35. Dead is Dead (5.12)
Best Known For: Ben getting “judged” by the smoke monster, who orders him — as Alex — to do whatever Locke says. (Of course, we didn’t know at the time that Locke was also the smoke monster, but whatever, it’s intense.) In flashback, we see how Ben’s escalation with Widmore leads him to try to kill Penny, and that’s no good, sir.
34. Because You Left (5.1)
Best Known For: The first round of time-shifting flashes. Locke watches the Beechcraft crash and meets Richard, who’s following instructions from…Locke; Faraday pounds on Desmond’s door and, in the prologue, explores the Swan site. Also: remember how Sayid kills a guy with an unsafely loaded dishwasher? That happened!
33. Tricia Tanaka is Dead (3.10)
Best Known For: The Hurley van! Sure, this feels like a throwaway episode amidst all the mysterious darkness, but temporary change of pace and tone can be crucial. Energetically set to Three Dog Night, Hurley and Charlie “look death in the face and say ‘Whatever, man,'” one of the series’s rare moments of sheer exuberance.
32. ? (2.21)
Best Known For: Probably Locke and Eko’s trip to the Pearl, where the former has a major crisis of faith and decides to destroy the Hatch, but everyone else is still dealing with the shooting of Ana and Libby (who finally dies — poor Hurley), with no reason to doubt Michael’s story. Watching it, you just want to scream at all of them.
31. Deus Ex Machina (1.19)
Best Known For: The Beechcraft tumbling off the cliff with Boone still inside. This episode steadily chips away at Locke’s mystique, revealing the angry and fallible man within: the climax, where an anguished Locke pounds on the hatch door and is answered by a silent beam of light, is an incredible moment in a series full of them.
30. Namaste (5.9)
Best Known For: This is the one where the Ajira Losties try to join up with Dharma, an episode full of fun nods that feel at first like fan service — Dr. Chang in the flesh! Radzinsky building a model of the Swan! Young Ben! — but come to have a great deal of bearing going forward. Meanwhile, Sun learns she and Jin are decades apart.
29. Confidence Man (1.8)
Best Known For: Shining some initial light on our favorite scruffy Southern conman. We first learn about his childhood tragedy, the Letter, and watch him negotiate a kiss out of Kate after a round of Sayid torture…tough stuff, but the character is so well drawn, and Holloway so born to the role, that it’s a Season 1 highlight.
28. Orientation (2.3)
Best Known For: The Swan film. It’s our first look at the Dharma Initiative, giving the barest explanation of what the Hatch is and why the button must be pushed every 108 minutes, suggesting the existence of other stations, and launching LOST from “fun to watch and discuss” to “must pore over every single detail.” What a time.
27. Confirmed Dead (4.2)
Best Known For: Our introduction to the Freighter 4 — Faraday, Miles, Charlotte, and Lapidus — as they end up in the middle of the Jack/Locke schism while keeping their own agenda secret. The newbies were also cast well enough to be compelling from the jump, showing that the writers really learned from the Nikki/Paolo fiasco.
26. …In Translation (1.17)
Best Known For: Who burned down the raft? It’s more high drama on the beach, and the Kwons’ marriage splinters anew when Jin is wrongfully accused of arson and Sun is forced to defend him in English (God, what a moment); we also get his heartbreaking side of their initial flashback story. Thanks for nothing, Walt.
25. Follow the Leader (5.15)
Best Known For: Everything in 1977 going to hell, and fast. After Eloise kills Faraday (again: YIKES), Jack gets her and Richard’s help moving the hydrogen bomb; Chang realizes that Miles is his son from the future(!); Sawyer gets pummeled by Radzinsky and negotiates to leave with Juliet…until Kate shows up, too. Wild stuff.
24. Numbers (1.18)
Best Known For: It’s the first Hurley episode! Everyone’s fan favorite finally gets a showcase, and Jorge Garcia makes the most of it. His quest to prove that he’s not crazy, and that the numbers that won him the lottery are actually cursed, brings him to Rousseau — an electric (and surprisingly funny) combination.
23. The Other 48 Days (2.7)
Best Known For: Finally showing the Tailies’ story in a structure-busting episode. By turns chilling and illuminating, we see how Ana-Lucia & company became paranoid following the Others’ kidnapping and infiltration, leading to a heartbreaking riverside moment where she releases a month’s worth of anxiety into Eko’s manly arms.
22. The Candidate (6.14)
Best Known For: The tragedy on the submarine, orchestrated by NotLocke. I’ve seen the whole series through a few times, but Jin choosing to stay behind so he and Sun can drown together — after they had finally reunited — still puts a lump in my throat. Absolutely devastating. Sayid’s final sacrifice, too. Tough, tough hour.
21. Lockdown (2.17)
Best Known For: The blacklit island map, enough material in one image to feed the comment boards for months. But everything about that sequence is stellar — Locke, trapped under the blast door, chooses to trust “Henry” and appears validated, only for Ana, Sayid, and Charlie to return from the balloon with the truth.
20. This Place Is Death (5.5)
Best Known For: Every episode in the top 20 is pretty close to perfect (by my reckoning), and this one features the gobsmacking sequence with Jin and young Rousseau’s team as he watches them get picked apart by Smokey. Later, Locke heads down the Donkey Wheel Well, and Charlotte tragically succumbs to flash sickness.
19. The Shape of Things to Come (4.9)
Best Known For: “He changed the rules.” Keamy’s men assault the Barracks to get to Ben, shooting a bunch of redshirts in the process. In the ensuing standoff, Keamy murders Alex in front of him, despite Ben’s devastatingly cruel protestations that “she means nothing to me” — so Ben summons Smokey in revenge. Woo boy.
18. Greatest Hits (3.21)
Best Known For: Charlie’s choice. I still find this setup hour incredibly affecting, from Charlie lying to Jack about his swimming prowess, his heartbreaking goodbyes to Claire and Hurley, and knocking out Desmond at the last minute so he can get the job done. The tension, from Karl’s frantic arrival to the final shot, is incredible.
17. Do No Harm (1.20)
Best Known For: The quintessential “Life and Death” moment — Jack lets Boone go after his futile, blood-donating heroics (he was going to chop off the leg with a door!), while at the same time Kate helps Claire deliver her baby. Boone was LOST’s first major character death, and the show would miss Ian Somerhalder’s guilelessness.
16. The Man Behind the Curtain (3.20)
Best Known For: Just about every scene in this big Ben showcase is a doozy, but the gas attack climax is especially stunning. After a full season of the Others becoming less interesting the more we learned about them, this was an illuminating shock to the system that propelled Ben back near the top of the character rankings.