Netflix’s The Lost Daughter focuses on Leda — a middle aged divorcee who is a college professor and has two grown up daughters. She goes on a vacation to Greece where she sees a mother and daughter and gets obsessed with them. This brings back memories of her early motherhood and she is forced to confront her unsettling past.
Leda arrives in Greece for a quiet work vacation to spend some time by herself as both her daughters have left for Canada to stay with their father. She is greeted by Lyle, an elderly man who is the cottage’s caretaker.
She spends her day by the beach and meets Will, a young Dubliner who is working in Greece for the summer. As she is eating ice-cream and enjoying the calm and warmth of the beach, a large family known as the Calistas, who are too loud and crass occupy the beach. The family includes a young mother Nina, her daughter Elena and her pregnant sister-in-law Callie among others.
The next day Leda has a stand off with Callie, when she refuses to move chairs for them. The tension eventually eases between them but the Calista family almost seems too threatening. Even Will would later warn her about them when they go out to eat together. Leda becomes obsessed with watching Nina and Elena. She sees a lot of similarities between her past self and Nina.
As she is walking back to her rented car from the beach that day, she bruises herself as a pine cone falls on her back. Not only that, even her room seems to have many inconveniences like bugs, rotten fruits and constant loud noise from the lighthouse. Then as she is walking she realizes that she has forgotten to eat so she goes to a restaurant where she has an awkward flirtatious encounter with Lyle.
The next day at the beach, she sees Nina and her husband arguing and Elena mistreating her doll. Elena goes missing for a short time and Leda is the one to find her and bring her back to her family. But Elena is still very miserable and is crying uncontrollably as she has lost her doll.
Later we come to know that it is Leda who has stolen the doll. She tries to clean it and even gets it new clothes. Lyle shows up with some octopus and cooks it for her. They even have an open conversation about their spouses and children. He sees the doll but says nothing. The next day as she is on her way to return the doll, she sees Nina and Will kissing and so she retreats back to her car, after a brief encounter with Nina’s husband.
The vacation is not going smoothly for Leda as when she goes for a classic Italian movie her whole experience is ruined by teenage boys causing a ruckus and on another day when she goes dancing she is asked to stop abruptly as the Calista family arrive there.
The only thing that makes her happy is watching Nina and Elena together. She even thinks that she has formed some sort of a connection with Nina. One day, she randomly meets Nina in the market and both of them open up a little more to each other. Leda even gifts Nina a pin to keep her hat in place.
Leda wants to meet Nina when Will asks if she could lend her place to them. Nina shows up at her place and they both have a heart to heart conversation about the struggles of motherhood. Nina even confesses that she feels she might have depression.
Leda thinks that this is the right time to return the doll. Nina is shocked and at first thinks that Leda found the doll for them but when she realizes that Leda was the one who stole it, she is furious. Overcome by emotion she stabs Leda with the same hatpin they bought that day and leaves with the doll.
If you are wondering what happens to Leda after this and why did she even steal the doll in the first place, here is a detailed explanation for you.
The Lost Daughter ending explained in detail:
Leda was studying translation and comparative literature while living with her husband and two children. The responsibility of taking care of the children mostly fell on Leda as her husband used to be away most of the time. She felt burdened and was almost never truly happy. She was never mentally and physically content and satisfied.
The family meet a backpacking couple and one of her daughters recite the poem ‘Crisis’ by Auden to them, which Leda has taught her. The poem is about the dread of invasion and suppression which could be related to how she was feeling at that time. The couple inspire Leda to follow her passions without thinking about things that are binding her.
When she is called to London, which is a major step up in her career she decides to go. There, she feels truly liberated and happy. She engages in an affair with a famous professor who understands and appreciates her work. She even continues the affair after returning home but it doesn’t last that long.
From here on she slowly starts letting go of all her motherly responsibilities to finally leave them completely. She does return three years later when she starts missing her kids. Even she is quite clear that she is an unnatural mother and acts selfishly most of the time. This behaviour might have stemmed from her own mother who is hinted at being abusive or neglectful. Furthermore, this behaviour is passed down the generation as Leda’s kid mistreats her doll.
When Elena goes missing on the beach, Leda is reminded of the time when her elder daughter, Bianca went missing.
Even Bianca had a doll similar to that of Elena’s. Once when Bianca felt neglected she ruins the doll in her anger and we see the same thing happening to Elena’s doll.
Leda must have stolen the doll to put an end to the cycle of neglect and mistreatment that has been passing down the generations. She must have thought that she will care for the doll and it will be like a second chance for her.
Both were in an unhappy marriage and resorted to infidelity. They also felt pressured by the duties of motherhood. While we know that Leda left, we don’t know what Nina might do.
As Leda removes the hatpin from her stomach she realizes that however close she thought she might have been with Nina, she is just as dangerous as the rest of her family.
Leda packs her bags and throws them down the staircase feeling very weak. She gets in the car, drives for a while and crashes it. She then gets out of the car and walks to the side of the road, where there is a beach and lies there. In the morning as she wakes up she calls her daughter as she must have felt lonely. This shows that she is willing to take up the responsibility of being a mother only when it pleases her and only according to her selfish needs.
While they are talking on call, an orange in perfectly good condition washes up and she peals it like a snake, the same way she used to do it for her kids when they were little. This could be, her imagining things as she is recollecting one of her fond memories with her daughters.
Leda is very unsure about what she wants. On one hand she doesn’t want to be tied down by motherly responsibilities and on another she loves her kids and misses them. In some sense she is The Lost Daughter.