In the minutes following the series finale of Lost, I shook my head and cursed the set. In the hours following the finale, the end of the show had time to settle, and I wasn’t as incensed. In the days following it, the things I enjoyed most became rosier, and the things I didn’t enjoy got a whole lot worse.
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In fact, weeks later, I’m still trying to figure out precisely how I feel about the ending of Lost. Some days I wake up feeling more sentimental than other days, and the image of the Oceanic survivors finding each other in the afterlife puts a smile on my face. And then there are moments when I find myself thinking back to season four, when a doctor on Charles Widmore’s freighter winds up dead on the shore of the island a half an hour before he’s actually killed, and I quickly have to stop myself from calling up fans of the show to kick and scream about the direction of the final season.
It’s unfortunate that, for all of the enjoyment I got out of watching Lost for almost six years, I’ll always look back on the show with disappointment. If I was upset with an episode during the series’ run, I was always reminded (by others and myself) that the show could only intrinsically be viewed as a whole piece once it was finished. Now that it’s over, I’ll always think of Lost as an incredibly ambitious but equally as flawed piece of work.
Season five ended with characters who were stuck in 1977 instinctively finding it necessary to detonate a hydrogen bomb in an effort to diverge time. For what seemed like a half-baked plan based only on the math of a physicist who’s death proved his own math wrong, it was interesting to see so many characters drop their driving motivation in favor of a plan that would certainly kill hundreds of people, if not themselves, too.
To put it bluntly, it was frustrating for season five to have treaded water for so long only to have Faraday return from a physics retreat in which the entire direction of the season (and what would eventually be the series as a whole) was spawned off-screen. Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse have gotten very used to telling us that, regardless of how we feel about the series, for them, it’s always been about the characters. If the end of season five was the beginning of the final act, then the show’s denouement was based primarily on Faraday’s botched math problems, Jack going against almost everyone’s wishes in regards to detonating a nuclear bomb, and Juliet convincing Sawyer & Company that they should support Jack largely because her parents got divorced and she never had faith in monogamy.
Suddenly, everyone was willing to fight and die for Jughead’s detonation. Even on the off-chance that such a plan would, in fact, work, no one bothers to ask about what would happen to their consciousnesses in this new, crash-free timeline. Would any of them remember the original timeline? Essentially, they were proposing suicide with the added bonus of possibly existing in some realm that they would never know about or experience personally.
But, again, I told myself to wait. “Wait until this whole show pans out before you criticize what could end up being connective plot tissue that ushers the players into a thrilling final act.”
Capturing the religious undertones prevalent throughout the show, our "Losties" are depicted at their own Last Supper.
Season six began with the introduction of an alternate timeline in which the 815′ers land safely in L.A., the island is underwater, and the dying words of Juliet seemed to imply that detonating Jughead
did precisely what Jack thought it would. “It worked,” she said, dying in Sawyer’s arms. This is reiterated, too, when Miles
scans her dead brainwaves.
So, the stage was set for the closing chapter of Lost. Throughout the season, we were teased with moments signifying that these two timelines were porous. Characterizations began bleeding in from one timeline to the next. Jack’s neck wouldn’t stop bleeding, Sun bumps her head and forgets how to speak English, and people in the alternate timeline often glance at one another with a strange feeling of deja vu (see: Kate briefly recognizing Jack in her getaway outside of LAX). By the time the season introduced us to Desmond’s episode, “Happily Ever After,” fans were dying to know what, exactly, this alternate timeline was all about, and what implications it had for the survivors. Week after week, however, nothing ever came together in the parallel world. Even when characters began achieving enlightenment in the alternate timeline, we were still left with no explanation as to how the timelines were connected.
Meanwhile, Alt-Faraday (known as Daniel Widmore) spoke with Desmond about the possibility of parallel worlds existing as a result of a nuclear detonation. Back in the primary timeline, the Man in Black continued to play a chess game with Widmore and Jacob – a game in which the audience had no notion of the rules and outcomes, but seemed to be learning more about as the season went on. All we knew was that Smokey wanted off the island, Jacob and Widmore could not allow that to happen, and were it to happen, everyone the characters ever knew and loved would “cease to exist.”
By the highly debated episode “Across the Sea,” it became apparent that this was all we were ever going to learn about this conflict: bad guy wants to leave, something bad would happen if he succeeds, and the candidates are part of Jacob’s plans to keep his brother on the island in the event of his death.
“Across the Sea” was such a polarizing episode because most fans knew that it’d be the last opportunity for the writers to drop some heavy mythological twists into the mix before the final three hours of the series. Speaking for myself, I wasn’t expecting a checklist of answers to the show’s biggest mysteries, but at the very least, I wasn’t expecting an awkwardly written episode that only confirmed what we had already assumed from what little information we had been explicitly given. “Across the Sea” didn’t put existing pieces together in a way that brought the entire conflict into light. Instead, it took platitudinal ideas that viewers had a shallow understanding of and told us that our vague understanding of these things was all we were supposed to know going into the finale.
Jacob and The Man In Black were at odds throughout the show - but not when it came to wine.
Between “Across the Sea
” and “The End
,” the ideas we had originally assumed to be true were confirmed with very little extrapolation, and the details we focused on (the “rules” of Jacob/Man in Black’s game, for instance) fell by the wayside. Candidates and the fact that some of their names were crossed out was reduced to being “just chalk on a wall.” The fact that Hurley
was the only one who could see Jacob became irrelevant, and the notion that Jacob could selectively project himself to others (Desmond and Sawyer, for example) at different stages of his life amounted to absolutely nothing.
Throughout its final season, Lost continued to present us with things like kid-Jacob and “do not kill” lists that didn’t include crossed-out candidates, all the while (unbeknownst to us) sweeping these very things under the thematic rug.
In fact, Widmore’s presence on the island and his motivation in regards to the Man in Black (undoubtedly one of the central conflicts of the final season) turned out to be manufactured and unclear. Widmore was the main antagonist for arguably the show’s best season, and his entire change of heart was explained with a throwaway line about Jacob visiting him and “showing him the error of his ways.” The line may as well have been, “I used to be a bad guy, now I’m a good guy. Just roll with it.” Up until the end of the series, I told myself that the only excuse for such an asinine turn of events would be if it turned out that Widmore was in cahoots with Smokey all along.
Looking back, most of the on-island conflict is either too shallow or too ingrained within a history that you’re explicitly told not to think about. The Man in Black’s motivations are as simple as “he just wants to kill everyone and leave,” but the manner in which these events take place involve unwritten rules we’re never clear on.
At first, you catch yourself saying, “Wait a minute, that’s all there is to this story?” Then you inevitably follow that up with, “But I don’t get what happened to Claire and Sayid and what the pool of dirty temple water is all about…”
It smacks of the producers wanting to have their cake and eat it, too. While they’ll be the first to tell you that they fully expected people to be incredibly pissed off at the end of the show, they managed to write an ending that emotionally satisfied casual viewers and still left the door open for hardcore Lost whack-jobs to fantasize about answers they’ll never get.
Take “Across the Sea,” for instance: straightforward and almost too simple, and yet, the seeds were planted for fans to speculate as to whether or not Mother was the smoke monster before Jacob’s brother. Casual fans take the episode at face value, and more intense viewers find its unexplained implications juicy enough to explore well after the entire series is over.
Ordinarily, these mysterious realms of unexplained information are exciting enough for me to enjoy after the full canon has been given. In Lost’s case, though, the possibility of the origin story being deeper than it appears is just as likely as the one-dimensional, pseudo-religious allegory given at face value. The significance of one is canceled out by the other, and when both are just as likely, I find myself not caring enough to even talk about it.
And that, to me, is the saddest part about the final season of Lost. For a show that dared its viewers to immerse themselves into the mystery of this island, the whole story was eventually reduced to a “best not to ask such things” experience. The alternate timeline was the biggest victim of this. It’s best not to ask who’s in the church and who’s not in the church during the final scene of the show. It’s best not to ask whether people like Miles and Keamy were also part of this purgatory, or if they were like Jack’s son — that is, metaphysical beings constructed by other characters out of a need to settle personal issues before moving on. It’s best not to ask what Ben has to work on before going to heaven, or if the Rousseau and Alex of his purgatory world are real in the first place or stuck there with him until he decides he’s ready.
The Constant remains one of the best Lost episodes to date - covering themes such as time travel, betrayal, and love.
Almost everything about the sideways world is metaphysical, metaphorical, and grounded entirely within a universe that lends itself to very little analyzation. And while the finale was emotionally satisfying on certain levels, to reduce more than half of the final season to a hypothetical world that falls apart upon close inspection is a crying shame for a show that always invited us to closely inspect it. The bigger shame, still, is how many elements of the sideways world were finely tuned red herrings just to throw us off the trail: The final shot of season five, Faraday telling Desmond that he thinks their timeline exists as a result of a nuclear detonation, Juliet’s proclamation of “it worked” regarding a candy bar…
The most interesting aspects of the final season of the show were a means to stall until that final scene in the church. And if Jughead didn’t do anything but put these people back in 2007 so that they could stop some incarnation of evil from doing something evil before killing him in a relatively uninteresting fashion, then most of season five was a means to stall until the last episode, too… An episode that wrapped everything up with not much more than a kick off a cliff and a big stone cork in a cave.
So I often find myself thinking back to the head-spinning sci-fi elements of season four, and it always ends with me shaking my head. Admittedly, it was unrealistic for any conclusion to have matched my expectations, but after almost six years of thinking about Lost and writing about Lost, the finale did little to wrap up the on-island timeline in an interesting fashion, and then rendered half of its final season largely irrelevant to the Jacob/Man in Black conflict.
But then there will always be days when I wake up feeling sentimental, and I’ll remember Hurley’s big stupid grin when Charlie opens his motel room door and the two friends are reunited. And for a while, the finale will sit well with me.
Until I start thinking about it again.