‘LOST’ 10th Anniversary: What Is the Show’s Legacy a Decade Later?
With its 10-year anniversary panel at PaleyFest 2014, ‘LOST‘ has entered the pop culture conversation for the first time in nearly four years. For some, it’s just another chance to talk about one of the most popular (and weird) TV shows to ever play to mainstream audiences. For others, it’s like having old scars torn open, like an abusive former lover who has shown back up in your life.
No show divides audiences quite like Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse’s island-set mystery series, which, over the course of its six increasingly oddball seasons, introduced countless fascinating mysteries, failed to resolve those mysteries and left millions of people enraged. But, those six seasons also introduced dozens of unforgettable characters, told wonderful stories and got TV fans talking unlike anything before. The legacy of ‘Lost’ is not a portrait you can paint in black and white. It’s all shades of grey, lurking somewhere between love and hate, all-time-classic and disaster.
To understand why so many people can’t talk about ‘LOST’ without worked up in an angry sweat, it’s important to remember what it was like to actually watch the show live from episode to episode. We live in an age of episode recaps and social media group analysis, but the tale of Jack Shepherd and his island friends and foes helped cultivate that climate. ‘LOST’ didn’t just demand that you talk about it amongst your friends and family, it demanded that you venture online and pore over elaborate fan theories and debate the veracity of “spoilers” that always turned out to be fake. For a generation of fans, ‘Lost’ was their high school hobby or their between-classes college obsession. If ‘The X-Files’ defined television for geeks in the ’90s, ‘LOST’ sunk its claws into those coming of age in the Millenium.
What’s most important about this fan obsession is that it was actively encouraged by Lindelof and Cuse, who would tease future developments in their weekly podcast and smile wryly whenever they heard a new fan theory. They promised that every mystery would be solved and that it would all tie together. They were active members of the conversation and the fans trusted them. “Damon and Carlton told me that I’m not wasting my time” was a popular response when those who jumped ship accused the show of going nowhere.
Honestly, the legacy of ‘LOST’ would look significantly different if Lindelof and Cuse had kept their mouths shut and had gotten fans so worked up in the first place. But, who can blame them? You can’t go make a hit genre TV series and not interact with your passionate, loving fanbase.
We know what happens next. ‘LOST’ went out on a whimper, delivering a disappointing sixth season that boiled down the show’s complex hard science fiction into magic and fantasy. The web of mysteries remained unsolved and a generation became jaded. The truly passionate fans, those who would discuss each episode for hours on end and delve into every shot, felt betrayed. Cuse somehow managed to escape relatively unscathed (and he has a new hit show with ‘Bates Motel‘) but the shadow of ‘LOST’ somehow hangs over Lindelof, who has become the de-facto punching bag for angry fans. There’s a reason he’s completely vanished from social media — not even a successful screenwriting career can shelter him.
People who watch ‘LOST’ now via Netflix or Blu-ray have a different experience. They don’t have to wait weeks or months between episodes. They don’t have Lindelof and Cuse dropping sly “hints” about what’s to come. They don’t have the time to obsess over the show. To new audiences, ‘LOST’ is just another show to binge-watch as fast as possible. New viewers react to the show’s conclusion with a vaguely disappointed shrug instead of rage. Removed from the fanatical culture that surrounded it at the time, ‘LOST’ is a better, albeit still flawed, show.
But, what will define the definitive legacy of ‘Lost’? If the crowds at PaleyFest are any indication, people still love this show and can’t get enough of it, but every conversation, both online and in person, feels tinged with regret. Yeah, it was great to get to know Hurley, but his cursed numbers never really amounted to anything. John Locke may be one of the greatest TV characters of all time, but the writers really threw him under the bus in the final season. Sure, “Through the Looking Glass Parts 1 and 2″ may be the greatest season finale in sci-fi TV history, but doesn’t the first “flash-forward” also mark the show’s descent into nonsense?
When I think about ‘LOST’ these days, my childish anger has morphed into a more casual annoyance. I’m in my acceptance phase of dealing with the show letting me and my peers down and I try to remember the good times. When taken as a whole, there’s no way ‘LOST’ can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the best TV of the ’00s like ‘Breaking Bad’ or ‘The Sopranos’, but individual episodes remain high points of modern pop culture. When I think of Desmond finally contacting Penny, I get chills. When I remember seeing Locke in the wheelchair, my brain still explodes a little. When I recall the Jack-Kate-Sawyer love triangle, I flash back to my dorm room and feel young and annoyed all over again. ‘LOST’ was an important part of millions of people’s lives and to dismiss it as a bad show because it stumbled in the final stretch feels wrong.
This is not a defense of the final season, which went from bad to insulting in its final few episodes, but it is a request to not paint your reaction to the show with such a broad brush. ‘LOST’ is imperfect, but in a weird way, doesn’t that make it all the more fascinating? It isn’t a great TV show, but a show that tried to do something completely new, succeeded brilliantly for a long time and then failed so spectacularly that people are still talking about it. That’s not boring. That’s not bad. That’s not mediocre. That’s something special, even if that particular brand of special isn’t ideal.
And that will be final legacy of ‘LOST.’ It tried and failed, but man, the trying was pretty incredible.