Friday, May 28, 2010

All is Not Lost: My Lost Series Finale Review

Those last 15 minutes. Oh, those last 15 minutes. They will go down as the most controversial/gripping 15 minutes in television history.

What was shaping up to be a series finale to end all series’ finales, the last 15 minutes of Lost airtime took a Titanic-sized turn for the bizarro.

I’ve been with Lost since the beginning, and I’m torn in a bajillion different directions about the finale, “The End.” Tuesday morning (I wasn’t able to watch it Sunday night – yea for the interwebs) I tweeted that the whole thing was like the Chronicles of Narnia meets Titanic in a Unitarian church. And because I’m so torn about “The End,” what you are about to read is most likely going to be very random and incoherent. Consider this a “readability” alert.

But before we begin, a few things need to be understood:

1. Any serious viewer of the show knew that going into the finale (and even the last season) there would still be unanswered questions. Even the show’s creators admitted as much. So for all you what-about-the-polar-bears people, just drop it. TV shows aren’t created in a vacuum (especially this one); some things will go unexplained or completely abandoned altogether (more on this later).

2. Even if we knew that some things were going to be left “open for interpretation,” I think it might have also been na├»ve of us to think that the series would end with a nice ribbon tied around it. Wasn’t in the cards. That’s not how this show rolls (er, rolled). Unconventiality was the norm, so, in some ways, “The End” stayed true to the ethos of the show as a whole.

3. In TV critic Alan Sepinwall’s review of the finale, he said that your enjoyment/disdain of the finale probably depended on where you fit on the character-development or plot-mystery spectrum. Take a second to determine where you are on this spectrum before we move on.

There. OK, let’s get dirty. Thoughts, muses, questions and comments about the good, the bad, and the “what the…?” of “The End.”

To begin, we must go back to the end of season 5. Juliet falls down the hole of the yet-to-be-built Hatch and “detonates” Jughead – the nuclear bomb that somehow ended up on the Island back in the 1940s. As far as I know, the “conventional” wisdom has it that Juliet smashed the bomb with a rock and it exploded. Giant white flash. Fade to black. End of season 5.

Too bad the bomb never exploded.

Now, I don’t know if that’s a truly novel idea in the whole universe of Lost theories, but I’ve never really heard much talk about it, even amongst my other Lost friends. I don’t believe Jughead ever went off. Maybe it “neutralized” the energy so that the 1970s-Dharma folks could later build the Hatch, but I don’t know how a nuclear bomb “neutralizes” something without blowing that something to kingdom come.

Season 6 starts with the Island in-tact, and the time is “present day.” The Island time-skipping was already halted by Locke before “The Incident,” but somehow Jack, Kate, Sawyer and everyone else are in the 2000s again and not the 1970s. Whatever the bomb did (but I’m fairly certain it didn’t explode), sent them back to “present day” after Desmond blew up the Hatch (end of season 2).

As season 6 opened, we were all under the impression that Jughead’s detonation created a parallel universe (the “flash-sideways”). As Brian Regan might say, we were way off: they were all dead, in heaven! Everything that happened on the island really did happen, thus the bomb didn’t explode, because of it did, the ISLAND WOULDN’T BE THERE. This is one of my main puzzlers that season 6 didn’t do a very good job of clarifying, and maybe I’m making too big of a deal out of it.

But it’s a big deal because until the last 15 minutes of “The End,” all, if not most, of us were under the impression that Jughead’s explosion inexplicably created a different plane of reality, some “real” parallel universe.

Apparently not. Well, it was real, but it wasn’t real in the space-time continuum. All throughout season 6 we thought our lovable bunch of castaways/survivors were living two “real” lives. Nice con by the show’s creators, sure, but what did this purgatory consciousness have to do with resolving six seasons worth of plots and character arches? Why did season 5 come down to this defining moment of blowing up the Hatch when, in the big picture, nothing was ever really defined by it?

This is where the last 15 minutes of frustration and all of “what the…” sentiments come to a boil. The first two hours and 15 minutes of “Then End” were killer. Absolute killer stuff. From Jack’s duel with Not-Locke in the rain (with Jack holding the literal and figurative high ground), to Jack anointing a teary-eyed Hurley as protector of the Island, to Ben finding some peace and purpose in his life, to the many reunions – especially Sawyer’s and Juliet’s – to Miles finally coming to grips with his belief in duct tape, to Jack finally being the man he was never able to be (more on this later), to Locke forgiving Ben for killing him…I mean, how can you fit so many lump-in-the-throat moments in 2.25 hrs of TV? It was true art. It was meaningful from a fan’s perspective and also from a show-completion perspective.

But as “The End” got closer to the end, and some major plot questions were still unanswered, I started to get worried. When Jack’s dad blew the cover off the purgatory existence, a good chunk of the plot, characters and narratives from the last six years – including many introduced in season 6 alone – just kinda fizzled out. What exactly is the Island? Where does the light come from? What was Widmore’s angle? Why was Desmond so important? Why wasn’t Nadiya Sayid’s true love? What new lessons did the Oceanic survivors learn in purgatory that they hadn’t already learned in their time on the Island? Why was so much of season 6 focused on the Temple? They left so much material completely unanswered or “open for interpretation,” and then they have the audacity to end the show by telling us that they’re already dead and running around purgatory waiting to wake up and be with each other?

In some ways, the purgatory consciousness/remembering where they’ve come from makes sense: in the end, everyone goes to “heaven” (apparently God is a Unitarian) and everyone (well, not quite) is together. How many times in the last six years has Desmond said, “See you in another life, brother?” Even in “The End,” it was Jack who said those exact same words to Desmond. This wasn’t completely out of the blue.

The irony is that a sizable portion of Lost viewers (and also actual characters on the Island) thought that the Island was purgatory. Yet in the end, it’s this “other life” that ends up being purgatory. The show’s creators had a good thing going with that purgatory thread, and it makes sense that they wouldn’t abandon it – unlike other major plot devices. The power behind everyone ending up in “heaven,” in the church together, fading into the light, is that like any myth worth its ology, the story doesn’t end in death. We’re left knowing that the cast we’ve come to love over the last six years will spend TV-eternity together. Death isn’t the end; in many ways (especially when viewed in light of Christian cosmology) it is the beginning.

My question, from a purely story-line perspective, is why devote so much time in season 6 to this afterlife place when it had very little to do with the major narratives, questions and character developments from the “real life” on the Island. Yeah, it’s a nice sentiment that they all remembered their lives on the Island/learned their lessons (poor theology aside) then got to spend all of eternity together. But looking back on this season and the show as a whole, this purgatory thing didn’t add a ton to its resolution and Island-centric mythology.

The whole purgatory/let’s all go to heaven bit just seemed…cheesy. Unimaginative. My wife pointed out that it was like Titanic, that after everyone dies (as Jack’s dad explained), they all end up in heaven, be that a universalist church or the ballroom on a big ship. Ending one of the greatest TV series of all time like a James Cameron movie isn’t the way you want to go out, is it? Especially for a show that had proven itself to be very deep, literary and non-run-of-the-mill.

Also, not everyone from the Island was there – like Mr. Echo or, heck, why wasn’t Richard there? He had been on the Island longer than anyone. But Penny, who had never been to the Island, was there. It just felt poorly thought out. It was another incomplete narrative that wasn’t completely needed.

Thankfully, they nailed Jack’s final moments. His life-giving sacrifice to re-cork the Island was beautiful stuff. Here’s a guy who for six seasons has sucked at fixing things and being a leader, and now finally he is able to fix the biggest thing in his life: the Island. As he stumbled back through the bamboo, I couldn’t help but think of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when the Pevensies found their way back to the wardrobe – the place where everything started.

Beginning and ending a show with the same character lying in the same place was true literary genius. Jack’s character went through several developments. He started out strong (though somewhat reluctant), then in the middle he wobbled in uncertainty and weakness. So, for him to act with such faith, clarity and purpose in the end was masterfully orchestrated. Talk about a dynamic character. Seeing him die in the bamboo grove after saving the Island and his friends provided complete closure to his narrative – arguably the crux of all of Lost. (It’s just too bad the confusion and irritation over the purgatory scenes interrupted/de-climaxed his noble march back to the place where everything began.) Based on what we learned from the purgatory scenes (one of this concept’s few pluses), one could even make the case that Jack didn’t start living until he crashed on the Island, and so for him to die in that same place is incredibly symbolic. It’s a great scene, perhaps the defining TV moment of my generation, although it was somewhat robbed of power and vigor by the ambiguity of the afterlife scenes.

So, where does all this leave us? In many ways, in the same place we started. Lots of “whys” and “whats” are still unanswered, many of the threads we had hoped would all come to one singular point at the end didn’t necessarily connect, and Jack lies dead on the same patch of earth his journey began – only as a changed man who found a balance between faith and action.

Maybe that’s what “The End” is trying to tell us: Like those who struggled on the Island, it’s not about how many questions remain unanswered, but the amount of faith we apply along the way and the person we become.

Maybe we’re like Ben, who even at journey’s end and the happily ever-after is at arm’s reach, we still need a few moments outside the church to reflect and assess everything that’s happened.

As a series finale, “The End” does well, but falls short in some areas. If you’re disappointed in the finale and judge Lost likewise, I think you’ve missed the point. Yeah, maybe the creators didn’t have everything as perfectly planned out as we all thought. As for me, I would do it all over again, with the comfort of knowing that in the real world, all of the plot devices and character developments do matter and will eventually come together in one all-encompassing, resolving point.

Well, that’s all I got. My brain hurts. What do ya’ll think?

1 comment:

  1. Good thoughts. I still thought the last 15 min were awesome though but I was a bit more sentimental and was ultimately looking for and and waiting for Jack to meet his dad again. It had to happen for me and was huge when it did. Loved the bittersweetness of it. More of my thoughts here: