Tomorrow's the last episode of Lost before the big-blow-out finale, and some people feel like the island-castaway show hasn't explained enough. Is Lost another answers-averse show like Battlestar Galactica? No. In fact, Lost has already provided more answers than BSG.
I've seen lots of people fretting about a lack of answers on Lost, and comparing it to BSG lately. But you know what? It's not really a fair comparison, because Lost has been showing us stuff pretty explicitly all along.
Note: This post assumes you've seen all the episodes of Lost that have aired up till now, and that you've seen all of BSG. If you're a year behind or catching up on the DVDs or something, just stop reading now. Also, I'm not going to bring up the contentious question of whether BSG's finale was any good. That's not what this is about.
So in many ways, the big mysteries of Lost are similar to the big questions that Battlestar Galactica toyed with. Check it out:
A Mysterious Resurrection
During Battlestar Galactica's third season, Starbuck chased a phantom Cylon Heavy Raider and crashed, apparently dying. (And later, we see her charred corpse.) But then Starbuck comes back from the dead, and she apparently "knows stuff."
Meanwhile, in Lost, Locke dies during the whole "Oceanic Six" storyline, while he's trying to convince Jack, Kate and the others to go back to the island. And then when the Oceanic Six do return, Locke is suddenly back from the dead, and he apparently "knows stuff."
On BSG, we never quite understand how it is that Starbuck came back from the dead. It's talked about a lot, and people speculate on whether she could be a Cylon or something else. But in the end, it's just something that happened. And then she vanishes in the final episode.
On Lost, we get an explanation for Locke's return from the dead pretty quickly — that's not Locke. Locke's still dead, and someone or something is impersonating him. That impersonator is also the Smoke Monster, and he/it has been impersonating other dead people — most notably Jack's dead father — since the start of the show. We don't know exactly how the Smoke Monster can impersonate the dead, but that's more at the level of "how do the Cylons resurrect?" — it's a plot device that doesn't need an explicit explanation.
The Numbers Vs. The Notes
On Lost, a set of numbers appears to have magical powers. Hurley won the lottery with them and then had bad luck afterwards. Desmond and later Locke had to type them in to a computer in the Hatch ever 108 minutes to keep the world from ending. They've popped up in several other places as well.
On BSG, there's a set of notes that appear to have a similar power. They're sort of the bassline to Bear McCreary's arrangement of "All Along The Watchtower" by Bob Dylan. Four of the final five Cylons hear them through the walls of the ship before they get "activated" in the season three finale. Later, Starbuck hears them too, and when she transcribes them and turns them into numbers, they provide the coordinates to a new homeworld.
So on Lost, we got a kinda-sorta explanation for the Numbers — in Jacob's magic lighthouse, there are numbers for each of the people who are "Candidates" to replace Jacob. (Jacob can't just keep it simple and kidnap a couple of twins, like his foster-mom did, for some reason.) And the five candidates who remain by season five or thereabouts each correspond to one of the Numbers. But that doesn't exactly explain why those Numbers have so much Kabbalistic power. Does it mean that fate chose those five people, and thus their assigned numbers have had power since before they came to the island? It's not entirely clear.
On BSG, I don't think we really got an explanation for why the Notes were important. Starbuck's dad taught them to her, if I remember correctly, and he was sorta spiritual. Otherwise... they're just important.
God Vs. Jacob:
On Lost, we were constantly hearing about this guy "Jacob" since season two or three. He was the one calling the shots for the Others, he was the big Wizard behind the curtain who knew all about the island, he was the only one with the secret decoder ring that could unlock all of the mysterious symbols and clues. Would we ever get to meet this mystery character?
On BSG, meanwhile, we hear a lot about God, who's responsible for lots of stuff. The "Head" Caprica Six tells Baltar that God has a plan, and the flesh-and-circuitry Cylons invoke God quite a bit. And as the show goes along, it seems as though there are things happening that only God can explain. But what does God want? Why is God doing this? Will God ever speak for Himself?
So Lost introduced us to Jacob in the season finale of season five, and has given us bucketloads of info about him since then. We got to see him touching the show's most important characters at crucial moments in their lives, as if he were "guiding" or influencing them somehow. We saw him having philosophical debates with his nemesis, the Man In Black, and we saw how he recruited Richard Alpert. And then we actually got to see him be born, and met his real as well as his adoptive mother. We practically know Jacob's shoe size.
Meanwhile, on BSG, the "head" Baltar and Caprica Six show up in New York a squillion years after the show's events are over, and inform the audience that God really did arrange the big Cylon/human struggle. As Head Six says, "Let a complex system repeat itself long enough, eventually something surprising might occur. That, too, is in God's plan."
In other words, even if things go in cycles, eventually something new will emerge. That's not too different from this conversation between Jacob and his evil brother, in "The Incident":
The Man In Black: They come. They fight. They destroy. They corrupt. It always ends the same.
Jacob: It only ends once. Anything that happens before that is just progress.
The difference is, Lost sets up that dialectic a year before the show ends, and has spent the past year exploring it.
What is the Island/What is Earth?
Lost's island has all sorts of wacky magical properties — it heals people, it can zap you through time, it's full of ghosts, and the island itself moves around through time and space. Most of all, the island seems to have a mind of its own. What gives?
Meanwhile, the legendary planet Earth on BSG has all sorts of mysteries attached to it — there are clues hidden in secret temples, including one on the lost planet Kobol. There are prophecies and weird clues and temples that only show their secrets just before the nearby sun goes nova.
This is one area where BSG might have a slight advantage over Lost — or, at the very least, they reach a draw. BSG takes us to Earth halfway through its final season, in one of the most memorable, bleakest scenes in television history — the planet has been nuked, and it turns out that some earlier version of the Cylon war has already taken place there. You can't argue with the "nuked Earth" cliffhanger that broke the season in half — it's pretty amazing stuff.
As for Lost, well... so far, we've gotten pieces of what the island is about. Jacob tells Richard Alpert that it's a cork holding in a wine bottle full of swirly dark evil — probably a '68 or a '69, with a nice nose. And in the most recent flashback episode, we see a glowy cave full of light, and Jacob's Evil Mom tells him that this is the light that's inside of everyone — but people always want more, and in the process, they'll ruin it. So the island is the home of some kind of soul-energy — and it's keeping an evil force (which is either the Smoke Monster or something akin to the Smoke Monster) trapped. Anyway, it's not quite as definitive as a nuked "You blew it all to hell" wasteland. But the glowy cave of light does explain a lot of stuff, and it's an example of showing rather than telling.
Actually, here's what it comes down to, for me — BSG never just went for it and introduced a figure like Jacob, who could stand up and be the focal point for all the mystical noodling and confusion. If a science fiction show is going to lurch towards the mystical, new age side of things, then having a guy in a sort of tunic show up and serve as the cryptic Beach Jesus is probably the way to go. Because mysticism without an actual mystic is just likely to disappear up its own rabbit hole.
But what do you all think?