7 Of The Most Impossibly Baffling TV Shows, Decoded

Uncovering the mysteries at the heart of the most confusing shows ever

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We're in a golden age of TV, which also means we're in the golden age of bellowing "HUH?" at our tellies. ("Confusing" is frequently mistaken for profound, but that's a whole other feature.)

But some of those complex shows are actually much simpler than they appear, with pretty clear plots and messages in the middle of all the nonsense.

We've broken down some of the best shows ever to prove they're all about stuff that's fairly simple to understand and not totally baffling like we originally thought.

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Oh, and SPOILERS, obviously.

1. Lost

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On the surface, Lost was a super confusing show. Flash forwards, flashbacks, lottery numbers, smoke monsters, polar bears, time travel…

To be fair to us, the viewers, the writers clearly changed their mind about what was happening as they went along (the smoke monster was obviously meant to be a cloud of nanobots, but viewers guessed the twist, so that went away). Ultimately, there was a magic island, ruled over by two immortal brothers, one of whom mostly took the form of a pillar of smoke and who wanted to escape but couldn't. Various communities had inhabited the island before, leaving behind more or less confusing (and ultimately irrelevant) traces.

The last series, when it went even weirder, was explained by all the characters being in a "purgatory universe" or holding-pattern in the afterlife that allowed them to work through the problems they had in the mortal world before moving onto the next life.

2. The X-Files

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Linking all of those excellent monster-of-the-week episodes was a huge conspiracy plot that encompassed black oil, bees, shapeshifting aliens and what Chris Carter thought the show was about, aka Fox Mulder's missing sister (while the rest of us sat patiently through any episode involving that storyline and waited for the next monster-of-the-week episode).

While it seemed super confusing, it was actually pretty simple when you put all the facts into one timeline.

Basically, Fox Mulder's family were involved in a mission to save the world from aliens known as 'Colonists' who took over humans using an alien virus that looked like black oil. They used bees to try and find a cure for the virus, and let aliens take Mulder's sister in exchange for another potential cure.

The Colonists fought back by sending super-soldiers, who infiltrated the US government. And that's pretty much about the size of it.

3. Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks is a confusing miasma of symbolism, metaphor and deliberately oblique plot twists.

We could spend the rest of this feature digging down into what it all means, but because it's basically the television equivalent of a painting or a poem that everyone can project their own thoughts and feelings onto, we're not going to bother (it's a bit pointless, like trying to explain a dream to someone who's only half-listening).

Instead, we're going to decode this one by simply saying David Lynch. That's your start and end point to understanding Peaks. He likes surreal stuff that you can bring your own meaning to.

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Think of watching Twin Peaks as strolling around a modern art gallery, and just go with it.

There's also a nuclear theme in there, and critiques of sexual exploitation and small-town America, if you like. And logs.

4. The Leftovers

The Leftovers takes place three years after a global event called the 'Sudden Departure', the mysterious disappearance of 140 million people. The show follows the people who have been left behind, and concluded so bafflingly – with a flashforward that unreliably recounts the existence of two alternate universes – that the show's creator Damon Lindelof took to the internet to explain it.

"I think that different people are going to have different opinions as to what's concrete and what's interpretative, and I think that that was our intention. I think that there is a very face value presentation of this finale, where you just kind of take it at its word and it is what it is.

"Then there's another interpretation where there's a lot going on, there's a high degree of interpretation, and you're not entirely sure what to believe and what not to believe. What I would say that is critical to us is that everybody understands that this finale is taking place in a real space."

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So it turns out that the leftovers thought they'd been left behind, but in the other universe, the departed thought they were the leftovers. Irony.

Okay, but what was it all about? Thankfully Lindelof had an answer for that too. "Ultimately, it felt like the calculus of the show without being corny and reductive ultimately was going to be a love story, and the first season of the show was about the disintegration of family. The subsequent episodes and journey would be about putting a new family together again, even though you did so at tremendous risk."

To boil it down even further, The Leftovers is about overcoming rejection to find love. D'aw.

But you never find out why the universe split into two.

5. Westworld

Westworld isn't an easy show. In fact, it was so confusing to begin with that many people turned off before they reached the finale. So, in order to decode this one, we'd advise you just watch it – there are plenty of answers to the mysteries at the end of the series.

But for those of you who can't be bothered, here are the two main twists: one, that nice young dude named William evolves into that nasty old dude named The Man In Black. Their storylines take place twenty-odd years apart. You might not realise that because Dolores always looks the same. Well, she's a robot, so yes, she would.

Two, the maze is a big test of consciousness that causes Dolores to have an awakening, inspiring her to lead the robots in an uprising against the humans.

So, the show is basically an exploration of free will. So now you know.

6. The OA

The OA is complicated, complex and confusing. It would take us eight hours to explain it all.

But, here's the simple version: it's about a blind woman who went missing, who returns – with her sight restored – and decides to tell her story to five people. She claims to have been held captive with four other people, who together developed a "technology of movement" (dancing) that opens portals to another dimension to enable her escape – but not theirs, yet. But is she telling the truth?

It's basically Stranger Things meets Donnie Darko, but much more convoluted than that sounds.

"I think there is something really delicious in the mystery about questioning the storyteller's truth," creator Brit Marling said. "[...] I think the place it kind of ultimately arrives at is that it maybe doesn't matter as much the details are true, because there's some essential core that she's imparting that smacks of honesty."

So, basically, it's about the power of stories: both the stories we tell other people, and the stories we tell ourselves. The finale sees the new gang come together to avert a school massacre using the lessons the OA has taught them, whether they were real or not.

It's the five people listening to and believing in the OA that are the important element of this show. The OA is still ongoing, but we have a feeling those five people are going to be the most significant element of season two.

7. True Detective season one

The psychosphere, the spirals, the unsolved conspiracy involving an occult elite, the existential dialogue – True Detective was the very essence of a baffling TV show. But philosophical ramblings aside, it's arguably the most simple entry on this list.

It's all about good vs evil: how the light fights the dark, and wins. It's a constant battle, it's not always easy, but the good will out. Which, when you think about it, is a fairly lovely message to take from such a bleak, violent and depressing show.

Bit disappointing that the big bad was despatched without much explanation or examination of his worldview, but it was never about him – it was about Rust and Marty.

From: Digital Spy