LOST: Putting It All Together, Vol. 1

What is the Sideways World?

The Sideways world exists as a communally-created realm of consciousness, an outpost for displaced souls awaiting eternal upload.

At least, that’s my guesswork definition of the Sideways world. It seems fairly open to interpretation.

At the start of Season 6, I was fairly critical of the Sideways world. And not without cause; it seemed — to be honest — a colossal waste of time. The producers made it seem that they couldn’t decide where to go at the end of Season 5. Did Jughead explode and create an entirely new timeline / future for our characters? Or did the “whatever happened, happened” maxim prove true and the only thing Jughead really did was blast our characters back to the Island-present, circa 2007? It seemed that with the Sideways story, Season 6 was going to try and answer both of these questions in the affirmative. And that would’ve been uber-weird, even for a show like LOST. Thus, I voiced my initial disappointment with the Sideways story.

Of course, now that the story is complete, it’s easy to see the Sideways world as the indispensable final chapter of the LOST story. The Sideways world reinforces the myriad connections that were made between these characters in the first few seasons. It honors those connections as more than mere coincidence; in fact, the show has always been interpreted this way. But the Sideways world ups the ante on the whole discussion. Sure, these castaways were connected in ways they never understood in their pre-Island lives; but the show’s final stanza demonstrated the powerful connections these same individuals shared in the post-Island eschaton.

Season 5’s Jughead plotline was about rebooting history. “All the misery we’ve been through…we’d just wipe it clean. Never happened.” Jack assumed this was his Island destiny, the reason for which he returned to the Isle of Smokey anyway. Turns out he was wrong. In the end, LOST isn’t about cosmic do-overs and wiping the slate clean. If the Sideways world was about anything, it was about remembering that we might move on. I’m back to what I believe to be one of the show’s more important pieces of dialogue, spoken by John Locke to Sawyer in Season 5: “I needed that pain to get where I am now.” The Sideways characters individually needed to recognize their former lives — and the pain and joys that were a part of those lives — before they could move on. Enlightenment, at least in the LOST universe, is about remembering the past, not obliterating it with a hydrogen bomb.

But Season 6 also introduced us to another LOST mantra: Nothing is irreversible. First spoken by Jack to John Locke upon their initial Sideways encounter, it birthed a context of hope for how we might interpret the Sideways world. We thought, “Maybe Jack will operate on John and ‘fix’ him. Maybe John’s advice will put Jack on a trajectory to find his resurrected father, Christian.” We hoped these things would come true because they never materialized in the Island world. On the Island, Jack and Locke became adversaries, a man of science and a man of faith pitted against one another in a ideological war over the nature of the Island. But this exchange offered hope that these two might finally see how they compliment one another, how they need one another, and in so doing fulfill some kind of shared destiny together.

But the finale posed the thought again, only this time Jack was on the receiving end. Asked by Kate why he accepted Jacob’s invitation to become the Island’s newest guardian, Jack responds by saying, “I took it because the Island is all I’ve got left. It’s the only thing in my life I haven’t managed to ruin.” Kate tells him, “You haven’t ruined anything. Nothing is irreversible.” As she looks at Jack, you realize that she’s talking about their relationship. In his pre-detonation convo with Sawyer in Season 5’s finale, Jack admits that his strained relationship with Kate is part of the reason he wants to detonate Jughead. When Sawyer encourages him to go and make things right with her, Jack says, “No, it’s too late for that now.” Jack has always carried the burdens of his failures with him; call it living into Christian’s rebuke that Jack just didn’t have “what it takes” to be a great man. Nowhere does Jack believe this more than in his relationship with Kate.

And that is where the Sideways world is the beautiful affirmation of Season 6’s theme. Nothing IS irreversible in the Sideways world. Sun and Jin’s watery separation? Reversed. Jack’s dead father? Alive and well. Sayid’s unrequited love for Shannon? Fully “quited” (although still creepy in my book). And on and on…

So I think it’s proper to understand the Sideways world as the Island’s complimentary space — a yin to the Island’s yang — helping to bring these characters’ destinies full circle. I would even argue that the Island’s “purpose” is incomplete and unknowable without the Sideways world.

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5 Responses to LOST: Putting It All Together, Vol. 1

  1. Dylan says:

    I am SO glad you made this post! Because I feel like the general discussion about the sideways world has been cut short among the Lost community. Everyone dismissed it as Purgatory and left it at that. Now Purgatory, or a Purgatory-like realm is a plausible explanation. For example, Ben says he can’t go into the church because there’s still some things for him to work out, and perhaps one interpretation of that is that because of all the evil Ben committed in his life (certainly more than the other Losties in the church) then he has to spend some more time in Purgatory.

    But Purgatory seems like an insufficient or even incorrect interpretation of the sideways world to me. First of all, it doesn’t seem like a place of punishment (although I need to catch up on my Catholic doctrine to figure out if Purgatory is actually a place of punishment). And also there seems to be more going on. Christian tells Jack “You [The Losties] created this place so you could find each other.” And this seems to fit your definition of a “communally created realm of consciousness” very well. And this certainly seems the case with all the awakening moments as our characters completed the process of the sideways world by finding the people they loved most in their lives. But there is also more going on than just re-connecting. Because the sideways world also seems to be this place of fulfillment and redemption. It provides a way for our characters to fully work through their baggage. As you mentioned, remember and let go. So I guess my definition for the sideways world would be “A communal redemption project with the purpose of facing and releasing past baggage in order to prepare for eternity with one’s most meaningful relationships.” Or….something like that.

  2. Dylan says:

    Now my question for you is: What was the purpose of some of the people/circumstances of the sideways world? What was the purpose of David Shepherd? Why was Kate still a fugitive? Why did Sun get shot? Why was Hugo lucky?

    If the sideways world was a way for our characters to deal with baggage from their real lives, then why add extra baggage (like Sun getting shot) to the equation?

    • Jason says:

      You have to wonder if David isn’t some sort of manifestation of Jack’s psyche. It’s like he exists as an opportunity for Jack to forgive his father for being a lousy dad. The Sideways world demonstrates Jack’s resolve to “fix” his estranged relationship with David, but the beautiful irony is that the relationship is only repaired when Jack “lets go”. He breaks down and tells David about his relationship with Christian, how Christian told him he “didn’t have what it takes”. And Jack promises to never treat David this way. I think David exists to prompt Jack to this first act of forgiveness. Jack needs to forgive himself for everything (as evidenced by his contrived estranged relationship with his not-real son) before he can move on to forgiving Christian and receiving what comes next.

      As for Kate being a fugitive, I think that also represents her conscience. In “real life”, Kate was a fugitive, but her actions were justified (at least in her mind) and therefore, I think Kate felt — much like Eko — that she did what she had to do with the hand she’d been dealt. So in the Sideways world, she’s still a fugitive, but a falsely accused one.

      Hugo – his luck represents the reversal of his pre-Island bad luck days and is — I’m guessing — a more accurate representation of who he became in his tenure as the new Jacob. I don’t think we should understand Hugo’s Sideways story as him being “lucky” so much as maybe a reflection of his innate goodness. Of all the characters in the show, Hugo is the one who has the purest heart.

      I have no idea why Sun got shot. Convenient plot device, I suppose.

      But your last question is a good one. I think the “extra” baggage may have been residual — at least in the sense that these characters created it as some sort of atonement or whatever for their “real” lives and some of the details of those lives. Remember, the Sideways world was created by the castaways, so these characters also felt the need to create whatever baggage we see in the Sideways.

  3. Dylan says:

    Oh, I forgot the one that confuses me the most. Why did Locke crash a plane with his father in it, making him live a life of guilt?

    • Jason says:

      I think Locke’s failed plane crash and the subsequent poor health for Anthony Cooper is a reflection of the guilt Locke felt over arranging for Sawyer to kill Cooper in the episode “The Brig”.

      It is an interesting irony that it was a plane crash that “unLocked” the REAL John Locke on the Island and it was a plane crash that became a major obstacle to his spiritual enlightenment in the Sideways.

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