My Top 16 Lost Episodes on Lost's 16th Anniversary

“Nobody does it all alone. You needed them, and they needed you.”

Sixteen years ago, a pilot episode of a new show premiered on ABC about a group of plane crash survivors stranded on a mysterious island. Audiences were transfixed, the show became a blockbuster hit, and the landscape of TV was changed forever.

Few shows have impacted me the way Lost has. I remember first getting into the show because I was a huge fan of J.J. Abrams coming off of Alias. During the first few episodes, Charlie was the only character I could name because I was also a pretty big fan of Dominic Monaghan. But over time, Lost became so much more than a favorite weekly fix. It became a collective experience. It was excitedly waiting to see whose eye would open the episode and which character we’d get to learn about next. It was listing down all the times the numbers were mentioned. It was searching the many forums (remember when that was a thing?) for screenshots and clues as to what the hell was going on. It was mourning characters we lost and loving the characters that were still with us.

Beyond the smoke monsters, donkey wheels, and ancient Egyptian statues, Lost was a show that portrayed the many different facets of what it means to be human. No matter how incoherent its plot became, it never lost track of telling the deeply flawed and captivating stories of its eclectic cast of characters. From the doctor with a savior complex, to the former paraplegic aggressively pursuing his destiny, to the con man turned reliable leader.

Lost featured a racially diverse cast, strong female characters, and vulnerable male characters. It taught me a lot about creating characters and crafting plot. And despite the often underwhelming reveals, it still managed to engage its fanbase with really fun mysteries and helped jumpstart the craze of going easter egg hunting and forming conspiracy theories on your favorite fandom.

While many are still bitter about that finale, I think seeing many franchises that have similarly ended with less than a bang has taught us that endings are really difficult to land. And for a show as huge in scope as Lost, having that perfect ending was a nearly impossible task. But for all the weird pregnancy mysteries and random Walt appearances, the show had some incredibly powerful moments that still resonate today.

And with that long intro out of the way, on the 16th anniversary of its premiere on TV, let me now rank my top 16 favorite Lost episodes.


16) Season 3 Episode 19: The Brig


This episode brought us one of the best confrontations of the series and an actual resolution to a plotline that had been going on since Season 1. Everything about the brig sequence was done so well, from the build-up with Locke riling Sawyer up as he led him to the Black Rock, to everything about the brig scene itself, to the aftermath as him and Sawyer connect over the shared trauma Cooper caused. This was such an important character breakthrough, and in true Lost fashion, it was done through the intersection of two central character arcs.

15) Season 2 Episode 8: Collision


An Ana Lucia episode isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of the best Lost episodes. But this introductory episode, and specifically the chain of events it was placed amidst, showed just how good the show is at getting you to empathize with its characters. And this most likely didn’t get people to warm up to Ana Lucia, but I don’t think that was the point. It placed us as viewers in the uncomfortable position of judge and jury against a character we should hate, who fittingly enough has a backstory rooted in revenge against someone despicable. The episode was tense all throughout, and that ending montage never fails to brings tears to my eyes.

14) Season 3 Episode 21: Greatest Hits


I think by this point in the show, all the flashbacks were starting to get a little stale. So I loved that this episode revamped the format by presenting us not with a single past storyline, but with different snippets of Charlie’s past. And the way these moments are linked together have such a sad and emotional payoff by the end of the episode. By all accounts, Charlie had become pretty unlikeable, especially if we remember all he did in Season 2. But this episode reminds us what an endearing and thoughtful guy he is and served as a great sendoff for the character.

13) Season 5 Episode 8: LaFleur


I guess Lost proves that with skillful writing and two amazing actors, you really can sell a relationship formed over the span of a single episode. "LaFleur" shows Sawyer’s growth beautifully. We see so many different sides to him in this episode. We see the clever con man, the dependable leader, and finally, the loving partner. I love how we go from wanting our group to escape the island or at least the situation they’re stuck in, to being a little disappointed when the cavalry arrives at the end to save the day. This episode sold us on Juliet and Sawyer so well that Jack and Kate seemed almost like an afterthought. And watching this after the Season 5 finale is all the more devastating.

12) Season 5 Episode 16: The Incident


Speaking of that Season 5 finale… I loved the balls on this season to basically say right from the start that, yeah, we’re going with time travel. As underwhelming as the payoff for it ultimately was, I also loved the way this finale introduced Jacob and the Man in Black. Considering this was our last season finale, everything about this episode, from the encounters with Jacob, to the trek to the statue, to the journey to what would be the site of the incident itself was crazy, and really hammered home that we were entering Lost’s endgame. And I think there is yet to be another season finale of any show that pulled off a cliffhanger that ambitious.

11) Season 3 Episode 10: Tricia Tanaka is Dead


But for every dire finale, there’s a lighthearted Hurley-centric episode. I love this episode because of how we get to see our castaways really bond. None of the epic world-ending moments would have any impact if we didn’t actually care for all these guys, and episodes like these are the ones that really make us fall in love with them. This has my favorite castaway to castaway bonding moments – “Those pants don’t make you look… fat,” “Shut up, red… neck… man,” and that scene in the van at the end that had me grinning from ear to ear. And sure enough, at the heart of this episode is a struggle against fate, one of the core themes of the show.

10) Season 4 Episode 7: Ji Yeon


So the writers had one more trick up their sleeve before ditching the flashbacks for flashforwards. I don’t think at the time I really bought that Jin had died, but the shock at realizing what they had done with combining a flashback and flashforward still hit hard. They completely sold us until the end, filling us with warm fluffy feelings with Sun finally give birth and seeing what a loving husband Jin was on the island. Those final minutes take you on a rollercoaster of emotions, from excitement at the thought of Jin meeting Sun at the hospital, to suspicion at how strange everything was unfolding, to shock when we realize what was happening. And then finally, that walk to the grave with Michael Giacchino’s score punches you deep in the gut. So well done.

9) Season 3 Episode 22: Through the Looking Glass


Is it cheating that I’m picking a lot of finales? Of course finales have to be good. They have a climactic and emotional edge other episodes. But I think the stakes in this one were extra high. There were so many great moments throughout this finale – Hurley saving the day, the shootout with Sayid, Jin, and not-Rambo Bernard, and of course, Charlie’s untimely death. And while we’re on cleverly framed flashback sequences, this finale marked a completely new direction for the show. That ending had such an impact that if the show was ballsy enough, it could have ended right then and there. No other show did cliffhangers quite like Lost.

8) Season 6 Episode 11: Happily Ever After


I could make an entire list of just Desmond episodes, and this one is one of my favorites. This marked the point at which Season 6 really started to pick up and marked a clear direction toward the series finale. All the callbacks were wonderful, brought full circle by two of the most important characters to Desmond – Charlie, and of course, Penny. This episode had all the weirdness and emotional moments expected from a Desmond episode, and it ended in a way that gets you excited for what’s to come.

7) Season 3 Episode 8: Flashes Before Your Eyes


Surprise! Another Desmond episode. Lost had its fair share of mindfuck moments before this, but this episode one-upped all of those by leaps and bounds. What I love about Desmond episodes is how little the writers hold back. They know what an interesting plot device Desmond presents, being the special little time-traveling Scotsman he is, so his episodes are always chock full of lore drops and even more mystery. But lucky for us, Desmond is also such an amazing character, so his episodes are always so emotionally resonant.

6) Season 6 Episode 14: The Candidate


This is probably the show’s most devastating episode. The loss of Sayid, then Frank (or so we thought), followed by Sun and Jin was a huge blow, and one I don’t think we were prepared for at still a few episodes away from the series finale. Sun and Jin’s death was one blow after the other, as you slowly begin to realize neither of them are making out. The flash-sideways between Jack and Locke is also incredibly emotional, as they both struggle with one of the major and very sad takeaways from this episode: the need to let go. This is Lost at its best – when it makes you cry like a baby.

5) Season 1 Episode 4: Walkabout


No surprises that this episode is on this list. "Walkabout" marked the point wherein Lost turned from good to great. The reveal at the end is probably one of the show’s most iconic moments. It not only hits hard because of what it implies about the island, but about Locke as well, and provides a great backstory for a character that had been mostly an enigma up until that point. This episode is a fantastic beginning for what would arguably become one of Lost’s best characters. Also, Terry O’Quinn and Michael Giacchino. End of story.

4) Season 1 Episode 23-25: Exodus


Another finale! And what a lovely finale it was. Before all the time travel, Others-Dharma Initiative quarrels, and Jacob enigmas, we had the simplicity of Season 1, and this three-part finale was the perfect way to cap it off. It had some of the best emotional moments of the series, from Jin and Sun reconciling, to Sawyer telling Jack about Christian, to everyone boarding the plane, to that beautiful raft launching. Many of the mysteries introduced also felt like they had more impact, like the Others’ and Smokey’s first major appearances. Jack and Locke’s talk about destiny before opening the Hatch also wonderfully sets up the series-long arcs that both were about to undergo.

3) Season 4 Episode 5: The Constant


What would a top Lost episodes list be without "The Constant"? Once again, this episode shows Desmond’s story at its best – confusing, hectic, mystery-unraveling, and deeply, deeply moving. The back-and-forth editing was so well done and made for quite the fun episode structure. The past Desmond episodes have seen him fail multiple times and barely get through with a sliver of hope, so seeing him finally get the validation he deserves that Penny hasn’t given up on him was so moving. Also, Henry Ian Cusick. End of story.

2) Season 1 Episode 20: Do No Harm


This is the episode that always make me cry. None of the later, more action-packed episodes are able to match the tension in this one. Having one medical emergency after another brings out the best in a lot of our castaways, from Sun stepping up to help Jack, to Jin disregarding the language barrier to comfort Claire and Charlie, to Sawyer forgoing the sassy remarks and giving up his alcohol stash. Boone may not have been everyone’s favorite character, but I think his death was treated with the most gravity because we got to see every painful moment drawn out and the toll it took on everyone trying to keep him alive. This episode really gets to the heart of Lost – dealing with loss.

1) Season 1 Episode 1-2: Pilot


For all of Lost’s unsatisfying resolutions and inconsistent plotlines, its pilot still remains the greatest example of what the show was at its best and what it could have been had it not gotten so messy down the road. Everything about the pilot completely engrosses you and doesn’t let you go from the moment it starts. It introduces a very interesting and diverse group of people, and any confusion you may feel only makes you want to continue watching to learn more. This pilot brings us intriguing mysteries, a great opening set piece, and wonderful character moments. The moment Jack’s eye opens, you know you’re in for quite a ride.

Does Lost hold up 16 years later? Probably not. It’s definitely not the show it was when it first premiered and isn’t exactly remembered as such. But what does hold up are the incredible stories it told about this amazing group of castaways. I don’t even remember much about the Dharma Initiative or the polar bears, but all these years after, I still remember Jack’s story of trying to fulfill his destiny. I remember Desmond’s Odyssean journey to get back to his true love. I remember Hurley’s unfailing optimism and faith in the people he cared about. And I think all that’s what I’m going to remember seven years down the line for the show’s 23rd anniversary.

See you in another life, brother.

Mara Fabella is a visual artist, writer, retired martial artist, yoga practitioner, booper of cat noses, and lifelong lover of mint chocolate chip ice cream.

7 comments:

Tobie said...

LOVING THAT LIST SUPER.
Thank you for writing this!

Mara Fabella said...

Hi, Tobie! And my pleasure! :)

Billie Doux said...

Mara, what an enjoyable read. You brought back some wonderful memories of a show that was so important to me.

I should confess that I was deeply, deeply into Lost. I wrote hundreds of pages of description and analysis for my reviews, and ran a huge Lost discussion list. I was totally obsessed.

And then it ended, and I don't know why, but all that emotion turned off like a faucet. I've tried to rewatch the show -- it meant SOOO much to me -- but I can't quite make myself do it.

So thank you for reminding me of the love. :)

Logan Cox said...

Great read. Having recently watched the show over again after letting it sit for ten years, I've been tempted to write an article like this myself, but I don't think there's any need now.

Personally, this is still my favorite show. I thought it might be really dated when I started watching it again, but it actually feels a bit timeless. Does it get convoluted and a bit hokey near the end? Sure, but I think you have a point about most shows not quite succeeding when it comes to locking down a wholly satisfying conclusion. It never loses its momentum (I used to think Season 5 was a low-point, but I've come around to it) for me, or stops delivering really good episodes. And they do such a good job with the characters and developing their journeys. It's just an engrossing experience, and resonates with me even more now than it did when I originally watched it as a teenager.

Was very glad to see this today. Well done, Mara.

milostanfield said...

Thank you, Mara! I'm especially taking to heart your point about paying more attention to the great character arcs than all the plot twists.

Long overdue rewatch coming next summer for me. Lost seems like a summer show to me, I guess because of the tropical island. Was gonna watch it this summer but this summer has had enough smoke monsters. After your article I wish I had rewatched. Thanks again!

Mara Fabella said...

Thanks, guys! I'm glad this article helped you briefly reawaken your Lost fandoms. :)

Billie - I completely get it. Lost can be such an exhausting show. I don't really remember being invested enough to do all the theorizing and whatnot while it was on air, so I guess I didn't share the same fatigue everyone else had when it ended the way it did. I imagine it can be hard to get back into a show that took us on the journey that Lost did. But to paraphrase a quote from Dr. Who (that has its own share of convoluted and tiresome plotlines), the good and the bad don't necessarily cancel each other out. I think there are still some lovely little gems tucked away in this confusing mess of a show. :)

Logan - I was surprised about Lost not feeling dated, too! Though during rewatches I do completely skip all the mystery-heavy episodes that feel a little pointless now. But it's really quite amazing how many moments still have such a powerful impact watching it again years later. I also find myself discovering things in these more emotionally resonant episodes that I didn't find when I first watched them. There were times when Lost got pretty bad, but when it got good, it became the gift that kept on giving.
I loved Season 5 as well. I thought it was a lot more focused than the other seasons, and all the time travel was just so much fun. Not to mention it did give us actual answers to some long-running mysteries.
Hope you can still write that article! Would love to see what everyone else's favorite episodes are. :)

Milostanfield - The world has definitely had enough of smoke monsters recently! Sometimes I just pick some of my favorite episodes or even watch my favorite scenes if I want a quick Lost fix. A rewatch can definitely take a lot of time and energy. Hope you can get around to revisiting the show again soon!

Trousers said...

Billie, I'm the same. Lost was something truly special, but I just can't bring myself to rewatch it. And its because half the show is now missing.

In hindsight, the shows strength was its characters. Thats what got people watching to start with, and its what made you enjoy the episodes themselves, but it wasn't what kept you talking about it with everyone else.

The mysteries were what made it something special, and are what make repeat viewings less appealing than something like Buffy. You'll never be able to recapture that lightning in a bottle of trying to work out what the hell was going on, and being able to talk to so many people about it.

Even people who watch it now for the first time, won't have that experience, that network of people to try and puzzle out what the hell was going on that first morning after an episode.

We had a meeting in work the morning after every episode, to talk about it, that our CEO turned a blind eye to, because he knew we weren't getting bugger all done that day otherwise. I have friends now, that probably wouldn't be friends if we hadn't had Lost to talk about 15 years ago.

That's what made Lost special, what made it unique. Battlestar had the mysteries, but not the universal appeal among the masses. Game of Thrones had the appeal, but not the puzzles that would generate those conversations.

And now that we live in the age of streaming, I don't think we'll ever have another show like that, that everyone watched at the same time, because otherwise you miss out on the best bit the next day.

My daughter is coming up to an age where she'd love Lost. But she won't love the Lost I loved, because she won't have the people to talk to about it, who are at the same point in the story as her, who don't know the spoilers, and most importantly, she won't have to spend a week speculating what the hell is going on, because she can just hit play on the next episode now.

Managing to make the space between episodes important was what made Lost special, and without that the experience isn't complete.