- This article is about the rules concerning the island. For the rules of time-travel, see Time travel.
The idea that characters' behavior is bound by rules is repeatedly important in Lost. It is not clear how many of the references to rules in the show are to the same rules, or exactly how any of the rules are binding. Neither is it known whether characters follow rules due to some actual metaphysical constraint, or simply because they feel they must. The most important rules seem to originate with Mother and Jacob, in the earliest points in time depicted by the show. Mother's rules govern the nature of the conflict between Jacob and the Man in Black, while Jacob's rules appear to govern other inhabitants of the Island.
The phrase “the rules” was first featured prominently in a sub-plot about the animosity between Ben and Widmore. Ben asserts that when Keamy killed Alex, Widmore had "changed the rules." Ben also reveals that he cannot kill Widmore, and both he and Widmore know it. Daniel Faraday also told Desmond that “the rules [of time travel] don't apply to you”. Since in any case we are never told precisely what rules are meant or how they relate to other rules that govern behavior on the show, this article will detail all the major rules originating within the show that seem to govern characters' behavior.
Mother has some sort of powerful control over what Jacob and the Man in Black are able to do. As they are growing up, she explains some of these rules to them. When the Man in Black asks if he and Jacob can hurt each other, she explains, "I've made it so you can never hurt each other." Similarly, when the Man in Black asks, "What's death?" she replies, "Something you will never have to worry about," indicating she has set things up so they will not die. She also tells the Man in Black he will never be able to leave the Island. These rules appear to be binding, since the Man in Black spends the subsequent centuries searching for a loophole to kill Jacob and leave the Island. ("Across the Sea") But his inability to leave may be a result of him becoming the Monster, instead of Mother's rules; as prior to his transformation she deems it necessary to dismantle the frozen wheel.
These rules seem to derive their force from the Source. In the series finale, Jack and the Man in Black both want to bring Desmond to the Source in order to gain the upper hand. When Desmond removes the cork-like stone from the hole inside the cave, the Island begins to disintegrate and the Man in Black believes he is able to leave. However, Jack is able to physically wound the Man in Black for the first time since he became the Monster, suggesting that the Source also protected him from experiencing harm. ("The End")
Mother also has rules for her children that do not appear to be binding in the same way. When they are boys, the Man in Black asks Jacob not to tell Mother about the Senet game he has found, because she will take it away, implying that it is forbidden. When the two boys report that they have encountered hunters in the jungle, she tells them that they are not to go near the other people, who would hurt them. However, the Man in Black is later able to join those people. Later, when she is making Jacob into the Island's protector, she asks him to promise her he will never descend into The Heart of the Island where the Light is. He asks if he would die, and she tells him it would be worse than death, suggesting that it would be possible for him to do so. Though Jacob himself never descends, he throws the Man in Black into the cave, and other characters are able to enter it. ("Across the Sea")
"Do you have any idea how badly I wanna kill you?" ("The Incident, Part 1")
In reference to the rules, the Man in Black stated he was unable to kill Jacob and that he'd find a "loophole" to do so. ("The Incident, Part 1") Exactly what constitutes this loophole is unclear.
MAN IN BLACK: Do you have any idea how badly I wanna kill you?
Later, the Man in Black was able to manipulate Ben into killing Jacob for him. Before the attack, Jacob said to his nemesis that he had "found his loophole." ("The Incident, Part 2") The Man in Black had attempted to have Richard kill Jacob in a similar (albeit more specific) manner 140 years earlier, but Jacob successfully defended himself. ("Ab Aeterno")
It may be that the "loophole" consists of having a proxy kill the protected party on behalf of the agressive party; in other words, only someone outside of the rules can kill someone protected by the rules. However, many people throughout Season 6 are unable to kill the Man in Black, including Sayid, who is sent to do so by Dogen with the same ancient dagger and similar instructions to those the Man in Black gave to Richard. It may be that the Man in Black is not similarly vulnerable because, unlike Jacob, his physical body is dead; or, the rules may not apply equally.
It may also be speculated that Jacob was resigned to (or even welcoming of) his death, given his rather nonchalant responses to his brother’s threats and eventual success in his murder plot (see quotes above), and that this may be related to Ben being able to kill Jacob despite the latter having spoken (see ancient dagger).
Jacob discusses rules of Senet with his brother. ("Across the Sea")
Jacob has his own rules, which may be the most common set of rules referred to throughout the show. It is suggested that these rules are largely arbitrary. What happens to someone who breaks his rules depends on exactly what rules are understood to be Jacob's and when they are in force.
Jacob's interest in rules begin when he is young. He and the Man in Black are playing Senet with the board the Man in Black discovered on the beach. Jacob moves his piece sideways, a move to which his brother objects.
BOY IN BLACK: You can’t do that, Jacob.
This suggests that many of the rules featured throughout the series may be Jacob's invention, binding to other characters only because he has come up with them. It is not clear whether the rules that apply to the Man in Black are binding because Mother made them, or whether Jacob has in some way ratified her rules about leaving the Island and the brothers being unable to kill each other. ("Across the Sea")
Further backing the point that the rules are not only arbitrary but Jacob's invention is Locke as the Man in Black when he tries to enter the foot of the statue so that Ben could kill Jacob. Locke tells Ben to follow him, and Richard objects, saying that only the current leader of the Island is allowed to see Jacob. Locke says that it seems to him that the rules are made up as they go along. ("The Incident, Part 2") At this point, viewers do not realize that Locke is the Man in Black, who is well aware of what rules govern the Island. ("Across the Sea") Since he is acting as Locke would act, were he still alive, it is clear that the Man in Black is suggesting his distaste with Jacob's arbitrary rules by slipping in a comment that would make sense from Locke's perspective but is a clear jab at Jacob and Richard's method of governing the Island when taken from the Man in Black's perspective.
Making rules may be the special perogative of the protector of the Island. When Hurley has become protector, Ben suggests that he help Desmond get home. Hurley protests that people are unable to leave the Island, but Ben replies that that was how Jacob ran things, and that Hurley might be able do things differently. ("The End")
One of the most important of Jacob's rules prevents the Man in Black from directly killing the Candidates Jacob has chosen to replace himself. The Man in Black can manipulate them into situations where they cause each other's deaths, however. He traps them on Widmore's submarine with a bomb that will only explode if they attempt to defuse it, so they are killed only by their action. Jack realizes this and explains to the other Candidates that even though the Man in Black has kept threatening to kill them, he cannot do so himself. However, Sawyer does not believe Jack and attempts to defuse the bomb, resulting in the deaths of Sayid, Sun, and Jin. ("The Candidate")
Jacob reminds the Man in Black of this rule after his death. At several points after he takes the form of himself as a young man and appears to the Man in Black. One one such occasion, when the Man in Black and Sawyer are together, the boy reminds the Man in Black, "You know the rules. You can't kill him." The Man in Black yells, "Don't tell me what I can't do!" ("The Substitute")
It is also possible that the prohibition against killing candidates extends beyond the Man in Black. When Dogen decides Sayid must die, he will not administer the poison to Sayid himself; he says it is very important that Jack convince Sayid to take the pill willingly. ("What Kate Does") He may be attempting to manipulate Jack to kill Sayid, which would suggest that only candidates can kill candidates. It is worth noting that many candidates, such as Boone, Charlotte, and Charlie have died by indirect causes, and since we lack a full list of candidates, we cannot rule out the possibility that every candidate killed in the show was killed by another candidate. However, given the emphasis on Sayid's needing to be willing to take the pill, Dogen may have been up to something else. The Man in Black later tells Sayid that Dogen sent him out so the Man in Black would kill him, but Dogen may well know that the Man in Black cannot kill Sayid. ("Sundown")
It wasn't against the rules for the Man in Black to kill the pilot. ("Pilot, Part 1")
The Man in Black has previously spared candidates, and killed those who were evidently not candidates, on several occasions. Shortly after the crash of Oceanic Flight 815, the Monster snatches the pilot, Captain Seth Norris, from the cockpit of the plane and leaves his bloodied body in a treetop. The enhanced version of "Pilot, Part 1" confirmed that Norris was not a Candidate. (Pilot, Part 1 - Enhanced) Jack, Kate, and Charlie are all in the cockpit, and flee through the jungle in terror. Though all later report that the Monster was right behind them, none of them see it, and it stops pursuing them for no apparent reason after Jack goes back for Charlie. ("Pilot, Part 1")
The next known survivor to encounter the Monster is John Locke. He is hunting boar when he becomes separated from Michael and Kate. The Monster is heading toward him, and they believe he has been killed. We see the encounter from the Monster's point of view as it approaches Locke, though we do not see what happens. ("Walkabout") Locke later describes the experience by saying, "I looked into the eye of the Island, and what I saw... was beautiful," and "a very bright light. It was beautiful." ("White Rabbit") ("The Cost of Living") Locke seems to have been describing the Monster, though the latter statement sounds more like the Source, and Eko tells Locke, "That is not what I saw." ("The Cost of Living") In any case, the Monster does not harm Locke.
The Man in Black appears to Jack on several occasions in the form of his father, Christian Shepherd. First, he leads Jack into the jungle, and appears in such a way that when Jack follows, he stumbles down a slope and off a cliff, and is only saved by the timely intervention of John Locke. Then, the Man in Black leads Jack to the Caves, where two things of note occur: the survivors discover the bodies of Adam and Eve, and Jack and Charlie become trapped and nearly suffocate when one of the caves collapses. In addition, the caves provide a badly-needed source of water for the survivors. Any of those could have provided motivation for leading Jack. ("White Rabbit") ("The Last Recruit")
When it next encounters the survivors as they are returning from the Black Rock, it once again takes an interest in Locke; after chasing Jack, Kate, Locke, and Hurley through the jungle, it grabs Locke by the ankle and attempts to drag him down into a hole in the ground. Locke insists that the Monster will not hurt him, but Jack prevents it from taking him by throwing dynamite into the hole. Its exact intentions toward Locke are unclear. Judged by the rules we learn later, it could not have harmed Locke directly, but might have been trying to cause some of the candidates to blow themselves up by running with dynamite. ("Exodus, Part 2")
The Man in Black and Mr. Eko have their first encounter. ("The 23rd Psalm")
The Man in Black has two significant encounters with Mr. Eko. Though it is unclear whether Eko was ever a Candidate, the change in his behavior makes these encounters noteworthy. The first time it encounters him, it approaches and hovers in front of him, displaying images from his past in its clouds as he stares it down. Then, it leaves. ("The 23rd Psalm") Much later, after the Swan explodes, the Monster stalks a slightly delirious Eko through the jungle. The Man in Black confronts Eko in a field of red flowers in the form of his brother, Yemi, and asks for Eko's confession. Eko refuses to ask for forgiveness, saying he has not sinned and has done the best with the life he was given. Yemi snarls, "You speak to me as if I were your brother," and leaves as Eko asks, "Who are you?" When Eko proceeds into a clearing, he encounters the Monster, who grabs him and slams him into a tree. It is unclear whether Eko was once a candidate and ceased to be one (perhaps because he refused to confess), or whether he was never a candidate and the Man in Black was initially interested in him for his own purposes. ("The Cost of Living")
Unable to Die
At several points, characters are unable to kill themselves, and perhaps to be killed at all, because they have unfinished business with the Island. After Michael has returned to the outside world, he tries on multiple occasions to commit suicide, but is unable to. Tom tells him, "You can't kill yourself. The Island won't let you!" In addition, Keamy tries to shoot him, but his gun will not fire. ("Meet Kevin Johnson") ("Cabin Fever") Finally, as the bomb on the Kahana is about to explode, Christian Shepherd appears to Michael and tells him, "You can go now." It is not clear what this apparition of Christian is, but it may not be the Man in Black, since the boat is away from the Island. ("There's No Place Like Home, Part 3")
Similarly, after Jacob's death, Richard tells Jack that he cannot kill himself, though Richard said this is because Jacob touched him. However, he believes someone else will be able to kill him. At the Black Rock, he asks Jack to light a stick of dynamite with a fuse long enough to allow Jack to escape. Jack lights the fuse but sits down with Richard, telling Richard he was brought to the Island for a purpose and he will not die there. The fuse burns down but sputters out instead of exploding. Jack asks Richard if he wants to try another stick, but Richard says 'no'. ("Dr. Linus")
The Island is done with Ilana. ("Everybody Loves Hugo")
Later, while the survivors who are not with Locke are preparing to destroy the Ajira plane, Ilana is throwing water bottles into her bag of dynamite when it abruptly explodes, killing her. Ben believes this is because she has reached the end of her usefulness: "There she was - handpicked by Jacob, trained to come and protect you candidates, no sooner does she tell you who you are, then she blows up. The Island was done with her. Makes me wonder what's gonna happen when it's done with us." ("Everybody Loves Hugo") Likewise, Locke speaks to Jack of Boone's death as "a sacrifice the Island demanded." ("Live Together, Die Alone, Part 2") While these statements represent the characters' interpretations of events, the Island's control over life and death seems to be linked to Jacob, and the inability of characters to die until they have completed their purpose may be one of Jacob's rules.
Leaving the Island
Throughout the series, some characters find it repeatedly difficult to leave the Island. When Hurley takes over as protector of the Island, Ben reveals that not allowing people to leave was the way Jacob ran things, and that Hurley could have a different policy if he wanted. ("The End")
Properties of the Island appear to make departure difficult. Those who wish to leave by boat or aircraft must follow a specific compass bearing, which changes depending on time. ("Live Together, Die Alone, Part 2") ("The Economist") ("The Lie") When Desmond attempts to sail away from the Island in the Elizabeth, he does not know the proper compass bearing and ended up back at the Island two weeks later, leading him to speculate that they are "trapped in a bloody snowglobe." ("Live Together, Die Alone, Part 1") Daniel warns that failure to follow the proper bearing might cause "side effects." When the helicopter flying to the Kahana drifts from its course in a storm, Desmond experiences flashes as well as the physical effects of temporal displacement, and the helicopter seems to arrive at the freighter much later than expected, despite a relatively normal flight time. ("The Constant") ("Eggtown") Thus, the Island's effects on time and space are part of what makes it difficult to leave.
The Others control reliable methods of departing the Island, including the Galaga and at least one boat. Members of the Others who are permitted to leave the Island seem able to come and go freely: Tom Friendly, Richard Alpert, and Ethan Rom travel to the outside world with ease. ("Not in Portland") ("Meet Kevin Johnson") Ben claims that the Galaga is the Others' only remaining method of transport and that the underwater beacon was destroyed when the Swan imploded, so the submarine, if it left, would not be able to return. ("The Man from Tallahassee") The Others are also responsible for destroying the survivors' first attempt to escape the Island: the raft Michael constructs at the end of Season 1. ("Exodus, Part 2") On the other hand, Ben reluctantly agrees to let Jack and Juliet depart the Island on the Galaga. ("Stranger in a Strange Land") This is prevented when Locke destroys the submarine. ("The Man from Tallahassee")
Ben leaves the Island by turning the wheel, but says he will not be able to return. ("There's No Place Like Home, Part 3")
It is also possible to leave the Island by turning the frozen wheel; indeed, the Man in Black built it for that purpose. It may be possible to leave the Island regardless of the rules that otherwise prevent certain people from leaving, since Mother renders the Man in Black unconscious and fills in the well after he announces that he intends to use the wheel to leave. ("Across the Sea") However, using the wheel to leave seems to have its own consequences, which may be associated with the rules: Ben tells Locke that the person who turns the wheel and moves the Island may never return. ("There's No Place Like Home, Part 3") If this is a rule, it seems there is a loophole, for Ben is able to return to the Island on Ajira Flight 316. ("316")
Certain characters who do successfully leave the Island find that they are not free of it, as both living characters and other forces try to persuade them to return. The first of the Oceanic survivors to escape the Island, Michael, is tortured by what he did to leave the Island and his estrangement from his son. He is visited by the apparition of Libby, whom he murdered, and by Tom Friendly, who tells him the Island is not finished with him and he cannot kill himself. ("Meet Kevin Johnson") Later, when the Oceanic Six leave, both Hurley and Jack see dead characters; Hurley's visitors guide him to return to the Island. ("The Beginning of the End") ("Something Nice Back Home") In addition, all those who escaped are visited by Locke in the guise of Jeremy Bentham, who attempts to persuade them to return. ("The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham") As a result, Jack comes to feel that they should never have left and must return. ("Through the Looking Glass, Part 2") ("There's No Place Like Home, Part 2") Though these characters have escaped, they discover that the Island is still involved in their lives and is drawing them back; all the adult survivors of Oceanic 815 who have escaped attempt to return.
Other characters also feel compelled to return after they have left. Both Ben and Widmore invest significant energy in returning to the Island, though they believe themselves to have been permanently banished. ("The Shape of Things to Come") ("There's No Place Like Home, Part 3") ("Dead Is Dead") Even Charlotte, who lived only briefly on the Island as a child, becomes an anthropologist in order to find the Island again. ("This Place Is Death") Though these characters' lives may not be intertwined with the Island through the influence of Jacob, as is suggested of others, they nevertheless suggest that the Island often exerts an emotional pull on those who have left it.
Several other sets of significant rules appear to operate in the show which do not have any particularly clear connection with Jacob or Mother. However, as several of these rules govern behavior among the Others, they could easily stem from Jacob.
Ben and Widmore
"You'll wish you hadn't changed the rules." ("The Shape of Things to Come")
The most noteworthy reference to the phrase "the rules" occurs as part of the relationship between Ben and Widmore. When Keamy kills Alex, a shocked Ben mutters, "He changed the rules," before going to summon the Monster. Later, after leaving the Island, Ben enters Widmore's bedroom in the middle of the night. Widmore asks if he has come to kill him, and Ben replies, "We both know I can't do that." He repeats his accusation that Widmore changed the rules, and pledges to kill Penny, telling Widmore he will wish he hadn't changed the rules. ("The Shape of Things to Come"). New information contained in the official LOST Encyclopedia suggests that the rules are nothing more than "gentlemanly rules of conduct".
It is unclear why Ben cannot kill Widmore. This rule seems to echo the rule governing the relationship between Jacob and the Man in Black, making it impossible for them to kill each other. However, Ben is ultimately able to kill Widmore, gunning him down in Ben's house before he can win the Man in Black's pledge to spare Penny. It may also be that this refers simply to the rule that Others may not kill each other, which is enforced by the Others' legal system rather than whatever mechanisms make other laws binding.
On the other hand, this element of the relationship between Ben and Widmore parallel that between Jacob and the Man in Black: they are adversaries working against each other but unable to kill each other directly. Particularly as both men were leaders of the Others, Ben's statement may indicate that they are bound by rules similar to those binding Jacob and the Man in Black. If so, it is unclear why Ben is eventually able to kill Widmore.
Rules Governing Desmond
Daniel, at some point between 2001 and 2002, bangs on the Swan Station's exit and talks to a bio-suit equipped Desmond. ("Because You Left") He tells Desmond that he is "uniquely special" because "the rules" do not apply to him. Daniel had just told Sawyer that "Whatever Happened, Happened," yet Desmond remembering this experience in the future off-Island shows that Desmond does not have to follow that rule. Coupled with his ability to withstand great amounts of electromagnetism, this perhaps is why it was he who was able to enter The Source and pull out its plug.
Murder among the Others
After Juliet kills Pickett, she is imprisoned for his murder. Isabel, who is investigating, also questions Jack about whether Juliet asked him to kill Ben; though Jack denies it, Isabel knows he is lying. Alex visits Jack where he is imprisoned, and tells him Juliet is being sentenced; "We're pretty strict about killing one of our own. Eye for an eye." Realizing that Juliet will be executed, Jack goes to Ben and negotiates to stop her execution. Ben sends a written message to Isabel, and Isabel reports, "Ben has commuted Juliet's sentence. Execution is off the table. He says the rules don't apply. He has, however, ordered her to be marked." ("Stranger in a Strange Land") While this rule appears to be important in Others society, it does not seem to bind people's actions in the same ways that Jacob's and Mother's rules do, as Juliet was able to kill Pickett and Ben was able to change her punishment.
Beatrice Klugh referenced "the rules" in a conversation with Mikhail during a tense hostage situation. As Sayid and Kate exited the Flame with Beatrice Klugh as a hostage, they came upon Mikhail, who was holding Locke as a hostage. During the confrontation, Beatrice and Mikhail began shouting to each other in Russian. ("Enter 77")
(Translated from Russian)
BEATRICE: We can't risk it, you know the rules.
MIKHAIL: There's still a way out.
BEATRICE: We won't let them into the territory. You know what to do. It is an order.
BEATRICE: (English) Just do it, Mikhail!
(Mikhail takes aim at Beatrice)
MIKHAIL: (English) Forgive me.
(Mikhail shoots Beatrice)
A Rule in the Whispers?
"Who are you and why are you here?"
"Rec Room Rules: Listen Respect Others"
The following episodes use the phrase "the rules", but they are clearly not referencing The Rules of Ben and Widmore:
- Shortly after the crash, Locke taught Walt the rules of backgammon. ("Pilot, Part 2")
- Sawyer explained the rules of his "I never" game to Kate. ("Outlaws")
- Ana Lucia forcibly told Sawyer that if he didn't like the rules (i.e., her rules), then she'll toss him back into the tiger pit. ("Everybody Hates Hugo")
- While Hurley was in the Santa Rosa Mental Health Institute, there was a sign that read "Rec Room Rules: Listen Respect Others". ("Dave")
- As Locke put a grenade into Miles' mouth, Locke told him that there was no use in having rules if there was no punishment for breaking them. ("Eggtown")
- While Captain Gault beat a disobedient crew member, he stated that the rules of desertion still applied to everyone. ("Meet Kevin Johnson")
- Achara, Jack's former lover in Thailand, breaks the rules by revealing to "outsider" Jack what his new tattoo means. When Achara's brother, Chet, and a group of Thai men find out, they beat Jack and tell him to leave the country. ("Stranger in a Strange Land")
- When tending to Naomi after her crash, Mikhail states that she will be better in a day. Charlie questions this, due to the severity of Naomi's wounds, and Mikhail replies, "on this island the rules are a bit different". ("D.O.C.")
- Jacob tells Richard no one can come inside the statue unless invited, ("Ab Aeterno") words that Richard would repeat to Bram and Ilana when they tried to enter the statue 140 years later. ("LA X, Part 1")
- In the movie Saw, Michael Emerson played one of the victims of the villain in the film. His character was forced to obey "the rules" in order to discover the location of the antidote to the poison that was in his body.
- In military or police operations, the rules of engagement (ROE) determine when, where, and how force shall be used. The Rules Ben and Widmore follow appear to be some form of ROE, as they've been shown to specifically relate to the use of deadly force against each other. Furthermore, Alex's death being described as a "change in the rules" could indicate that her status as a combatant had changed under the ROE.
- According to the Ab Aeterno-Enhanced transcript the loophole materialized when the Man in Black took the form of John Locke. Earlier, sending Ricardo to kill Jacob, was his first attempt to find the loophole.
- For fan theories about these unanswered questions, see: The Rules/Theories
- What are The Rules?
- Who is subject to the Rules?
- How, why, and when were they formed?
- Is it possible to break the rules?
- Why does Ben believe the death of his daughter changed the Rules?
- Given that Widmore believes she was supposed to die regardless, did it really change the rules or just course correct?
- Were the Whispers referring to the same rules as the ones followed by Ben and Widmore?
- Do Ben and Widmore follow the same rules as Jacob and his Nemesis?
- Why can Ben kill Widmore, when they previously believed he couldn't?