“Raised By Another”
When analyzing Lost‘s best episodes, I’m certain “Raised by Another” is going to be overlooked by many. It’s not an obvious landmark episode like “The Constant” or “Man of Science, Man of Faith” are, but “Raised by Another” should be remembered because it represents a big “first” for the series—the first time the creators really pulled the rug out from beneath its audience.
In the episode, Hurley decides to take a census of all the survivors, using the flight manifest as a blueprint. He discovers that one of the survivors, who has been living and working alongside everyone else, was not actually on Oceanic 815. Ethan Rom was an imposter.
Truly, this first appearance of The Others was a critical turning point for the show. It was the first time that the series acknowledged that there are threats to our survivors, apart from the threats of the natural (and supernatural) world.
Lost‘s pilot, of course, was mind-blowing and immediately reeled me in, but I think that the payoffs to that initial investment came over the course of the series, after we had gotten to know the characters well. With very few exceptions, the casting was spectacular right down to the bit parts, and it was easy to share the joy and pain of their stories.
There’s Hurley, always bringing people together (the golf course, the VW bus), or Desmond’s trials (“The Constant” is a classic, but all of the Desmond-centric episodes were solid). Sawyer’s balance of self-centered con man and insecure good guy was often manifested, maybe never better than “The Long Con”. John Locke’s entire character arc (not least “The Walkabout”) will likely top most lists of favorite episodes, just one documenting his fascinating story, from his father issues to his worldly limitations to his rebirth on the island. “Through the Looking Glass”, will be a favorite, too, for Charlie’s brave actions and the frightening information he conveyed as he was dying.
I, however, will have to go with an early episode of Lost as my favorite: “Dave”. Not only did this present the whole “Hurley in the asylum” storyline—questioning his sanity and kickstarting the mystery of the numbers—but it was the episode when “Henry Gale” was exposed as being not quite the man we thought he was. “Dave” showcases brilliant performances by Jorge Garcia and Evan Handler (as Hurley’s maybe imaginary friend), and it’s just one of Michael Emerson’s string of mesmerizing episodes as the fascinating Benjamin Linus.
Lost has “lost” almost as many viewers as it has gained over its six convoluted seasons. Yet it’s almost certain that anyone who saw “Walkabout” could bring themselves to quit the show without a mighty effort. The first John Locke-centric episode, “Walkabout” is legendary for the absurdly shocking twist at its peak. When it was revealed that Locke, the cryptic man of action with the penetrating gaze, box of hunting knives, and fondness for Manichean board games, had formerly been a sad broken shell of a man who couldn’t walk, it became instantly apparent that Lost was no ordinary fly-by-night television drama.
Pushed into brave new territory, Terry O’Quinn gave a wide-ranging performance that sold the narrative trickery, galvanized Locke as an all-time fan favorite, and truly cut deep for the first of many times in the show’s rewarding run. “Don’t tell me what I can’t do!” Locke cries. Indeed, “Walkabout” is an episode that earns that statement’s defiant independence.
In the third season of Lost we encountered Nikki and Paolo. What? You don’t remember them? They were the ones that got buried alive with all those diamonds. Titled “Exposé”, episode 14 of season three centered on these two non-main characters—one a two-bit actress, the other a chef – both who poisoned a studio executive and made off with his diamonds only to find themselves on the unlucky flight of Oceanic 815.
Universally despised by fans according to show co-creator Damon Lindelof, “Exposé” was thought as filler, one of those “self-contained” episodes that give us a complete arc start to finish with little connection to the main season or series arc. In the comic world, we call these kinds of contained stories “one-shots”. Yet what a one-shot it was. With the slow progression and endless cliffhangers that are notorious about Lost, watching Nikki and Paolo steal some diamonds, deceive a bunch of people, and then finally get buried alive—all within 42-minutes—was pretty exciting. The closing shot of Nikki’s eye opening as Hurley and Sawyer fill in the sandy grave is one that will stick with me long after the show is over. Goodbye Nikki and Paolo; we barely knew ye.
“Do No Harm”
The debate about Lost‘s impact on pop culture is over. Whether you love it or hate it, Lost is special; it became special in the 20th episode of its first season, “Do No Harm”. That is the episode when the makers of Lost put the show’s viewers on notice; it’s the episode that proved they were playing for keeps. In “Do No Harm”, Boone dies.
TV shows have killed off characters before, of course, but to kill off a series regular, a popular one played by one of your youngest, best-looking actors before the end of the first season was until now unheard of. With “Do No Harm” the showrunners made it clear that nobody was safe on this island. In a show that routinely asked its viewers to suspend belief, the one critical thing that could not be overlooked was that people would die.
Others would merely fall—Shannon, Ana Lucia, Libby, Mr. Eko, Michael, Charlie, Farraday, Juliet, Jin, Sun and Sayid—but this episode set the precedent that nobody was safe, not even Lost‘s viewers.
“Through the Looking Glass”
Clearly, “Through the Looking Glass” not only redefined Lost in one awesome swoop, but also rescued it from a narrative black hole, reinvigorating the entire series completely, which it badly needed. Jack’s war with the Others, which left us dangling in the second season cliff-hanger, finally came to pass. Its climax: a savage fight between Jack and Ben. I feel a bit guilty, succumbing to baser instincts here, but how cathartic it was to see Jack wail on Ben, bruising him up badly and finally avenging the torturous psychological experiments Ben had put him through.
There was also the sense that the characters had finally begun to learn from previous mistakes, as demonstrated, for example, in the blackly comic scene when Sawyer executes the crafty Other known as Tom Friendly. It would have been typical of the show to have kept this threat alive so that at a later date, Tom Friendly could cause more trouble for our heroes. Instead, in spite of his declaration of surrender (which Sawyer didn’t believe), Tom Friendly was quickly dispatched by Oceanic Flight 815’s bad boy.
Speaking of character development, the last few episodes made fans reinvest their interest in Charlie Pace and his heroic sacrifice. Typical of Lost, just when you start to like someone, they have to go and die on you.