We have to go back, or, Why I still don’t like the finale of LOST

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May 23, 2010. “The End.”

I’m not sure that I’ve ever anticipated a series finale more than the last episode of LOST.

I remember watching the last episode of Cheers, and thinking that it delivered in a perfect way. In the final moments of the show, Ted Danson’s Sam Malone is standing in the darkened bar and says, “I’m the luckiest son of a bitch on Earth.” As a potential patron knocks on the door, Sam simply replies, “Sorry. We’re closed.” It was an elegantly simple conclusion: A show about a bar, ending after last call and with the tavern closed for the night.

The Seinfeld finale has been lambasted (rightly so) for underwhelming and failing to deliver a satisfying conclusion beyond merely parading out characters from past episodes. But Seinfeld didn’t have the burden that LOST did of having to answer questions, resolve mysteries, and confirm or make obsolete fan theories that had built up over six years.LOST was a show that had high stakes for its characters. It’s well-known now that J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof wanted Michael Keaton to play the part of Jack in the pilot, an episode in which Jack would be killed off, thereby letting the audience know that no one on the island was safe from death. When Boone Carlyle (Ian Somerhalder) meets his demise in the season 1 episode “Do no Harm,” we the audience learned that lesson: the Oceanic 815 were always in constant danger. It raised the stakes of the island; our favorite characters were going to have to navigate real dangers with no guarantee of a happy ending. Throughout the series, characters from Ana-Lucia, Charlotte, Daniel, Mr. Eko, Libby, Locke, Sayid, Jin, Sun, Shannon, Alex, Rousseau and Michael were all killed by the Smoke Monster, other castaways, and, well, fate. Nikki and Paolo were even buried alive after being bitten and paralyzed by a poisonous spider.

But there is one death that had an impact more than any other: the death of Charlie Pace. Charlie was an integral part of the show from the pilot episode: he is one of the three main characters spotlighted in that first episode (Jack and Kate being the other two), and he is given the episode’s last words  (“Guys, where are we?”). Throughout the latter part of the third season, Desmond Hume has precognitions that Charlie is going to die; multiple times, Desmond is able to save his life. Finally, Desmond tells Charlie that he is going to drown, but in so doing, his sacrifice will lead to Claire and Aaron’s rescue. Charlie swims down to the Looking Glass station, and saves Desmond (and ostensibly the 815ers) by drowning. The former heroin addict, surrogate father to Aaron, boyfriend of Claire, and hero to the Oceanic 815 receives an elegaic final moment:

The deaths of Charlie, and Boone, and the others all reinforced the idea that the island was a dangerous place, and that those who come to it may have to pay the ultimate sacrifice. Beyond that, the island was also established as a location where one could work out his or her issues. In one of the final episodes, “What They Died For,” Jacob explains:

“And that’s why I brought you all here…None of you were [happy]. I didn’t pluck any of you out of a happy existence. You were all flawed. I chose you because you were like me: You were all alone, you were all looking for something that you couldn’t find out there. I chose you because you needed this place as much as it needed you.”

A superficial reading of the characters proves that Jacob is right. Jack was a surgeon with a broken marriage and severe father issues; Charlie a heroin addict; Kate a fugitive; Sawyer a con man with his own dark past; Jin and Sun two people with a marriage on the rocks and deep trust issues; and so on. The show by design demonstrated that the island was a place for the characters to work out their past: in the first 3 seasons (save for the season 3 finale), we saw flashbacks of the characters’ lives before the island, and saw the mistakes and choices they had made, and what led to them being on the fateful flight.

As the past was filled with the characters’ problems, the island became the place to escape, to exorcise personal demons, and to heal. Some of this was explicit: John Locke gained the ability to walk again, and Rose’s cancer disappeared. Some of the personal development was slower-going: Charlie kicked his heroin addiction, Richard made amends for the accidental murder he committed, and Michael and Walt repaired their strained father-son relationship.

Beginning with the season six premiere, “LA X,” we are presented with what viewers quickly dubbed “Flashsideways.” Rather than flashing back to the characters pre-island, or the flashforwards of season 4, we were shown scenes of our characters in a world where Oceanic 815 never crashed. Some similarities remained (Hurley was a lottery winner, Kate was on the run), while some things were wildly different (Jack and Juliet had a son named David; Sawyer was a cop, with Miles as his partner). Within the flashsideways world, characters “awoke” to the reality of their life as we knew it: Hurley became aware of his time on the island, as did Desmond, and slowly each character remembered who they “were” outside of the flashsideways. The ultimate payoff to the flashsideways was that it was a spiritual world created by our characters as a stop between life and the after-life. In the finale of “The End,” the major characters of the show sit in a church and are told by Christian Shepherd (Jack’s father) that “This is a place that you all made together so that you could find each other.” Cue bright, white light and our characters moving on to heaven. Seemingly a happy ending, right?

Nope. Not for this viewer.

First, characters deaths on the show meant that the island had stakes; therefore, to show a purgatory-esque world where all the characters met up and could happily reassemble means that their deaths, either on the island or after, meant nothing. Boone died in season 1, Charlie in season 3, and Jack at the last moments of season 6. Yet in the flashsideways world, they are simply reunited with everyone else. Each could have been dead one minute, one year, or one decade, but it didn’t make a difference in the happy world of the flashsideways church. To have a show with dramatic stakes, where life and death consequences matter, is a serious undertaking, and one that LOST initially embraced. The creators threw that by the wayside when they created a purgatory/flashsideways world – none of the characters’ deaths mattered, because they would all just meet up at the church anyway. So what was the point of the time spent on the island? Or in trying to escape?

Second, as Jacob said in “What They Died For,” he brought Oceanic 815 to the island because each of them were flawed. The island, as noted above, was a place to work out issues. Why did the show’s creators feel a need to create an additional area where the characters would work out their issues?

Take Jack, for instance. We know that he had father issues – Christian Shepherd was an integral influence on his life, and probably the most formative relationship he had in his life. Christian Shepherd was critical of Jack – an early flashback showed that Jack trying to save a classmate from being beaten up, and Christian chastised him for sticking his neck out when Jack “didn’t have what it takes.” So, when he becomes the ostensible leader of the castaways, and when he leaves the island and discovers that Claire is his half-sister, and when he goes back to the island to help his friends, and when he fights and defeats the Man in Black, Jack has had ample opportunities to work out all of his issues. He has a chance to work out his issues of trust (especially through Kate and Sawyer, Ben, and Juliet), his issues of leadership, and his issues of right and wrong. Why, then, would Jack need to further work out his issues in the flashsideways with the conduit of his issues being his “son” David?

Why would Sawyer, who on the island was able to kill Anthony Cooper, a.k.a. the man who ruined his life by conning his mother, and who by killing Anthony Cooper achieved his major life goal, need to work out issues in a flashsideways world? He was able to find love and happiness with Juliet, and he went from untrustworthy scoundrel and overall Han Solo (circa Episode IV) of the group to trustworthy and honorable overall Han Solo (circa episode VI) by season 5 (especially in the episode “LaFleur” and following).

Jacob said those brought to the island were flawed. The island was the place to fix their flaws. When certain people had healed themselves, they moved on (Charlie, Boone). What was the point of the flashsideways? Why did these characters need an extra stop to further work out their issues? Again, it completely eradicates and diminishes the importance of the time on the island. Overall, the flashsideways was a waste of time, and as it was the final season, that time was especially precious.

I won’t sit and criticize the show for failing to provide closure to any number of mysteries (Why was Walt special? Why did Claire get fooled by the psychic? What was the deal with the girl who drowned and came back to life that Mr. Eko had to investigate? How long were the Hostiles/Others on the island? What was the deal with the magic light at the center of the island? Did that bird say “Hurley”?  No, really – why was Walt special??). But I will criticize it for trying to have its (Dharma) cake and eat it, too. Character deaths can’t be impactful if they’re all going to magically meet up in heaven. That’s like being in a game of dodgeball where once you’re out, you can simply go to another game in the next room (where your friends will eventually join you, and none of you will ever be called out).

The ethos of the show had always been, “Live Together, Die Alone.” Suddenly the producers wanted to make it, “Live Together, Die Alone, but then all of a sudden Quasi-Live in a Purgatory World Together Again, no matter what, so long as you were important on the show.” No dice, Darlton.

All of that said, the final shot, of Jack closing his eye, is as perfect a final image as you can get for the show. With the numerous episodes (including, of course, the pilot episode) beginning with an eye opening, for the final shot of the show to be Jack closing his eye, that demonstrates the show coming full circle in a way no other scene or dialogue could.

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Critic Alan Sepinwall put it very well in his review of the finale from the morning after:”Ultimately, “Lost” didn’t succeed because of the mythology. We’ve seen too many examples of mythology-heavy, character-light series fail over the last six years to think that. “Lost” succeeded on emotion, whether that emotion was fear of the monster in the jungle, or grief over Juliet dying, or joy at Desmond reuniting with Penny, or thrills at Sayid’s breakdance fighting and Hurley riding to the rescue in the Dharma bus. When “Lost” was really and truly great, it locked you so deep into the emotions of the moment that the larger questions didn’t really matter.” 

So, while I remain disappointed, and would give the episode an overall poor rating, I still appreciate the show for what it was. I know that it still provides chilling, fantastic moments that leave me thrilled, sad, angry and everything in between. I love the show. I just hate the ending. Not everything can be Cheers, I guess.

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One thought on “We have to go back, or, Why I still don’t like the finale of LOST

  1. Great point about the Cheers finale being simple, tasteful and satisfying. However, to state the obvious, Cheers and LOST were very very different shows (i.e. LOST was spelled in capitals and Cheers was not).

    I enjoyed the end of LOST, even though it did not and could not live up tot he expectation that it would 1-blow our minds more than they precedding seasons and 2-answer all questions and provide complete closure.

    A televsion show is like sex. And the problem with LOST was that the sex was so good, kept building to such heights (to the point where you didn’t even know what was going on, but still liked it) that the climax was inevitably underwhelming. It was doomed for the start. I don’t think a much better ending could have been written/performed if they had years more to prepare, just because the act of ending LOST in itself was a tragedy.

    And as far as your “what they died for” comments, which seemed to ask “what was the POINT of the show?” I turn to Les Miserables.

    Yes, I said it. No backsies.

    Side point: I recently saw the new Les Miserables movie, and thought the only way it could be remotely watchable, and not more appropriate for Mystery Science Theater 3000, was if Anne Hathaway played every character in the movie in various forms of makeup/costume much like The Klumps (“Klump-esque”:adjective).

    Les Mis was a story of misery where *Spoiler Alert Jean Val Jean aka 24601 aka Mssr. Lamair aka JVJ aka J-Vizzle dies at the end. But it was his journey through the heartwrenching obstacles and the choices he made in these experiences that provided you insight into his character.

    THATS why LOST was great, THATS why you cared that Charlie died, THATS the point of the show, and THAT EXPLAINS THE ABRASION ON YOUR PALM! Damn, I’m good! #ObscureAceVenturaReference

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