LOST: The Island, Smoke Monster, and Everything Else Explained

Most series finales are awful. Seinfeld was absurd. The Sopranos didn’t have an ending, kinda. And [sigh] Game of Thrones didn–argh!, Bran did not have the best story, and that is NOT why you make someone a king, especially because he was the villain the whole time and they’re all going to suffer and die now and it’s the WORST! Just the WORST!

I’m okay, really. But we need to address LOST.

The airplane crash survival series finale lives in infamy for its alleged lack of payoff. But let’s be real–we were given many of the answers and the closure we craved, but it was only rewarded to those who were loyal, attentive viewers. Most people couldn’t devote this much time or brain space to a long-running show that was plagued by regular excruciating hiatuses and writers with short attention spans. As a consequence, many viewers skimmed the seasons, or skipped some altogether. And as the mythology and paradoxes got too cute by half, many threw their arms in the air and decried that none of it made sense. By the finale, the show’s legacy had a thick tarnish over it as a series that was full of crap and never got where it was going. (Kinda like the Oceanic passengers, amiright? Zzzzzing!)

I submit to you that this confusion and tarnish can be cleared away with just a bit of explanation. For the Jack-the-Doubters out there, I’ve decided to don my dot-connector hat and go through the series in proper chronological order. I want to lay it all out so that we can demystify the writing and pick at the show’s carcass for all of the answer morsels we crave. Are you ready to begin this journey?

It starts with a story that is the backdrop for every single plotline and mystery on the Island. From the plane crash to the hatches to the Smoke Monster. The entire show and every one of its mysteries emanates from this ancient tale. So let’s go back to the (chronological) beginning. Here is the real story of what LOST is all about:

[Begin storybook voice]

Once Upon a Time, About 2,000 Years ago…

A lady named Allison Janney watched over a mysterious Island with a magical Light at its core–a light that was said to be the source of all good in humanity. Her role was to protect the Light and the Island from outside invaders. Some such invaders brought her twin boys (whose mother she murdered). One of these boys, Mib (short for Man-in-Black), was clever but also devious and overly curious about the power of the Light. The other boy, Jacob (who likes to wear white), was much more loyal, but simple-minded and reactionary. She loved them and used the Light to protect them. In fact, she used the Light magic to bless them that they may never kill each other. Like any mother would do with a magical job perk.

Then Mib grew into adolescence and decided he wanted to see lands beyond the Island. So he told his mom and brother to fuck off and went to live with some normal humans in their camp on the other side of the Island and join them in their crusade to leave that place.

But he was too damn successful. So Allison Janney got worried. He and the normal human camp dudes were digging wells and getting close to harnessing the Light and getting the fuck off the Island. And that’s not cool. No OnE LeAvEs.

So Allison Janney murdered the entire human camp, destroyed all of the wells and projects, and ran back to simple loyal Jacob. She gave dumb Jacob a cup of wine and made him the new Protector (I guess) and warned him never to go into the Magic Awesome Light Well at the heart of the Island–for it would mean a FAtE WoRsE ThAn DeAtH. Which makes me think that there have been lots of other Smoke Monsters…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Well then Mib discovered his tribal friends had been burned to death and his projects destroyed. There would be no leaving the Island after all. So he murder Allison Janney. This riled simple Jacob, who flung his brother into the magic Light Cave, turning Mib into an undead eternal shape-shifting Smoke Monster with a grudge and escape fetish.

Through the millennia the immortal brothers, Jacob and Mib, inhabited the Island together and hated each other. All Mib wanted was to leave. And all Jacob wanted was to keep him in place and protect the Light.

During their tenure they saw various ancient invaders land on the Island. Some of the invaders even worshipped the Smoke Monster as a deity and sought to summon him. Mostly though, Mib just killed them all and slept under the temple they built to him.

The pair also had an ongoing tedious philosophical debate about whether man is inherently good or bad. This prompts Jacob to lure people to the Island to test their character–or so he says. But really, he’s looking for his replacement so he can get his white ass off the Island finally.

Mib mostly just kills all of the conscripted job applicants, because he thinks that if Jacob and the applicants are all toast, he can FiNaLlY leave. (And, I guess, spreading his darkness to the entire world and ruining all that is good in the world…maybe?)

THIS IS THE ENTIRE SHOW: Two brothers–one wants to leave, one says no way. And a mysterious fucking Light sink with a plug. Everything else is a by-product of these two ancient men and their Light.

Why is the show so confusing?

It seems numbing to boil such an intense and mysterious show down to two bickering brothers. Truly, had anyone known this at the outset of the show, no one would have watched it. The suspense was the thing that kept us coming back, and in order to achieve such elaborate layers of mysteries and contradictions, the writers employed two basic strategies:

1.) The show is almost entirely told in reverse chronological order. We had to wait 8 seasons to get all the way back to Jacob and Mib. It took 3 seasons to even reach the 1970s & 1980s Dharma era. The whole show’s flow more or less goes: 

2004 > 1990s-2000s > 1970s-1980s > 100 AD.
With a sprinkling of 1950s and 1860s thrown in.

So when the plane crashes, we’re actually seeing the end of a story (well, nearly).

2.) Sloppy writing. I’ll admit how disheartened I was to discover that the writers never had a clear plan carved out from the start. They were pretty much winging it (airplane pun!) and stretching and chopping episodes and seasons depending on network needs. If the show was done by more thoughtful writers as, say, a Netflix series today might be, there would be a lot less ambiguity. Or that’s what I tell myself.

Let’s Put the Show’s Timeline in the Right Order

Pre-Jacob & Mib: Unknown Egyptians inhabiting the Island build the Statue of Taweret.

c.100 AD: Jacob and Mib are born on the Island. Allison Janney is the current Island Protector. Within 30 years, Allison Janney is killed, Jacob becomes the new Island Protector, and Mib becomes the Smoke Monster who is determined to escape and spread his anti-Light darkness across the world (??)

100-1867: Unknown crazy fanatics construct the Temple. Countless people are brought to the Island over these centuries, most of them do not survive. If they don’t kill each other, Smoky Mib kills them.

1867: The Black Rock, a slave ship, is swept up in a storm and crashes into the middle of the Island. The same storm destroys the Statue of Tawaret.

Richard Alpert, a mortal human aboard the Black Rock, is saved by Jacob and offered a liaison role with humans in return for immortality. This intercession by Jacob into mortal affairs is the emanation of the “Others”, who are also Jacob disciples–mortal humans who survive on the Island through Jacob’s guidance, via Richard.

1954: The U.S. army discovers the Island and delivers a hydrogen bomb called “Jughead” for unstated purposes. The Others kill the U.S. soldiers.

Weeks later, the Others discover strange visitors on the beach and kill several of them with flaming arrows. Frogurt is among those killed. They take several newcomers prisoner, including Daniel, Locke, Juliet, Sawyer, Miles, and Charlotte. John Locke, in particular, makes an impression on Richard Alpert. The newcomers reveals that the bomb has a cracked casing and must be sealed and buried for everyone’s safety. The newcomers then disapper without warning. The Others presumably then follow the advice regarding the bomb.

1961: Jacob sends Richard off the Island to scout young John Locke and determine if he’s “ready” to join the Others. He is deemed not ready.

1970: The Dharma Initiative pins down the location of the Island and is able to start ferrying its team to begin scientific research and build a commune. There are a number of inhabitants already on the Island who are opposed to this research team. Dharma people start referring to them as the “Hostiles”.

1973: Roger Linus and his young son, Benjamin, arrive on the Island as part of the Dharma Initiative.

Jacob once again sends Richard Alpert to recruit (teenager) John Locke to join the Others, but Locke refuses.

1974: Sawyer, Jin, Juliet, Miles, and Daniel arrive at the Dharma Initiative compound after being jolted back in time (a side effect of 2005 Ben moving the Island). They all covertly join the Dharma Initiative.

Rose, Bernard, and dog Vincent also arrive in 1974 as part of the same time shift. They elect to “retire” to the beach and avoid the Dharma Initiative.

1976: Eight year-old Sawyer witnesses the violent death of his parents after they are victims of a conman (John Locke’s father). Jacob visits young Sawyer in attempt to sway his life so that he will one day come to the Island.

1977: THE INCIDENT: An electromagnetic Incident happens at the Dharma station known as the Orchid. It was caused by Dharma scientists. This creates (worse) ongoing electromagnetic issues on the Island and ultimately leads to (among other problems) pregnant women not living into their third trimester and a button that has to be pressed to discharge energy every to prevent a catastrophic further incident.

Jack, Kate, Hurley, and Sayid appear on the Island (an unanticipated side effect of a planned 2007 plane crash). Jack, Kate, and Hurley are spirited into the Dharma Initiative by Sawyer.

Sayid goes rogue and is eventually imprisoned by the Dharma Initiative. Young Ben Linus frees him and subsequently Sayid shoots and abandons the young boy. Ben is only saved after he is brought to Jacob’s people who dip him in magical water and “change” him forever. Ben is sent back to live with the Dharma people.

Eloise Hawking shoots and kills her son, Daniel Faraday (without knowing his identity) when he approaches the Hostiles to speak to her.

Jack spearheads a plan to blow up Jughead (the atomic bomb) in order to undo the entire show. But it only succeeds in vaulting the living Lostees into present-day. I guess. I mean, it’s also stupid. Juliet dies.

1978: Eloise Hawking leaves the Island forever and gives birth to her son, Daniel (knowing that she will eventually shoot and kill him in 1977).

1987: THE PURGE. The Hostiles become fed up with The Dharma Initiative and utilize poison gas to exterminate every member, save for Benjamin Linus, who willingly joins the Others. Ethan Goodspeed also survives after making a deal with The Others. He changes his surname to Rom.

1988: Rousseau and her science team crash on the Island. They are soon visited by confused time traveler, Jin, who witnesses as Mib begins to target and kill the science team. Jin is nearly shot by Rousseau, but escapes and then disappears into time.

1989: Rousseau, the only survivor of her team, gives birth to a daughter, Alex. Soon after, Benjamin Linus kidnaps Alex at the behest of Others Leader Charles Widmore. Rousseau escapes and begins hiding out in the jungle.

A young Kate, living in Iowa, is visited by Jacob as she attempts to steal a lunchbox from a shop.

1990s: Charles Widmore, long-reigning Leader of the Others, is permanently exiled off the Island by Ben Linus for political reasons. He will spend the next 10-15 years building an empire of wealth in a bid to find and return to the Island (and presumably exact revenge on Ben).

1996: Desmond Hume is training for the Royal Scots Regiment (military) after breaking up with his love, Penny. During his training he begins to have dream-like flashes where he is actually in a helicopter crisis in some far-away place. The flashes are disturbing and without explanation. During the flashes he is instructed to visit Dr. Daniel Faraday at Oxford, which he does.

2000: John Locke is thrown out of an eighth-story window by his father. Jacob is on-scene to touch and restore Locke to life. Locke is left paralyzed and wheelchair-bound from this point until he reaches the Island.

2001: Juliet is brought to the Island for reproductive medical research at the behest of Jacob and the Others. She believes she has been recruited by a (fictitious) company called Mittelos Bioscience.

Desmond Hume enters a Charles Widmore-sponsored sailing competition to prove his worth to Penny. Just before setting sail, he (seemingly) randomly encounters strangers Libby and Jack separately. Desmond’s sailboat is caught in a storm and crashes into The Island, stranding Desmond there. He takes up residence in the Swan hatch with Kelvin.

LOST juliet

2004: Desmond accidentally kills Kelvin. The incident causes Desmond to fail at discharging the electromagnetic energy at the Swan station.

As a result, Oceanic Flight 815 crashes on and around the Island. This was secretly orchestrated by Jacob, who thinks many of the passengers are good candidates to be his Island successor. The surviving crash victims begin finding hatches and question the existence of Others on the mysterious Island. Many die. Michael and Walt escape the Island.

2005: Charles Widmore’s freighter ship, the Kahana, arrives with the aim to secure the Island for Widmore and capture or eliminate Ben Linus. Ben uses Mib’s old Light-harnessing wheel to move and hide the Island from Widmore’s invading forces. This accidentally sends some Island inhabitants skipping back through time (including Rose, Bernard, Juliet, Sawyer, Daniel, Charlotte, and Frogurt). The freighter is ultimately blown up by Jacob via Michael. Jin is also thought to be killed in the explosion. Locke is thrust into Tunisia, present day.

Eight people from the Island (Sayid, Jack, Kate, baby Aaron, Hugo, Sun, Frank, and Desmond) manage to escape the Island via plane and boats, and return to their rightful homes. Frank and Desmond (the only ones who weren’t Oceanic passengers) discreetly re-enter their lives. The rest are publicized in the news media as the Oceanic Six.

2007: Benjamin Linus kills (strangles) John Locke, who has been parading around in the real world under the psuedonym “Jeremy Bentham”.

The adults of the Oceanic Six plan to return to the Island by crashing another airplane. It works, though some are vaulted into the 1970s past. Through a really stupid plot thread (see: 1977), the group manages to return all surviving Lostees to 2007 for a final showdown.

Final Showdown: Mib, disguised as now-dead John Locke, convinces Ben Linus to stab and kill Jacob. He does so, and Jacob’s body is burned at the base of the Tawaret statue. Ben also shoots and kills Charles Widmore. After a series of battles and convoluted missions, many die. Kate shoots and kills a newly mortal Mib. More death.

Hurley becomes the Island’s protector, naming Benjamin Linus as his adviser. They stay on the Island. Presumably, Bernard, Rose, and dog Vincent continued to live the retired life on the Island. The only other surviving main characters–Kate, Sawyer, Claire, Miles, Frank, and Richard–escape the Island permanently.

2010: With Hurley and Ben successfully managing The Island, the two recruit Walt–now grown and institutionalized–to join them on The Island.

Now Let’s Answer Some Questions

Jacob’s Cabin: Whose Was It? Who Was Living There? And What Was With the Ash Line?

The cabin was built as a private retreat by Horace Goodspeed, principle figure in the Dharma Initiative, sometime in the 1970s-1980s. No one lived there at all, not even Jacob. Calling it “Jacob’s Cabin” was a hoax perpetrated by Benjamin Linus to project the illusion that he was able to commune with Jacob and had special connections and abilities with The Island. This was all a con. The ash line around the cabin was most likely placed there by Benjamin as part of the ruse (it’s all in the details).

What About the Pregnant Women?

We are told by multiple reliable narrators that women who conceive fetuses on the Island cannot survive to the end of the second trimester. But why? No one knows for sure, not even Benjamin or Richard. Hence, why they brought Juliette to The Island to figure it out. There are two logical assumptions we might make: The first is that the fatalities are a natural phenomenon related to the crazy electromagnetic properties of the Island (or, similarly, the magic Light at the Island’s heart). The second assumption is more gruesome–that either Jacob or Mib won’t permit a child to be born on the Island and take out the fertile mama at the same time. Perhaps this is population control.

What Are The Numbers?

The writers didn’t bother to explain this in the show. (‘Cuz why would they? It isn’t like this is an important plot point or anything!) However, there is some canon material from the writers that does actually lay out where they came from:

Allegedly, the Numbers originated in a (fictitious) long, crazy-ass equation created in the 1960s called the “Valenzetti Equation”, which tries to predict how much time humankind has left. The core purpose of the Dharma Initiative was to manipulate at least one number in any of the equation factors in order to give humanity longer to live. Hence, all the experiments. Just saving the world.

Plus, scientists are dorks, so they used the damn Numbers everywhere–for hatch door serial numbers, the code to discharge the electromagnetism in The Swan, etc. In fact, the Dharma dorks, apparently, broadcast the numbers across a radio frequency with the notion that once just one number changed, it would be a sign to scientists and benefactors that they had succeeded. Which sounds pretty pretentious and stupid, but hey.

This transmission was picked up by some U.S. Navy personnel in the South Pacific and Rousseau’s crew. It was one of the navy personnel who introduced the Numbers to Hugo.

Were they cursed? Probably not. But if you can have a Smoke Monster, then I suppose he could’ve cursed anyone who pays attention to the Numbers? Oh, and there’s some malarkey about Jacob also using those numbers to label his remaining candidates as part of one big coincidence. But that’s just terrible writing and makes zero sense. Delete that from your brain.

What Was With the Hieroglyphics?

Aside from the writers being far too cutesy (and not planning ahead), there were supposedly hieroglyphics in parts of the Valenzetti Equation, used as symbols. Again, me thinks the scientists were so dorky, they just had to manufacture countdown plates that had such images cuz they looked cool.

What Was Going on With Libby?

I’ll tell you what was going on with Libby–sloppy writing. From a meta standpoint, we all know that the actress portraying Libby was fired from the show after a very public DUI incident. Presumably, the writers maybe had plans for Libby’s character that never came to fruition? Or maybe not. Let us guess that Libby could have been in the mental hospital with Hugo due to some kind of stress related to her husband’s death. Or she really was cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. After all, she did claim a lot of things about her past that made no sense, and she never admitted to knowing Hugo. Odds are, she was a disturbed lady who was able to pass as normal when she wanted to. Nothing more.

What Was the Flash Sideways in the Final Season?

Think of it as an afterlife waiting room. Each of the Lostees experienced their lives as they might have been without the Island’s influence, until ultimately they all reconnect. During their time in this afterlife waiting room, many of the characters they interacted with (for example, Jack’s son) never existed, but were part of a sort of waking dream. Once the Lostees were able to find each other and connect, then they were prepared to join the light of the afterlife together–the implication being that none of them could find the light until they all found each other. The lesson is, I suppose, that they each mattered so much to each other in life, that to move into the light required their bond. Or something. [Insert your own personal spiritual or religious beliefs here.]

Were They All Dead? Was the Island Purgatory?

No. Prior to the final season’s flash sideways in the afterlife, the people we watched on the Island were all alive. Okay, until we saw them die. Or unless Mib used their images to mess with peoples’ heads. Just to be clear, though, the Oceanic 815 Lostees really did survive that crash. The Island was not purgatory, though the show had fun teasing that it could be.

Why Was Walt Special?

Because he was. That’s what the writers have stated, and it makes sense. Some people seem born with supernatural talents, or so many people believe. Walt was one. The Others found him really interesting to see what he would make of the Island and vice versa. Jacob probably wondered if the boy could be the Successor. So the Others kidnapped him, quizzed him, and eventually let him go (for reasons unknown). After Walt returned home with Michael, he most likely never did appear to anyone on the Island–not Shannon and not Locke. In each case, it was probably just Mib pretending to be Walt to mess with everyone.

Did Kate Really See a Horse on The Island?

Maybe. It could’ve been Jacob. But let’s be real, it was probably more of Mib’s mind games. Or she could’ve hallucinated the thing–maybe even before the plane crash. Listen, the horse is more about Kate having a spirit animal that watches over her. Take that literally, spiritually, or as dehydration-induced as you like.

Was There Really an Evil Illness That Took Over Rousseau’s Crew, Claire, and Sayid?

Probably not. Most of that “darkness” that they demonstrate can be easily explained by general psychosis, dehydration, and the power of suggestion. And let’s say this now–the idiots at The Temple who tried to “test” Sayid’s levels of evil were absolutely full of shit. They were so into their twisted Jacob-worshiping faith that they had lost touch with anything resembling truth or reality. And poor Sayid already believed the worst in himself, so he believed them.

Rousseau’s crew was probably driven insane by Mib, just for kicks. And Rousseau and Claire probably just went nutso from isolation, paranoia, and despair.

That said, sure, a side effect of The Island’s Light could be an evil that can permeate a person’s soul. ‘Cuz, why not? If that’s the case, I don’t envy Aaron. Mama Claire’s coming home wearing a really bad wig and ready to kill. Curious that Hugo and others seem to be immune to it, though.

How Exactly Did It Work for Jack to Detonate a Bomb and Launch the Dharma Lostees Into the Future Without Anyone Dying?

This is the one plot hole that just absolutely makes me crazy. I mean, I’m willing to accept the Island’s crazy-ass magical Light, so the writers should’ve figuratively and literally gone back to that pool and used the Light to get back to the present. Drink it, snort it, swim in it. Or have the Lostees reunite and escape to the real outside 1977 world. Go watch Three’s Company and relax. Invest in Apple. 

Even if Jack is just too dumb to think of using the Light, okay so he uses a bomb. Then they die. The end. Whatever happened, happened. They blew up. Kablooey. Dead. They can die in the past (look at Juliet). The Dharma Initiative was wiped out, too, leaving Jacob and Mib all alone on a glow-in-the-dark Island until Rousseau’s crew turns up to get baked by radiation. Let’s hope the guys in The Swan patch up that radiation suit!

Gaaaaa! This was such bad writing, I can’t defend it. I mean, how is it that Juliet can die and not come back, but the rest of them do? Com’on, writers!

However! I will note that this is easy to overlook if you just paste over this one episode in your imagination. Jack didn’t commit mass murder with a bomb. They drank from the pool of Light and *poof* they were back where they wanted to be. Except for poor Juliet. She had nothing to drink and is still at the bottom of the hole.

There you have it! All the answers to a crazy beautiful show that demanded a lot from its viewers. If there’s anything I’ve forgotten, let me know and I’ll add to the answers. Or I’ll throw a Hot Pocket at you. One or the other.

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