Claremont Dangler Island

WARNING: For something that’s primarily about Lost, this article doesn’t really have any spoilers in it at all. I’m pretty proud of that. Well… no spoilers for the last few episodes, anyway. If you’re one of these people who waits three years to watch a season on DVD and then gets mad at everyone else for discussing popular culture in the meantime, I don’t know what to tell you. Actually, you know what? Never mind.

WARNING: Lost spoilers.

Last night while watching Lost, I finally learned the answer to the big question that has been plaguing me for the entire series, namely: Why am I not bothered by the dangling plot threads in Lost?

I have a friend who has watched the show with obsessive focus for six years, a friend who would reliably e-mail me an hour after each episode with a list of old questions, new answers, and new questions raised by answers. (What this friend and I will talk about now, I have no idea. I guess I’d better try loaning him my Walking Dead hardcovers or something.) That list started to get longer than the tax code about a year ago—who built the four-toed statue? Did they themselves have four toes? Did Jacob need corrective or orthopedic footwear? Why is a plane dropping food onto the island for people who were gassed to death years ago, and who signs that invoice? What are the accounting practices like at the Hanso Foundation, and when are we going to get a look at their books?—and over the course of the last month or so it started to become clear that there were a lot of questions that just weren’t getting crossed off that list. There just wasn’t enough time anymore to devote ten minutes to explaining who was shooting at them from that outrigger in the distance that one time.

Faced with that realization, I had no doubt that there were people who would not stand for those dangling threads, and that there was a message board out there somewhere swallowing bandwidth like a sinkhole as they vented their spleens about it. “Man, alls I know is, if they don’t devote at least a half an hour of the finale to explaining how Walt makes birds suicidal it will ruin the entire series for me. All of the joy and excitement I experienced for the previous 119 hours of the show will be retroactively taken away from me, erased like a McFly from a Polaroid.”

For some reason, even as someone who was just talking about his nitpicking affliction a couple of days ago, I didn’t have a problem with any of it. And I think it’s because I had a subscription to Uncanny X-Men in the eighties.

At the time I was a big X-Men reader, Chris Claremont had been writing the book month in and month out for about twelve or thirteen years. I think once you get about 150 chapters under your belt, you start to get pretty comfortable. They’re not technically your characters, but you’re still putting your feet up on the furniture at that point. Unfortunately, one of the ways Claremont’s comfort manifested itself was in a breathtaking compulsion to start subplots, set them down on the coffee table, and wander off. When I stopped reading comics in high school, the X-Men had more loose threads than my daughter’s wooby. And why not? He was on the book forever; he’d get around to finding out what ever happened to those Brood aliens.

At first, you try to hold onto your instincts as a reader. “Hey, where did Colleen Wing go? She gave Cyclops the key to her apartment like they were a couple, and then no one ever spoke her name aloud again.” Over time, though, the sheer magnitude of all the stuff you’re trying to keep track of pummels you like a tidal wave, and the next thing you know you’ve just been dragged out to sea.

The X-Men are supposed to be invisible, you know. During a major crisis, they went through this mystical portal called the Siege Perilous; it gave them new lives and made them impossible to detect with technology. They didn’t show up on video; they didn’t trip alarms anymore. It came up roughly every time they left the house in 1989, and then… it just… didn’t… happen anymore. Was that ever explained? Did the writers just forget to keep doing it? Add it to the list.

Holy s***, what Lost fans would do with the Siege Perilous. It would be right at home on that island.

Even before it was Claremont Dangler Island, I always thought Lost was like a comic book perfectly realized in moving form. From the beginning, I wanted to fold every episode in half, stick it in my back pocket and take it up in my treehouse. It reminded me of those old DC comics when the editor would hand the writer the already-drawn cover of the book and say, “Write a story around that.”

“…and there’s a word balloon, and Kate is saying, ‘Look out, Sawyer! It’s… a polar bear?!’ Go. Have it on my desk by the end of the day.”

The twists and turns also smacked of a serial story that could never end. If there were a comic about survivors on a mysterious island, there would come a day when the whole “castaways” thing would be played out. I can absolutely see Mark Waid pitching his run on the book: “What if we take them off the island? No no! Hear me out! What if we start doing flash forwards, and some of them get away, but then they have to come back again, so they can leave again? Also, there is time travel. Needless to say.”

The whole "we have to get off this island; we have to go back to the island; we have to get back off this island" dynamic seems pretty familiar as a comics reader, doesn't it? How about those characters you saw five times more of after they "died"?

Of course, that is the one advantage Lost had over most comics. It got to end. Sad as I am to see the sun set on Claremont Dangler Island, in the end it wasn’t about the mysteries; it was about the characters. The crazy crap that was happening mattered, but only because it mattered how it affected those people we’d come to know, how they felt and what they did in the face of ever crazier crap. It’s Wolverine that endures, not the Siege Perilous, and isn't that the way it should be in the end?


Jim Mroczkowski read Y: The Last Man in issues for years, breathlessly wondering, “What’s the deal with the plague?” only to find out and be more confused than ever. Today, he could not for the life of him tell you what happened.



  1. I’m one of those people who watched a few episodes of Lost in 2004 or whatever, stopped watching it when my DVR kept cutting off the ending (sure, I could have figured out how to program the DVR differently, but I’ve always been a fan of cutting the Gordian knot).   When I would hear people discuss it, years later, I thought, "I’ll wait until that sucker ends, then watch the whole thing on DVD.  Maybe."  So I didn’t touch the thing for 5 years, and then I watched the finale last night (because watching the finales of shows I never actually watched/had stopped watching years ago is a thing I do.  Ask Dawson’s Creek, the West Wing, X-Files and, for some reason, Dallas).  I can safely say that what I watched didn’t spoil anything because I had no idea what any of it meant. 

    Now I’m wondering if I’m actually going to do what I said I would years ago, and watch the whole thing.  Undecided (Netflix does make it awfully easy, and I did THAT with ‘Alias’ & ‘Babylon 5.’)  As somebody who read that Claremont ’80s X-Men run, years after it was over, I can definitely see the up and downsides.  It’s a really good comparison though, from what I understand, possibly a key difference is that Claremont would actually address some of the dangling plots in his scripts, his artists would say, "What, seriously?  I don’t feel like drawing that." and it wouldn’t happen.  I have to idea if that anecdote is true but it certainly FEELS true.

  2. OF COURSE! it all makes sense now! thanks Jimski for pointing out exactly why im such a big LOST defender. Sometimes kiddies, the real world just doesn’t answer all your questions, why shouldn’t stories mirror real life?

  3. I swear to God, I made a Siege Perilous joke in my head a couple of episodes ago. That is to say, my thoughts exactly. Great article.

  4. Well said Jim, great article!

  5. I just watched the first three episodes of Lost this weekend.

  6. Well said.

  7. I gotta say for the little less than a third of my life that Lost has been going on, I had a real blast.

    One of my favorite shows of all time, easily. 

  8. I thought the Lost finale was great.  I’m glad that the show didn’t try to answer every little thing.  It explained the most important things and left a few things out there for fans to ponder.  I’m pretty sad that it has ended.

  9. Your conclusion is spot on to how I feel about Lost.  Thanks for articulating so well what I was feeling (and giving me an easy link to say – see, this is what I am trying to say).

  10. Perfect final paragraph. Totally encapsulates the show and why I love(d) it.

    As for the article itself, swap out UNCANNY X-MEN with TWIN PEAKS and you’ve got why I didn’t mind the dangling mysteries at all.

  11. In the end we at least we got something we all wanted, which was an ending. Moat comics don’t have that luxury, they’re long drawn out sopa operas. meant to keep us coming back for more. And that kinda of is the charm of some titles if done right you can tell awesome stories for years.

  12. Oh man. I wish i could get behind the Lost finale. I really really do. I swear — although I don’t think anyone will believe me — that I went into this pretty much down for anything. I had long since abandoned any preconceived notions or expectations about the ending (aside from wanting it to, you know, not suck). And I had seasons-ago stopped expecting or needing answers to every little question. And I love character! I really do! In fact my biggest complaint about Lost for a while — seasons 4-5 — were that is had become all story and no character.

     But I thought this was awful. Painfully, glaringly awful. Obviously not everybody feels that way and for those of you who felt like you got a satisfying end to your 6 years then that is totally awesome for you.  

     I agree with just about everything Jim says in his great article. But I think the key line is this: "that is the one advantage Lost had over most comics. It got to end." Jim calls this an advantage but I think it’s just the opposite. The difference between a mainstream comic, which runs "forever" and isn’t telling one story, and Lost, which was (allegedly) telling one cohesive story is that your story has to make sense. Lost wasn’t Claremont’s X-Men or The Flash — it was Y: The Last Man or Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns. It was one story with one "creator" — the showrunners. If Y had ended with the Allison Mann’s father revealing that what killed the men was "the hidden mysogyny in all of us" and then everyone held hands and lit candles and suddenly all the men re-appeared…? That would suck. If Watchmen had ended with Daniel and Rorschach approaching the arctic fortress and then! Daniel wakes up goes, "boy that was some dream!" That. Would. Suck.

     Lindelof and Cuse have spent the last few months telling us again and again the Lost is "a love story" and it’s "all about character" which is fine — those are vital parts of a good story. But Lost wasn’t The Wire or The Sopranos or Mad Men — all shows that I love btw. It was a sci-fi genre show with a complicated mythology and plot-twist -based storytelling. If they wanted to write a sweet family drama about love and redemption with schmaltzy, half-baked Christian overtones, nothing was stopping them. They just should have started that way from the beginning so I would have known not to watch the 6-year sci-fi preamble.

  13. @LeoInNYC: Even sci-fi shows are really about characters. The sci-fi elements are just vehicles to tell a story about people or society. Good sci-fi anyway (THE TWILIGHT ZONE, LOST, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, STAR TREK, etc.). It’s never about the monsters, it’s always about the people.

  14. Great article! I feel the same way about Lost – it was about the characters not the mysteries, subplots whatever. I got exactly what I wanted from that finale and I can honestly put it on my top 5 best tv show endings.

  15. Lost was NEVER about the pretty people crashed on an island. The story was the Island. I never cared about the characters, at least the ones that mattered. It was never a character driven drama. If it was, then it wasn’t a very well written one. I always gave it a free pass because it wasn’t pretending to be a real drama. I don’t know of you guys remeber, but love-triangles were considered bad when it was teen soap opera on The WB. The fact is that the stupid, insipid, contrived and dragged out love triangle was about dramatic crux of the show.

    "Oh Julliette why do you want to blow up the Island?"

    "Because Pacey will always love Joey :("

    Now, I understand that just because I dont care for the pretty people on the island, doesn’t mean everybody else does aswell. And I also did not hate the finale, and understand why some people see it as a fuitting end. But can we stop pretending that the show was anything other than what it was? I have seen the whole show almost twice now and it was never anything other than a mystery show. Pretending otherwise while handwaving at someone’s argument is condescending. Please don’t do that. 

  16. Dude, I am ALL about the characters. But a) you can’t JUST do one and not the other or else it’s not coherent storytelling, and b) I don’t even think that the character stuff at the end of Lost made any sense. Killing characters and resolving characters aren’t the same thing. 

    So first, on point a — characters exist in a context. That context is story. So, for instance, Mad Men is a story about a complex, internalized man whose stoic exterior hides a dark past. The story is: he works at an ad agency. Shit happens there. Batman is a story about a complex, internalized man whose stoic exterior hides a dark past. He wears a cape and fights crime. Story — and the context it provides, really, really matters. 

    What that context does is create stakes for the characters. And here is really the key, central failure of the Lost finale (for me). It’s not that they didn’t tell us what the numbers meant or why Walt could kill birds or whatever. It’s that they never told us anything that compellingly grounded the action of the last 6 years in a way that created cohesive stakes for what everyone has been doing for god’s sake (literally, apparently). Years of numbers and Others and buttons and hatches and time travel and atom bombs has come down to: you have to protect the light; it’s bad if the Man in Black leaves the island. Why? Cuz Allison Janney said so, one episode ago. What’s the light? Doesn’t matter. Why is it so bad if MiB leaves the island? Don’t you worry about it. Why is it all important? Because someone said it’s important. But he seemed like a nice kid! He’s been trapped there for thousands of years — cant he go get laid and take in a movie? NO! He must remain on The Island! But… Don’t ask why! So this light – I’m guarding it for eternity..? Yup. What happens if it goes out? The light inside each of us goes out. Um, what light..? Like, we’ll die, or all just get super cranky? Don’t worry about it. Cuz Sayid got the sickness and he didn’t turn evil so much as just get really quiet, so… Not important. Guard the light. What’s the smoke mon- Zip it!

    Ok then. No problem. Then I see it is my destiny to martyr myself in service to the great cause of, umm… whatever it is we’re doing.

    As a Jew I found the hard right turn to Christ-land jarring and frankly stupid and shallow. But at least Christ died for a reason that has some kind of internal logic within Christianity: He died to redeem the sins of the world. Jack died for… well.. to, um… for some light, I guess…? He died for the light? 


    Like, just give me SOMETHING! Aliens. Tell me it was aliens. Fine, really no problem — protecting the world from alien invasion. An evil wizard — great. Fine. Nobody likes an evil wizard. Nanobot. Rabid gophers. Dick Cheney’s evil-er twin. Whatever. But my friend who I watched with said it best when she looked at me five minutes before the end when it was clear that we we’re gonna get nada — she said, "what have we been watching for the past 6 years?" Exactly? I have no idea. I have absolutely no idea what all of this was about. What they stakes were. What they’ve been fighting for. 

    A show about someone who has to confront his past because if he doesn’t it threatens to unravel his life is a lot more compelling than a show about someone who could confront his past. Or he could watch "wheel of fortune" — whichever. That is less compelling. That’s what makes Mad Men a great show. It’s not about twists and turns and big reveals. It’s subtle and understated. But the stakes are super clear and compelling and relatable. There is absolutely nothing clear or relatable (to me) about where Lost ended up.

     It’s like after writing Lost for 6 years the writers suddenly decided that they’d rather be writing 6 Feet Under. Great show. Different show. You can’t do 2 hours of a Spider-Man movie and then just decide you’d rather be directing a musical or… oh wait…  Anyway, point is, you gotta do both. You have to tell a good story and create and develop good characters. Good story+Bad Characters=Flash Forward. Bad Story+Good Characters=Lost.

     Which leads to the question of the character development it self. Jack and Kate? But we’ve seen what happens when Jack and Kate get together in the Season.. 3 I think… flash-forward. It doesn’t go well. So how did we arrive at, they’re meant to be together? What is Sawyer’s resolution? The last thing he did was get Jin and Sun and Sayid killed. And what about Sayid? What was his arc, exactly? He gets "The Sickness" which just makes him taciturn. And then he dies. Claire on the Island goes crazy, and off the island meets Jack but that’s not character development, it’s circumstance. Kate’s still running, on island and off. Desmond and Penny, the star-crossd lovers, they… well… hmmm. Desmond is last seen unconcious on the island, and off the island is apparently Michael Landon. Miles seems like a pretty happy camper, I guess. 

    Look, I gotta go. You get my points I think. I’m so, so glad you dug it. I wish I could have been an 8-year-old when the Prequel Trilogy came out and gotten the kind of enjoyment from it that I got from the OT when I was a kid. So I am not trying to ruin it for. If you dug it then feel free to write me off as a crank — I won’t take it personally. : ) 

  17. Leo, I don’t think you got what the "sideways" were. 

  18. @muddi900: The show was about the people. If you want to take it another way, that’s your perogative, but it’s always been about the characters. What do you think the point of those flashbacks were?

  19. Loved.This.Article. 80’s X-Men, so much fun. The Lost finale was satisfying. ‘Nuff said.

  20. I’ll say this – it was a fun ride. I wouldn’t trade any of it, even if I didn’t like the ending. The characters were great characters, the mysteries were great mysteries. The thrill of each new strange. perplexing twist. The light at the bottom of the hatch; the immortal Richard Alpert; remember the first time we saw the polar bear in the jungle? It was a great ride. I could have done with a different destination but the drive was fun no matter where we ended up. Three cheers for LOST when all is said and done. 


  21. this article sums up what i was saying on another forum. well, minus the whole x-men references, that is. 🙂 and i really loved the ending.

  22. LeoInNYC, well said.  Don’t let them tell you, you are a hater.  Like me, you rightfully expected better from the last season and finale of Lost.

  23. Dear Jimski,

    Simply.  Brilliant.

    When this season started, I figured out that all I really wanted answered is what is the deal with the Smoke Monster and who are Adam and Eve (this was just personal curiosity).   I got both answers and the rest was about the characters.

  24. Thought it was a magical ending to one of my favorite series. What’s ironic about that reaction is that, I would say I’ve been disappointed by the vast majority of the landmark finales to shows I loved. Didn’t like the Seinfeld finale. Didn’t care for the way they wrapped up BSG. Etc… so when I saw the internet chatter last night and today at work, I worried that when my wife and I sat down to watch Lost on the DVR, it would leave me cold. But you know what? I LOVED IT. To me, this entire finale was all about the message, "it’s not about the end, it’s about the journey." To those who didn’t get everything wrapped up in a tiny bow, I say two things:

    1) That’s real life. People, places, circumstances float in and out of our lives. There are countless experiences we never get to see through the end.

    2) Those six years of LOST that you enjoyed? They still happened. Every nailbiting adventure, every new question, every answer, every shock, it all happened. You watched it. You can watch it again. Or not. But the experiences and satisfaction? They don’t get erased from your conscience because the final 2.5 hours of script didn’t match your vision for it.


  25. Watched the finale of LOST tonight. Really enjoyed it. And those who are saying it’s about the characters are absolutely correct. It’s always about the people. The way I see it, the central theme of LOST was always, "Who are these people and why are they in this place now?" The first seasons were all about giving you a surface character and then using flashbacks to dive down and show all sorts of conflicts under the surface.

    The island serves as a plot device, something bring them all together, to create conflict, and to give the show a drive. And like any mystery, the show layered in red herrings and twisting side plots, but I always expected that when the show wound down to its final episodes, it would narrow down and focus on those main issues: who are they, why are they in this place now? And honestly, I thought the two episodes BEFORE the finale gave most of those answers. As I suspected, the finale was mostly about closure to the main plot AND the resolution to the Flash Sideways mystery — and I thought it played very well.

  26. @connor:

    Well if those flashbacks were only for the benefit of character development, then that’s lazy writing as well. Fortunately, it was also for moving the story forwards(most of the time) and providing more pieces to the puzzle. What do you think the constant bickering about the button was? Was it just to establish archetypes of Locke and Jack? No, because a real drama would not have given it more than 15 minutes of screen time. Hell take the beginning of the second season. First two episodes set two plotlines, that arrive at a certain point and just stop. It takes them 8 episodes to move forward from those points. To quote Mamet, "its not drama". If Lost really is a character-driven drama, then the final season should be shown in creative-writing classes as what not to do. They could’ve ended it at the fifth season and it wouldn’t have made a bit of difference. Nothing was added to the story in the final season. For a character-driven drama, that is just plain bad.



    As I said, I understand why the writers did it, and it is in no way a bad ending, just not for me. Everything before the last season is some fine TV. What I do take offence at is the "You be watchin it wrong, newb!" attitude towards anyone who disliked the finale. What I have been watching for the past six years has been a well written, (mostly) well paced mystery story. I have had enough conversations about it, both AFK and on the internet, to assume that I am not alone. So, why do all these people are hell bent on destroying my memory of it? Why do they want me to remember it as a poorly paced, poorly written drama? 

    Again, I am not saying that anybody doesn’t have the right to like it and that there weren’t any strong and compelling characters, but almost none of them lasted till the end or were given a backseat. And they were never the focus of the story. 


  27. Loved the finale. If some people didn’t like it, that’s perfectly fine, but there’s no reason to tell the people that did enjoy it that the show was really crap, and you’re a moron for enjoying such a poorly written show.

     The show, for me, ended perfectly. I loved the finale, and the more, and more, I think about the more I realize that the show touched me in a way that I didn’t think it could.

    Kudos to you LOST. Truly one of the great shows of our time.

  28. Ran across this on Twitter. It’s a post from someone who apparently worked on the show, and it’s their take on the finale.

    Skeptics may see this as spin, but it reads to me like an honest reaction to someone who was involved in the show. It’s interesting to note — if true — that they kept the original ending, as conceived after the pilot. Anyway, I mention this here because it values the same things I took away from the show, which was about the major themes rather than the dangling subplots (which I continue to view as red herrings — I don’t need to know who built the four-toed statue, only that it arose from some ancient culture that knew the island was special).

  29. "It was all about character" is going to be my new euphemism for when I monumentally fuck something up and I’m trying to avoid taking responsibility.

  30. Keep it up! You’ll get me to stop enjoying it yet!

  31. Seems a little near-sighted to suggest that they’ve only said "this is about the characters" once they "fucked it up." Sorry, but that’s how the show was marketed from the beginning. They always downplayed the Sci-Fi/mystical elements and focused on the characters. And I think that was largely to broaden the appeal of the show. This was NEVER played as a niche "SyFy" type show.

    However, as the show went along, that main mystery had to be sustained (and the producers admit there was a point where they had to tapdance around the answers because ABC wanted them to stretch it out make the show last longer, while they wanted to bring it to a close). Thus, if there’s any negative criticism I agree with, it’s that the characters did lose some momentum in the final season — they were all pretty much revealed by the end of the previous season, and thus the final season spent more time running them through the plot, moving them into the places they needed to be to get the central mysteries revealed.

    I honestly don’t know what people wanted out of this final season. EVery dangling thread revealed? I would have found that really boring. Me, I’d rather have closure for all the characters, and I got that. I got basic answers to the questions I wanted answered: "why are THESE people in THIS place NOW?"

    It’s funny, I remember people wondering about the mysteries at the end of season one. I always commented that I was enjoying the mysteries and learning about the characters and their reactions to the bizarre situations. I didn’t really WANT the answers because the mysteries were so much more fun. I suspect that the people who enjoyed the finale were of a similar mindset even as early as the Season One. 😉

  32. Looks like I’m of a similar mindset to most people here. I haven’t particularly enjoyed this last season as much as others but think the finale did a good job at resolving the various character arcs, which, now that I think about it, were always more interesting to me than the actual island-related mysteries. Most of the farewell/reunion scenes were quite touching and well-acted, IMO (with the exception of Sayid and Shannon….really? What about Nadyia???)

  33. Must… not… get… involved… in… discussion… about… Lost… finale! Will… only… sound… like… jackass…

  34. @daccampo

    I have seen that link elsewhere and it looks quite fake.

    Now, IIRC, ABC asked Abrams to create a blockbuster TV show, and he came up with Lost. The mystical/magical parts were intentinally obfuscated because of the benfit of people who dislike sci-fi/fantasy. At least, that was the impression I have gotten from various interview of Abrams, Cuse and Lindelof.


    I recently rewatched the whole run and in season 2 they made a huge deal about Shannon’s death and its effect on Sayid. The reason he was willing to torture Henry Gayle was because he wanted something to hit. And then…he got over it. Io9 did a whole writeup on that.


  35. @muddi – honestly, it really doesn’t matter to me if it’s fake (it seems a terribly odd thing to fake—the motivation would be that someone could prove their point better by pretending they were part of the production?). The reason I included it was because it basically represents how I felt about the show—without any insider knowledge. 

    And, yes, your recollection is similar to mine: they intentionally downplayed the marketing of the sci-fi/mystical elements early on. But in the actual production of the show, they also always focused on the characters, right from the beginning. The hatch, the smoke monster, the polar bear, those were oddities, but they were always oddities to keep the survivors wondering where they were and how this could all be happening to them. That was the spine. The meat on that spine was always the characters.