I had this big joke planned to open my review of the Lost finale. I came up with it weeks ago. I was going to open with Homer’s line from the classic Simpsons episode, The Joy of Sect, where after watching a Movementarian brainwashing video, he remarks: “Wait, I’m confused about the movie. So the cops knew that internal affairs were setting them up?”. The joke being, of course, that just like Homer, the film had been so confusing that I’d just made my own one up in my head.
As it turned out, the end of Lost wasn’t confusing. Far from it. It was almost disappointingly straightforward, and in fact, the only big revelation was – as expected – the nature of the sideways universe. But I’ll get to that in a minute.
The thing the episode really turned on – Cuse and Lindelof’s final message to their creation – was contained in Christian’s speech to Jack. What matters is the time you spend with these people. The enjoyment you got from watching Lost. That it has to end doesn’t change that. A philosophy for life, and a plea for moderation from anyone who might accuse them of ending with a cop-out.
And make no mistake, there will be people with that opinion.
Was it horrible? No. It largely did what it needed to, reminding us that the series was never about the whys and wherefores, but about the group of people we were following. But was it as great an ending it could, or should have been? Again, no.
In part, this was because a lot of the on-island plot falls apart under examination. As if the writers knew the beats that had to exist, but not how to get between them. Despite knowing absolutely nothing about the island, Jack and Desmond were unusually happy to do what Smokey told them, content that their faith would outdo his apparent understanding of the situation. Smokey, for his part, was happy to let them. Rose and Bernard’s surprise involvement seemed to be purely motivated by a wish for them to show up one last time, rather than any reasonable logic.
Similarly, it’s not clear, for example, what Smokey would have done if Desmond had actually been killed as he planned earlier on, nor indeed, how sinking the island was supposed to help him escape. I could care less about things like who built the statue, or where the DHARMA Initiative came from, or even what the numbers were – but Smokey’s actual plan should have been driving the on-island story, and instead we didn’t get the half of it.
Worryingly, too, for a series built on its shocks, there was a lot about the episode that was very easy to predict. Lapidus wasn’t quite as dead as they wanted us to believe. Ben hadn’t actually switched sides. Juliet was Jack’s ex-wife in the sideways-verse. None of this should have been a surprise to anyone watching – but there should have been things that were, and really, there weren’t. It all moved swiftly along, from beat to beat. For a minute, I thought Jack was going to be the new Smoke Monster, but even that didn’t happen. We were denied any of Lost‘s signature twists, and we were denied any secret, speculative ending. Indeed, the only truly surprising thing about the episode, for me, is that Sawyer actually managed to dodge the bullet and survive.
Still, anyone who went into the finale expecting to find big pieces of the Lost puzzle being slotted into place was, of course, going to be disappointed – the previous episodes had already served that purpose, ending with the universally derided (and, I would argue, criminally misunderstood) Across the Sea. The remainder of the series was merely supposed to tie up the individual character arcs.
And to an extent, it did. Ben got his reward. Smokey got his just deserts. Kate and Sawyer got their second chances. Even those that died found peace, we are assured, in the sideways-verse – which wasn’t actually a sideways-verse at all, but some kind of purgatory…
This, I was worried about. Lost has always flirted with religious imagery, though never quite so blatantly as the finale did. It seems the series took a leaf out of the Evangelion/Battlestar Galactica book: if all else fails, go for the divine metaphor. As great as it was to see all the characters together, and as much fun as it was watching their “reawakening” in the other universe, the payoff was simply not what it should have been. It seems like religious mythology has fast become the shorthand “important ending” for genre TV. At this point, I’m half-expecting 24 to end with Jack Bauer shooting his way into Hell and kicking the Devil square in the balls.
But again, it’s not the revelations that matter, but the characters. And this is where my single big problem with the finale lies. For a lot of the characters, the ending simply wasn’t enough of an ending. Desmond’s story isn’t finished. There’s nothing to stop Kate wanting to come back to see if Jack made it. What will happen to Richard? Or Miles? I’m not sure “they die and go to Heaven” is a particularly good answer, and Kate telling Jack she missed him, and Hurley and Ben congratulating one another isn’t really enough. More in-joke than payoff.
If we accept that the show isn’t about the mysteries, but the people, we need to know that their stories are over. Sawyer looking out of the window as the plane flies off isn’t an adequate resolution to his story, for instance. A show as tightly-constructed as Lost shouldn’t have left so many dangling threads. It’s times like this that you start to really appreciate Joss Whedon’s skill in wrapping up a story.
Still, when it comes down to it, there was also a lot to enjoy. Everyone acted their hearts out. The intricate construction of the sideways-verse, all leading to Christian’s funeral, was masterfully pulled off. The action set-pieces were great, particularly the final fight between Jack and Smokey and the ultimate fate of Ben and Hurley was an appropriate way to remind us that the island will persist beyond the rivalry of Jacob and Smokey.
Frankly, it could have been much, much worse than it was. At least, unlike some other shows, the ending wasn’t so bad that it retroactively tainted the rest of the series. Lost stayed true to its own story right up to the end, and even though it didn’t leave us with quite as much to speculate about as I’d hoped, it did give us enough that, finally, we can let those characters go and move on. After all – they already have.