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Lost: Mythology

“Desmond, you’ve done enough. You wanna do something? Go home and be with your wife and son.” “How about you, Jack?” “I’ll see you in another life, brother.”

Nothing has ever made me cry more than Lost. Not tears of suffering or pain, but of sadness at its passing and joy at what it says about us as sentient life forms. Its mythology is some of the richest of any TV show or movie in history, and yes, that includes Twin Peaks. It is deeply rooted and full of mystery, and like its creative sister Twin Peaks, it is all hooked directly into the emotional core of what being human means. This isn’t some hollow, nerd baiting nonsense. Forget the timelines and cause and effect, the power of Lost‘s mythology is that it is always, 100%, focused on how it speaks on us as people, and on the characters of the show.

The mythology of Lost includes so many beautiful parts, but let me set out the main ones here. Lost takes place, for the most part, on a mysterious island somewhere on a sea that stretches out forever. On this island many unlikely things take place. Polar bears forage for snacks, black smoke snatches pilots out of planes and paralyzed men are healed. Something that should be stated up front is that I, Paul Casey, am an atheist. I do not particularly believe in an after-life, or of the existence of the supernatural. And yet, here I am, paying honour and homage to one of the truly great artistic works of the 21st century, which is intent from start to finish to express the wonder of the spiritual journey. This is, as Joseph Campbell said, the hero’s journey. We must endure, where others have fallen, to find our true worth.

Lost is a series of questions, something that Twin Peaks fans will be well acquainted with. It proved, in six seasons, that a group of artists could provoke questions and not answer them until the final moments. This is some kind of miracle. Consider how the original Twin Peaks lost its nerve and answered the central question, years (if even) before it should have done. There remain dullards who didn’t understand the answers when they came, and who were infuriated that in some cases no answers at all were provided. The answers crowd are a blight on good and honest viewers, always moaning that some thing or other wasn’t clear enough. These people weren’t paying attention. The only show to compete with Lost in the mythological area is Twin Peaks, and even though I do believe that The Return is the greatest show in the history of television, I do believe we are practicing the same religion, as George Michael might say.

Let’s start with The Black Smoke, a character as enigmatic as anything I’ve ever seen. Fans of Twin Peaks will be well placed to understand this character who takes the shape of those who have died. When he takes the form of John Locke we are treated to something truly shocking and brilliant. He is the Old Testament God: capricious, vengeful and frequently sadistic. I remember my uncle saying something like: “They introduced the black smoke and then they didn’t answer what it was!” The Black Smoke is the central mystery of Lost and we don’t understand his/its actions until very late in the game, and that is just how it should be. The Black Smoke is one of the greatest villains in the history of the medium, because he/it is so complex and understandable. He is not evil at his core; he has been wronged. There is a difference. In his pain though, he does evil things. Many of the complaints I had about the show from an atheistic stand-point can be attributed to the cold and unfeeling actions of The Black Smoke. This was not an attempt to present an omnipotent God as the RIGHT THING, choosing to destroy people on a whim, but itself a criticism against just that notion.

The Dharma Initiative! Good God! How cool were the Dharma Initiative? VERY OKAY. When I first saw the premiere of the second season, and it was revealed that inside that hatch lived a man, and that man had the job of saving the world… I F*CKING LOST IT. The Dharma Initiative runs through all seasons of Lost, but it is at its most potent in the second and third seasons and the splendour and magic of season five, AKA’d as The Time Travel Season AKA’d as The Coolest Season of Lost. I swear the people who didn’t understand why the polar bears were there… they really tried my patience. (If you’re still wondering why, check out The New Man in Charge bluray epilogue!) The Dharma Initiative were interested in all kinds of cool things. They used the Island to do all manner of experiments. From polar bears adapting to new environments to time travel, they did all kinds of cool shit.

I can’t hope to fully express why this mythology means so much to me, but please bear with me while I try. J.J. Abrams once did a TED talk where he presented a box with a question mark on it, and explained why he felt that the mystery, the question, was more powerful than an answer could ever be. Well, I hold to that ideal. I believe that in the question, we offer up something to the Gods of creation and to our fellow artists and those who travel on the same path. We suggest, humbly, that we don’t know the answers but are open to the possibilities of finding out why. This is why Lost took six seasons to get around to the answers: once you answer why, the show is over. Or at least, it should be. The thrill of discovering the detail on that Hatch map…the sheer, fuzzy headed joy of theorizing on how and why the plane crashed…so many great memories.

Let’s talk about the finale, because just like The Return it proved to be divisive. Some people felt that it answered too much/not enough. Some people felt it was too happy a conclusion. Some were confused as to why it ended in a church. The finale of Lost is one of the most satisfying conclusions to any mythology that I have experienced including but not limited to Twin Peaks and Lord of the Rings. The ending of Lost is the ending of a life, and much like The Return, an ending to our shared dream. I’ll go back to the start: I have never cried at anything as much as I have the ending to Lost. That scene where Christian comforts Jack…when I watched the series again last year in the summer, I couldn’t help but think of my father who died a few months before. Lost makes me feel closer to my father, and even though he never watched the show, I feel he would have loved it and found much meaning to think on.

My favourite moments of mythology come very late in the game. When Jack takes on the mantle of protector of The Island, that always makes me tear up. When Jack releases Desmond of his burden and sends him back to his son and wife, that too always makes me tear up. I also adore the lines that Jack delivers to The Black Smoke (in the body of John Locke): “You’re not John Locke. You disrespect his memory by wearing his face, but you’re nothing like him. Turns out he was right about most everything. I just wish I could have told him that while he was still alive.” All Locke wanted was for Jack to have believed him, and finally he did. This is what so many mythology based things don’t get: it means NOTHING if you don’t care about the characters. You can have the smartest moving pieces in all of television and still leave people cold as fuck. Well, Lost left me full of hope and love and passion. Almost everything it did meant something.

When I was a strident, and altogether unfeelingly atheist, I got angry at Lost for having so much to do with religion. “How dare they do that?” And so on. I have grown up since. While I hold that there is no particularly good reason to believe in a personal God who solves all of your little problems, I do feel that we persist, even if that is just as a memory in someone’s heart. Lost taught me, by its ending, that I was a spiritual being of some shape or other. I had more to me than the dirt in the field. I had something that could create and make other’s lives better (hopefully). The mythology of Lost is one of the richest of any show, and any Twin Peaks fans out there who haven’t seen it: CHECK IT OUT. You will not be disappointed. Promise.

I’ve been thinkin’ bout you. Do you think about me still? Or do you not think so far ahead? Cause I’ve been thinkin’ bout forever. Or do you not think so far ahead? Cause I’ve been thinkin’ bout forever.”

Written by Paul Casey


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  1. I was pissed when I watched the finale of Lost. Once I thought about i more, I came around (sort of) – if one has to engage in reflective contortions to be OK with, what does that say about the work?

  2. I recently re-watched all six seasons and I found afterwards that I still have many questions… such as why didn’t the smoke monster just take over Man in Black’s body …but that is why I love it so much it is like Life we never know the answers to everything…It is the journey that is important.

  3. I just discovered that Lost is now on Hulu, and I have been pissed at Netflix since they removed it. I signed up for Hulu in anticipation of starting my 4th or 5th run of binge-watching Lost. I actually watched the first few episodes when they were broadcast, then lost the thread after missing a couple of episodes and quit. I found it again in about 2013 or 2014 on Netflix, and it has been my all-time favorite show since then.

    I agree wholly with this article, on how rich and wonderful the mythology is. I am one of those who LOVED the finale, and yes, I cried and was an emotional wreck for at least a day after I watched it.

    My view on that story is that it basically is saying that the characters are lost in time and space, yes, but they’re also lost morally, emotionally and spiritually. And in order to stop being lost on the island, they needed to stop being lost in the other ways. Yes, I know arguments can be made against that view, but screw it, it’s MY view.

    And I am, in some ways, just as lost as they were. And I wish I had a mysterious south Pacific island to crash on and work things out for myself. But for now, I’ll settle for watching my favorite characters again, enjoy the wonderful scenery, and being in ND, I watch this thing most winters just to feel warm for a while in my mind.

    Last note: this was my favorite vision of the afterlife that I have ever seen, by far. I have had friends that I would LOVE to meet up with on the other side and “move on” together when the time comes. A world where that is the case is just fine by me.

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