Tuesday, May 25, 2010

See You In Another Life, Brother

Let’s get something out of the way right at the start. Playing the “dog card” at the end of a long, emotional story is dirty pool. You all know what I’m talking about. I’m already barely holding it together and then Vincent shows up and lies down next to Jack to keep him company during his final moments. That was it, game over for me. Hand me the Kleenex! (Warning: sad picture included below!) And thus concluded an extremely satisfying and emotionally heart-wrenching finale to Lost. Let’s dig in and look at what happened, what it means, and what it means to me.

Desmond was wrong

Ever since Desmond returned to the Island and had his breakthrough with the sideways world, I thought that both versions of Desmond were working toward the same goal. But we learned that this was not the case and that the two Desmonds were doing two very different things. When Desmond was put in Widmore’s electromagnetic frying pan, he saw a glimpse of the sideways world. He thought it was an alternate reality and timeline, the by-product of “The Incident,” and he thought he could somehow usher his friends there as an escape plan. He was basically operating under the premise that Jack’s original plan to reset the timeline with a hydrogen bomb had worked and he just needed to help everyone get there. But he was wrong. He had not experienced a flash of consciousness through time and space as he has had in the past. What actually occurred was more of a near-death experience and what he had seen was the after-life (or whatever you want to call it, we’ll get to that later). This led to that great exchange with Jack where Desmond tried to persuade him that they could escape to this other reality. No, Jack told him. There are no cheats, no shortcuts, and everything they do matters. I loved this scene because it was the show telling us, the viewers, that this is for real. For so much of the show, fans have wondered whether the Island was real. Maybe it was hell, or purgatory, or a figment of Hurley’s imagination. The show has played with these theories with a wink in past episodes, but I feel like this entire season, and the entire existence of the sideways storyline, was intended to tell us once and for all that the Island is real and what happened to them there mattered. Jack definitively repeated Faraday’s axiom, “what happened, happened,” and he was right.

The Incident

I’m now personally convinced that detonating the bomb didn’t change the timeline at all. It is, in fact, what always happened. It was always a part of the Incident that led to the building of the Swan Station and the hatch and the button. But the Incident was still successful in that it returned our castaways to the Island present. It’s also still possible that the Incident served as the catalyst that led to the creation of the sideways world. Christian Shepherd told Jack that this was the place that he and his friends had created so that they could all be together again. Instead of a reboot of history, the sideways world was more of a metaphysical place of collective consciousness and memory where they could gather when their lives were over. I’m not sure if that’s what really happened, but I think it’s an interesting theory that is at least consistent with what we know.

Desmond was right

The sideways Desmond, in contrast to his Island counterpart, was operating under a completely different reality. Once he actually met and made contact with Penny in the stadium, he recalled full consciousness of his previous life and realized where he was. It then became his mission to reunite all of his friends from the Island and help them achieve the same total recall of their old lives so that they could experience the joy of being together again.

Jack and Smokey were both right

Smokey thought that Desmond would destroy the Island. Jack thought that Desmond would enable him to kill Smokey. They were both right. When Desmond pulled the stopper (the cork!), the life-giving water of the Island was drained. (Sidenote: I loved the shot of Jack and Smokey looking over the edge of the waterfall and the way it closely mirrored the shot of Jack and Locke looking down the hatch) This had the effect of literally draining the power from the Island. It started to fall apart. Richard had a grey hair! And Smokey was now physically vulnerable in the corporeal form of Locke’s body. After an exciting duel on the cliff and an assist from Kate, Smokey was defeated, but the Island was still crumbling. Fortunately, as we’ve been told a couple of times this season, nothing is irreversible. Jack believed that he could go back into the magic cave and put the cork back in and replenish the water of the Island.

Partings and Meetings

The last act of the episode was punctuated by a series of farewells and reunions. Jack and Kate said goodbye to each other, with each finally and sincerely professing their love for each other. When Kate lamented, “Tell me I’m going to see you again,” it was almost tragic. For anyone that cared about the whole Jack-Kate-Sawyer triangle, it felt that we were given closure that the relationship between Jack and Kate was ultimately the real deal. Then Hurley and Jack said their good-byes, and that was also a heartbreaking. I really liked the symmetry of each telling the other “I believe in you.” I also think Hurley is a fantastic choice to protect the Island. In hindsight, his arc this season clearly prepared him for the role. Ben’s encouragement to Hurley was a very sweet encapsulation of why we love Hurley: “you can start by doing what you do best – taking care of people.”

In the sideways world, Desmond’s project was gaining traction and we were treated to multiple reunions of friends long-parted. The grin on Hurley’s face when he first saw Charlie melted my heart, but the reunion between Claire and Charlie and between Sawyer and Juliet really cranked up the waterworks for me. I was deeply moved in a different way by Ben’s contrite confession to Locke and Locke’s offer of forgiveness. By the time we reached the church with Jack, I knew we were close to resolution. Jack’s reconciliation with his father was brief, but still touching and cathartic.

Turned Sideways

I’ll be honest, I didn’t completely grasp that everyone in the sideways world was dead until the same moment that Jack did. I don’t know whether to properly designate this place as heaven, or the after-life, or purgatory. I think I like Christian Shepherd’s description the best: it’s a place where they can all be together again. Beyond my half-baked theory above, I don’t want to worry too much about what the sideways world actually is. I’m more interested in what it means.

The thing I loved the most about the finale is that the show found a way to bring back all the characters that we’ve loved and lost without negating or diminishing all of the tragedies and sacrifices we’ve experienced over the last six seasons. The ending wasn’t a cheat; it was an earned reward for both the characters and the audience. I think that’s why we spent a whole season exploring the sideways world with the characters before we knew what it really was. They didn’t want the ending to feel cheap and tacked on. They wanted this to be an authentic part of the journey. It was also just another fun mystery to explore during the final season. Here’s a new question to explore: why did Jack have a son in the sideways world? My theory is that he was a projection of the kind of relationship Jack wanted to have with his own father. I think you could go through each character’s experience in the sideways world and explore what it tells us about him or her.

Where they left things

For people keeping score, we know that Sawyer, Kate, Claire, Miles, Richard, and Lapidus made it off the Island. We know that Hurley, Ben, Desmond, Rose, Bernard, and Vincent are still on the Island. It’s possible there are a few other survivors still on the Island too who scattered after Smokey’s purge of the temple and Widmore’s mortar attack on the beach. I’d like to think that Hurley found a way to get Desmond home to Penny and Charlie. I’d also like to think that Claire had a happy life with Aaron and that maybe Sawyer even established a relationship with his child. I imagine that Hurley and Ben had a long and successful reign on the Island full of great adventures with new Island visitors (Do I want to see any of those adventures? Okay, sure!).

The End

When Jack emerged from the other end of the cave and started wandering through the bamboo forest, I realized where we were headed. I knew that they were recreating the opening scene of the show. I even guessed that Vincent would probably show up, just as he did in the beginning. It did not matter that I knew, I was still a mess. It was a beautiful scene, and I loved that he got a glimpse of the plane flying overhead so that he had the comfort of knowing he really had saved his friends. Jack had fulfilled his purpose, and he was at peace.

What did you expect?

If you are someone who was frustrated by the finale, I neither share your disappointment nor understand it.  I acknowledge that the show didn’t answer every single mystery. Why was Walt so special? What was up with Jacob’s cabin? Why do women die during childbirth on the Island? Why was there a Dharma supply air drop in 2004? What makes Eloise Hawking so creepy?

This is what I say to that -- So what? Yes, I was hoping for a few more answers to some of those questions too. But having those answers now would not change the way I feel about the finale or the way I feel about the series as a whole. I was more invested in the characters than I was in the questions. Life is full of mystery, and sometimes we don’t get all of the answers. I think the audience has taken for granted just how many questions the show did answer. Furthermore, part of the fun of Lost was debating and theorizing about the unanswered questions. Think of the unresolved questions as a parting gift that allows the discussion to continue. Fittingly, the finale focused firmly on the characters. Isn’t that they way it should have been? Didn’t you want a happy ending? One reason I was so delighted by the episode is that I didn’t actually think we would get a happy ending! Now that the story has been told, do any of those unanswered questions still matter?

Why it matters

To me, Lost has been the best television show of the past decade, and deserves a place as one of the great television shows of all time. The trippy narrative structure, the great cast, the mind-bending mysteries and the cool sci-fi elements all contribute to its greatness. But I think its real greatness lies in the themes and issues it explored. Destiny, free will, faith, redemption, renewal, forgiveness, sacrifice – has any other show explored all of these themes so deeply and intimately? I’m glad that the finale embraced the spirituality of the show.

I’ve been a fan of Lost from the very beginning. Although I still consider the first season to be the very best of the series, the last two seasons of Lost have been particularly resonant for me. We’ve watched as Jack has evolved into a Man of Faith. As he began his quest to return to the Island, he never understood exactly what he was doing or why he was doing it, but he took a leap of faith and believed that there was a purpose behind it and that he was fulfilling a calling that was entrusted only to him. In the last 18 months, I’ve experienced circumstances in my own life that have led me to grapple with the same questions that Jack faced. Do things happen for a reason? Do we have a purpose? Will these present trials be woven together like one of Jacob’s tapestries into a greater whole? I’ve always believed that the answer to these questions is “yes,” but watching Jack’s journey has been a great source of comfort and encouragement. I’ve seen online multiple stories of others who have faced their own life struggles and have found the same kind of consolation.

I will miss many things about Lost. I will miss Sawyer’s nicknames. I will miss Michael Emerson’s alternately creepy and hilarious portrayal of Ben Linus. I will miss the love story of Desmond and Penny. I will miss the amazing music by Michael Giacchino. But most of all, I will miss the current of hope that consistently ran through the show. Whether it was the hope of rescue, the hope of redemption, or the hope of chasing destiny, the show was at its best when the characters looked beyond their present tribulations to the promise of something beyond. Perhaps nothing embodies this sense of hope better than the launching of the raft in the first season, one of my all-time favorite scenes from Lost. As the survivors celebrate the raft’s departure and the music swells, the emotion is palpable. They believed in each other and in their collective ability to overcome. In a small church somewhere in the beyond, their hope was realized.  They were no longer lost, because they had found each other.


  1. Great post, dude!

  2. Lost was a complex show and that was why I loved it. The finale wasn't complex--it was condescending. It moved me emotionally, but it did so in the easiest way possible (puppy! life after death love fest!). Only likeable characters even got effective endings while others were quickly dismissed--big storytelling fail.

    Personally, I only found a few characters compelling to begin with but I like puzzles and trying to solve them. Lost gave me 50 puzzle pieces and then told me I was wrong for trying to put them together--it was only about the other thing (ratings!).

    A good final season wouldn't have had to answer lots, but merely provide a conclusion that brings it all together--characters, themes, and a good number of plotlines. Instead we got a half-assed job that catered to the lowest common denominator.

  3. Anonymous -- What plot points did you feel weren't resolved? Could you give some examples? I thought the finale did exactly what you stated above -- brought together the characters, themes and "a good number" of plotlines. The puzzles made Lost fun, but they were never what Lost was actually about. Life and death, faith and spirituality -- these were the themes Lost dealt with all along, and those were the themes that the finale focused on. And it wasn't about the ratings. Lost's ratings have steadily declined every single year.

  4. http://www.collegehumor.com/video:1936291