This page is an attempt to explain both the winding story and the vast, complex mythology of
Lost in the most concise way possible, for the benefit of people who just wanna know what the hell was going on but don't want to read through a hundred-plus recaps. If you can clarify or make cut down any of this, please feel free. And
Lost is a pretty contentious series, so please stick to the facts and keep the personal commentary to a minimum.
Unless you're talking about Nikki and Paulo. They just sucked.
There's a tropical island that's existed for thousands of years, and at the center of the Island is the Light
. There's some Light inside of every living person, but the source of it is concentrated at the center of the Island, and were it to ever be destroyed, released or tampered with, the results would be catastrophic. As to what the Light actually is
, every character who claims to be "in the know" has a different answer
— the ancient people refer to it as "Life", modern scientists use terms like "electromagnetism" and "exotic matter", and there's evidence that it may be magic
. All that can be said for sure is that it's dangerous, powerful, and causes miraculous phenomena to emerge on the Island. People living there are in perfect health, the spirits of those who died can communicate via whispers, random magnetic pockets are scattered around, and there are even distortions in the space-time continuum.
Such is the power and importance of the Island that a Guardian is necessary to keep it and the Light safe. Even by the standards of the Island, Guardians are very long-lived, surviving for thousands of years, and they are capable of wielding incredible supernatural powers (likely derived from the Light) in the name of protecting the Island from threats. It's unknown how many Guardians there've been, but the oldest known one was referred to as "Mother", a woman who became unhinged after an age spent on the Island. During her tenure as Guardian, a group of Ancient Romans were shipwrecked on the Island, including a pregnant woman named Claudia who was separated from the rest of the survivors. Mother found Claudia and helped deliver her twin boys, only to then kill Claudia and raise the children as her own. Only one of the boys received a name — Jacob — while the other became known as the Man in Black. Mother attempted to teach the boys that humanity was rotten and needed to be kept away from the Island and the Light, which would some day be guarded by one of them. She also used the Island's power to make it impossible for either of the boys to kill each other. Jacob remained loyal to Mother but rejected her negative opinions of humanity, while the Man in Black grew to hate Mother and left to live with the other shipwreck survivors living on the Island, but subsequently came to share Mother's opinion that humans do nothing but fight, corrupt and destroy.
The Man in Black was desperate to leave the Island. Using what he'd knew about the Island's power and the science of the humans, the Man in Black build the "donkey wheel" that tapped into the Light and was capable of transporting him away. When Mother learned that he was doing this, she tried to kill the Man in Black and wiped out the human settlement, then performed the ritual that would transfer Guardianship of the Island to Jacob. The Man in Black survived and killed Mother in retaliation. Losing his temper, Jacob dragged his brother to a cave where the Light could be accessed directly and threw him in, seemingly consigning the Man in Black to a fate that Mother had described as "worse than death"
. The Light ripped the Man in Black's consciousness/"soul" from his body and transformed him into a monster, a cloud of powerful black smoke (possibly corrupted Light) that was also capable of reading minds and taking the form of dead people.
For millennia, Jacob and the Man in Black struggled for control of the Island. Because of what Mother had done with the Island's power, they couldn't directly kill one another, but the Man in Black still sought to kill Jacob and release the Light in order to escape from the Island. Jacob used his power to keep the Island hidden by moving it about and creating a barrier that prevented people from coming or going except in very specific ways. However, he also used his power to bring small groups of people to the Island (usually by causing freak weather that would wash up ships and planes) in order to find his own eventual successor and to prove to the Man in Black that when left to their own devices, humans would prove themselves to be fundamentally good. Jacob watched the outside world using the mirror in his lighthouse, which allowed him to find "Candidates" (people with the potential to be the Island's Guardian). He would regularly leave the Island to visit these Candidates and "touch" them, granting them a limited form of protection and ensuring they would one day come to the Island. This always ended with the deaths of the humans, thanks to interference by the Man in Black, until a slave named Ricardus came to the Island and made Jacob realise that he couldn't just do nothing and allow the people he brought to the Island to die. Jacob granted Ricardus (later called Richard Alpert) immortality and made him the first of the "Others".
Despite, or perhaps because of
, Jacob's efforts, more people began to discover the Island during the 20th century. U.S. Army soldiers came to the Island in the 1950s and, thinking it was an ordinary, uninhabited island, planned to test a hydrogen bomb. The DHARMA Initiative, a scientific expedition, arrived in the 1970s and began establishing scientific research stations in order to understand the "electromagnetism" and "exotic matter" present on the Island; during their multi-decade stay on the Island, DHARMA personnel were responsible for "the Incident", which necessitated the building of a Hatch, inside which was a button that had to be pushed every 108 minutes in order to prevent a catastrophic, world-threatening release of "electromagnetic energy" (i.e. the Light). In the case of both the Army and the DHARMA Initiative, the Others intervened and wiped out these newcomers in order to prevent them from interfering with the Light, although both groups left behind technology that ended up being instrumental to Jacob's endgame. There was also internal strife within the ranks of the Others as particular individuals, notably longtime Island resident Charles Widmore and former DHARMA workman Ben Linus, struggled for control of the group in order to increase their own powerbase. And all parties were manipulated by the Man in Black, whose true nature was unknown to even the Others, who simply thought he was a Smoke Monster and another strange facet of the Island. When Ben became leader of the Others, he believed the Smoke Monster was a kind of wild animal he could summon to do his bidding.
Jacob touches the people who will eventually become protagonists of the show, such as Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Locke, Hurley, Sun, Jin, etc. He selects people with deep-seated emotional problems, whose lives have reached a dead end and who will find a genuinely better life on the Island. He also finds a man named Desmond and, as a fail-safe in case the Man in Black comes close to triumphing, imbues Desmond with a kind of "anti-magic" ability
that allows him to withstand exposure to the Light in levels that would kill an ordinary person. Desmond arrives on the Island in 2001 and winds up pushing the button in the Hatch, until one day in 2004 when he fails to push it in time: the resulting electromagnetic event release drags Oceanic Flight 815, the plane on which Jacob's Candidates are flying, out of the air and causes it to crash on the Island, as documented in the Pilot
It's that kind of show
The survivors of Oceanic 815 attempted to make a living on the Island, and true to Jacob's belief, many of them made better lives and became better people, even though many of them died. The survivors came into conflict with the Others and later with people working for Widmore who came to the Island to depose Ben. It appeared that the survivors were pawns or bystanders in the games between Ben and Widmore, when in actual fact they were integral to the plans of Jacob and the Man in Black, the latter of whom appeared to the survivors in the guise of both the Smoke Monster and their dead friends and relatives. They found many of the DHARMA Initiative's remaining stations, such as the Hatch, which was destroyed to prevent another catastrophic electromagnetic surge. The survivors were also exposed to many of the Island's miraculous phenomenon: John Locke, a paraplegic, and Rose Nadler, a cancer sufferer, were cured of their ailments; people already possessed of special powers — such as Hurley, a medium, and Walt, whose abilities were powerful but never clearly defined — found their powers increasing.
One group of the survivors were able to escape back to the mainland, but they were plagued by visions or else hunted by their enemies. Among those who left were Ben, determined to have control over the Island, Locke, a devout believer in destiny and the Island's power, and Jack, a skeptic who found no peace after leaving the Island. However, Locke was being manipulated by the Man in Black, and had been told that in order to bring everyone back to the Island, he would have to die. When Locke failed to convince the others to return, he attempted to kill himself (and was later murdered by Ben) and this galvanised the others to return to the Island, along with Locke's corpse. Those who remained on the Island found themselves travelling randomly through time as a result of Ben Linus turning the donkey wheel (which transported him off the Island) in order to hide the Island from Widmore; they eventually settled in the 1970s and joined the DHARMA Initiative, where an attempt to change history and prevent Oceanic 815 from arriving on the Island in the first place actually caused
the Incident and the creation of the Hatch, as well as transporting the survivors forward in time to the present day.
Those who remained in the present day, including Ben, witnessed Locke amazingly returning from the dead as proof of how "special" he is. He led Ben, the Others and the rest of the people on the Island to meet Jacob and demand answers from him. However, this "returned" Locke was actually the Man in Black, who took Locke's form to manipulate Ben and create a loophole in Jacob's "rules", which state that no one but the leader of the Others could have an audience with Jacob. The Man in Black had been carefully arranging events to crown Locke as the leader of the Others, die, and then miraculously rise from the dead, deposing Ben as leader and making him feel worthless and unfavored in the process. The Man in Black then goads Ben into stabbing Jacob with a knife as payment for his fall from grace and subsequent suffering (which the Man in Black himself cultivated, if not directly caused).
At this point, the time-traveling survivors returned to the present and the Man in Black set up a complicated ruse in order to kill the remaining Candidates, since "the rules" made him unable to hurt them directly any more than he could hurt Jacob. He tricked the Candidates into boarding a submarine with a bomb and tampering with it, destroying the submarine and killing most of the remaining Candidates. As the Man in Black searched for Desmond in order to use him to destroy the Island, the remaining Candidates were contacted by Jacob's ghost, who explained what was happening and asked one of them to take up Guardianship of the Island. Jack volunteered, a culmination of his steadily-growing belief in the Island's power and his own purpose.
The Candidates met the Man in Black and Desmond at the same cave where the Man in Black had been transformed into a monster all those millennia ago. Desmond, who'd had a glimpse of what he thought was an alternate universe where everyone lived out their lives in peace note
, was willing to be lowered into the cave and remove the "cork" from the Light, thereby releasing its power, and his Anti-Magic
meant he was the only person capable of doing so. The Man in Black wanted Desmond to do this because it would destroy the Island and allow him to escape. Jack wanted Desmond to do this because he believed it would allow him to destroy the Man in Black. When Desmond removed the "cork", this caused all the things being powered by the Light — from the Man in Black's immortality to the Island's ability to stay afloat on the ocean
— to go away. With the Man in Black made mortal, Jack and the other Candidates were able to kill him, though Jack was mortally wounded in the process. The Island began to crumble into the ocean and the only way to save it was to replace the cork, but Desmond was unable to do so, meaning that whoever did would almost certainly die in the attempt. Jack volunteered, believing this was his destiny, and passed Guardianship of the Island on to Hurley before descending into the cave and replacing the cork. As the Island crumbles, the rest of the Candidates and survivors leave in the nick of time on an abandoned plane. With the cork safely replaced and the Island stabilized, Hurley asked Ben to stay and atone for his actions by helping to run the Island. And in his final moments, Jack was able to see his friends leave the Island before he passed away.
Afterwards (although it's shown before the last scene
), in the flash-sideways universe, the survivors meet in a church, where they are consumed by an all-encompassing light, which may possibly be the
Light in the Heart of the Island. Make of that what you will