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How LOST Changed the Game of Pop Culture Easter Eggs

How LOST Changed the Game of Pop Culture Easter Eggs

Given the fantastical nature of Lost, from the magical properties of the island to the perils of time travel that eventually plagued the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815, it makes sense that the writers dropped references to the real world into scripts whenever they reasonably could. And when you consider the tastes of the co-showrunners—Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof—it comes as no surprise that many of those references are directly linked to some of the most sacred geek-friendly texts in pop culture. Sure, the Boston Red Sox get their fair due and a lyric from “Strawberry Fields Forever” gets plenty of screen time since it’s tattooed on Charlie’s arm. But the best examples of how Lost tied itself back to cultural artifacts were sometimes stealthy, usually nerdy, and, on rare and thoroughly enjoyable occasions, a little bit of both.

There are two characters in particular who end up dropping the most references thanks to the archetypes on which they’re built: Sawyer, the outwardly surly but secretly sweet bad boy from the South, and Hurley, whose soft heart, geeky interests, and relatable sense of bafflement made him a fan favorite.

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Let’s start with Sawyer, who had the habit of nicknaming everyone he met. While the monikers were sometimes fairly basic—“Freckles” for Kate being the best example—he had a tendency to go deep in the trenches of pop culture. Jin gets hit with Sulu and, on a number of occasions, Chewie; Desmond is christened with another Trek alum, Scotty; and Mr. Eko earns the dubious honor of being referred to as Mr. Ed. This could’ve seemed hacky if another actor had been the one delivering the lines, but that was never the case with Josh Holloway. He dropped every reference with swagger, a pointed tone that implied he was teasing, insulting, or some combination thereof. Nicknames were a Sawyer trademark, and no matter how you felt about the character, you had to admit he had a way with words (and names).

Given the frequency with which Sawyer uses nicknames pulled from classic sci-fi franchises, you’d think he and Hurley—who loves Star Wars enough to reference even the much-maligned Anakin and appears to have the Twilight Zone intro memorized—might get along. That takes some doing, though, and it’s lucky that Hurley is thick-skinned. Even as Sawyer makes a Jabba jab at him, Hurley soldiers on, gamely handing off a Green Lantern and The Flash comic off to Walt and contemplating catching Libby’s attention with the Lloyd Dobler method. (Granted, Say Anything isn’t exactly a touchstone of geek culture, but what misled teen hasn’t considered the boom box as a catalyst for romance?)

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But it isn’t just Sawyer and Hurley explicitly naming Enterprise crewmembers and reading superhero comics. The true genius of the Lost writers’ penchant for pop culture references was in the details, woven into episode titles, character names, and background images. Both “The Man Behind the Curtain” and “There’s No Place Like Home” get their names from snatches of dialogue in The Wizard of Oz; continuing the Oz theme, Ben Linus assumes the name and identity of a man named Henry Gale when he first crosses paths with Sayid. The Muppets, the Power Rangers, and Voltron all appear in some form or another behind the action onscreen somewhere down the line, but you’d have to be obsessively poring over episodes to notice any of them—something Lost fans were always willing to do.

Even when the references were overt and took up ample screen time, the show made them work. There’s a scene in the terrifically named “Some Like It Hoth” that exemplifies this and shows just how well the Lost creative team made the typically complicated trappings of a time travel plot work for them. “Some Like It Hoth” is a stellar episode in general; it’s the only Miles-centric episode in the series and delves into the complications that make the character so watchable. “Hoth” explores Miles’ early life, bringing into sharp relief that fact that he’s never really recovered from both the unwanted gift of communicating with the dead and growing up without a father.

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Daddy issues are a Lost cornerstone, a trait they share with a certain sci-fi franchise that’s already had its fair due in the series; in “Hoth,” it gets the spotlight as Miles discovers that Hurley is writing The Empire Strikes Back “with a couple improvements” so he can send it George Lucas’ way. It’s a fine break in the episode’s tension—and gets completely turned around when Hurley, in response to Miles’ mockery, points out how easily Miles could resolve his issues with his father (who happens to be on the island in 1977, where, or when, they are).

“Some Like It Hoth” serves as a great illustration of how overt a reference could be while remaining effective. Making a Star Wars script a part of a conversation that shaped the direction the episode took on a whole was a bold move—bolder than Sawyer calling Hurley “Jabba” or the casual use of the term “those Rambo guys.” But both methods of grounding the series in reality, no matter how out there it may have been by “The End,” were perfected over the course of six seasons. Whatever Lost’s legacy may be in the grand scheme of TV history, it deserves more than a little credit for that.

Which Sawyer nickname is your favorite, and which references did we miss? Let us know in the comments!

Images: ABC

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