The ‘Lost’ Finale Makes the Obvious Choice

We won’t have to do episodes where people are standing on the beach looking at the water and wondering what’s going to happen next.

Damon Lindelhof, May 2007

Sometimes you can just hop in the back of someone’s cab and tell them what they’re supposed to do. Other times, you have to let him look out at the ocean for a while.

— Jacob (Mark Pellegrino), “The Lighthouse”

The last season of Lost was moribund. Weary and perhaps angling to be at peace with the questions it couldn’t resolve, the series went through steps. It revealed to us that Jacob (Mark Pellegrino) was not omnipotent or Christ-like (though he kind of was), but just some dude with a job to do. The Smoke Monster was just the pissed off energy of his arch-rival brother, who can only appear human if there’s a dead body to inhabit. Like some Molotov cocktail mix of Shakespeare, the King James Bible, and The Twilight Zone, the series burned brightest when it was in allegorical mode. For Lost, the devil’s always been in the details.

But aren’t those details sketchy at best? At the beginning of this season, we were led to believe that the detonating of a hydrogen bomb inside one of the island’s hatches caused a rupture in which two simultaneous universes were playing out: in one, events on the island were unfolding as they always had been (time travel and all), and in the other, Oceanic Flight 815 landed safely at LAX. But in Non-Island universe, it became clear that something was different than it was before the bomb. Instead of truly parallel dimensions that never intersect, it was clear these two worlds would eventually collide, as indeed they did in the 23 May finale. In the final 15 minutes, the Non-Island universe was revealed to be an elaborate afterlife rendezvous, with characters convening as they died elsewhere. Jack’s own arrival at the rendezvous point and his gradual understanding of what he was doing there was grippingly intercut with his death in real time on the Island. It was weighty and beautiful, but clunky too, given the setting (a church), as well as rushed.

Just like there were two universes in Lost, there were two ways to read this development in the series: emotionally and intellectually. If you’re of the former bent, then “The End” was undoubtedly satisfying, with tearful reunions and trite nonsense about “remembering” and “letting go.” But if you are looking for meaning, or even meaningful discourse, the best Lost can offer is still more resistance to linear stories and flaccid characterizations — as well as some pat answers and diversions, doled out in non-denominational churches by tall white men named Christian Shephard.

Why is it that endings are so hard to get right? Death is always fraught, of course, but so are TV finales. From St. Elsewhere to The Sopranos, the most skilled storytellers have struggled with this question. When Lost announced late in its third season that it would end in its sixth season, we hoped that, at last, a dramatic series ending could be done right. With three years to plan and a recurring cast of dozens to work with, if any show could do it, it would be Lost.

And yes, it has provided closure. Jack (Matthew Fox), now undeniably the series hero, fulfilled his calling by sacrificing himself and plugging the cork on the evil red light, restoring the good white light. The Locke Monster (Terry O’Quinn) became human enough to be slain, which apparently saved the whole world from his wrath. (Though this climactic Good vs. Evil battle had a promising anime-esque start, it concluded with far less ingenuity.) Kate (Evangeline Lilly) and Sawyer (Josh Holloway) both escaped the island, along with Claire (Emile de Ravin), Miles (Ken Leung), and Capt. Lapidus (Jeff Fahey), all presumably landing safely somewhere and living the rest of their lives happily enough. Jack passed on his Island duties to Hurley (Jorge Garcia), who took on Ben Linus (Michael Emerson) as his number two. Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick) remained in limbo: Jack instructed him to get home to his wife and child, though it remains unknown how he might, and frankly, it’s hard to muster high hopes for his return.

But even if this finale looks good on paper, something about it just didn’t ring true. Watching Jack fall to his death in the same spot where he awoke in the pilot felt too easy. To quote the Locke Monster, “Isn’t that sort of the obvious choice?” What the finale needed was a good bit of unpacking as to what real loss feels like, and why we deny that it’s happening (as Jack did throughout). It seemed like the series knew it couldn’t address every question it had asked, and so it chose instead to hurry through what should have been a more protracted and thoughtful closing process, one nearer to the kinds of philosophical puzzles posed early on.

Had Christian Shephard (John Terry) mentioned anything in his closing monologue about things unknown and unknowable, it would have been more honest admission to the series’ (and by extension, our own) shortcomings. With all this talk about “letting go” and “moving on,” Lost awkwardly, and perhaps inadvertently, seemed to be grieving over itself. More profoundly, it seemed unable to forgive itself its own flaws, much like its hero.

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