Daniel White can get lost... what? Oh, sorry, that's "get" as in understand and "Lost" as in the classic TV series. My bad. Daniel White looks back at the show (with lots of spoilers)...
I always try and write reviews so that they convey my feelings and evidence them but don't give too much of the plot twists or secrets away. I need to write about Lost but to do so without ruining any of the shock and revelations is almost impossible. So be warned, this article contains spoilers. [See? Told you - Ed]
I might have known that any show helmed by J J Abrams and spanning 6 series, 120 episodes, was going to be complicated but equally gripping. Lost ran from 2004 until 2010 and is constantly ranked as one of the greatest shows of all time, some claim!
When Oceanic Flight 815 crashes on an isolated island, the survivors must find a way to band together and hope that they are rescued. So far, so Lord of The Flies and every other "stuck on an island in the middle of nowhere" story! But there is so much more to Lost than just a run of the mill rescue from an island kinda trope. Here is storytelling at its very best because it takes the time to invest in its characters and, by extension, allows you into their world and their past. As a result you really do care what happens to all of them and what happens needs to be seen rather than explained. Therein lies the other issue with writing about Lost. I can talk to you about the characters, about the betrayals, found love and the many threats endured. I can describe how I felt when a beloved character dies or how I felt when love was rekindled after all hope had gone. I can explain these things but you have to really live them to know what I mean. Lost is more than just another TV show because it is so well written that you are with the characters on the island.
In order to really connect with a character you have to understand what makes them who they are. What events led them to the place they are at any point. If this is done badly it can lead to tedious amounts of back story or dialogue before the plot can be advanced or developed. The brilliance of Lost can be seen in that the characters back story is shown whilst advancing the plot at the same time. You learn more about the characters as the series progresses and you discover more about their motivations and why they react as they do. Events in the characters past are given the same treatment but sometimes what you think you knew turns about to be only a fraction of the full story and as the characters open up more and more, connections are made that frame or reframe the past. I need to give an example of this.
When we first meet Sawyer he isn't a likeable character. Self motivated and only focused on his own survival he will con and embezzle what he needs from anyone. Sawyer alienates himself from the rest of the survivors but that doesn't bother him because he trusts no one but himself. Through the first series we are shown his back story and how he became the person he has. Through the tragic and violent loss of his parents he is driven by revenge to seek out the conman who caused their deaths by his actions. Sawyer is damaged, hurting and closed off to avoid any further emotional pain, who cant relate to that? As events unfold, Sawyer changes and what we know about him changes. This is the case with all the characters on the Island and, in some instances, more than once.
Lost is exceptional in that it interweaves intense character driven story lines with a supernatural almost mythological element which lifts the series to a level all on it's own. The island that Oceanic 815 has crashed on is no ordinary island and this is where things get complicated. We discover that the island has a natural power which is both destructive and life sustaining. We also discover that this force is protected by another group of people on the island, called 'The Others" In Later series the shadowy organisation known as 'The Dharma Initiative' are revealed as a third group and both have interests in the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815.
Nothing is what it seems in Lost and neither does time behave the same way or indeed in the same order. Nothing in Lost is linear and as characters move into the past or the future it becomes obvious why the programme was named Lost. I believe that someone who is familiar with series such as Doctor Who or Quantum Leap would be able to understand the events as they unfold. Everything that happens on the island happens for a reason and the effects of actions taken have far reaching consequences. The intriguing element is that not all the group are aware of the true nature of the island or the forces that are in play and there are moments where you find yourself screaming at the television because you know something they don't. The moment when Michael's son is kidnapped from the raft is heartbreaking but not least because we know he is alive and yet Michael is deep in grief. The time jumps are revealed to the audience by flash backs, flash forwards and in the final series flash sideways. As the past is changed and the future split into two realities nothing is certain and each individual must follow their own path of self discovery. But what the island has planned for them doesn't always involve free will and almost always is at odds with their own plans and wishes.
When we first meet Locke he seems different from the rest of the survivors. He deliberately keeps himself away from everyone else, not to say he doesn't play his part but emotionally he doesn't open up to others. We learn from flashbacks that Locke had been betrayed and disabled by his father (who he never knew growing up) Locke is fractured and drifting in life without purpose or any real self identity. He is returning on Oceanic 815 from a failed walkabout in Australia to attempt to discover who he is. Locke discovers meaning and purpose on the island and whilst he begins by using others weaknesses and secrets to further his own position (something which puts him at odds with Jack) he slowly begins to realise why the island chose him. Whilst the majority of the other survivors are desperately trying to find a way off the island, Locke never wanted to leave. Disabled as a result of his 'accident' he is now able to walk and believes that leaving the island will mean he is disabled again. But Locke's impairment is so much more than physical, emotionally and mentally Locke is unable to conceive of returning to an empty 'lost' existence.
When Locke discover the hatch and that a button must be pressed every 108 minutes or risk certain world wide destruction he has found a purpose in his life he never knew before. With no evidence to suggest anything will happen if the button isn't pressed and it looking more likely that it was a Dharma Initiative experiment, Locke's position increasingly isolates him from the group. Locke's belief is destroyed when he starts to believe that the button doesn't actually serve any purpose other than provide the Dharma Initiative with test subjects, leads him to forcing the button to be left and the destruction of the hatch (the discharge of electro magnetic forces was in reality why the button needed to be pressed.) People have always betrayed or let Locke down so he trusts only himself but will form alliances when it suits his purpose. Locke's character development can be traced as one of self discovery but also that to truly live he has to let his barriers down and support others. His ultimate self sacrifice to enable others to return to the island (albeit rather enforced by John) demonstrates that Locke is not the man who crashed on the island months before.
Jack is a complete contract to Locke, an accomplished spinal surgeon, Jack is confident, intelligent and the natural leader for the survivors. It is Jack that saves many of the injured passengers immediately after the plane crash and he brings the group together. Deeply caring and emotionally supportive, Jack continues to lead and support the group through the challenges during their island stay. Jack's moral integrity and sense of fairness earns hims the respect and trust of the group and yet Jack too is incredibly lost. Jack is returning from Australia with the body of his father, a father who is was completely estranged from. Jack spent the whole of his life attempting to gain his fathers respect and to prove to him that he was the man he was brought up to be. Jack cannot deal with failure and his inability to fix or save anyone and it's his need to mend people that causes much of his anxiety. Being trapped on an Island where so much is unseen, unexplainable and out of his control is unsettling for Jack but it also, ultimately, allows him to reconcile with his fractured relationship with his father.
Jack clashes with stronger alphas in the group (Locke and Sawyer) but it is his calm and reasoned approach which wins the group over. Even when Locke takes some of the group to another part of the island most of them soon find themselves realising that Locke's agenda doesn't include keeping the safe. When Jack eventually leaves the island, with Kate, Sun, Hurley, Aaron and Sayid (making up the Oceanic 6) he realises that he has made a mistake and he never should have left. If anything can be learnt from Lost is that its main theme of not being able to escape your purpose or destiny is held true. The Island has an unimaginable power and one that, should it fall into the wrong hands, would lead to a shift in the world order that could prove disastrous. The island draws those who are disenfranchised or lost to it and gives them a greater purpose. Of all the survivors Jack would seem to not fit this motive and yet the more we learn about him the more we discover that he is as much adrift as everyone else.
Sun Hwa Kwon
Sun's character development during the series is possibly one of the most evolving and complicated. Initially, when we first encounter Sun she is a shy Korean lady who doesn't speak English. Married to the hugely traditional and protective Jin-Soo, Sun is trapped and unable to truly express herself. Through flash backs we learn that Sun is the daughter of a powerful and corrupt business man who manipulates Jin into working for him. Unhappy with what Jin has become she had planned to leave him and also learnt to speak English. Over time she develops in both her own ability to interact with the other survivors but also her own character and standing. She gradually moves away from Jin's controlling influence and develops into a strong willed and central character. Still deeply in love with Jin, their gradual re discovery of what they mean to each other is as tender as it is heart felt. Sun's discovery that she has fallen pregnant on the island causes her much distress (due to the island's magnetic power, no pregnancy has gone full term with the deaths of both the mother and the unborn child.) Yet her pregnancy brings out a tender and supportive side to Jin which ultimately saves their relationship. When Sun loses Jin and leaves the island it devastates her and yet she is determined to raise their child on her own. When Sun finally is reunited with Jin it is really is one of the most beautiful and touching moments in the series. Their eventual deaths together, with Jin refusing to leave the trapped Sun to die alone, truly tragic but brings to a close a relationship which has endured much stress and pain. Sun had been transformed from a victim of the powerful and controlling men in her life to a free spirited and empowered woman.
These are just three examples of the many engaging and evolving characters you encounter during Lost. Over the course of the six series they become so close they feel like family, something that happens with good television in a more intimate way than with film. As the sixth series draws to its finale, with the island self destructing and the survivors trapped, either on the island or in the 'flash sideways' reality, I found myself wondering how it is possible to end this astonishing television show without hitting a huge cliche or just falling apart under the weight of the back story and different plot strands? I have read many accounts from fans who were deeply confused and disappointed by the ending and yet for me it was one of the most poignant and satisfying finales of any TV show. As timelines converge and the dual realities of the island and the present day are brought together so to are the survivors. Finally brought together, in a funeral home of all places, Jack meets with his deceased father (death seemingly doesn't have the finality that it would normally have.) The survivors have formed such an incredible bond that it seems not even death can sever and they move on as survivors of Oceanic 815 together. The final moments of Jack's life ebb away, as he realises he has saved the island and brought harmony and peace back to it, are spent with a smile on his face and are beautifully brought to a conclusion in the company of Vincent, the golden retriever, who lies down quietly by his side.
Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanielWBmouth
Images - IMDb