There are two kinds of lost fanatics: on the one hand, those who delve into its mysteries with Sherlock Holmsian passion in order to unlock the island’s secrets, and on the other hand, me. When I was first asked to write a chapter for an anthology on Lost a few years ago I decided to become the champion of the theory that no one else would champion: that the key to getting Lost is staying lost—that surrender to the joy of mystery is what makes Lost such a joy.
Keats called it “negative capability,” a method of contemplation which can lead to ever greater insight. I am not here to argue that my theory is the right one, but I want you to know where I’m coming from. I do not intend to focus on theories and possibilities (so don’t expect an opinion about the number 342 which Ben pulls from the dispenser at the Butcher shop) but rather my reaction to last night’s episode and what it teaches me about the show.
The first thing I notice is what jumping back into the world of Lost after such a long break does for me. A critic named Glenn Arbery once described Homer’s Iliad as foundational to the West because it first taught us to practice an “aesthetics of delay”: of punctuated action followed contemplative waiting—the slow methodical building of meanings and suspense toward their climax in yet another epic action. Last night’s episode did not disappoint. Nine months of waiting for a group of minds (producers and writers) pregnant with ideas to finally give them birth was finally broken by a quickly rotating, overwhelming number of plot strands with which, in all delight, I could barely keep up. I was handed the purpose of The Arrow, problems in The Orchid, the wheel of time older than Dharma and physicist Dan is there. I got the thought that maybe Richard is a time traveler rather than an immortal, that a flash forward now two seasons old happened three years later, that the island didn’t just move in space but also in time (and/or the people left behind are cut loose in time).
And this led to my next delight: that the plot is never what I expect. It is the delight of surprise. I knew the folks back on the island were in trouble because Jack said Locke told him so last season. But this is trouble I never would have predicted. I was also surprised to see that Desmond’s work isn’t over and that Ben has even more allies than we’ve seen before. And while there was no surprise in seeing the Oceanic Six face circumstances that would drive them back to the island, finding out what those circumstances were was delightful.
Lost continues to do what it does best: take me on a roller coaster ride of mystery and adventure where, as in The Iliad, characters matter as much as events and the moral order of the universe (Hurley knew they should have told the truth all along) is as important as its space/time continuum. By the end of the episode, we had a few more questions answered and a few more added to the list, and I was left with a sense of satisfaction over a much enjoyed series’ return to my weekly viewing lineup.
But then—and I swear to you that this is no lie—last night, Lost invaded my dreams all night long…and I was part of the story. And when I woke up this morning I found that I had a new question: it is just a TV show, isn’t it?