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One creator of the television series Lost says the most important scene of last year's stunning fourth season wasn't the pivotal moment when some survivors of downed Oceanic Flight 815 actually made it home. Instead, he says, it was a simple conversation in a greenhouse between character John Locke, a believer in the supernatural order of the universe, and Dr. Jack Shepherd, Lost's resident Man of Science. Locke told Jack that their plane crash was no accident: they were there for a reason. Jack ignored the talk of destiny and boldly left the island.

But even bigger for me was seeing Jack, months after getting home, change his tune by confessing, "We weren't meant to leave. We have to go back."

What changed the doctor's mind? Who, or what, didn't mean for the castaways to leave? Why go back? These are questions propelling the character-driven show as it starts season five this winter. But as Lost fans know, the more the show answers questions, the more questions arise.

Lost regularly tackles complex themes like redemption, an ordered universe, and the literal sins of the fathers with an untidy approach that fits the messy subject matter. No easy answers are offered. Characters take one step forward and two steps back as they try to grasp their purpose and overcome personal weaknesses. The mysterious sci-fi story has viewers constantly wondering what is going on: Is this island the Garden of Eden? Atlantis? Just a hub of mystical powers?

In an entertainment culture of short attention spans, Lost sets a higher bar. Viewers have to commit, wait for resolution, and think about what they have seen. It is a model for how life's big questions can be probed in a tv series.

For some, Lost's lack of answers is ...

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In the Magazine

February 2009

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