August 31, 2010 Posted by Roger Overton
*If you have not watched the final episode of LOST and don’t want to know how it ends, do not continue reading*
“The mystery box… stays closed.” The LOST island had mystery boxes everywhere, and the island itself was a mystery box. Some of these boxes were torn open and examined, such as Dharma. Others were left much like J.J. Abrams’s box: tightly sealed with a big question mark. Obviously, these question marks were a large part of what LOST was, and the writers made it clear all along. Some boxes would not be opened; some questions would remain unanswered.
There are many good reasons to leave some questions unanswered. Whether or not there’s a good reason all of our remaining question marks is worthy of some consideration. In my estimation, the unanswered questions fall generally into three categories.
- 1) Unfulfilled setups. For example: Viewers generally accepted that some people had special abilities. Hurley talked to dead people, Miles heard dead peoples’ final thoughts, and Desmond was resistant to electromagnetism. For the most part, these were accepted without much question. But Walt was also special, and his special abilities were deemed especially important. Just what makes Walt special is only hinted at, so we can only guess that he had some sort of ability to summon things (such as birds and polar bears) and appear in places he shouldn’t be. The Others seemed to think that Walt’s abilities were worth kidnapping and attempted murder. That was a rather large setup leading to high expectations regarding the nature and importance of Walt’s abilities. But after leaving the island in season 3, we’re left with a rather nagging underdeveloped mystery.
Of the remaining mysteries of LOST, I believe this is the most populated and the least important category. Many of the questions that can be placed here are interesting, pique our curiosity and fuel our speculation. And that’s how mystery in a quality narrative should function. Some, such as Walt, really should have been paid-off to some degree.
- 2) Inconsistencies. For example: The Man in Black’s primary goal for some 2,000 years is to leave the island. For whatever reason, he appears to be stuck there as long as Jacob and the candidates are alive. However, he seems to have appeared off-island as Christian Shepherd on the freighter and in Jack’s hospital lobby. Maybe we can write off the freighter appearance because it was really close to the island, but what about the hospital room? Maybe it was actually the ghost of Jack’s father? I think there’s a decent case to be made either way.
The point is that there are some questions that raise inconsistencies in the narrative of LOST. While fewer of the remaining mysteries fall into this category, these are more troubling. A narrative structure can only survive a limited amount of inconsistencies before it collapses. I don’t believe LOST’s narrative collapsed, but suffer some damaging blows from these lingering questions.
- 3) Foundational mysteries. For example: We are expected to believe that the most powerful and important thing in the show is the light at the heart of the island. It’s ultimately why everyone was brought to the island and, in a round about way, what so many died for so it could be protected. The crazy mother said that there’s a bit of this light in every man and they all want more. Furthermore, if it’s destroyed at the island, it goes out everywhere. Whoever installed the light must have been very sophisticated, and it must have required a group of people to construct. With all the power and resources the constructors had, apparently they couldn’t protect the light themselves. Some how protection of this all important light was left in the hands of crazy mother. Without any explanation, this is the sort of thing that’s foundational to the show’s narrative, yet really hard to buy.
This sort of problem is the most damaging to the narrative. If the foundation of a narrative is weakened by too many of these sort of mysteries, it cannot bear the weight of the narrative. Thankfully, there is not much in LOST’s narrative that fits this category.