Lost: How a Resurrection Really Feels

Lost Fans Class of 2010, I’m honored to be here with you today, and I’m honored to be your valedictorian. We’ve been through so much together, and I can’t imagine life without you. Seeing you in the hallways, helping each other with homework, viciously eviscerating each other on message boards — it’s been a hell of a ride. But to everything there is a season, and it’s time for us, for all of us, to move on. It’s time for us to dedicate our lives to other pursuits, and it’s time for us to say goodbye to Mr. Eko, and Ilana, and Mr. Friendly’s young lover, and Karl, and Claire’s fake psychic, and Mrs. Klugh.

Flip those tassels over, kids. Last dance.

If I’ve learned anything from blogging about Lost every week, it’s that my reviews often seem more negative than I intend them to when I start writing. I think there are three reasons for this:

  1. The season, as a whole, has been genuinely disappointing, and an atmosphere of disillusionment has crept into all my writing about the show.
  2. It’s much easier to pick Lost apart for its flaws than it is to praise it for its many successes. A sentence about how Jacob’s cabin doesn’t make sense in light of recent revelations can easily turn into three paragraphs, while a sentence about a great choice in direction usually remains just a sentence.
  3. Writing angry is more fun than writing happy.

But regardless of the reason, I’ve too often used these reviews as a conduit for my ever-shifting opinion on the quality of the series as a whole, rather than a snapshot look at an individual episode.

All of which is a roundabout way of getting to this: “The End” was a fantastic finale.

It worked like gangbusters as a season finale, and my initial reaction is that it also worked as a series finale. From the opening moments, as Michael Giacchino’s haunting theme (and Giacchino is certainly in the running for series MVP) scored Christian’s coffin being unloaded, this felt like an ending. It felt…important.

Now, I made it abundantly clear going into this season that I wanted — nay, demanded — answers to a huge percentage of the show’s mysteries and open-ended questions. I argued that, as a mystery show, Lost owed viewers answers to the puzzles it had intentionally set up. In the Great Lost Fan War of 2010, I was firmly on Team Answers vs. Team Character Development.

I actually thought Cuse and Lindelof were duping us when they claimed we shouldn’t expect many answers. Turns out: nope, not duping us. Answers were few and far between all season, and there were no answers in the finale to mysteries that originated before season six.

But the way these last few episodes played out, The Answers grew less important to me, both because the answers that we did get were typically uninteresting and delivered ham-handedly, and the widening scope of the show made questions that once seemed important now seem trivial in context. Now that we’ve seen the writer’s view of what this show was really about, I don’t care as much why Walt was special or why people couldn’t have babies on the island.

I sense that if (when) I go back and watch the series in full, there will be a lot of detours, plot holes, and misplaced emphasis. But if we never got satisfactory resolution on The Others, or the Dharma Initiative, or The Incident, at least the buildup to those plotlines was often exquisite. Lost is plainly better at building suspense than resolving it, and that’s something that will be part of its legacy.

But “The End” is also part of that legacy, and the episode was never anything less than completely gripping. Every single moment of the show mattered (save maybe for Sawyer flattening out the wrinkles on his dollar bill). The island action was enthralling, the sideways reunions heart-wrenching. The two-and-a-half-hour running time allowed room for humor, for the final beats we needed to say goodbye to these characters.

Great moments and scenes were too many to list, but these hit home the most for me:

  • Jack telling the Smoke Monster, “you disrespect [Locke’s] memory by wearing his face.” This episode sealed Jack’s turnaround from one of the most unlikable lead characters in TV history to a sympathetic hero. If you had told me three seasons ago I would be upset if Jack died, I would have called bullshit.
  • The fantastic cliff fight between Jack and Locke. The cinematography for the whole fight, and in particular the cut to commercial with Jack in mid-leap, outshined anything I’ve seen in an action movie in a long time.
  • Lapidus lives!
  • The awakenings of Sun/Jin, Kate/Charlie/Claire, and Sawyer/Juliet
  • The genuinely touching moment between Eloise Hawking and Desmond, as Eloise attempted to cope with the potential loss (again) of the son she murdered.

We need to talk about those final 15 minutes, which seem to be the most divisive aspect of the finale.

It wouldn’t work on paper. “The sideways world turns out to some version of Purgatory. Everyone there is dead. Then, at the end, they all hug and get ready to go to heaven.” That sounds awful. And it almost didn’t work on screen. But I credit Matthew Fox’s performance in Jack’s scene with Christian for saving the whole thing.

Here’s my reading: everything that we saw on the island happened. I’ve seen theories that claim everyone died in the original Oceanic plane crash, and the entire series unfolded in Jack’s dying visions. I don’t buy it, even with the unexplained final images of plane wreckage. The show’s producers swore over and over that we weren’t watching a dream, and the characters weren’t dead, and I believe them. Even for a show that relies heavily on tricks, that one feels too cheap and sneaky.

The sideways world is another story, and one that’s open to interpretation. The closing shots, of Jack walking to the place where he will die, intercut with the scenes in the church, certainly suggest that the sideways world is a construct of Jack’s imagination — especially when you consider Lost’s time-honed device of dual-narrative storytelling. The atheist’s reading of this scene is that Jack created the sideways world in his mind to bring himself to a place where he can accept dying, and letting go. Hence, the tearful reunion with a benevolent Christian, and the people on the island he saved (or tried to save).

The spiritual reading is that the sideways world is “real,” a kind of collective unconscious future memory created by all the characters. And this is the reading I’m leaning toward, because it’s the only way to give season six’s non-Jack episodes any significance. If Jack’s dying mind created Kate and Sayid and Desmond’s sideways world subplots, then that too would feel cheap to me.

So I’m taking everything we saw basically at face value, which I think is fair with a show like Lost. I can’t explain the plane wreckage at the end, unless that’s a new crash that’s beginning the cycle anew. Nor can I explain why we saw the island underwater in the opening moments of the season, because if these characters did create this version of purgatory, I can’t imagine why they would want or need the island sunk. Moreover, Christian explained that time doesn’t exist in the sideways world, which kills my only other theory that it takes place so far in the future the island really has been destroyed (since it needs to happen far enough ahead of time that all the characters we saw in the church are dead, including Aaron).

One of the aspects of the Purgatory gambit I appreciate most is its inherent commentary on the nature of life and death. For all the people who were worked up about Jin, Sun and Sayid getting killed, or worried about who would survive the finale, the show answered, “It doesn’t matter. No one ultimately survives. It doesn’t matter how long you live, the end result is always the same.” This seems to fly in the face of the “everything matters” message Christian delivers, but there are limits to “everything.”

Beyond messaging, though, the finale worked because it was so moving, and I credit one crucial decision with allowing that emotional resonance to happen: killing the Smoke Monster relatively early in the show. That one bold gambit allowed the writers to put their money where their mouths have been, and prove that this show is not about Jacob and Smokey, but indeed about Jack, Sawyer, Kate et al. And it allowed viewers to focus on the characters’ fates and inner journeys (yuck) without worrying about who the Smoke Monster might kill next or what its fate might be.

So we were left with Jack, wandering through the jungle to die after his literal descent into Hell. And we were left with the cheap emotional ploy of a dog keeping him company as he died, and with the lazy symmetry of his eye closing to end the show after it opened to kick things off six years ago. Again, it doesn’t work on paper. Symmetry for its own sake doesn’t accomplish anything, and Cuse and Lindelof have too often delved into self-congratulatory self-referencing this season. But damn if it didn’t rip my heart out to see Jack’s smile as he watched the Ajira plane take off. Execution is everything, and that moment, and really, the whole finale, were executed to perfection.

To all those upset about the plausibility of a crashed plane being fixed and made operable with duct tape and no mechanics: look, if you believe that a glowing cave of light can create a smoke monster, and that ghost children can run around stealing ashes to bring back their adult doppelgängers, you can buy the plane bit too. Yes, the duct tape scene caused a little eye-rolling, but hey, it’s Lost. Comes with the territory.

I may have come in to the finale with slightly reduced expectations, based on the disappointment of “Across the Sea” and the season as a whole. But when David Simon Cowell asked me before the show started what level of sporting event would cause me to miss the Lost finale, my answer was “A playoff game in which the Yankees might get eliminated.” That’s it. Not the Super Bowl, not the Final Four, nothing. I also said I would choose the Lost finale over the last episodes of all-time greats like The Sopranos, The Wire and Mad Men. That’s not because Lost is a better show, but it’s a testament to how affecting and thought-provoking Lost has always been. Indeed, since the finale, I’ve been able to think about little else. It stuck with me, and I can’t easily let it go — and that’s a mark of a great show.

Here’s my challenge to those of you who didn’t like the show: name me a better series finale to a network drama. I can’t think of one. I’ve certainly never spent a night tossing and turning thinking about the ramifications of one as I did last night.

I don’t think “The End” completely redeems season six. A lot of the sideways stories still seem relatively meaningless (I’m looking at you, Kate), and the entire temple arc was a bad misstep this late in the game. But it did partially redeem it, by imbuing the sideways world with a meaning we weren’t expecting.

We may remember Lost as the most ambitious network drama of all time, and if it didn’t always quite live up to those ambitions, well, I’d rather see a show aim that high and fail than watch another damn episode of CSI.

Lost was a happy accident of history — a rare case where a bad network idea (“Let’s make a dramatic version of Survivor! That show’s popular, right?”) fell into the right hands, and the right combination of writers, directors and actors led to a special kind of alchemy. I’m legitimately sad it’s over, and I’m thrilled that this show got the ending it deserved.

Rose and Bernard Annoyance Level: Infinite. We were this close — this fucking close — to the most gratifying scene in Lost history, in which the Smoke Monster tortured and brutally murdered Rose and Bernard. Bah. Fucking Desmond.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Lost: How a Resurrection Really Feels

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