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Nine Head-Scratching ‘Lost’ Riddles

Michael Emerson unravels the mysteries of TV’s greatest puzzle

Michael Emerson as Ben Linus on Lost


Over six seasons and 121 episodes, Lost left sci-fi fanboys wondering: Can polar bears really survive in the South Pacific? How did Desmond stay sane in the Swan station? What lies in the shadow of the statue? "[But] the real mystery about our show," producer Carleton Cuse told Rolling Stone in 2009, "is not what is the island; it's who are these people?" And no character provided more head-scratching perplexities than Benjamin Linus (Michael Emerson), the island's most abstruse inhabitant. "Ben exemplifies the course of an ambitious man who makes bad compromises and learns to regret them," Emerson says, adding that the legacy of Lost "is that it opened the door to much more playing around with time and space in narrative television." He continues: "There have been a lot of shows since then that wouldn't be the same if there hadn't been Lost before it to jump around in time, to play with the idealized or potential or alternate realities and dimensions." Among them, interestingly enough, is Person of Interest, the CBS crime drama starring Emerson and produced by Lost co-creator J. J. Abrams. "It's an easy show to pitch," says the Emmy winner, who we charged with describing the program in 50 words or less. "It's a contemporary cyber-avenger, cyber-vigilante series set in a paranoid landscape in a huge city, like New York, that deals with technological advances that at first sight seem fantastic, but current events have shown to be plausible and at work in our own environment." Nailed it with six words to spare. Here, he looks back on nine key Lost scenes, narrating their takeaways. Blaine McEvoy

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First Scene

"I didn't come into Lost until the middle of the second season, so it may be that my arrival coincides with the beginning of the writers showing their larger agenda – that this was going to be more metaphysical, more mysterious, more of a puzzle than it seemed at first sight. The discussions I've had with season one regulars is that they didn't know where this was going – I don't think anyone did. Even when I came on, I never knew what the twists or turns would be or where the writers intended to lead us. That was always speculation for everyone on the cast. We used to sit around and try to figure it out, too, though not as successfully as the folks at home."

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Desmond’s Introduction

"Desmond, Ben and Locke had the most compelling storylines. Those three characters were close to – what do you want to call it – the trunk of the mythology of the show. And their issues were simple themes: faith and redemption. All the regulars fell under that heading, but those three were closest to the pounding heart of the island. Ben, I think, exemplifies the course of an ambitious man who makes some bad compromises. He's shown his errors and is asked in a variety of ways to atone. Desmond most closely parallels the fans' experience of the show. He was a skeptic who was confused by events around him that he couldn't explain; he tried to deny things and was eventually made to take a leap of faith."

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Ben Exiles Widmore

"Peaceful coexistance is, in particular and in general, impossible in all places and at all times. If it was you and your best beloved alone on that island, things would eventually fall apart."

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Jacob’s First Scene

"There are two large themes in Lost. One is redemption, or that it's never too late for you to make your life mean something better than it has. Another is the sort of wonder and adventure of the realization that things aren't always just as they appear – that there are sometimes hidden layers of reality and hidden layers of meaning. That sounds a little esoteric, but to me that's one of the chief pleasures of the show."

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Smoke Monster’s Creation

"At first I thought the smoke monster was kind of incongruous. I thought the island was going to be out of The Tempest – that it was full of illusions but nothing tangible. But eventually one of the few things I tumbled to was that it was a tool or avatar of whatever was ruling the island. And that turned out to be pretty much it. But I have to say, we all drank the Koolaid. Sure, J. J. [Abrams] kicked the thing off, but Damon [Lindelof] and Carlton [Cuse] were in the driver's seat at pretty much every level. And we had such confidence in them, because script after script came to us that was jaw dropping and inspiring. So we thought, 'Where they're going, we're going too, and it'll be a great ride.'"

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Who Will Replace Jacob?

"This was discussed on set, but I couldn't figure it out. And when I heard the pick, I thought, 'Yes! Oh yes, of course! Hurley's such a benign force, a force of goodness – that's what's needed here.' But I couldn't have predicted that."

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Ben’s Identity

"If Ben hadn't gotten Alex Rousseau killed, had he saved her – had he played along and made the compromise – he would be. . . well, he would still probably be on the bad side of his path. His worldview and his ambition wouldn't have been turned on its head. It's funny, I've always known that the death of his daughter was a turning point, but I hadn't thought about that as a place where his life force changes. These are the things you don't think about when you're filming – you're just scrambling to learn your lines. And I'm not sure that whoever was directing, or maybe even whoever was writing, knew what it was adding up to or what it would ultimately mean."

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Ben’s Final Scene

"'I still have some things to work out.' What that is, or what I think it is, and why I love that line so much, is that it's a wry understatement of something much greater. It's not like an inbox on his desk – it's his relationship to his maker and the universe that's not right yet. The reason he can't go into that holy space with all the others is that he's in purgatory. He's not purified yet. He's unredeemed. So he must wait like a beggar at the gates of paradise for whatever it takes to go through. What he needs – what all the others have and he doesn't yet – is a mirror redeemer, you know? Another person who makes a just sense of his existence. Maybe he'll have to make a few more trips back to the island to polish off his soul."

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The End

"Lost has this intense, religious following. It's a show that's against all odds. Making a success out of something as complicated, mysterious and humbling as the material it dealt with – that's no small thing. But its technical and immediate legacy is that it opened the door to much more playing around with time and space in narrative television. There have been a lot of shows since then that wouldn't be the same if there hadn't been Lost before it to jump around in time, to play with the idealized or potential or alternate realities and dimensions. It was daring. That's the legacy of Lost."