LOST and JJ Abrams’ Mystery Box

Photo via 6thfloor.blogs.nytimes.com under Creative Commons

Photo via 6thfloor.blogs.nytimes.com under Creative Commons

Will Campbell, Writer/Editor

When he was young, J.J. Abrams found his way into Tannen’s Magic in midtown Manhattan. Within the emporium of strange objects to baffle the mind, Abrams found himself attracted to a single object: a simple white box, with a yellow sticker plastered to the front. The sticker reads “Tannen’s Mystery Magic Box”. On the sticker, a black rabbit stands surrounded by question marks. For some, this might be a simple package. But for Abrams, it was something more.

Despite having no clue as to what was held within, Abrams wanted the box. His grandfather, who was with him at the time, bought the box for him and gave it to him. Though most might open it quickly, Abrams resolved to not open it. After all, why spoil the chance to let your mind run wild?

To this very day, Abrams has not opened the box. It remains sealed, more than just cardboard with some mystery items inside. To Abrams, the box is a symbol; of infinite possibility, of potential, of hope. All that along with, of course, the power of mystery.

Years later, Abrams ventured into the film and TV business. With him, he brought his philosophy of the mystery box. I think none of his works show off this philosophy better than LOST.

Photo via en.wikipedia.com under Creative Commons

The first episode of LOST aired on September 22, 2004. The show was about a group of survivors from a plane crash of Oceanic Flight 815, who find themselves on a mysterious island that has unique and strange properties. With the pilot, Abrams introduced both the characters and the mysteries.

The best example of LOST’s use of mysteries comes at the end of the pilot. After finding that there’s a radio signal broadcasting somewhere on the island, six of the survivors travel up to a high point on the island so that they can hear what the signal says. When they find the signal, they find each time the signal repeats, an automated counter on the signal repeats.

Script via J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof under Creative Commons

17,294,533 times. A discussion breaks out between the survivors, but Sayid stays silent. He seems to be thinking. After a moment, this happens:

Photo via J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof under Creative Commons.

Sixteen years. A massive bomb dropped on the penultimate page of the script. The first of the mystery boxes. The other survivors are confused. Sixteen years? How could that be possible? As the pilot comes to its resolution, we’re left with yet another mystery box to unpack.

Photo via J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof under Creative Commons.

Finally, we arrive at the cliffhanger. LOST often ends on these, but I find this to be one of the most effective. Just where are the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815? Who does this signal belong to? That’s not even including some of the questions presented earlier in the episode, like what exactly is it that’s roaring and knocking over trees in the woods?

This is the charm of LOST. Questions unfold into more questions, you’re never certain of what’s what or who’s who. The pilot is tame in terms of its intrigue, as later episodes hold much more shocking twists and painful cliffhangers.

LOST is more important to television than one might imagine. It was one of the shows to push serialized television into the spotlight, focusing on a connected storyline rather than a monster-of-the-week format. Not only that, but it’s one of the few shows shot as if it was a movie, and scored like it too.

Despite all its innovations, LOST would be nothing without Abrams. He crafted the spider’s web of intrigue and mysteries that kept viewers hooked throughout the six seasons the show ran for. Even still, somewhere in Abrams’ home, the white cardboard box with the yellow sticker sits, a reminder of the power of mysteries. Still, it remains unopened.