The reason the flashbacks felt like stalling was that they were, in fact, stalling. When “Lost” became a breakout hit within its first few episodes, ABC famously wanted to drag the show out for as long as they could, and showrunner Damon Lindelof and the other writers had to fight tooth and nail to let themselves have an end date to work towards. Whereas the network just saw the opportunity for endless profit, Lindelof understood that the show couldn’t and shouldn’t last forever.
“Whenever ABC would be like, ‘Why do you want to end the show?’ we were like, ‘These flashbacks are finite,’ you know? You can do, like, three flashbacks of Jack getting drunk and being self-destructive, or Charlie relapsing, or Kate running away from the marshal that is chasing her,” Lindelof explained in a 2020 interview with Collider. “But ultimately with that stuff, the first one feels like an origin story because you’re learning about that person for the very first time, but all the other ones feel like you’re just kind of treading water … we’re seeing about eight chess moves ahead and it ain’t gonna end pretty.”
The breaking point was season 3, episode 9, “Stranger in a Strange Land,” an episode whose flashbacks are dedicated to solving the grand mystery of what Jack’s tattoos mean. It’s not a terrible episode; it’s just an episode where you can feel in your bones that the show is stalling for time. It’s a filler episode so blatant, so frustrating, that it made even the ABC executives realize they needed to throw the writers a bone. An end date for the show was finally put in place, and soon the show would be able to switch up the flashback structure.