I don’t know if you’ve heard, since everyone’s been keeping it on the DL, but it turns out that Lost is coming back on Tuesday! In little breaks from spending time agonizing over whether or not Jack’s plan to nuke the island worked or if the Man in Black is named Esau, Mike and I came up with a list of our 21 favorite Lost episodes. We now present them to you, in order of air date since in order to successfully rank them we’d need to retreat to a four-toed foot with only a loom and the Valenzetti Equation to figure it out. Disagree? Sound off in the comments below.
The cultural phenomenon of Lost became such as the result of an action-packed two part pilot episode that helped defined the essence of the show’s first season. The show starts with Jack waking up immediately after the crash, and in those first two hours shows the immediate aftermath, introduces the smoke monster, the mysterious message from Rousseau, and, the most talked about twist, the polar bear attack.
While the “Pilot” was an appropriately mindboggling start, it wasn’t until “Walkabout” that Lost really showed what it was capable of. By turning Locke from the creepy old man in the “Pilot” into a major island player, introducing him to the monster, and deploying the episode’s mind-spinning final twist, which is still one of the most effective surprises in Lost’s history.
A point of interest in Lost‘s first season were the mysterious numbers, 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42, which had haunted Hurley and turned up on the Island. Fans broke down the meaning, which thus far, hasn’t really been explained. The episode also helped established more the backstory for the lovable Hurley, who, we discovered, had won the lottery and spent time in mental institution. Hurley was already the goofy, big, comic relief, but “Numbers” established him as being as essential to the story as Jack, Kate, or Locke.
Still one of the show’s most satisfyingly epic wrap-ups, “Exodus” did a great job of wrapping up the show’s first season while setting up its second. The twin cliffhangers of Walt’s abduction and what exactly was in the hatch set the standard for Lost’s torturous season-enders. However, my favorite moment may still have to be Arzt’s spectacular dynamite fail and Hurley’s all-time classic response.
Man of Science, Man of Faith
In the second season premiere, the plot of Lost more or less got flipped on its head with the discovery of Desmond in the Hatch. The added fact that Jack had once met Desmond during a late night work out was even more incredible, another insane coincidence on a show that loves insane coincidences. The mythology of the show grew exponentially with the introduction of what was in the Hatch, most specifically, the computer that required the pushing of the Numbers every 108 minutes to “save the world.” The episode kicked off a season that at times bogged itself down too much, but it ultimately added to the mystic of the Dharma Initiative and the history of the Island.
There are an inordinate amount of Locke episodes on this list, because he tends to be at the center of some intriguing stuff. Case in point, “Orientation,” which deftly sets up a lot of the action for season 2, courtesy of a little bit of film by the Dharma Initiative. Meanwhile, the flashbacks gave us more insight into Locke’s tragic, off-island life, even as he started further down the course that would lead to his own death (uh…spoilers)
Live Together, Die Alone
Another fantastic season finale, “Live Together, Die Alone” again established the notion that everything we thought we knew about the Island would change the next year. As Michael sails away with Walt, he watches the results of his betrayal, when Ben Linus orders the hoods put over the heads of Jack, Kate, and Sawyer, their fate hanging in the balance. Meanwhile, we learn what the Hatch was there for and, finally, just how Oceanic 815 crashed on the Island. The end of the episode, Penny being woken up by a call from the Arctic, made it a long summer of waiting to find out what happens next.
Flashes Before Your Eyes
Everyone complaining about Season 5’s use of time travel must have missed the night “Flashes Before Your Eyes” aired. After turning the key, Desmond shoots back through time and has a second chance to choose Penny over a life of button-pushing…until he gets talked out of it by Eloise Hawking. A great episode (as is any Desmond-Penny episode) that also serves as an example of how good Lost has been at long-term table setting.
The Man from Tallahassee
The powers of the Island were evident from the moment we learned Locke had once been in a wheelchair, but in “The Man From Tallahassee,” they became even more extraordinary. First revealing that Locke’s paralysis was the result of being shoved from a window by his father, a fall that should have killed him, but next, we find that Locke’s father, the real life Sawyer, has appeared on the Island. It’s the first time we learn also of Richard and Locke’s supposed connection with the Island.
Pretty much a direct sequel to “The Man From Tallahassee,” “The Brig” is an emotional wrenching hour that brings to rest two of the show’s most well-drawn character arcs – Locke’s father issues and Sawyer’s thirst for revenge. For a show that doesn’t always get the character stuff right, “The Brig” is pitch-perfect, no more so than the moment when Sawyer finally reads the letter he wrote 30 years earlier.
One of Us
Through the first part of Season 3, it was hard to figure out what to make of Juliet, as we didn’t know very much about her. But “One of Us” was the episode where she began to emerge and endear herself to Lost fans. She’s a sympathetic character who has been pulled in further than she intended, wanting only to return to her sister. She goes through great pains to get the Losties to trust her, only for us to discover at the end it’s all part of an elaborate plot of Ben’s.
The Man Behind the Curtain
While at first Ben Linus appeared to be irredeemably evil, Lost is a show about layers and moral greyness. But “The Man Behind the Curtain” gives us some insight into who he is. Ben loses his mother in childbirth, gets dragged to a strange island, abused by his father, and neglected by Jacob; the show pulls off the tricky feat of making us feel bad for its most morally questionable character, even as it shows him planning and executing the genocide of an entire group of people and the murder of one of our favorite characters.
Through the Looking Glass
Perhaps the most mind-blowing of all the season finales, “Through the Looking Glass” again completely changed Lost. It’s a mixture of triumph and sadness, with the death of Charlie, the hope of rescue, and the unknown as to who’s boat has arrived (not Penny’s, that’s for sure). But the most incredible part comes at the end of the episode, when it’s revealed that the drugged up, bearded Jack we’ve seen wasn’t part of a flashback, but a flashforward. The episode ends with a huge cliffhanger, and Jack yelling to Kate, “We have to go back!”
When the O6 came home, Jack drank a lot, Kate obsessed over Aaron, and Hurley lost it again, but Sayid grew his hair out and became a globetrotting super-assassin. How? Why? “The Economist” goes into Sayid’s post-island life, his hunt for a mysterious economist, and the ultimate reveal that his employer is none Other than the man he hates most: Ben Linus, all while hinting at the time-shifting weirdness that was about to come.
The Lost writers warmed us up for the idea of time travel with “The Constant,” an incredibly touching and solid episode. We’d previously seen Desmond’s struggles with glimpses of the future, but as he gets stuck in time, bouncing between happier times with Penny and tough times on the freighter, the purpose of Daniel Faraday becomes clearer and clearer. The episode also has one of the best moments in all of Lost, the brief conversation between Desmond and Penny that brought a lump to the throat of even the toughest of fans.
The Shape of Things to Come
When Lost went on a Writers’ Strike enforced hiatus, it seemed possible that season four would be cut-off at the legs. Instead, they came back with one of the strongest Lost episodes ever – a fast-paced hour that took us through Ben’s rivalry with Widmore, his recruitment of Sayid, his capability to summon the Smoke Monster, and, most tragically, his misplaced faith in the island and Jacob to protect Alex from harm.
After a lifetime of running, hiding, and missing his destiny, John Locke finally takes charge and embraces his future as the island’s savior, right? Well, this episode takes on a new and interesting irony in light of what would happen in season 5, but at the time it was enough to get an intriguing look into Locke’s past, which included visits from Richard Alpert and Matthew Abaddon. We also got the Horace/cabin dream sequence and the crazy ending, where Christian (who may or may not have been the Man in Black) and a hazy looking Claire tell Locke to move the island.
“316″ marked a major turning point for the Oceanic 6, all of them (except Aaron) being on the same flight that was doomed for the Island. Meanwhile, Jack, a man always opposed to the idea of destiny and gut feelings, struggles to come to terms with his impending fate. The episode ends with a great image too: Jack, Kate, and Hurley being confronted at gunpoint by the Dharama-uniform-clad-English-speaking Jin.
The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham
You can be forgiven for finding “The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham” kind of a slog the first time through. But, in light of everything that happened after, the episode becomes a bleak elegy for a man who was never anything more than a deluded pawn in a game too big for him to understand. Each visit with a castaway is more crushing than the last, and all of it builds to the epic Locke-Ben showdown, a powerful scene that features some of the best acting in the show’s history.
The character transformation of James Ford, better known as Sawyer, comes full circle with “LaFleur.” When we first met him, he was truly hard to like. But as he cons his way into staying with the Dharma Initiative in 1974, falls in love with Juliet, and becomes a responsible man, it’s hard to remember that time. Further more, the episode delves deeper into what exactly the Dharma Initiative did and the nature of their conflict with the Hostiles.
Season 5 is probably Lost’s most meticulously crafted and ingeniously structured season, but it is impossible to take in fully until you get to its satisfyingly twisty conclusion, which was easily Lost’s most touching finale (boo! hiss!). The Locke reveal was pretty shocking, Juliet’s death was tragic, and the final cliffhanger was positively masochistic, but the heart of the episode was Mark Pellegrino’s debut as Jacob. From the electrifying first moments with the Man in Black to his Forrest Gump-like cameos in our favorite castaways’ lives, Jacob’s introduction defied all the expectations we had built over the last five years and set the table for a (hopefully) immensely satisfying conclusion.