Skip to main content

Why I still watch 'Lost' even though I know I should hate it

Why I still watch 'Lost' even though I know I should hate it


10 years later, there's only one good reason to watch this show

Share this story

Lost turns 10 this week, and you know what? After 10 years of watching the show and nursing my bruised fandom, I think I can confidently say that it, as a show and apparent exemplar of the Golden Age of Television, is utterly broken. There, I said it. I’ve said as much in lengthy conversations with friends. I’ve said so to Damon Lindeloff himself in my deepest, darkest dreams. You’ve probably thought much the same. But I have to also admit that, even knowing all of this, I’m still watching after all these years. (To be perfectly honest, I’m mid rewatch right now.) Why can’t I quit you, Lost? Why do I keep going back?

'Lost' stopped making sense long before the end of its run

That Lost stopped making sense well before the end of its run is common knowledge to the point of being obvious. But most everything I loved about the show — the questions we as fans were obliged to ask and expect answers to — wound up failing. For one, it’s probably fair to say that every red-shirt character who wasn’t a candidate — the extras seemingly without a higher purpose — might have had a life to go back to if not for the crash of Oceanic Flight 815. The show’s obsession with good and evil wound up being muddled by the supposed embodiments of good and evil on the Island, which never really communicated clearly what was good or evil about the Island at all. And the show built up some tension between science and faith only to squander it at the 11th hour, instead giving us a feel-good finale that felt like a slap in the face to early fans.

But most egregious, the show gave viewers the feeling that there was something deeper at play here, that there was meaning to all this suffering somewhere in the South Pacific that’s applicable to real life. That’s not me projecting; the show actually did attempt to speak to the universality of human experience, only to muck it all up with a confused mythology and season-long jaunts through time and space. Most of the deep questions Lost asked never got satisfying answers if they got answers at all, and the mysteries the show planted throughout the series all seem silly when there’s nothing solid in the narrative girding them. In short, this is some pretty bad television.

Yet I’m still watching it, and that disturbed me (and my loved ones) to no end. I thought about it, and I tend to think I still watch it, aside from the inherent joy there is in hate-watching anything, because Lost, stripped of all its other conceits and pretensions, still manages to tell incredible character stories. Stock soap-opera characters — the leader, the rogue, the love interest, the doting father — get marooned on an island a la Lord of the Flies and the plot forces them to find new ways to survive… except there’s also a smoke monster deep in the jungle capable of manipulating their fears, waiting to destroy them. And it all works because you’re made to care deeply about the people caught in up in this mess.

The show is a master class in the art of creating characters worth caring about

From start to finish, Lost is a master class in the art of creating relatable (if not wholly believable) characters and putting them in the most extreme situations imaginable. But while the show bent over backwards to raise the bar in terms of absurd things that could happen on the Island and off, it put just as much effort into grounding the characters, making them ultimately feel like human beings.

No one is ever depicted as perfect — many of the characters aren’t especially likeable — but every lead and supporting role is fleshed out, every motivation is exposed, and every decision is rooted in the core of who that character is as a person. That alone keeps you around on the second, third, or fourth viewing even if you hate the things your favorite characters do or go through.

The finest example of a good character moment is Sawyer and Juliet’s relationship in season five. The two of them, after being caught on the Island spinning recklessly through time like a skipping record, are finally forced to settle in the 1970s in the Dharma Initiative’s midst. Neither has any real reason to get together. By then, we’d already been forced to invest in either a Kate-Jack or Kate-Sawyer pairing. But the show flashes us three years into their relationship, and, in a single moment, sells their coupledom almost effortlessly because the characters have been through enough apart that we understand what they need and can provide for one another. Sawyer needs someone who doesn’t cotton to his bullshit. Juliet needs someone who believes in her and isn’t trying to own her. Both need to feel trusted. And in an instant, you were with them until the end. When Lost gets something right, it’s really gets it right. It’s people who serve as its beating heart, and who make watching worth it, far more than the show’s many showy philosophical discussions.

I no longer watch for answers. I watch for the characters

Showrunner Carlton Cuse once told Entertainment Weekly, "Very early on we had decided that even though Lost is a show about people on the island, really, metaphorically, it was about people who were lost and searching for meaning and purpose in their lives." I find this sentiment infuriating, partially because I agree with it. If Lost was never really about the Island, we should never have been asked what the Island was. But I’m to this day convinced that if the final season took place in some far off galaxy, it would be bad TV I’d willingly watch again and again because there’s something about these characters that resonates no matter what nonsense situation they wind up in. At a point where I’m no longer looking for answers, I’d watch that season for the character moments.

If there’s one thing that Lost proves, no work of art or fiction need be perfect. Lost is probably the furthest thing from perfect, but it made an art of making you care. It did weird, wild things, and kept you there because the people you cared about were going through them. I don’t care about the Island anymore. I care about the people on it. Now, if you’ll excuse, I have some rewatching to do.