I was 10 years old when Lost came out, and luckily had parents who were fine with us watching television late into the evening, as long as we were all watching together. Lost was one of the shows on our weekly roster, which later grew to include gems like the George Michael-centric Eli Stone (read about it) and House.
Lost was special, though, because Lost was agonizing. And confusing. And required endless scholarship. My friends and I dug through each episode searching for meaning even where there wasn’t any, picking at it like the last bit of lobster meat in the claw. Lost was the centerpiece around which many of my most inspired discussions took place.
Lost, at first, seemed like it would be more a tale of teamwork and survival than a sweeping mythological allegory, involving time travel, miracle cures, and polar bears. On September 22 (yes, today) of some parallel reality, Oceanic Flight 815 crash-landed on a lush, mysterious island, leaving a diverse group of characters to discover the island’s secrets. Things got weird from there.
The only slightly comparable contemporary equivalent to Lost is Game of Thrones. Yet while the feverish conversation following each episode is the same, watching Lost was certainly a more arduous experience than watching Game of Thrones. Lost had none of Game of Thrones’ mass appeal, nor its knack of pandering to audiences with dragons and twists based in character, not in metaphysics and smoke monsters.
Over the course of its six seasons, Lost shed the impatient and the unimaginative (and, some might say, the sane) viewership, and left a core of devoted, occasionally exasperating followers who had invested too much time in the show to stop watching. Back before streaming, abandoning long-term relationships with TV shows was more drastic, because it was more irreversible. If I stopped watching Lost mid-season, I’d have to invest in a boxed DVD set.
Plus, I reasoned when the show became particularly convoluted, how could I stop watching when everyone I knew — and I mean everyone — was watching Lost at the same time? Given the inherent collectivity of the Lost experience, I knew if I fell behind schedule a week, I ran the risk of hearing a plot twist before I was ready.
Eventually, a juicy spoiler popped in my face, as I knew it would. During season 3, I skipped an episode in which my favorite character happened to die. My Lost acquaintance, with whom I discussed the show but couldn’t really stand to discuss anything else, shouted at me from across the hallway.
“Can you believe [fill in beloved character’s name] died?”
Caught unawares by this announcement, I could do nothing but burst into tears and scurry into my seventh grade history teacher’s classroom. To this day, I've never quite forgiven her.
Now, anyone can watch Lost, at any time. You can blaze past season 3's spoilers. You can swallow up the seasons we agonized over in great heaves of binge-watches. You can Google what the numbers (4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42) motif signifies, and read think pieces about whether or not the show was, all in all, an epic waste of almost seven years.
We didn’t have that luxury. There were no swarms of articles like, “John Locke Is Based On This Philosopher” or “The One Thing You Need To Know About Polar Bears On Tropical Islands” populating our newsfeeds, though surely we could’ve used them. Instead, there was intense debate in the nerdier corners of the internet, and for me, lots of in-person conversations.
And my god, were those six seasons fun. I know I sound like a crotchety old person, but I’m so happy that I experienced, briefly, the real power of TV before streaming. I treasure those afternoons when my English teachers, both Lost fans, entertained students' wild theories and then gave their more tempered, plausible ones. I admire the earnestness with which I re-watched old seasons to prepare me for the next one. Lost wasn’t always satisfying, but it was my constant.
The night Lost ended, my family and I silently retreated to different rooms of the house and wondered what had happened (literally — we didn’t know). In my dark living room, I thought I was only saying goodbye to Jack, Hurley, and the island. But I was saying goodbye to a lot more. I was saying goodbye to the way I consumed television.
Now, I watch whatever I want, whenever I want. TV has become individualized to suit my schedule and my needs. Convenience is great, yes — but so was a community of devoted, partially deranged viewers, willing to place their trust in showrunners harnessing a narrative with a runaway imagination.
I’ll miss a show like Lost, which asked so much of its viewers, which gave us things we’d never asked for, and which offered us the best opportunity of all: something to think about, together.
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