Take your seats, class: We love Doc Jensen’s ‘Lost’ course so much that we’re extending it on to next week, week 5 of EW University. Check out our gallery of 15 Must-Answer ‘Lost’ Mysteries, or jump ahead and test your knowledge with our final exam on season 5, but definitely look for part 2 of his diary of a super fan on Monday. Stick around all summer long for future EW University courses on Quentin Tarantino and more.
‘Lost’: Getting lost in it
On Saturday, July 25, thousands and thousands of Lost fans will descend on Comic-Con in San Diego to hear Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof (hopefully) offer the first official teases for Lost’s last season. For the past five years, the show’s producers have held court and entertained fans at the annual geek mecca, and since this year is being billed as their last visit, the gathering inside the cavernous Hall H of the San Diego Convention Center promises to be special. I’m looking forward to it — and I’m also looking forward to (hopefully) seeing some of you at our “Totally Lost” panel at 3:30 in Room 5AB. That’s right: Dan Snierson and I are hosting our own Comic-Con hootenanny! We’ll process the news and revelations to come out of the DL/CC panel, dole out some questionable humor, and maybe hit you with some cool surprises. We know that Comic-Con attendees have lots of options for things to do at any given hour, so Dan and I are working hard to make sure that our panel will be worth coming to. In other words: we promise only a minimum of quality suckage. If you’re planning to come, and if we’ve ever exchanged emails in the past, please say hello to me — and forgive me in advance for the frazzled, scattered disposition that will accompany the handshake.
Being Doc Jensen, I am often asked… why? As in: “Why are you so fixated with this show? You do realize that normal, respectable journalists don’t write about any TV show the way you write about Lost, so… why? What’s your deal, anyway?”
If I have the time, this is how I respond — my testimony of Lost obsession.
I’ve been watching Lost since the beginning — even before the beginning, actually. I saw the pilot in July 2004, when copies were sent to the media, and I remember viewing it one night with my wife, Amy, and thinking: “Pretty good.” Yes, only “pretty good.” The pilot, as directed by JJ Abrams, was undeniably riveting, but as a springboard for an ongoing series, I had doubts. A drama about plane crash survivors on a bizarre tropical island? How long could they keep that premise interesting before becoming utterly contrived? And the “mythological mysteries” — the monster, the polar bear, the French lady’s looping distress call — they all seemed a little forced, like the show was trying too hard to be bizarre. In retrospect, I see how my initial opinion was colored by cynicism: my recent experiences with cult TV (Twin Peaks, The X-Files, Alias) had followed a similar trajectory — intense interest at the start, bitter disappointment by the end — and I found myself wary of seeing another investment of time get wasted by storytellers who talked big but ultimately couldn’t deliver. Fairly or unfairly, my initial reaction to Lost was not to enthusiastically embrace it, but to guardedly fold my arms and say, “Okay, wannabe. Prove it.”
My wife’s reaction was less reserved: “I loved it. This is going to be huge.”
She was right. And by the end of the fourth episode, “Walkabout,” my defenses had been forever breached, my imagination totally captured. “Walkabout” was the first John Locke episode, the one where we learned that he had been in a wheelchair before he boarded Oceanic 815 and somehow regained use of his legs when the plane crashed on the Island. I loved that story and its twist reveal and its themes of faith and yearning. But more, I loved what it seemed to suggest about the larger Lost saga: that there was more going on than met the eye, and if you watched closely and paid attention, you could follow the clues hinting at larger truths.
By the end of the first season, I was officially a fan. But it wasn’t until the third episode of season two that I became obsessed. The tipping point was “Orientation,” in which John, Jack, and the gang descended into a highly fortified subterranean structure (The Hatch) and screened a damaged, suspiciously incomplete instructional film inside describing the function of a button that had to be ritualistically pushed every 108 minutes. Did pressing the button “do something?” Was it part of a weird psychology experiment? Or was it just a sick joke? In many ways, the tension of The Button was analogous to watching Lost and the is-this-really-going-to-add-up-to-something skepticism of its audience. But it was also an elemental distillation of the religion vs. science/faith vs. reason conflict that exists between people and within ourselves — a conflict which, being a religiously inclined person but not without doubts and many, many flaws, felt familiar and real to me. And so it went that Lost stopped being an amusement and started becoming more personal — a mirror, reflecting in geeky symbolic form the very themes that defined my life.
“Orientation” also engaged that part of me that loves detective stories, “meta fiction” (or how about “self-aware storytelling”) and puzzle solving. In advance of the episode, the producers announced that viewers would be wise to investigate a book that would be making an appearance in the story: The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien (a pseudonym, according to wikipedia, for Irish scribe Brian O’Nolan). I took this invitation many steps further: from that point forward, I began scouring every Lost episode for even the implication of a literary reference, hoping to find clues. Combined with oblique nods to psychologists like B.F. Skinner, buzz words like “utopia” and “parapsychology,” and a penchant for naming characters after famous philosophers, Lost seemed to be suggesting — at least to me — that the entire series was an intricate tapestry of interwoven religious, literary and philosophical references, and if you could identify them and glean their individual and collective significance, you could crack the larger code.
Thus exploded the online world of Lost theory-making — and thus exploded my brain. By season 2, I was parsing every line for double and triple meanings and digging deep into the subtext for embedded secrets, real or imagined. I became convinced of the craziest things. The high point of my madness — or low point, if you ask my increasingly concerned wife and colleagues — coincided with an aptly titled episode: “The Long Con.” A couple days before this episode aired, I had taken my kids to Barnes and Noble and let them each pick out a book. My son chose a thick tome about dinosaurs. On the day “The Long Con” aired, my kids opened up the book to some random page and asked me to read it. The page dealt with all sorts of theories about the extinction of dinosaurs. In science, these theories are called “K-T catastrophe theories.” One of them argued that Earth shares its orbit around the sun with another planet that’s just like Earth, but we can’t see, because it’s always on the other side of the sun. This planet is called “Nemesis.” The theory goes that once every million years or so, this second Earth planet inches just a little closer to our Earth, igniting a chain reaction of celestial phenomenon that results in all sorts of catastrophic consequences for our planet. (Basically, this theory states that the dinosaurs died because a hypothetical planet farted. And people think I’m kooky…)
With terms like “K-T” and “Nemesis” fresh on my mind, I watched “The Long Con.” This was the episode in which Sawyer and Kate investigated a mysterious assault on Sun in her garden. They concluded the culprit must be one of The Others, but it turned out to be Charlie, who was in cahoots with Sawyer himself to help him gain control of all the guns in The Hatch and leadership of the castaways. In the final scene, Sawyer had this line: “It looks like I’m not the only one who has a nemesis.” To which, Charlie responded: “Sun must never know.”
The second I heard this, my jaw dropped. Earlier in the day, I had been telling my kids about a K-T theory (“K-T” = Kate?) about Nemesis, a hidden planet located on the other side of the sun — and here was an episode of Lost, in which one line ended with the word “nemesis,” and the very next line began with the word “sun”?! No freakin’ way! I was utterly convinced this meant something — that the writers were planting clues pointing toward a “Nemesis” explanation for Lost. And then there was the whole matter of that dinosaur book thing happening on the same day that “The Long Con” aired. Coincidence? It must have been. Right? Right?
Next class: EW U ‘Lost’: Losing myself in ‘Lost’ (Part 2)
Find out why Doc Jensen’s relationship with ‘Lost’ changed in Season 3
For Extra Credit Reading: The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien
For Discussion: At what point did you get hooked on ‘Lost’? What finally did it for you?