Allow me to start off by saying that in what is probably the most significant week of television in my lifetime with both the series finales of both Lost and 24 airing a night apart from each other, thus sounding the end of an entire era of the best suspenseful television of all time, to me, it is only fitting that my inaugural post be an analysis of The End, the Lost finale.
I have a bit of a heavy heart over this, as before Sunday, Lost was definitely somewhere in my all-time, top-ten television series list but after watching the finale, there is no doubt in my mind that Lost is the best television show ever produced or at the very least tied with SciFi’s 2003 – 2009 reboot of Battlestar Galactica.
Interestingly enough, I came to that conclusion about BSG after watching its finale, as well, and what the two have in common is the way both series ended. Their finales were beautiful, perfect and quite frankly, couldn’t have ended their stories in any other way. They also have the virtue of having pissed-off a significant portion of their fan base who just simply didn’t get it.
As you read this, please understand that this posting is specifically for those of you who at least casually watched the series and did see the finale. I’m not going to include a synopsis of The End. If you didn’t watch it, stop reading now because this won’t make a lick of sense to you. <<<DEEP BREATH>>> Here goes:
So, what did we learn from The End? Well, the most significant thing we learned is that the explanation for an epic story that lasted six years can indeed be told in 2 1/2 hours… and it can be told wonderfully and poignantly.
As for the tangibles, first and foremost, yes, the island was real (…and not Purgatory) as were all of the people on it and their experiences together. There apparently was a big controversy over this because at the end of the episode, during the closing credits, they showed footage of the wreckage of Oceanic 815, and some fans thought it was symbolism to indicate that everyone died in the crash. They didn’t.
As the article notes, quoting Freud, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar… even on Lost (if you fell into this camp of fans than this analysis really is for you especially).
Moving right along…
During the first few seasons, each episode was focused on a specific character and we were inundated throughout each particular episode with cut-scenes of “flashbacks” of events that occurred during that character’s life before they arrived on the island that explained some mystery about them and provided some backstory. They explained why each castaway was the way they were and what brought them to the island. As you’ll recall, during season 4, the writers switched gears on us showing us “flash-forwards” (events that happened in the future as a direct result of things that happened on the island… that we hadn’t seen yet) and then by season 5 — to really throw us off — we had a season of time travel coinciding with a consistent storyline of events occurring in Los Angeles… post-season 4.
So, now, as if it wasn’t confusing enough, in season 6 we are introduced to the concept of the “flash-sideways.” In other words, they were showing us what was going on at the island but this time there would be cut-scenes involving all of the characters in an alternate reality in Los Angeles where flight 815 did NOT crash and the characters are all slightly different from how we knew them. Jack is still a surgeon but has a son from a prior marriage (and the ex-wife turns out to be Juliet), Sawyer is a detective for the L.A.P.D. and not a con-man (Miles is his partner), Ben is a high school history teacher who mentors to the fatherless Alex and becomes a surrogate father to her, John Locke lost the use of his legs in a plane crash, Jin and Sun were not married but Jin worked for Sun’s father and they were having an affair under his nose, and most significantly, there is no island (they show it under water in the first episode of the season).
“There is No Time Here” and Recycled Star Trek
So why the parallel universe/alternate reality? Well, what we find out in the last three minutes of the finale is that the parallel universe/alternate reality (unlike the island itself) IS indeed Purgatory.
Boom. There it is and it’s not nearly as complicated as some fans have made it out to be, and unfortunately I count myself as one of those fans who over-complicated this at first as well… but just for a little while. The trouble that I was having until about an hour after the episode was the time factor. I knew Jack died at the end of the finale and I figured that he and everyone else was dead during the whole season of “flash sideways” scenes but it didn’t make sense to me that they all died at the same time and were living in this Purgatory at the same time because I knew that they hadn’t. What had completely slipped past me was what Jack’s father, Christian, said to him as they were standing over his casket in the church which was, “there is no time here” and, “everyone dies eventually.” In other words it’s “non-linear” and that’s when I had my Homer Simpson moment (D’oh!).
As an aside, explanation of non-linear time is probably most prominently demonstrated on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine which makes perfect sense because the writers and producers of Lost are of course not just heavily involved in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek re-imagining, but they are also all huge Trek fans as well and this is not the first time that they have used a Trek premise and re-worked it to advance a plot. For the most recent and obvious example of this you simply need to look at the entire time travel premise of season 5 which is based exclusively on Trek’s “causality loop”/”predestination paradox” theory of time travel. Because of that geeky reference, it was the one and only time that I had everything figured out well in advance of a big event on Lost (i.e., Daniel Faraday’s death).
Back to the concept of “non-linear time.” You see, time, of course, is completely irrelevant in the afterlife. They all died at one point eventually (because we all die sometime, right?) but when there is no linear time, what happens today is no different in time than what happens 50 years from now or 50 years ago. There is no past, there is no future, there is just the “now.” All that mattered was that these people would meet to reconnect in Purgatory to “move on” together.
And this, of course, was the ultimate point of the show that no one’s talking about and I’m not sure if they just don’t realize it or just don’t want come to terms with it because we’ve been so focused on all of the other mysteries like the Dharma Initiative, the Smoke Monster, the fact that women can’t carry babies to term, the Others and of course, the island itself. The fact is that in the end, the ultimate point of the whole series had nothing to do with any of these mysteries. I know it’s almost blasphemous to suggest this amongst fans of the series, but even the island itself turned out to be completely irrelevant.
As Desmond says:
“It doesn’t matter. You’re going to lower me into that light and I’m going to go somewhere else; a place where we can be with the ones we love, and we don’t ever have to think about this damned island again. And you know the best part, Jack? You’re in this place.”
Desmond had it right all along and we should have realized this in the season 4 episode The Constant. The only thing that mattered ultimately was the relationships these people had with each other and the bonds that they formed. The only “place” that mattered was the afterlife.
This wasn’t a story about an island, it was a story about a group of incredibly flawed people who overcame their personal demons to help one another and become better people in the process… and to become a family that truly loved each other. The island was nothing more than a vehicle for their own penance and redemption.
I keep reading these blogs where people are complaining because they didn’t tell us what the ultimate fate of the island was and “didn’t tie up the loose ends” and it just proves to me that a good 50% of the fan base of the series did not understand the finale and ergo did not understand the series.
In my opinion, the writers were very careful to not dwell on the details of the show in the end and made a point to not to tie up loose ends, not so much because they wanted to leave it to the audience to figure out all the odds and ends on their own, but because they wanted the audience to come to the realization that in the very end that all of those details were inisgnificant to the big picture and if you haven’t put two and two together yet, it’s an allegory for the journey that we all are on in life and in death.
Final Impressions: “You Can Let Go, Now.”
What I got out of the finale was that the writers were far deeper than any of us ever gave them credit for and far more clever than any of us fanboys/girls could ever have been. We thought we were so smart and had everything figured out. What’s really funny is that I have been compelled to come to the conclusion that I didn’t know anything about this series until the last three minutes of the finale, despite the fact that I have followed it religiously for six years.
The common refrain that was sung during all of season 6 dating all the way back to the first episode was simply, “You can let go, now.” That wasn’t just a message for our castaways, that was a message for all of us as fans as well. We can let go now. We can let go of the mysteries, we can let go of all of the loose ends, we can let go of all of the arguments amongst the fans and now we can let go of this epic tale that has consumed us for so long. In the very end, when Jack laid there dying on the island looking up at the sky in the exact same spot where he first woke up after the crash, he achieved a contentment and inner-peace that he rarely found in life. When he closed his eyes for the final time, I felt that peace with him and I still do.