LOST Theories - DarkUFO

The ongoing thread that connects all six seasons of Lost is the Man in Black/Smoke Monster’s plan to manipulate and use the castaways in his plot to murder Jacob. While this plot thread is only first introduced explicitly in the Season 5 finale “The Incident,” in retrospect it is clear that the monster had been implicitly influencing many of the events of the previous seasons. This analysis is intended to track out all of the appearances of the smoke monster in chronological order, starting with the crash of Oceanic 815 and ending with the crash of Ajira 316, after which point his plan is fairly clear. I’ll start with a few notes about what I take the monster’s overall plan/strategy to be, and then go into an appearance by appearance account of his actions in particular cases. (Note—I’m not claiming the authors actually intended all of this. I’m concerned primarily with what is actually in the show and how it fits together with other things found in the show, not with the intentions of any of the authors).

The Man in Black most generally wants to escape from the Island. If he can destroy the Island in addition, he’d be happy to do so. To escape from the Island, he needs to accomplish two things (at least, killing Dogen may or may not also be important for some reason)—he has to kill Jacob, and he has to kill all of Jacob’s candidates. Presumably, after the events in the flashback in “Ab Aeterno,” it is no longer possible to get someone to just walk up to Jacob and try to stab him. Jacob and Richard probably have an elaborate system of ensuring who does or does not get access to Jacob. Therefore, the Man in Black needs to either: 1. Get one of the candidates, who are seemingly allowed access to Jacob not available to non-candidates (as indicated by Ben’s indignity when Richard takes "Locke" to Jacob in “The Incident”) to kill Jacob or 2. To take the form of one of the candidates, get Richard to take him to Jacob, and bring along someone else to strike the killing blow (this being what he ultimately does).

For the sake of this analysis, I’m going to make seven (hopefully) non-problematic assumptions about what the Man in Black’s powers and limitations are.

1st: The monster can’t kill Jacob directly.

2nd: The monster can’t kill any of the candidates directly.
However, he can kill them once their names have been crossed off of Jacob’s cave wall.

3rd: Before Dogen’s death, the monster can’t physically cross ash barriers. However, he can influence events within those barriers (such as in “LA X” when he kills Bram).

4th: The monster can appear as anyone who has died, including those who died off the island. When he assumes such an appearance, he also takes on some of the characteristics of the person he is impersonating (seen when he yells “Don’t tell me what I can’t do!” at ghost-child Jacob in “The Substitute” while occupying Locke’s form).

5th: The monster has various ESP powers, including limited telekinesis (seen when he freed Ben in “Dr. Linus”), telepathy, and the ability to manipulate dreams/otherwise project things directly into people’s minds.

6th: The Man in Black’s “specialness,” as discussed in “Across the Sea,” is primarily an ability to intuitively feel how things work or what the outcome of certain processes will be—be it the rules of the game he and Jacob played as children, the effects of the Donkey Wheel, or the effects of various manipulations on the island. This ability seems to give the monster almost precognitive insight into how to manipulate people toward his ends, though such insight seems to be more vague feeling than concrete knowledge. He can see the dead, and, I will claim, also has the ability to momentarily appear in places that he can’t be—not physically, but as an apparition. The Others attribute this same power to Walt in “3 Minutes” (which we also see in several episodes early in season 2) who is also “special."

7th: While the precise mechanics aren’t clear, the monster has some ability to “infect” or “claim” people, which seems to have the effect of leaving the infected person highly vulnerable to suggestions. His ability to infect people seems in some way to relate to being in the temple and/or being dead or near death. (Everything about the sickness is so ambiguous that it is difficult to be more precise than this).

The first five assumptions seem pretty non-controversial. The sixth is admittedly conjecture, but it does fit with what we saw in Across the Sea. I find the seventh the most problematic/unclear of all of these assumptions, but everything involved with the sickness is pretty problematic and unclear.

With these assumptions in mind, here is a chronological account of every appearance of the Man in Black/Smoke Monster and how his actions in those appearances furthered his ultimate goal.

“So it Begins” (Missing Pieces short with monster appearing as Christian Shephard)

The monster scanned Jack while he was unconscious in the bamboo field and discovered that he could manipulate Jack by taking on the form of Christian Shephard. He called Jack his son while speaking to Vincent because of taking on some of Christian’s personality traits (assumption #4).


Picking up where “So it Begins” left off, the monster intends to use these people to kill Jacob. He engages in reconnaissance the first night at the crash scene. When Jack, Kate, and Charlie find Seth Norris in the front of the plane, he kills the pilot because 1. He can, Seth Norris isn’t a candidate and wasn’t supposed to be on the plane (presumably, Frank was a candidate), 2. To cut off the castaways chances of escaping from the island by killing someone who could know how to repair some of the plane’s communication equipment, and 3. To scare and intimidate all of the castaways.


The monster scans Locke in the jungle, and discovers that Locke can be easily manipulated into doing his bidding because of his desire to be special. He lets Locke decides to make Locke the centerpiece of his plan to gain access to Jacob.

“White Rabbit”

In the form of Christian Shephard, the monster leads Jack to the caves and the freshwater stream. He has two reasons for this: 1. He creates doubt in Jack’s mind about whether or not his father is really dead (owing to the coffin being empty). This doubt will later be, at least in part, what will drive Jack back to the island when Locke mentions that he saw Christian in “The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham” and 2. To make himself appear sympathetic to the castaways and at least raise the possibility that his designs aren’t entirely malevolent (as he tries to argue in “The Last Recruit”). He also might genuinely want them to survive in order to use them for his plans, meaning they need access to water.


The monster does not want Locke becoming obsessed with the hatch. He ultimately needs Locke to become leader of the Others in order to win an audience with Jacob from Richard, and getting involved with the Swan Station will only distract him from that goal. He therefore attempts to drag Locke down a hole (presumably attached in some way to the Temple) so that he could injure and infect him (assumption #7). This plan fails when Jack and Kate throw a stick of dynamite down the hole, which doesn’t particularly hurt the monster, but does block off access to the Temple.

“The 23rd Psalm”

Despite these efforts, Locke does in fact begin pressing the button within the Swan Station. The monster needs to find some way of dragging Locke out of the Swan. He encounters Eko and scans him, discovering that Eko’s dead brother is present on the Island. He decides to use Eko to undermine Locke’s faith in the efficacy of what he is doing inside the Swan.


Appearing to Eko as his brother, he is able to manipulate John out of the Swan Station and lead him toward the Pearl Station. He does this because he knows that the Pearl Orientation video makes the Swan Station appear to be nothing more than a psychological experiment. He hopes that John will therefore leave the Swan. As a bonus, if no one pushes the button there exists some possibility that the Island will be destroyed, accomplishing his ultimate revenge against his Mother. (This portion of the plan fails when Desmond turns the failsafe switch.)

“The Cost of Living”

Now that Locke is out of the Swan, the monster no longer needs Eko. In fact, Eko is quite dangerous to his plans. Eko is a man of faith, like Locke—however, he constantly keeps trying to persuade Locke not to mistake coincidence with providence, and to not assume that he understands the meaning or significance of the miraculous things happening to him. But the monster precisely intends to use these bad tendencies in Locke to manipulate him. The monster therefore kills Eko, which he can do because Eko is not a candidate, either as a result of refusing to repent to “Yemi” (and thus getting him crossed off of Jacob’s list) or because he was never a candidate to begin with (I would argue none of the tail-section people were candidates, which is why their experience on the Island was so much worse than the main castaways and why they all died—the Island didn’t need or require them).

Indeed, Eko’s death does propel Locke toward becoming leader of the Others, as a note on Eko’s stick (coincidence mistaken for providence) leads him toward the Flame Station and his encounter with Mikhail.


The Monster gets Nikki and Paulo (both candidates according to the cave wall) incidentally killed by getting them buried alive after he paralyzes Nikki in the form of one of the spiders (right before the spiders appear, Nikki hears the sound of the monster). He does this simply to get rid of two more candidates. And as a favor for the audience.

“Left Behind”

After scanning Juliet and Kate, the monster tries to kill Juliet. Since she and Kate are handcuffed together, killing Juliet might incidentally also kill Kate without violating the rules. Presumably, Juliet is no longer a candidate. I imagine that she (along probably with Sawyer, Miles, Faraday, and Jin) first became candidates when they appeared on the Island in 1974. Jacob probably crossed her off the list after she was trapped underneath the Swan rubble in 1977, assuming (correctly) that her injuries were terminal and that she would die whenever the castaways reappeared in time.

“The Man Behind the Curtain”

It is strongly suggested by Ben’s flashback this episode that the Man in Black has been manipulating Ben since he first arrived on the Island. A vision of Ben’s dead mother appears momentarily before him within the sonic fence (see Assumption #5—I think that these visions can appear in places the Man in Black physically cannot appear). Ben then encounters a more tangible, permanent, and physical representation of his dead mother stuck on the other side of the sonic fence. We have no other hint that Ben is capable of actually seeing the dead. Moreover, in “What they Died For,” Ben strongly suggests that the monster has been manipulating him and feeding him with false information about the Island (such as the summoning room). I also believe that it was the Man in Black’s influence on Ben led him to build a runway on Hydra Island for Ajira 316 to crash land on. Jacob never displays any precognitive powers, but the Man in Black’s specialness (again, Assumption #5) does at the very least borderline on precognitive, even if only on the level of vague feelings. Further, in “Cabin Fever,” Ben reveals that he used to have the same Man in Black induced dreams that John was currently being manipulated with.

Discussing the Cabin scenes is quite difficult, as, along with the sickness, precisely what was going on with it was never clearly stated. I hold that Jacob was never in the Cabin, and that the Man in Black had been manipulating Ben all this time into thinking that Jacob was in some way connected with this place. Richard and Jacob probably encouraged this deception so that Ben and the Others wouldn’t know where Jacob really was located—a deception that went so far as to include Ilana and her team. Once Ben brought John to this place, the Man in Black put on a little show designed to make John feel himself to be special and important, and Ben to feel the opposite (setting up Ben's anger at Jacob for rejecting him). While he couldn’t physically enter the cabin because of the ash circle, he was able to use his telekinetic powers to shake its interior, mentally speak to John (“Help me”), and appear as an apparition before both of them. An added effect of this show is that now both Locke and Ben will return to the Cabin to receive “orders from Jacob” in the future.

“The Shape of Things to Come”

The monster comes when Ben “summons” him to attack Keamy’s men. This creates within Ben the illusion that he knows what the monster is and that he can control/summon it to some limited extent, mistaken beliefs that the monster will use in “Dead is Dead.” He also doesn’t want Widmore’s people killing Locke or Ben.

“Something Nice Back Home”

By this point, the monster wants Locke to turn the wheel and leave the island. His already seems to have a sense that if John leaves the Island, he will die, allowing the monster to assume his form. To give that explicit of instructions, however, he will need to appear as more than an apparition. He will need to physically be inside the Cabin and pretend to be someone speaking for Jacob. However, he can’t enter the Cabin because of the ash circle. He will need someone to break the ash circle first. For this purpose, he “claims” or infects Claire when she died/nearly died in the attack on the Barracks. Appearing to her as Christian Shephard, he manipulates the infected Claire into abandoning her child and coming with him to break the ash circle, as Ilana’s team discovers in “The Incident.”

“Cabin Fever”

While he is having Claire break the Ash circle, he hides the Cabin temporarily to distract and delay Locke with dreams and the map-hunt. By the time Locke finally gets to the Cabin, the Man in Black is already inside in Christian’s form, where he gives the order to move the Island.

“There’s No Place Like Home”

The Man in Black appears before Michael in apparition form right before he dies. I don’t really have any reason why—maybe it has something to do with Michael being left to haunt the island after his death. It is possible that the monster’s presence there indicated this fate, and that the monster is associated with those dead who are unable to move on (indicated by the fact that the whispers accompanied his appearance before Michael).

“This Place is Death”

By turning the wheel, Ben seemingly frustrated the Man in Black’s plan of having John die off island (though possibly unintentionally, Ben would ultimately be the one to kill Locke, so it ended up working to his advantage). Once Locke does arrive within the Donkey Wheel chamber (which seems to be dislodged in time, as the wheel is still stuck despite the fact that chronologically the castaways would be in a time far before Ben first turned the wheel, explaining why the Man in Black is there and in Christian’s form). He then completes his plan by telling the gullible Locke that he was going to have to die to save the island, planting the final seeds of Locke’s suicide attempt and completing his plan.

After that, the Man in Black only had to wait until Ajira 316 crashed on the Island with Locke’s dead body in tow, in order to create the appearance of a "miraculous" resurection. During that time, we know he used Claire to wage war against the Others, weakening their defenses and bidding his time. Once Ajira 316 does crash he assumes Locke’s form and carries out the plan that we see enacted throughout the remainder of Season 5 and Season 6.

Thank you, and Namaste.

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