That LOST finale, for the first time, seven years later
Watching Lost a little over seven years after it wrapped up totally blind was impossible. But there’s also so much going on in this show that the meat of what I knew was contained to buzzwords. Smoke Monster. Hatch. Jack. Kate. Sawyer. John Locke. And the finale sucked. That’s primarily what I knew. I remember being relieved to hear that the finale sucked back in 2010 because that meant I never had to slog through it. Lost’s 90 hours and 45 minutes were ones I could never take back, and now, ones I never needed to.
But after The Leftovers grimaced its way into becoming one of my all-time favorite shows, and full disclosure, knowing I would spend those same 90 hours and 45 minutes on Netflix eventually anyway with things I’ve already seen, I decided to find room in my already overly saturated skull for Lost. Even knowing it can only end in the disappointment so many people felt seven years ago.
(Note: Yes, I know what I’m about to say and likely everything else one can say about this cultural phenomenon of a show has already been said a million times. I possess the luxury of having totally ignored professional criticism of the show at the time it aired, meaning I, for a brief moment, live in a world where I get to think my thoughts about Lost are in any way original.)
Ninety hours and 45 minutes later, spread into probably not enough weeks to be healthy, honestly, I’m conflicted about a lot of what I saw. That said, I thought the end, “The End,” was stellar.
That said that said, the last season to season-and-a-half in general? Mostly a grind. Lost’s dense mythological side having any sort of conclusion that was anything other than at least a mild disappointment was baked into it from the first episode. As creator Damon Lindelof seems to have learned by following up with The Leftovers, in television, questions are always more fun than their answers. The Leftovers was all questions, and was upfront about there being no real answers to them, sunbathing in its own ambiguities up to its final shots. It also had the benefit of not having a massive, ravenously hungry, network-level fanbase demanding those answers.
Lost, too, glistened most when you ask big questions of it. The first two episodes of Lost taken as a whole are, of course, famously a masterpiece in pilot-crafting. The episode where the show really bearhugged me into (begrudgingly) trying to solve its series of riddles, though, was “Walkabout,” the final twist of which first reveals John Locke’s miraculously cured paraplegia. Expert construction of the episode itself aside, that was a killer left hook of a mystery. I mean, damn, what is going on here?
The first season or two of Lost absolutely fucking rampages through setting up mysteries like that. From the polar bears to the hatch to the numbers to God’s Perfect Creep Ethan to the Others to why the show’s writers went out of their way to tell us about a guy who fucked his his step-sister once, right before thankfully killing both of them off. It’s no wonder why the show became the biggest thing on TV. Shit’s delicious.
In television, whether it’s Seinfeld or Breaking Bad, there’s always been a leap in logic you have to take, and it comes down to: “Why does all this crazy shit keep happening to these people?” For Lindelof and Lost’s writers, that question is foundational: “Yeah, I know, exactly, why does all this crazy shit happen to these people?” Hell yeah, said everyone in 2004, except me.
When it came time to start solving some of these mysteries, it answered the call in two ways, one fun and one frustrating. The frustrating: one character would promise to “tell [John or Jack or Sayid] EVERYTHING if [John or Jack or Sayid] does this one thing for me first,” only to get interrupted and/or die and/or just, like, not do it.
The fun: Lost would offer two explanations, one pseudo-scientific and one mystical. Here, the audience gets to solve the mystery for themselves, depending on whatever they see in the show’s mirror.
Is The Island magical or sitting in a unique electromagnetic field that makes strange shit happen? Is the indecipherable causing the inexplicable, or the other way around? Are we here (on The Island as on earth) because of science or because of higher powers, or does one explanation for our being here inform the other? That’s a question that’s been central to existential crises for as long as we’ve had them, and what Lost thrives on.
More scientifically leaning explanations could only ever last so long with this show, though. It depends on how along-for-the-ride you are with Lost, or how much you like stuff like this kind of thing to begin with, to really buy into the more straightforwardly mystical side it shows, made bare toward its back end. Its science was crackpot science to begin with — of course it would never quite explain why there’s a sentient pillar of smoke or a fateful series of numbers on The Island. Come on.
That part of the show had to die by the end, but with it, Lost’s central tension died too. This may say more about me than the show, but I was mostly on board with all the time travel stuff of the fourth and fifth seasons — “The Constant,” where series MVP Desmond becomes unstuck in time, only to be made whole again by love, remains, I think, the strongest hour in the shows run. But the final season in particular introduces elements that proved to be bridges too far for me. Whether it’s: a temple with a magical fountain of youth(?), led by a Japanese mystic straight out of a Kung-Fu movie; immortal ruler Jacob not only being flesh-and-bone but also having manipulated all of our favorite characters onto The Island one by one; an ancient sibling rivalry turned Smoke Monster origin story (hi, Allison Janney!); oh, and Miles is somehow still a character and still communicates with the dead; there was only one explanation for everything that happened left. And that explanation was, eh, magic?
That’s no one’s fault. It always had to be magic. I guess I just didn’t want to know for sure it was magic. I would have rather been mystified at the fact that the not-actually-wearing-eyeliner Richard never seems to age than know it was really mystical.
And then, somehow, it all ends almost perfectly. “The End” isn’t always elegant or subtle, but Lost was never that elegant or subtle.
You see how I spent all this time talking about the mythology and scientific gobbledegook and miracles of this show? Lost throws so much of that at you it dominates the conversation. It’s easy to think that’s the point. Again, that fault in thinking is baked into its premises. It’s easy to falsely assume that Lindelof and his team were as interested in The Island as what The Island meant to the people on it.
Lost’s final moments are devoted not to mysteries and mythologies, but to its many characters — characters that, thanks to the flashback-heavy episodic structure, we got to watch grow over the better course of their entire lives. Much of me thinks, overall, Lost would have benefitted from the more modern cable approach of having 10- to 13-episode seasons, thereby lassoing in some of its more meandering curiosities. There’s a lot to be said, though, for the amount of time we got to spend seeing how its characters think and grow and interact and love each other.
Sure, there’s the action-packed, Indiana Jones-style sequences in “The End,” resolving what happens to The Island and the apparent light at the center of it (fine), and the climactic fight-to-the-death between Jacob-Jack and Smoke Monster-John in the rain (better). But all I remember anyone talking about was that hugging-packed last few moments in the church. In one last classic Lost twist, the sixth season’s asides to a reality where Flight 815 never crashed turns out to be the afterlife everyone’s made it their beeswax to meet in. It’s with all those characters altogether for the last time that the final episode lives, because it’s where the show’s always really lived.
It may not pay off every single question that Lost ever set up — even more than 90 hours of TV probably isn’t enough to do that — but it pays off every relationship the show has ever invested in, diamond-thieving-also-rans aside. Sun and Jin. Claire and Charlie. Sawyer and Juliet. Desmond and Penny. Daniel (oh, runner-up for series MVP, by the way) and Charlotte. Hurley and Libby. Rose and Bernard. Sayid and Shannon (kinda; remember when she fucked her step-brother?). Jack and Kate. Jack and his father. John Locke and having working legs. Thanks to all its hours of character development, and some expert performances, even the reunion between Hurley and Benjamin, after a years-long partnership we didn’t even see, was affecting. Christ, I can’t think of a show that’s ever had this many pairings it wanted us to care about, much less ones I actually did.
Considering the sheer scale of the person-to-person threads Lost had to tie up here, for every one of its gigantic cast of characters, it’s incredible how many of them it wrangled into pretty little bows. While Lost’s myriad mysteries placed a lot of rocks in its own pockets before walking out into the sea for its last season, “The End” still floats. It’s sappy, sentimental, all about love and family and friendship and the family of friendship, and yeah, ugh, but it’s exactly how it needed to end.
Look, there’s a lot wrong with Lost. I can’t say I loved close to every second of it. There may be almost as many story elements throughout its run it totally dropped as settled. And considering how late I am to this particular party, and how often it’s been ripped off since it was on the air, no, not all of it has aged well. (For instance: perpetually shirtless hunk Sawyer would be so much more swoll in 2017.)
For all its sins, though, Lost began with a guy waking up in a jungle, and ended with the same guy dying in a jungle, but now he’s a guy who is endlessly giving and loyal and hotheaded, prone to obsession, can’t let go of lost causes, is always a single bad day away from a substance abuse problem, loves nothing more than to help people, as quick to anger as he is to forgiveness, a guy with daddy issues and a martyr complex, and has given a thousand people panicky CPR and a thousand people a thousand punches in a row. And I’m describing one of the least interesting characters on the show here. “The End” made a frequent cynic like me happy about that guy being able to party with all his friends in the afterlife. Fuck it, it’s a hell of an ending for a bunch of lonely idiots finding themselves and each other. That’s the light at the center of it.
Now I’m off to read about how thoroughly unoriginal this take on Lost is.