Spoiler Warning: This whole article is gonna be spoilers. Y’all been warned!
You might think this is kind of sad, but aside from the pilot and the finale and maybe a couple of other exceptions, I’ve always watched Lost alone. There are 121 episodes in total, and I’ve watched the majority of them via Netflix rentals (and late at night) – if I had to wait for company, I might have never gotten through it all. Probably as a result of that schedule, I’m not one of those people who talk Lost theories ad nauseum. I’ve always just watched the show, been impressed with it, and moved on with my business. Maybe I don’t qualify as a Lost super-fan, but I was looking forward to this final season and in particular, this final episode, as much as most other people. [If you want to read what I wrote at the beginning of Season Six, you can read it HERE.] 121 episodes is a major time commitment, a not-insignificant fraction of my personal time. When you watch this much of a show, and follow characters over six seasons, even if they’re fictional, it becomes a personal thing. At a certain point, you make the decision to ride the whole thing out and you hope it’ll be worth it by the end. So what would I say about the final episode of Lost, which aired last night, if I only had three words to say it?
I was satisfied.
The most cursory glance over the internet this morning will prove that there are very many people who didn’t feel the same way. Lost is a show which raised about a thousand mysterious plot points, and while the sixth and final season in particular dispensed answers to many of those long-standing mysteries like a stadium vendor tossing peanuts to a loudly-vocal and demanding bleacher crowd, it did not answer everything.
Spoiler Warning: The Lost finale does not answer everything!
I venture to say that the way the individual viewer reacts to the Lost finale has a lot to do with what kind of person you are, at heart. This is NOT a value judgment. There is nothing wrong with expecting answers to all of your questions, after investing 121 episode’s worth of time into a television series – in fact, it’s the rational response and it’s an entirely justified expectation. But that’s just not what Lost ultimately wanted to do or to be, and while for me personally it worked, I’d have to understand why other people were left wanting. This goes beyond the central question of reason (Jack) versus faith (Locke) that proved to be the central concern of the show – this spreads to the method of storytelling itself. Some people prefer a sturdy, solidly-constructed, immaculately structured story (and if that’s what you’re looking for, why aren’t you watching Breaking Bad? It’s fucking awesome!), but on the other hand, some people are willing to forgive a story its meandering and digressions if it makes up for it in emotional honesty. I happen to be a viewer who appreciates both. I am in awe of a story that maintains its initial intent and neatly ties up every single loose end, but I also treasure art that has its heart in the right place.
In that way, the Lost finale made me think of probably my favorite comic series of all time, Preacher by writer Garth Ennis and artist Steve Dillon. Preacher starts out when God vacates Heaven and abandons His creations, and a rogue minister teams up with his ex-girlfriend (Tulip) and a new friend (Cassidy, who happens to be an alcoholic vampire) in order to track down the Lord and force Him to account for his actions. The whole series is based around the premise that this guy, Jesse Custer, is going to track down God and confront Him. But Jesse is betrayed by his friend when Cassidy hooks up with Tulip during a time when Jesse is presumed dead, and the storyline takes multiple digressions as Jesse tries to find his center after being abandoned by his girl and his best buddy. The ending of Preacher has been called disappointing by some, because it doesn’t end with a fiery battle between Jesse Custer and God. Jesse enlists the series’ most fearsome supporting character to handle the Lord (that character is named the Saint of Killers – long story), and that confrontation happens fairly quickly (and blasphemously). Meanwhile, the main conflict of the series turns out to be that between Jesse and his friend Cassidy, a conflict that became increasingly necessary to the series but was never a part of the premise. Tellingly, here are Cassidy’s parting words to Jesse, expressed in a letter:
“This is a weird wee thought, and I’m probably just being a dick and flattering myself, but I can’t help wondering if maybe the big job you took on wasn’t really about God and everything, about saving the world or whatever. If maybe it was more about saving me. Isn’t it funny when you think your story’s going one way, and it turns out it was going another way all along?”
I do believe that this is an instance of the character speaking for the author (and not for nothing are both of them Irishmen) – and this speaks directly towards my point about Lost and its already-controversial finale. A story can be many things. A story can be told many ways. A story can be a taut, concise, airtight thing, that achieves exactly what it declares that it will from the outset, such as Jaws or Raiders Of The Lost Ark or Ghostbusters or Die Hard or Predator or Collateral or No Country For Old Men or A Fistful Of Dollars. A story can also be an organic thing, a thing with twists and turns and detours that have more to do with character than with plot. It isn’t that the detours aren’t important to the whole, and it certainly isn’t that the detours weren’t intentional on the part of its creators, but sometimes they are detours that take the chance to happen outside of the story’s main structure in order to allow the work to be more fulfilling on the emotional level. Examples of these in movies (arguably) are Once Upon A Time In The West, The Good The Bad & The Ugly, Heat, 25th Hour, The Big Lebowski, and There Will Be Blood. All of these examples I’m citing are some of my favorite movies. Some are considered to be classics, and some are not. I love them all, but some of them in different ways. When all is done and said, I try to look at what they wanted to achieve. If some of them sacrifice structural sanctity for emotional integrity, then I still appreciate them for that. A few more pop-culture examples are then, I believe, Preacher, and now Lost. (Talking TV, I believe that The Shield is an example of the former and The Sopranos is an example of the latter.)
Lost began as a Twilight Zone styled real-world science-fiction thriller, and turned out to be, most obviously in the final episode, an allegory meant to ponder concepts of spirituality. Did Lost betray itself? I don’t think so. It’s well-documented that Lost began with J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof as creators, and then, as J.J. moved into other projects, Damon collaborated with Carlton Cuse – I’m reducing it here to the showrunners, but a whole band of talented creators worked on Lost (and whatever you think of the ending, you can’t argue that the writing was top-notch for six seasons straight.) The point here is that of course the nature of the show morphed over time – it was born of the alchemy that comes from different artists collaborating, and it continued in that vein. Was there ever a master plan? I don’t know, although the series did neatly dovetail from its opening image to the corresponding final image (in that, at least, a very classic screenwriting mould) – it’s possible that the dots were all lined up to be connected from the beginning, although I doubt it. These are obviously a group of writers and actors too on fire with the love of ideas to ever fully restrict themselves. I bet that the Lost creators had a lot of fun exploring the story they started out with, and allowed it to take them through many avenues that weren’t there at the beginning. I bet that there were false starts and course corrections that happened along the way. All of that is possible, or I’m wrong, but I’ll tell you one thing – these guys believed in the product they were selling. To me, that’s a rare virtue in modern entertainment, and yeah haters, I will absolutely forgive them the fact that they left some answers on the table as long as they managed to move me.
One thing that Lost has always been is an intensely emotional show. That’s why you’re seeing all these lists online of “Top Lost Moments That Made Us Cry” or some such. Lost is an emotionally alive show – while its motives and reasons for being were almost always concealed, its heart was always on its sleeve. That comes from the writing, and of course from a stable of actors who deserve all the accolades they can tolerate. We’re talking about the deeply underrated efforts of Evangeline Lilly, Josh Holloway, and Naveen Andrews, to name a few, along with the accurately-rated efforts of Terry O’Quinn (brilliant) and Michael Emerson (brilliant.) Then there’s Jorge Garcia, who played Hurley as so unflappable through so much of the show and as such was all the more affecting when the big outbursts came (was there another character who was harder to see cry?). Ultimately though, as much as it truly was an ensemble cast, I think it turned out to be Jack’s show, and you have to hand it to Matthew Fox for carrying it so ably. Dr. Jack Shephard was the most identifiably and traditionally heroic character in the show’s pilot, and he was always central to the main action of the series. He was the character who most of the other characters most frequently looked to as the leader of the shipwrecked survivors, and the one most committed to protecting them. He was the character most consumed with shouldering responsibility, and the character most frequently at odds with the show’s other prominent and intense worldviews – usually those of the cynic Sawyer, the schemer Ben, or the proselytizer Locke.
So whether or not it was the plan all along, the show’s final episode recast Jack as the main protagonist of Lost. This was his story. The other characters were all significant players, but most significant as what they meant to Jack. It was Jack’s father Christian, in that final conversation, who explained a lot of what we the audience wanted most to know (which makes it clear that Jack is our surrogate) – everything that we saw on Lost happened, the Island wasn’t a dream or some purgatory (although the sixth season’s Sideways storyline seemed to have been either or both.) No, Jack didn’t die in the plane crash, though he most certainly died at the end of the final episode. Jack went through all of it: he survived the crash of Flight 815, he did his best to protect the survivors, he argued with John Locke about whether or not they were brought to the Island for a reason, he battled Ben Linus and the Others, he had a thing with Ana Lucia, he had a thing with Juliet, he got off the Island with the Oceanic Six, he hooked up with Kate for a while (lucky bastard), he realized that Locke was right about everything, he fell into depression and pills and booze when Locke died, he went back to the Island, he volunteered to take over for Jacob as the Island’s protector, he was mortally wounded in his efforts to save the Island and his friends, he lay down in that bamboo forest, and right there, with the long-lost Vincent (Walt’s dog) lying next to him, he died.
It’s Jack who had the spiritual conversion. He was the man of science, the man of reason. He didn’t believe in good or evil, in smoke monsters or resurrections. He couldn’t believe that there were incomprehensible forces beyond his control. For the longest time, he couldn’t accept that he couldn’t save everyone. (I relate to this shit like you wouldn’t believe.) He fought with Locke right up until the end, and all that that implies. He fought with Locke, the man, over ideology and the willingness to believe, and then of course he fought with Locke when he finally did believe, and he had to battle the form of Locke which had been taken over by a great evil. There are some pretty obvious references to Christianity here, but I don’t think that the ending of Lost is explicitly Christian in conception. I think that it does endorse a general faith, a need to believe in something spiritual, even if that something is something as unspecific and as all-encompassing as love.
That’s what that final scene in the church was about. That’s why it ends there, with those specific characters. That’s why Jack’s dad, whom he always yearned most to connect with, was his tour guide, so to speak. Kate was there because Jack loved her. Juliet was there because Jack briefly loved her too, and Sawyer was there because Jack wanted Juliet to be happy, and also because he and Sawyer had such an intense rivalry that they could only be friends. Locke was there because, as Jack said, he always wanted to tell Locke that he was right. Hurley was there because everyone loves Hurley. Rose and Bernard were there because who doesn’t love Rose and Bernard? Sun and Jin were there because they were Jack’s friends, and he wanted to see them as they were, one more time. Same thinking with Charlie. And Charlie was reunited with Claire because, as Jack’s half-sister, Jack wanted to see her happy. Desmond was there with Penny because, in a way, Jack owed this moment to Desmond. Sayid was there because he was Jack’s friend, but why, some have asked, was he with Shannon? My opinion: Not because she was Sayid’s ultimate love, but because she was the love that Jack knew her to have. Shannon was also there because she is one of the people Jack tried to save, which is also why Boon was there. Think about it: Why else would Shannon and Boon be there, unless Lost’s finale was its own wrap party, as the cynics might suggest? That group of characters was all about Jack. That’s why Ben Linus couldn’t come inside. He was permitted some measure of peace, because Jack would hope to forgive him, but Ben had done too much evil to be fully welcomed with open arms. The best kind of spirituality is the kind that centers around forgiveness and love, and I think that in his final moments, Jack had arrived at that spirituality,
This all sounds unbearably saccharine as I’m typing it, and apparently to some folks it was. But to me, it was perfect. It was a bold and risky thing to play, but the cast pitched it so perfectly, aided by Michael Giacchino’s unforgettable score, that it was thoroughly convincing in my eyes. Matthew Fox played it so smartly, with hesitation and anticipation gradually brimming over towards acceptance, and Evangeline Lilly played that last scene between them in the car with all the promise of love that any smile a pretty girl ever gave a guy. The folks in the church all emitted a great warmth that felt genuine, none so much as John Terry, previously so unknowable and mercurial in the recurring role of Jack’s complicated and troubled father. This was Jack’s funeral, the end of the show, and the end of a hard-fought journey, and it felt sad and hopeful at the same time. Sad and hopeful. That’s what the end is like. That’s what life is like. That’s why I like this show so much.
Did you agree? Disagree? I’d be curious to have my first real conversation about Lost! Just be nice, since I’m not interested in getting yelled at over the internet and besides, nobody can convince me not to love the things I love. So come on then: What did you think?