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It’s Time for a Reappraisal of Lost

We have to go back!

ABC
Inverse Recommends

“Weren’t they dead the whole time?” For 14 years, that has been the glib response to any conversation about Lost, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse’s game-changing sci-fi series. Running for six seasons on ABC, Lost was one of the last great shows of serialized broadcast TV — a bona fide pop culture phenomenon that sat on the tipping point of watercooler internet culture. Everyone talked about Lost. Then suddenly, they didn’t.

Much of the blame has been laid on the divisive finale, which left many with the interpretation that the characters were dead the entire time — a reading that is not only patently untrue (it’s more complicated and nuanced than that!) but that reduces the show to a joke about how nothing that happened to the characters mattered, and thus all the time we audience members spent theorizing, discussing, and overanalyzing every frame was for naught. But Lost has more to offer than its answers. And now that it’s back on Netflix, it’s time for it to be reappraised for what it truly is: one of the greatest sci-fi shows ever.

Lost follows the group of survivors of Oceanic Flight 815, which crashes on a mysterious island on its way from Sydney, Australia, to Los Angeles. But this is no ordinary island. The survivors soon discover a distress call that’s been playing on a loop for 16 years and must contend with a jungle inhabited by vicious polar bears, a murderous monster made of smoke, and even “others” who stalk and attack them. As they attempt to navigate this strange, unexplainable island, Doctor Jack Shephard (Matthew Fox) emerges as the group’s de facto leader but soon finds himself clashing with other survivors like the enigmatic survivalist John Locke (Terry O’Quinn) and roguish con man James “Sawyer” Ford (Josh Holloway).

Everyone on the island is harboring their own secrets and traumas, from fugitive Kate Austen (Evangeline Lilly) and to ex-torturer Sayid Jarrah (Naveen Andrews) to junkie rock star Charlie Pace (Dominic Monaghan) and unhappy Korean couple Sun and Jin Kwon (Yunjin Kim and Daniel Dae Kim). The sprawling cast also includes pregnant young woman Claire Littleton (Emilie de Ravin), single dad Michael Dawson (Harold Perrineau), and “cursed” lottery winner Hurley Reyes (Jorge Garcia). Through its distinctive flashback structure — each episode would ping-pong back and forth between the present-day events on the island and the troubled life of one survivor before the crash — Lost crafted one of the greatest character dramas of 21st-century television.

The cast of Lost confused over some new mystery on the island.

ABC

Its interweaving storylines and multiple instances of cosmic kismet created a show that was both tantalizing genre TV and compelling storytelling — a unique combination that propelled Lost to new heights of popularity and fan theorizing. “Why is Jack the way he is?” became just as compelling a question as “What are the numbers?” or “What’s in the hatch?” Lost remains serialized genre storytelling at its finest and most profound, an element which creator Damon Lindelof would go on to hone and perfect in his other masterpiece: The Leftovers.

But what of Lost and its legacy? Is it simply doomed to be the last great watercooler show on broadcast TV — a time capsule of an era when J.J. Abrams’ damned mystery-box was a novelty? Or is it fated to be the imperfect blueprint by which Lindelof would go on to craft The Leftovers and Watchmen, or on which Michael Schur would put a comedic riff to create his afterlife sitcom The Good Place?

Lost is better than that. It’s a show that, in all its imperfections, would reach some of the most dazzling heights of genre TV. It’s the kind of show that we’ve always been chasing but has been lost to this new streaming era: one that will challenge us, provoke us, and keep us talking and guessing each week. Nothing will beat the feeling of the screen cutting to black at the end of each episode, the Lost logo taunting us over the emotional and narrative cliffhanger we’ve just been left on. And nothing will probably replicate it again.

Lost is streaming now on Netflix.

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