Lost Was Never the Same After Its Season 1 Finale — and Neither Was Television
Say it with me: 9 16 17 24 43.
If there’s one trend that defines the last two decades of TV, it’s not the binge model, reality shows, or even “prestige television.” It’s the mystery box. And no show did it better than Lost.
From its very first episode, the ABC series was a smash hit that fused character-driven drama with sci-fi mystery. But it wasn’t until its Season 1 finale that Lost fully weaponized the mystery box as a concept. Television was never the same again.
The Lost Season 1 finale debuted 18 years ago on May 18, 2005 with “Exodus: Part 1” (Parts 2 and 3 aired a week later on May 25). Collectively, they represent the best and the worst of the series, telling a gripping adventure that attempts to solve one mystery only to introduce an even bigger one.
Let’s cut to the chase: “Exodus” is all about the hatch. The mysterious and impenetrable door discovered by John Locke (Terry O'Quinn) was a bizarre subplot for most of Season 1, while Michael’s (Harold Perrineau) plan to escape the island on a raft often took center stage. But by the time the show came to an end five years later, the hatch was arguably the most important part of Lost lore.
“Exodus” begins with Michael rushing to finish the raft, because science. (Something about the changing seasonal current, I think?) Unfortunately, there’s a problem: the evil “Others” have also picked this extremely inconvenient time to plan their attack — at least according to the crazy French lady who’s been living on the island for years.
So while Michael and his crew work on finishing the boat, Jack (Matthew Fox) assembles a team to (*checks notes*) grab some dynamite from a shipwrecked old boat and use it to blast open the hatch in the hopes they can take shelter inside. Against all odds, the plan works. They blast their way into the hatch and the season ends with Jack and Locke peering into the seemingly infinite blackness below. (Also, the raft works too, but the Others attack them, steal Michael’s son, and blow up their boat.)
The hatch would go on to become synonymous with Lost itself. And while the show’s official tagline is the forgettable, “Everything happens for a reason,” it might as well be the numbers that must be entered into the computer inside the hatch every 108 minutes or the entire thing would blow up. (Say it with me: 4 8 15 16 23 42.)
The hatch gave us Desmond. It turned Jack and Locke from frenemies into friends into brutal rivals. It was, at times, a bizarre psychological experiment, and at other times, the site of a nuclear explosion that reverberated through space and time. The hatch is one of the most iconic sets in TV history right up there with the Bada Bing and the Starship Enterprise.
It was also, ultimately, kind of a letdown. Like so much in Lost, the hatch was a big idea that amounted to both everything and nothing. If you search online, there’s no shortage of theories explaining its true purpose and the meaning behind those numbers, but there’s no denying that the show failed to provide many concrete explanations.
At the end of the day, that’s the legacy of “Exodus.” It set Lost in a wild and exciting direction that fans loved — until they realized there was no clear destination. After Season 1, the series had no choice but to unleash bigger and bigger mysteries, and the rest of television followed suit.
The mystery box has become the default format for a lot of modern TV shows. It’s an easy way to draw in an audience and build an online fanbase (see Yellowjackets and its sprawling subreddit). But while most mystery box shows tend to make the same mistakes as Lost, some have seemingly cracked the code. Series co-creator Damon Lindelof even followed up Lost with The Leftovers, which started with an even bigger mystery and managed to end with a definitive answer.
Whether Lost changed TV for better or worse is a debate that will rage until the end of civilization. But there’s one thing no one can deny: When Jack and Locke blew up the hatch and peered down into the blackness, that was good television.