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”.)
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:
- 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).
- 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.