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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. Jack Graham
    November 27, 2013 @ 12:49 am

    The White Robots are coming for me…


  2. Froborr
    November 27, 2013 @ 12:52 am

    OMG you quoted Chaim Potok! He is one of my favorite authors ever and Asher Lev probably my favorite of his books. You've made my day!


  3. Chadwick
    November 27, 2013 @ 1:05 am

    I checked out of Lost the moment Dr Sandifer got hooked; episode 4. A show that promised excitement and mystery, a show that could…maybe…sit alongside Twin Peaks and maybe (if the writers were really good) The Prisoner. Alas, I thought the show was a mess right from early on.

    You had two competing dramatic tensions from the pilot episodes: The need to survive on an island and the need to explore the mysteries on it. Shepard embodied the first, Locke the second. However, the show meandered all over the place and the focus of those tensions came and went; a situation made worse by the flashbacks.

    I'm often of the school of thought that flashbacks are used when the writer hasn't explained things well enough. In Lost, they do reveal insights into the characters' journeys before being marooned but they also slow down or distract from the narrative back on the island. In the end, it became too much about the flashbacks and backstory. The ensemble cast format, a staple of American TV since perhaps Hill Street Blues, meant that your two dynamic driving characters who are providing your conflict drama (Shepard and Locke) have to sit on the sidelines all too often so that the secondary cast can have their stories told.

    The mystery box is all well and good, but even Steven Moffatt realised that you have to put something in that box at the end and, like a great magician, do the big showstopping finale where the biggest box is opened. Imagine "The Pandorica Opens" without the Pandorica actually being opened. You might not like what's inside it, but at least you got to see for yourself. The little boxes should lead you to the bigger boxes, along a trail, and each one should be linked to the ones before. JJ and his writing team failed to do that. Moffatt, David Chase on The Sopranos and David Simon on The Wire took ensembles and mystery boxes but made sure they mostly fitted together.

    I'm in agreement with Dr Sandifer about the legacy of Lost. It has spawned imitators but I don't think Lost itself will be held with the same affection and nostalgia as Twin Peaks in years to come.


  4. Chicanery
    November 27, 2013 @ 1:15 am

    Oi, you, back to the writing. Don't skip to the end. Ah – no lies! I know you did, don't pretend you didn't.


  5. Bennett
    November 27, 2013 @ 1:32 am

    Look at an image too closely and the whole becomes obscured – especially at its very edge.

    I recently completed a LOST marathon with my brother – one or two episodes a night, cracking jokes while they were on, not thinking about them when they weren't. In this context the final few seasons sing, as does its heart-wrenching finale.

    And I think that's just as valid a lens to study the show through. An 'open reading' rather than a 'close reading'. It's a shame that the latter seems to hold the final verdict on LOST's reputation – with the majority of its jilted fans not ready to either 'go back' or 'let go'. Nothing else produced by an American network has come even close to delivering what LOST did, and I feel it deserves the highest praise – without an asterisk.

    That said, thank you for the brave, honest and surprising essay. Come back anytime.


  6. Alex Antonijevic
    November 27, 2013 @ 2:32 am

    So do we now need to re-read every post in this blog, all the times you went back (for the book versions) to look for clues? Are you an unreliable narrator? Have you been making intentional mistakes?


  7. jane
    November 27, 2013 @ 3:26 am

    That's probably a more valid lens to study the show through, frankly. I do think this is one of those shows where the hardcore fandom — i.e., people writing on the Internet — did not have the same experience as the majority of viewers. And even here, you look at something like IMDB for a big cross section of ratings, and LOST acquits itself quite well.

    Back in the day, when it was all brand new, someone was complaining about the montage at the end of Tabula Rasa: Joe Purdy's "Wash Away" playing on Hurley's CD player while the Losties interact and connect on the beach. The writer was complaining about the sentimentality of the scene, and yet this ethos certainly informs the heart of the show, doesn't it?

    (Think about our fandom's reaction to Rings of Akhaten. Playing for the heartstrings really brought out the cynics.)

    So, yes, the "open" reading is certainly available and ultimately where the show takes its stand — it says that its our relationships that matter, in the end, and I have to agree. But I do think the "asterisk" has to be included; the "close" reading is just as valid to share the stage, and to pretend it doesn't exist and that it got a black eye would be, well, turning a blind eye to it.

    LOST is still exerting influence. Last year, the movie "This is 40" devotes one character's emotional arc to watching LOST. Can you imagine? A movie that hinges one character on another Hollywood property?

    Here's the condensed version of that character arc if you're interested.


  8. jane
    November 27, 2013 @ 3:28 am

    Drink your orange juice. Vitamins.


  9. jane
    November 27, 2013 @ 3:28 am

    Go back at your own peril.


  10. prandeamus
    November 27, 2013 @ 3:30 am

    Beautiful, Incomprehensible if you've never watched lost, but a work of real

    ~~~ Whoosh

    Me: But I need to fix my motorcycle. All I have is –
    Phaedus: A box of zen koan. I know. It's a mental epiphenomenon, not a cycle. Well it is a cycle, a sort of timey-wimey cyclical spinny thing.. Don't look at me like that – I will never explain it that way again. Trust me.
    Me: I'll fix it with the sound of my right hand clapping, OK? Just don't screw it up by printing the wrong font on the last page, right?
    Phaedrus: Remember what I told you when I was seven.
    Me: What did you tell me when I was – and hang on, is that the correct name?
    Phaedrus: That's not the point. I need you to rememb —

    ~~~ hsoohW



  11. prandeamus
    November 27, 2013 @ 3:35 am

    And on a totally different point, at whad point did "Whoosh" become the default televisual transition for flashbacks? When I was young, a flashback was accompanied by harp arpeggios, a glazed look in the eyes, and wavy visual distortion.


  12. Phil
    November 27, 2013 @ 3:49 am

    One of my favorite essays of the year. And I don't even like "Lost."


  13. Froborr
    November 27, 2013 @ 3:53 am

    Wait, Flann O'Brien is in this post, too!? I've only read At Swim-Two-Birds, but it's genius!


  14. jane
    November 27, 2013 @ 3:59 am

    Right. And Ben Linus is that character who suspects he's in a TV show; at times, Jack is aware of it two, and actively alters the choices he makes in FlashBack, in particular the choice to rat out his father at the medical review inquiry.

    Rather than overthrow their covert narrator, Jacob, they get Hurley to do it instead. Hurley, of course, wanted to rewrite the Star Wars trilogy; he's actively engaged in changing contemporary mythology.


  15. jane
    November 27, 2013 @ 4:05 am

    Remember, John.

    You'll rise to greater heights than that. One day when you're older, you'll understand.


    That's it, John. Practice makes perfect. Now, remember what I told you. Never talk to strangers.

    John, remember. You're probably wondering why I keep appearing in your memories. It's because I have inserted myself in them. They were fabricated to teach you about the Strangers. Give you a lifetime of knowledge in a single syringe. You will survive, John. You'll find strength within yourself. And you will prevail.


    "Hi, Uncle Karl."


    Getting the hang of it, John. Maybe one day I'll work for you. Here's the machine the Strangers use to amplify their thoughts, the machine that changes their world. You must take control of it. You must make the machine yours. I know you can beat them, but you must concentrate.

    Something's wrong. There is no time for romance. The world can be what you make it. You have the power to make anything happen… but you must act now.


  16. jane
    November 27, 2013 @ 4:05 am

    More like a Black Smoke Monster.


  17. jane
    November 27, 2013 @ 4:09 am

    "Whoosh" became the default televisual transition for FlashBacks on October 20th, 2004, to convey the sense of falling down a rabbit hole.

    It still baffles me how ham-handedly flashbacks are handled in visual media, compared to prose.


  18. Anton B
    November 27, 2013 @ 4:17 am

    Remarkable. I didn't skip to the end. In fact I didn't skip anywhere despite the fact that it was around halfway through that I realised just what an epic this post was going to be. Is. Has been. (See what you've done now?).

    Anyway I have little to add. Other than thanks for an incredibly entertaining and illuminative read. I bailed out of LOST after the first season when it became clear that the writers were 'making it up as they went along'. However, as Alan Moore might say – "Aren't they all?".

    I recall an old Silver Age DC comic (I think it was adapted for the TV show) wherein The Penguin left a series of obscure bird and umbrella related clues for Batman to solve in order to ascertain the nature of the villain's next crime. The twist was that the Penguin had no idea what the crimes were going to be and was relying on the Dark Night Detective to provide that information based on the meaningless clues he had provided. I always felt that the LOST scriptwriters were attempting the same ruse.

    On a Who based note – the most glaring fan-baiting continuity 'error' was of course the 'jacket/no jacket Doctors in Flesh and Stone paid off in The Big Bang. Moffat of course realising that you do have to pay these things off otherwise it's Checkov's gun without a second act. Which is why I do hope the Capaldi cameo in Day of the Doctor gets replayed or at least referenced ( "Sorry, I'd love to but I'm a bit busy helping my previous incarnations save Gallifrey") somewhere in the forthcoming adventures of the twelfth/thirteenth Doctor.


  19. Anton B
    November 27, 2013 @ 4:22 am

    'Jack is aware of it two'…

    I do hope that was deliberate.


  20. Froborr
    November 27, 2013 @ 4:24 am

    Oh, lovely. Almost makes me want to watch the show.



  21. prandeamus
    November 27, 2013 @ 4:28 am

    "Pull Pin Seven" just popped into my head. I am having a very odd day.


  22. Froborr
    November 27, 2013 @ 4:32 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.


  23. Froborr
    November 27, 2013 @ 4:33 am

    Never seen a single second of the show, and I was able to follow this all right.

    The boxes were key: emboitments. The show contains itself, is about itself; what show isn't? It's a matter of Eternal Recurrence–becoming one's own best self, such that going back (contra Nietzsche) is no longer attractive because changing even the wrong choices would result in a different, less-than-best self.

    Simultaneously, it's an account of how the paranoid viewing style in regard to the show interacted with (and possibly aggravated) paranoia-related issues in the author's own life.

    I'm sure there are other aspects I'm missing due to unfamiliarity with the show, but this was enough to follow the essay.


  24. Froborr
    November 27, 2013 @ 4:34 am

    I think Wayne's World killed the harps and waviness.


  25. Froborr
    November 27, 2013 @ 4:36 am

    Having finished reading the post: Thank you. That was a bravely personal and all-around excellent post. I have never watched Lost, never will, but now I have some understanding of why people did and what they got out of it. Thank you!


  26. prandeamus
    November 27, 2013 @ 4:59 am

    For Froborr's sake, I should have written that I couldn't follow it, this making it clear that any inability to follow it was due to my own personal deficiencies. Actually that lead-in sentence was intended as a framing device for me to write something I thought was vaguely amusing, and I seemed to have failed in that goal too. So, thanks.


  27. cmattg
    November 27, 2013 @ 5:22 am

    Did…..did you and Jane just re-enact the climax of "Dark City" for us?


  28. jane
    November 27, 2013 @ 5:29 am

    The presentation of an empty space can function like a mirror; nature abhors a vacuum, and the mind even more so. Bernadette Soubirous looked into a dark grotto in Lourdes and saw the Virgin Mary — this was a reflection of Bernadette, not the grotto.

    But I don't think the LOST writers had any old empty box in their hands — they specifically filled it with the emptiness of death. The show is littered with references well-known to people familiar with the NDE literature, and indeed the final reveal is a reveal of death.

    And it's that which I think people (naturally) recoil from.

    Interestingly, the most prevalent theory regarding the Island back in Season One was that it was Purgatory. This is what was reflected back to the audience in Season Six, but with that crucial element of negation — that this purgatory (really, a Buddhist bardo) is what's left in the wake of the Island's death.

    So the show is deeply and relentlessly ironic, to the point where the irony is turned back on itself, revealing earnest sentiment. The Snake in the Mailbox eats its own tale.


  29. Chadwick
    November 27, 2013 @ 6:06 am

    I think a lot of you are giving the writers of Lost way too much credit. I think it was more a hack work than something of great imagination and intelligence.


  30. jane
    November 27, 2013 @ 6:10 am

    On what basis do make such an assertion?


  31. prandeamus
    November 27, 2013 @ 6:43 am

    Maybe false memory syndrome/unreliable narrator at work again, but didn't the finale of LOST air very close to the finale of Ashes to Ashes? They have superficial similarities in the resolution "And they were dead all the time". A2A definitely was a purgatory of sorts for coppers. I'm not saying they were identical, but it may have further blunted the impact of the finales of either or both in the UK. I can't imagine this applied anywhere else, mind you.


  32. Theonlyspiral
    November 27, 2013 @ 6:50 am

    Firstly that was awesome. I'd be lying were I to say that the experience wasn't taxing…almost like a psychic wound. It's been a while since anything really pushed me like that. Thank you.

    Secondly however I never could get into Lost. I tried. I tried harder than anyone I know. I started the first season seven times. I've completed it thrice. I had a friend who was a very invested fan and he kept pushing so I kept trying. I just…don't like it. I don't like anyone there, I don't find it's mysteries compelling and I don't find the experience of watching either pleasurable or rewarding. More power to the people who got something out of it, but that wasn't me.


  33. Anton B
    November 27, 2013 @ 6:59 am

    I'd like to clarify that I was in no way denigrating the writers for pulling the 'Penguin's clues' trick, I thought at the time that it was a fantastic piece of post-modernism. I've attempted the same thing in my own writing and am fascinated by the way it bears some resemblance to William Burroughs and Bryon Gysin's 'Cut-Up' technique of self creating recursive creativity. The self mirroring ad-infinitum of the LOST story arc as detailed in this marvelous post certainly tempts me to find time to re-visit the show. Okay ya got me. With all that in mind I'm going to give LOST another chance.


  34. David Thiel
    November 27, 2013 @ 7:00 am

    I enjoyed LOST thoroughly, and that includes the finale. It didn't bother me that everything wasn't tidily wrapped up. Most of the dangling threads (Walt, for example) were side concerns at best. And there's nothing wrong with allowing the Island to retain some of its mysteries.

    Sure, there were missteps and dead ends along the way, Those are part and parcel of a serial narrative dependent on outside factors such as actor availability. Furthermore, it spent the first half of its run not knowing how many years it would have to tell its story. (The episode which detailed the backstory of Jack's tattoos is deservedly infamous, but also very important in that it allowed the producers to convince the network to set a definitive end date.) I prefer a TV series that makes it up as they go (to some extent) to one has a very clear idea of what it wants to be and therefore doesn't know how to react to outside circumstances. (I'm looking at you, Babylon 5.)


  35. jane
    November 27, 2013 @ 8:28 am

    Sounds like a conspiracy. πŸ™‚



  36. jane
    November 27, 2013 @ 8:34 am

    The episode with Jack's tattoos, Stranger in a Strange Land, is brilliant. Maybe not entertaining, but brilliant. "That's what they say, that's not what they mean," it's a metaphor for the show (once again.) It demonstrates how language has multiple meanings, which is exactly how the dialogue is written. (And of course, the meanings given the tattoos by Jack, Achara, and Isabel don't actually correspond to the literal translation of the tattoos, which were culled from a poem by Mau Tzedung.)

    But this is also the problem with LOST. Sometimes good storytelling is sacrificed for a clever metaphor.

    Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land," by the way, ended up spawning an actual religion, The Church of All Worlds. Funny, that.


  37. jane
    November 27, 2013 @ 8:45 am

    Here's one of the ways LOST creates a mirror: in The Moth, the 7th episode of Season One, the Caves are referred to in polarized ways — Sun, for example, tiredly says they're too hot, as she wipes the sweat from her brow; Walt, on the other hand, excitedly describes them as "cool" to his dad.

    So the Caves are a place where polarities are unified. Whether you actually like the Caves or not, there's support for your position in the text. Likewise, having such a large cast allows the writers to explore all kinds of dichotomies. If you're the optimistic sort who would try to find rescue, you follow some of the Losties to the Beach; if you're pessimistic and decide it's better to focus on long-term survival, it's off to the Caves.

    Another example: in "Whatever The Case May Be," there's a bank manager named Mark. "Mark" can mean "defender" — and indeed, Mark tries to defend Kate during the bank robbery. "Mark" is also slang for the patsy of a con — and indeed, Mark is conned by Kate. But "Mark" also means "consecrated to Mars" — and Mark's bank is where the Marshal, Ed Mars, has stashed away the toy plane Kate is so desperate to retrieve.


  38. J Mairs
    November 27, 2013 @ 8:46 am

    Ever since you mentioned it, I've been wondering what that lunch between Phil and Jane would have sounded like.

    …And now I know. πŸ˜€


  39. Theonlyspiral
    November 27, 2013 @ 9:19 am

    Weird Question Jane: How did you decide which fonts to use? Is there a deeper alchemical meaning or was it purely aesthetics?


  40. BerserkRL
    November 27, 2013 @ 9:58 am

    I've still never seen Lost. Though I did receive the entire dvd set as a gift a couple of years ago. Will get to it eventually.

    the debate between plot-driven stories versus character-driven stories

    Reminds me of the debate between George Bernard Shaw and Terence Rattigan on "plays of ideas" versus "plays of character."

    Also reminds me of the debate between food and drink ….

    Hardly anyone indulges in utopian thinking any more, and when they do it’s usually wrapped up in an eschatological framework that denies the possibility of carving out a materially better future

    Seriously? You and I must obviously hang out in different circles.

    It’s the difference between the Roman concept of veritas versus the Greek concept of aletheia.

    Um, no. No such difference. No one conception of truth that all Greeks share; no one conception of truth that all Romans share.


  41. Daibhid C
    November 27, 2013 @ 10:06 am

    An epic and moving guest post even, as others have said, if you never watched LOST. (I heard about the massive arc plot and figured that if I started watching it then at some point I would miss an episode, or maybe even forget it was on for a few weeks, and then be totally, well, lost…)

    Incidentally, about halfway through the comments, the rather nice fractal/paisley pattern on the borders disappears, at least on my computer, which I'm pretty sure has never happened before. By this point my connection to reality was hazy enough that it took me a second or so to figure out what was different, and another before I dared scroll back up. (What if it isn't there? What if it never was?)

    And shortly after that, the discussion moves to "empty spaces" in storytelling. Coincidence?

    (On an even more trivial note than that; Sandford Phillips was the name I was going to use in my affectionate parody of TARDIS Eruditorium. Now I have to think of something else!)


  42. Matthew Blanchette
    November 27, 2013 @ 10:45 am

    There are commenters on here whose eyes burn, while thinking deep, reading 'sophical streams. Seem to've had a stroke as paging went along. Somewhere a stranger troubles o'er Augustus, and troubled smells the flea's sweating bold.

    Lamon, Dace; heave cut lurching through!

    (That made about as much sense as the Lost entry, I think. Rather miffed you didn't include me in your Allison thought-stream-whisper-fragment.)


  43. jane
    November 27, 2013 @ 10:49 am

    Of course there's an alchemical meaning!



  44. jane
    November 27, 2013 @ 11:03 am

    Utopia — read Wonder Woman: A Golden Thread to fully grok this one.

    Roman/Greek truth — right, a bit of sloppiness on my part at the end, equating the etymological origins of the words with conceptual distinction I'm trying to make, after a cursory review of Heidegger's "The Origin of the Work of Art."

    But the point stands — there are two kinds of truth, and I think "veritas" (the root of verification, the "objective" kind of truth as map-making; The Empire Never Ended) makes a nice contrast to Heidegger's use of "aletheia" as unconcealment, which I take as the "subjective" understanding that's at the root of metaphor.


  45. jane
    November 27, 2013 @ 11:04 am

    Do not mistake coincidence for fate.

    Also, never ignore a coincidence. Unless you're busy, in which case, always ignore a coincidence.


  46. jane
    November 27, 2013 @ 11:29 am

    I'm so sorry!

    Okay, this one is just for you. In "Outlaws" the phrase carte blanche is repeated four times. Carte Blanche is a painting by Magritte: a woman on a horse flits through the trees in an absurdist fashion. Magritte also painted False Mirror, which obviously informs the very first image of the entire series.

    It's these paintings that inspired me to look at scenes of people running through the trees. Specifically, to successfully predict that I'd find a reversed image of Charlie running through the trees in Raised By Another, just before Claire has her final pair of FlashBacks where she takes the ticket to get on Flight 815.

    See, this is where Charlie's consciousness went back to after Ethan hung him from the Banyan Tree. Charlie got a second chance. This time he said his lines sincerely instead of sarcastically, to give Claire the faith she needed to accept Malkin's offer instead of rejecting it and causing a fatal paradox.

    "Art is a mirror walking through the jungle path. Sometimes it reflects to your eyes the azure of the sky, sometimes the mire of the path's mudholes. And the man carrying the mirror in his hod will be accused by you as being immoral! His mirror shows the mire, and you accuse the mirror! Instead, blame the jungle path where the puddle lies, and even more the observer of the path who allows the water to gather."

    (Of course, I was absolutely thrilled that Alison Janey played Mother in the Season Six episode "Across the Sea.")


  47. Iain Coleman
    November 27, 2013 @ 11:57 am

    I enjoyed Lost, and found the ending perfectly satisfying, but I was always more interested in the various character dramas: as far the mysteries were concerned, I was quite happy to go along with the ride.

    My favourite characters were the ones with unusual superpowers. Ben Linus, for example, has the superpower of always knowing what the person in front of him wants to hear, which comes in handy on the very many occasions when someone is pointing a gun in his face and shouting about blowing his head off. And then there's Hurley, an unfit man of average intellect and no useful skills, but whose superpower is that everyone likes him. If you have that, what more do you need?

    It maybe helped that I only got into the show with season 4, which is when the seasons got shorter and the plotting got tighter. The season 4 box set has a wonderful feature, Lost in 8'15", which gives an effective and very funny summary of the story so far. If I were in any way competent at fanvidding, I would do a "12 Doctors in 12 Minutes" along similar lines.

    Oh, and Michael Emerson was the first American actor I ever saw who I think could genuinely – and brilliantly – play the Doctor.


  48. ferret
    November 27, 2013 @ 1:02 pm

    I was the absolute worse person for the character-based resolution of this show as it turns out – I was (around season 3) hoping one day someone would release an edit with all the flashbacks removed, concentrating only on what was and had happened on the Island, as the non-island stuff seemed like padding to me.

    I was utterly wrong of course, and wouldn't dream of trying to watch it in such a way now (although it could be interesting) – but this fundamental viewpoint means I desired in the main some hard and satisfying answers the show was never going to deliver.


  49. peeeeeeet
    November 27, 2013 @ 1:16 pm

    Maybe it's because I have a foot in the arts camp and a foot in the science camp, but I've always been puzzled by the notion that some people watch for the characters and some people watch for the mysteries; surely most people watch for both? I certainly did. But in any case, both were fumbled by fatigue and lack of confidence (man). The character resolutions were only satisfying if "one day they'll all be dead, and when they are, their interactions with other island folk were the most significant part of their lives" is adventurously speculative, which it isn't. Put that to one side (which retrospectively means putting roughly half the final season to one side) and we actually leave the characters in mid-air, some of them literally. Let's think of those on that plane, shall we? The one that was broke and was repaired, not by aeronautical engineers with professional equipment but by a commercial pilot with whatever he could find. The one that has no flight clearances. Shall we leave it there, or shall we – after HUNDREDS OF HOURS OF STORY – just have maybe a couple of scenes showing they actually arrived somewhere in one piece?

    I might forgive that if they'd left the mysteries completely unanswered. It would still be craven, but at least they'd have shown some conviction. Contrary to popular belief, having something really odd happen in a story doesn't always require an explanation for it, or for normal service to be resumed. Look at Kafka's Metamorphosis – he's a bug now. Are we unsatisfied that there's never a reason, or that there's never a cure? (As an aside, I'd probably be enjoying this season of HIMYM more if it went down the Tristram Shandy route and had the final revelation recede further away the more time past). Had they definitively never explained the whispers, or the numbers, that could have been fine. What we got instead were some half-hearted attempts which weren't just disappointing, they were often terribly executed – like the ghost of Michael wandering into shot, going "yeah, the whispers are us ghosts chatting, sorry" and then wandering off again. Never mind that that doesn't square with how the whispers had been used, or the content of them, or that it renders the motivations of the ghosts suddenly puzzling.

    But where Lost really Lost me was Jacob's flashback. Again, there were problems with the execution – has Alison Janney ever given a worse performance? – but it was fatally flawed to begin with. We're supposed to decide that a man-child who trusts everything his mother tells him – even when he learns that the woman who claimed to be his mother murdered his actual mother in cold blood – should be more sympathetic than his brother, an inquisitive sort who likes figuring out how things work. In case we were in danger of making up our own minds, the episode is deliberately placed immediately after the latter has dispatched at least three characters we've come to know and love over the years. In short, the great debate the series set up so long ago between faith and science is finally settled by the referee kneecapping science before the match. The gall, the sheer audacity of writers, producers, directors who owe their entire careers to science presiding over such flagrant match-fixing. Without inquisitive types who wanted to figure things out, would you be able to record images on celluloid, or encode them in radio waves and beam them out to people's homes? Let alone all that lovely CGI you're so proud of. Good luck getting all the elders of your favourite religion to help with that.

    Yes, I know, I'm just another atheist having a Dawkins-style pop at all those silly credulous people, take no notice. But still – the very NERVE!


  50. jane
    November 27, 2013 @ 2:17 pm

    According to Lindelof, the fatal flaw in the Jacob episode became after they shot the episode and looked at the footage — only then did they realize it had no emotional resonance because no one cared about these characters, not being Losties or Others or anyone else the audience had come to know.

    But this episode perfectly demonstrates the problem with relying too much on the Mystery Box structure when it comes to character motivation. The Reveal that Jacob was a murderous twit and that his brother actually had legitimate motivation for his actions came too late, as if this reveal would somehow function as shocking twist. Had such motivations been integrated earlier into the show, the characters' actions would have actually had more dramatic impact.

    Film Crit Hulk made similar points regarding this kind of storytelling in his reviews of John Carter and Prometheus. I think he's right.

    As for throwing science under a bus, it's not like they hadn't wildly signaled to us well in advance that this was the case when they blew up the high-school science teacher in Season One, showcased rusting and dangerous technology in Season Two, and had a science teacher in The Man Behind The Curtain explain how to make a volcano using baking soda and water in Season Three. And yet somehow all the sciency types somehow believed there would be a sciency explanation for a time-traveling Island occupied by a Smoke Monster, because a professional liar once told them so. Talk about credulous!

    Mind you, a proper scientific investigation of LOST would begin with observation. "Careful observation in the only key to true and complete awareness," the show tells us in a Dharma video. Closely observing an episode like "Whatever The Case May Be," one might take note that in a scene where Jack accuses Kate of using "sleight of hand," ostensibly because she palmed a key from the wallet of a dead man, the production team has quietly performed its own sleight of hand: Kate didn't retrieve the wallet from the corpse — the closeup of her reaching into the Marshal's pocket reveals she already had a wallet in her hand. Lest one think this is just a "production error," the crew has gone to the extraordinary length of making sure two different but very similar wallets appear in the scene, bearing two different drivers' licenses for the dead Marshal.

    The supposed debate between science and faith is a feint; the real concern of the show is demonstrating how our preconceived notions of reality (and storytelling) shape and filter what we actually perceive. The show itself is a psychological experiment.


  51. jane
    November 27, 2013 @ 2:37 pm

    There's a Sufi parable about a Watermelon Hunter that goes like this:

    Once upon a time, a wanderer far from home entered a Valley of Fools. The people of the valley were terrified of a "monster" in a nearby field. The wanderer checked out the scary field and discovered that the egregious "monster" was, in fact, a watermelon. The bemused wanderer whipped out his knife, cut the melon from its vine, and ate it. The people of the valley were so terrified of the man who would slay monsters (what would he do to them?) that they drove him far away. With pitchforks.

    Another wanderer happened into the valley, and once again was introduced to the "monster" in the nearby field. "Oh, this is very dangerous," the man agreed, for he knew that anything that wasn't understood could be so. He spent much time with the people of the valley, gaining their trust, and brought the whole tribe to surround and gently remove the watermelon from its vine and back to the village. Each person cut off their own slice to eat. Together they put the leftover seeds back into the ground to appease the spirit of the "monster."

    Well, except us. Phil ate his seeds, I spit mine into a napkin, and Jill didn't even find any seeds, because she had quesadilla.


  52. Matthew Blanchette
    November 27, 2013 @ 2:45 pm

    Oh, I know who Magritte is; I love his work. I've just never seen a full episode of Lost aside from Part One of the Pilot, and so was utterly mystified (perhaps an appropriate word, in the larger context) as to why Phil was having a Blakean mental break over it. I'd no idea what he was breaking over.


  53. peeeeeeet
    November 27, 2013 @ 2:46 pm

    According to Lindelof, the fatal flaw in the Jacob episode became after they shot the episode and looked at the footage — only then did they realize it had no emotional resonance because no one cared about these characters, not being Losties or Others or anyone else the audience had come to know.

    Nah, I don't think that's it. That would imply 45 minutes isn't enough time to get to know a character enough to care about them, and I don't think that's true – British viewers had an emotional investment with J R Hartley back in the 80s and his story was told inside a minute. And even if it were true, you've got to start somewhere.


  54. occono
    November 27, 2013 @ 3:33 pm

    There's actually a fanmade re-edited version of the show that does have that. All the flashbacks come before the Island stuff. But before all that, it starts thousands of years in the past….it's only about halfway through it gets to the first episode of the show. for the curious.


  55. jane
    November 27, 2013 @ 3:46 pm

    KATE: What's happening?
    AMY: Well? What's in there?
    DOCTOR: There is nothing in here.
    AMY: Er, well, that's good. It's not, it's not bombs, it's not aliens.
    DOCTOR: Why? Why is there nothing inside? Why? It doesn't make any sense.
    KATE: They're empty. We're safe, right?
    DOCTOR: Ah, no, we are very far from safe. All along, every action has been deliberate. Why draw attention to the cubes if they don't contain anything?
    AMY: Doctor, look.
    KATE: People are dying.


  56. jane
    November 27, 2013 @ 3:47 pm

    There is nothing to see here.


  57. Alex Antonijevic
    November 27, 2013 @ 4:57 pm

    The thing is, Amy, everyone's memory is a mess. Life is a mess. Everyone's got memories of a holiday they've never been on or a party they never went to, or met someone for the first time and felt like they've known them all their lives. Time is being rewritten all around us, every day. People think their memories are bad, but their memories are fine. The past is really like that.


  58. Jesse
    November 27, 2013 @ 7:08 pm

    It’s a masterpiece of postmodernism, but it was virtually unheard of before it appeared in “Orientation,” the third episode of Lost’s second season.

    I'm sure its Lost cameo gave it a big boost, but the book has had a cult following for decades.


  59. wumbo
    November 27, 2013 @ 8:24 pm

    Hermetic drift.


  60. Sean Case
    November 27, 2013 @ 8:32 pm

    Wonder Woman is also from an island, of course.

    I feel as if the word island ought to be in blue, but I can't seem to get it through the comment system.


  61. elvwood
    November 28, 2013 @ 12:09 am

    The closer we get to the present, the more detached I feel from popular culture. I've never encountered Lost, nor most of the other shows and (non-children's) books mentioned. I do not know any of the music. Nevertheless, this was fascinating. Thank you, Dr. Campbell. – Leo Shelby

    (Did I do that right? I have no idea. Still, I'm probably not lying if I say that was all true except for one detail.)


  62. Jenda
    November 28, 2013 @ 12:21 am

    I've found Jane's comments here consistently insightful and well-written, and I'm absolutely DELIGHTED she's written such a fantastic guest post. More please!!

    As an aside, it was wonderful to accidentally run into Eruditorum readers for the few days I happened to be in London, although "an evening with Alan Moore" was probably a good place in which to find them….


  63. Jenda
    November 28, 2013 @ 12:23 am

    It's always been very popular and well-regarded over here, but I do live in Ireland – in the U.S. I imagine it's popularity shot up following the LOST reference.


  64. Chadwick
    November 28, 2013 @ 12:32 am

    Abrams and Lindelof have a knack of putting out potentially interesting ideas which pan out into rushed nothingness. I make the assertion based on their prior and subsequent work. Do you mean to tell me that it was Alias (throw out ideas, never pay off on concepts introduced in cliffhangers), Cloverfield (focussing on irritating and unengaging characters and avoiding the focus of the plot), crap out a masterpiece with Lost, Star Trek and Prometheus (throw out ideas, never pay off on concepts introduced and we're back in the room)? It's the same with new Battlestar Galactica: It's a team of writers working to a showrunner's idea of constantly wrong-footing the audience to the point that the through line of the narrative gets lost. I've said before, you compare those shows with The Sopranos and The Wire where the through line narrative and the focus of the shows remains throughout even though there are twists and surprises on the way. I make the assertion because Abrams and Lindelof have produced way too much pedestrian material along the way to view Lost as some spurt of brilliance. Lost is such a messy show, people are reading all kinds of things into it and I feel fans of the show ended up being played as suckers.


  65. Wm Keith
    November 28, 2013 @ 12:40 am

    I didn't run into any (other than ones I knew). But almost everyone there looked like a typical Eruditorum reader. Dark coat, hat of some kind, guilty eyes.


  66. Jenda
    November 28, 2013 @ 1:40 am

    And a startling array of facial hair.


  67. Anton B
    November 28, 2013 @ 2:26 am

    There must be a word for the empty McGuffin or unloaded signifier. If there isnt anyone care to suggest one?


  68. jane
    November 28, 2013 @ 3:34 am

    I just capitalize it, that seems to do the trick. The Island. As in, like, the movie "Wolverine," when a character asks, "Listen, Zero said something about an Island. Does that mean anything to you?" and "What's the Island, Slim?" before saying that he needs to find it, implying that it's hidden, or lost.

    Same movie: "Kuekuatsheu didn't know that once you leave the spirit world, you can never go back."


  69. Jesse
    November 28, 2013 @ 4:30 am

    When my wife and I visited Ireland in 2004, we went hunting for a Flann O'Brien museum. I was disappointed that one didn't seem to exist.


  70. jane
    November 28, 2013 @ 4:30 am

    Well I'd certainly agree that much of Abrams' output is flawed, and too that Lindelof's recent work leaves much to be desired. As I wrote, the Mystery Box conceit is simply a hook, but a proper story can't really be a series of hooks linked in an unending chain. Especially when characters are made into Mystery Boxes, such that their motivations are reserved for Reveals, rather than informing us of the upcoming dramatic conflicts.

    However, just because an artist is mostly pedestrian doesn't mean they can't produce a brilliant work. There are one-hit wonder bands, sports phenoms with that single incredible season, authors with one amazing book. In short, it's an intellectual mistake to judge LOST not on its own merits or shortcomings, but on the work created around it. Especially in a cinematic endeavor, which involves not just a showrunner, but a huge staff of people.

    (And with LOST, Abrams only helped set up the initial conceit; he was gone after the first couple of episodes. Carlton Cuse stepped in to help run the show — and Cuse is known in the industry as having a knack for writing dialogue that can be read more than one way, which I've argued is one of ways you can reveal the abstract nature of a "mirror/twin" Island without flat out "telling.")

    Coupled with the fact that you state you checked out after the fourth episode of the first season, it's hard to see your claims as anything but baseless. It's like reading the first 10 pages of a novel (more like 30 pages of Infinite Jest) and then chucking it, or looking at the corner of a painting and deeming it, well, anything. It's not an informed opinion, because there's no study involved. It's quintessentially lazy.

    Here's what's not lazy: constructing entire episodes with mirror-twinned dialogue, mirror-twinned concepts, a series of unending reflections. Every single one of the 29 scenes in Pilot, Part 2 are exquisitely structured with repeated/reversed dialogue and images (which is what makes the polar bear such a delightful alchemical joke.) Unlike most postmodern works, however, it never draws attention to its own conceit; it's always waving the right hand so you never see what the left hand is doing.

    Now, one could argue that such conceits as embedding the nature of a Mystery Box into the structure of a show, and employing literary conceits to reveal rather than bald exposition, are fundamentally misguided; that is certainly fair. To say this constitutes being a "hack" is not.

    Even in this regard, LOST has its own escape hatch, because in the end it makes the claim that relationships are what truly matter. And indeed, it spends such a huge amount of time invested in its characters, all of whom become fully revealed to us. Are you going to argue that the premise is wrong, that relationships aren't the bedrock on which we stand?

    We're all here now. And god knows how long we're going to be here. But if we can't live together, we're going to die alone.


  71. liminal fruitbat
    November 28, 2013 @ 11:04 am

    I have never seen Lost. On the plus side, I think this may have been more accessible and interesting than the actual show has ever been presented to me.


  72. HarlequiNQB
    November 28, 2013 @ 7:30 pm

    Interesting you mention Twin Peaks. I made a crack about dancing dwarfs in my office a few years ago, and got blank stares all 'round. "Y'know? Like on Twin Peaks?" I asked. "What the hell is Twin Peaks?" asked one of my office mates.

    In a room of 8 people I was the only one who had heard of it, I was also the only person over 30. Make of that what you will.


  73. ferret
    November 28, 2013 @ 8:33 pm

    Impressive dedication to an idea there!


  74. storiteller
    November 29, 2013 @ 12:32 pm

    Brilliant and emotionally vivid! I was a big fan of LOST and considered getting into the Alternative Reality Game (I was quite into the one for AI, which was quite good, better than the movie, in fact), but it was mostly over by the time I discovered it. However, the ending didn't disappoint me terribly in terms of the mythology. I got very much into the mythology in the X-Files, was let-down and realized I wasn't going to burned again. Instead (much like the creators), I was more fascinated by the potential of the world they created and the characters in it. The potential and "feel" of the world got in my bones the way few universes do, enough that I had dreams about it. The only other shows that I felt that way about were X-Files, Battlestar Galactica, and Doctor Who. It was fine by me that the mythology wasn't explained because the possibilities in my head were more interesting than anything they would be able to carry out on TV. In fact, the only show that I think has had the guts to go weird enough to match the potential in viewers' heads was the finale of Twin Peaks, and you can't really expect anyone to match David Lynch for bizarreness factor.


  75. Watersnake
    November 30, 2013 @ 12:08 am

    The whole time I was reading this I was thinking 'Wow, Jane is going to have A LOT to say about this'! Great post – made me want to rewatch – preferably with an episode guide written by your good self.


  76. jane
    November 30, 2013 @ 5:07 am

    Twin Peaks showed the folly of opening the box too soon.


  77. Jesse
    November 30, 2013 @ 5:10 am

    Twin Peaks showed the folly of believing the box was the point.


  78. GeneralNerd
    January 17, 2014 @ 3:04 pm

    I personally enjoyed the ending of Lost and the final season. I guess I just always understood on some level that not all of the Island's mysteries were ever going to be explained. And, when you think about it, a lot of questions got answered in really subtle ways that you didn't even notice.

    Also, I'm willing to except "magic" as an answer. In which case how the magic works isn't as important as the rules by which the magic works. Which, I don't think Lost ever broke its own rules, except in the case of Desmond who's whole thing was that he was somehow outside the rules.


  79. Kevin Stafford
    March 13, 2014 @ 4:49 pm

    This comment has been removed by the author.


  80. Kevin Stafford
    March 13, 2014 @ 4:51 pm

    Accept, not except.


  81. Robert
    May 13, 2015 @ 10:07 pm

    Could you at least have linked to my Get "Lost" files — ? If you're in a hurry, read entry #1, then skip to the last few.

    I'm not sure what you meant by the narrative having diegetic purpose (Don't they all?), but the clues were in not only dialog, but also props, scenery, & music (esp. Michael Giacchino's original compositions). Once you catch on, they're hilarious.


  82. Robert
    May 13, 2015 @ 10:18 pm

    Also, there was no time travel. That was not a lie by the show's makers. What there was in the show was technology for knocking characters out, even at a distance, and giving them some retrograde amnesia. Faraday's device did not cause anyone to travel in time, but just gave them brain damage. So you knock someone out, have them come to in altered surroundings, and then give them reason to believe they'd traveled to another time, and they'd believe it — if they weren't already playing along!

    All those aboard flight 815 died in the wreck. However, many of them had doubles recruited for the purpose of convincing them they were the same people and that they'd survived the wreck. Competing teams of doubles were recruited by Widmore & Benry. So when Sawyer is led to believe he's seeing himself at an earlier time, he's seeing his double.

    All this was in furtherance of a contest to replace Alvar Hanso, who'd also gone down with the plane, with a double who'd be the stooge of Widmore or Benry, respectively.


  83. Robert
    May 13, 2015 @ 10:41 pm

    There's plenty more sleight of hand where that came from. See where Kate dug up the time capsule & retrieved the model airplane? Watch her hands before she reaches under the baseball cap. Then run back the shots & notice her flaring sleeves and how she's holding that arm up while she's in the car. For prod'n purposes the sleight of hand was simulated, but clearly they were telling us that model plane was not in that box until just then.

    Then notice the repeated operation done to remove air or blood from a supposed pneumothorax or hemopericardium. Why'd that keep coming up? To show us it was fake — fake in their world, not just fake as in a fictional TV show.

    On the DVD, slow the scene down wherein Claire shot Locke & you'll see it was a version of the famous bullet catch trick. The "magician" (Claire) shoots once to show the gun is real & really loaded. Then she turns her gun away from Locke BEFORE Said hits her, but the shot appears to graze Locke's temple on the wrong side. What's actually gone on is that Locke concealed a sharp object in his right hand that he used to cut his head with. There was no need to resort to such stage magic for a TV production, so that means the deception took place in their world.

    Boone's burial was also a famous magic trick: the coffin escape. Remember that these people reveal they have a drug that simulates death; they say it's from a spider, but that's just their cover story. Notice that Jack puts his hand inside the shroud to feel Boone's carotid pulse to make sure he's still alive. Then Locke comes & winks at Jack (the excuse being that Locke's looking into the sun) as the signal for them to start a fight. We get a crane shot from overhead to show that everyone turns their back on the grave to watch the fight. That's when Boone makes his escape into a tunnel.

    But the best sleight of hand was the supposed delivery of a baby from Claire. Claire faked that pregnancy. The baby actually was Kate's. He was smuggled in the bag of alcohol bottles, which is why Kate was so upset when she dropped it. Notice that the umbilical cord goes up to Kate's hand on Aaron's belly, but does not continue past the other side of Kate's hand to where the umbilicus would be.


  84. Adrian Morgan
    February 12, 2017 @ 1:21 am

    (The following comment was saved in a text file at some point and forgotten. Might as well update and post it.)

    Back when LOST was being broadcast, the show Abrams was most known for was ALIAS, which in my opinion was excellent in the early seasons but later went off the rails in part because the writers introduced mysteries without having fully thought through the solution. It then piled mystery on mystery, endlessly procrastinating the reveal of the corner that the writers had painted themselves into.

    In their LOST podcasts, one thing Damon and Carlton were emphatic about was that they never introduce a mystery without having fully worked out the solution. In other words (and I understand this was an conscious reference), they promised the audience that they would not repeat the mistakes of ALIAS. That is part of why it felt like such a betrayal when LOST ended with so many mysteries remaining.

    Incidentally, I never watched the last few seasons of ALIAS (it was dead to me at that point), but I’m told the finale came from essentially the same page as The Five Doctors, with the bad guy achieving the immortality he sought in precisely the same way as he would have in Rassilon’s tower. “To lose is to win”, and all that.

    Back to LOST: one thought that has stuck with me is that it’s interesting how many parallels there are between the plot of the show and certain songs by Oysterband — primarily Ways of Holding On, and (with respect to the finale alone) Someone You Might Have Been. I’m not saying it’s intentional (of course it isn’t); just interesting to think about. I can picture myself on the island, singing “The shadow of the Pharaohs freezes up the earth” etc within earshot of Ben, just to see how he reacts.


  85. Murcia
    March 4, 2019 @ 3:01 pm

    There’s plenty more sleight of hand where that came from. See where Kate dug up the time capsule & retrieved the model airplane? Watch her hands before she reaches under the baseball cap. Then run back the shots & notice her flaring sleeves and how she’s holding that arm up while she’s in the car. For prod’n purposes the sleight of hand was simulated, but clearly they were telling us that model plane was not in that box until just then. Then notice the repeated operation done to remove air or blood from a supposed pneumothorax or hemopericardium. Why’d that keep coming up? To show us it was fake — fake in their world, not just fake as in a fictional TV show. On the DVD, slow the scene down wherein Claire shot Locke & you’ll see it was a version of the famous bullet catch trick. The “magician” (Claire) shoots once to show the gun is real & really loaded. Then she turns her gun away from Locke BEFORE Said hits her, but the shot appears to graze Locke’s temple on the wrong side. What’s actually gone on is that Locke concealed a sharp object in his right hand that he used to cut his head with. There was no need to resort to such stage magic for a TV production, so that means the deception took place in their world. Boone’s burial was also a famous magic trick: the coffin escape. Remember that these people reveal they have a drug that simulates death; they say it’s from a spider, but that’s just their cover story. Notice that Jack puts his hand inside the shroud to feel Boone’s carotid pulse to make sure he’s still alive. Then Locke comes & winks at Jack (the excuse being that Locke’s looking into the sun) as the signal for them to start a fight. We get a crane shot from overhead to show that everyone turns their back on the grave to watch the fight. That’s when Boone makes his escape into a tunnel. But the best sleight of hand was the supposed delivery of a baby from Claire. Claire faked that pregnancy. The baby actually was Kate’s. He was smuggled in the bag of alcohol bottles, which is why Kate was so upset when she dropped it. Notice that the umbilical cord goes up to Kate’s hand on Aaron’s belly, but does not continue past the other side of Kate’s hand to where the umbilicus would be.


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