After 6 seasons, television’s most controversial television show ends. Whether you were a die hard fan, unabashed critic or casual viewer, you can’t deny Lost was truly an original show that pushed network television in a direction never before seen. Few shows challenged their audience as intensely or as often as Lost has. The show was never perfect and it never claimed to be. One might argue it never wanted to be. And that, is the simple beauty of Lost.
Unlike many, I had given up on trying to “figure out” the show. After Season 3, I came to a few conclusions, first the writers knew more than I did, and I trusted them unequivocally. Second I enjoyed the ride. I was consistently surprised and I didn’t want that element taken away. I didn’t mind being in the dark, not knowing what was around the next bend.
I’m not afraid to admit I was completely sucked into the Lost universe. I own the DVDs. I watched each episode multiple times. I listened to the writer’s podcast. I was on board with the series from the first time I saw Jack’s eye open. I defended (and still do to this day) the much lampooned “cages arc,” the Nikki and Paulo episode and the time-travel. But as we approached the finale, even I, the consummate “Lostie” was nervous about how the series would wrap up.
No episode confirmed my fears as much as the final season’s 15th episode “Across the Sea.” While it was an interesting episode, it seemed Lost was going to fall into the “midi-chlorian” trap of explaining things we really didn’t ask it to explain. This was Lost’s equivalent of sitting us down and having the “birds and the bees” talk. It gave us the information we were wondering about, but the conversation was uncomfortable and in the end maybe we would have been better figuring it out on our own. Was this what the finale was going to be like? Was this how Lost was going to go out!? A show that had been so focused on character above all else. Was it going to be boxed into a corner trying to explain away all it’s “secrets”?
Thankfully while watching “What They Died For,” I suspected all my fears would be alleviated. I was right. It turned out “Across the Sea” was merely, and maybe appropriately, a test of our faith. Appropriately titled, “The End” was quite simply one of the finest television finales I’ve seen.
From purely a standpoint of series finales the “The End” got almost everything right. It carefully looked back over the series and made a point about where we had been over the last 6 seasons without falling into the trap of giving us a glorified clip show. It boldly looked forward and sought to give closure to both characters and story lines without suddenly committing character assassination or wrapping up multiple story lines with one fowl swoop for the sake of wrapping things up. Most importantly it made a statement about the over arching message of the series casting the entire series in a new and enlightened context.
Looking back, we have come a long way since we first woke up in that bamboo forest. This was something Lost’s writers couldn’t overlook. As a result, they did a great job at reminding the audience of all the places we had been. Their recreation of events in the sideways story line was an inspired way to connect us back to the emotional moments that made Lost so great. The circle of life was in full effect including ultrasounds, births, first steps, lessons in love and finally dealing with death. We were reminded of the great moments in the show that connect not only the characters to each other but connected us to the series.
Deeper than the “flashes” of scenes we got in the sideways as characters reconnected, there were homages to important moments, usually finales, we’ve seen through out the series. As we looked down the waterfall with Locke and Jack we’re harkened back when we thought all our questions would be answered if we could just see through the darkness to the base of that mysterious hatch. Jack’s meditation before opening a casket, his disposal of Locke’s body and even the simplicity of a candy bar getting stuck in a machine, remind us, if only subconsciously, of the complexity of the series that preceded. Each homage points to a moment when we were sure we were just about to figure the mysteries out.
Lost has always been a show about mysteries. Each week we tuned in to see what piece of the puzzle awaited our analysis. Contrary to popular opinion, we got most of the answers we were looking for. They may not have been the answers we were hoping for, but we got answers nonetheless. The fact there were a few strands that were still loose at the end of the day doesn’t bother me at all. If everything had been tied up with a neat bow, it wouldn’t have felt right. Part of the fun of Lost was staying up late and arguing the meaning of that look Ben gave or whether Walt really was the key to the whole story. In the end, the writers left enough bed crumbs to allow us to make assumptions about those mysteries still left open ended but at the same time gave us enough wiggle room to support 3 AM discussions. Most importantly they gave us all of this without cheating the audience
I’ve been a fan of the sideways stories all season long, but they were a little bit worrisome. Was this going to be the writers’s “out” so everyone could have a happy ending? Thankfully this wasn’t the case. In fact the finale arguably featured no cheats. We didn’t get a “St. Elsewhere” or “Newhart” ending. We didn’t suddenly discover our grief over the deaths of Charlie and Boone was in vain. We had no moment that discounted everything that came before. Let me be clear about a massive misunderstanding: everything we’ve seen on and off the island except for the “flash-sideways” was real, within the reality of the series. Everything in the series mattered, especially death.
For a show that may be the best example of postmodern storytelling, with it’s sprawling diverse cast, nonlinear storyline, and hundreds of other cultural references, Lost ended in a surprisingly spiritual fashion. Here we come the series’ final half-hour, where Lost makes it’s larger point. Anyone who jumps up and down about purgatory misses the point. Lost is more complex than that. What we do in our lives matters. It matters for this life and whatever comes after. Our lives are not inconsequential. In a world in which no one wants to take responsibility for their actions, Lost stands and argues otherwise. Lost’s didactic message from episode one has been we are screwed up, we make mistakes, the result of our actions affects the people and world around us. But there is redemption. Lost doesn’t stretch to say what specifically that redemption might be, but rather simply points to it’s existence.
So after 6 seasons, 121 episodes and numerous sleepless nights, Lost ends with a bang. I had been hesitant to put it in the stratosphere of the great all time shows. While it was always groundbreaking from a story standpoint, it didn’t seem to be quite as timely as a Battlestar Galactica or as relevant as The West Wing. All of that changed this season. Suddenly the entire series was cast in a new light. Lost doesn’t seek to merely stand in this time and place with their message, though it does, but rather searches for universal truths. The same truths writers of stories have sought for millennia. Rather than hitting the audience over the head with their message, they were able to sum up the series in one, albeit extremely complex, point… Life matters.