Still ‘Lost’ in Thought: The Man of Science vs. The Man of Faith

‘Lost’ may be done on television, but I’m sure not done thinking about it. In fact, just the other night, I found myself literally dreaming about ‘Lost’. More than that, I specifically dreamed about blogging about ‘Lost’. How obsessive is that? I dreamed that, now that the series is over, I should rewatch it again from the beginning, and keep a running journal of which plot points hold up to scrutiny with the ending, which don’t, and how everything ties together. That sounds like a massive long-term project, but I’m seriously considering it.

In the meantime, I’ve been reading more of other people’s reactions to the finale, many of which express great disappointment that not every mystery was answered or plot thread tied up. Complaints about “lazy writing” come up a lot. Even if I don’t agree with these feelings (I have my quibbles with the finale, but I think it was a fitting and satisfying conclusion), I can understand where such frustration comes from. The thing is, I believe that the show did provide answers to most of the biggest and most important mysteries. They’re just not the sort of answers that some people wanted. One particular reader comment to my last ‘Lost’ post triggered something of an epiphany for me.

Paul said:

While I understand why [the producers] did what they did, it was so lazy. They assured fans several years ago that there were scientific explanations for everything happening on the island…and yet at the end, they didn’t explain anything scientifically and gave us some quasi-religious “up to you to decide” ending. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I hate it, but I am ultimately disappointed. Lost was my favorite Sci-Fi show that didn’t end up being sci-fi at all.

As I responded to that comment, I don’t recall the producers ever promising “scientific” explanations. They may have said that these mysteries have explanations, but I don’t remember any promise that those explanations would be scientific. If I’m wrong about this, and someone can dig up an old interview, podcast, or whatnot that says such a thing, I will stand corrected. But I really doubt that they ever made such a claim. And I’ll tell you why:

From the very beginning, the series established the dynamic of a conflict between Jack and Locke, the Man of Science vs. the Man of Faith. Jack was the Man of Science. He believed that everything happening on the island had to have rational, logical explanations. On the other hand, Locke believed in Fate, Destiny, Divine Intervention, and other esoteric concepts that science cannot explain.

Over the course of the series, Jack was drawn to completely change his views. By the last few episodes, he had given up his illusions that the world could only be defined by reason and logic alone, and had fully converted to become the Man of Faith. This was not a sudden plot twist thrown in at the last minute for convenience. Jack’s conversion began at the precise mid-point of the series, the Season 3 finale, in which we’re first introduced to the Flash Forwards, and see Jack as a broken and disillusioned man desperate to go back to the island. By the time that he does get back there in Season 5, he’s well on his way to fulfilling his Destiny to become the island’s new protector. The series begins with Jack’s awakening on the island, hinges in the middle with his revelation that he needs to return there, and ends with his death in the same spot he started. The story of ‘Lost’ is the story of Jack’s journey from one extreme to the other. Although the show has a huge ensemble cast, Jack is the central and most important character. If he hadn’t completed this conversion, the island couldn’t have been saved.

So, what it comes down to is this: The island is, simply, a magic place. It contains many unknowable mysteries that cannot be explained rationally by Science, and must be taken on Faith. This isn’t a cop-out or lazy writing. It’s a core philosophy of the series whose roots were established from the very beginning, and were systematically developed over six seasons and more than a hundred hours of television.

Once you can accept this, and complete your own conversion to the side of Faith, really what other major unanswered questions are left? Yes, the show may have some unresolved loose ends (Where did those DHARMA air drops come from? Why was Walt special?), but the fundamental philosophical questions are addressed in one fashion or another. The series may not spell them all out for you, but the answers are there if you’re willing to dig for them.

‘Lost’ was never exclusively (or even explicitly) a sci-fi show. It’s always had more fantasy elements than science fiction (things like the smoke monster, magic numbers, and the heavy burden of Fate directing everyone’s lives). I suspect that many people’s disappointment with the ending stems primarily from an attempt to pigeon-hole the show into one particular genre, when the producers had much grander ambitions than that all along.


  1. Evan Withrow

    Well put. While I always thought/hoped that there were some scientific explanations surrounding the island, I found myself becoming a lot like Jack as the series progressed. Sometimes you just have to believe in things that can’t be explained. I agree that the finale was not problem free, but it did serve as a fitting end to an amazing show. Hopefully the fans disappointed by the finale don’t let it ruin their opinion of the series as a whole.

  2. besch64

    I’ve encountered these same exact points being brought up time and time again over the past two weeks on the Lost IMDb boards, but this was very well put. And I completely agree with all of your points.

    The show was always about Jack’s transformation from the Man of Science to the Man of Faith, starting with him seeing his seemingly living father in the jungle and his first conversation with Locke in Walkabout, and ending with him rappelling down into the Source in the finale. Since Jack began the series as the Man of Science, and the final three seasons of the show were essentially documenting Jack’s transformation, I fail to see why anybody could be surprised by the fact that the show ended in such a spiritual fashion. It had to end the way it did, and I’m very glad it did.

  3. MenaceGB

    The Island didn’t need saving though.As i said to one of your other posts.The MiB couldn’t destroy the one thing that kept him on the island(The Light).

    I suppose you could assume that with no protector the light simply died,hence why MiB tried to kill all the candidates.But IMO that is a rather large assumption.

    Also i don’t agree that there are unknowable mysteries,and the reason i think this is the demize of the Dharma Initiative.They were wiped out and we are led to believe it was due to Ben but perhaps they uncovered and figured something they shouldn’t have and Jacob had them destroyed.Just seems odd to me that Jacob never spoke to Ben at all even though he was the leader.

    Once again a large assumption though.

    Point is the whole Science vs Faith thing doesn’t work if it is heavily one sided like you suggest.

    Maybe that is all nonsense,maybe not.

    Shows how great a job the lost crew did when even after the Finale people still have all these different opinions on pretty much everything.

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