Overthinking Lost: Who Spoils the Spoilers?

Overthinking Lost: Who Spoils the Spoilers?

Spoiler alert.

The philosophical issues about how we obtain knowledge and how knowledge should inform our choices that are raised by this discussion of spoilers are also major themes that are touched on in numerous ways throughout Lost. From an epistemological standpoint, watching the show spoiler-free from the plane crash onwards is in fact quite similar to how the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 themselves experienced the island. Given the rapid pace of odd and surprising revelations, being a Lostie and a naïve viewer of the show can both be summed up pretty nicely in one word:

Even as the Losties come to know more about the island over time, their understanding of what they encounter is still almost completely empirically driven—for example their knowledge of the smoke monster is derived completely from what can be easily observed—it is cloud of smoke that does monstrous things. While this type of inductive description (and associated theory-building) is necessary for the survivors (and the naïve viewer) to simply comprehend and organize much of what takes place on the island, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they (or we) actually know or understand what is happening. Without deeper information about context, history, or the axioms governing the reality of the show, it is difficult for induction to produce knowledge that moves beyond tautologies such as “the smoke monster is a monster that is smokey”.

However, this type of sequential induction is far from the only way that characters gain knowledge in the world of Lost, and it is far from the only legitimate way to approach the show as a viewer. Desmond’s flashes through time allow him to understand his role on the island in a way that is similar to how Dr. Manhattan experiences time. In Season 5, the fact that “the rules” of space-time don’t apply to him allows him to play a unique role in linking causes and effects in the past, present, and future. Similarly, when young Eloise Hawking kills Faraday, learns that he is her son, and then reads his detailed analysis linking his theories of space-time to what is happening on the island, she not only learns about her role in the future of the island; she actively decides take actions to ensure that this course of events comes about. This reveals that her assertion to Desmond in Season 3 that the universe is “course correcting” is misleading; in reality, she appears to be is using her non-sequential knowledge to manipulate the behavior of others and ensure that a certain course of events takes place.

These different ways of knowing within the world of Lost also speak to one of the major themes that Mlawski has addressed a few times in this series: fate vs. free will. I think that the extent to which the future/past can be changed within the world of Lost will ultimately remain to be seen in Season 6, but given the events of the Season 5 finale, it certainly seems to be the case that knowledge of the future provides individuals with the choice to change it. As a viewer with access to similar types of non-linear information about the world of Lost, you face a similar choice– you can still revel in the pure disorienting discovery of watching the show with as little outside interference as possible, or you can jump headfirst into Lostpedia, blogs, and interviews the writers, and use the information contained in those resources to engage with the show in a way that is more similar to the characters like who have a nonlinear relationship between time and knowledge.

Of course, forcing people to know that Omar dies or that Juliet detonates a hydrogen bomb doesn’t allow them to make that choice, but then again, neither does rigidly and uncritically enforcing and adhering to anti-spoiler norms.

How did spoilers influence your experience of watching Lost? How much of Lost and The Wire did I just ruin for you? How psyched are you to have Mlawski back next week? Sound off in the comments! I’ve given Mlawski ample warning to avoid this post at all costs, so spoil away!

12 Comments on “Overthinking Lost: Who Spoils the Spoilers?”

  1. Wordsworth #

    Spoilers, I must admit, annoy me to no end. Predominately, this is because the Australian television networks adamantly show an episode of LOST, or any other show, several weeks (or months) after it airs in the States – and I refuse to download. Of course I have the choice to shut off the internet and delete my Favourites link to Lostpedia, and I have taken to that in recent seasons after being rudely spoiled about the Season 3 finale. However, there is an added level of frustration in my position, that I suppose places my experience more in line with people like you or Mlawski who are watching the show well after it has aired. It irks me that I’m following it as it goes, and yet there are still people knowing the secrets before me… Ooh boy, season six is going to be a doozy in that respect.

    So I suppose I sit in the middle of the balance between unavoidable spoilers and those who consciously seek out the answers.

    However, what you mention about putting the pieces together, and wondering how the storyline will reach the spoiler that’s been uncovered – that, I believe, is the only redeeming feature of spoilers. It opens the spoiled people up to a whole sphere of theorising. Of course, LOST has been rather clever in some respects, in that knowing the big reveals beforehand doesn’t give you any more insight, just destroys your surprise. Knowing that Locke’s in the coffin doesn’t illuminate anything, only allows you to theorise for a little bit longer. Everyone else has exactly the same question milling around in their heads between THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME and THE LIFE AND DEATH OF JEREMY BENTHAM.

    The non-LOST example that immediately sprang to mind was the STAR WARS prequels. We start off knowing that little kid is going to become Darth Vader – that’s not the surprise. The surprise is how he gets there. Obviously, the SW prequels are orchestrated for non-linear viewing, but I heartily agree that knowing snatches of what’s to come can make taking the intended ‘chronological’ path very intriguing.

    And as your analogy states, Eloise Hawking is a brilliantly semi-meta example.


  2. Kevin #

    As for me, I’ve experienced Lost from a few different places when it comes to spoilers: the first season, I was casually into the show, and was willing to read spoilers… but usually there weren’t very many out there. When the second season came along (and the number of spoilers, not to mention Lost web sites, exploded), I’d read them, and well into the third season… and then decided to stay spoiler-free for the S3 finale.

    And thank God (Jacob?) I did — I can’t imagine having any of the same love for the episode if I had known from minute one that some of the characters were off the island, and Jack was flashing forward, not back… that Charlie would finally die… that Walt would appear to Locke… and so on. That experience taught me the value of staying spoiler-free as much as possible, at least when it comes to Lost. I’ve remained pretty faithful to that ever since, and I honestly think it’s made the show more pleasurable to watch.

    But as a rule, I’ll only stay spoiler-free if I absolutely LOVE the show, or if it’s a movie I’m really excited for. If I’m only casually interested, I don’t see the problem with spoilers so much. Take “True Blood,” for example. I watch it out of curiosity, but I can’t say it’s a particular favorite of mine. So I’m willing to read spoilers if I come across them, mainly because I don’t have a lot of investment in the show. (At the same time, I don’t actively seek them out.)

    I would really recommend, especially for this final season, staying free and clear of spoilers as much as possible. There are so many twists on Lost, large and small, that the more you can be surprised, the better the show works. And after the explosive events of the Season Five finale… I don’t think anyone really knows how these last episodes will play out. So enjoy that experience!


  3. Mike M. #

    Re: “the more you can be surprised, the better the show works” – I think that’s true only to a point. Part of the enjoyment of “Lost” definitely comes from being surprised, but there is also a large part that comes from an appreciation of “Lost” as a piece of art. This is why TV on DVD works so well. I personally try to avoid spoilers as I’m watching through the first time, and I fully intend to purchase and watch the “Lost” series box set when it eventually comes out – not to relive the surprises, but the storytelling.


  4. Kevin #

    @Mike M: oh, I totally agree with you. I own and have re-watched the episodes on Blu-Ray, have watched the S5 finale a couple times on my Tivo, have faithfully read the fan sites and Lostpedia, and so on. But I still run away from spoilers.

    There’s a difference between “spoilers” and “knowledge” — I steer clear of the former, but try to get as much as I can of the latter. Spoilers only do one thing, and one thing only: they ruin the element of surprise. After all, it’s in the very NAME of the term: they “spoil” the story for you.

    Knowledge, on the other hand, is integral to Lost. If you’ve seen Season 5… it’s really interesting to re-watch Season 2, for example, and see what you didn’t pay much attention to the first time around that you now see in an entirely new light. And as we discussed in last week’s comments, there’s plenty of backstory that they haven’t included in the episodes (the mobisodes, ARGs, etc.) that, if you’re a fan, make it worth the effort to seek them out. That knowledge expands the universe of the series.

    For the people who care about reading as many spoilers as they can, the only question I have is: why do you bother watching the show?


  5. Genevieve #

    I think that the extent to which spoilers “matter” is directly related to the quality of the production. I tend to avoid spoilers myself, because I like being surprised, in general… but I can definitely understand the notion that Lost is a show where the spoilers don’t matter all that much. It’s a show that’s flat-out watchable, and it’s compelling thanks to the quality, not just the suspense. I cry every time I watch “The Constant,” and I’m sure I will continue to do so. Surprises are fun, but good storytelling isn’t DEPENDENT upon them.

    For example, people around the world tuned in to Dallas way back when because of all the hype around discovering “Who shot J.R.?!?” – however, I doubt many people, now that it’s no longer a question, bother to go back and watch the show again. Contrariwise, knowing that Maggie shot Mr. Burns does not make the Simpsons spoof ANY less re-watchable. (actually, I’m talking out my ass… I’ve never watched Dallas; it might be some quality television… )

    Lost doesn’t live or die on the strength of its surprises. It’s well-crafted drama that’s as fascinating to watch the tenth time as the first time. I respect spoiler-free requests, but people should ask themselves: if spoilers are really going to make-or-break your enjoyment of a show… maybe it’s not a show worth spending your time watching.


  6. stokes #

    I dunno, Genevieve. I think that is often the case, but not always. Case in point, The Sixth Sense. That’s a legitimately good movie, and one that I’d gladly watch again. But I had it spoiled for me before I watched it, and well, that kind of sucked. It didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the film as a whole, but it took away an important part of the experience.


  7. Gab #

    @Genevieve: “I cry every time I watch “The Constant,” and I’m sure I will continue to do so.” ME TOO, ME TOO, ME TOO!! ::flaps arms:: That’s my favorite episode!!!

    ::relaxes:: Sorry…


    I’d have to say my feelings on spoilers tend to vary from item to item. I’m much more willing to get spoiled for things I have never seen or read that are being discussed by friends/family that have seen or read them versus things I myself am into; but, at the same time, if friends/family are discussing something I am also enjoying in a way that could spoil me, I’m usually okay with it, too. Obviously, this comes from a desire to be “in” on it because I’m a social person, so my conformity is more outward than inward based. BUT. Because spoilers have the potential to do just that, “spoil,” as Kevin said, I still think it is a matter of respect and courtesy to ask whomever is involved in the discussion if they have been exposed to whatever is about to be mentioned and, if not, would they mind being spoiled a little (or a lot, depending on what’s being talked about, obviously). Even if I don’t, I know some people DO get extremely upset if they’re even slightly spoiled. My friends and I would say, “Spoiler alert, the Comedian dies!” a lot as the _Watchmen_ movie was nearing release, but the first time one of us said it, another actually did get angry until he was reminded that the Comedian dies IN THE DAMN TRAILER and in like every synopsis out there of both the book and movie. Why did he get upset? He hadn’t read the book yet. While people like him are rather extreme, I take this into consideration whenever I think I may be about to spoil something. And I appreciate that same courtesy from others.

    That being said, I’m about to spoil _The Dark Knight_ here, in case anyone has, for some ungodly reason, not seen it yet.

    Being the nerdgirl I am, I just have to bring up _The Dark Knight_. The two “villains” are, of course, The Joker and Two-Face. Having a pretty good knowledge of the core bits of Batman canon/mythology, I knew basic origin stories for both, so I went into the movie looking forward to seeing how Nolan would go about them. I went in anticipating some sort of vat of ooze for one to fall in, and a mobster with acid for the other. After the Joker takes his mask off to reveal his makeup in the opening, I thought, “Okay, flashbacks or exposition, maybe?” And when Harvey says, “I suggest you buy American,” I thought, “Uh, he’s not seriously going to have TWO mobster-on-stand scenes, is he?” (amidst my thoughts of how utterly badass the moment was, of course). So I was EXTREMELY curious and it drew me in like a moth to a flame. I wasn’t expecting to be surprised at all, so imagine my surprise at *being* surprised- the Joker didn’t even *get* an “origin” and Dent became Two-Face in a way very, very different than any I had ever heard of before. It was exciting, a great feeling, and the irrelevance of what I had *thought* was pre-knowledge and thus somewhat spoileriffic, was tossed out the window- and in a way I was more than satisfied with. THAT is good storytelling.

    ::end pointless rant::


  8. manscaper #

    why would you put spoilers for The Wire in a post about Lost? That’s really annoying, I’m caught up on Lost but only a season into The Wire. You can’t really expect your reading audience to be fully caught up on two completely unrelated series for one article…its a bit odd


  9. Matt #


    Oh, you meant Lost spoilers… sorry.


  10. Genevieve #

    Stokes, that was kinda my point, though. I mean, sure, spoilers can be annoying… but with the right movies/shows/whatever, they’re not *deal-breakers.*

    I think watching something that’s been “spoiled” is sort of like listening to a “live recording.” If it’s good, it’s good, and if you like it you’ll listen to it again and again… but no matter how hard it tries, it can’t capture the raw excitement and undercurrent of shared experience of being *at a concert*. (going to a concert of music you don’t particularly like is akin to something that is all surprise and no substance – you’ll probably have a good time at the show, because you’ll be caught up in the hysteria… but you wouldn’t buy the live cd)

    So, to recap, watching Lost after having read spoilers is like listening to Exit… Stage Left. Watching Dallas knowing who shot J.R. is like listening to Frampton Comes Alive.

    Just kidding, I’ve never listened to Frampton Comes Alive. I’m sure it’s brilliant… (also, I couldn’t think of a better example – I checked, and apparently people like Brittany Spears are smart enough not to release live albums)


  11. Genevieve #

    PS – I will admit to having skipped the 2nd half of Gab’s comment, because I haven’t yet seen The Dark Knight. So, yeah.


  12. Gab #

    @Genevieve: Sad pandas- both items you have missed out on are highly recommended by me, at least.


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