A big part of being a fan of Lost was concocting your own theories, and nobody's guesses were more elaborate than those of Entertainment Weekly's Jeff "Doc" Jensen. Here are 12 Jensen theories that were cooler than the real answers.
Honestly, if Lost's ending was a letdown, you shouldn't blame showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse. You should, instead, blame "Doc" Jensen, whose incredibly baroque ideas of what the show was about were a big part of the Lost experience. No true Lost fanatic ever missed one of Jensen's mind-expanding essays, and the show itself just couldn't live up to Jensen's commentary. (Of course, you could argue the show didn't seem to try very hard.) Nerds love to come up with their own off-beat ideas about their favorite pop-culture phenomena, but there's seldom been a theory-spouting nerd who had such complex theories as Jensen, or such a well-placed soapbox from which to broadcast them. Disclaimer: Obviously Jensen was also influenced by other theorists, and wasn't coming up with these theories in isolation. I apologize in advance if I attribute someone else's ideas to him.
So with that in mind, here are a dozen Jensen theories that would have been cooler, or at least more interesting, than what Lost actually gave us:
1. The Dharma Initiative created the Smoke Monster to serve as quality control (January 12, 2006):
The Dharma Initiative is using the island as a "sort of human recycling plant," taking "damaged, fallen people" and either rehabilitating them or junking them. And the Smoke Monster is the quality-control mechanism in this factory, testing people to see if they deserve to live or not.
2. Charles Widmore is using the island to test out psychic marketing (April 2006):
Charles Widmore and the Others are both separately trying to make use of the facilities left behind by the Dharma Initiative for their own ends. And Widmore wants to use the arcane Dharma science to create a new form of "direct marketing" — beaming product marketing directly into your consciousness. And the Oceanic 815 castaways didn't crash on the island, they landed there and were fooled into thinking they crashed. It's possible that Widmore brought the castaways to the island to use them as "test subjects for Widmore product/market research testing." In any case, Jack and the other castaways will discover in the second season finale that they didn't really crash, when they find a landing strip hidden on the other side of the island.
3. Lost takes place in the distant future. (2006):
I can only find a reference to this theory in Jan. 2007, when Jensen writes that it's been disproved by something Ben said in one season three episode. According to Jensen, his favored theory was that the Oceanic 815 passengers actually died in the crash after all, but "their brains were salvaged and preserved on ice." And then a super-sophisticated future society salvaged their brains and implanted them into new genetically engineered clones, and put them on the island. The Others are part of this futuristic society, creating an "elaborate psychodrama" to help these unreconstructed 21st century personalities evolve spiritually, so they'll be fit to live in the "Brave New World" that exists outside the island. (Mind you, this particular theory may well be more tongue in cheek than some of Jensen's other, more committed theories.)
4. It's all about Desmond and Penny (May 2006):
Forget all the other characters, the show is actually about the star-crossed lovers Desmond and Penny, and the lengths they'll go to, to be reunited while Charles Widmore does everything in his power to keep them apart. "Desmond/Penelope has suddenly become the defining narrative thread of Lost. Everything else is a subplot within that larger context." And maybe we'll discover that Charles Widmore sent Desmond to the island to test his worthiness as a suitor for Penny? In any case, all of the Dharma/Others storylines will turn out to revolve around this couple, and the show's happy ending will involve their final reunion.
5. The Island is a tuning fork (July 2006):
The Hanso Foundation wanted/wants to use the island to turn the world into the Garden Of Eden, and has been trying to find ways to restore us to our pre-fall condition. The world is a computer that's compromised by the "virus" of original sin, and Hanso is looking for the "cure." The island is a kind of "tuning fork," and Hanso's Dharma Initiative has been trying to "tune" the island's electromagnetic energy to the right frequency, to broadcast Hanso's message to everybody on Earth. And the message? Is the Numbers, which are like a super catchy "earworm" song that gets stuck in your head and you can't ever get it out. Once they're in everybody's head, the Numbers will fix everybody, or reprogram everybody, or make us buy stuff. But it won't work until a second, separate signal is also broadcast to us.
6. Aaron is an evil superbeing who took over Claire's baby (2006-2007): This is the theory Jensen spent the most time expounding, and also possibly the most interesting one he came up with. The Dharma Initiative's experiments resulted in the creation of an ultra-powerful psychic being, one who's obsessed with pop culture (hence all the weird pop-culture references) and powerful enough to bring his obsessions to life. He went crazy due to the endless "Skinner Box" experiments the Dharma people subjected him to, and he finally died. His radioactive corpse is walled up in The Hatch, but he's imprinted his super-powerful consciousness on the island itself. And this mega-powerful entity is called... Aaron. He summoned Oceanic 815 to the island, because he needs a new body, and Claire's unborn baby is perfect for the task. That's why the Others tried to kidnap pregnant Claire, so they could implant the evil entity into her baby. The Others also tried to get rid of Walt, because he was the only one who could see through their plan. And the Smoke Monster is a manifestation of Evil Aaron's superego. It makes total sense!
7. The Dharma Initiative created Hurley (2007):
Or maybe the Dharma Initiative didn't create Aaron, after all. Maybe they created a super-intelligence called Hurley (either a computer intelligence, or some kind of psychic entity). And this super-intelligence gained godlike powers as a result of being able to control the island's unique electromagnetic properties. And eventually he/it transcended his/its body and became a disembodied entity, eventually ending up in the body of mental patient Hugo Reyes. The Dharma Initiative broadcast the Numbers in an attempt to convince the Hurley entity to return to the island, so when Hurley came across the Numbers, he eventually did bring his host body back, along with the rest of the Oceanic 815 passengers.
8. The past and future castaways are sharing the island (April 3, 2008):
The Oceanic Six decide to return to the island — but when they come back, they pass through the electromagnetic anomaly, and are zapped into the past, before the plane even crashed. So after the plane crashes, they have to hide out and avoid interacting with their past selves for fear of causing a rupture in space-time thingy. So the "whispers" are actually the future versions of Jack, Hurley and Kate, commenting on their own past drama. And that also explains why we glimpsed a teenage version of Walt beckoning Locke to get out of the mass grave. The whole time, the future versions of the Oceanic Six (plus Walt) have been manipulating things from behind the scenes — and as soon as the O6 leave the island, their future versions will be free to come out of hiding and declare themselves. Just as Hurley climbs onto the raft or helicopter taking him off the island, Future Hurley will step out of the jungle and say "Man, I thought they'd never leave."
9. Ben stole Locke's destiny, and Locke will kill a ton of people trying to steal it back. (May 12, 2008):
Locke was supposed to come to the island as a child, to be groomed as the new leader of the Others, but he missed his destiny. So the island brought Ben as a child, around the same time, as a kind of failsafe or a replacement for Locke. But Ben wasn't a perfect replacement for Locke, and he perverted destiny in various ways. So Charles Widmore schemed to bring Locke to the island as an adult, so he could take on the mantle he'd missed out on as a child. Unfortunately the only way that Locke can fix things is by moving the island back in time, which will have the side effect of killing a ton of people, turning Locke into a "mass murderer" in the process. And maybe Ben shot Locke as a means of getting Locke back on his path?
10. Jacob will take advantage of the explosion of the Jughead that rebooted the timeline. (May 2009):
Jack's attempt to change history was doomed to create the very Incident that Jack was attempting to subvert — but Juliet was the "variable" in the equation, because she was able to change her mind and set off the Jughead. As a result, Oceanic 815 may never have crashed. And because Jacob touched the castaways, they'll survive the Jughead's explosion — and they may have the power to reshape the new timeline. After the Jughead's explosion, one of two things will happen: Either the castaways will reappear back in their bodies at the moment that Jacob touched them, or they'll appear in a new timeline where Oceanic 815 never crashed. Either way, thanks to Jacob's magic touch, they'll remember everything that's happened up to now, and they'll help Jacob thwart the Man In Black.
11. The whole thing hinges on Jack and his dad (Jan. 26, 2010):
The whole of Lost can be explained by a few Sting songs. No, wait. Actually, it's all about Jack and his dad. The Island is a manifestation of an old, supernatural way of viewing the world, and it exists for anybody who believes in the "concept of the mythical journey." (And the Smoke Monster exists to judge people.) The crux of Lost is that before he died, Christian Shephard was "undertaking a hero's journey" — battling his demons in order to overcome his alcoholism. And Jack disrupted his father's bid for redemption and sobriety, crashing his A.A. meeting and convincing his dad of the inevitability of his damnation. Writes Jensen, "THIS SHOULD NOT HAVE HAPPENED." (Emphasis in the original.) Jensen adds: "Jack f—-ed up something primal and powerful by derailing his dad's redemption journey. But the good news is that this primal and powerful thing is unstoppable and unbeatable. For by initiating that redemption journey, Christian Shephard made covenant with a living force, and that force will move heaven and hell and reality itself to honor that covenant." That force of redemption is known as Jacob, and Jacob's gone to enormous trouble to craft the redemption of both Dr. Shephards, and it must culminate in their reconciliation, or else the Man In Black wins. And the story will end with the real Locke being resurrected and becoming the new Jacob.
12. Jacob was grooming the Dharma Initiative to become his new chosen people. (May 12, 2010):
Jacob really liked the Dharma Intiative's focus on spirituality as well as science, and he thought to himself, "These could be my new chosen people! Mother would certainly approve!" So Jacob had Richard Alpert negotiate a peace treaty with the Dharma Initiative and gave them rules to follow, and he was hoping they would produce a special soul who could become a new "island messiah." And the closest to this the Dharma people got was the creation of Ben Linus. Unfortunately, the Dharma Intiative become corrupt, so the Others had to wipe them out. So Jacob realized he needed a new approach to creating Candidates, one that involved teaching people the value of self-sacrifice — and that's why Jacob let Ben kill him, to create an example of self-sacrifice that his candidates could follow.
A few other Jensen theories that are at least entertaining, if possibly not cooler than the actual show:
Nikki and Paulo are actually named after the Pharisee Nicodemus and the apostle Paul, and the recently deceased Mikhail and Mrs. Kluge will be transplanted into their bodies, because the island is built to facilitate the transmigration of souls. It does make as much sense as Sawyer being a cop in Purgatory.
The whole human race is extinct due to some catastrophe — except for the people on the Island. Not sure if this was a Jensen theory, or just one he was quoting. Not terribly plausible, in either case.
The island is a black hole. Huh? Wouldn't they all be dead, in that case?
Ben and Widmore were both manipulating time. When Ben sent Michael and Walt off the island, he actually sent them back in time. And Widmore knows the future somehow, allowing him to know what people are going to do in advance.
Both Jacob and the M.I.B. are Daemons who facilitate people's "daimonic journeys." Jacob is supposed to guide people on their journeys, and the M.I.B. is supposed to serve as an antagonist on these journeys — but two thousand years of monotheism have reduced their mythic realm to just one tiny island, and now M.I.B. is tired of testing people who always fail, and wants to put an end to the whole thing.