I like to think I’m a pretty smart guy. I like to think that I have gained something from the years of being trained to look at literature from all angles. I like to think this. But after watching LOST’s finale episode, I feel like a grade-schooler trying to write a thesis on War and Peace.
I can think of two reason for this occurrence: 1) “The End” was a tightly knit and carefully woven metaphor/allegory that is going to take a lot of time, energy, and subsequent rewatches to unravel or 2) Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse are completely full of shit.
Note: After this point, I will not avoid speaking directly about spoilers. If you have not seen the finale of LOST and do not want to be privy to information contained within, I suggest that you stop reading here.
Points of Contention/Discussion in No Particular Order
I like Jack.
Despite beginning to hate him sometime during my first viewing of Season 3, Jack Shephard redeemed himself during the whole of season six. He stopped whining about not being able to fix things and instead set out on a course where things would happen as they did, with him just going along for the ride, doing what good he could along the way.
“The End” brought Jack full circle, much like The Dark Tower did with Roland Deschain. (I knew there were links between the two!) However, unlike The Dark Tower, I don’t feel a sense of completion. I have a sense of “huh.”
I am glad that he died, though. It was right.
Far too often series conclude with the good guys winning and living happily ever after, no matter what circumstances they are put in. It often takes a cataclysm (Chewbacca, for instance) to kill off a character. But in LOST, there was no fanfare. There was no earth-shattering cataclysm (okay, well there was, but that isn’t what killed him). He died because he got stabbed in the gut. Was it a bit cheesy that he made his way to the bamboo grove he woke up in all the way back in the pilot? Kind of. Was it mean for Darlton to play the sympathetic puppy card when he died? Definitely. But I still cried. And despite my hunger for answers and resolution, Jack’s death felt right. His eye closing felt like the kind of ending the series needed.
“Live together, die alone” is right. Jack died alone. But he was loved. By both the characters and the audience, and he was able to live together, at least in the purgatorial sideways world where his created family and loving community welcomed him to finally being able to let go and just be with them. It was fitting. The good guys don’t necessarily have to live for them to win in the end.
The sideways world makes my head hurt.
My current understanding is that the sideways world is a kind of afterlife that Jack was in some way responsible for (during his time as the Jacob? Yes, it’s a title now) where the dead folks, past and future, kind of hang out in their perfect world until they have to appear on the Island to be chased through the jungle for one reason or another before they can move on.
But that particular interpretation doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I mean, if Jack is in any way responsible for the world, then how are the other people there? I would think they have to be figments of Jack’s imagination, but they are all sentient beings with free will (proof: Ben staying outside the ceremony to atone for…something). If the sideways world was all part of Jack’s moving-on-process, then how are the others complete people?
Or was the whole sideways world a purgatory of their own collective devising, where they all were able to gather no matter when they died? This situation would enable the afterlife/purgatory to act as a metaphor for the importance of created and assumed families, especially since some of these characters were never able to be alive during what was said to be the most important time of their lives.
That view of the afterlife plays into the spiritual idea of real-life being a trial for which we are all being rewarded in the afterlife, not necessarily by going to heaven, but by being with those we love and love us, whether they are real family (Jack, Christian, and Claire or Sun and Jin) or assumed (Sayid, Sawyer, and Hurley). There is also the idea of how in the sideways world everyone not only got over the flaws they brought with them on the plane, but that most of the time, there was awareness and contrition in dealing with them, which is a major tenet of major religions, not just Christianity. Their time in purgatory gave them the ability to move past their real-life flaws, making the testing that comes in life only a step to actual enlightenment.
I like how their collective purgatory was a paradise for them that contrasted the hell they experienced on the Island. They each were able to get the one thing they needed for completion. Jack had a family, a son, and he fixed their relationship. Locke got to walk. Hugo was funny and the luckiest man alive. Sawyer and Miles were a buddy cop movie. Daniel was a musician. Eloise Hawking got the son she never had. That speaks a lot to the self-sufficient nature of the faith in the narrative. That yes, the characters have to work for their faith and often find strength in one another, but it is an entirely personal matter of maintaining it.
And then there’s time. It’s obvious that Sun and Jin in the sideways world were aware of their own deaths. So was Charlie. And yet in the church, they were all together. Christian tied that together for Jack by saying that “there is no now, here.” So there could have been a—thank you, Jimmy Kimmel—nanosecond in the “real” world for the entire time we saw the sideways world exist. Which takes the focus off the faith and spirituality side of LOST and puts the sideways world into science. Relativity, specifically. Quantum mechanics and string theory. The fact that time does not exist, yet it is being perceived by all the characters testifies to the inclusive nature of the sideways world, and helps merge the conflicting ideals set forth early in the series with the Man of Faith/Man of Science dichotomy.
First off, why did Locke get to choose who went with him and Jack to see what happened when Desmond was exposed to the energy? He was outnumbered by Jack’s crew, yet when he said that he wanted it to just be him and Jack escorting Desmond, everyone was like “well, okay.” I don’t get why Jack so quickly allowed himself to be led like that. Was it his newfound faith?
Secondly, the light cave intrigues me. Both in form and function. The giant stone cork had an irrigation canal around it and hieroglyphs carved into it. And we got nothing regarding why there are Egyptian ties to the Island. Awesome. (That was sarcasm.)
Its form reminds me of a drawing one of my graduate professors drew on the chalk board to let us know about Plato’s “Parable of the Cave.” In it, the real world us up top and the illusory world is at the bottom of a vertical chasm. We, as mortals, are all chained up in the bottom, and the only thing that we can see are shadows being cast upon the wall of the top of the shaft leading to us. What we perceive as reality is in fact just a dark imitation. When LOST showed the chasm leading to the light and when Jack/Locke peered off into the side, all I could think of was Dr. Adams drawing his stick people on the board to explain this concept.
I think the metaphor is pretty apparent, though inverted since the light of the cave was at the bottom and they watched trapped at the top (in reality), begging Desmond to make something preternatural happen (the shadows dancing on the wall). Such an inversion actually speaks volumes of what was important with the characters—their real lives were only the beginning of their road to enlightenment rather than them being imprisoned by it.
Regarding it’s function, my wife was right: The Island is plainly the location of a Hellmouth. And instead of a randomly chosen teenage girl keeping it safe, there are a series of equally qualified guardians not letting anyone uncork the apocalypse. And I’m okay with that. The realist inside me would love to know where the bad mojo under the Island is coming from, but the romantic in me understands a manifestation of Hell when I see it.
Unlike the way Slayers are chosen to protect their Hellmouths, LOST’s selection process is a little unclear. When Jacob’s mother chose him she uttered an incantation over some special wine. When Jacob needed a super-powered second, he gave that wine to Richard Alpert, sans incantation. When Jacob ordained Jack, the Man in Black had smashed the wine bottle, so he had to bless water from the stream going into the light cave. When Jack ordained Hugo, he hadn’t been taught the prayer, so he just used a grimy water bottle from that same stream. And when Hugo chose Ben Linus to be his super-powered second, it was just a verbal agreement between the two of them.
What gives? Where does the power come from? My take: the power is the intent. The power is in the faith. Jacob’s mother needed the objects to pass on the power because that was what she believed in. When Hugo needed to do the same thing, he did it through only the power of faith. One of the main themes I picked up on with LOST is that faith is powerful with or without the artifacts belonging to it (e.g. the perverted image of the Virgin Mary filled with heroin). So in the end, the way the guardians of the Island were chosen was not through ritual, pomp, and circumstance, but through intent and faith alone, which may actually make Ben and Hugo the most powerful and/or meaningful guardians of all because they have nothing but themselves to fall back on.
Jack and Locke squaring off on the cliff was iconic. Obi-Wan/Anakin iconic.
I was pleased that this fight scene came at the mid-point of the finale and was not saved until the end. There was so much character resolution that needed to happen (and did? Huh.) after this conflict came about that when it happened, I was quite happy.
Aside from Jack trying to be a flying ninja with his initial punch, the fight was well choreographed and acted. The long shots keeping the action disconnected from the audience heightened the epic feel it needed. I adored the opening, and it will forever go down in my mind as one of the most iconic images in LOST. I mean, replace the rain and water with ashes and lava, and you have the Anakin/Obi-Wan fight from Episode III, which despite my feelings toward the rest of the movie still lights up the geek inside me. Jack having the high-ground (both physically and metaphorically) was just perfect.
The positioning could also very much indicate the weight of darkness in both their hearts, and how the scales were tipped when Locke took the white stone and threw it into the ocean. Jack has replaced Jacob as the white stone and now has to literally balance the scales from what the Man in Black has done in much the same way that Anakin/Obi-Wan’s confrontation actually brought about balance to the Force. Both conflicts did not bring immediate resolution. As evidenced by Hurley and Ben’s conversation outside the church, much time passed before everyone was ready for their celebration into moving on, much the same way that it took a generation for balance to be restored by Luke Skywalker redeeming his father in Return of the Jedi.
“I hope someone does for you, what you just did for me.”
I teared up when Locke said that to Jack. I really did. Because it was so selfless, so perfect. Locke was no longer the broken man he went to the Island as. He was whole and complete, and he had made that transition and journey not by himself as he would have been prone to do in his pre-Island existence, but he was loving and friendly in the sideways world. He had learned his lesson, and Jack and learned to choose his battles. When he fixed Locke, he knew that he could do it. And with Hurley taking over the Island, Locke got his wish; someone did do for Jack what he had done for Locke: he opened up the Island for the dead, allowing Jack to come to peace and leave. To experience the family life he had always wanted. And then to let go.
“You were a pretty good number two.” “You were a great number one.”
I’m sad we won’t ever get to see the things that Hugo did as the Island’s caretaker. And I’m even sadder that we don’t get to see Benjamin Linus become redeemed by being his advisor (even though I tend to love Evil Ben more than Contrite-If-Not-Totally-Good Ben). But we know it happens. I’m going to assume that Hugo’s being a great number one means that he helped the dead people he could commune with finally come to peace, thus facilitating the sideways world and Jack coming to peace with his life and letting go.
“I’d be honored.”
With Ben staying outside the church, there is personal penance involved, not external. His being number two went a long way to soothing out the ills that he bequeathed unto the survivors over the seasons, and they had forgiven him for that. Locke even forgave him for murdering him, in one of the most touching scenes of the whole series. But Ben could not forgive himself. He would not allow himself to be a part of the assumed family within the church because he still viewed himself as a monster, which is obvious because of the way he looked when Hugo offered him the position to help caretake the Island.
Lots and lots of rewatches, I assume. “The End” is two and a half hours of TV that I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand. I don’t know if I need to.
I’ll grab the DVDs and watch the whole season serially and pick it apart then. I’m not content; that’s too strong a word. The episode was appropriate. Any higher praise will have to wait for subsequent viewings. I like the episode. I like the way it ended.
As a finale, it belongs with the greats, the ones we remember. It belongs with The Sopranos in just how open-ended it is, how much it belongs to the fans. It belongs with Star Trek: The Next Generation in how poignant it was, how it made the ensemble a family. It belongs with Battlestar Galactica in how it handles the idea of faith and just what we believe is out there, what is greater than us and binds us together. LOST itself belongs in a class all its own for how it made us wonder, how it made us care, how it made us crazy, and how it made us think about the family we create and appreciate the family we were born with.
If LOST is judged as a series by the strength of its finale and no other criteria, then someone missed the point. “The End” is not the point. It is not the reason for watching. It is not the reason for caring. Getting to “The End” is what matters. The relationships and character developments, the twists and turns, and the exploration into human consciousness and studies of how literary genres play when mixed this way and that. How audience reaction shapes television and how a diverse ensemble turns into a phenomenon. How metaphors and analogies and allusion are used to make even the most surface-level viewer feel scholastic.
If LOST is judged without any of those taken into consideration, then we might as well have been watching Spongebob Squarepants for six seasons. The journey, the feelings, and the ideas make LOST a show that matters, not the two and a half hours that cap its ending.