LOST: The Island, Smoke Monster, and Everything Else Explained

Most series finales are awful.

Seinfeld was absurd. M*A*S*H was depressing. The Sopranos didn’t have an ending. And [sigh] Game of Thrones didn–GODS, Bran did not have the best story, and that is not why you make someone a King, especially because he was the villain the whole time and they’re all going to suffer and die now and it’s the WORST!

I’m okay, really. But we need to address LOST.

Its series finale lives in infamy for its vague conclusion and lack of payoff. But if we’re telling truths, the problem is that most viewers just did not understand the finale. Which means they probably didn’t understand the whole show. I get that it was easy to miss big chunks of the plot–the seasons were spread over long hiatuses, and a swaths of viewers thought they could just jump into the show in the last season and fairly judge it. But the confusion has led to a lot of backlash and a thick tarnish on the show’s legacy.

So I’ve decided to put on my dot-connector hat and go through the series in chronological order. I want to lay it all out so that we can demystify the writing and pick at the show’s carcass for all of the answer morsels we crave.

First, I have a story to tell–a story that is the backdrop for every single plot-line and mystery on The Island. It’s an ancient story that begins it all.

[Begin storybook voice.]

Once Upon a Time, About 2,000 Years ago…

A lady, named Allison Janney, watched over a mysterious island with a magical light at its core, protecting the light and the island from outside invaders. Some such invaders brought her twin boys (whose mother she murdered). One of these boys, Mib, was clever but also devious and overly curious about the power of the light. The other boy, Jacob, was much more loyal, but simple-minded.

(For the sake of our tale we will refer to the “Man in Black” as “Mib”.)

Lost allison janney

One day, when Allison Janney discovered that grown-up Mib was digging a well and building a wheel to harness the magic light, she destroyed the project and offered some quick blessings on the twins. First, she used magic to prevent them from ever killing each other. Second, she made Jacob her successor as Island Protector and warned him never to go into the cave of light, for it would mean a fate worse than death.

Shortly after this, an irate Mib murdered Allison Janney. This riled simple Jacob, who flung his brother into the magic light cave, turning him into a shape-shifting smoke monster.

Through the millennia Jacob and Mib lived on (in a sense), hating each other. Various ancient invaders on The Island worshiped the Smoke Monster as a deity and sought to summon him, though it is likely that Mib could not simply be summoned.

The pair also had an ongoing tedious philosophical debate about whether man is inherently good or bad. This prompts Jacob to lure people to The Island to test their character. He has also been looking for his replacement. Mib has vowed to find a way to kill Jacob and any of his replacements.

The entire show is this–two brothers fighting, and killing, and searching. Everything else is a byproduct of these two ancient men.

Why is the show so confusing?

It seems numbing to boil such an intense and mysterious show down to two bickering brothers. Truly, had anyone known this at the outset of the show, no one would have watched it. The suspense was the thing that kept us coming back, and in order to achieve such elaborate layers of mysteries and contradictions, the writers employed two basic strategies:

  1. The show is almost entirely told in reverse chronological order. We had to wait 8 seasons to get all the way back to Jacob and Mib. It took 3 seasons to even start to look at the 1970s & 1980s Dharma era. The whole show’s flow more or less goes: 
    2004 > 1990s-2000s > 1970s-1980s > 100 AD. With a sprinkling of 1950s and 1860s thrown in. So when the plane crashes, we’re actually seeing the end of a story (well, nearly).

  2. Sloppy writing. I’ll admit how disheartened I was to discover that the writers never had a clear plan carved out from the start. They were pretty much winging it and stretching out parts of seasons (or chopping them up) depending on network needs. If the show was done by more thoughtful writers as, say, a Netflix series today might be, there would be a lot less ambiguity. Or that’s what I tell myself.

Let’s Put the Show’s Timeline in the Right Order

Pre-Jacob & Mib: Unknown Eqyptians inhabiting The Island build the Statue of Taweret.

c.100 AD: Jacob and Mib are born on The Island. Allison Janney is the current Island Protector. Within 30 years, Allison Janney is killed, Jacob becomes the new Island Protector, and Mib becomes the Smoke Monster.

smoke monster Locke

100-1867: Unknown crazy fanatics construct The Temple. Countless people are brought to The Island over these centuries, most of them do not survive. If they don’t kill each other, Smoky Mib kills them.

1867: The Black Rock, a slave ship, is swept up in a storm and mysteriously crashes into the middle of The Island. The same storm destroys the Statue of Tawaret. Richard Alpert is saved by Jacob and offered a liaison role in return for immortality.

1970: The Dharma Initiative pins down the location of The Island and is able to start ferrying its team to begin scientific research and build a commune. There are a number of inhabitants already on The Island who are opposed to this research team. Dharma people start referring to them as “The Hostiles”.

1973: Benjamin and Roger Linus arrive on The Island.

1974: Sawyer, Jin, Juliet, Miles, and Daniel arrive at the Dharma Initiative compound after being jolted back in time as a side effect of Ben Linus moving The Island in 2005. The five covertly join The Dharma Initiative.

Dharma recruits

1977: An electromagnetic accident happens at the Dharma station known as The Orchid, and was caused by Dharma scientists. This creates (worse) ongoing electromagnetic issues on The Island.

Jack, Kate, and Hurley return to the Island after a second plane crash, which sends them back to the 70s. Jack spearheads a plan to blow up an atomic bomb in order to restore them to their present (2007). This is successful. I guess. I mean, it’s also stupid.

1987: The Purge. The Hostiles became fed up with The Dharma Initiative, and murder them all with poison gas, except for Benjamin Linus, who joins The Hostiles.

1988: Rousseau and her science team crash on The Island. Soon after she gives birth to a daughter, Alex, who is later kidnapped by some Hostiles. Everyone on the team is killed (directly or indirectly) by Mib, except for Rousseau, who begins hiding out in the jungle.

2001: Juliet is brought to The Island for reproductive medical research at the behest of Jacob and the Others. She believes she has been recruited by a (fictitious) company called Mittelos Bioscience.

LOST juliet

2004: Oceanic Flight 815 crashes into The Island, at least in part, after Desmond fails to discharge the electromagnetic energy at The Swan station. 

2005: Ben Linus uses Mib’s old donkey wheel to move The Island and keep it hidden from Charles Widmore’s invading forces. This accidentally sends some Island inhabitants back in time.

Eight people from The Island manage to escape and return home in the present day.

2007: The group who left The Island in 2005 hatch a plan to return by crashing another airplane. It works, though some are vaulted into the past (1960s).

After a series of battles and convoluted missions, Hurley becomes The Island’s protector, naming Benjamin Linus as his adviser. They stay on The Island. The only other surviving main characters–Kate, Sawyer, Claire, Miles, Frank, and Richard–escape The Island permanently.

2010: With Hurley and Ben successfully managing The Island, the two recruit Walt–now grown and institutionalized–to join them on The Island.

Now Let’s Answer Some Questions

Jacob’s Cabin: Whose Was It? Who Was Living There? And What Was With the Ash Line?

The cabin was built as a private retreat by Horace Goodspeed, principle figure in the Dharma Initiative, sometime in the 1970s-1980s. No one lived there at all, not even Jacob. Calling it “Jacob’s Cabin” was a hoax perpetrated by Benjamin Linus to project the illusion that he was able to commune with Jacob and had special connections and abilities with The Island. This was all a con. The ash line around the cabin was most likely placed there by Benjamin as part of the ruse (it’s all in the details).

LOST cabin

What About the Pregnant Women?

We are told by multiple reliable narrators that women who conceive fetuses on The Island cannot survive to the end of the second trimester. But why? No one knows for sure, not even Benjamin or Richard. Hence, why they brought Juliette to The Island to figure it out. There are two logical assumptions we might make: The first is that the fatalities are a natural phenomenon related to the crazy electromagnetic properties of The Island (or, similarly, the magic light at The Island’s heart). The second assumption is more gruesome–that either Jacob or Mib won’t permit a child to be born on The Island and take out the fertile mama at the same time. Perhaps this is population control.

What Are The Numbers?

The writers didn’t bother to explain this in the show (‘cuz why would they? It isn’t like they’re an important plot point or anything). However, there is some canon material from the writers that does actually lay out where they came from.

Allegedly, the Numbers first turn up in a 1960s-era fictitious, long crazy-ass equation called “The Valenzetti Equation”, which tries to predict how much time humankind has left. It seems that the core purpose of The Dharma Initiative was to manipulate at least one number in any of the equation factors in order to give humanity longer to live. Hence, all the experiments. Just saving the world.

Plus, scientists are dorks, so they used the damn numbers everywhere–for hatch door serial numbers, the code to discharge the electromagnetism in The Swan, etc.

The Dharma dorks, apparently, broadcast the numbers across a radio frequency with the notion that once one number changed, it would be a sign to scientists and benefactors that they had succeeded. Which sounds pretty pretentious and stupid, but hey.

This transmission was picked up by some U.S. Navy personnel in the South Pacific and Rousseau’s crew. It was one of the navy personnel who introduced the numbers to Hugo.

Were they cursed? Probably not. But if you can have a smoke monster, then I suppose curses can be a thing? Oh, and there’s some malarkey about Jacob also using those numbers to label his remaining candidates as part of one big coincidence. But that’s just terrible writing and makes zero sense. Delete that from your brain.

LOST hurley numbers

What Was With the Hieroglyphics?

Aside from the writers being far too cutesy (and not planning ahead), there were supposedly hieroglyphics in parts of the Valenzetti Equation, used as symbols. Again, me thinks the scientists were so dorky, they just had to manufacture countdown plates that had such images.

What Was Going on With Libby?

I’ll tell you what was going on with Libby–sloppy writing. From a meta standpoint, we all know that the actress portraying Libby was fired from the show after a very public DUI incident. Libby’s write-off was sloppy and unresolved. However, we might guess that Libby could have been in the mental hospital with Hugo due to some kind of stress related to her husband’s death. Or she really was cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. After all, she did claim a lot of things about her past that made no sense, and she never admitted to knowing Hugo. Odds are, she was a disturbed lady who was able to pass as normal when she wanted to.

What Was the Flash Sideways in the Final Season?

Think of it as an afterlife waiting room. Each of the Lostees experienced their lives as they might have been without The Island’s influence, until ultimately they all reconnect. During the Flash Sideways, they were each dead, and many of the characters they interacted with (for example, Jack’s son) never existed, but were part of a sort of waking dream. Once the Lostees were able to find each other and connect, then they were prepared to join the light of the afterlife together–the implication being that none of them could find the light until they all found each other. The lesson is, I suppose, that they each mattered so much to each other in life, that to move into the light required their bond.

LOST ending

Were They All Dead? Was it Purgatory?

No. Aside from the final season’s flash sideways, the survivors of Oceanic 815 and the Others were not dead (unless, ya know, they died on The Island). The Island was not purgatory, though the show had fun teasing that it could be.

Why Was Walt Special?

Because he was. That’s what the writers have stated, and it makes sense. Some people seem born with supernatural talents–or so many people believe. Walt was one. The Others found him really interesting to see what he would make of The Island and vice versa. He most likely never did appear to anyone on the Island–not Shannon and not Locke. In each case, his image was likely used by Mib to his own smoky ends.

Did Kate Really See a Horse on The Island?

Maybe. It could’ve been Jacob. It could’ve been Mib messing with her. Or she could’ve hallucinated the thing–maybe even before the plane crash.

Listen, the horse is more about Kate having a form of spirit animal that watches over her. Take that as literally, spiritually, or dehydration-induced as you like.

Was There Really an Evil Illness That Took Over Rousseau’s Crew, Claire, and Sayid?

Probably not. Most of that “darkness” that they demonstrate can be easily explained by general psychosis, dehydration, and the power of suggestion. And let’s say this now–the idiots at The Temple who tried to “test” Sayid’s levels of evil were absolutely full of shit. They were so into their twisted Jacob-worshiping faith that they had lost touch with anything resembling truth or reality. And poor Sayid already believed the worst in himself, so he believed them.

That said, sure, a side effect of The Island’s light could be an evil that can permeate a person’s soul. ‘Cuz, sure. Why not? If that’s the case, I don’t envy Aaron. Mama Claire’s coming home wearing a really bad wig and ready to kill.

How exactly did it work for Jack to detonate a bomb and launch the Dharma Lostees into the future without anyone dying?

This is the one plot hole that just absolutely makes me crazy. I mean, I’m willing to accept The Island’s crazy-ass magical light, so the writers should’ve figuratively and literally gone back to that pool and used the light to get back to the present. Drink it, snort it, swim in it. If they must. Or have the Lostees reunite and escape, but all in 1977. Go watch Three’s Company and relax. Invest in Apple. 

Even if Jack is just too dumb to think of using the light, okay so he uses a bomb. Then they die. The end. Whatever happened, happened. They blew up. Kablooey. Dead. They can die in the past (look at Juliet). The Dharma Initiative was wiped out, too, leaving Jacob and Mib all alone on a glow-in-the-dark island until Rousseau’s crew turns up to get baked by radiation. Let’s hope the guys in The Swan patch up that radiation suit! Gaaaaa! This was such bad writing, I can’t defend it. I mean, how is it that Juliet can die and not come back, but the rest of them do? Com’on, writers!

However! I will note that this is easy to overlook if you just paste over this one episode in your imagination. Jack didn’t commit mass murder with a bomb. They drank from the pool of light and *poof* they were back where they wanted to be. Except for poor Juliet. She had nothing to drink and is still at the bottom of the hole.

There you have it! All the answers to a crazy beautiful show that demanded a lot from its viewers. If there’s anything I’ve forgotten, let me know and I’ll add to the answers. Or I’ll throw a Hot Pocket at you. One or the other.

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