Lost ended Sunday, and while I was floored and utterly satisfied by the stirring and emotional conclusion, I was a bit dismayed to see mixed reaction from critics and fans online, most of which cited the feeling that too much was left unanswered. I personally feel that the questions that did remain either weren’t important to the story Lost ultimately told, or that the evidence necessary to reach reasonable solutions was presented through the course of the series.
But those most disappointed are less likely to re-watch the series for clues or plumb the depths of the indispensible Lostpedia, so for today’s Top Ten, I am looking at ten of the most pervasive questions that Lost didn’t answer, along with a reasonable explanations for what actually happened or why they don’t matter.
Mankind essentially has two responses to the unknown: faith and science. In compiling this list, I tried to rule out questions that hinge on the nature of “the source” of the island and the powers that the island as an entity, its protectors, or the Man in Black were granted. I feel that the light and the cave and the stream and the cork are no more ridiculous than the metaphysical tenants or origin stories of any other religion, such as the tree of life/tree of knowledge. Lost has ALWAYS been a show with philosophy on its mind, from the characters named for philosophers, to the very nature of “fate versus free will” and “science versus faith”
The very notion that thee people who wield the power are only slightly less clueless than those that follow them is beyond perfect. Jacob and the Man in Black both had the powers of deities, but who is to say they even began to comprehend the full extent of the power or how and why it worked?
Jacob’s reaction to becoming the Guardian was to faithfully take the word of his murderous, deceitful surrogate mother. His unnamed twin brother instead sought to understand the power of the island and the light through observation and knowledge. He was partially responsible for the construction of the frozen donkey wheel capable of moving the island. The Others/Hostiles followed Jacob and operated out of faith, even though he refused to give them direct instruction. The Dharma Initiative, and later Widmore, sought to study the properties of the island from a scientific standpoint in order to harness its power. We can’t know the hows and whys of the mechanics of some of the phenomena because it’s legitimately possible no man within Lost‘s universe ever actually knew those answers. Much like unplugging and plugging something back in, the fact that it works can be more important than the knowledge of how or why it works.
That being said, here are the top 10 nagging questions that I feel like we can put to bed regardless:
10. Why wasn’t Christian Shephard’s body in the coffin after the crash?
The simplest and most logical explanation is that the Man in Black physically moved the body, most likely to make it easier to manipulate Jack, and later Claire.
9. What’s up with the “Hurley bird,” Kate’s horse, the Medusa spiders, and any other strange animal behavior?
As with most of these questions, I think they boil down to either the influence of the Man in Black (in the case of the spiders), or an unexplained power of the island and/or the candidates themselves. It was said that Jacob’s touch was a gift, but aside from drawing them towards the island, it’s never explained what, if any, powers these candidates might also possess. A possible power could be the ability to make fondly remembered things apparate, whether they be a horse, a toy plane, or the spirit of your dead wife.
8. How did Richard Alpert’s wife, Ben Linus’ mom, and other people who didn’t die on the island appear there?
It’s intimated that in many of these cases, the Man in Black scanned memories and used this for manipulation, often by posing as a person who should not be there. Not only did these people not have to die on the island, but I think in the case of at least a few Walt appearances, they didn’t even need to be dead at all. It also needs to be said that just because the Man in Black was responsible for some appearances of specific people, it doesn’t mean that the spirit themselves couldn’t also contact people. This explains Christian Shephard’s appearance on the tanker as Michael dies and his off-island appearance to Jack in L.A. The most explicit example of this is The Man in Black taking the form of Alpert’s dead wife but later the wife’s spirit contacting him via Hurley.
7. Why did the Others want Walt so bad and was he, in fact, special?
Ben’s rise to power really started when he defied Widmore by raising Alex as his own instead of killing her. Since he was never in direct communication with Jacob, he probably assumed that “rescuing” children was Jacob’s will since it helped hasten his ascent to power. Also, the Others truly believed they were the good guys, and children were fundamentally innocent and deserved to be protected.
And yes, Walt was special. He had a gift, similar to those of Hurley and Miles. Was Walt a candidate, and were his powers a gift from Jacob? The mere existence of these powers makes it a possibility, and the Others simply hearing about it could also account for why they were interested in him.
6. Why was Libby in the mental institution, who was her dead husband, and why would she give Desmond a boat?
The field of Psychology attracts people who are at least in part mentally ill and want to understand themselves better. Libby most likely had some sort of mental illness, and I’d guess specifically bipolar disorder. People who suffer from it often function fine without medication for years, until they find themselves in a uncontrolled manic phase where they are prone to impulsive and sometimes magnanimous whims, such as taking homeless people on a shopping spree or giving away a boat. On the flip side, her disheveled appearance and presence in the mental institution suggest her mood may have swung to a debilitating highly depressed state.
Since she seemed particularly well adjusted on the island, it’s also very possible that being on the island helped heal her mental illness to a degree that she didn’t need medication to function, or simply the change in scenery and the break from the reality of her life outside the island was a positive change for her. As far as who her husband was, it doesn’t really matter. It is possible that she could have been involved, knowingly or otherwise, in a grand manipulation on the part of Widmore to push Desmond towards the island, but I doubt it, and it works regardless.
5. Why was Claire told she had to raise Aaron, then told giving it up for adoption was OK but she HAD to take flight 815? Also, how did her mother recover from a coma?
The “psychic” told Eko that he was a fraud. Considering “Littleton” was listed as a candidate, someone could have been paying or otherwise influencing him to manipulate her, including the potential surrogate couple, Jacob or an agent of Jacob, Charles Widmore, or Eloise Hawking. But it also really doesn’t matter. It was ultimately Claire’s fate to be on that plane. As far as her mother goes, she may have just simply got better, though I wouldn’t be surprised if Jacob healed her in order to help get Kate back to the island.
4. Why were only some specific people on the Ajira flight sent back to 1977, was the explosion of Jughead in fact “The Incident,” why did Alpert say he saw them die back then, who was Jacob referring to when he said “they’re coming,” and what actually put them back in 2007?
Only the remaining candidates on board the Ajira flight were sent back in time. Sun wasn’t taken since either there was already one Kwon there, or the true candidate was always Jin. Kate was taken despite her name being crossed out as a candidate for being a mother, because Jacob had not fully ruled her out yet and her return to the island put her back in the running. I also suspect that while the 2004 inhabitants who had not been “claimed” ended up skipping through time not only because the island was off its axis until Locke turned the wheel, but also because Jacob was trying to protect or hide them and he was somehow responsible for the white flashes.
This also explains why they flashed to the time (where they belonged) when they did. It wasn’t the explosion that sent them back through time but actually Jacob’s death, since he could no longer keep them there. He was, in fact, referring to them when he said “they’re coming.” I think Alpert stating that he saw them die was truthful in that he saw the explosion. Since that’s where they were and there were no signs of their bodies afterwords, I’m sure he reasonably assumed they had all disintegrated.
And yes, this was in fact the incident. Since the sideways timeline was a Chonyid Bardo or Purgatory-like afterlife where “there is no now,” it means that back on the island, “everything that happened, happened,” and the time-traveling castaways were the cause of the incident that necessitated the construction of the Swan and the hatch and the button in the first place. How’s that for irony?
3. What the hell was going on with the cabin?
I wouldn’t be surprised if Jacob never actually used the cabin and it was all along a ruse by the Man in Black. Why did his bodyguards even think of it as Jacob’s cabin? Did he personally tell them he was using it, or did Alpert or the Others? Since we we know Ben was lying about speaking with Jacob all along, he could have been the original person tricked into believing it to be Jacob’s cabin and it spread from there. Regardless, either the ash didn’t actually do what it was supposed to do, or it was broken in an area they didn’t notice, or all or part of it was actually comprised of normal ash which had no special power.
The Man in Black took Christian’s form often while inside the cabin, but also, it’s likely the spirit of Horace Goodspeed acting independently or in concert with him was also involved. Goodspeed’s status as a potential former candidate and the circumstances of his death as well as his scientific background all speak to potential loyalty to the Man in Black. He may have been the figure in the rocking chair, or the eye at the door when Hurley came upon the cabin. If Goodspeed wasn’t the man in the rocking chair, it could have been any other person the Man in Black decided to imitate at that moment.
With Locke and Ben’s strange visit, considering how dark the cabin was, it especially would have been easy for the Man in Black in smoke form to have shook the cabin walls and moved things around. As a manipulation of both Ben and Locke, it was pretty masterful. It reinforced Locke’s belief that he was special and chosen by the island, and it made Ben, who had been faking his relationship with Jacob, all the more jealous and spiteful.
2. Why couldn’t women have babies on the island and was the sickness real?
They can, and they did. Sure the Dharma Initiative preferred to take pregnant women off island, but that was probably just a precaution. According to the Others, after 1977 at least, conception and delivery on island were no longer possible. Considering it is extremely likely an atomic bomb was detonated that year during the incident, radiation alone could account for it. Or maybe the island’s powers simply went a bit haywire at this point and made fetuses particularly aggressive, which was then fought by the mother’s enhanced immune system. Both explanations work for me. Of course, Alex was also born on the island, some time before the Purge. The gas used in the Purge may have exacerbated the pregnancy issue as well.
But to go a little far out into wild mind-blowing theories… What if mankind actually originated on the island, and it was the paradise that inspired the tale of the Garden of Eden, etc. We know that people who turn the wheel end up in Tunisia, an African country close to Egypt and a short journey across the Mediterranean to Italy. Modern humans also first entered the fossil record in Africa about 195,000 years ago. If this is somehow the case, then it’s possible the power that sparked the creation or evolution of man may simply be too much for its distant descendants to absorb.
As far as “the sickness” goes, I’d say it never truly existed. It seemed to exist primarily as a scare tactic. Claire’s fate strongly suggests that history repeated itself and Rousseau had been similarly “claimed” by the Man in Black. With both of them and Sayid, they only seemed to be crazy or emotionless when isolated from society or otherwise directly manipulated by the Man in Black. They all proved they still had free will and their fundamental goodness could still win out. I think to certain extent this ultimately proves Jacob right but that’s a whole separate debate.
1. What’s the story with hieroglyphs and the Egyptian stuff in general including the Temple, the Statue, the Lighthouse, etc. When were they built and why did the original Temple inhabitants think the Smoke Monster/Cerberus was a protector?
When Jacob offers Richard Alpert the position of adviser in 1867, he mentions that a lot of people have already died. I suspect that the Temple and the statue and the lighthouse were all produced during Jacob’s tenure as protector. Since Egypt is relatively close to Italy and Tunisia, either Egyptians or people who used hieroglyphs could have arrived not long after he took over. Since the Man in Black felt remorse for his surrogate mother killing the people he was living amongst, it is very possible that he DID protect segments of them, especially if they sought technological advancements.
I’m sure he eventually learned that helping people leave the island did not grant him the ability to leave it himself, and the remaining good will he had for them eroded as the pattern of corruption and murder continued through the centuries. This lead him to shift focus to killing his brother, a process set in motion upon Alpert’s arrival in 1867.
I think everything that needs to be said about the civilizations that lived there and died there during this time was said by the image of the wreckage of 815 and the campsite and the footprints in the sand that was shown during the end credits of the final episode. They came. They fought. They destroyed. They corrupted. But they were there. And at least with the Oceanic survivors, for once it didn’t end the same.