Post mortem: Lost

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The ending of Lost was ambiguous and fairly hard to grasp, some would say disappointing. I think I’ve finally gotten it, and I’ve decided whether I liked it or not. Here’s what happened.

Spoilers. Stop reading if you haven’t seen every episode of Lost.

Was it all just a dream?

Over the course of several years, we’ve followed a team of plane crash survivors as they explore a super mysterious island. Every episode brought new mysteries and for every answer several new questions popped up. It’s been the best mystery show on television since Twin Peaks.

Sure, going into the final season, a few of us worried that only the God Did It cop out could explain everything that was going on. So when the show finale involved a church and a tunnel of light, I’m sure more fans than myself were confused. Annoyed. Enraged to be frank.

Worse yet; had it all just been a dream? The show famously opened along with Jacks eyes. Since it also closed with Jacks eyes, could it be that six years of television had simply been the lucid dream of the guy from Party of Five?

It’s been a while since the finale, and I have it figured out now. The bad news is, half of season 6 — the “flash sideways” scenes — that was Jacks lucid dream. The good news is, that means five of the seasons were not part of a dream. The island was real, the time travel was real. Most importantly, it means the infamous church scene was also just a figment of Jacks imagination. Which ironically is perhaps the most realistic thing about the whole show, if you think about it.

The Church Scene

What Christian Shepard was supposed to explain to us, but in my opinion failed to, was that the entire alternative universe we saw in season 6, was Jacks dream. Meaning: the hydrogen bomb did go off, but it did not submerge the island to the bottom of the sea. So when Juliet died, she died. When Jin and Sun drowned on the submarine, that was it for them. When Lapidus got the plane up to speed and it flew away from the island, the passengers were pretty much the only survivors of this ordeal — plus Rose and Bernard who stayed on the island of course. When Jack went back to the bamboo forest to lay down and die, in the seconds it took for his mind to dissipate into the ether as his eyes closed, the entirety of what we thought was the alternative universe, flashed before his eyes.

In a way, this fits nicely with the mindfuck we were presented with at the end of season 3; that the flash-backs we thought we had seen throughout the season were in fact flash-forwards. In the same vein, what the Christian Shepard scene was supposed to explain in an  M. Night Shyamalan-esque reveal, was that the flash-sideways were part of Jacks dream. It took me a while to get this, but fortunately this means that Lost didn’t entirely pull a Patrick Duffy shower scene.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMR5setaS7I

So while Lost might not have answered all the questions it promised to answer, at least the ending wasn’t overly sadistic. Six years of television wasn’t all just a dream. Only half of one season was. Which means:

  • It wasn’t a happy ending for everyone. Miles, Lapidus and Claire got off the island on the plane; Rose and Bernard chose to stay on the island.
  • Richard Alpert got off the island and got his first gray hair, meaning he can now live out his life normally. Some sort of redemption in that.
  • Kate and Sawyer, while also on the plane, both had their sweethearts taken from them.
  • Desmond being dragged out of the well and, I’m sure, with the help of now-special Hugo and his number two Ben, had a better way than the plane to get Desmond back to his Penny.
  • Faraday, the best character of the show, wasn’t resurrected.
  • Sayid died and never got his Nadia; Shannon being the silver medal.

The ending leaves these questions unanswered:

  1. What is the island? Alpert teased this question in one of the last season episodes, indicating we’d get an answer to it (Chekov’s gun). We didn’t get an answer to that exact question, but I’m gonna try to piece it together.
  2. What exactly was Desmonds role? Why was he the fail-safe for Widmore? What did that machine do to Desmond?
  3. What was the loophole that Jacob had found?

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So, here’s some speculation.

What is the island?

The Island is the real MacGuffin of the show. Having failed (I no longer think, postponed) to explain what exactly it was, the writers invented The Well in season 6, a mysterious, magical fountain at the center of the island. Having thought about it — I think I approve of this last minute mystery pseudo-explanation. Readers will know that I’m no fan of spiritual answers, and so I’ve been skeptical of this aspect of the final season. But let me explain why I’ve now come to like The Well.

The Well ties up a bunch of hard-to-answer questions in one large bundle of a super-question: what is The Well? Sure, we don’t get a satisfying answer to that one: the well is the source of good and evil in the world. (Which is the kind of “it sounds like magic” Highlander 2 answer I was worried about).

Here’s why I like that answer anyway:

  • The well gave Jacob long life.
  • The well gave Jacob the mysterious powers that:
    • gave Alpert long life
    • gave the numbers mystical powers
  • The well created the smoke monster
  • The smoke monster was responsible for the apparitions, including Kate’s horse and Jacks dead dad

Essentially, The Well is the cause of all the most mindboggling events on the entire show. So, while “The Well did it”, isn’t an entirely satisfying answer, as umbrella answers go it’s certainly better than “god did it”.

So what about Backgammon?

Prior to this final season, I speculated my way to an ending. Turns out most of it was right.

Except this:

Forget electromagnetism. Forget time travel. Forget polar-bears, sharks and daddy issues. The real question Jacob and Man In Black has been fighting over since we worshipped celestial bodies and cut hieroglyphs in to walls is this: can we improve or not?

In my mind, there was a delicious duality between Jacob and his nemesis, between black and white, between two players of Backgammon. As it turned out, however, the grand mystery of whether humans are inherently good or evil wasn’t the point of the show.

In retrospect, black and white are good plot devices to build a mythology around. Luke Skywalker wears a white suit, Darth Vader wears a black suit. Good and evil are central to great cinema.

Lost was all about creating a mystery show that could last for several seasons. To that end, J.J. Abrams created a mysterious location, an Island on which weird things happen. If the show took off, it could run for years, and the mysteries could always be explained simply: The Island did it.

Cynical that may be, it doesn’t destroy the fact that we received five years of intense television. A plethora of gorgeous of Lost artwork has been created. A beautiful soundtrack was composed. The episode “The Constant” was made.

So there’s that.

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7 thoughts on “Post mortem: Lost”

  1. My standpoint is, even after reading this, that the end of the show was so incredibly poor, that it retroactively made the entire show shitty.

    In my world view, mystery without answer is boringly easy to invent, and if you don’t actually have the true, proper answer to the mysteries you pose, you are just being a shitty, lazy writer.
    Mystery WITH a proper answer, which is entirely logical when you get the answer, AND makes you think “I should have known!” is hard to do. And impressive. And fun.

    The Lost variant of mystery is just shit, and I think it’s incredibly sad that they created several truly fantastic seasons of this show, and then ended up just pissing it all away.

    1. Joen says:

      Brian Meidell,

      I certainly felt like you for a while after the finale, hence the delay on this post.

      But dagnammit, no matter how much the finale screwed me over, “The Constant” is still a bloody awesome episode. And I can’t deny the watercooler talks and overall TV pleasure Lost as a whole has brought me over the past six years. There’s just no ignoring it.

  2. I get that, but if you condense it into one long movie, you’d walk out of the theater and deem it shit.

    1. Joen says:

      Brian Meidell,

      That’s a good counter. Fortunately it isn’t a movie. And because it isn’t, I’m thinking they could actually make a Lost spinoff show which “fixes” the finale. Yep, I’m hopeful like that.

  3. Riad says:

    Hi there,

    I stumbled on this blog post while browsing your blog after perusing a random twitter link. Anyway, just wanted to point on that I enjoyed your article on Lost.

    I have to disagree with one point of your post though. I don’t think that the jump-sideways section were just a dream. Its been some time since I saw the finale, but I think what it implied was more that this was some kind of pre-heaven. There is one line between Hurley and Ben where Hurley says something like: “We made a good team”, seemingly referring to the time after Jack died and Hurley and Ben stayed on the island to protect it. So these sequences, might not even happen in the moment when Jack died, but maybe many years in the future, his spirit being stuck in a place between the island and the afterlife until it had found its inner peace. (I think its also implied that the ghost voices on the island actually also come from spirits stuck in the before-after-life).

    Sure, all of this could also have been part of Jacks imagination, but I don’t think that the authors would put up a entirely different explanation for this whole sub plot, just to misslead the viewers in the very last moment of the show. The after-life explanation is at least what they wanted the viewer to take away.

    Personally, I’m not really into the spiritual ending and would actually prefer it to just have been a deam, but I think that’s not what the authors gave us.

    1. Joen says:

      Riad,

      Hey Riad,

      Well, I guess one of my beefs with the flash sideways was that they were so ambiguous.

      For those people who — I’m sure the authors would know — would be disappointed in Jack’s death, and all the misery of couples dying or not getting to be together, they would be allowed to interpret this in the spiritual sense in that they were all joined in heaven.

      For people like me — and it sounds like you — to whom the heaven thing rubs them the wrong way, we can interpret Jack’s flash sideways as just a dream.

      However, two things, I feel, suggest Jack was dreaming:

      – After the finale, Matthew Fox was on Jimmy Kimmel. The story goes that Fox was the only one who “knew how the show would end”. And so Kimmel asked Fox, “Did you really know?”, and he said, “I was told that the show would start with me opening my eyes, and me closing my eyes [dying]”. I read from that that Fox definitely died there. That’s one signal.
      – There’s a DVD extra, called “The New Man In Charge”. It’s a mini episode, showing Hugo and Ben and how they handle the new situation as leaders on the island after the Finale. Which indicates the little tidbit we saw of them in the finale was not years in the future.

      So yeah, there’s that.

  4. Kimberly Tomlinson says:

    So, I’m a huge fan of Fringe, and most everything that JJ Abrams and his team does, (although season 4 of fringe was only fair to midlin in my opinion.) Anyway, during its run I never could get into Lost because it had such a complex backstory that it was hard to pick up bits and pieces without watching consistently. So, I decided to give it a try on Netflix last week and it occurred to me that for 6 years this show was created, written, acted, directed and viewed by millions and that we now have the capacity to take all of that in during moments of obsession. I have just spent the last week or so imprisoned by this story and its island and its characters. I just couldn’t stop watching. Coming to the close of the story I was desperate for an ending that would have felt like it was worthy of the characters and their journey to this crazy island.

    Its the morning after staying up to watch the season finale at 2am and it was devastating! Unsatisfying. Disappointing. Auuuughhh! The whole fad into the light and Jack being dead and everyone else living and or dying but still meeting here in this place. That sucked. After losing a week of my life and for viewers who watched for 6 years, these characters deserved a better ending. For example, the hydrogen bomb did detonate, it did work, but psychologically it was required of each person on the island to be willing to leave, even if its a metaphoric death. After all that, don’t the deserve a second chance to do it over. What does Kate say right before she leaves, something like, nothings irreversible. I also like the idea that perhaps you meet the people that you are destined to meet in your life, not matter weather that happens on a plane crash or because someone alters time. Maybe there are two different realities that occur simultaneously and we all exist slightly uniquely in each of them. (very fringy i know, but there is the element of time travel and with the bomb we open up a completely different reality for the passengers on that flight. Somewhere, they never crashed on that island and their paths crossed because karma’s a bitch or fate sucks or whatever.

    I am just going to forget that whole journey into the light ending. The only way that works for me is if in Jack’s dying he encounters pieces of people in his life and from the island that were important, but not final. Like simultaneous occurrences, but that somewhere, all the folks in that room have lived out their lives without the influence of the Island because unbeknownst to our hero his in that moment, it did work.

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