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You All Everybody: The Series Finale of Lost…

Those of us looking for an explanation of what the island is, how throwing a body down a well creates a smoke monster or why Locke getting off the island was a bad idea were undoubtedly a little disappointed (as I predicted they would be). In fact, I’ve spoken to a few at work, so I know that they are disappointed. However, I was still quite taken with The End, because it was… well, an end. It was a fitting coda to the series, wrapping up most of the major character arcs and giving the audience a sense of closure.

Excuse me, I was Lost in your eyes...

Note: This post will contain spoilers for the final episode of Lost which has already aired worldwide. Still, consider yourselves warned.

The comparison has been made elsewhere, but it bears repeating. The Sopranos was a show which offered a series of observations on the human character, which deliberately ended on an ambiguous question. Lost prided itself on its riddles and mysteries, but ended in a logical and linear fashion. As they had over the course of the show, drama and character exploration came before the abstract philosophy and obscure metaphysical quandries.

In the end, Lost was about love. Which may have seemed like a bit of a chick flick copout for us guys in the audience, but for the copious amounts of action which accompanied the carefully choreographed dash to freedom. It was love which helped the lostaways to come ‘let go’, be it a moment at a vending machine with Sawyer and Juliet, a late arrival for Jack and Kate, a unexpected delivery for Claire and Charlie or even a late night bar fight for Sayid and Shannon. Of course, there were exceptions for key characters – Locke regaining feeling in his feet, for example, or Ben receiving an undeserved trashing (which, on the island, have become so commonplace that when Sawyer hits him with the rifle he can only manage an unsurprised ‘oh’) – but it’s a general trend.

In many ways, it’s a bookend. Even ignoring that beautiful, fitting, wonderful closing image – an echo of Jack’s eye opening as the show opened – fits perfectly with the theme. Jack finally gets to have a conversation with his father, one that he has been looking to have for years, ever since he found the empty coffin. The series has been a wonderful journey for each and ever character (even the relatively minor ones in the grand scheme of things, like Ana Lucia or Mr. Eko), but it has really focused on Jack and his acknowledgement of a greater purpose, one that science can’t quite explain. When the monster, wearing Locke’s face, remarks that it isn’t really a surprise to see Jack replacing Jacob, he’s speaking for the cynics in the audience as well – Jack’s journey couldn’t have ended any other way.

Will fans feel bamboozled?

I liked the revelation that the “flash sideways” universe was purgatory, a place that souls go before they are ready to pass on (a fate alluded to in Michael’s conversations with Hurley earlier this year). It seemed fitting, acknowledging the basic premise of the show from the very first season: these people belong together. There were hints of this in the intersecting flashbacks, but it’s articulated here. Christian implies that the deceased actively choose their purgatory – they choose which shape it takes. That perhaps explains the absence of Michael from this particular story (he didn’t feel like he belonged), perhaps the most obvious omission from the other universe (particularly since the actor, the fantastic Harold Perrineau, returned elsewhere in the season).

There were quite a few interesting absences from the church in the final scene where the Losties passed on. Penny, who never set foot on the island, managed to secure a place with them through her association with Desmond, but Mr. Eko was completely ignored – particularly infuriating given the fact that the character is generally regarded as one of the most interesting characters on the show (and one who had a fairly large impact) given his relatively short stint. Similarly Walt didn’t make it to the church either. Given that Christian explains that it doesn’t matter when a character dies, they should still show up (as “there is no now here”), it seems odd to exclude another character who was a pivotal part of the mytharc. And it sucks to be Aaron. One can only imagine that he was reunited with his mother when she escaped the island (because we know they got off, given Kate was gone long enough to tell Jack “I missed you so much”), and lived a full life before dying only to end up playing the baby in purgatory. I guess there’s no character growth for him. It was nice that Charlie got a place despite not being a regular for three years, though – and I can’t begrudge Libby’s presence because… well, I guess she was on the island too.

The purgatory was a nice touch which allowed a happy ending. I’m not ashamed to call it like that. It continued the solid character work we’ve seen for six years, but it also allowed everyone to ‘live’ (for lack of a better word) happily ever after. It prevented the really soul-destroying deaths (Locke dying a failure or Jin and Sun drowning together) to mean something. My favourite moment of the finale is the quite scene between Desmond and Eloise Hawkins at the concert. As ever, she’s well aware of what’s going on long before the other characters. And she knows what Desmond is doing. She knows that she killed her own son in her other life, and she lived her life knowing that she would eventually kill him. Here, she gets a chance to be with him, without that. Herself and Daniel have a happy existence. Who could ask for more. “You’re not going to take Daniel, are you?” Eloise asks Desmond, clearly frightened to lose him again. “I’m not taking him with me,” Desmond replies, suggesting there’s no need. Maybe for them, this is heaven.

Is it all smoke and mirrors?

It’s interesting – and an article for another day – that the producers have used an afterlife as a storytelling concept. It’s wonderfully in keeping with the show’s themes of science and faith. The penultimate season, despite all its talk of changing things and the fantasy of setting right what once went wrong, is about as close to a scientific example of time travel you are likely to find in mainstream fiction. The Losties, dislocated in time, ended up ultimately causing the problems which would plague them years later (with the nuclear weapon probably causing ‘the Incident’ or – at the very least – failing to prevent it and the shooting of Ben which arguably turned him into the sociopath we know and love rather than… y’know, killing him). Here, instead, we have faith. Despite the relatively hard science fiction we have been sold, this final season is fantasy. Science and faith. Black and white. Jacob and his nemesis.

As for the events on the island, they played out as one would expect them too. In Across the Sea, “the source” (the strange light in the middle of the jungle) was presented as an answer, not another enigma. Those looking for explanation of what it is exactly will have to look elsewhere, it’s clearly imagined as a concept that can only really be defined by itself. Of course, Jacob’s “cork in a bottle” analogy from Ab Aeterno fits well, particularly with Desmond removing a cork-shaped piece of rock from the pool in the middle of the light. Given the imagery used (fire coming through the floor of the cave), I suppose the island sits on the top of the cork, rather than inside or as the cork itself. Of course, the recurring imagery associated with “the Man in Black” has been satanic. Even ignoring the fire beneath the island (which we can assume has something vague to do with transforming Jacob’s dead brother into ol’ smokie), Eko referred to the smoke as “the devil” at about the time he identified Locke as its ultimate target and there have been numerous other hints and references thrown about.

So, if I were to boil down the show – for my own purposes – what would I saw about it? Those complicated mythologies and character arcs and such. “What’s it all about, Alfie?” they might ask. And Michael Caine would provide an answer far wiser than myself. For me (and this is just me), it’s about rules. Particularly about how we create our own rules – they seldom come from a higher authority. In What They Died For, Ben cold-bloodedly kills Widmore, demonstrating that the rules of their game where only enforced by the decency of the players (and Widmore arguably broke them first). In Across the Sea, Jacob and his brother play backgammon, but – since they life in the middle of the ocean – they have to make up their own rules. Hell, the one rule on the island – Jacob and his brother cannot kill one another – is bent so much as to be broken by the players and even that rule can be cheated by effectively unplugging the island. There are “rules” to time travel, but those are accepted nearly without question by the Losties, and look at the hell that causes them. To quote Desmond’s choice of song in the Hatch, “You’ve got to make your own kinda music, sing your own special song”. Make your own rules.

Truth be told, I like the vagueness of the ending. I don’t really want to know what the smoke monster is. I would like more hints, and a little bit more foreshadowing than two episodes before the last episode ever, but that’s perhaps asking too much. Of course, imagery has been seeded in the show from the start, the most obvious being the two backgammon pieces and Locke’s discussion of good and evil with Walt. I don’t think that Lost should have devolved into removing all ambiguity. Part of the problem with the end of Battlestar Galactica was that it insisted on completely destroying any hint of mystery. God became a handy plug for every plothole ever, literally seeming like an awkward deus ex machine. Here there’s ambiguity. There will be discussion. I know I’ll be thinking about it.

I intend – if I can find the time – to rewatch all of Lost over the next year or so. I’ll review the final season then, in context. It’s certainly an ambitious project, but this makes me want to go back and figure it all out. The show did right by its audience not to offer simple concrete solutions – imagine how disappointing they would have been. In discussing it with my colleagues at work today, I used the example of Schrodinger’s Cat – a science/fantasy analogy that I’m sure the creative team would have approved of. For those unfamiliar with the principle, let me lay it out on you: there’s a cat in a box, with some poison. The box is completely oblique. The only way to see inside is to open it. Now, before you open it, the cat isn’t dead or alive – it’s arguably both. It only becomes one or the other when you see it. Now, while the box is closed, the cat can be anything – you don’t know, but you can think about it. However, once you open the box, the cat is very clearly either dead or alive. And that’s just boring.

I don’t expect that analogy to hold any more water with fans than Jacob’s cork example. This will undoubtedly be a hotly contested point of pop culture for years, and I can see the frustrations with it. I can understand the need to just know something. But I’m just going to throw my my opinion out there and say that I liked it. I liked it a lot.

4 Responses

  1. I happened to love the ending, I lost sleep over it. Thought it was very fitting in regards to how open-ended and bittersweet it was. Just made me so happy to see them all together like that, finally at peace with their lives and each other. Beautiful way to end the show and I don’t really care about all the loose ends about Walt and Eko and such, that’s the mystique of Lost and that’s a big reason why we watch it. Great piece, man. I just want to watch the whole damn series again.

    • Yep. So do I. We’ll see how that idea pans out when I reach the second season. The first three years are going probably to be a long slog in retrospect… but the final three are soooo good. The fourth is on my shortlist of best TV seasons ever.

  2. On the DVD, there is an extra short, which explains what happens to the DHARMA initiative after the Losties leave and why Walt is not in the church with the others. It is a short little thing, but it closed off the series perfectly for me!

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