Skip to Content

Perfectly perfect in every way: Lost’s best episodes, by season

Perfectly perfect in every way: Lost’s best episodes, by season

Lost was a landmark series for network television, a one-of-a-kind show that producers and executives are still trying, and failing, to recreate. It’s been ten years since it premiered, on September 22, 2004 (which, coincidentally, was the date of the crash of Oceanic 815). Rather than try to make a simple Top 10 Episodes list, which would induce nightmares of trying to rank drastically different installments, here are the best episodes from each of Lost’s six seasons, along with six runners up.


Season 1: “Walkabout”
Written by David Fury
Directed by Jack Bender

“Walkabout” is the episode that transforms John Locke from simple ensemble member to one of the focal points of the series, a character who up to this point has just been a mysterious hunter who smiles with orange peels in his mouth. He becomes so much more than that as the series goes on, as a member of two of the show’s greatest character rivalries (his struggles with Jack and Ben) and as the vessel for the Man in Black to enact his schemes. Ultimately though, he ends up a tragic figure, a pawn in everyone else’s schemes, a victim of his own ideals. The seeds to that destiny are laid here, as the Island gives him a chance not only to walk again, but to be a leader and the man he never was before the plane crash. The episode ends with the reveal that he before the crash, was in a wheelchair, a simple character twist almost as shocking as the Smoke Monster itself. It also gives Locke his catchphrase, “Don’t tell me what I can’t do!” It is the first episode that really justifies Lost’s flashback-heavy structure and the highlight of a first season that is among the best first seasons of any network show.

Runner up: “Pilot”
Written by J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof
Directed by J.J. Abrams

Deciding between the premiere (“Pilot”) and finale (“Exodus”) of the first season was a near impossible task. The finale is filled with plenty of unforgettable moments: Vincent chasing after the newly launched raft, Tom creepily uttering “We’re going to have to take the boy,” and the very first “Waaaaaalt!” But those moments pale in comparison to the chills brought on by Charlie saying “Guys, where are we?” or that instantly iconic first shot of Jack’s eye shooting open. The pilot has become a part of television lore since its premiere on September 22, 2004: the most expensive to air at the time. Now, its million dollar price-tag is nothing out of the ordinary and many pilots have attempted to copy its twists and beats. Yet the search for the next Lost still continues, and it is becoming increasingly clear that there may never be another. With the combination of incredible direction by J.J. Abrams, a smart teleplay from Abrams and Damon Lindelof, compelling acting from its diverse ensemble, and arresting scoring from Michael Giacchino, this pilot is definitely one of the best in television history. It says a lot about the quality of Lost that it isn’t even the best episode of season one.


Season 2: “Two for the Road”
Written by Elizabeth Sarnoff & Christina M. Kim
Directed by Paul Edwards

Confession: I was not part of the 18.6 million people who watched the original premiere of Lost. I was a latecomer to the show who had watched the first season on DVD and was deciding between waiting for the next season to come out on DVD or starting it in the middle of the season (it was my first binge watch, as well). “Two for the Road” was the first episode I saw live, and if I hadn’t been hooked after the magical first season, I was definitely in for the long haul after its shocking ending. Even though this was my first time meeting Libby, Ana Lucia, and Ben (at the time known as Henry Gale), I’d managed to put together enough from reading Lost Wikipedia articles and the Previously Ons to know that this was an incredibly important moment. Lost always had a special knack for making even its most fan-reviled characters likeable just before their deaths, and Ana Lucia was no different. Her bitterness and brittle personality were completely understandable in retrospect, once you realized just what she’d been through.

Runner up: “Abandoned”
Written by Elizabeth Sarnoff
Directed by Adam Davidson

Shannon’s only flashback episode worked similarly to “Two for the Road”: a difficult character made likeable just before their shocking death, with one main character being shot by another. Her flashbacks did wonders to flesh out Shannon’s original spoiled, blonde rich girl persona and has softened my dislike of her character during rewatches of the series. It’s a pity they couldn’t have come earlier. “Abandoned” is also an exceptionally creepy episode of Lost, with many instances of the whispers, Cindy the flight attendant disappearing during the Tailies’ trek across the island, and a dripping wet Walt appearing to Shannon time and again. The second season definitely represented a sophomore slump for the show, but episodes like “Abandoned” keep it from being completely skippable.


Season 3: “Through the Looking Glass”
Written by Carlton Cuse & Damon Lindelof
Directed by Jack Bender

Lost‘s season three finale gave the series two of its most iconic moments: Charlie’s death in the underwater Dharma station with “Not Penny’s Boat” written on his hand, and the ending twist that what had appeared all episode to be flashbacks were really flashforwards, revealing that (at the very least) Jack and Kate have gotten off the Island, highlighted by Jack’s famous wailing of “We have to go back!” These moments alone would be enough to catapult it to the top of an uneven third season, but the episode also features an exciting firefight between the survivors and the Others, Sayid killing someone with his ankles, and the first meeting between crazy French lady Rousseau and her kidnapped daughter, Alex. But the reset of the series with flashforwards gave the series a new direction and reaffirmed it as capable of the twists and shocking moments that it delivered with such ease during its first season. Plus fan favorite Charlie got the send off he deserved, dying a hero and earning the redemption he had been dangerously close to losing as an addict.

Runner up: “Greatest Hits”
Written by Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz
Directed by Stephen Williams

“Greatest Hits” is structured more like an indie romantic comedy than a piece of serialized television: as Charlie lists the Greatest Hits of his life on a piece of paper that he gives Desmond to give to Claire, we flashback to each of those moments. His fondest moments are simple yet sweet, like his memory of learning how to swim from his father, or his memory of rescuing a woman from a mugger (who turns out to be Sayid’s doomed love, Nadia). The number one hit of Charlie’s life is the kicker, though: the night he met Claire. It’s a romantic gesture worthy of a movie like (500) Days of Summer, yet it doesn’t feel out of place in Charlie’s story. His road to redemption had been a long time coming and Dominic Monaghan gives his best performance as Charlie to date, providing the moments their proper poignancy but never losing Charlie’s cheekiness. And once again, Lost allows for one closing twist, as Charlie surfaces in what was supposed to be an abandoned, underwater Dharma station and instead finds himself at gunpoint.


Season 4: “The Constant”
Written by Carlton Cuse & Damon Lindelof
Directed by Jack Bender

There’s a reason “The Constant” has become the consensus high point of the series. It’s a simply stunning episode of television that works equally as well as a standalone and as yet another installment of serialized television. Lost’s later experiments with time travel in the fifth season would attract skepticism, but the sci-fi elements of this episode are explained well enough by Faraday to make sense and not overwhelm the narrative. The transitions between timelines are handled artfully, and the swelling of music as Desmond leaves Penny’s house is reminiscent of the great romantic epics. Desmond and Penny’s emotional phone call is a highlight of the series, edited frenetically and never failing to choke me up, and the end of the episode is classic Lost- the chilling reveal that Desmond is Faraday’s constant. It’s the perfect mix of everything that made Lost a phenomenon: twists, mysteries, romance, and high-stakes drama.

Runner up: “Ji Yeon”
Written by Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz
Directed by Stephen Semel

Season four’s other best episode also features the show experimenting with its established flashback structure with a dramatic payoff, the violent death of a character on the freighter Kahana, and a fan-favorite couple having a surprising “reunion.” “Ji Yeon” seemingly tells the tale of the birth of Sun and Jin’s daughter, until the episode pulls out the rug and reveals that Sun’s scenes are flashforwards, while Jin’s scenes are actually flashbacks. The on-Island and freighter scenes move the plot along, revealing that Michael is Ben’s spy aboard the freighter and that the crew are going crazy, with Regina jumping overboard covered in chains. But the heart of the episode is the relationship of Sun and Jin. Yunjin Kim deserved much more recognition than she got during the series for her heartbreaking performance as Sun and she was never better than in the final scene. Delivered entirely in Korean, her speech to Jin with their newborn baby in hand is a perfect emotional closing scene for an episode full of twists, also setting up a new mystery: is Jin really dead? Or are the Oceanic Six just covering for the people left behind on the Island?


Season 5: “The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham”
Written by Carlton Cuse & Damon Lindelof
Directed by Jack Bender

After saving the Island from its flashes through time, Locke tries to reunite the Oceanic Six to return to the Island, but he is rejected by each of them. Feeling more hopeless than ever, he  writes a suicide note and tries to hang himself, but Ben saves him. Terry O’Quinn and Michael Emerson have always been at best when sparring as Locke and Ben and this scene is no different. It’s a short-lived saving, though, as Ben ultimately strangles Locke to death. It’s yet another chapter in the hopeless saga of John Locke, and the character’s nadir, and though the series seemingly undercuts this by “resurrecting” Locke on the Island, it is later revealed in “The Incident” that the version of Locke that has been wandering the island after the Ajira flight landed is really an impersonation, making the earlier episode even sadder in retrospect. A journey that started out in “Walkabout” comes to a bitter, ultimately meaningless end, an incredibly depressing message from a network TV show.

Runner up: “The Incident”
Written by Carlton Cuse & Damon Lindelof
Directed by Jack Bender

The season five finale tied up what was probably Lost’s best season with an episode that peeled back some of the layers of mystery surrounding the Island, especially the enigmatic entity Jacob. Its flashbacks almost entirely deal with how each of the main characters on the island have met Jacob, except for Juliet’s flashback, which seemingly exists to explain why Juliet would be insecure about Kate’s arrival on the island jeopardizing her relationship with Sawyer. But the most striking part of the entire episode is Juliet’s death, featuring the under-appreciated Elizabeth Mitchell in stellar form. As she clings to Sawyer’s hand before falling down the shaft, the show reaffirms that, despite the episode’s earlier attempted character assassination, their love was real. Sawyer did care about her and Juliet did not transform into some sad version of the other woman trope. And then she detonates a hydrogen bomb with a rock, all while saying “Son of a bitch.” That abrupt flash of white (instead of the series’ trademark cut to black) is probably my favorite ending moment of any Lost episode.


Season 6: “The End”
Written by Carlton Cuse & Damon Lindelof
Directed by Jack Bender

Regardless of how one feels about the final season of Lost, or its many unanswered questions, or the use of the flash-sideways as a device, it’s hard not to enjoy the series finale on a purely character-based level. All of the best pairings are given their own moments, like Hurley’s grin at seeing his friend Charlie again, Kate assisting Claire giving birth once more, and the reunions of all the couples, especially Sun and Jin and Sawyer and Juliet. Just like Juliet’s description of Sun and Jin’s unborn child, these moments of remembrance are perfectly perfect in every way. Seeing all of the characters together again, all smiling and happy, is enough of a reward for sticking with the show for six years. The on-Island scenes are powerful as well, like the Jedi-esque Jack versus Man in Black battle, Kate regaining some of her season one mojo by shooting the Man in Black, and of course Jack, accompanied by Vincent, closing his eye in an exact mirror of the opening scene of the pilot. It may not be the perfect ending to a TV show so full of mysteries and unanswered questions, but it does give fans a chance to say goodbye to characters they have grown close to over Lost‘s six years, and that’s closure enough for me.

Runner up: “The Candidate”
Written by Elizabeth Sarnoff & Jim Galasso
Directed by Jack Bender

“The Candidate” is a memorable episode for many reasons, but primarily because it demonstrates that even in its final season, no character is safe on Lost, not even three beloved original cast members. After the Man in Black has tricked the group into boarding a submarine with a ticking bomb, Sayid sacrifices himself to buy his friends more time, and then Jin and Sun are trapped in the sinking submarine. Daniel Dae Kim performs some of his best work as Jin in this final scene, projecting strength and decisiveness in the face of his certain death, telling Jack to save the others, and telling Sun he won’t leave her again. After being ripped apart so many times, Sun and Jin are finally together in death, underscored by a final shot of their clasped hands. Hurley’s cry when he realizes that three of his friends are gone is just heartbreaking. With everything that happens on-Island, it’s a wonder the episode even has time for flash-sideways, but it’s a significant plot, with Jack trying to convince Locke to let him operate on him and try to repair his spine so he can walk. They have a conversation loaded with references to other episodes, and Locke ultimately turns down the surgery. But the true star of the episode is the score: “S.S. Lost-tanic” is one of the most complete pieces of music Michael Giacchino ever composed for the show, a complex overlaying of familiar themes into one suspenseful, then melancholic song.