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Lost Finale Thoughts: From The End to the beginning

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.
Mission accomplished.

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.

Lost Finale Thoughts: Artificiality at its best (and worst)

One word can describe the Lost series finale: Artificiality.
Don’t get me wrong, it was not easy to be Darlton while writing the series finale of, arguably, the most-talked about TV series since the creation of the Internet. But summarizing that the show would be satisfying only for “believers”, a.k.a. viewers that wouldn’t obsess over mythological answers given in the finale, is ultimately a very cynical way of saying “if you don’t like that your version of the show living in your head is not the story we want to tell, that’s YOUR problem”.

I’d like to point out that however, it wouldn’t be fair stomping on the series finale for the lack of answers or mythology galore. It is a point that has been stressed by Darlton ever since the beginning of Season 6, that it would be all about the characters. I accept it as such, and will focus my criticism for what it is: essentially a character-driven series finale.

With its final twist, “Lost” has once again pulled the rug from under the feet of its devoted fans, except maybe those who were paralyzed by the emotion of characters they followed during six years leaving their screens forever. What Darlton didn’t realize is that there’s nothing wrong with being a little predictable, even more so during your endgame.
In fact, this is the second time viewers are proven completely wrong. After Season 4, everything pointed to a war between Benjamin Linus and Charles Widmore for control of the Island as the endgame of the show. It was rooted in characters, and the mythological knowledge of both those men would prove fertile territory for a decent endgame, as far as answers were concerned. There’s little doubt sacrifices would be made, Monsters would be used, alliances would be forged. Not unlike what we’ve seen in season 6. Except that both were made irrelevant by the introduction of Jacob and what we now know as the Man In Black, divine incarnations of the protector of the Island, and the Evil who’s trying to escape and be unleashed upon the World — or so we’re led to believe.

This was the endgame of “Lost”, and I’m ready to accept it. However, the big mystery of the season was the nature of the “flash-sideways”, where it appeared that all the survivors and characters live in a world where the Island sunk many years ago. They also remember little by little the events of their life on the Island, and they’re all led to meet each other. The emotional impact of the final scene left some viewers wrecked, and it would have been powerful…

…had it not been the Purgatory created by them after they died to come to grips with their issues, in a perpetual happy ending.

The “alternative timeline” was, to me, the more satisfying resolution, that would have implied they all died on the Island and were “projected” in Flight 815 by Jacob, who would give them back their free will, and a better set of choices for some characters. So, seeing all the cast fading into the white light to Heaven while Jack closed his eyes on the Island, with Vincent next to him, felt corny instead of powerful.

Yes, I actually laughed at the reveal made by the ultimate deus ex machina: Christian Shepard. Having this kind of sentimentality kicking off was just a cheap way of ignoring the fact that it could have gone another way. Having all these characters, almost, uniting at the Driveshaft concert, would have been as satisfying and emotional as what we got instead. Having them “projected” as a reward for preventing MIB from being unleashed upon the world was great, it also made them all heroes in the most noble sense. It reminds us of another HBO show I won’t name for those who don’t know how it ends, but that dealt with them better. Revealing that half of the final season was actually the characters evolving in a Disneyworld afterlife timeline, where everything would turn out “fine” in the end, far from the hassles of Craphole Island, was really more artificial, and also the worst way to end the show right behind “it was all a dream”. It’s also kind of sacrilegious to think that Darlton devoted a season showing characters in a Purgatory where they got what they were looking for, after debunking the Purgatory theories for the Island during the ENTIRE run. But it would have been predictable, and therefore the showrunners would feel like hacks just following the direction the fans thought they would go into.

Another amazing fact, not to be overlooked, is that we witnessed the Island losing its “specialness” during the finale. It actually should have relieved Ben and Hurley to know that they now have a desert island all to themselves, with no dangerous electromagnetism, Others, or angry deities to take care of. Really, having some characters escaping Craphole Island in the plane that was there all along without the potentiality of finding themselves in an electromagnetic cloud of danger was….convenient. This is also why Jack smiles while seeing a plane passing by: never will other people live what the survivors lived again. Pretty definitive ending for a show that’s supposed to be like “Star Trek” for ABC Studios.

You could feel that Darlton didn’t know when or how to make the characters die. In a way, I expected everyone to be dead, since they would be alive on “the other side” (which turned out to be just that). Maybe it was that two disappointing seasons made it feel easier to let go, for me at least. But faking the Jack death in the cave of Light so that he could die where he woke up, and thus obtain the iconic shot to close the series with, was laughable at best, ridiculous at worst.
Seeing the Jack/Locke scenes in the last few episodes also made me realize how much making Locke die in the season 4 finale was wrong, especially since that was to make way for the Man In Black, who turned out to be the least interesting baddie/foe on the show. (Unite the three baddies of the show in “What They Died For”, see who steals the spotlight.) There should have been a way to keep this iconic character as is for the remainder of the series, since the long con of MIB as John Locke for the latter part of Season 5 wasn’t very convincing to me. (It did provide humorous moments with Ben Linus, former most intriguing character on the show who is dumbfounded by the resurrected Locke, that gets him to do whatever he wants.) But if you replaced John Locke by Titus Welliver in those episodes, I don’t think the shock and mystery would have been that different.

This post is getting long, so I’ll get to my point. There’s nothing wrong, for a show that has been very unpredictable for the last six years, to be predictable with its finale. Giving a sense of alternate reality as opposed to an alternate afterlife would have worked. And I strongly feel that the sense of “letting go”, “moving on” with their issues, didn’t have to be translated through death. Especially since this alternate world gives them the keys to move on to every character, with largely better circumstances. So, stopping the sideways at the Driveshaft concert as opposed to the church would have felt satisfying to me. Same with everybody dying on the Island, at the same time, so that MIB dies with them and can’t escape. This is the time where the “version of the ending living in my head” makes more sense, and is more satisfying, since it basically boils down to the same thing. Since these characters’ most important moments are on the Island, projecting their bodies would have given them the unique opportunity to live a life with their loved ones outside of the Island, without all the trauma and death. That would have been as powerful an ending. But, like I said, that ending would have been predictable. I guess Darlton couldn’t accept to get away with that.

A letter from a Lost writer

I haven’t had the time to write my thoughts about Lost yet, but in the meantime, here is an anonymous post by one of the Lost writers. I’m being told it is legit.
Nonetheless, some of the points listed here are pretty interesting if you want to understand a bit more ‘what just happened’.

First …
The Island:

It was real. Everything that happened on the island that we saw throughout the 6 seasons was real. Forget the final image of the plane crash, it was put in purposely to f*&k with people’s heads and show how far the show had come. They really crashed. They really survived. They really discovered Dharma and the Others. The Island keeps the balance of good and evil in the world. It always has and always will perform that role. And the Island will always need a “Protector”. Jacob wasn’t the first, Hurley won’t be the last. However, Jacob had to deal with a malevolent force (MIB) that his mother, nor Hurley had to deal with. He created the devil and had to find a way to kill him — even though the rules prevented him from actually doing so.

Thus began Jacob’s plan to bring candidates to the Island to do the one thing he couldn’t do. Kill the MIB. He had a huge list of candidates that spanned generations. Yet every time he brought people there, the MIB corrupted them and caused them to kill one another. That was until Richard came along and helped Jacob understand that if he didn’t take a more active role, then his plan would never work.

Enter Dharma — which I’m not sure why John is having such a hard time grasping. Dharma, like the countless scores of people that were brought to the island before, were brought there by Jacob as part of his plan to kill the MIB. However, the MIB was aware of this plan and interfered by “corrupting” Ben. Making Ben believe he was doing the work of Jacob when in reality he was doing the work of the MIB. This carried over into all of Ben’s “off-island” activities. He was the leader. He spoke for Jacob as far as they were concerned. So the “Others” killed Dharma and later were actively trying to kill Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Hurley and all the candidates because that’s what the MIB wanted. And what he couldn’t do for himself.

Dharma was originally brought in to be good. But was turned bad by MIB’s corruption and eventually destroyed by his pawn Ben. Now, was Dharma only brought there to help Jack and the other Candidates on their overall quest to kill Smokey? Or did Jacob have another list of Candidates from the Dharma group that we were never aware of? That’s a question that is purposely not answered because whatever answer the writers came up with would be worse than the one you come up with for yourself. Still … Dharma’s purpose is not “pointless” or even vague. Hell, it’s pretty blatant.

Still, despite his grand plan, Jacob wanted to give his “candidates” (our Lostaways) the one thing he, nor his brother, were ever afforded: free will. Hence him bringing a host of “candidates” through the decades and letting them “choose” which one would actually do the job in the end. Maybe he knew Jack would be the one to kill Flocke and that Hurley would be the protector in the end. Maybe he didn’t. But that was always the key question of the show: Fate vs Free-will. Science vs Faith. Personally I think Jacob knew from the beginning what was going to happen and that everyone played a part over 6 seasons in helping Jack get to the point where he needed to be to kill Smokey and make Hurley the protector — I know that’s how a lot of the writers viewed it. But again, they won’t answer that (nor should they) because that ruins the fun.

In the end, Jack got to do what he always wanted to do from the very first episode of the show: Save his fellow Lostaways. He got Kate and Sawyer off the island and he gave Hurley the purpose in life he’d always been missing. And, in Sideways world (which we’ll get to next) he in fact saved everyone by helping them all move on …


Sideways World:

Sideways world is where it gets really cool in terms of theology and metaphysical discussion (for me at least — because I love history/religion theories and loved all the talks in the writer’s room about it). Basically what the show is proposing is that we’re all linked to certain people during our lives. Call them soulmates (though it’s not exactly the best word). But these people we’re linked to are with us during “the most important moments of our lives” as Christian said. These are the people we move through the universe with from lifetime to lifetime. It’s loosely based in Hinduism with large doses of western religion thrown into the mix.

The conceit that the writers created, basing it off these religious philosophies, was that as a group, the Lostaways subconsciously created this “sideways” world where they exist in purgatory until they are “awakened” and find one another. Once they all find one another, they can then move on and move forward. In essence, this is the show’s concept of the afterlife. According to the show, everyone creates their own “Sideways” purgatory with their “soulmates” throughout their lives and exist there until they all move on together. That’s a beautiful notion. Even if you aren’t religious or even spiritual, the idea that we live AND die together is deeply profound and moving.

It’s a really cool and spiritual concept that fits the whole tone and subtext the show has had from the beginning. These people were SUPPOSED to be together on that plane. They were supposed to live through these events — not JUST because of Jacob. But because that’s what the universe or God (depending on how religious you wish to get) wanted to happen. The show was always about science vs faith — and it ultimately came down on the side of faith. It answered THE core question of the series. The one question that has been at the root of every island mystery, every character backstory, every plot twist. That, by itself, is quite an accomplishment.

How much you want to extrapolate from that is up to you as the viewer. Think about season 1 when we first found the Hatch. Everyone thought that’s THE answer! Whatever is down there is the answer! Then, as we discovered it was just one station of many. One link in a very long chain that kept revealing more, and more of a larger mosaic.

But the writer’s took it even further this season by contrasting this Sideways “purgatory” with the Island itself. Remember when Michael appeared to Hurley, he said he was not allowed to leave the Island. Just like the MIB. He wasn’t allowed into this sideways world and thus, was not afforded the opportunity to move on. Why? Because he had proven himself to be unworthy with his actions on the Island. He failed the test. The others, passed. They made it into Sideways world when they died — some before Jack, some years later. In Hurley’s case, maybe centuries later. They exist in this sideways world until they are “awakened” and they can only move on TOGETHER because they are linked. They are destined to be together for eternity. That was their destiny.

They were NOT linked to Anna Lucia, Daniel, Rousseau, Alex, Miles, Lapidus, (and all the rest who weren’t in the church — basically everyone who wasn’t in season 1). Yet those people exist in Sideways world. Why? Well again, here’s where they leave it up to you to decide. The way I like to think about it, is that those people who were left behind in Sideways world have to find their own soulmates before they can wake up. It’s possible that those links aren’t people from the island but from their other life (Anna’s partner, the guy she shot — Rousseau’s husband, etc etc).

A lot of people have been talking about Ben and why he didn’t go into the Church. And if you think of Sideways world in this way, then it gives you the answer to that very question. Ben can’t move on yet because he hasn’t connected with the people he needs to. It’s going to be his job to awaken Rousseau, Alex, Anna Lucia (maybe), Ethan, Goodspeed, his father and the rest. He has to atone for his sins more than he did by being Hurley’s number two. He has to do what Hurley and Desmond did for our Lostaways with his own people. He has to help them connect. And he can only move on when all the links in his chain are ready to. Same can be said for Faraday, Charlotte, Widmore, Hawkings etc. It’s really a neat, and cool concept. At least to me.

But, from a more “behind the scenes” note: the reason Ben’s not in the church, and the reason no one is in the church but for Season 1 people is because they wrote the ending to the show after writing the pilot. And never changed it. The writers always said (and many didn’t believe them) that they knew their ending from the very first episode. I applaud them for that. It’s pretty fantastic. Originally Ben was supposed to have a 3 episode arc and be done. But he became a big part of the show. They could have easily changed their ending and put him in the church — but instead they problem solved it. Gave him a BRILLIANT moment with Locke outside the church … and then that was it. I loved that. For those that wonder — the original ending started the moment Jack walked into the church and touches the casket to Jack closing his eyes as the other plane flies away. That was always JJ’s ending. And they kept it.

For me the ending of this show means a lot. Not only because I worked on it, but because as a writer it inspired me in a way the medium had never done before. I’ve been inspired to write by great films. Maybe too many to count. And there have been amazing TV shows that I’ve loved (X-Files, 24, Sopranos, countless 1/2 hour shows). But none did what LOST did for me. None showed me that you could take huge risks (writing a show about faith for network TV) and stick to your creative guns and STILL please the audience. I learned a lot from the show as a writer. I learned even more from being around the incredible writers, producers, PAs, interns and everyone else who slaved on the show for 6 years.

In the end, for me, LOST was a touchstone show that dealt with faith, the afterlife, and all these big, spiritual questions that most shows don’t touch. And to me, they never once waivered from their core story — even with all the sci-fi elements they mixed in. To walk that long and daunting of a creative tightrope and survive is simply astounding.