Gentlemen: As Jack has already blown my cover, I suppose I should admit it straight away: A friend and I once taught a college course on Lost. (For those either curious or looking for easy ways to ridicule me, the syllabus can be found here.) We came up with the idea in 2006, when Lost was a true cultural phenomenon: a show that appealed to sci-fi cultists but could also boast a massive mainstream audience.
Then Lost got weird and shed half of its viewers (from 18.8 million for Season 3’s premiere to 9.3 million for Season 5’s finale). Unlike these more sensible people, though, I’ve been masochistic enough to bend my logic right along with the writers. Last season’s time travel was just an extension of what we had already seen. At the end of Season 4, Ben turned a giant donkey wheel, yellow flames came out of the wall, and the island disappeared. In this context, time travel isn’t that much of a stretch.
So yes, I’m anticipating this season and all the crackpot answers it will bring. And at the risk of sounding like I belong at Santa Rosa’s right next to Hurley, I think they can actually pull this thing off. Last week I rewatched the Season 5 finale for the first time since it aired, and remembered that they haven’t screwed up a season finale yet. It’s far harder to avoid botching a final season, of course, but I think these guys have already shown that they know how to end things.
Of course they have a dizzying number of bets to settle up. In no particular order, here are some of the things that must be answered this year to make this epic worth it: Who were Adam and Eve, those creepy skeletons that Jack and company found in the caves in Season 1? Is Libby a psychopath or a Dharma recruiter? Who controls the smoke monster? Why did Jacob write lists of people the Others should abduct? Why can Miles talk to dead people? Why wasn’t Sun magically plucked from the plane along with Jack, Kate, and Hurley? Why did a missile take 31 minutes, 18 seconds longer to get to the island than expected? What’s the deal with all the hieroglyphs and Egyptian statues?
There are plenty of other loose ends, some of which I’ll try to address later this season. I’ll ease down into the weeds week by week. Jack and Seth, beware: I’m taking you with me.
But the biggest issue at hand is who’s going to win. This show is at its best when two characters (always two male characters) compete for control of the island. In the first two seasons, it was Jack vs. Locke (the man of reason against the man of faith). In Season 3, Jack vs. Ben. Once Faraday, Miles, Charlotte, and Lapidus came off the freighter in Season 4, the central rivalry shifted to Ben vs. Widmore.
And that’s where we were until the final two hours of Season 5. Now there’s a new rivalry that appears to supercede them all. Jacob vs. his nameless adversary. (The Lost blogs call him the “Man in Black.” I prefer the more biblical name of Esau.)
I’m suggesting that the central question of the show is not, “What is the island?” or “What is the smoke monster?” Rather it’s “Who’s in charge?” The answer is slippery and nuanced. To keep track, my Slate colleague Chris Wilson and I put together the Lost social network you’ll find below. It’s a chart of who’s following whose orders. As the season progresses, we’ll fill in some blanks (is Widmore working for Jacob’s enemy?) and keep track of the shifting allegiances. Roll over the lines between characters for more information.
As you were both too timid to make a prediction, I’ll offer one big enough for the three of us: This season will be exclusively linear. It will take place entirely on the island and begin at the island’s creation. The first shot of this new season will be a man’s eye opening, just as it was in Season 1. But it won’t be Jack’s; it will be Jacob’s. We won’t see our castaways until a few episodes in, when they’ll be back on a hatchless island. The bomb will have changed history, but the universe will have course-corrected in response.
Feel free to brand me with the sheriff’s mark if I’m wrong.