Lost: The End --- Jess says ...

Note: Given that Lost is a show that invites multiple interpretations, Billie asked her guest writers if we’d like to provide our own perspectives on the recent finale and/or the series as a whole. I’ve put together some thoughts based largely on comments I posted on Billie’s Lost discussion group. If you read both, sorry for the repetition!

I don’t think I’ve ever been so emotionally overwhelmed by an episode of Lost. Some of the plot and mythology beats were a bit cheesy and over-the-top, and I certainly have some quibbles, but, overall, the emotional moments and the larger story resolution were so powerful that I leave Lost with a deep sense of satisfaction.

I’ve spent a good bit of time today reading the comments here on Billie’s site and at several of my other favorite haunts, and have seen a lot of bitter (and not so bitter) complaining about the lack of answers and the degree of spirituality in the finale. Even Billie noted that she was dissatisfied with the religious nature of the final resolution. But aside from the raw emotion of the various awakenings --- and some of the on-island beats with Jack, Kate, Hurley, and Ben --- I think the final revelations about the Sideways universe is what affected me the most and helped me process the series as a whole.

I’m not a religious person. Like Billie, I’m more of a seeker, taking bits from various belief systems and finding the spiritual story that speaks to me. I’ve long been drawn to the idea of reincarnation, and I’ve come to hope that when you die, there is a place where your soul waits until all the significant souls in your life are gathered and ready to be born anew, to tread once more familiar paths. A space between, if you will. A Well of Souls.

In recent years, I lost an aunt and uncle to whom I was very close. They were what many would consider soul mates. One of those couples who got married as teenagers and were still the happiest couple you’d seen, even after 30-odd years. When my uncle passed away, this idea that his soul was waiting for my aunt’s got me through some difficult times. When she died a year later, the notion that they were somehow reunited before passing into the next life (or may yet be waiting for my husband and I) was potent, and comforts me still.

With ‘The End,’ the creators of Lost so perfectly encapsulated a version of this idea that I had a good long cry when the show was over last night. Even today, I’ve spent the bulk of the day crying because they managed to strike such a deep chord within me. I think they did a marvelous job of reflecting our search for meaning in a chaotic world, and the importance of the connections we make, without ascribing to any one religious view. I’m probably a little biased, because what they showed us so closely mirrors my own non-religious views. But then again, I’ve seen many commenters today expressing that they were equally moved because it also reflected back their own religious beliefs. So maybe it isn’t just my bias.

However, for every positive review I've read, I’ve seen an equal number of negative reactions (if not more). I understand that everyone brings their own viewing lens to the show and that over the years we have all experienced and appreciated Lost in different ways. That’s part of what made watching and discussing the show fun. I wish that everyone could have enjoyed the finale as much as I did, but I fully expected to see the boards covered with bitter cries of “I didn’t get my answers!” and “So, basically, we are getting this ‘God did it’ crap again!”and "Darlton should give up the creative business because they suck, suck, suck." And, boy, were they.

It’s not surprising to see so much backlash, but I am a bit puzzled by some of the complaints. I keep seeing “we didn’t learn what the island was” and “what was the point of the last six years” and “the sideways stories were basically pointless.” I couldn’t disagree more. Yes, there were lots of lingering threads put out there over the years that may have been left unresolved. But I don’t think we were left hanging on the biggest questions. And I’m feeling like when I go back and watch the series, it will flow thematically, because the characters' journeys and what was ultimately accomplished in the finale did matter.

We learned in ‘Across the Sea’ what the Island is. It is the home to what I call The Source. The heart of the Island is where “the spark of life” resides.* This life energy is a kind of powerful electromagnetism and is linked to all sorts of other “magical” powers on the Island, but basically, the Island is like a Well of Souls. If that light goes out --- the spark of life --- than the world as we know it is destroyed. There is no more afterlife. There is no more rebirth. We are soulless creatures bound for annihilation. Life as we know it would end. (And perhaps the dark hell fires shown under the "cork" would be released raining destruction down on first the island, then the rest of the world.)

(*I confess that when I first saw the glowy cave in ‘Across the Sea,’ it struck me as so completely cheesy that I was pretty turned off by the core mythology they were presenting. The visuals of the light well and the hell fires beneath in ‘The End’ didn’t fare much better in the eye-rolling department. But I've started thinking the problem is that something so ethereal and spiritual is just hard to visually depict. It is bound to look somewhat cheesy. The more I think about it, the more comfortable I am with the notion that the Island was essentially the Source of life, or the Well of Souls. Even though it looked ridiculous.)

Who created The Source doesn’t matter. You can assume it is God, or some other all-powerful universe-creating force. It is open for interpretation (which as noted by many, is the beauty of the show and the finale). The Source has been there since time immemorial and it has always had a protector. When another protector comes along from wherever, the previous protector dies.

Jacob became the protector through his mother’s manipulations and, in a fit of rage, sentenced his brother to life as a disembodied soul hell bent on destroying Jacob and getting off the Island. Because he knew his brother was actively plotting to kill him, he needed to find a replacement and started his grand search for candidates. He wanted someone that didn’t have attachments and needed the island as much as it needed them. That’s how our “lost” Lostways were drawn to the Island. Because their arrival also coincided with Smokey finally finding a way to kill Jacob, it fell to our band of damaged heroes to take on the job, destroy Smokey, and protect the island. The whole show has been about them finding redemption, community, and purpose so that several of them would reach the point where they would choose to make the sacrifices necessary to protect the Island and thus save all of humankind.

What they saved wasn’t just the Island, but the space between this life and the next. The Sideways universe. The place that presents an opportunity for closure --- closure that may not have been achievable in life. By fixing the Source, Jack preserved this place where souls can work out lingering issues and be reunited with those that were most significant in one’s life. If we are something more than a sack of meat bound to this mortal coil, then this space between that makes letting go and moving on possible matters. As such, the Sideways reality is an equally important part of the journey (for the characters and the audience).

So it all mattered. What they did in life mattered. The painful losses and sacrifices mattered. The journey that put them through hell and back mattered. The shared alternate reality in the Sideways ‘verse mattered. The final destination (eternal rest, rebirth, what have you) matters. Sure it is more a "man of faith" answer than a "man of science" one, but if you are going to tackle big themes like life, death, redemption, community, and what it means to be human (which to my mind are themes and ideas that have been the core of the series since Season 1), then you are probably going to end up more in a faith-based place than a science one.

It is funny. I absolutely expected to be deeply confused when the finale was over. I thought I'd be running to the message boards to have it all explained for me. But, instead, I was emotionally engaged throughout --- from Jin and Sun waking up, to Aaron being born, to Sawyer and Juliet finally talking about that coffee date, to discovering Richard and Lapidus survived, to Kate shooting Locke, to Hurley choosing Ben as his Number Two, to the plane taking off, to Locke and Ben’s final heart-to-heart, to Jack and his dad hugging it out in the church, to the happy reunion of the Lostaways inside the church, to that brilliant and absolutely perfect final shot of Vincent laying down next to Jack and Jack’s eye closing --- and when that last title card came up, the basic arc of the series as a whole felt very complete and clear. For once, I understood what the show had been about (with room for interpretation, of course) and what it meant to me, and it made sense in a beautiful and profoundly resonant way. I couldn't have asked for much more from the ‘The End.’ (Except for maybe an explanation of how Ben got out from under that tree.)

Final Note: It’s been a joy sharing Lost with Billie. It is through this show that I have come to know her and to have the wonderful opportunity to share my thoughts on this and other shows with her readers. Thank you, Billie, for sharing your Lost love through this blog and your discussion list, and for inviting me to be a part of the Billie Doux community. I’ve been enjoying it immensely.

19 comments:

Koi Nahin said...

Thanks, Jess. I think you're absolutely right. And you've made me feel a LOT better about the finale.

Anonymous said...

"none of it actually happened and existed only in the desperate fantasy of a man about to die."

So, before you get way too deep there, read the logical explanation here first: http://mellifluent.wordpress.com/2010/05/25/the-lost-finale-or-why-im-right-and-everyone-else-is-wrong/

Billie Doux said...

I just now had a chance to read this, Jess, and it's just beautiful. You expressed better than I did a lot of the positives I felt about Lost and about the finale. And it's been such a pleasure getting to know you, too, Jess. You add so much to the site. We have a community here that means the world to me.

GreenHornet said...

What a great exploration, Jess. It really resonates for me, and reflects my experience viewing the show as well. Thank you so much!

One thought occurs to me -- a 'Sideways' pondering: I wonder how much the conscious or unconscious genre expectations of this show play a part in people's reactions to its end?

Think of the differences between mystery stories and fantasy stories. Mystery is a puzzle to be solved, and you look over the shoulder as it's being tackled by a protagonist (generally speaking). The clues are laid out for her/him and you, and the author PLAYS FAIR (or is run out of town on a rail) and shows the cards but uses misdirection and other plot or narrative devices to keep you guessing. When you arrive at the end, all is revealed. And you avidly compare your guesses to it, and crow in delight if you out-thunk 'em, or are upset it was so obvious etc. You definitely check the clues and details, and call out misses, and appreciate the heck out of a lovely tale that ties it all together, and managed to fool you! Lovely, and fun.

Fantasy can solve everything as well: but sure doesn't have to. It deals with the more-than-is-revealed, and can leverage that encounter to explore parts of us that were unknown or unexpected. I mean, it can do a lot of things and be totally prosaic and practical and reality-based and as thorough as mystery -- but it dinna hasta, you know? If you read a fantasy you may not get all the answers and you may not like the endpoint and you sure will be upset if you were hankering for a “mystery“. But it's a different ride. Picture the Fredric Brown short-short story where the last man in the entire world sits down to dinner one night, when suddenly there's a knock at the door. THE END. Your delight and/or tolerance for that tale might be influenced by what you expected from this or any story -- right?

Other examples come to mind. The movie Somewhere In Time, with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour -- a lovely story that is emotionally moving (well, to me for sure) -- one question that irritated lots of folk afterwards was -- where the HECK did the watch come from? Or take the movie Picnic At Hanging Rock -- amazingly evocative or atmospheric or or... but the lack of answers to what in fact happened is going to be far more patience-trying to those expecting a mystery novel rather than a mysterious tale. Or the "yeah, what the hell IS Goofy??" conversation in Stand By Me -- they never do resolve that!!! (Ok, I'm being a goofball here.)

Finally -- and I mean this honestly, and not as an "Oh yeah? So's yer old man!" -- could someone give an example of a series that DID end beautifully as expected and desired -- where you felt and said-so at the time? Because I can't recall any that didn't have a lot of frustration or mixed feelings for many people. Not Buffy, not Angel, not Firefly (dagnab network!), no WAY Battlestar (well, I loved it, but it is definitely still a Razor-sharp memory for many). Could anyone give an example of one that ended 'right' or 'well', so we can use it as a baseline or comparison? Nothing satisfies everyone, and lord knows there ARE holes in Lost still, as in BG or others, even BTVS (no! No!). But when was there last a generally-acclaimed ending: and does it stand the test of time?

Again, thank you!!

Billie Doux said...

"... could someone give an example of a series that DID end beautifully as expected and desired -- where you felt and said-so at the time?"

Six Feet Under. The final episode was intensely moving and exceptionally beautiful, and perfect for the series.

I was also happy with the final episode of Buffy, even though the final season wasn't all that good.

Paul Kelly said...

Personally, I thought the Babylon 5 finale was beautiful. Intensely emotional. Inevitable. Absolutely perfect. I still can only watch it on my own. With the curtains closed.

I also agree with Billie about Six Feet Under. Another blubfest, admittedly; but perfection nonetheless.

Great summation, Jess. Personally, I think they gave us enough answers, and ended the series on a suitably high note.

Gustavo Brunetti said...

Funny that you said iy, Bilie, because the 7th season of Buffy was actually my favorite, as was the 5th of Angel.

The LOST finale was the second best I've seen. The first is the Six Feet Under finale, and I think it'll be a long, long time before it gets demoted.

Suzanne said...

Thanks, Jess for your moving essay. I love how you put the wonderful ending for the characters into context with the larger island mythology.

As much as I loved the ending of this show, I have to agree that Buffy's series finale was near perfection to me. The Seventh season had its flaws, but the final episode was really the perfect way to end Buffy's journey (even though I know the comics came along later).

Patryk said...

Funny thing this finale. I felt some sort of... serenity after it ended. No need for further answers, no need to rush to the net and read theories. It was presented in a such a way that just didn't need anything more to say. While i will be bothered with some stuff that wasn't explained while i rewatch the series in the years to come that won't matter.

As for show finales that did it absolutely right. Babylon 5 hands down. Of course it was in a time before the internet exploded with opinions and people nitpicking at everything so i don't know if there were heated debates at the time, but it felt so right.

Buffy's ending was very good, Angel's was also very apporopriate to the theme (redemption as an endless struggle).

Jess Lynde said...

Thanks for the comments guys. I’m glad that the finale spoke to some of you in similar ways and gave you what you needed, even if it wasn’t what you thought you wanted. And it is also nice to hear that my interpretation gave some of you a different perspective and appreciation for the finale.

GreenHornet, I like what you say about the differences in expectations for mysteries and fantasies. I think the trouble with Lost is that it include elements from both styles and invited the audience to experience the show in their own way. A lot of people felt they were watching a show about character journeys with some strange, mystical stuff thrown in as a way to explore character. Some people thought they were watching a show about a big puzzle to be solved with some characters thrown in to advance the plot. And some people were watching a show that was both a character journey and a big, mysterious puzzle.

I think those that were most disappointed in the finale were watching the mystery-only version of the show. Fortunately for me, I was primarily watching the character show, so a finale that focused on the character journeys and the larger philosophical themes hit the sweet spot for me.

I’d vote for Babylon 5 and Angel as series finales that also hit that sweet spot. Babylon 5 was the perfect emotional capper for that series. I don’t remember a lot of the specifics at the moment, but I remember that it was bittersweet and cathartic all at the same time. The Angel finale, as Patryk says, was very appropriate to the theme. And it gave us those wonderful “last day on Earth” moments, plus some great closure for certain character arcs (devastating in some cases, but still perfect endings for those characters).

Suzanne said...

It is funny that both of you mentioned B5. I was considering putting it in my post, too, as the ultimate finale, but since it has been awhile since I have watched it I hesitated. I was planning to rewatch it last night but didn't have time. Now I will definitely check it out.

I am currently watching Angel for the first time and on the last season. After reading your comments, I can't wait to see the ending.

I agree that people who were only interested in the puzzle aspect of the Lost would be disappointed. My love of the show came from the wonderful way they balanced the character elements with the puzzle, so I am completely satisfied with the finale, and about 75% satisfied with the series as a whole. I have to admit that I am a tad annoyed the the writers and producers threw in so many elements that they never seemed overly concerned about exploring further. I can live with it, though.

If we compare Lost to a show like Babylon 5, we must remember how much we are willing to overlook when we call that show a great series. Remember how awful season 1 was and how badly season 5 was bungled for the first quarter or so because they weren't prepared to have a fifth season. When I remember these caveats to Babylon 5, I have to say that Lost has a pretty good track record in comparison.

Anonymous said...

Love your interpretation of the source Jess, Shame you wernt on the LOST writing team, if they'd used that on the show i might of bought in to it more.........

LOL, Ben and the tree, forgot about that LMAO.

Great summing up, Much Love
Dave Eco

The Rush Blog said...

The finales for shows like "BABYLON 5", "BUFFY", and "ANGEL" were a lot better. I didn't dislike the finale for "LOST", but I was not that impressed.

The Rush Blog said...

If we compare Lost to a show like Babylon 5, we must remember how much we are willing to overlook when we call that show a great series. Remember how awful season 1 was and how badly season 5 was bungled for the first quarter or so because they weren't prepared to have a fifth season. When I remember these caveats to Babylon 5, I have to say that Lost has a pretty good track record in comparison.



I don't agree. I do believe that the first season of "LOST" was better than the first season of "BABYLON 5". But after that first season, "B5" trumped "LOST" right up to the bitter end. I thought that the final season of "B5" was pretty damn good, even if I could have done without the Flower Children personas of the telepaths. Season 5 of "B5" was simply depressing . . . and had a slightly dark ending. But I do not think it was terrible.

Serena + Pumpkin said...

I liked Alias (with the exception of total character assassination on Irina Derevko).

Mark Greig said...

Always loved ‘All Good Things’ and ‘Sleeping in Light’. Both are pretty much perfect endings.

The worst is ‘Fall Out’ the final episode of The Prisoner. Least Lost ended with some questions answered, Patrick McGoohan gave us nowt.

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous said...

"none of it actually happened and existed only in the desperate fantasy of a man about to die."

So, before you get way too deep there, read the logical explanation here first: http://mellifluent.wordpress.com/2010/05/25/the-lost-finale-or-why-im-right-and-everyone-else-is-wrong/"


I wouldn't describe this as "the logical explanation". It's *an* explanation, and everyone is entitled to their own interpretation of the finale (which is the beauty of Lost), but I much prefer the general consensus that everything that happened, happened. Yes, he puts it across in a good way. But the transition from the Afterlife to white to Jack's eye wasn't taking us back to after the crash and telling us that everyone died. It was just a way of showing us how everyone has been sent to heaven or whatever, and now Jack, after everything, can die in peace.

There's also the issue that his eye just looks different than it did after the crash. Jack is six years older. He has crows' feet. Surely the creators would have airbrushed them out if he was supposed to look the same as he did on the day of the crash? :P

So, even though the writer makes some good points I personally don't agree with that opinion. It just isn't emotionally satisfying for me. I'm sticking with Josie and Billie's explanation :)

Jen said...

Jess,
Girl, you nailed it. This is the first review I've read that makes a good argument for the sideways world existing at all:

"What they saved wasn’t just the Island, but the space between this life and the next."

Yes. Thanks so much for your thoughtful and excellent review. Awesome.

Anonymous said...

If, as many say, the "sideways" world is a place where each soul can "work out" its own issues, why has Desmond been tasked with forcing the others to have their "epiphanies" on his timetable?