Lost: The Questions I Need Answered in the Final Season — Part One!
Since early October, my wife and I have been engaged in our Great Lost Re-Watch Project! We started with the pilot episode, and have been slowly re-watching the entire run of Lost, all five seasons. With the exception of the first handful of episodes, I had only seen most episodes of the show one time. For a show as complex and inter-connected as Lost, that seemed crazy! To prepare ourselves for the sixth and final season of the show, Steph and I thought it would be a fun idea to revisit the show from the very beginning.
Boy, has it been a blast!! We have thoroughly enjoyed our trip back through Lost. I’ll have lots more to say about the first five seasons of Lost in the coming weeks, but for now (in anticipation of tomorrow’s season 6 premiere) I thought I’d list the burning mysteries of Lost that are really weighing on me. Lost is a show whose cup runneth over with mysteries. In re-watching the show, it became clear that practically every episode of the series raised fascinating questions, an enormous number of which remain unanswered. I certainly recognize that there is no way that the final season is going to answer each and every hanging question, nor would I expect it to. However, there are a large number of burning questions that I feel really demand answers. Here are the ones that come to mind:
(Obviously, SPOILERS ARE AHEAD for the first five seasons of the show!!)
What is the smoke monster? Described as the island’s security system, the creature referred to as Cerberus (on the map of the island found in the hatch, as seen in “Lockdown”) has been one of the most confounding mysteries of the show since the pilot episode. We have seen the creature kill brutally (the fate which befell the pilot of Oceanic 815 in the pilot episode, the mercenaries in “The Shape of Things to Come,” as well as Mr. Eko in “The Cost of Living”), but we’ve also seen the monster confront certain characters and then let them live (Locke in “Walkabout,” Ben Linus in “Dead is Dead,” and Mr. Eko — at least at first — in “The 23rd Psalm”). What is this creature? Who created it? Is it alive? What is it protecting, exactly? Is part of its role to somehow judge the people on the island? If so, by what criteria does it evaluate people? (I remain confused as to why Eko was able to stare down the monster in “The 23rd Psalm” only to later be brutally murdered by the creature in “The Cost of Living.”)
“The Cost of Living” also contains the fascinating exchange in which Locke describes his encounter with the smoke monster (in season 1’s “Walkabout”) to Eko: “I saw a bright light. It was beautiful.” To which Eko replies: “That is not what I saw.” Nor is it the menacing smoke monster that we, the audience, have been seeing. Well, with the exception of the weird, bright flashes we see when the monster encounters Juliet (who was handcuffed to Kate at the time) in season 3’s “Left Behind.” What is the explanation for the vastly different experiences that these two men had with the monster? In season 4’s “The Shape of Things to Come,” Ben is able to summon the smoke monster to brutally destroy Keamy’s mercenary after the death of Alex. Just how is he able to do that? In season 5’s “This Place is Death,” we saw how the monster seemed to take control of members of Rousseau’s team (16 years prior to the crash of flight 815). It seems that the monster was the infection that Rousseau referred to so enigmatically in season 1. What is that all about? The monster can possess/control people? How or why?
Is the monster connected to the many visions that our characters have seen of deceased people from their past? In “Dead is Dead,” the monster seems to take the form of Alex. And in “The Cost of Living,” we see Eko talking with his brother Yemi, only to have Yemi reply “You speak to me as if I were your brother” — at which point we see not Yemi but the smoke monster in front of Eko. To me this implies that the smoke monster was taking the form of Yemi, which casts a whole host of other Lost episodes in a different light. (I’m going to get back to this issue in a moment…)
Who is drawn to the island and why? Locke has certainly made clear, since the very beginning of the show, that he believes it was destiny that brought the castaways to the island. That’s why they survived the plane crash unscathed, and that’s why they were tested by the island once they had arrived. In the season 5 finale, “The Incident,” the Man in Black refers to an apparent cycle in which Jacob has continually brought people to the island. (“They come, they fight, they destroy, they corrupt. It always ends the same.”) Yet, in “Live Together, Die Alone,” Desmond comes to believe that HE caused the crash of Oceanic flight 815, by failing to push the button (causing a burst of electromagnetism that fouled up the plane’s systems). So which is it? If indeed Jacob is the one who decides who gets brought to the island and why, then what was behind his special interest in the people on flight 815 (as seen by his involvement in their lives in “The Incident”), and why did he seem to only be interested in SOME of the people on that flight? Furthermore, what was it about The Black Rock, and Rousseau’s boat, and the plane carrying drugs & Eko’s brother, and Desmond’s boat, that prompted Jacob to draw them to the island?
Connected question: What protects the island from being found by those who seek it? We know that Charles Widmore has been searching for the island ever since being banished from it (hence the team of freighter-folk he sends to the island in seasons 3-4). But why is the island so hard to find? In season 4’s “The Economist,” we see Daniel Faraday conduct an experiment which reveals a significant time dilation effect between the island and the outside world. Is that “bubble” around the island part of what protects the island from discovery? Is that why one must stay on certain specific bearings in order to safely travel to/from the island? How does the island’s apparent ability to shift through space and time (evidently controlled or at least initiated by turning the big frozen wheel seen in the season 4 finale “There’s No Place Like Home”) fit in to all of this? And why does turning that frozen wheel result in one getting beamed to Tunisia (the fate that befell the unfortunate polar bear whose skeleton was uncovered by Charlotte in season 4’s “Confirmed Dead,” and of course also by Ben in “There’s No Place Like Home” and season 5’s “The Shape of Things to Come”)?? What the heck is that donkey wheel, anyways???
Why does the island allow some to live and some to die? Connected to these first several questions is the outstanding question about how the island operates. We have seen definitive evidence that the island can heal (Locke’s legs), as well as strong suggestions in support of that idea (Rose’s confidence that her cancer has been cured by the island in season 2’s “S.O.S.”, and all the times we’ve seen one-eyed Mikhail recover from being apparently killed) and we’ve seen it implied that it can also cause injury (the possibility that Benjamin Linus’ tumor was caused by the island; the many times when Locke’s legs have failed him, Jack’s sudden onset of appendicitis just as he’s about to leave the island in season 4). We’ve also seen quite a large number of people get killed on the island. Is there some rationale behind how and when the island sometimes protects its inhabitants, and sometimes does not? Does this have to do with the way we have seen the smoke monster judge people on the island? I’m also intrigued and somewhat confused by the implication in season 4 that the island won’t permit Michael to die (even after he’s left the island). In “Meet Kevin Johnson” we see several suicide attempts by Michael thwarted, and Tom Friendly tells Michael that the island won’t let him kill himself. How and why is the island able to protect Michael from death?
Who/what is Jacob? What is the nature of Jacob’s control/rule over the Others? Does he really give direction to their leader, or has that just been a rumor that Ben has emphasized (or created) in order to keep control? What is the deal with all the weirdness associated with Jacob’s Cabin, and was Jacob the shadowy figure who Locke saw there (in season 3’s “The Man Behind the Curtain”?) Whose voice says “help me?” to Locke? Why do we see Christian Shephard sitting in Jacob’s cabin in season 4’s “The Beginning of the End,” and whose eye do we see staring out the window at Hurley? Speaking of Hurley, why was he able to find the cabin in that episode when Locke was unable to (in the following episode, “Confirmed Dead”)? Can only certain “special” people find the cabin, the same way that only certain people can find their way to the island? Does the cabin move around the island (a fact implied when Hurley encounters the cabin again while trying to run away from it, and when we see that the cabin isn’t where Locke expected it to be) in a similar fashion to how the island itself seems to be able to move through time & space?
What is the story behind Jacob’s lists? We’ve seen Ben and various Others refer to the names on Jacob’s list(s) several times over the course of the series. Why does Jacob create these lists? Is there one list, or many? Whose names are on this list/these lists and why? At first I’d thought that the reason that the Oceanic 6 had to return to the island had a connection to their being on Jacob’s list, but in season 3’s “I Do,” the Other named Danny says “Shephard wasn’t even on Jacob’s list.”
Why did Jacob visit certain people who wound up on the island earlier in their lives? The tantalizing glimpses we saw of this in season 5’s “The Incident” are intriguing. Why did Jacob choose to visit these specific people, and for what purpose? Did his touch bring Locke back to life after his fall? Why didn’t he visit Sayid until AFTER Sayid had left the island? (And was he involved in Nadia’s death, or did he just get involved in order to save Sayid?) Why did he give Hurley that guitar case? Jacob gives Sun & Jin his blessing, and tells Hurley he thinks his ability to see dead people is a blessing. Are Jacob’s visits to the castaways all about his giving them his blessing?
Who/what is the mysterious Man in Black seen in “The Incident”? What is his relationship to Jacob? The conflict between the M.I.B. and Jacob reminds me of the Biblical story of the conflict between Jacob (a farmer) and his brother Esav (a hunter), which casts a whole new light on John Locke’s declaration (in the season 3 episode “Further Instructions,” when we see that he once lived on a marijuana-growing commune) that he’s not a farmer, he’s a hunter.
Who/what is Richard Alpert? I have been delightfully perplexed since his first appearance as a representative of Mittelos Biogenetics trying to recruit Juliet in “Not in Portland.” Why is he apparently age-less? (In season 5’s “The Incident,” he claims that Jacob made him that way. What does that mean?) What is his connection to/relationship with Jacob and/or the Man in Black?
On re-watching Lost, I’ve come up with a crazy notion: Is Richard Alpert the smoke monster? Or a manifestation of the smoke monster? (Remember above, I noted that we’ve seen the smoke-monster appear to take human form.) In “Whatever Happened, Happened,” we see Richard take young Ben into the Temple, the same place we saw the smoke monster drag that poor French dude in “This Place is Death.” Are the two one and the same? If Richard Alpert is just a manifestation of Smokey, would this explain why he never seems to age??
Is Christian Sawyer actually alive on the island? We’ve been seeing glimpses of Jack’s dad ever since “The White Rabbit” in season 1. Has Christian been reincarnated by the island? Has some other entity taken his form (which is what was revealed happened to Locke in the season 5 finale)? I just suggested the possibility that Richard Alpert is a manifestation of the smoke monster — could Christian Shephard be as well?? Or have the glimpses of Christian all just been visions that the island has given people? What are we to make of the time when Jack heard Christian’s voice through the ancient speaker in his Hydra station cage (in the season 3 premiere “A Tale of Two Cities”), exhorting him to “let it go, Jack” as Christian before did in Jack’s flashback?? How about Christian’s appearance in Claire’s dream in “Something Nice Back Home,” in which she sees him holding Aaron (who is his grandson, after all) and then follows him off into the jungle? Most perplexing is his appearance in Jacob’s cabin in “Cabin Fever,” in which he claims to speak for Jacob. Is Christian (or this apparition that has taken his form) really working for Jacob? Or is he an agent of the M.I.B.? (He facilitates Locke’s leaving the island in “This Place is Death” which sets up Locke’s death and resurrection and ultimately the murder of Jacob in “The Incident,” which seems to be the M.I.B/’s ultimate goal. Also, in “The Incident,” when Ilana and her team visit Jacob’s cabin, she states that Jacob hasn’t lived there for some time. Would that imply that whoever we have seen there — Christian — is not connected with Jacob?) Or is Christian pursuing some other agenda, separate from Jacob and the M.I.B.?
What entity was posing as John Locke in season 5? Was this the Man in Black? Or could this undead Locke also be a manifestation of the smoke monster? Consider the season 5 episode “Dead is Dead.” Ben attempts to summon the smoke monster from his house in the Dharma barracks, but it never arrives. What does emerge from the jungle? John Locke! Then, later in that episode, Ben seeks out the smoke monster in order to be judged for allowing Alex to die. Notice that Locke is conveniently somewhere else (looking for rope) for the whole time that Ben was being confronted by the smoke monster in the Temple. Is the reason why both Locke and the monster can’t be seen at the same time because they’re the SAME ENTITY?
Speaking of people with mysterious identities and agendas, who are the “in the shadow of the statue” people lead by Ilana? This group seems to be in opposition to Charles Widmore (since they try to convince Miles not to go on Widmore’s freighter in “Some Like it Hoth”). In “The Incident,” we see Jacob visiting Ilana (who somehow has been grievously injured, another mystery) and he asks her to help him, and she agrees. This seems to indicate that she and her group are allied with Jacob somehow. But who are these people, and what is their goal?
What is the origin of The Others, and what is their purpose? Where did this group of people living on the island come from? What was their original goal/purpose? How much of what we’ve seen them do over the course of the show has been at the whims of Benjamin Linus, rather than their true/original purpose? How can we reconcile the apparently rugged group of feral Others glimpsed in season 1 and 2 (I’m thinking particularly about the group that Eko and Michael see walking through the jungle in season 2’s “…and Found”) with the civilized group living in nice suburban-looking houses seen in the later seasons? Are there different factions of Others (perhaps a more tribal group headed by Richard, in contrast to Ben Linus’ more urban group)? Or are those more rugged Others just in disguise (the way we eventually learned that Tom Friendly’s beard was fake)? Locke’s accusation to Ben that he and the Others have been “cheating” by living in nice houses with electricity (in season 3’s “The Man From Tallahassee”) is interesting, especially since season 3’s “The Man Behind the Curtain” seemed to indicate that the Others only started living in those nice Dharma barracks after Ben Linus became their leader. Did Ben try to “civilize” the Others after taking over?
What exactly is the nature of the Widmore/Linus feud? We see how Alex’s death drives Ben to set out to destroy Charles (in “The Shape of Things to Come,” in which Ben vows to kill Penny in revenge), and we see the origins of their feud in “Dead is Dead” (in which Widmore is banished from the island). But I am still unclear as to what Charles Widmore and Ben Linus’ ultimate goals are. They both seek to control the island, clearly, but is there more to it than that? Is either one of them really a “good guy,” or are they both entirely selfish and corrupt?
Who is allowed to leave the island? Widmore is banished because he “broke the rules” by leaving the island, and it is implied that the Oceanic 6 had to return because they weren’t “supposed” to leave. (At least that’s what Locke believed.) But we’ve seen Richard Alpert off the island (when he recruited Juliet). We’ve seen Ethan and Tom Friendly off the island. Why are some allowed to leave when others cannot? Is the issue one of not leaving without permission? If so, permission from whom — Jacob? In “The Incident,” we saw that Jacob himself has left the island at various points over the years, in order to interact with several of the castaways! So what’s the deal?
Who were the ancient inhabitants of the island? Who built the enormous statue of the Egyptian goddess Taweret, and the Temple in which the smoke monster seems to dwell (seen in season 5 in episodes such as “This Place is Death” and “Dead is Dead”)? Is Jacob connected to these people? Or was it Jacob himself who built those places? Did The Others and/or Richard Alpert descend from these people?
Why can babies not be born on the island? It doesn’t seem like this was always a problem on the island, since we saw Ethan get born in 1977 in “LaFleur”. So did something happen to create this issue at some point after “the incident”… or after the Purge of the Dharma Initiative? When Richard Alpert shows Juliet a slide of a 26 year-old island denizen’s womb (in season 3’s “Not in Portland”), she comments that it looks like the womb of a 70 year-old. What exactly has happened to cause this phenomenon on the island? What eventually changed in order for Claire to be able to give birth to Aaron? Which leads me to a connected question:
What is/was the nature of the infection on the island? We saw that Desmond and his button-pushing predecessor, Kelvin, (played by Clancy Brown) were concerned about some sort of contagion on the island. We saw that they gave themselves a regular inoculation, and that they wore hazmat suits anytime they left the hatch (in season 2’s finale “Live Together, Die Alone”). We saw the Dharma folks administering inoculations to new recruits when young Ben Linus and his father first arrived on the island in the ’70s (in season 3’s “The Man Behind the Curtain”). We saw that various Dharma stations on the island (like the Swan and the Arrow) were labeled with “quarantine” warnings. We know that Rousseau spoke in season 1 of a sickness that infected her ship-mates. But we also saw that Kelvin was able to survive just fine on the island even though his hazmat suit was torn. We’ve seen the castaways and the Others apparently able to live just fine. And we’ve seen that it was the smoke monster, not any type of illness, that “infected” Rousseau’s crew. So WAS there ever an island-wide infection — perhaps something connected to the purge in which the Dharma folks were wiped out? (If I have the story straight, as revealed in “The Other Woman,” the Tempest station was used to release some sort of toxin. That’s what Widmore’s mercenaries on the freighter wanted to do again in season 5 to kill everyone on the island.) Did this toxin (or whatever) just fade away over time? Or was there never any sort of infection at all? (If so, then how did Kelvin get the idea that there was?)
Can the past/future be changed? Obviously, that is the big question left hanging by the Season 5 finale. Have the actions of the castaways in the ’70s changed anything? I would argue that the critical season 3 episode “Flashes Before My Eyes” (in which Desmond, after having turned the failsafe key in the hatch, wakes up in the past, still living with Penny), suggests that changing the time-line is NOT possible. In that episode, Eloise Hawking tells Desmond that, try as he might, the universe has a way of course-correcting itself. She illustrates that point by describing how she would be unable to stop the man in the red shoes from dying, and of course that point is played out over the entirety of season 3 by Desmond’s inability to save Charlie from death. This idea that the time-line cannot be changed is repeated by Daniel Faraday. In season 4’s “The Constant,” Daniel tells the time-hopping Desmond that he can’t change the future. He repeats this assertion in the season 5 premiere, “Because You Left.” Time is a string, he says, and you can travel up and down that string, but never create a new strong. “Whatever happened, happened.” But then again, in that very same episode Daniel IS apparently able to change the time-line, by seeking out Desmond in the past and telling him to go to Oxford. We then see Desmond in the future wake up having apparently just gained this new memory, which seems to imply that Desmond was able to make a change! And by the end of season 5, as seen in “The Variable,” Daniel has become convinced that human beings are capable of making choices that could change the time-line. I am eager to see what further wrinkles the show’s final season has for us on this matter…! But, wait, more thoughts on time-travel are coming right up!
What are “the rules”? Mysterious rules have been hinted at several times over the course of the series. After witnessing the death of Alex in “The Shape of Things to Come,” Ben mutters quietly: “He changed the rules.” When he encounters Charles Widmore off the island (in that same episode), it seems clear from their conversation that, for some reason, the two men are unable to kill one another. Is this because of the rules? Do these rules govern what sorts of actions the island will permit? When Jacob and the M.I.B. chat in “The Incident,” the M.I.B. speaks of his search for a loophole, which implies that he too is controlled by some sort of rules. But I wonder if the rules don’t have something to do with time travel. In the season 5 premiere, “Because You Left,” we see Dr. Marvin Candle, in the 1970s, at the point when the Dharma Initiative was building the Orchid station. The diggers encounter a mysterious pocket of energy, which Dr. Candle says is connected to the Dharma Initiative’s experiments in time travel. The foreman laughs and asks him if he wants to go back and kill Hitler, to which Candle replies: “No, there are rules. Rules which cannot be broken.” I have started to wonder if the reason that Ben always seems to know so much about everyone and seems to be prepared for every situation is because he somehow has fore-knowledge gleaned from the future. (How else did the Others know that they had to build a run-way in season 3 that would eventually be used by the Ajira plane in season 5?) Was Ben so confident that Keamy would not kill Alex because he knew, somehow from the future, that he would not? And when Keamy DID murder her, did that imply that someone had made a change to the time-line, which is why Ben stated that the rules had been changed?
What exactly was the “loophole” that the M.I.B. used in order to kill Jacob? It seems that the M.I.B. was unable to kill Jacob himself, so had to manipulate things so that he could get someone else to do the job. It seems that much of what happened in season 5 was about setting up Locke and Ben to make this happen. But why did Locke have to be dead for the M.I.B. to assume his form, and why did the M.I.B. have to go through the whole convoluted scheme of getting Locke to leave the island and then return. Wouldn’t it have been much simpler for the M.I.B.to have just found a way to get Locke killed ON the island? Or was there some reason why Locke had to get killed OFF the island and then brought back. Is that what happened with Christian Shephard? Is that the “loophole”??