tinkers with numerical analysis. Other schools of thought examine collective
consciousness, electromagnetism and theology.
An Ivy League seminar? Hardly. It's speculation about the meaning of Lost,
the second-season ABC drama (tonight, 9 ET/PT). Devout online followers
slide each episode under the microscope, seeking to answer questions that go
far beyond if and when castaways will get off their mysterious island.
Though some fans would seem to be putting in the time necessary to earn a
Ph.D. - and numerous Ph.D.s analyze the show - a CliffsNotes may be in order
for new students. Lost follows the survivors of a Sydney-to-Los Angeles
flight that broke apart and crashed on a tropical island. After encountering
an inchoate "monster," a polar bear and other odd doings in the 2004
premiere, junkie rocker Charlie (Dominic Monaghan ) asked a question that
still consumes fans: "Where are we?"
Some devotees seek a unified theory that explains the mysterious island, why
these particular people are there and why no rescuers have arrived more than
a month after the crash.
The show's producers say that there is no single explanation and that a
simple answer would leave viewers dissatisfied. "We go on record saying,
'Here's what it's not,' " says Damon Lindelof, who created Lost with J.J.
Abrams (Alias, Mission: Impossible III).
Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, the executive producers who oversee Lost, say the
survivors are not dead and trapped in some kind of purgatory. Nor does Lost
take place as a dream or hallucination in one character's mind - a concept
they call "the snow-globe theory," after the hospital drama St. Elsewhere,
which was revealed in its 1988 finale to have all taken place in the snow
globe of an autistic boy.
That doesn't deter ***sleuths who are enamored of those theories. "What's
cool about the fan community is that it doesn't seem to care what we say or
don't say," Lindelof says.
To encourage extensive analysis, Lindelof, Cuse and the writing staff have
seeded Lost with so many clues that they can't fit them all in a TV show.
The series has jumped wholeheartedly into multimedia synergy, creating
everything from Lost-related websites (such as www.thehansofoundation.org)
to spinoff books (Bad Twin, a real novel written by fictional Gary Troup,
one of the passengers on Oceanic Flight 815) that may or may not provide
Last week, ABC inserted a faux Hanso Foundation commercial during the show
to launch the Lost Experience, a parallel Internet hunt designed to give
players additional clues but not affect the viewing experience of those who
The maturation of Internet communication has led to a level of scrutiny and
viewer/writer interaction above and beyond such spellbinding ancestors as
Twin Peaks, The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. With thousands of fans
collecting string - or expounding on String Theory - viewers can feast on a
thesis's worth of analysis every week at sites such as thefuselage.com,
lost-tv.com, lost-forum.com and lost.cubit.net.
"With Lost, there are so many ways to interact ... that there's so much more
of a community that gets into more research and more levels of discussion,"
says Lynnette Porter, an associate professor in humanities at Florida's
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and co-author of Unlocking the Meaning
of Lost: An Unauthorized Guide.
Last week, viewers got plenty to ponder when Michael (Harold Perrineau),
single-minded in his pursuit of ***ped son Walt (Malcolm David Kelley),
shot fellow survivors Ana Lucia (Michelle Rodriguez ) and Libby (Cynthia
Watros). Tonight, fans will get more information on the underground hatch
that is a remnant of a huge island psychosocial experiment, the Dharma
Initiative. Appropriately, the episode is titled "?," named for the question
mark in the center of what appears to be an island map.
The season's final episodes also will offer a resolution to the situation of
Michael and Walt, who was seen at times as an apparition, and the survivors
will prepare to take on The Others, a mysterious group who ***ped Walt.
Desmond, the man discovered in the hatch at the start of the season, will
return as well, and viewers will learn why the plane crashed.
Lindelof and Cuse, speaking from Lost's Hawaii set last week as they wrapped
up Season 2 and outlined Season 3, say there are too many questions for a
simple explanation. "We know where they're at and what's going on, but that
wouldn't qualify as a unifying theory," Lindelof says. Numerous questions
yield multiple answers, they say.
"One layer speaks to electromagnetism, another to psychological
experimentation, another to why they can see Walt. Coming up with one answer
that unifies all those things is next to impossible. Hopefully, every
sublayer will be explained" by the end, they say.
Although the theorizers are Lost's most intense and vociferous fan group,
the producers say they ultimately have to focus on the much larger audience
of casual viewers, developing characters and relationships to retain their
interest. (Lost is averaging 15.3 million viewers this season, ranking 15th
among prime-time shows.)
For those who want to analyze, however, they welcome speculation. "We don't
want to eliminate too many theories," Cuse says. "What people enjoy about
the show is being able to theorize."
That they do. From websites to Entertainment Weekly, trying to figure it all
outhas become a participatory sport. Prominent theories and areas of
.Island as laboratory This season's revelation of the Dharma Initiative, a
secret organization with a stated goal of human betterment, led many to
embrace the theory that Lost is a huge experiment. The Hanso Foundation,
which has ties to Dharma and delves into such topics as mental health and
life extension, also suggests social-science tinkering. The hatch, which
requires a recurring sequence of numbers (4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42) be
punched into a computer every 108 minutes, suggests a Skinner Box, named for
famed psychologist B.F. Skinner.
.Electromagnetism This was an early favorite after a compass wouldn't work
properly in the first season. Theorists note the shadowy Hanso Foundation
conducts research in this field, and the hatch was designed for such study.
This theory may help explain the malfunction of the plane's instruments.
.Time-space continuum In physics, String Theory suggests other dimensions of
space and time, which could help explain why rescuers haven't found the
castaways. Shifts in time could help explain why a medical facility where
pregnant Claire (Emilie de Ravin) was held looked as if it had been
abandoned for years when survivors discovered it just weeks later, Porter
says. A website credited to ABC parent Disney (www.oceanicflight815.com)
also raises the question of time: A baggage claim ticket for survivor Jack
Shephard (Matthew Fox ) appears to be dated Sept. 21, 2009.
.The numbers The appearance of the sequence on a winning lottery ticket
owned by survivor Hurley (Jorge Garcia) has spawned a cottage industry of
number crunchers. One theory says they match up to the retired uniform
numbers of New York Yankees. Producers have reacted to fans' interest in the
numbers, featuring them on everything from field hockey uniforms to police
cars, Porter says.
.Collective consciousness Past connections among survivors - Sawyer drinking
with Jack's father, Jack's father hiring Ana Lucia, Locke working for
Hurley's company - have led many to surmise that those links are tied to
their presence on the island. The psychic aura of the island raises the
question of whether characters are insinuating themselves into each other's
consciousness in the individual characters' flashbacks that are a Lost
signature, says Porter's co-author David Lavery, a professor at Middle
Tennessee State University.
With speculation comes disagreement, which may be half the fun. Orson Scott
Card, author of the best-selling Ender's Game science-fiction series, says a
collective-consciousness theme would turn whatever solid ground viewers can
count on into quicksand. "One thing we're counting on is that the back
stories are true," says Card, who is editing an upcoming book of essays,
Getting Lost: Survival, Baggage and Starting Over in J.J. Abrams' Lost, due
Lost may be teasing viewers at times, too. Producers say it isn't purgatory,
but the name Gary Troup is an anagram for that transitional realm, Porter
Lost's many literary and philosophical allusions don't provide specific
explanations, but they offer a cornucopia of considerations. Characters bear
the names of famed philosophers Locke and Rousseau. The novel Watership Down
is about rabbits that must flee their warren, and tesseracts, or time
ripples, are found in A Wrinkle in Time, two of the many books read on the
An Ambrose Bierce story on Lost's reading list, An Occurrence at Owl Creek
Bridge, toys with the snow-globe theory, telling the story of a man who
thinks he has escaped*** only to find it occurred in his own mind just
before he is hanged. But Lavery points to Bierce's The Damned Thing, which
is about an invisible monster.
Other essayists cite philosopher Francis Bacon and mathematician Ren
Descartes in their musings. "I think Lost, more than anything else on TV to
date, provides a forum for philosophical and critical discussion," says Amy
Bauer, an assistant professor of music at the University of
California-Irvine who moderates a peer-reviewed online journal, The Society
for the Study of Lost (www.loststudies.com).
Everything about Lost is designed for analysis, says Joyce Millman, who
wrote one of the Getting Lost essays. She credits the writers with "a rich
variety of references: scientific, biblical, pop-cultural, literary,
Millman, whose essay is called Game Theory, sees Lost's structure attracting
fans via familiarity: She thinks it works like an interactive video game.
"The story line and the action develop on multiple levels. There are hidden
clues that function like the Easter eggs in ***," Millman says. "Lost is
a big game, and the act of watching it forces you to play along."
The nature of theorizing
Trying to make sense of mystery is human nature. "That's what people like to
do. We see all these patterns, and we try to make meaning out of them,"
Lindelof and Cuse say other Lost writers monitor the fan theories and
websites because they don't want to get drawn into just serving that
audience. But they learn from and respond to fan concerns. Dissatisfaction
with the number of answers in last season's finale has led to more of them
in this season's final, two-hour episode May 24.
Some fans are "surprisingly close" with theories, Lindelof says, but don't
have "enough information yet to totally get there."
Card enjoyed the first season more and says he's not certain Lost is
revealing answers quickly enough. Its future success depends on providing
enough answers and making them complicated enough to be worth the fans'
"Real suspense comes from answers, not questions. Suspense comes not from
wondering what's going on but from wondering what happens next," he says.
"If you withhold answers, it becomes impossible to satisfy."
Some fans will never be satisfied with the pace or quality of Lost's
answers. Others wonder whether the producers can maintain their brilliant
balancing act of characters, mystery and allusions. "The producers have ...
set the bar very high," Bauer says.
At least one dedicated fan leans more toward Zen than analysis. As in life,
not everything in Lost will make sense, nor does it need to, says Charlie
Starr, another Getting Lost essayist and a teacher of English and humanities
at Kentucky Christian University in Grayson.
"Maybe we're not supposed to be theorizing. Maybe we're supposed to
surrender to it. We've got to be people who can handle mystery, to surrender
to the text and let it take us where it wants to," says Starr, referencing
English poet John Keats. "With Lost, maybe the best thing to do is simply to
watch with a sense of wonder and surprise."