Lost and Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Many television critics, including Jeff Jensen of Entertainment Weekly and Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune, immediately picked up on similarities between Jacob’s interpretation of the island and the Hellmouth from the former WB/UPN series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. “Do Lost and Buffy the Vampire Slayer occupy the same universe?” Jensen wrote. “Does the Island seal up another Hellmouth?”
Ryan, meanwhile, offered a more detailed comparison between the two genre classics. “The island isn’t Hell,” she offered. “It’s a gateway point between bad things and the rest of the world. And there is a specially chosen being stationed at that gateway, trying to prevent the Bad Things—and one Big Bad in particular—from getting at the rest of humanity. So Jacob is Buffy? And the Candidates are Slayers? Richard Alpert is Giles? And MIB/UnLocke/Smokey is Mayor Wilkins?”
Although it may seem unfair to compare the two, especially since each are dramatic masterpieces in their own right, a casual analysis of both shows reveals that Lost and Buffy the Vampire Slayer do indeed have numerous parallels. While the majority of these similarities no doubt border on the coincidental, the very nature of their basic premises invites the possibilities of such overlap and invokes comparison.
In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, high school age Buffy Summers is mystically chosen to be the sole protector in the fight against evil and, more specifically, vampires. It turns out that Buffy’s hometown of Sunnydale, California, is situated over a Hellmouth, a closed gateway leading to an underworld of demons bent on the destruction of mankind. Jacob’s interpretation of the island on Lost, meanwhile, suggests that the mysterious landmass is itself some sort of gateway that keeps the Man In Black—an unnamed entity that believes the human race is irredeemable—from infiltrating the rest of the world. Jacob is thus the guardian of the island in much the same way that Buffy is for the Hellmouth.
Ironically enough, in the first season of Buffy it is learned that an ancient vampire called the Master attempted to open the Hellmouth decades earlier but became trapped by it instead. Buffy’s watcher, Rupert Giles, offered an explanation that draws upon the same metaphor as Jacob’s in Lost. “Opening dimensional portals is tricky business,” he remarks. “Odds are he got himself stuck, like a cork in a bottle.”
Although Buffy Summers’ primary “job” is vampire slayer, the mystical nature of the Hellmouth makes Sunnydale a hotbed for paranormal and demonic activity. “We’re at a center of mystical convergence here,” Giles further explains in the show’s first season. “The next creature we face may be something quite different.” The island on Lost, in addition to keeping the Man In Black from escaping into the world at large, is likewise a source of supernatural phenomenon. From enhanced psychic abilities to prophetic dreams, strange healing powers to pockets of electromagnetic energy capable of enabling time travel, the island is much more than an Eden-like prison for the Man In Black.
During season seven, Buffy Summers faced an enemy known as the First Evil, or simply “The First.” As described by Rupert Giles, The First is “absolute evil, older than man, than demons. Very few have heard of it, fewer believe in it. But it is a force that transcends all realities, all dimensions.” In season six of Lost, former island inhabitant Charles Widmore reveals that his knowledge of the Man In Black comes from “a combination of myth, ghost stories and jungle noises in the night.” The Man In Black is also ancient and another character—Dogan, the leader of the Others at the temple—refers to him as “evil incarnate.” The similarities between The First and the Man In Black, however, run deeper than these mere descriptions.
The First was initially introduced on Buffy the Vampire Slayer during its third season when the mystical force arrived in Sunnydale to tempt vampire-with-a-soul Angel onto the dark side. Although the Man In Black may be incarnate, The First is the opposite and can only appear as someone who is dead. Angel thus encounters various victims of his evil past, all trying to push him back onto the path of unrighteousness.
While the Man In Black has predominantly appeared as the dead John Locke, he has also made appearances as Christian Shephard and Mr. Eko’s brother Yemi—as well as possibly Richard Alpert’s wife Isabella—all of whom are also deceased. Like The First with Angel, Locke/MIB has attempted to both enlist and manipulate people onto his side of the battle he is waging against Jacob. Most strikingly, the few times The First has appeared in its true form it was as a wisp of transparent light; the true form of the Man In Black, meanwhile, is a billow of black smoke.
In season seven of Buffy, The First is intent on opening the Hellmouth and unleashing an army of demons upon mankind. Its reason for doing pertains to Buffy dying at the end of season five only to be resurrected by witch Willow Rosenberg at the start of season six—although how those events resulted in a metaphysical imbalance that would allow The First to open the Hellmouth is never made clear. In the sixth season of Lost, Locke/MIB is intent on leaving the island, something he believes is now possible due to the metaphysical imbalance caused by Jacob’s death. Thus in the final seasons of both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Lost an ultimate evil attempts to uncork the bottle keeping it at bay and unleashing Hell on an unsuspecting Earth.
According to the mythology of Buffy, “In every generation there is a Chosen One. She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons, the forces of darkness.” But while there is only one slayer at any given moment, there are also hundreds—maybe even thousands—of “potential” slayers, any of which can be chosen as the next slayer if the current one is herself slain. On Lost, although Jacob is the protector of the island and the main obstacle preventing the Man In Black from escaping his corked-bottle prison, there are also a handful of “candidates” who can take over for Jacob upon his death, a list that apparently includes Jack Shephard, James “Sawyer” Ford and Hugo “Hurley” Reyes. In Buffy’s seventh season, part of The First’s plan to open the Hellmouth involves killing all the potentials in order for there not to be a replacement slayer in the event of Buffy Summer’s demise. While Locke/MIB has preferred to recruit the potential replacements to Jacob’s throne—apparently candidates have a choice lacking in the selection of a slayer—the Man In Black did confide to Jacob in “Ab Aeterno” that he is not above killing any candidate who stands in the way of him leaving the island.
Then there are the shadowy, clandestine organizations that have shown up at both the island and Hellmouth in order to conduct scientific experiments. In Buffy, it was the Initiative, a government-funded effort to both eradicate as well as study the demon population of Sunnydale. On Lost, it was the Dharma Initiative, a privately-funded organization that invaded the island in order to study its peculiar anomalies. Both believed they were helping mankind, and both were also brutally eliminated by their enemies. Probably the most glaringly similar scenes between the two shows is when Professor Maggie Walsh, leader of the Initiative, sits in front of a panel of video monitors watching Buffy Summers and her then-boyfriend, Riley Finn, make love; in Lost Benjamin Linus, the leader of the Others, sits in front of an eerily similar set of video monitors watching captives Sawyer and Kate Austin do the same.
Another similarity between Lost and Buffy the Vampire Slayer—although no doubt an unintentional one—is the “shipper” wars that the two shows have caused to erupt online. In the book Lost Ate My Life, co-author Amy Johnston relates how the Fuselage posting boards had to be heavily monitored due to the battle waged between opposing factions of fans who believed that Kate Austin should be with Jack Shephard and those who envisioned her with James “Sawyer” Ford instead. In terms of Buffy, the lead heroine had two competing suitors, the vampires Angel and Spike, and an equally divided fandom as well. It would not be an understatement to suggest that the World Wide Web has never witnessed the shipper wars that these two love triangles have caused through the years.
In many ways the dual sets of male counterparts also compliment each other. Both Sawyer and Spike are swaggering “bad boys” that radiate a dangerous sexuality. Both also have accents—Southern and English drawls, respectively—that add to their appeal. Despite their “tough guy” personas, however, the two have soft spots for the women they love and are not above doing the right thing, although often with a reluctant head-toss to the side.
Jack Shephard and Angel have similarities as well. Both had domineering fathers who never thought their offspring was good enough. Neither believed in destiny—at least initially. Both were reluctant to take the mantel of leadership, mainly due to the tormented nature of their perceived inhibitions. Jack, for instance, resisted such a role in the early seasons of Lost while Angel was always more content sitting alone in the dark and brooding. Jack and Angel are also not perfect—both have backed away from the love-of-their-lives for various reasons, and more often than not have had their plans lead to unintended negative consequences.
Despite such similarities—or maybe even because of them—both Lost and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are monumental achievements that have each played a significant role in television’s evolution into the predominant creative medium of our times. With grandiose mythologies, well-crafted characters, sparkling dialogue and a sweeping-yet-simple central storyline of good-versus-evil, both of these series deserve equal and separate praise from critics and fans alike.
As for any similarities—that’s just icing on the cake of enjoyment.
Anthony Letizia (April 5, 2010)