[Antenna Editors’ Note: As this is our last weekly Lost post, it’s now time for us to graciously thank Jason Mittell for this wonderful addition to Antenna. And now, back to your regular scheduled programming …]
My short take on the finale (before a supersize post) is that it was outstanding, both subverting and fulfilling my expectations. In the still emerging storytelling mode of complex primetime serials, the finale is almost bound to disappoint, by being too ambiguous, too forced, or too atypical of an episode. Lost‘s “The End” – a name more apt than we realized – finds the sweet spot for me, concluding on its own terms in ways that seemed surprising while watching, but completely organic and earned in retrospect.
In my blog about the different type of answers that Lost might – or might not – deliver, I discussed a number of plot mysteries that I felt needed to be answered to prove satisfying: in addition to resolving the reality status of the sideways narrative,
an explanation of Widmore and Eloise’s roles in the island and time travel narrative, what Jacob and MiB were doing with their duel lists of candidates on the cave and lighthouse, what really happened in the incident, and what Desmond is up to. If these aren’t explained, I’ll be pissed, because the narrative has framed them as key enigmas that need answering to piece together the action.
Based on this list, I should be pissed – while we got a clear(ish) answer about the sideways and Desmond’s actions, there were few answers about Eloise, the incident, and the lists (as well as many other enigmas). But I’m oddly content with these questions being left open, as Lost pulled off what might be its greatest trick in a long history of narrative subterfuge: it made me not care about what I thought I’d cared about, refocusing my attention on the narrative future of these characters rather than the island past. “The End” is all about moving forward and letting go of what you thought was important, and it amazingly succeeded in making that theme manifest in my own viewing experience.
Lost has always been a hodgepodge genre mixture, with elements of sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, and puzzle narrative draped on its core of adventure melodrama. The finale let go of most of the puzzle storytelling and pulled back to the emotional core that hooked in its fanbase long before we knew about DHARMA or frozen donkey wheels. “The End” serves as an argument for what Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse have been saying all along: we ultimately care about the characters and their fates way more than the island’s mysteries. Ultimately, I think whether you like the finale (and thus the entire sixth season) or not will come down to how convincing you found that argument – personally, I was sold.
Looking back, it becomes clear that the entirety of season six was about making this argument, refocusing our attention on the characters and away from the mythology. The sideways world functions this way for both the characters themselves and for viewers, providing the wish fulfillment of a happy ending and the joy of returning departed friends and reunited relationships without the baggage of the island mysteries. As Christian says to Jack in backroom of the church, “This is a place that you all made together so that you could find one another. The most important part of your life was the time that you spent with these people. That’s why all of you are here.” On one level, the “you” is Jack and his friends, but it is also us – we are here because we care about these people. And in the sideways realm, “there is no now,” just as we’ll have the show to rewatch in an eternal present tense.
And it is also all about letting go. In the first scene of “LA X,” Rose tells Jack “you can let go now,” ostensibly referring to the armrest he was clutching during the in-flight turbulence on sideways Oceanic 815, but now we know that he wasn’t ready to let go in either timeline. Season 6 was about Jack’s journey toward peace of mind and clarity of purpose, both to save the island and come to terms about his troubled relationships and sense of self. Most of the characters went on parallel journeys, and the show invited us to mirror their process as long-time fans learn to let go of our preconceptions of what we want and expect from the show.
Clearly not everybody was ready – Ana-Lucia and Ben are left to work through their issues in the sideways realm, while Michael is still trapped whispering on the island (making him a notable absence from the finale). And judging by the mixed reactions from fans and critics this morning, many of us are also not ready to accept the terms of the final journey – the fact that it doesn’t bother me how much was left unsolved is just a testament to the effectiveness of the finale’s character arcs and emotional storytelling. I do hope that fans disappointed with the final season will rewatch it with an open mind, as I’m convinced that it will work in retrospect quite well, save for a few annoying missteps (like Sun’s aphasia and the mostly dead-end temple story) – but I’m certainly braced for many commenters condemning the lack of mythological closure and loose ends, ready to blame the producers for failing on their obligations. Season six’s greatest flaw was that it was all set-up – but “The End” provides one of the biggest payoffs imaginable.
One critique I’ve seen flash across Twitter is that in the end, the show boiled down to religious (specifically Christian) propaganda, as the afterlife awaits sinners who come to terms with their deeds and repent in church. As a proselytizing atheist, I have little patience for religious parables, but I found Lost‘s take on the afterlife to be pretty non-religious, despite culminating in church and being led by Christian Shepherd (and kudo’s to Kate for calling foul on that name!). Sure, you can read it as overtly religious, but I see it as more humanist, emphasizing that what’s most important is each other and the life that we live, not the promise of an afterlife.
Compared to the much-decried Battlestar Galactica finale, there is no God (or Gods) here, as divinity is found solely in the human. Given the opportunity this season to frame the whole story as a the tale of dueling island gods, Lost chose to make the powers that be flawed humans, resisting the theistic at every turn. The mystical force of the island is a light that shines in every person, a humanist ethos if ever there was one. And fate is what we make of life, not what life makes of us. The show’s long-standing debate between science and faith ended up a draw – Jack’s redemption was in finding his own peace and sense of self, not in faith of anything grander. But clearly science per se was trumped by larger abstractions like glowing caves and purgatorial realms. In the end, it’s the people that matter.
Diving more directly into the episode – which should be noted was directed by Jack Bender and scored by Michael Giacchino as well as anything I’ve ever seen on television – one place that Lost has always excelled is building tension for some rip-roaring action sequences in its season finales, and the on-island story of “The End” featured some of its best builds and climaxes. The fight between Jack and Locke was everything that it should have been, as preceded by six seasons of head-butting – and Kate riding in to the rescue certainly fulfilled much of her often-untapped role in the ensemble. We also got excellent moments of cross-cut deadline-driven narrative tension, with the second bananas at the plane (with not-dead-yet Richard and Lapidus) frantically trying to make repairs while Jack puts the cork back in and Kate and Sawyer go for their last swim. Nearly nothing happened on the island that helped me understand the mythology – but it was a rollicking fun ride, and that’s what Lost does better than any other show out there.
If the island scratched the action itch, the sideways realm provided many moments of melodramatic release. Nearly every character’s moment of realization worked for me, with particular joy in Sun and Jin’s awakening over the ultrasound, and Juliet and Sawyer sharing an epiphany over an Apollo Bar. Ben and Locke’s final conversation confirmed how utterly original and compelling they were as a pairing, and Hurley’s assurance that Ben was an excellent number 2 reminded me that Ben rightly told us years ago that he was one of “the good guys.” These were moments for the fans, reminding us of how far we’ve come with these characters to reconnect with the relationships and journeys. There were tears, cheers, and gasps – and that’s really all I could ask for after six years of commitment. But the most emotionally affecting moment for me was the final one, with Vincent lying next to dying Jack – the producers have long joked about Vincent’s centrality, but making sure that Jack didn’t “die alone” was the greatest function that could be served.
It’s too soon to rank “The End” on the spectrum of series finales, but I am having a hard time coming up with many that worked any better. Six Feet Under is my gold standard, concluding with an emotionally-devastating device that feels both surprisingly original and completely true to the series. I’m not sure that Lost quite reached that peak, but it certainly came close. For a show all about misdirection and mystification, the finale was surprisingly direct and clear, even if it wasn’t about what we thought it would be. I’m looking forward to rewatching season 6 to see it all come together once again.
Random favorite fanboy moment: too many to mention in the episode, so I’ll point to my own pleasure in writing these weekly posts and launching some great conversations. I’ve come to appreciate how hard it is to write coherent criticism on a deadline – and gained much respect for the gaggle of TV critics who do it every day. (And see Chris Becker’s list of reviews for more great Lost reading.) I’ll surely be posting further thoughts in coming days on my blog [updated: as promised, I wrote another long finale commentary], and I hope those of you who came to Antenna just for the Lost discussion stick around for daily doses of smart media commentary and discussion.
Thanks for reading, and Namaste.