Once upon a time, author Stephen King issued a challenge to the Lost writers:
Minus the continuing presence of David Duchovny, X-Files blundered off into a swamp of black oil, and in that swamp it died. If J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof, and their band of co-conspirators allow something similar to happen with Lost, I’m going to be even more pissed, because this show is better. Memo to Abrams and staff writers: Your responsibilities include knowing when to write The End.
Flash-forward to five years later: the 100-minute long Lost series finale, abstemiously entitled The End, airs on ABC.
Before I go into my in-depth look at Season Six and the series finale, let me get something out of the way:
Saying that people didn’t like The End because “there were no answers” and “it’s about the characters, stupid” is hypocritical.
If you flashback to a couple of years ago, I am betting Montand’s left arm that you were interested in knowing ‘what the hell is that black smoke’ more than ‘what the hell do Jack’s tattoos mean.’
In season Three, you were interested in knowing Juliet’s and Ben’s backstories not only because they were intriguing characters, but because they seemed at the time to hold key pieces of the Island puzzle.
And people tuned in en masse to the Season Two premiere not to see Jack’s divorce, but to discover what was in the hatch.
Don’t tell me otherwise, because that is either a blatant lie or misguided faith.
The only exception to this rule is the first half of Season One, which indeed delved more into the characters than the (not-yet-fleshed-out) mythology.
Lost drew a cult following because of its mysteries and original storytelling, not because the 815ers were the greatest characters on television at the time. If you disagree with this statement, then you’ve never watched, let’s say, Six Feet Under (2001-2005), The Wire (2002-2008), The Sopranos (1999-2007), or Battlestar Galactica (2003-2009), and the list goes on.
Like Lordy said in his own review, the fact that Lost did not answer any of its main mysteries is completely irrelevant to most people’s quarrels with the series finale.
Why? Newsflash: Darlton had 120 other episodes to answer questions.
So, no, my problem with Season Six does not reside in the lack of answers, it’s more in line with gross character neglect and unjustified fan manipulation.
The “character-only” approach of Lost is first untrue, but more importantly distorted. This point of view was only shaped last year when Lindelof and Cuse began to realize that they couldn’t satisfy fans with answers and needed to go back to a cleaner slate.
Cue the flash-sideways.
As they themselves admitted, the writers wanted to bring to the final season some symmetry in regards to Season One. Though admirable, the effort was pointless and quite frankly disappointing.
First, the idea here was to bring a new sense of mystery and discovery to the characters we had come to know throughout the years. Since doing a flashback on Jack’s ankle-tattoo seemed ridiculous at this point, they chose to do an altverse and switch things up a bit.
The only problem here, and it’s a big one, is that these are not our characters. They haven’t lived through the crash, they haven’t lived through the Island, they haven’t lived through six seasons of tumultuous events. Ergo, we do not care about them.
Of course, this whole ordeal was made irrelevant by the final revelation that, not only did none of it matter, but nothing was actually real. This was quite literally the metaphysical equivalent of ‘it was all a dream.’ Perhaps it wasn’t Vincent that dreamed Jack’s son, David, but this doesn’t mean I didn’t waste an hour watching his pre-adolescent angst towards his father.
There’s also the lack of any character development. Even if you were to assume that the flash-sideways actually happened and mattered, the finale rendered them nonexistent.
Paradoxically, this even impacted ‘our’ characters. For me, the whole emotional effect of Juliet and Sawyer’s reunion was nullified by the fact that, mere seconds ago, she was very content with being in a family with Jack and David. When she ‘remembered’, it was as if an instant brainwash had occurred. Now that Juliet was exchanging fluids with Sawyer, I was left to wonder if she recalled having a son and being with another man, or if her ‘old personality’ had crushed this new life.
Bringing back Julie Bowen as the mother would have actually made things better. And before you comment on her unavailability, allow me to remind you that Modern Family was actually shooting an episode in Hawaii at the same time! Talk about a wasted opportunity…
There is also all that happened on the Island.
The episode felt more to me like a season finale than a true series finale. There was no real farewell to the Island, contrary to what was alluded to since the season premiere (a cataclysmic event involving either a nuke or the volcano). The dramatic reveal of the Island being underwater now makes no sense at all.
As for the characters in peril, I’ll here quote Charlie Jane Anders’ great review of the finale:
Probably the greatest weapon in Lost’s arsenal was always its ability to make you care, desperately, feverishly about what happened to these people.
And in the end, I just didn’t care if that rock went in that hole or not. By extension, I had stopped caring whether the island sank. I had stopped caring about the fate of the Man In Black, long before he got kicked out of the episode prematurely. I didn’t care about any of it.
I do still have chills watching Through the Looking Glass or There’s No Place Like Home, but similarly to Anders, I have stopped caring about Jack & Coe for some time now.
Now about that ending.
What I found interesting about the ending of Lost was that it was thematically related to the series. It echoed two main components of the show as a whole: the fact that everyone was connected and the Island was the most important part of their lives — with one difference.
Whatever the timeline, Lost had always shown events directly (flashforwards) or indirectly (flashbacks) linked to the Island. Even when the Oceanic Six were on the main land, Lost lingered on how the crash and the on-Island events had impacted their lives. Sayid was working for Ben, Jack was suicidal because he wanted to ‘go back’, Kate was raising Aaron, Hurley had to lie about the crash, and so on.
For the first time, the flashes this season were neither about what preceded the crash, nor what followed it. The flashsideways were never narratively connected to the Island. This may be why some were let down by the ending. Basically, we were led to believe all along that, like the flashbacks and the flashforwards, the flashsideways would prove to be important to the understanding of on-Island events.
They weren’t. And, as we’ve seen, most of them were made irrelevant.
Beyond that, the end was also more abstract than some people appear to say. Though you do get some sort of a spiritual conclusion to the characters, you certainly do not get closure of what we might call their “corporeal selves.” You don’t know for instance Sawyer’s ultimate fate.
However, I accept that since, as pointed out above, what will happen in their lives onwards won’t have much to do with the Island.
One thing I don’t really get is the whole “moving on/letting go” part. Beyond the obvious meta comment, I don’t really understand what they have to “move on” from/to.
As far as I can see, virtually every single one of the Lostaways is finally happy, and has moved beyond his/her issues to a new realm of bliss.
Let’s take a look: Ben is a father figure to Alex, Jack is in love and has a son that cares about him, Sawyer stars in a ‘buddy cop’ drama with Miles, Hurley is lucky, Sun and Jin are finally free and about to have a baby, Locke is with Helen and can walk.
If one were to argue that the flashsideways had a point, it was to show that the characters had “moved on” from their (literally) otherworldly problems. Yet, now they need to abandon this wonderful world.
Would this message of “letting go” be present in the episode if it were not the series finale? I’d say no.
During the first four years, Lost was about rescue.
That was Jack’s purpose: to get his fellow castaways off the Island.
It was never about “moving on”, it was never about “letting go”, it was about “getting the hell off this damn rock” as Sawyer would say.
Season One ended with the raft launching, season Two ended with Penny discovering the Island, season Three ended with Jack communicating with a potential rescue team, and season Four ended with the actual rescue of the Oceanic Six.
Personally, the show concluded with season Four. There’s No Place Like Home, the 2008 finale, does offer what I believe to be a great conclusion to the series.
Sure, some questions would have been left open-ended (how did Locke end up in that coffin?), but no more than the amount of mysteries further multiplied by the last two seasons.
Seasons Five and Six brought in unnecessary drama and one-sided debates. Indeed, once Jack is converted by Locke, there is no scientific counterpoint. Plus, since both MiB and Jacob appear in the flesh, no one is here to doubt their existence.
It also tried to solve major philosophical questions (Fate vs. Free-Will, Science vs. Faith) that, despite being part of the show from the very beginning, certainly did not need to have a clear-cut answer (you can guess which one).
Even though The End thematically resonates to the show as a whole, it certainly is not a true conclusion to the series’ ongoing purpose, only its last season. Ultimately, it ended with a tribute to its own completion. Whether this will shape the way Lost is viewed for generations to come remains to be seen.