How ‘Lost’ Can Win the Expectations Game

By  · Published on April 8th, 2010

Editor’s Note: This article contains story details that might be considered spoilers about the show. Read at your own risk.

After last night’s episode of “Lost,” two major events happened. The first, inside the universe of the show, was the revelation of a connection between the two worlds we’ve been seeing this season. The second, outside the show itself, was crossing the Six Episodes Left Threshold. That second event is important because, historically, the show has created and wrapped up major story arcs in about six episodes.

Now, they are down to the last major story that they’ll ever tell.

Never Show the Monster

That’s a difficult line to cross, especially for a show that has relied so heavily on dangling answers in front of its audience and pulling the hook back at the last minute or replacing the mystery with an even bigger one.

It’s true. “Lost” is the Lucy of the television world, and we are the Charlie Brown.

However the danger of finally allowing us to finally kick the damned football is that we’ve built up What It Would Be Like to Kick the Damned Football in our minds for an excruciatingly long time. Extended metaphors aside, every fan of “Lost” has expectations, and if the old rule applies, the finale in their minds is far better than the finale that will actually exist.*

Expectations are nothing new, but this show has a higher hurdle because of its nature, because it’s a mystery, because it’s been dangling that carrot in front of us for so long. This same brand of expectation didn’t exist for the finale of “Newhart,” “Seinfeld” or even “M.A.S.H.” (the most widely seen finale of all time). The endings to culturally effecting shows always have a lot riding on them, but most of them didn’t have the mountain of answers to offer. No one was wondering what “Seinfeld” was all about or what abstract concept Kramer represented.

So the show has its work cut out for it. We know that you never show the monster, but there are several ways that Abrams, Cuse and Lindelof can satisfy everyone and avoid the potentially massive backlash that could come as a result if the monster’s zipper is showing.

No Aha! Moments

One of the easiest ways to ruin a mystery is by celebrating your own cleverness in revealing the answer. The show is already in a precarious position because it seems to be building to a standard Good versus Evil fight where a choice will have to be made by the main characters in relation to their alternate lives. Either this will build naturally (as it has in tons of stories before this), or there is still a mind-blowing twist waiting for us.

If it’s the first, it has the potential to be flat, but if it’s the second, it faces the worse fate of being way too ostentatious. So far, the show has been good about being subtle (except when it borrows its dramatic shots from telenovelas), but the worst way to present even the best twist is to put it on a pedestal with giant neon arrows pointing at it. If “Lost” can pull of a huge twist with grace, it will be the best of both worlds.

Focus on Character

The revelation of what the hell is going on is important, but it’s a fraction of a percent of the real appeal of the show. That, of course, comes from the people. Since the episodes have focused on singular characters with each episode, and since there are so many of them, the writers have their work cut out for them in weaving all of those stories together. Weaving them together as a group should come organically, but that would demand that the rest of the episode focus more on the island and not the alternate universe.

At this point, like last night’s episode proved, it would be easy to just parade favored characters in front of the screen and still have fans raving. A much better option is to take those characters and focus on reminding the audience why we love them in the first place – or giving us new reasons to love them.

Finish It

I can imagine there being a great allure for the “Lost” team to give us an open ending or another great mystery before slamming the final title screen in front of our faces. Responding to that siren’s song might be the worst possible fate for everyone involved. For one, it would be a lot like expecting fireworks and being shown a photograph of a roman candle instead. For two, it would be lazy and un-fulfilling.

That’s not to say that a few loose ends can’t remain that way. That’s also not to say that a few characters’ alignments, intentions or that a few metaphorical meanings can’t remain vague. It does mean, however, that the plot needs to come to a close of some sort. Show us the final candidate. Give the characters a choice and make them choose. Bring the looming battle to our living rooms.

There has to be some sort of major catharsis to validate the years-long second act that we’ve seen up to this point. The show seems to be working toward it – but it still has a ways to go, and there’s always the possibility of getting off that track.


With the last 5 episodes on the horizon, there is both the potential for a spectacular last story arch and the potential for a frustrating end to a show that people have loved. There may have been a lot of talk about the way “The Sopranos” ended, but most of it wasn’t good talk, and that’s certainly not the kind of enigma that “Lost” can leave on.

A strange ending? Sure. But it needs to provide the kind of closure that’s been promised for the past five seasons. Without that, it might go down as the worst finale in television – one giant, 5-year long ratings tease that never rewards the audience. Hopefully that won’t be the case because, as fans know, the show is much more than ratings bait. For now, we’ll just have to wait and see what Abrams and company chose: the white stone or the black.

*In case you were wondering – the final episode of “Lost” is finished in a vault somewhere. What’s to be has already been set. Chew on that, determinists.

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.