Lost Series Finale 10 Years Later, But Was It Our Last Communal TV Event?
In our weekly round-up podcasts about WandaVision, I am often reminded of what it was like during the days of LOST. When talking about the beginnings of the era of “prestige TV,” we cannot diminish how important this show was to that history. LOST celebrated the 15th anniversary of its premiere in 2019, and last May marked the 10th anniversary of its finale. However, a new oral history of the show’s finale has the internet again talking about the show that was one of it’s first massive obsessions. Everything from The X-Files to Smallville had obsessive fans, but LOST was a content creation machine outside of the series itself. Websites, podcasts, and even books all came out dedicated to dissecting the show and puzzling out its mysteries. When it was over, the immediate feeling was a kind of vacancy, in our hearts and in pop culture.
Other series tried to take LOST’s place in the zeitgeist. Shows like Flashforward, The Event, and Persons Unknown (starring a young Chadwick Boseman!) tried and failed to capture that aura of mystique. Yet, LOST remains unique in the way that it was able to so tantalize the general prime-time viewing audience, frustrate its fans, and live on in infamy after ending.
Image via ABC
The central conceit of the new oral history, however, is to suggest that LOST was the last truly communal TV viewing experience. Other shows, like WandaVision or Game of Thrones have come close, but neither have the accessibility that LOST had.
Wait, Isn’t Everyone Confused About How the LOST Series Ended?
While some viewers were unsatisfied with the final season, the people who misunderstood the finale are probably in the minority. In fact, in the oral history, they touch on the decision by ABC and the producers to air footage of the original crash set over the final credit sequence. Not realizing the proper story was over, people thought it was an avant-garde way of saying the survivors were actually “dead the whole time.” This comes despite the fact that in that episode the embodiment of “answers”—John Terry’s on-the-nose character Christian Shephard—explicitly said everything that happened on the island was “real.” Viewers are meant to debate the finale, certainly, and we’re not going to dive into that bit of debate. Rather, I want to focus on the claim that this was the last truly communal TV event.
As Jen Chaney writes for Vulture.com:
“What was semi-clear at the time and is even clearer now is that the broadcast of the LOST finale would mark the end of something else: the truly communal broadcast television experience. Subsequent finales would be major events (see HBO’s Game of Thrones) and even draw larger audiences (2019’s final Big Bang Theory attracted 18 million viewers, compared to the 13.5 million who tuned in for the Lost farewell). But nothing else since has felt so massively anticipated and so widely consumed in real time the way that the end of LOST, the Smoke Monster Super Bowl, did in 2010.”
When we talk about how important LOST was to the cultural landscape, we can’t forget that the Obama White House had to put out a statement promising not to pre-empt the season premiere that year with a thing so trifling as the State of the Union address. Thousands of hours of podcasts, before and since, and millions of words have been written about this series. Love it or hate it, LOST evokes strong reactions from those who dive into the story.
My first exposure to LOST came when I was working for a law firm in Pittsburgh after redeploying from Iraq. The day after the show aired, the morning’s business was basically shot because the assistants, the messengers, and some lawyers would stand around talk about the show. (The infamous season 3 opening where the characters were stuck in cages for weeks.) I was both intrigued by their passion for it and horrified by how crazy it made them. I knew I wanted to watch the show, but figured I’d wait until the end-run. The wait between the last two seasons was excruciating, and I can’t imagine how bad it was for those invested from the beginning.
Binge-Watching LOST Is Good for New Fans of the Series
Image via ABC
There is a debate about what is the best way to watch TV: Binge-watching or weekly. Despite what I said above, there was a joy to watching week-to-week. Fans engaged in discussion on forums, blogs, and podcasts enriched each other’s experiences with keen analysis and wild-ass theories. The “what is the Smoke Monster” discourse alone was better than any WandaVision theorizing, because we had nothing to go off of. So, that experience is gone and likely not able to be repeated in this modern media landscape. Yet, it’s probably good for the longevity of the show.
Being able to binge-watch the entire LOST series puts the whole story right in front of you with no waiting. You can rewatch or research, and there are countless places to help you make sense of it all. New fans can accept the show for what it is rather than allowing their own expectations and fan-theories to disappoint them. So, they will likely enjoy the show a little more than folks who watched it as it aired. Yet, for them, they have an experience that is all-too-unique these days. Serial stories, on traditional television or streaming, still have the power to move all of us. They can even become a phenomenon, like LOST co-creator Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen on HBO. Yet, I think that Jen Chaney is right when she says that the communal experience of watching LOST is something we are not likely to experience again.
LOST streams on Hulu in the US and Disney+ with Star internationally.
What do you think? Is LOST a unique series when it comes to TV as a communal experience? Did you watch the show as it aired? Share your experience in the comments below.
Featured image via ABC
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.