The Best Episodes of Lost
If we can’t make countdown lists together, we’re gonna die alone.
It’s September again; the starting place for new TV shows. Eleven years ago this month, one of the most ground-breaking television serials premièred and garnered a massive fanbase that would put Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones circles to shame. Following the lives of the twenty-some survivors of a plane crash stranded on a mysterious island, Lost quickly became one of the most popular and acclaimed TV series in history. In honour of Lost’s eleventh birthday, here’s a list counting down the eleven greatest episodes of Lost.
11. Flashes Before Your Eyes (Season 3, Episode 8)
Let’s kick things off with a bang! Literally. In the wake of the Hatch explosion, Desmond finds himself in a strange place . . . or should I say, time. That’s right: if you thought this show couldn’t get any weirder, think again. Time travel makes its famous debut in this season 3 stand-out, where Desmond revisits the 1990’s, when he’s living in London with Penny. At first he’s forgotten about the island and believes everything’s normal, but that loud beeping noise the microwave is making sure sounds familiar . . .
During his flash to the past, Desmond encounters a few friendly faces including Charlie (singing “Wonderwall” for tips on the street) and Charles Widmore. We also get to see Eloise Hawking for the first time who, in her famous fate vs. free will speech, introduces the course-correcting universe theory, ultimately sending Des down a path that will lead him to the island. The biggest twist, though, is that when he wakes up back in island real-time, the flashes don’t stop. After miraculously saving Claire from drowning in the ocean, the truth comes out. Desmond can see the future. Who’s future? Charlie’s future. “You’re gonna die, Charlie.” Uh oh.
Desmond’s disorienting out-of-body experience doubles as a mind-bending episode for viewers (in typical Lost fashion). It’s here we get a lot more insight into Des’ past, which helps flesh out his character backstory and arc. After being mostly absent from season 2, actor Henry Ian Cusick proves himself as a worthy addition to the cast of series regulars. Critic Stephen Lackey called it an “episode [that] has everything die hard LOST fans expect, riveting plot twists, foreshadowing, and as many questions as answers.”
10. All The Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues (Season 1, Episode 11)
Around the midpoint of the first season, as the survivors of the plane crash are just starting to adjust to tropical fruit diets and sandy underwear, Hurley decides to make a census. One person, however, is missing from the flight manifest; Ethan Rom, a reoccurring, friendly side-character up until this point, was NOT on the plane. And now he’s missing, and so are Claire and Charlie. A search ensues, with Locke and Boone headed one way, and Jack and Kate going another. This intense game of cat-and-mouse gets particularly interesting when Jack encounters the kidnapper (a grim and gritty fistfight ensues), and Locke encounters something much more strange . . .
There was always the presence of “others” looming somewhere in the background of the story, but this was the first time we really felt the threat of the natives (William Mapother’s creepy-looking face helped too). When Jack and Kate finally find Charlie, he’s hanging from a tree. And by hanging, I mean from a noose. Most folks at home who were watching were convinced that the rockstar really had bitten the dust, especially after Dr. Jack’s attempt to bring him back through CPR failed – and that wasn’t even the saddest part! Jack’s flashbacks reveal that he was forced to turn his own father in for operating under the influence of alcohol. This emotional episode ended with Boone finding something on the surface of the jungle floor; a metal hatch buried in the dirt. We would spend the rest of the season wondering what’s inside, and the entire subsequent season would revolve around it.
This week’s writer, Javier Grillo-Marxuach, drew inspiration from his personal experience of being a doctor’s son. The dynamic between Jack and Christian is powerful, and following “White Rabbit”, sets up one of the most complex and compelling relationships on the show (culminating in the crux of the show’s finale). Matthew Fox and John Terry certainly rise to the occasion with their acting abilities, but also Evangeline Lilly and Dominic Monaghan. It’s nice to see this trio reunited at the end of this episode; their chemistry, as established in the pilot, is unmatched. “[E]ven though I knew [Jack] was going to go back to the CPR and save Charlie’s life, I started crying. This is how you identify good TV: When you know what’s going to happen and you still get swept up in it all.” – Whitney Pastorek, Entertainment Weekly.
9. Ab Aeterno (Season 6, Episode 9)
Of all the mysterious characters in Lost, Richard Alpert quickly became a fan favourite. What started in the background of Ben Linus’ band of Others, this character continued to pop up here and there in different time periods, making us all ask the question: “wait, why doesn’t this guy age?” Distinct for his dark, raccoon eyelashes (no, he’s not actually wearing eye liner), the ageless advisor to the Others was always shrouded in secrecy until finally his backstory was revealed in the last season. Set in the mid 1800’s, Spaniard “Ricardo” is desperate to save his dying wife, and travels to find a doctor who can help. Instead, he’s arrested for alleged murder and sentenced to years of service as a slave aboard a British trading ship that eventually gets shipwrecked on an unmapped island.
“Ab aeterno” means “from eternity” or “since the beginning” in Latin (native tongue of the island Others). Richard’s tragic origin story is deeply intertwined with the show’s mythology, making it one of the most intriguing and revealing episodes of the series. The sole survivor of the crew, Ricardo encounters both the Man in Black and Jacob, becoming entangled in their ongoing conflict, and he strikes a deal with the latter; in exchange for eternal life, Ricardo will act as Jacob’s representative, an intermediary to the people that come to the island. And we all go “ah-haa…”. The payoff to the long-awaited revelations concerning the true nature of Jacob and his dark coutnerpart, as well as what happened to the Egyptian statue and where the Black Rock came from were all equally matched by a powerful performance in Nestor Carbonell, who showed that Lost’s most enigmatic character was also one of the most sympathetic.
Lost’s final season was its most controversial, but reviews were not mixed over “Ab Aeterno.” Critics and fans hailed it as one of the best entries in the entire series. The visual effects and set design are outstanding, and the story line is consistently unexpected. Seeing life on the island pre-Oceanic crash is always interesting, but especially in this episode, where the conflict between Good and Evil has never been more prevalent. Calling it one of the best hours of television, Steven Kurutz of The Wall Street Journal wrote, “Richard’s story was so dramatic that I found it totally compelling. Tonight’s show both told a self-contained story and worked within the larger framework of the show by illuminating the power struggle between Jacob and Smokey.”
8. Walkabout (Season 1, Episode 4)
Don’t think this episode deserves to be on the list? Well, “don’t tell me what I can’t do!” Lost had already distinguished itself as the show to watch when it began in 2004 with its first three ground-breaking episodes, but that fourth week was the real game-changer. We knew Jack was a doctor. Kate was on the run. Charlie was a drug addict. But who’s this Locke guy? All we really knew about Locke at this point was that he was an older bald gentleman who plays backgammon and he smiles at people with an orange in his mouth. But when the beach-dwelling survivors start to get a boar problem, more is uncovered about this strange man, who reveals his secret stash of knives and becomes the leader of the hunting party.
“Walkabout” was a turning point for the show. It proved how important the flashback sequences were for fleshing out the characters and getting the audience more invested in the stories of these people who survived the crash. Whoever thought that Locke worked in a cubicle and played military strategy games on his lunch breaks? Not only were the flashbacks used to help make Locke a compelling character, but they were also used to tell a much larger story that had repercussions on the island as well – a.k.a. the plot twist where Locke was actually paralysed and wheelchair-bound for years before getting on Oceanic Flight 815.
This is the episode that got Terry O’Quinn Emmy nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (he would later go on to win the award in season 3). Deservedly so, O’Quinn’s performance as a paraplegic who dreams of conquering the Australian outback is incredible and heartbreaking. The final twist works not just on shock value but on an emotional level. “Walkabout” expertly interweaves off-island narrative with the events on the island, culminating in a resonant theme of believing in yourself. Also, Locke is just the coolest. According to Robin Pierson of The TV Critic, it “both enhances and completely changes how we perceive both Locke and Lost.”
7. Orientation (Season 2, Episode 3)
“We’re going to need to watch that again.” It’s what Locke says to Jack when they are shown the DHARMA orientation video for the first time. It’s also what we all said when we saw this episode for the first time. Lost is at its best when it integrates the creative mythology of the show with strong character moments. The mysteries of the hatch and so much more are revealed (or at least teased) when Jack and the gang finally get inside the underground bunker on the island and meet Desmond Hume, who’s been pushing a button on a computer over and over for the last three years. Why? “Saving the world, brotha.”
The title “Orientation” aligns not only with the discovery of the Dharma footage, but with Sawyer, Jin, and Michael’s orientation of sorts with the tailies. Originally believed to be captured by the Others, it is revealed that the three rafties are the new “friends” of the tail section survivors. The introduction to new characters on the show is handled very well. We get the feisty cop Ana Lucia, quiet brute Mr. Eko, soon-to-be love interest of Hurley, Libby, and the long-awaited Bernard, husband of Rose. Hell, even the flight attendant from the first episode who flirts with Jack is there!
Lost moved into new territory in this episode, with the introduction of the psychological element of “the button.” All you have to do is push it before the timer goes every one-hundred and eight minutes. If you don’t, then it’s the end of the world. It’s a creative situation to throw our characters into, showing just how imaginative and exciting the writers of Lost were willing to go. It leads to an intense confrontation at the end between Jack and Locke over the issue of science and fate (recall: “Why do you find it so hard to believe?” – Locke, “Why do you find it so easy?” – Jack, “IT’S NEVER BEEN EASY.”), and sets up a nail-biting second season.
6. The Incident (Season 5, Episodes 16-17)
Season 5 is probably the most ambitious of seasons of Lost, what with juggling two timelines in a mind-bending time travel arc that culminates in Jack trying to blow up the island. Stranded in the in the 1970’s, Jack Shepherd devises a plot to use a hydrogen bomb as means of destroying the Hatch. Should he succeed, then no electromagnetic malfunction will ever happen that will bring down Oceanic Flight 815 in 2004, meaning Jack, Kate, Sawyer, and the rest will have never been lost on that island to begin with. Meanwhile, in present time, Locke and Ben lead a campaign to storm the four-toed foot and kill Jacob. It’s the season 5 finale that had everybody losing their minds (Lost tends to do that).
Particular praise was attributed to the reemergence of Rose and Bernard, who surprised both the on-screen characters and the at-home audiences when discovered living a peaceful life in the jungle with Vincent. Alan Sepinwall from The Star-Ledger named it “one of the best, most moving scenes of the finale,” which is saying something considering this is the same episode where Jacob himself is shown in the flesh, who through flashbacks is revealed to have met with all of the passengers of 815 prior to the crash. Another twist is that Locke turns out to have been dead all along, and the one parading around the island on a witch hunt for Jacob is in fact a certain disguised Monster.
It’s the cliffhanger, though, that really got everybody talking about this episode; in an emotional end to the Sawyer-Juliet (Suliet? Jawyer?) romance, Juliet falls to her death down the hatch put – but not before detonating the hydrogen bomb, turning the screen white and – LOST. (Bonus points go to the inverse black on white title card at the end.) Sepinwall also called “The Incident” “so exciting, so mythology-intensive, so loaded with great performances and great character notes, so all-around kick-ass, that I feel more than satisfied.”
5. Man of Science, Man of Faith (Season 2, Episode 1)
The season 2 première was the most-watched episode of Lost, coming in with nearly twenty-four million viewers in North America. PREVIOUSLY ON LOST: Jack and Locke blow open the hatch, discovering a deep, dark tunnel that continues on and on into the underground. So what exactly is down there? In “Man of Science, Man of Faith,” we finally find out. The episode opens in what appears to be the 1970’s; a man (whom we only see from behind) starts his morning by punching something into old-fashioned computer, makes some coffee, does some exercise, takes a vaccine, and then all of the sudden – BANG! Grabbing his gun, the man takes a look into his reflecting telescope, revealing one John Locke and one Jack Shepherd peering down into his home from the jungle surface.
Science vs. faith has been a long-running theme of the show, ever since day one. Jack Shepherd started at one end of the spectrum, but this was the first time where we really see the beginnings of development for the hard-nosed Doctor Fix-It. In an emotional flashback story, we learn more about Jack’s compulsive need to succeed when it came to his patients. Particularly taken with a woman paralyzed from a car accident, Jack makes a promise he can’t keep (“I’m gonna fix you.”) – something he reveals to a stranger while jogging. But then it turns out that Sarah can feel her toes again after the surgery, and the man who’s holding a gun to Locke’s head down in the hatch is the stranger from his jog all those years ago.
Grappling with the prospect of coincidences and miracles, Jack takes viewers on a journey into one of Lost’s most creepy and captivating story arcs. The set-up is very tense; Kate’s unexpected disappearance when transcending down into the hatch is played out almost like a horror movie (Kate: “John! I think there’s something down–SCREAM”). It’s here we see Lost dabbling into new territory, experimenting with genre, themes, and ideas that no other show on television was doing. Making the eleventh spot on the Lost Angeles Times‘ list of Lost’s best, “Man of Science, Man of Faith” was deemed “confident in itself and [Lost] at the height of its powers.”
4. Exodus (Season 1, Episodes 23-25)
Black smoke is in the sky, and the French woman has come with a message for the survivors: “You have only three choices. Run. Hide. Or die.” Panic ensued not only onscreen but for everybody watching at home as well. The season 1 première is dark, creepy, and extremely thrilling. In this precursor to “Man of Science, Man of Faith,” Michael’s raft is completed, and he sets sail with Walt, Jin, and Sawyer in hopes of finding rescue. For everyone else, the clock is ticking. Jack, Kate, Locke, Hurley, and Professor Arzt trek into the jungle to find dynamite, with disastrous results.
Things get particularly eerie when the rafties come across another boat. At first, it seems like our heroes are heading home, until the bearded man (Tom) tells them, “we’re going to have to take the boy.” (Cue Michael screaming, “WAAAAALT!”) The on-island adventures are even more intense; the Black Rock is discovered in the middle of the jungle (a massive sailing ship), Jack gets a bit of Arzt on him, the Hurley-bird makes its first appearance, and the Smoke Monster is finally seen in person for the first time. The big selling point for this episode though is its finale; Hurley discovers The Numbers printed on the hatch door just before they blow it open. “The numbers are bad! Don’t do it!” he shouts. “THE NUMBERS ARE BAD!”
Lost could have gone in many directions at the end of its first season, but it opted to keep things relatively grounded. The flashback sequences don’t hone in on any one character, but incorporate all of the central characters (we even get a tease of Ana Lucia), each coming from a different background, everyone with a different story, all ending up on the same plane. “Exodus” is extremely riveting, but the action never displaces the deep character moments. There are also a lot of cool easter eggs, like the Numbers appearing on the backs of the soccer team jerseys during Hurley’s frantic “I’ve got a plane to catch” sequence.
3. The Constant (Season 4, Episode 5)
It’s a Christmas episode! Much like the #11 pick, “The Constant” deals with a time-travelling Desmond. He’s stuck in a state of switching back and forth between present time (on the freighter) and 1996 (in England). He locates Daniel Faraday in ’96 at Oxford Uni, who explains that Des needs to find a ‘constant’ – someone who is present in both time frames – who can anchor him as he’s switching between the two periods before his mind turns to mush. Desmond turns to Penny, whom after the events of “Flashes Before Your Eyes,” isn’t happy to see him. But he reassures her he only needs her phone number, and tells her not to change it. “I won’t call you for eight years.”
Lost writer and executive producer Carlton Cuse called “The Constant” his favourite episode of the entire series, and it went on to represent the show at the Emmy’s when Lost was nominated for Outstanding Drama Series. Even Michael Giacchino’s beautiful score got its due with a nom for Outstanding Music Composition. The scenes between Henry Ian Cusick (Des) and Sonya Walger (Penny) are phenomenal; as promised, Desmond makes the phone call on the freighter to Penny, who for her, is eight years later after he last spoke to her (only minutes ago for Des). The scene proved to be a tear-fest not just for the characters onscreen but for the fans watching as well. Even though season 5 goes full-on time-jumping, this episode will still be remembered as the most interesting time travel story we saw on Lost, as well as one of the most emotional.
“One of my favorite episodes of 2008 was Lost’s “The Constant.” It was a beautiful episode that made us fans fall in love with the show even more. The creators managed to build momentum with smart narrative, by using the romance card to develop such a complicated topic as time traveling. It was exquisite, mind-blowing, impeccably done, and unforgettable.” – Alejandro Garay, Entertainment Weekly
2. Pilot (Season 1, Episodes 1-2)
When Lost premièred in September, 2004, it was the most watched TV pilot in television history (some 18.6 million viewers tuning in). With an estimated budget of $14 million (the most expensive TV episode ever made at the time) and one of the largest TV casts, coming in with fifteen series regulars, Lost’s debut became more of an ‘event’ than just an episode. It’s an important entry because it sets up the tone, the aesthetics, the characters, and the mythology for the rest of the series. From the first shot of an eye opening, to the last line, “Guys… where are we?”, the pilot to Lost stands as one of the greats.
Memorable moments include but are not limited to: the multi-million dollar plane crash set (they demolished a real 747); that one dude getting sucked into the plane’s engine (nobody is ever going to forget that); the discovery of a polar bear; flashbacks to the flight pre-crash (including the revelation that Kate is a fugitive); Kate stitching Jack up as he explains that fear only gets five seconds; Locke teaching Walt how to play backgammon (“Two players. Two sides. One is light. One is dark.” Talk about symbolism and foreshadowing); Charlie singing “You All Everybody” to Kate; Smokey killing the pilot (Greg Grunberg cameo!); Sayid finding a distress call that’s been on repeat for the last sixteen years.
The episode received a perfect 10/10 score from IGN, writer/director J.J. Abrams won the Emmy for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series for his work on the pilot, and TV Guide ranked “Pilot” fifth place in its list of Top 100 television episodes of all time. The accolades are well-deserved; “Pilot” holds up better than most feature films of 2004, let alone television specials. It sports jaw-dropping sets and effects that evoke grandeur and immediate suspense. There’s also remarkable restraint with exposition and dialogue – visual storytelling at its finest. “It really is a roller coaster of emotion and that sense of dread that sets in here is brilliantly portrayed.” – Chris Carabott, IGN.
Before I reveal the top spot winner, let’s take a look at a few favourites that didn’t quite make the cut, but are still worth noting.
“Deux Ex Machina” (Season 1, Episode 19): Along with his partner-in-crime Boone, Locke discovers a crashed beechcraft deep in the jungle. Once inside, Boone finds a still-operational radio, and actually makes contact with someone! He tells the person on the other end that he is one of the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815, only to hear back from the mysterious stranger, “we’re the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815.” (This, by the way, sets up a stellar second season episode chronicling “The Other 48 Days” for the tailies.) This is a touching episode because we get to see a more vulnerable side to Locke; flashbacks reveal his painful relationship with his father, who steals his kidney, and on the island he weeps at the hatch door following Boone’s injury. And then the light turns on.
“Greatest Hits” (Season 3, Episode 21): Hurley may always be Lost’s most lovable, but Charlie Pace is definitely everyone’s second choice. Desmond’s premonitions predict an imminent end for Charlie. As the rockstar prepares for his last mission to save all of his friends, he compiles a list of ‘greatest hits’ from his life, which we see glimpses of in some of the most memorable flashbacks of the series. From the first time the band heard “You All Everybody” on the radio, to the night he saved a woman (Sayid’s sweetheart Nadia) from being mugged, “Greatest Hits” made us fall in love with Charlie all over again, especially when we got to watch him fall in love with Claire all over again in Charlie’s greatest hit: the day he met her. Awww.
“There’s No Place Like Home” (Season 4, Episodes 12-14): When I first started watching Lost I always figured the show would end with the survivors getting rescued. I never predicted that would happen only halfway through the show’s run. In the season 4 finale, the Oceanic Six is finally formed on screen and escape the island, while everyone else disappears in a flash after Ben turns the Donkey wheel. There’s some awesome Ben vs. Keamy moments, and even a Walt cameo! This episode gets particularly intriguing when we see the Six (plus Desmond and Lapidus) discuss what they’re going to do once they reach civilization, and the beginning of “The Lie” takes form. (Fun fact: they take to calling the fake island they were stranded on “Membata,” which in Indonesian, means uncertainty.)
“The Candidate” (Season 6, Episode 14): Boone’s death in season 1 told us that anybody (except for Vincent, of course) was fair game to be killed off on Lost, but it still came as one of the biggest shocks of the show when four main characters lost their lives in a matter of minutes of one another. Props to the writers for having the balls. The rather ingenious gimmick: Jack and the gang debate over what to do with only minutes left before a bomb goes off in the submarine. Sayid bites the bullet, tells Jack, “It’s going to be you,” and sacrifices himself by running the bomb to the other end. But it isn’t enough to save everybody. Sun gets pinned down and, knowing there’s no hope for his wife, Jin stays with her and they drown together. At the time we even thought Lapidus was a gonner. Only Jack, Kate, Sawyer, and Hurley make it to the surface. It ends with an incredibly moving image: a devastated Jack breaks down weeping on the shoreline.
And now, the reveal…
1. Through the Looking Glass (Season 3, Episodes 23-24)
Three words: Not Penny’s Boat.
It’s the most exciting episode of Lost. The season 3 finale chronicles Jack leading the survivors on a journey to the radio tower to make contact with the freighter in an attempt to escape the Island. Meanwhile, Sayid, Jin, Hurley, and a few others face off against the Others, who have come to kidnap the pregnant women. Mean-meanwhile, Charlie goes on a suicide mission to infiltrate an underwater DHARMA station called “The Looking Glass.” It’s action-packed, it’s creatively-written, it’s well-acted, it’s emotionally-stirring, and it’s absolutely mind-blowing. You know, basic Lost stuff.
“Through the Looking Glass” was the most talked about episode of television in 2007. After all, there was a lot to talk about. How awesome was that scene where Hurley ran over the baddies in the DHARMA van, or when Sawyer shoots Tom and says, “that’s for taking the kid off the raft.” Who didn’t get the waterworks (pun intended) when Charlie sacrifices himself by shutting himself into the flooding communication room to save Desmond – but not before warning him about the freighter.
Of course we can forget the cryptic ‘flashback’ sequences, detailing a depressed and drug-addicted Jack on the verge of delusion and suicide. Matthew Fox was robbed of an Emmy for putting in the best performance of his career in this episode. In what IGN called the biggest shock in 2007 television in their 10/10 review, an old friend agrees to meet with beardy Jack, and when she gets out of the car it’s revealed to be . . Kate. Wait, what? This was never a flashback. It is in fact a flash-forward – perhaps the greatest idea the writers of Lost ever had.
“We have to go back,” Jack says. It’s almost as if he’s talking to us, because we all have to go back, and watch this episode again. Scratch that – we all have to go back and watch the entire series again. After all, there’s a lot more than just eleven episodes of Lost that are worth talking about.
What do you think? Leave a comment.