How Lost bends the rules

Ed Note: Boingboing's current guest blogger Steven Johnson is the author of six books, most recently The Invention Of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution and the Birth Of America, for which he is currently on book tour. He's also the co-founder of the hyperlocal community site

A show as complicated as "Lost" deserves an equally complicated spoiler alert: if you have never seen an episode of "Lost" past, say, Season Two, and plan on immersing yourself in the show sometime soon, you might want to bookmark this post and revisit sometime in the future, once you've gotten up to speed. Otherwise I will keep this relatively vague, so that hardcore fans (for whom there will be no surprises) and Lost-dabblers can both read with no worries.

I posted yesterday about the often insurmountable complexity of seasons 1-4 of "Lost," but the first episode of season five held out the distinct possibility that that complexity might well be conquered by the end of the series. Not just because all the questions would be dutifully answered in some kind of contrived, ad-hoc fashion, but because the events in last night's episode suggest--in a way that earlier episodes have only delicately hinted-- that all the madness of the last four years, all the implausible speeches, connections, surprises, and attacks, have at their root one small change in the core bylaws of Reality As We Know It.

This is a formal innovation worth noting, though of course it's unclear from just a single episode whether the innovation has long-term significance or whether it turns out to be just another distraction. But I'm rooting for the former: "Lost" has the unique opportunity of proving you can build a narrative of mesmerizing implausibility that ultimately turns out to be entirely plausible simply by changing one elemental rule of the universe--and then not telling your audience about the rule change until the third act. Mainstream entertainment toys with the conventions of reality constantly (see Back to the Future, or pretty much every Jim Carrey movie) but invariably it lets the audience in on the rule changes early in the story. "Lost," not surprisingly, is playing hard-to-get with its revelations: not just in the backstory and mythology of its characters, but the basic laws of the genre.

That a mass audience is willing to embrace this kind of storytelling innovation is truly remarkable, and has a kind of sign-of-the-times quality to it. (The ultra-complex serial narrative show is to our own moment what the concept album was to the late sixties culture.) In a small way, "Lost" was actually an inspiration for The Invention of Air: I had a moment early in trying to figure out what the book would be like when I imagined that I would write a founding fathers history book that would be structured like a season of "Lost." (There's a middle chapter, for instance, that jumps back 300 million years, to the Carboniferous Era, before zooming back to the late 18th-century.) It's probably good that I didn't fully try to emulate "Lost" in the end, but just the fact that one could look to a prime time network mega-hit for inspiration in writing a book of science history is a sign that something has changed -- most of what I was watching as a kid in the seventies would not have been quite as inspirational.

I'm sure there are plenty of strong opinions about last night's episode: I hereby declare the comments thread below open to all spoilers. If you haven't seen the show yet, you are duly warned.


  1. Hey, I haven’t watched ‘Lost’ since season 2! I deduced it was a soap opera and stopped watching.

  2. “(The ultra-complex serial narrative show is to our own moment what the concept album was to the late sixties culture.)”

    …as in, bloated and self indulgent?

    Is this a harbinger of two minute long “punk rock” narratives that will reject the premise and its trappings?

  3. “Lost” has the unique opportunity of proving you can build a narrative of mesmerizing implausibility that ultimately turns out to be entirely plausible simply by changing one elemental rule of the universe–and then not telling your audience about the rule change until the third act.

    Err, that’s called a deus ex machina and is generally considered one of the worst storytelling faults, the quackiest canard, if you will, in the arsenal of terrible narrative humbuggery. It’s not literally Father Zeus dropping out of the clouds to make everything all right at the end, but it’s a similar kind of unfair trick, a fake plausibility: even worse when it’s used, not out of desperation in ending an unwieldy plot, but from the beginning, as a ticking narratological time-bomb that will explode to the delight of the credulous.

    Dunno, Twin Peaks proved there was a vital market for “one-damn-thing-after-another” storytelling, false portentiousness, etc.: why is Lost so special? Really, I’m curious, despite the snark….

  4. @4: I don’t see your objection. LOST has been hinting at travel in 4-space since the beginning, and tesing us with related mysteries like the non-ageing of some characters and the healing of others,e.g., Locke.

  5. I’m a big Twin Peaks fan and haven’t seen a moment of Lost, mostly because all the talk of innovation and ground-breaking TV irritate me. From what I’ve read Lost is Survivor meets Twin Peaks, only with less charm. Feel free to convince me why Lost is as good, if not better than Twin Peaks, and most importantly, how it’s “innovation” differs from Twin Peaks’.

  6. An interesting “Slaughterhouse 5″ish twist. I think it gets interestinger and interestinger, and agree that it appears to be building to what I think will be a satisfying tying together of everything in the end.

  7. Twin Peaks is definitely a precursor to Lost (along with Star Trek, X-Files, etc.) But it was largely a commercial flop after a strong open: it limped its way through a second season and was canceled. And in terms of narrative complexity, it wasn’t even in the same league as Lost; yes, there were multiple threads and a lot of ambiguity, but nothing like the depth of Lost’s mythology, and all the formal tricks (the time structure, etc.)

  8. I liked the whole dropping the audience in the middle and not letting them know the key detail thing in Harry Potter, but I’m not going to give Rowling credit for inventing the concept…

  9. @6:

    Don’t forget The X-Files and its endless endlessness, its then-trendy fake paranoia-anti-governmentalism dashed in with too-easy credulousness (“I want to believe” that solipsism is knowledge), its drasty science-meets-mysticism: a true missing link in the monstrous genealogy you’ve described above….

  10. Err, that’s called a deus ex machina and is generally considered one of the worst storytelling faults, the quackiest canard, if you will, in the arsenal of terrible narrative humbuggery.

    I’m not a fan of the show for the reason David mentioned in the first post, but I don’t think deus ex machina is a fair characterization. That’s an influence external to the narrative that intervenes to fix up loose ends. If the “hidden” detail has been in operation for the whole narrative (We learn she acts that way because he’s actually her son! He’s really been working for the CIA the whole time!) and revealing it causes the story to make more sense retroactively, I’d call it clever writing, not lazy writing. Where would the Twilight Zone be without that kind of narrative trickery?

  11. Well, d*mnit, what’s the ground rule of reality they changed?

    I’ve seen a few episodes of Lost, and occasionally read a synopsis online, and now I’m curious……what was the rule change they suggested in last night’s episode?

  12. thecynthesizer

    Sack the cynicism, you might be missing some great stuff because of it. I do exactly that all the time, PR and ‘positive’ mainstream media reviews tend to turn me right off shows and films.. I’ve been late to the game on some fantastic stuff, that just annoyed me in a kind of meta nothing-to-do-with-the-actual-content sort of way.

    Start at episode one, and stop when you feel like it. I did, and I didn’t.

  13. one small change in the core bylaws of Reality As We Know It.

    Can someone explain this part? It seems kind of important to the essay and I’m trying to figure out if I’m dumb or it just doesn’t make sense.

  14. @ACX99: Huh, in the future version I saw, Alice wakes up from her dream, tells her sister, `Oh, I’ve had such a curious dream!’ and the writers of lost go on to make new viewers eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale.

    O well. Would someone please spoil the ‘change the universe’ rule to which he is alluding? A link would be fine.

    I thank you.

  15. This show is pretty strong evidence to back up your theory in Watching Tv…, and the comment about “[i]s this a harbinger of two minute long ‘punk rock’ narratives” is absolutely backed up by the emergence of YouTube and their ilk as strong alternative forms of entertainment. The fact that the two concepts exist — the megadum and the hypercomplicated — in the same entertainment-ecosystem, what are the implications of that?

  16. Lost makes stupid viewers feel smart because they get to theorize on what’s “really” going on. But who gives a shit when the writers are just making it up as they go along? It’s okay in a B-movie sort of way, but it’s too well-produced to be GREAT in a B-movie sort of way.

    Twin Peaks kicked Lost’s ass in so many ways it’s ridiculous. But they both have this much in common: they declined tremendously after their first season (although the finale of Twin Peaks was great.) Lost maintains its viewership but loses its integrity by not knowing when to quit.

  17. @11

    That’s fair, I suppose, although I disagree with you: Lost‘s clever writing is on the order of Bobby’s-not-dead-he’s-been-taking-a-season-long-shower kind of clever writing for me….

  18. SPOILER, I guess. I think the change in ‘bylaws in reality as we know it’ has to do with the folks on the island suddenly bouncing back and forth through time last night. As far as the appeal of the show, I’m totally hooked. And I know its cliche, but its because I feel I relate to a couple characters, and their faults and pain and attempts at redemption. there. i said it. the crazy stuff just makes it fun to yell loudly at my tv.

  19. So, I’m reading this comment threat solely to figure out what aspect of the rules of reality was changed, and nobody’s sharing.

  20. MAJOR SPOILER. maybe.

    In Lost, the island is a time-warping object. Its magnetic qualities (discussed in earlier seasons and given as a reason for all the plane/ship wrecks) come from its unique properties to warp time. There are implications, too, for the existence of ghosts and visions, and for how fate or will play roles in what seem to be predetermined events.

    The show puts all sorts of rules around it, though: early in the series, we are shown that time-travel cannot change events that have already happened, or else time will presciently revert itself back. (For example, Desmond’s futile attempts to rescue Charlie from his steady-shifting, fated death.)

    So, yes, the rule change is that these places exist (discussed in the episode where Bernard and Rose go to Australia to find a mystical rocky place where magnetic fields are used to heal), and the show divulges this in small pieces throughout the series.

  21. alright, i’ll spoil it here:
    The one tweak on reality is that time travel/teleportation is possible.
    Still not clear on the exact workings, but it’s clearly got a “Slaughterhouse 5” flavor to it.

    Personally, I think it’s a great reveal, since it’s enough to explain mysteries of the show that have been around even since the first season.
    How did the slaving ship get to the middle of the island? my bet is that the island sort of collided with it as it was moved through time.
    How did certain side characters seem to have knowledge of the future? Time travel sure does nicely explain the ‘psychic’ that tells Claire to keep her baby in the first season.
    How did that polar bear get into the desert? He was probably trained to work the mechanism that moves the island.

    We’re still a long way from solving everything, but this might have been the first time I felt like the writers might have known where they were going from the start.

  22. I can understand the dismissal of LOST as a “soap opera” or because the “groundbreaking TV” idea seems like a marketing ploy, but the show really is pretty good; name another show that references Philip K. Dick, G.K. Chesterton, Enlightenment Philosophers, obscure pop songs and theoretical physics.

    I first watched “Survivor” because I thought they would really be fending for themselves with no outside help; in fact (as we all know now) that show is all about playing various games, whether those are “challenges” (that are little more than dressed-up sack races) or mind games with the other contestants.

    I first watched Lost thinking it was going to be about people making a new life on a desert island, closer to what I hoped Survivor would be although fictional; it turned out to be much more. In fact, the episode from season 4 called “The Constant” was straight out of a PK Dick novel, (or perhaps Slaughterhouse 5 without the jokes).

    I don’t think there’s any way someone can convince a non-viewer that the show is any good short of having them actually watch some episodes, and who wants to jump into a serial in the middle? A possible solution– watch the season 3 episode called “The Expose”– it involves two characters who seem to not be important to the rest of the show’s storyline, but it’s interesting in itself. If that doesn’t do it for you then you might as well watch “The Constant” episode I referenced earlier, even though it comes in the middle of the entire plot. I don’t want to be a shill for ABC, but if you want to see what the fuss is about you can watch full episodes on their website.

  23. Yeah, SPOILER alert on this post. Even though it’s been called on the whole comments section already.

    I’m wondering if the rule change is from “You can’t change events that have already happened, no matter how you jump around in time”, to add the caveat “…unless you are Desmond”.

  24. For me it was the biggest load of hogwash I had ever seen. I tried but it died. I know it is ‘fiction’ but there are so many holes in the ‘reality’ part, so much bad acting, such implausible characters… I could go on… that I designated it to the Lost Bin. Similarly, I fail to see how something as bad as “Flight of the Conchords’ made it past one episode, let alone one season. And the latter from HBO even. Give me some real unreality anytime.

  25. Re: Twin Peaks vs. Lost . . . the big difference for me is that what interests me about Lost are the plot twists. With Twin Peaks I cared about the characters. For some reason, I haven’t been pulled into caring about any of the characters on Lost. I can’t imagine the death of any character on Lost having the impact of, say, Leland’s on Twin Peaks.

  26. EH,

    Its like in Back To The Future. The One Exceptional Difference in their universe is “time travel is possible”, and we find that out about 20 minutes in, so we happily go along with it.

    In Liar Liar, in their universe, the OED is “a childs heartfelt wish can come true”, so Jim Carrey can’t lie for 24 hours. Again, as per the standard convention, we are told about 20-30 minutes in, so the “magic” makes sense and we don’t question it.

    Whereas in Lost, so the suggestion goes, its all going to make sense but they haven’t told us the OED yet, and we are 5 seasons in, with another to come and a final-episode date given. Essentially, if they had told us at the beginning, it wouldn’t be half as maddeningly non-sensical, but also not half as curiously addictive.

    The One Exceptional Difference could be anything, so long as it answers all the (seemingly disparate) riddles at once. LIke, “Dharma has access to alien technlogy”, or “they are all dead, and this is purgatory”, or “one of the characters is in a coma, and this is all happening in their mind”, “some magical bullshit”.. whatever.

    Hopefully it isn’t something as lame and clichéd as any of those, Abrams says no, so hopefully not.

  27. Remember folks– we’re talking about the great wasteland of commercial broadcast television here. If you want to dismiss the show either as “too brainy” or “faux intellectual”, well what are your other options? CSI Miami? Chuck? Desperate Housewives? If ultimately Lost is no better than Heroes, well, so be it; it’s just a tv show, you can enjoy it or not.

  28. The show is showing lots of similarities to Stephen King’s “Gunslinger” series (I’m far from the first to point this out), which is great, though my fingers are crossed for a more satisfying ending.

    IMHO, the it’s getting better and more coherent as time goes on– the first season was the least interesting, at least until the very end, and it seemed like the writers were just casting around for ideas, at least initially. Conversely, Twin Peaks started out really great and focused and became less so (but still very entertaining) as it progressed.

  29. TDAWWG, for me the cleverness in the writing is how well they deal with “reveals”. Each episode is peppered with little nuggets of information, beautifully crafted into the multi-threaded character interactions, all layered over an episode-long crescendo leading to another cliffhanger.

    They constantly give you, what seems like, ground-breaking details about each character and the main plot, but as you go along the magnitude of each reveal is dwarved by the next.. leaving you constantly resetting your internal compass, and scrabbling for a new bearing. Its like vertigo, if you go long-haul and watch most of a season in one sitting.

    Dipping in and out of a season, or between seasons, must really negate the subtlety of the 4-season long, ever upward path of the plot. Every episode builds on every other episode beautfully. It really is well crafted.

    The only advice I have, and seem to be repeating, is:

    Don’t watch random episodes. Start at episode one, and stop when you feel like it.

  30. @24:

    Oh no you did NOT just go there. Are you next going to tell us all how bad Battlestar Galactica is?

    PS. =P

  31. Hate to break it to people, but anime’s been doing this exact same thing for about 10-15 solid years now. The great thing about most of those is that they have a set length (26 episodes) so they tend to have a well defined plot arc.

  32. I was enormously addicted to LOST for the first two seasons…through circumstances beyond my control, I was unable to watch season 3. At first, it was painful…like a detox of sorts. I tried to have friends DVR it for me, I tried having my grandmother tape it on VHS…but, alas, an enabler was not to be found. Eventually, the shakes went away and I’ve been LOST-free ever since. I tried watching bits of this week’s LOST episode, but I’d lost the taste for it. Frankly, I’m glad I quit when I did. My Heroes addiction takes more time than the LOST one ever did.

  33. If you are considering getting into Lost, stop reading this thread NOW, go watch it without any pre-info, it’ll be so much better.


    I really liked the first and second seasons, in how they introduce a backstory for one character per episode and link in the initial conditions for them all to be there. I liked it.

    I’ve never really found the acting clunky, as some have said.

    I know what you mean about “Gunslinger” though. But Lost’s coming resolution seems a lot more complex in its implications for reality, than Gunslinger’s (hopefully).

  34. @24: “Similarly, I fail to see how something as bad as ‘Flight of the Conchords’ made it past one episode, let alone one season.”

    Put down your keyboard and step away from the computer. Mutha Ucka.

  35. Why does Steven Johnson keep writing about Lost? I have no opinion on the show but I was kind of hoping a boingboing guest writer would be a little more eclectic.

    Maybe next month we can get a Trekkie to write about the wisdom of Picard and his fall from grace after arrogantly ignoring the lessons of Kirk.

  36. For me Lost has some serious problems, and at times it feels obtuse and incoherent on purpose rather for the sake of suspense or storytelling. Also, entire seasons have been so stagnant that the show has become unwatchable.

    However, there are some absolutely brilliant single episodes. Someone referenced “The Constant” which was amazing. Also, “Jin Yeon” was a great episode that played with narrative, but also was a really emotional episode because you find out who was and was not an Oceanic 6.

    I constantly go back and forth on how I feel about Lost. Sometimes I love it, sometimes I hate it, and then other times I realize how I’m being strung along for commercial success. The commercials to show ratio last night infuriated me.

  37. My retort is that it is less a byproduct of terribly clever or cutting edge writing, but rather more a ramshackle over-compensation for the fact that there was no game plan or “show bible” until late in series three. the rest is smoke and mirrors, which sometimes appears magical. Whole, the series is as down as it is up, and is rife with contradictions. The fact that an audience accepts this is partially based on the “abused wife” mindset: when it’s good, it’s contrasted with when it’s abhorrently bad, so it keeps them going.

  38. Arkizzle: Thanks, I was thinking along those lines but it wasn’t clear to me from the post. :) “The previous Dallas season was all a dream.”

  39. I’m just hoping that someday someone will cut and edit all Lost episodes into a thirty minute show – that’s the only way I’ll watch it again. Trying to follow the first two seasons sucked.

  40. @29, Arkizzle, Good points. To further the analogy, it would be like if Back to the Future started in 1955 and there was this weird kid with weird clothes running around that kept looking at a picture that we never saw and visiting this weird car from time to time. He seems to know what’s going to happen before it happens. At the end of the movie you find out that he’s actually from the future and that informs the entire story you’ve just watched.

    It’s definitely not Deus Ex Machina stuff since it’s a plot device that’s been in practice the entire time.

    Lost is good stuff. It’s a little drawn out and I wish this was the last season so they could really start revealing what’s been going on, but I can hang in there for another two seasons, if only to find out why there’s a 4-toed statue. If it turns out that’s there because a Lostie went back in time and had it built because they saw it in the future I will be sorely let down. I hate chicken-and-egg time travel bull s–t.

  41. I’ve never watched Lost, but isn’t it a long-standing convention of television to distract viewers from plot problems by the clever use of attractive actors in a state of tropical semi-undress? Obviously, it works better with Matthew Fox than with Bob Denver.

  42. karengeier

    I’m definitely not an “abused wife”. I can’t think of a time I felt truly let down by an episode.

    I’ll add a caveat though. I never watched it week-to-week, I’ve always watched it three or four episodes at a time, either on boxsets or the internet, so if there was a half-good episode, it was buoyed by the momentum of the other two or three. If you were waiting all week for each episode and were let down on occasion, I can see how that would suck.

    Watch it as boxsets! It’s the on-demand future!

    I’ve definitely never felt it was stagnant or dragged-out though. I’ve genuinely enjoyed the plot curve and reveals-per-episode ratio :)

  43. I don’t get the “I think the show sucks that’s why I don’t watch it” crowd. Why are you commenting on it again? Bad writing, unplausable plot points, confusing turns, blah blah blah- does it entertain you while you watch it? Then it’s served its purpose.

  44. My girlfriend (lit. ph.d student) tells me this is a literary trope, and as mentioned above, a frowned upon one. She loves LOST but attributes it to stringing the audience along for ad revenue and blames it on bad writing. I trust her opinions.

  45. I’m with you Arkizzle..last night was the first time I have ever watched Lost live on TV..even though I did DVR it and watch about 20 minutes after is started so no commercials. By far the best way to experience Lost and really get into it is get netflix or go online to the website and watch the episodes 3 or 4 at a time. I’m addicted.

  46. @34’s point about anime is a good one – and it’s not just the Japanese in their anime and dramas. UK TV series are often also blessed by a limited episode run, and therefore more story structure. Here in the States, we seem to be damned by the curse that any time a show becomes successful, it will never be allowed to end.

    Take BBC’s Life on Mars, a show so good that it won International Emmys both years it was on. The writers ended the show, saying Sam Tyler’s story had run it’s course. It had a masterful, satisfying end. If the ABC version proves successful, we’ll be subjected to an unending stream of storylines until the show falters in the ratings, guaranteeing a weaker tale being told. The producers, knowing this, have already made preparations to change the ending of the story (and the nature of the program in general) to allow for years of episodes, thereby sealing the show’s fate as yet another failed remake.

    So in that regard, one has to approve of the decision to bring Lost to a definitive end.

  47. It seems a lot of people here deride the show as being “gimmicky”: the plot twists and weird science and the “one small change in the core bylaws of Reality As We Know It” are all just there to keep us watching a juiced-up soap opera, but that’s like saying all the decorations and stained glass on a gothic cathedral are just gimmicks to keep us coming to church and filling the coffers. Perhaps, but the end result is an incredible piece of architecture that is beautiful in its own right. I spent more time dissecting and discussing Lost than I ever did Twin Peaks.

    I think the “one small change in the core bylaws of Reality As We Know It” theory is interesting, and if true then clearly the writers would’ve had that in mind when they started, so it’s not some cheap “it was all a dream” cop-out for when they’ve written themselves into a corner (something I often feel about PK Dick stories).

  48. “attributes it to stringing the audience along for ad revenue”…

    its a network TV show. that’s the point. although Lost on HBO would be pretty cool.

  49. LOST is one of the greatest shows ever. Yes, It’s a commercial product made to sell ad revenue, but it is also a fascinating new form of visual narrative, created by some really talented people. A television show can still be considered really great even if it has a few bad episodes, or moments of bad acting, because it’s the story as a whole that has appeal and the possibility of a satisfying conclusion. That’s why I watch Heroes despite the often terrible acting and pedantic subplots, because the concept holds a lot of potential for greatness and the ride is enjoyable enough. I’m a science fiction fan. Have you people seen the OTHER “scifi” shows that the networks have produced lately? bionic woman? knight rider? stargate atlantis? sarah connor chronicles? firefly? Besides BSG, They all make me want to vomit in my mouth compared to LOST.

  50. There is an episode of Lost entitled Deus ex machina.

    I don’t think the writers of Lost are making up as they go along. They have said from the beginning this show will be six seasons max. It’s a finite storyline.

    I think some might just not like it. So be it.

  51. So, just to clarify some criticisms.

    “When its bad, I hate it!” – Yes. When things are bad, we generally dislike them. If every episode needs to just completely leave you crying with joy and your jaw agape, you’ve got some crazy standards.

    “They just want to make money!” – Well… yeah.

    “They don’t know what they’re doing!” – You know this, how? Have you actually bothered to read some of the information put out by the writers?

    “I don’t watch it because its often advertised or ‘hyped up'” – That’s a horrible, horrible attempt at an excuse. Would you do that with books? Did you read Cory’s? Those were awfully advertised. Probably because they were good.

    “They’re just stringing us along” – You’d rather they had one season, explained everything and then ended? They’re telling a story, it’ll take as long as it takes.

  52. Two things, really:

    1. Takes a cue from British TV… Brilliant. They are FINALLY writing for an ending!

    2. Once that happened and they had the green light to end it, they were allowed (and allowed themselves) to create something decent.

    Lost was good… then very, very flawed, and now decent again…. although the Wheel at the center of the earth thing is really, really, really poor, unless this turns out to be some type of RPG and we are watching the gamers play….

    I think fundamentally nothing new was learned last night. I think writers wrote, watchers guessed, writers re-wrote, and watchers went “Awwww”.

    But with an end, it forces completion to the story-telling.

    Are they dead? They probably were at one point… Was it “Paradise” Lost? It probably was at one point.

    It is a decent watch, once again. And like it or not, their target for completion will be resolved and LOCKED.

    So, as we go forth and enjoy, I for one, will have a hard time believing that the island wasn’t once something much different then the one we have ended with.

    I will not believe JJ Abrams if he were to say “This is what we had imagined all along” FOR if that is the case, this show was horrible….

    However, IF they adapted to the fans in order to throw us a curve…. Bravo. Nice way of writing around problems as the audience guesses your next card played.

    I am a fan, but not a fanboy, so dedicated that I think this is EXACTLY where they wanted to be when they started.

    That said, a friend of mine is convinced it is Paradise Lost and Ben is one of two Archangels battling for control over paradise. This makes as much sense as anything else…


  53. @52: the writing that makes LOST is definitely not ‘bad writing’. It’s leagues above 99% of everything else on TV. It’s subtle, it’s well planned, it’s affective, it’s well paced– it’s actually top notch.

  54. JGB, some nice points there. I don’t think they had the end written in the beginning. But one of my high points of watching Lost has been appreciating the ability of the writers to tow the salient plot points toward each next major revea, on the flyl.

    To be honest, I was under the impression that it was a PR point (in the beginning anyway) that even the writers didn’t know what was going on, any more than 4 shows in advance.. maybe that’s an urban myth, though.

  55. I don’t think the writers of Lost are making up as they go along. They have said from the beginning this show will be six seasons max. It’s a finite storyline.

    Then explain Ben. The actor and writers both said he was meant to be a one-off character, but after he proved popular they changed their minds mid-season and made him the central figure in the whole freakin’ show.

    You can argue that Ben is one cool cat and you like that decision, but it sure doesn’t lend credibility to the “planned the story out in advance” theory.

  56. Brainspore, Ben was originally NOT going to be the leader of the Others but just the one-off like you mentioned. So it is fair to say that more than likely the storyline of the leader was already there. Ben’s popularity then allowed them to merge the two.

  57. Arkizzle@32

    Each episode is peppered with little nuggets of information, beautifully crafted into the multi-threaded character interactions, all layered over an episode-long crescendo leading to another cliffhanger.

    Um, that’s called “episodic plotting.” Don Quijote does that too. So do most TV shows. Respectfully, maybe all those “episode-long crescendo”s are subjective: I experience them as longwinded, baggy plotting. Maybe watch it sober?

    For the deus ex deniers, like @44 (“It’s definitely not Deus Ex Machina stuff since it’s a plot device that’s been in practice the entire time”): using Greek myth as an example, Zeus or Athena (who deus exes Homer’s Odyssey, ruining it) are part of the universe of the stories into which they intrude: you can’t say a capricious, omnipotent god ISN’T part of a story. That’s why it’s cheating: the groundwork is plausible (gods exist in Greek myth), it’s just that their reasons for revealing themselves are unmotivated, completely incidental to the plot. Yet, indeed, once they’ve appeared, the entire plot can be seen, retroactively, to have hinged around their (rather forced) appearance in the last act. (Cf. Aeschylus’s Orestia trilogy for the right way to do deus exes: Athena’s transformation of the Furies into the Eumenidies is the ONLY possible outcome of the trilogy, as implicit in the language and plot of the trilogy from the first line of the Agamemnon. Do boingers read Aristotle?)

    Ditto for this time-travel (!?!) BS on Lost: obviously, this is a fictional universe in which time travel is possible, indeed, has been possible from the git-go. But to suddenly, in the fifth fragging season, to foreground time travel as THE plot device, the master “trick” that’s animated the ENTIRE show up until now, is just unbelievably, incredibly, stupidly lame. It’s a dodge, a gimmick, a joke.

  58. The time travel stuff has been hinted for a while. However, last night’s episode(s) pissed me off, as they can’t even follow their own goddamn rules.

    1) We’re told you can change the past, even through time travel…

    Stupid, but OK, your universe, your rules, but then…

    2) Desmond is the sole exception…

    OK, I guess, but then…

    3) They start KILLING PEOPLE FROM THE PAST, in THE PAST, and rule #1 means absolutely nothing, even though it was a stupid rule to begin with!

    They always have to include some contrivance or rule breaking scenario in each episode, thinking we won’t notice!

    If they didn’t have such a likeable cast of characters, I would’ve stopped watching years ago.

  59. @TDAWWG:

    Wow, you seem really spiteful about this show. Can you not just accept that it’s possible for people to legitimately appreciate something that you don’t?

  60. It’s only Deus ex Machina if there were no intimations of it from the beginning.

    If they write it in a way that makes it clear that everything fits together perfectly from the beginning, it’s brilliant.

    If they write it poorly, it’s deus ex machina.

    It’s just a wait-and-see.

  61. Tdawwg, relax. I wrote a civil comment to you in a conversational tone. I was telling you what I enjoy about the show, not beating you with a Lost-is-the-best-show-evar banner. Go anti-fanboy on someone else, I’m not interested beyond the discussion.

    You seem fairly emotionally engaged in this topic, and yet claim not to like the show. I love it and amn’t half as stirred up as you seem to be.

    And of course it’s all subjective: 1) it’s entertainment and, 2) I started my comment with “for me”.

    Of course, some folks seem to agree with my assessment, so it’s not an isolated one.

  62. LOST HATERS: At the start of each post, please name a show currently airing on network television that you believe to be better.

  63. Love Lost, love that it has a Boing Boing thread or two now, and boo to the haters.

    Frogurt actually handing Sawyer a red shirt FTW!

  64. WarEagle: of course it’s the point, but not the only way in which to achieve a dedicated audience, otherwise every show would do it.

  65. #62: It’s one thing to compare LOST to programs – especially serial dramas – on TV and say “this is quality, well written narrative,” but it’s another thing in every way to compare it to all forms of narrative and say “this is objectively good writing”. I’m going to appeal to authority now and tell a story to this regard. I was recently at a bar with 5 published authors who teach in my girlfriends grad. program. Published college professors. They, much to my amusement, workshopped LOST (they all love it) and the consensus I got, from good writers, mind you, was that the writing was “meh”. Maybe I’m happy with this because I stopped midway through season 3.

  66. The haters make me laugh. I guarantee the shows you like suck, too. To say nothing of your taste in music, which is awful.

    No one looks down on pop culture more than middle-brow people with pretentions and bad taste.

    Lost has tons of excellent story telling, period.

  67. The cynicism and snobbery is one of the few things I don’t like about BB.

    Wait, I guess it’s not BB in itself, but it’s readers.

    Wait, I guess it’s not the readers, but only the one’s who feel the self-importance to criticize those who don’t agree with their own opinion.

    Wait, I’m now one of them!!

    I enjoy Lost. I don’t need to over-analyze it.

  68. Clayton:

    #62 didn’t say “this is objectively good writing”.

    It’s leagues above 99% of everything else on TV.

    Seems pretty reasonable to rate Lost in terms of “everything else on tv”.

  69. @70: that’s easy: 30 Rock for starters, a hyperintelligent, cynical, even nasty look at media, celebrity, corporations, race, gender, you name it, all without a trace of the plodding seriousness that bedevils Lost at every turn. A gem of a show: coruscating, yet lighter than air, and self-reflexive in all the right ways. It’s kinda unfair to compare the best television comedy ever with a bathetic potboiler, though, and they’re two completely different shows in every way, so I’ll stop there: you only asked for what we haters thought were better shows.

    Arkizzle @69:

    “Fanboy”‘s your word, not mine. You have said it.

    I enjoy trashing bad art that I dislike, and I do it with style. If somebody gets all het up about it, well, my bad, perhaps, but please don’t impute to me emotions I don’t feel about a horrible television show. (Following your logic, Melville musta really hated whales, right?) As you said, it’s just a show….

  70. Hate to be a poot, but “Slaughterhouse 5” isn’t about time travel. It’s about schizophrenia.

    Billy Pilgrim doesn’t travel in time. He travels in his mind between the memories of a horrible past and a Tralfamadorean and Porn Star equivalent of a unicorn and rainbow universe of his imagination.

    Not sure how that relates to “Lost,” unless these are the schizophrenic ravings of Hugo; that it’s all in his mind.

    And, as I recall, the really bad episodes in Season 3 were specifically filler because the writers weren’t sure how many episodes they needed because the end date hadn’t been settled. Now that it has, it’s getting better, with less of the distracting filler.

  71. Arkizzle, “It’s subtle, it’s well planned, it’s affective, it’s well paced– it’s actually top notch.” Didn’t seem qualified by the sentence you quoted. Either way, it wasn’t clear.

  72. Tdawwg,

    I enjoy the show, I watch it for approximately 18 hours per year and don’t think about it otherwise. Some people have asked for justifications or explanations of the show, I answered questions I had an opinion on (possibly enthusiastically, I obviously missed your pissy, begrudging tone in the first case, because I answered you in the sprit of friendly conversation..)

    ..and I do it with style.

    Ha ha hah. Is that what that was?

    30 rock is a great show, beautifully written, but doesn’t remotely aim for the same goals in entertainment as Lost. Lost isn’t about light-hearted references and meta-comedy. It’s not “bedevilled” by seriousness, it just isn’t a giggly show. It’s about being “lost”.


  73. Clayton, whatever about your opinion of the writing, I just couldn’t see where #62 had “compare[d] it to all forms of narrative and sa[id] “this is objectively good writing”.”

    S/he talked about it in terms of {tv shows} only, never mentioning ‘writing’ in the greater sense.

    Sounded like you were arguing with yourself and pinning it on #62.

  74. To all of the people complaining about how the show sucks, blah blah blah, give me a break. I’ve never seen a single episode, so I’m definitely not a fan, but why not just let people have their fun?

    Negativity! Sheesh.

  75. @Mati

    DEXTER (By a friggin’ mile)

    I mean, Lost? Really? It’s a pot boiler that’s been kept simmering at 60 degrees (celcius).

    If you enjoy it, hey great. I enjoy Project Runway. Nothing wrong with a guilty pleasure. But if you think it’s some ground breaking new form of the art, you are reading waaaaayyyyyy too much into it.

    It’s a soap, people.

  76. Arkizzle, we’re cool. I don’t think you’re a fanboy (couldn’t care less, rilly): but I needed to distance myself from your imputation that I was calling you a fanboy. Hence the “You have said it” quotation from Our Savior Jeebus. Lighten up, man.

    Yes, that was indeed style. You show a hint of it yourself in your deft characterization of my tone as “pissy, begrudging”: a hit, a palpable hit! And true to boot! I write well, you write well, we all write well, la la….

    I’d agree with you, though, that the two shows can’t be compared very well: indeed, that’s why I said so in the first place. Your point re: subjectivity obtains: one man’s genre-breaking is another man’s baggy monster; one man’s deep drama is another’s giggle-provoking mess. (Indeed, Lost makes me laugh much harder than most comedies, which I call a fault, given its pretensions to High Dramatickall Art.) So, again, we disagree.


  77. Arkizzle, like I said, the statement made by #62: “It’s subtle, it’s well planned, it’s affective, it’s well paced– it’s actually top notch” was not clearly qualified by the preceding sentence, and contains what are objective, general and not relative observations related to the narrative writing. Obviously the OP didn’t say “this is objectively good writing”. This is silly.

  78. Tdawwg,

    I just didn’t think your “style” was warranted in this case. Seemed unneccessarily prickly.

    /Actually done.

  79. Arkizzle, that’s totally fair and just, although you could have gone farther and termed it “pricky,” as in “of, or belonging to, a prick, an offensive boor, a douchenozzle.” It’s a bit of a tightrope, some find it funny, some get offended, many say “meh, quit sucking the air out of the room, douchebag.” Thanks for the feedback (although the scare quotes you hung around “style” were a bit prickly themselves…. Ouch!).

    /Totally done. For realz.

  80. Lost hasn’t done anything particularly original, even if you only compare it to other north american made TV series…

  81. #74 Clayton:

    “Published college professors” are not good writers, as a rule.

    An appeal to authority (even if you acknowledge it) about a work of art is automatically fallacious anyway.

    You should forget about your girlfriend’s (and her prof’s opinions) and form your own.

    LOST is great. No need to qualify anything.

  82. arkie! tdawwwgg! kidz! why can’t we all just get along! lost is a fine show, but it is just a fuckin t.v. show! sure, it’s no “northern exposure” or “drinky crow”, but it is entertaining enough for my suspension of disbelief. so let’s hi with the prickly douchebaggery and go mindlessly veg out in front of the idiot box with a box of oreos! c’mon, show me the love!

  83. I never watched LOST for one good reason: ALIAS. They share the same creator.

    ALIAS left me very bitter and now I can see the same thing playing out in LOST. Week after week, ALIAS built up a plot that seemed impossibly complex. We puzzled and theorized and guessed what was going on. In the end, however, the plots just fell apart and we realized the writers didn’t know what they were doing. It was just twist after twist without ever actually getting anywhere. There was no big picture. What a disappointment!

    I feel sorry for all the followers of LOST because they are doomed to the same bitterness!**

    **Although you guys are doing a pretty good job of writing the show for them. Maybe they’ll hire some of you.

    ALIAS was reasonably popular but never achieved the same following as LOST.

  84. @Robulus

    Dexter isn’t a network TV show. It has the luxury of appearing on Showtime, and is thus unfettered by advertising and ratings concerns.

    @ TDawwg

    30 Rock is great, no two ways about it.

  85. #90″ As a rule “published college professors”, in the sense I mean, are some of the best working authors. They’re the ones who win most of the literary awards. Poets and fiction writers alike. Name 5 award winning poets or short story writers who haven’t taught at a Univeristy. You can’t. I’m not talking about hacks here. I’m talking about people you would absolutely know if you’re into decent literature.

    Also, appeals to authority are fallacious in formal logic. You know, the kind of stuff done in math classrooms and in logic classes. They’re absolutely 100% acceptable in informal logic, or in, you know, boing boing comment threads on “art”[sic]. It’s ok for me to say “people who are smarter than us, who have read more than us, and who have repeatedly won some of most prestigious writing awards in the world think the writing on this show is ‘meh'”, at least when we’re speaking about the quality of the writing. Or are you the type of bloke that goes through the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and calls the prof’s stupid and your time wasted?

    And what’s this condescension about “form opinions of your own.” I have, and I chose not to share them, but I made it pretty clear in my comments that I was sharing other peoples opinions. Are you that subverted by shit ideals of bootstraps and individualism that you can’t fathom opinions wrought outside the realm of navel gazing? That would almost be fitting for the forum, but still blithely wrongheaded.

  86. Better network shows?

    DaVinci’s Inquest


    Both Canadian. Creator Chris Haddock is apparently trying to develop an American version of Intelligence (which won’t really be the same show, because the Canadian/U.S. dymanic was a big part of the original).

    And Dexter didn’t really turn my crank. No offense; I have friends who rave about it but it didn’t do it for me. My point? This “my show’s better” debate is ridiculous. It’s all subjective, kids.

    And yes, I do watch Lost. But I don’t have it tattooed on my ass.

  87. Deus ex machina isn’t quite the right term for the writing habit that bothers me on “Lost,” but I can’t find one that fits. What breaks my interest is when I’ve been watching a scene locked to a certain character (third person limited omniscient perspective — pretty much required for suspense) and at the end of the scene the character picks up a photograph… which I don’t get to see. Suddenly cutting away and not revealing information that is obvious to the characters who were in the scene is the most common form of this device. It’s a frequent problem on tv drama.

    Inconsistent point of view? There must be a better term.

  88. Space Toast,

    You mean something like a MacGuffin?

    Or maybe a cross between a MacGuffin and a cliff-hanger or teaser? Even if the secret in each case is eventually revealed the device itself becomes an overused technique (a meta-MacGuffin).

  89. TDawwg, some interesting criticism of Lost has come up on this thread, but mostly not from you. And I enjoy a good ad hominem flamewar as much as anyone, but take some advice: keep it short and sweet, and kill the self-indulgence.

    As to your critique: come off it. Pretty much any sci-fi premise qualifies as “Deus ex machina” under your definition, unless it’s disclosed in the opening scene. So, for example, “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” would also qualify. And that’s one of the finest sci-fi yarns ever written…

    The more commonly understood definition of “Deus ex machina” involves incongruity: a god intervening in a tale of mortals, a sci-fi plot device in a non-sci-fi setting, an earthquake in a love story, etc.

    It’s fair to say that Lost was very weak in the middle, was strung out far too long, and has benefited enormously from having an end date.

    As for other shows…

    Dexter? Always enjoyable, but getting a bit formulaic now.

    Alias was tedious. The Wire was great. Heroes is a tame clone of Lost (but I still gotta have it). Primeval is promising.

    Obviously, Twin Peaks is the granddaddy of Lost; but it was a very different show, introducing three new loose ends for every two that it tied.

  90. How funny was it when Hurley summed up seasons 1-4 in thirty freekin seconds? That’s the gold that keeps me coming back to smell more bullshit: the prospect that in all it’s sci-fi-quackness lies some great human moments. Plus I REALLY need to know who the two corpses in the cave were in season 1… and yeah, wtf was up with the four toed ginormous statue.


  91. though watching it again it would seem like Hurley IS still lying! “…the boat picked up six of us, that much is true”. ummm, i counted 8? could this be more of the famed BULLSHIT or more idiot write proof, hmmmmm?

    and it was more like a 60 second summation, sorry.

  92. I watched the DVDs of the first four seasons, and I gotta say, Lost hasn’t failed me yet.

    It’s a marvel of post-modern storytelling that also just happens to work as a knock-down piece of entertainment. The writers have systematically taken a top-ten list of cheap narrative tricks, clichés and other faux pas (third-act coincidence, time travel, deus ex machina, hallucination, and so on) and built an entire plot structure around each of them. And it just works. Like a tensegrity tower made of rubber bands and Q-tips, it seems impossible, but somehow, it stands up on its own.

    That is what has kept me watching.

    That and Evangeline Lilly. She seems like a very nice person.

  93. Patrick McGoohan passed on recently. Do a search on YouTube (McGoohan + The Prisoner) and watch/listen how “The Prisoner” ended, how the audience reacted and how McGoohan felt about the reaction.

    P.S. I don’t think the appeal to authority of Literary Professors’ works on BB.

    It would be totally absurd except for the fact that its condemnation is also kinda cliche’d. Nothing is true. Everything is permissible. Engage brain before recieving wisdom from on high.

  94. @67: There’s nothing wrong with killing people in the past if that is in fact what happened all along in the past. Read up on the Novikov self-consistency principle. Of course, Lost doesn’t fully respect this principle since the episodes with Desmond show that minor things can be changed, just not “important” things like who dies on what day.

  95. Lost is the Kevin Smith of TV drama – it thinks it’s smarter and more talented than it actually is and has too many over-enthusiastic fans who think it’s all really deep. Lost is confused not complex.

  96. @110 Jesse M.

    (I was anonymous #67)

    Let’s say that theory is at work for a moment. Lost does nothing to suggest it is though, something Faraday, could’ve slipped in, and Sawyer could’ve tested resulting in a bit of comedy.

    So it feels more it’s a part of a long-line of eye-rolling, lazy contrivances, the writers slip into to almost every show as the series goes on.

    If you’re a fan, remember last season when they showed the wreckage of the Oceanic flight on TV that Whitmore had set-up?

    First, they showed the bodies on TV, something that never happens in our reality, out of one the last pieces of good taste the news media has.

    Second, and even more preposterous, Jeff Fahey’s character, Lapidus, sees the news and the pilot’s body, missing his ring on his finger, and automatically deduces without question, that it’s fake because the pilot ‘would never remove that ring.’

    Because a plane crash into the sea couldn’t have possibly (among other things) caused the ring to slip off.


    If it happened occasionally, it wouldn’t be that big a deal, but it’s like every episode, something like that happens.

    Again, I enjoy the show for the characters, the twisty plot, but I think it’s lazy, contrived, and practically thought insulting moments that ultimately keep the show from reaching true greatness.

  97. I’d like to bring some professional insight to the discussion, since most of the criticism of “Lost” in this thread seems to grow from the premise that “the writers are just making it up as they go along.”

    To establish my bona fides, I’m a writer, and I wrote episodic television for almost twenty years, and produced some too. So I’d like to think I speak with some authority here — if not about the specific situation the “Lost” producers find themselves in, then in general terms, the specific situation *any* television producers find themselves in, creating a TV show week-to-week.

    Point one — the writers *absolutely* knew where they wanted to go with the show, from the day they first pitched the concept.

    Point two — where they wanted to go *absolutely* changed over the course of developing the story and the series week to week and year to year.

    This is because creating a television show is more than just writing words on paper and having them translated magically into film. It’s an organic, living process that is influenced by forces that are inevitably beyond your control — and ultimately is the better for it. Let me give you one small example from personal experience.

    A few years ago I was writing and producing a show about a pair of detectives. I created a love interest for one of the detectives, and developed a year-long arc for the relationship. We cast the part of the lover; the actors had chemistry; we did a three-part introductory story; and then the actor we’d cast as the lover LEFT THE SHOW because he wanted to be free during pilot season. (Pilot season is when networks and producers make life hell for casting agents of ongoing series; all the good actors refuse to commit because they want to be available for casting in their own pilots.)

    As a result, we had to drop the long-planned romance in mid-story line, to the considerable detriment of the series. Should we have locked up the actor before we began the arc? Probably; but we were laboring under certain economic constraints, and we thought we had an understanding with the actor’s agent. Sure, we knew they’d probably f**k us if they got a better offer, but we figured they’d at least wait till they got the better offer before f**king us. (Happily, the actor in question never got cast in a pilot, and because of the reputation he developed from this and similar diva behavior, he hasn’t been cast in any other ongoing series since. Good riddance.)

    Anyway, point is, the writers of “Lost” are constrained by simple reality as they develop their series. Actors cast for minor roles suddenly take off and are lost to the show; actors who you think will bring something special to a plot line turn out to fall flat, and have to be cut; other actors who are cast as minor figures suddenly play so well you start writing more and more material for them; and so on. (This is probably why Ben has become so important — a potentially minor character is played brilliantly by an actor, and the writers are inspired to develop more material for him. This isn’t to say the writers would not have created a similar character to serve the story as Ben now does; it’s just to say it might not have been Ben.)

    In addition to the impact performers have on the writing process, you also have to take into account the impact the network executives have — both positive, when they’re supportive of what you’re trying to achieve, and negative, when they actively seek to undermine your efforts. (I believe most of what went wrong with “Heroes” in year two was a result of network interference.) The creators of “Lost” probably had a clear vision from the start of where they want to take the show, but I’m betting they had to struggle through most of the first three years to get the network brass to let them tell the story their way. That’s why Season One consists mostly of single-episode “flashback” anthology-style stories, focusing on character backstory: it’s something network execs could understand and relate to. It’s also why “Season Two” began to get more complex, as the network suits allowed the writers to play around with their overall concept and begin to lay the groundwork for the end game. And it’s most certainly why “Season Three” went down the rabbit hole for the first six weeks, because the writers were forced to create an artificial six-week self-contained story line simply to address the network’s desire to have two blocks of shows, one in the fall season, and another beginning in late January.

    The point is, whatever problems the show may exhibit from time to time, in terms of inconsistencies and inelegant transitions or reveals. most likely has more to do with practical issues of production than with any overall lack of a planned outcome. One can argue that it’s the job of show runners to deal with the practicalities in such a way that it appears as if they intended to go the way they have all along, and you’d be right. In that sense, I think “Lost” is a brilliant series of adaptations to the realities of producing a weekly television series. The producers know where they want to go, but the path they have to take to get there is constantly changing.

    By the way, that’s how it is for every writer, except the most disciplined and sterile hack. You know where you want to go, and you move in that direction, but sometimes as you follow the path, the destination changes, and either you adapt, or your story dies.

    Viva “Lost.”

  98. PAHOOL:

    Lost maintains its viewership but loses its integrity by not knowing when to quit.

    Er… what? The show has an exit strategy. Season six will be the final season.


    I can understand the dismissal of LOST as a “soap opera.”

    It’s factually incorrect to say that Lost is a soap opera. It’s like saying that Lost is a musical or a cooking show.


    Ditto for this time-travel (!?!) BS on Lost: obviously, this is a fictional universe in which time travel is possible, indeed, has been possible from the git-go. But to suddenly, in the fifth fragging season, to foreground time travel as THE plot device, the master “trick” that’s animated the ENTIRE show up until now, is just unbelievably, incredibly, stupidly lame. It’s a dodge, a gimmick, a joke.

    This is an arbitrary and meaningless argument since you don’t explain it in any way.


    3) They start KILLING PEOPLE FROM THE PAST, in THE PAST, and rule #1 means absolutely nothing, even though it was a stupid rule to begin with!

    Nothing is preventing them from killing people in the past.


    Also, appeals to authority are fallacious in formal logic. You know, the kind of stuff done in math classrooms and in logic classes. They’re absolutely 100% acceptable in informal logic, or in, you know, boing boing comment threads on “art”[sic]. It’s ok for me to say “people who are smarter than us, who have read more than us, and who have repeatedly won some of most prestigious writing awards in the world think the writing on this show is ‘meh'”, at least when we’re speaking about the quality of the writing.

    It’s a fallacy. Something isn’t true merely because someone says it is.

  99. Maybe I’m misremembering, but I thought I read early on that the writers were emphatically NOT going to go the time-travel route? The first time TT was hinted at, I groaned a little. The second time I was a little angry. Now that we’ve seen (or think we’ve seen) three distinct kinds of time-travel, with different requirements and different effects, I’m almost ready to just give up. Even the time-travel aspects of the plot seem to contradict themselves, and if Faraday is to be trusted, and none of the different types of TT can affect history or change things, then what exactly is the damn point?

    I think I’m firmly in the camp that believes they never knew what the hell they were doing, and are going to continue making it all up as they go until the very end. I commend the crew for getting some damn good actors and giving them some often-entertaining dialogue. I’d love to see someone edit the entire series down to nothing but Sawyer’s and Hurley’s quips and bemusement. However, I think as much of a phenomenon it is now, it won’t be as eternally memorable as something like The Prisoner.

  100. Confused here…

    We’re told that “it is impossible to change the past“, and we need to accept such rules for the show to work… both the creators, and Daniel Faraday have stated as much

    Why is it permissable for Daniel to go speak with Desmond, and tell him to speak with his mother in the future?

    Why is it ok for Richard Alpert to tell Locke to give Richard his compass in the future?

    This makes it sound more like the rule is “it is impossible to change the past that the viewers have seen

    Am I missing something?

  101. @#114 SOME1

    If nothing says they can’t kill people the past, aren’t they changing the past, when they killed someone after they traveled back? Killing someone in the past after traveling back in time, is changing the past!

    Even if they were to die that same day in a different manner, they’re still changing something even if it’s the method by which it’s done.

  102. I’m anonymous #67, and tired of waiting for boingboing to post my comments so I finally registered…

    @ 116 Chittersfull

    1) There’s kinda of a setup for Daniel to speak w/Desmond from last season, so THIS is kinda acceptable.

    2) But you’re correct in that the show doesn’t even play by it’s own rules, with Richard giving Locke the compass and his instructions to go back in time.

    @ 114 SOME1

    I replied anonymously, but it hasn’t registered yet, and maybe it won’t so I’ll write it again…

    If you go into the past and kill someone, you’re changing the past. Even if you believe that time corrects itself, like the person you killed would die anyway from some other means or hand at the same time, you’re still changing the past, because that wasn’t the way it happened in the first place.

    And like I said, by the end of the 2nd episode they were doing just that.

    Also Chittersfull made a good point about Locke being told to go to the past give the compass to Alpert, and thus changing time as well.

  103. @177: Why do you assume there was an “original history” with no time travelers present? Under the Novikov self-consistency principle (a real proposal by physicists about how to deal with the possibility of time travel in general relativity), there is only a single self-consistent history, and it already includes all the actions of time travelers. If you go back and kill someone, then it was already a part of history that you killed them in the past, even before you stepped into the time machine. There is nothing illogical about this idea, as counterintuitive as it may be at first.

  104. @118

    The principal ultimately doesn’t make sense in my view.

    How can something happen in the past and then be interfered with by a traveler from the future (going into the past), without it FIRST, having happened without the interference?

    According to the principle, I can go back in time and stop my best friend from getting killed in a car wreck, but that will result in him, say, dying of heart attack the same day instead.

    But this results in a new series of events. Maybe the person who killed him in the car wreck that I now have prevented, lives a happier life, instead of grief stricken one that ends in suicide. Maybe his mother (after his death of a heart attack) is inspired to start a campaign that ultimately cures heart disease a decade before it would’ve normally cured.

    There’s so many little consequences and variables that in logic, would shift in one way or another, ultimately changing something (and how could it not?) even if it meant my friend still died, and thus change the future.

    Also, the show does nothing to even illustrate the point if it was basing it on the Novikov principle. For example, we could’ve had a humorous exchange between Sawyer trying to prove Farraday wrong, if that’s the logic the show wanted to follow.

    Like I said, I don’t believe in the principle, but at least if the show stated that’s what its reality was, and played by it, I could at least accept it a bit more as the show’s reality.

    Unfortunately the show has a habit of abandoning logic and even it’s own logic about once or twice each episode, and pretends we won’t notice.

  105. @118 and 119

    Oops, think I got Novikov confused with something else. My bad.

    I still don’t believe in it. But let’s just leave it as, the show could follow this logic, but, it needs to illustrate it. And if they didn’t have a history of breaking common sense rules, I might let it slide.

  106. @105:

    Many sci-fi premises do indeed qualify as deus exes. Indeed, sci-fi’s overreliance on such hoary old cheats is a fault of the genre, just as it sucks when, in mysteries, clues are providentially placed before the hero-sleuth. Sniff if you want, but deus exes suck. I mean, really, did realizing that the nuclear reactor of the tracked city in Priest’s Inverted World was responsible for the ENTIRETY of the plot and its difficulties make that a better read for you? If so, why?

    And, finally, deus exes aren’t just interventions, they’re unmotivated ones that have little to do with the plot as revealed beforehand. Like in Euripides, but NOT like in Homer or Aeschylus. Objecting to a god’s presence in a Greek myth or poem would be the mark of either an ignoramus or an insane person: they were some god-haunted folks!

  107. @121:
    How can something happen in the past and then be interfered with by a traveler from the future (going into the past), without it FIRST, having happened without the interference?

    That’s the whole point of the principle, a time travel can’t “interfere” with anything in the sense of changing it.

    According to the principle, I can go back in time and stop my best friend from getting killed in a car wreck, but that will result in him, say, dying of heart attack the same day instead.

    No, that’s a misunderstanding. According to Novikov’s principle nothing can be changed, not even small details (of course as I said in comment 110, the Lost writers are not following this principle fully since they did allow for Desmond to change someone’s mode of death). The timeline is totally fixed. So, if you know your friend died in a car accident, you won’t be able to change that (unless you can somehow substitute a fake corpse in the car at the last minute and then keep your friend hidden from the time of the wreck until the moment you went back in time, so that his secretly having survived doesn’t conflict with your memories of the funeral and grieving friends and such). But comment #67 was saying you couldn’t kill anyone without changing the past, which isn’t right–if I succeed in killing someone who I had no specific knowledge of being alive at later times, then there’s nothing inconsistent about the idea that even before I stepped into the time machine it was already true that they had died at that point in time because I killed them.

    Good cinematic illustrations of this type of time travel: 12 Monkeys, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and possibly the first Terminator movie if you ignore the sequels.

  108. So great that the fourth post references the name of an episode relevant to the discussion (deus), as others have noted.

    Remember this as Lost – truly one of the greatest programs ever (don’t dismiss as lazy writing) – resolves:

    from Episode 1: “Our very own Adam and Eve.”

  109. Remember this as Lost – truly one of the greatest programs ever (don’t dismiss as lazy writing) – resolves:

    from Episode 1: “Our very own Adam and Eve.”

    On some DVD extras Abrams specifically mentions having a plan for this that will tie into the explanations that are finally revealed by the end of the series, so it’s a pretty safe bet that this particular mystery will be resolved neatly. What I’m curious about is whether all the other weird mysteries they introduced over time will be resolved in a satisfying way–the polar bears, Hurley’s bad luck associated with “the numbers”, Libby being in the same institution with Hurley, the psychic who told Claire she had to raise the baby herself, etc.

  110. @124

    We’ll end up debating the consequences of time travel forever until we can actually do it.

    However, again it’s the writing. There’s always something almost every episode that makes audience roll their eyes.

    2 specific examples from last season:

    1) The episode where they showed the wreckage of Oceanic with the fake bodies on the news. Now, I hate the news media, but if you have to give them credit, they would never show (at least not yet that I’ve seen) bodies of people in a plane wreck on TV.

    Yet that’s exactly what happened last season.

    Further, Lapidus (the chopper pilot) saw this program and automatically deduced through the blurry footage and murky water that since the pilot was missing his wedding ring, it wasn’t the pilot’s actual body.

    Both are a bit of a stretch, no?

    2) The episode where Sun gives birth is cut between her in labor and Jin rushing to the hospital. At least once and maybe twice, Sun calls out for her husband, “Where’s my husband!?”

    By the time the show ends, we find out the scenes of Jin were from before the plane crash and another birth. Our only real clue it’s in the past is a big-ass cell phone he uses at one point.

    At the time of Sun’s labor Jin has been dead for several months, and her calling out for her husband, is maybe plausible in some circumstances, but ultimately a cheap trick to fool the audience that Jin is still alive for the inevitable reveal at the end of the show.

    Now, if Sun never said “Where’s my husband?!”, the whole episode probably still would’ve worked, but instead it comes of more as a blatant cheat because this is storytelling.

    It’s stretches and contrivances like these, which are lazy bits of writing that ultimately keep the show from reaching greatness in my opinion.

    That’s why when they started killing people in the past, even though they were told they couldn’t change it, it was pretty much like a here we go again with the bullshit moment.

  111. #4 Twin Peaks was cancelled after 2 seasons and was never resolved. Twin Peaks and Carnivale (another incredible show) certainly didn’t prove there was a vital market for this kind of show.

    #117 In the episode The Constant, Farraday and Desmond established a connection with each other as a result of Desmond bouncing back and forth in time. Farraday wrote in his journal at the end of that episode something to the effect of “Desmond Hume is my constant”. That’s what he was looking at in his journal before he returns to the backdoor of the hatch.

  112. Interesting that there are so few comments about the show itself and more comments as to its inherent worth. Why bother to bash?

    My theory is that the island is the garden of Eden which is why it is not subject to the laws of time. “Science” aka Darma came in and tried to “understand” and use the island, probably through Whitmore but the indigenous people are obviously the true believers- hence Jakob and “the list”. The island doesn’t just time travel… it has the ability to make guns not work (Michael’s suicide attempt) and it has the ability to heal (John Locke). The Christian mythology that runs through the show is incredibly evident from the names of the characters themselves (look up “Ben” in the Torah and please remember that he wasn’t revealed with the name until they decided to “keep” him) to the back stories and deeds that are done. This is about fate verses free will, meaning verses chaos, and redemption verses predetermination. What can save you? What would you do with another chance? Would you even recognize it?


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