed to be isn’t all that important if the world was used to tell great stories.
How cool of a scene would it have been if halfway through these stories of characters intersecting, alternate reality Arzt was killed by the smoke monster in Los Angeles? That would be one heck of an act out.
But in the end, it may be that there was no better possible way to resolve these characters’ stories. How else could you have had that last scene between Ben and Locke if they weren’t both aware of their last interaction in the real world timeline? If that’s the payoff of the entire Sideways universe, maybe that’s enough? While there were a number of good elements in the sideways storylines, I’m not convinced that this last season wouldn’t have been better focused as the Zombie season entirely on the Island.
Theories on topics that I wish were addressed more directly in season 6
1. Why did the members of the Oceanic Six time jump back to 1977 when the Ajira flight came to the Island, except for Sun?
I suppose that Eloise’s warning about it having to be “all” of them provides enough of an answer. It could have something to do with the way that the Island skips through spacetime and how you leave the Island. Aaron didn’t return to the Island with the rest of the Oceanic Six. Again, it goes back to the problem with over-explaining the nature of the Island. It has mysterious powers and it has its own sort of will.
Unlike the rest of the Oceanic Six, keeping Sun in the present day keeps the two characters apart who we, the audience, want to see get together. Sun in the present day, Jin in 1977 creates drama and it makes for good television. As far as story rationalizations, she had a constant anchoring her in the timestream when she passed through the Island’s magnetosphere. She knew that Jin was alive on the Island (having received his ring from Ben, via Locke.) And she was going to find him. But her assuming that it was in the present day kept her from skipping bodily through time. The other Lostaways didn’t have similar constants.
The Others all have Jacob or something relating to the Island as a Constant to keep them fixed in case the Island starts skipping through time. The Lostaways weren’t similarly prepared. (And Juliet wasn’t similarly indoctrinated as an Other. She got the Latin lessons, but may not have passed Othering 101.)
2. On Jughead, the Incident and Time Travel
Having Jughead’s fission core at the Incident boosted the electromagnetic flux of the pocket of energy underneath the Swan station to fix the timeskips to get our Lostaways back to the original timeline. Insert Faraday providing some technobabble about the Island’s energy being unbalanced when Ben turned the Donkey Wheel — that the absence of some Lostaways knocked it out of balance and when they didn’t all return together. The bomb re-fixed the Lostaways properly in time.
3. On Widmore, Desmond and the Island
While he was the leader of the Others, Widmore travelled to the outside world and engaged in it in various ways (including fathering Penny.) As a new Other, Ben became distressed that their leader wasn’t really in tune with the vibe of the Island. Charles didn’t respect the Island properly. Ben convinced enough of the Others of this and they all agreed to oust Widmore from his leadership and so he left the Island. Using information from Faraday’s journal, Widmore became a rich and successful captain of industry who was ever vigilant in his quest to return to the Island and oust the unrightful usurper from power. I suppose by the terms of his agreement with Ben (which included some agreement that their children were not pawns in their game), he was unable to do so directly. So, when his daughter was dating this deadbeat, Desmond, Widmore figured he could send Des to see if he could find the Island.
In fact, Desmond did find the Island, Kelvin found him, and because Desmond spent years in the Swan hatch, he developed some amount of resistance to iocane powder and the Island’s unique pockets of electromagnetic energy. Widmore learned about the crash of Oceanic 815 and made sure to create a cover-up in order to make sure that there weren’t other official efforts to find the wreckage and keep the Island a secret. Once Widmore found more information about the Island’s location, he sent mercenaries to the Island to capture and depose Ben (who had become a hypocrite in his own travels off the Island to recruit Others, arrange for Dharma resupply drops, so that Desmond would continue to manage the Swan station, which keeps the electromagnetism at bay.)
4. The Dharma Supply Drops
Who was supplying the Swan station with Dharma Initiative supplies in 2004? Was there a stock of labels left over from the heyday of the Dharma Initiative that the Others used to supply Desmond with food to push the button? Was the Hanso Foundation and Dharma Initiative still paying for the supply drops after the purge?
Perhaps, even after the purge, everyone who knows about the Island knows that Swan station system is necessary to contain the electromagnetic energy and that using the failsafe would have dire consequences. (It knocked out the Others’ communications with the outside world.)
5. The Numbers
The numbers stem from the Valenzetti equation.
When the candidates assigned to those numbers were the only ones that Jacob had yet to eliminate, those candiates were the human factors that fit the variables in the Valenzetti equation to save the world. The reveal that The Numbers were tied to the remaining Candidates was enough of an explanation for me as to why the Dharma Initiative would have found those numbers to be the solutions to an equation where placing those values for the variables would save the world.
What could have made this revelation more compelling to the story would have been to explain what would be so bad if Smokey would have escaped from the Island.
6. The Outrigger Shoot-Out. Who was shooting at our time-skipping Lostaways?
I don’t know about you, but I’d watch the adventures of Hurley and Ben guarding the Island. Or the ongoing adventures of Ford & Straume. Or Mr. Locke & Dr. Linus: Schoolteachers by day, crime-fighters at night.
Jace Lacob, Televisionary All of This Matters: Lost Questions, More on “The End” “Which left me feeling extremely ambivalent about the series finale as a whole as so much during the sixth and final season of Lost was riding on how well Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse could integrate that Sideways timeline… It was a touchy-feely and pat ending that didn’t sit well with me, given the stakes we’ve seen through six seasons and it ended the series on a bit too much of an uplifting note that felt a little too uplifting and buoyant.”
Geekscape: Top Ten Questions Lost Never Answered
Emily Nussbaum, New York Magazine A Disappointed Fan Is Still a Fan “I’m a serious Lost fan—I watched every episode, I recapped the show online for years, I’m one of the fools who combed Egyptology sites to determine whether that damned statue was Tawaret or Subek—and yet I’m also someone who now thinks of the show as a failure. That fact doesn’t erase the pleasure I got from Locke’s orange-peel grin, but it does change the context.”
Alan Sepinwall, Hitfix, Lost: The End: A Re-Review “Well, yesterday was a relatively slow day, and it occurred to me that a little over a month had passed, and I still had “The End” on my DVR. So I watched it, again. And I have a bunch of thoughts – some new, some not – about the finale coming up just as soon as I’m shot by a fat man…”