I’m over a week late, and maybe we’ve all moved on by now, but I’m going to talk a bit about the final episode of Lost. I’ll be assuming you’ve either seen it by now or don’t care, so spoilers will abound.
I liked it. That’s the short version that doesn’t spoil too much.
I’ve not always been a huge fan of the show. I joined in with most of the standard criticism for the roughly five years in the middle of its six-year run where it was annoying and confusing and didn’t make any sense. I often thought it was a great premise being under-used by a creative team fixated on providing constant intrigue at the expense of coherence or consistency, or even basic logic or reasonableness.
And all of that still applied until pretty near the end of the show’s run. But the finale I enjoyed for what it was.
It was never going to be able to resolve years’ worth of loose ends and sloppy plotting, but for the final season the traditional easy criticism – that the writers are making it all up as they go and have no more clue what’s going on than we do – clearly wasn’t true. Now, at least, they were planning this stuff out, preparing for the end-game, and knew what they wanted to explain and what should be left alone.
It has had its staunch defenders, as well as its critics, and some have complained that anyone who didn’t like how it ended just wants everything handed to them on a platter, and are missing the point that explaining everything in obvious terms would destroy the mystery. Which is a little unfair. I’m okay with some elements of a story being ineffable, if its used well, but you’d be hard pressed to argue that every loose thread that Lost just left dangling over the years was a creative masterstroke that added further to the intrigue and mystique. Some of it really was just bad storytelling, and at least some of these questions really did deserve to be cleared up if the entire six years was going to hold together as one brilliant piece of art in itself.
But some of them really didn’t need to be explicitly resolved. And some of them I think were resolved, at least to my own satisfaction. And sometimes people won’t get it even when you explain it all, anyway.
Seriously, the number of people annoyed because they thought the final reveal was “They were dead all along” is bewildering. I thought Jack’s dad explained it quite clearly enough: everything on the island really happened, but the flash-sideways scenes scattered throughout the final season weren’t real. Specifically, the scenes that were being set up as an “alternate timeline” – a parallel version of reality in which they never crashed on the island because it had been blown up by the bomb they set off in the past – were an imaginary construct they found themselves in after they died. It was a fictional scenario they put themselves in, or that was put together for them, so that they could find each other before moving on, through the door in the church to whatever comes next.
Charlie died several years back. It’s implied that Hurley and Ben continued to live on the island way beyond the timespan we see depicted in the show. It seems safe to assume that everyone on the plane at the end had some sort of post-Island life, too. And Jack died right at the end of the narrative, in a rather lovely mirroring of the whole series’ very first shots. And after the time comes for each of them to die, they find themselves staying a while in the holding-place of the flash-sideways world, slowly remembering all they went through in life, and realising where they should be going next.
People writing in Lost‘s defense have often brought up that it’s always been predominantly character-driven, rather than plot-driven. This may be true, but it doesn’t get the show off the hook quite as effectively as some people seem to hope for the various problems exhibited in the plotting. The story should still be coherent, and logical, and abide by its own rules, even if it’s not intended to provide the main thrust to the drama; it’s not madly unreasonable to claim that Lost rather fell down on some of these points over the years.
But I think it’s a mistake to see things only in terms of the plot, and where that went wrong in its lengthy journey. The traditional episode format involved flashing back from one character’s current situation on the island, to their former life, often examining some particular minutiae of something they’ve been through in the past. And while it might be easy (and god knows I’ve been tempted) to try brushing these aside as being irrelevant to “the proper storyline”, these are where all the flavour of the show comes in, and why we give a crap what happens to any of these characters in “the proper storyline” anyway.
It didn’t make up for everything they were lax about along the way, but given the limitations they’d imposed on themselves with the last few years’ worth of often flawed storytelling, I thought it was a great send-off.