Lost’s Most Iconic Episode Ever Changed the Show — For Better and For Worse
Make your own kind of music...
For a lot of hardcore TV fans, Lost is a four-letter word. Mention it in the wrong group chat or in front of an over-eager coworker and you may find yourself trapped in an hour-long debate over how the beloved sci-fi show jumped the shark and delivered the worst series finales of all time. (And if you’re anything like me, you’re probably happy to have that exact conversation at least once per year.)
But there was a time when Lost was pure. When the possibilities for the ABC phenomenon seemed endless and we all still believed the island and its many sprawling mysteries could be neatly resolved with enough hour-long episodes of primetime television. It was at that exact moment that showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse delivered one of most iconic episodes of Lost (or any show) ever made — and inadvertently doomed the series forever.
It’s impossible to talk about the Lost Season 2 premiere — titled “Man of Science, Man of Faith” and released 18 years ago today on September 21, 2005 — without talking about its most important scene: the mysterious introduction of Desmond. So let’s get that out of the way first.
Out of the many new characters introduced to Lost after its first season, Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick) is inarguably the best — Ben is a close second, but more on that later. Plenty can be said about subsequent Desmond-focused episodes, which played narrative tricks with time that would put Doctor Who to shame. But the beauty of his first appearance is perfect in its simplicity.
You can probably picture the entire scene, shot for shot, in your head. But in case you can’t, I’ll describe it. A computer beeps and a man wakes up, shuffling over to the device and tapping a few keys to stop the sound. He then pulls out a record and plays Cass Elliot’s 1960s pop-folk earworm “Make Your Own Kind of Music” before going about his daily routine. Director Jack Bender positions the camera so we never see the man’s face as he exercises, eats, showers, and injects a mysterious canister into his bicep. Because this is Lost, the scene could be a flashback of literally anyone, anywhere, at any time before the events of the show. Except, it’s not. Turns out, this is happening on the mysterious island where Lost takes place during the show’s main timeline.
Desmond and the underground bunker where he’d lived alone for three years went on to play a major role in Lost Season 2 and beyond. But the influence of his original scene is bigger than the series. HBO’s Westworld basically copied it in Season 2 Episode 4, right down to the record player. And when “Make Your Own Kind of Music” went viral again earlier this year thanks to a particularly unhinged moment in Nicolas Cage and Pedro Pascal’s The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, a vocal contingent of fans were quick to point out that Lost got there first.
The rest of the episode is, frankly, pretty mid. Aside from Lost’s 14-million-dollar pilot, the show kind of had a problem with season premieres. Because every season ended on a massive cliffhanger, the next episode typically needed to both serve as a recap and provide some resolution (without ever answering any questions definitively because... Lost).
“Man of Science, Man of Faith” mostly follows our heroes as they venture down into Desmond’s bunker. There’s a lot of crawling around in ducts and frantically pointing guns and flashlights. Then, it ends, leaving the rest of the season to actually make sense of what we just saw.
Lost Season 2 eventually gets into what Desmond has been up to down in his bunker, but before we explore how all of that plays out, it’s worth briefly touching on the requisite flashback plotline. The episode focuses on Jack (Matthew Fox) and comes with two major reveals. First, we learn that Jack was married (and divorced) before crashing on the island, which not only comes as a shock but also establishes that Lost could use its flashbacks to pretty much change anyone’s backstory at any time. Also, it turns out that Jack met Desmond before either of them were on the island, but that won’t matter again for a good long while.
When you consider Lost Season 2 in its entirety, this episode starts to feel a lot more important. While Season 1 mostly stuck to its original premise and kept things relatively grounded (while teasing future weirdness with random polar bear attacks and the mysterious smoke monster), Season 2 is when Lost truly became unhinged — and I mean that in a good way.
By the end of Season 2, our understanding of the island had shifted dramatically. We learn about a scientific organization called the Dharma Initiative and its various scientific experiments across the island. The truth about the island’s inhabitants (“The Others”) also starts to take shape, although Lost didn’t reveal the full truth there for several more seasons.
Throughout Season 2, Lost manages a careful balancing act, spoonfeeding audiences more new information while simultaneously introducing new mysteries. (Desmond’s bunker is a social experiment? Or is it?) In later seasons, this strategy would begin to wear thin once it became clear some questions might never be answered, but at the time, nobody was complaining.
Beyond Desmond, Lost Season 2 also introduced beloved new characters like Ben (Michael Emerson) and Eko (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). In all three cases, our initial introductions to these people are purposefully confusing, and it takes several episodes ( or seasons) to learn their true stories and agendas. (Unfortunately, the exception to that last bit is Eko, who was written off after Akinnuoye-Agbaje asked to leave the show.)
It’s surprisingly difficult to find interviews with the cast and creators of Lost from the Season 2 premiere, but one IGN article promoting the release of Season 1 on DVD (this was 2005 and Netflix was still sending movies via the postal service) offers a few morsels.
When asked about how Lost Season 2 might answer some of Season 1’s mysteries, Evangeline Lilly (Kate) offered the following:
“I think you're going to get a lot of answers this season. I didn't mind not knowing what was going to happen to these characters because that's reality. That allows you to play that moment in that moment. The difficult thing for me was not knowing the cast or the character. There are some scenes I see now and I think well if I had known this or that, I wouldn't have made that choice now. That's frustrating. We've been told we'll be having more people and story to explore in Season 2 so for everyone, there's probably someone on the show you can relate to.”
(In extremely early 2000s fashion, IGN also asked whether Lilly thought her character would end up with Jack or Sawyer. The actress punted: “Kate's not ready for the likes of Jack.”)
In a sense, Lilly was right (about both Season 2 and Jack). But the most revealing part of her quote is the frustration she feels as an actor not knowing where Lost was headed. In hindsight, it’s easy to watch the show’s earlier seasons and feel like nobody knew how the story would end (and for the most part, that’s true). But thankfully, even 18 years later, that doesn’t make rewatching the series any less fun.