“We Have to Go Back”: All Six Seasons of Lost, Ranked
Journey back to the island of mystery as we break down the six seasons of Lost, ranked in all their brilliant and baffling glory.
Lost may have ended over 10 years ago, but all six seasons of the hit ABC ensemble drama/mystery/sci-fi romp continue to live in my brain rent free for a good reason: not only did the series play a crucial role in the ushering of the golden age of television, but Lost proved that the creative sandbox of network tv storytelling was so much more than the standard issue week-in-and-week-out, sometimes-serialized-but-mostly-episodic-because-“audiences-are-dumb” nonsense that few before it had attempted (shows like Twin Peaks laid massive groundwork for Lost to do its thing), let alone come out the other end successfully. So, as a tribute to one of network television’s most amazing and infuriating dramas, we’ve ranked and dissected all six seasons, primed for judgement in the eyes of God and/or Jacob (still unclear).
Here, we offer our definitive ranking of Lost’s six seasons, from worst to best, as well as break down each season’s best episodes, MVPs, best ships, favorite tearjerkers, and island hotties.
Fair warning: spoilers ahead, the numbers are bad, and Desmond is very hot.
6. SEASON TWO
Look. Pobody’s nerfect, know what I mean? The gargantuan task of following such a remarkably successful first season was met with inevitable difficulty. But there was some good that came out of season two of Lost, like the hatch! Guys, we finally saw what was down in the hatch. We spent pretty much the entirety of season one wondering what the hell could possibly be down there and, literally in its first moments, season two quenched our thirst and told us exactly what was going on down there. I mean, they didn’t really TELL us what was up. They showed us, for sure. It would still be days, weeks, months, years before anybody could discern with any shred of certainty what was actually going on down there, but it was nonetheless an intriguing and welcomed change of scenery that contrasted the jungle of mystery we’d come to know and love and grow slightly tired of seeing across the first season’s crop of episodes.
With the exception of the time travel (more on that later), the introduction of the hatch – or, the Swan Station – was one of the largest thematic moves Lost ever made. It opened up the massive can of worms that set the show’s trajectory off toward the true reveal of the Others, the Dharma Initiative, the Incident ( more on that later) and, eventually, the predetermined magical mumbo-jumbo reason that brought all our friends to the island in the first place. Maybe. Sort of.
MVP: John Locke — The man, the myth, the bald island MacGyver with a heart of… something. Locke’s intrigue came mostly from the fact that you could never quite pin him down, especially in the first season (and later on in the series, when Terry O’Quinn pulled incredible double duty as both Locke and the Man in Black) when you didn’t quite know if he was a bad guy or a good guy but you were still pretty there for whatever he was up to. Locke’s existential crises of faith and identity at the hands of the hatch in season two gave us a glimpse into his tortured, vulnerable side, especially in…
Best Episode: “Lockdown” – So much of season two was so, so…just kind of filler. The best episodes were the ones that provided some type of answers (FINALLY), even if the answers themselves begged more questions. None of the season’s non-answers were more exciting, though, than the map of the island we caught a glimpse of in Lockdown. I remember the good old days of 2006, when everybody watched Lost, and everybody went absolutely ham with theories on the internet the day after each episode aired (pre-Twitter, kids) and the internet was abuzz with theories and spotted Easter eggs for the rest of the week leading up to the subsequent episode.
Screenshots of the map on the hatch door that was crushing poor Mr. Clean’s leg eventually made the rounds, and I must have stared at that thing for HOURS. And therein lies the greatest trick that Lost ever played: sucking you in so deep to the point where you don’t care if you don’t actually get an answer; the titillation and thrill of the never ending mystery along the way was the name of the game. Something about the journey, not the destination, blah blah etcetera. Also sidenote, who dropped the ball and didn’t name this episode “Lockedown”? Honestly, bunch of amateurs.
Biggest Tearjerker: After Michael, the resident island dumbass, kills Ana Lucia and Libby in cold blood, the funeral held by the castaways (any ceremony at their makeshift graveyard was typically a tearjerker, due largely in part to some variation of Michael Giacchino’s “Win One for the Reaper,” but more on that later) gave me a serious case of the “I’ve got something in my eye,” specifically when poor, sweet Hurley eulogized his girlfriend and their short-lived relationship.
Favorite Ship: Hurley and Libby. RIP to the one good thing that ever happened to Hurley (not totally true but, like, kinda)
Hottie of the Year Award: Did…did season two have a stand out hottie? Sawyer is always hot, and Jack is always sweaty and out of breath (but, for my money, not quite the Doctor Daddy he was in some other seasons), so I’m not really sure who to give the award to for this year. You know what, just give it to Jack. He can have it. He yells so much. He deserves something nice.
5. SEASON SIX
I don’t have a ton to say about Season 6 because, yes, it’s the second least successful season of the show, but I kind of loved what they were up to. After years of audiences yelling at them with theories of “they were dead the whole time,” the show runners were like “YOU KNOW WHAT, FINE,” but with a twist. The concept of the flash-sideways as a purgatory outside of linear, real life time, for the castaways to all meet back up after they’ve perished in the real world, was a beautiful concept, and a fitting end for a show that built its foundations on the notion “live together, die alone.”
Lost, in the end, was a show about people that were meant to be together, for one reason of another. They all needed saving but couldn’t figure out how to do it themselves, so destiny or God or Jacob or whatever was like, “Hey, guys, I’m gonna crash you on this island, don’t worry about it, it’s all gonna be good. For some of you. Not all of you. Not the vast majority. Most of you are gonna die. If you’re a series regular you’re probably fine, but still, no promises. Ok.” Lost went out with a bang, with one of the most memorable and heart wrenching final sequences of any show to date in….
Best Episode: “The End” — It was the culmination of what we were there for over the last six years, and a ton of people HATED it. But you know what? Those people aren’t writing this article. I am. And I loved it. *chef’s kiss* The last twenty or so minutes of the episode are some of the series finest and most poignant. I cry every time I watch it. Or just, you know, when I think about it. Excuse me for second.
Biggest Tearjerker/WTF: On the submarine in “The Candidate,” when Sayid runs off with that bomb in an effort to protect the rest— amazing. Sayid, who spent the better part of the season as a shell of his former self after getting into some dark voodoo shit at the temple (still unclear), makes the ultimate sacrifice when it’s obvious there’s no way this bomb isn’t going off. In an effort to buy his friends some time, he runs off with the lil ticky guy, which explodes (that’s what they do) and gives the others the opportunity to stay alive long enough to swim out of the sinking submarine.
Except… for Sun and Jin. One of the series’ most tumultuous pairs at the onset, they ended up serving as the romantic rock and #couplesgoals of the show, in the face of everyone else being so irritatingly high school about their hormones. Jin’s decision to stay with his wife, who is trapped in the sinking sub as it fills up with water, prompted one of the ugliest cries I had throughout the entire run of the show.
MVP: Jack — I mean, Jack literally saves the world in this season. Of course, he’s our hero, and the protagonist of the show, and Matthew Fox turned in great work across six years of living in Dr. Shepard’s sweaty, brooding shoes, but season six is the one where Jack shows up and does WORK. Especially after a lighter season (five) of sitting back and letting some others do their thing, Jack comes through with the clutch in the end and saves the whole entire world, even if only, like, three people actually knew what was happening.
Favorite Ship: Jack and the Man in Black (in Locke’s body) — Look, I think all of their problems would have been solved if these two had just finally kissed, know what I’m sayin’?
Hottie of the Year Award: Hear me out, ok? Trust me on this, ok? You have no reason to, but just go with me, ok? There’s something kinda sexy, in an evil, “he could literally take my soul and I’d be ok with it” way, about John Locke possessed/inhabited by the Man in Black. Regular old John Locke is hunky dory, very handy, very thrifty, very knowledgable, but nothing to write home about in the sex appeal department. But there’s something about the villainous smolder Terry O’Quinn’s got going on when he’s playing the Man in Black (which, by the way, was some awesome work on the acting front from one of the series’ most consistently wonderful performers) that awakens something in me. I don’t know, I can’t explain it. Island Hottie for this year is the Man in Black in Locke (hehe).
Spin-Off Potential: I want a spin-off of Rose and Bernard and Vincent living out their twilight years on Hydra Island. ABC, give me a ring.
4. SEASON THREE
Season 3, the infamous “the writers are really twiddling their thumbs” season. It’s no secret that the writers dragged their feet this season, not because they didn’t know what to do, but because they didn’t know how long they were going to get to keep doing it. Things picked up in that department post-season 3 (the show runners and ABC struck a deal for three more seasons, each consisting of 16 episodes, a move that gave the writers a clear picture of the endgame and the amount of time they had left to tell the story they set out to) but the season itself was still mired by episodes where Claire tries to catch birds or something (am I making that up? I’m pretty sure this was the A story for an entire episode…). That said, we had some incredible character introductions this year, and none so delicious as…
MVP: Ben Linus — I know we met him in season two, but he was moonlighting as Henry Gale and crying about hot air balloons. We didn’t properly meet Ben until the following season. Now, he’s not an MVP in the sense that he’s a nice guy or puts the team on his back. In fact, just the opposite, and that’s why he’s the MVP of the season. One of the things that Lost suffered from in its first two years was the lack of a tangible villain. There was so much going wrong, and so much mysterious evil afoot, but no real person to point at and say “you, you’re the bad guy, you’re who I’m supposed to hate.”
We were introduced to the ensemble then, inevitably, week to week, a scapegoat among them was chosen to be the antagonizer (not looking at Sawyer because that was always his initial character type, but I am looking directly at you, Boone), and fowe were forced to turn on them like a pack of wild dogs. Ben put a face to the villainy, even if it ended up being retconned down the road. He’s sneaky, cheeky, borderline sociopathic, and arrived just in time to begin the reigniting process of the series’ flame, that wound up back in full force by the time we got to…
Best Episode: “Through the Looking Glass” — I said to myself that I’d try and refrain from naming any of the finales as a given season’s best episode. Lost’s finales were always bangers, by design. The writers room excelled in their structuring of each finale, giving us several solid, equally fleshed out, and weighty storylines to bring us to some amazing cliffhanger that would have us scratching our heads and begging for more from May to September (or, in the case of the final three seasons, May to January/February; how rude!). Ben’s episode, “The Man Behind the Curtain,” as well as the mid-season finale where Jack operates on Ben and yells a lot in a walkie talkie, were both stellar, but “Through the Looking Glass” began setting in motion what the show was going to look like for the rest of its run: absolutely batshit.
Biggest Tearjerker: Not Penny’s Boat. Please respect my privacy during this difficult time.
Favorite Ship: Charlie and Desmond. Honestly, Charlie was a good buddy to anyone he was paired with. He had great arcs with a variety of the show’s major players, also including Hurley, Claire, Locke, Sayid, Jack, even Sawyer. Charlie’s character never quite had the legs to stand on his own, but as a companion/complement/foil? What a delight.
Hottie of the Year Award: Desmond — Everyone’s favorite, time traveling Scottish Jesus was out here running around the island in those blue button ups with a sweaty chest with, like, AT MOST two buttons actually fastened. Sure, he had those crazy eyes sometimes, but don’t we love a little crazy? That hair, too, my god. I’d be his hatch buddy any day of the week.
3. SEASON FIVE
The criminally underrated fifth season of Lost was where the writers were basically like, “Alright, we’ve explained the time travel stuff, we showed you the bunnies, you know who the good guys are, you know who the bad guys are, now LET’S F#@%ING GO.” We finally see the Dharma Initiative up close and personal. The Oceanic 6 and what they’re up to isn’t limited to the flash-forwards of season four (incredible, more on that in a bit). And, most importantly, season five is what sets the stage for the massive finale that was the sixth and final season— even if it didn’t quite stick the landing as perfectly as possible.
Best Episode: This was a tough one, and I know, I KNOW, I said I was going to do my best not to name every best episode of each season the finale. But this is the last time, I swear. “The Incident,” the season five finale two-parter, was one of the first enormous answers offered to a “Huh, what the heck could that be?!” posed initially in season two. Once they get down in the hatch, and get over the hump of Desmond being a crazy (hot) person (but mostly crazy, at that point, especially with the jumpsuit, that wasn’t doing anything for his sex appeal), Jack and Locke watch a film reel explaining an “incident” that occurred on the island, and that the function of the hatch/Swan Station was to regulate the cataclysmic after-effects of said incident.
Was it a lie? Or was someone actually telling the truth for once? As it turned out, they were telling the truth, and not only was this incredibly satisfying, but it was so much fun to finally see the time travel aspect pay off in exactly the way we wanted it to: our favorite castaways getting into mischief in the past that had a direct effect on things they dealt with in the future. So cool! Not just time travel for the sake of being thematically twisty and confusing! Even if it was. Not to mention, “The Incident” featured the season’s…
Biggest Tearjerker: When Juliet lets go of Sawyer’s hand as she’s about to be sucked down into the future Swan Station. Those two, for my money, are my favorite relationship the show gave us. If you told me that it was not the plan from the beginning for them to get together, I’d believe you. In fact, I think you’d be right. Juliet initially served as a foil to the Jack and Kate thing, which was fun for a minute, if not a little annoying. But Sawyer and Juliet getting together and taking care of business is exactly what makes them…
MVPs/Favorite Ship: Sawyer and Juliet. Suliet? Are we calling it that? Citation needed. Anyway, with the doc gone and seemingly never to return (plus Locke’s departure into the bowels of the well) Sawyer and Juliet step up to the plate and lead what few remaining castaways were left on the island. Their short-lived romantic relationship takes flight once they’re rooted firmly in the seventies at the Dharma camp, but it’s a love story and dynamic I could have watched week-to-week ad infinitum..
2. SEASON ONE
Here’s the thing. Season one of Lost was a revolutionary entry in the canon of network television. It changed the game of serialized ensembles dramas, for better or worse (better, see: The Leftovers, Succession, Mad Men; worse, see: This Is Us, Once Upon a Time, and all those one-season-wonders in the post-Lost era of networks scrambling to find a new Lost). But as a part of the greater whole of Lost itself, looking back, season one actually served up more frustration than anything. Sure, it was impeccably done, the performances were amazing, the pacing was outstanding, the production design and technical tone was the best it would ever be, but when we consider what the series ended up being, the first season only served as a launching pad for the best that was yet to come.
Best Episode: “Pilot” (pts. 1 and 2) — Find me a better pilot of a television show. I’ll wait.
MVP: Sayid — My man, Sayid. Throughout the first season, Jack is doing his thing as the defacto, semi-reluctant leader of the tribe. But Sayid is putting in the work, exploring the jungle, getting electrocuted by insane French women (Hi, Rousseau!), figuring out ways to rig transceivers and send signals out into the world. He’s running around this mystery island like it’s his job, and you know what? He’s looking pretty fine in the process.
Behind-the-Scenes MVP: Michael Giacchino — My king. Academy Award winner Michael Giacchino turns in one of the best-ever television scores across the six seasons of Lost, but the first season’s lineup of tunes is sheer perfection. My favorite? How can I not say “Win One for the Reaper,” the song that still plays in my dramatic-ass head every time even the slightest thing goes wrong in my life. Thanks for that, Mike.
Biggest Tearjerker: Charlie hangs from a tree and Jack tries to resuscitate him. Boone dies. Sawyer tells Jack the story of meeting his father. Take your pick, man. Season one was filled to the brim with genuinely earnest and poignantly played emotional beats, balanced and paced proportionately against the nonstop thrill ride of shaky handheld sequences of various castaways dashing through the trees.
Favorite Ship: Jack and Sawyer. Another instance of “guys, just KISS already, my GOD.” Would have solved so many problems so fast.
Hottie of the Year Award: Yeah, it’s Sayid. That beard. That accent. Those tank tops. Sure, maybe he was a torturer for the Republican Guard but, if nothing else, Lost and its island were a place for these folks to come from their questionable pasts and make peace with themselves, often discovering the best versions of themselves along the way. Also my grandmother has a crush on him, so she’ll back me up on this one. But yeah, no, Sayid’s super hot.
1. SEASON FOUR
Hot take: season four is the best season. I explained the deal with season one— it’s great, but it’s monumental in comparison to all other television. Season four finds our favorite sweaty, sexy castaways at a crossroads, both thematically and structurally, with the introduction of the flash-forwards. The flash-forwards were a game-changing technique employed by the writers when they realized what we had all been thinking for nearly an entire season: how much more can we possibly care about who these people were? Like, we got an entire episode about Jack’s tattoos— come ON. Season four sets the series on course for what the story always wanted to be and do, but could never figure out the right way to do it with such a glaring question mark hanging over how much longer they had to do their thing.
Best Episode/Biggest Tearjerker: “The Constant” — Give me a minute. “The Constant” is not only season four’s best episode, but it’s the best episode of the series. Poor Desmond, who has been whining about Penny for, like, two years at this point (I’m talking in terms of watching in real time as it aired, which actually felt like nine lifetimes), finally makes contact with his beloved in one of the most nuanced and brilliantly written episodes of the series to date. It’s an emotional roller coaster that sparked one of the most underrated memes of all time (see above) and gave Henry Ian Cusick a platform to showcase some real leading man potential that, to my knowledge, is still yet to be tapped. All of this and more makes Desmond one half of season four’s…
MVPs: We’ve talked about Desmond. But let’s chat, for a moment, about one of the other quirkier, stranger characters to grace our televisions from 2004 to 2010: Daniel Faraday. Jeremy Davies plays one of the freighter folk (another plot line that makes season four stand out among the rest by never falling into the trap of making the introduction of new characters and all their potentially-antagonizing baggage blisteringly annoying) that comes to the island to do science stuff and, lo and behold, he knows Desmond already from the past. Or the kind-of past. Unclear.
With Desmond, the time travel rules go out the window. Because Desmond himself is, like, a time machine. Or some sort of conduit for time travel. Or a magnet. He’s maybe a human magnet. Lots of uncertainty in that department, but the relationship between Desmond and Daniel, and the quantum physics tomfoolery they engage in across season four not only makes for some of the show’s most exciting content but, like so many other elements of this season, sets the stage for the series’ endgame and exemplifies the core of what the show was always gunning to be.
Favorite Ship: Ben and Locke. These two are my favorite duo Lost gave us. Terry O’Quinn and Michael Emerson’s chemistry, not to mention their dramatic chops and comedic timing, knock it out of the park every time they’re on screen together. Each season, the dynamic shifts and changes, always for the better and more exciting, and season four shows the two of them at a sort of standstill for power-grabbing. Ben is still in charge, if nothing else because he knows everything about the island and Locke still has his island-mythology training wheels on. But you can visibly see the power shift happening, as Ben spends most of the season quietly readying to pass the baton to Locke, grooming him for greatness. I mean, yeah, Ben murders Locke in season five, but that’s, like… that’s different, shut up. I could give an entire Ted Talk on the relationship dynamics of these two. But, hey, while we’re on the subject of Ben, the scene where he watches his daughter die? Michael Emerson, baby. Michael “The Machine” Emerson. That’s not a real nickname for him, I don’t think, it’s just what I call him in my head.
Hottie of the Year Award: You know what? I’m gonna throw a little bit of a curveball at you and go with Frank Lapidus. Who?? Lapidus was the helicopter pilot from the freighter that chartered our friends to and from the island and, at the end of the day, was a pretty good guy. And he rocked this real scruffy daddy look the entire time, with an open Hawaiian shirt and crazy hair. I dig it. There, I said it.
In the end, Lost wasn’t a show about time travel, even though it was. It wasn’t a show about survival on a tropical island, even though it was. And it wasn’t a show about the terrible, existential notion of a dormant evil threatening the greater good of the world, even though, yeah, it actually was.
Lost, and all its blood, sweat, and tears, will endure because, at its core, it was a show about real people with whom you couldn’t help but fall in love, broken as they may have been. You rooted for them and you wanted them to succeed. You mourned their losses, you cheered their triumphs, and you came down hard on one side or the other of the Jaters and Skaters debate (the only two types of people, for my money).
Even in the face of the mind-numbing quantum physics, myriad unsolved mysteries, and sweaty, shirtless men prancing through the jungle, the show never once lost sight of the core tenet on which it was founded: Lost was a story of damaged souls, led astray by the messes of their own world, and brought together in the face of tragedy and insurmountable odds, with the express purpose of finding each other and the pieces of themselves they’d lost along the way. And, because of that, it will stand the test of time, be it backwards, forwards, or sideways.
See you in another life, brother.
All seasons of Lost will be available to watch on Disney+’s new streaming channel, Star, coming to many countries on February 23, 2021.