5 years after Lost’s ending, I still hear and read the opinion “that it was rubbish.” That it “didn’t make sense” or “it was a complete let down.” And yeah, astonishingly people still think they were dead all along. This post is my attempt to explain why Lost’s final episode hit the nail on the head in doing what it was supposed to do, and while it may have disappointed some (more on that later) it was certainly not rubbish. It was actually quite brilliant.
Please note, there will be spoilers in this blog if you haven't seen the ending. It's also quite long, but stick with it
If you already understand the ending, feel free to skip the next paragraph
Let’s get the big question out of the way first – what was the ending really all about. Ah yes, the ending. For the entire last season we were shown an “alternate” timeline where Oceanic 815 never actually crashed, and everyone lived happily ever after. Except they didn’t. Because they were dead. It was never actually an alternate timeline. It was, for lack of a better word, the afterlife. The world the characters woke up in after dying in the real world. Yep, the real world. They weren’t dead before, but they are now. Still with me? Good. It ran almost parallel to the timeline in which the characters lived on the Island. When Boone clocked out early in Season 1? He woke up on Oceanic 815, right next to good ol’ John Locke. This is where it gets confusing. If Boone wakes up next to Locke, but Locke is still alive on the Island, how is it parallel? Well, here’s the thing – time in the afterlife doesn’t flow at the same rate as the real world. Nope, there is technically no “now” in the afterlife. I guess you could say it happens all at once. The characters experience it all at the same time, and all at different times. I told you it gets confusing. But enough explanation of the big twist, because if you’ve attempted to understand it before and still haven’t grasped it in 5 years, I’m not going to make it any clearer. Besides, that’s not what I’m here for.
Why some felt disappointed
You see, people look at the finale as what the final twist was, and whether or not it answered every question they had rattling around inside their heads (most of which were answered probably last season if they bothered to rewatch). They judge the final episode on the big twist and how satisfying it was, and therefore the entire show and if that twist made it all worthwhile. Let me tell you one thing – this is wrong. And it’s wrong for two reasons. 1) Does a delicious meal deserve to be judged on the last bite, or the entire three courses? If you choke on that last bite of your Big Mac, do you complain for a refund despite enjoying it beforehand? What I’m getting at is, a good story is a good story regardless of the final outcome. It’s about the journey, not the destination. If you enjoyed Lost for 5 seasons, and even the 16 episodes prior to the finale, how does one episode undo all that? Or even, you may enjoy the last episode up until the point where it didn’t end how you liked. This brings me to reason 2) the final twist was never intended to be this huge all-explaining revelation which suddenly made the show make sense. (It made sense if you followed it closely enough but whatevs) No, there was never going to be a single explanation that tied everything together. I was never big on theories that tried to explain everything at once. Single mysteries? Sure, but I never did expect the last episode or scene to give us that eureka moment that answered everything. This is where most people were disappointed. They were too expectant on the finale being all about answers.
The final mystery.
The finale was never going to be about answers. Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse stated that after "Across the Sea" (that was 2 episodes prior to "The End" by the way) they were done answering questions. The final 3 and a half hours of the show would be about wrapping up the story, and providing us with character resolution. The only major twist or reveal being that of the nature of the flash-sideways timeline, which was a self-contained mystery for the final season. Some might say we were misled into believing it was significant in the explanation of Lost, but any kind of red herrings the producers put in place were done to keep people guessing, of course. The decision to make the finale all about the characters was a good one. It brought the show back to that which we should have always been focused on in the first place. Lost was always a character story, the mysteries were always supposed to play second fiddle. It’s hard to imagine Lost without the mystery element, but it was there in order to provide a hook and to make it stand out from everything else on TV. It kept the audience talking, and allowed fans to engage with each other online or at the watercooler in a way they hadn’t done before. The mystery element of Lost, and the success of it, ushered in a new era in TV storytelling. Numerous attempts to copy the formula were made, with very few successes. This was probably because the mystery was never the sole reason it was successful, but an additional combination of excellent characters and amazing attention to detail. The latter had people scanning episodes for hidden clues to unravel complex web of questions. Any attempts to make a show driven by questions, without that same amount of effort and care put into the rest of it, was always bound to fail.
Why others loved it
So yeah, some people hated the ending because they expected a reveal that made every question click together seamlessly. So why did the rest of us love it? It’s basically one massive love letter to the fans of the show. I don’t mean the casual viewer who only watched it every week and scratched their head trying to remember what they saw last time. (Most of which were the ones disappointed by the ending) No, I mean the ones who would immediately scan the episode for easter eggs and references to literature after it finished airing. The fans who came straight to Lostpedia to document the episode and contribute to the analysis and trivia on the episode article. The people who jumped straight onto their favourite forum and started sharing their giddy reactions and spend the next week writing theories, reading others or recording their very own podcast. The people I’m talking about are the diehard fans, who put all their time into the show between episodes. People who could pick out an intentional allusion to a previous episode, because they knew them that well.
Flash from the past.
The producers do this by throwing lots of nostalgia and references out there. Things like Sawyer telling Kate he’d ask her to come with him, but it would take all the fun out of telling her she can’t – and then Kate’s reply that she has to resist following him anyway. The very nature of the flash-sideways in Season 6 played very heavy on nostalgia and giving eagle eyed fans references and scenarios from past seasons, even to the point that the first 5 episodes focus on exactly the same characters flashes in exactly the same order, as Season 1 did. There were even episode titles which flipped the wording from previous titles – "What Kate Did"/"What Kate Does", "Everybody Hates Hugo"/"Everybody Loves Hugo". But something else happened in the finale which cleverly gave the writers a chance to look back over the 6 seasons – the awakenings. Every time two characters started to remember their previous life, we would see montages of moments on the Island, complete with fantastic score from Michael Giacchino. The self-referencing continued, even to the point of Kate helping Claire give birth to Aaron once again, and Juliet giving Sun an ultrasound. It was always going to be an emotional send off, but these montages impact you hard and you’ll struggle to not reach for the tissues as soon as the music kicks in.
Speaking of the music, it was once again on point with a blending of old themes that had you recalling past scenes, and newly written material. The episode kicked off with a beautiful theme used at the end of the first episode of this final season, as the characters started their journey through the afterlife, and once again accompanied with a montage of the characters starting their final journey. The final piece of music blended all of the biggest themes together perfectly for an emotional crescendo, and a new theme around the Heart of the Island provided a final awesome and memorable piece. No final goodbye would have been complete without the return of many previous cast members and regular guest stars, the latter of which were credited as main cast for the first time. A final moment for Rose and Bernard on the Island topped it all off. All of this was portrayed with outstanding performances by all of the actors on screen.
It was always Hurley.
I have to admit the finale felt very strange for me whilst watching. It was like nothing I expected it to be (expectations can be quite dangerous of course) but it was a good thing. What was different was the pace compared to previous finales. Although they were always top-notch, they tended to build up slowly to a set piece final 30 minutes. I expected the big showdown of the episode – Jack vs. Locke, to be near the end, but instead it was out of the way fairly quickly. In fact, they met almost as soon as they had set off to look for the light at the centre of the Island, which was completely unexpected for me. In doing this, the confrontation and epic set piece was done within the first hour, leaving a huge amount of time for the aftermath, resolutions and final farewells. It was a great decision, once again highlighting that it was about the characters more than anything, and it made the tension remain throughout the episode from the very start. It was these final farewells where the episode really came into its own, and if you managed to keep yourself from crying before those scenes, you sure as hell would submit at this point. The passing of protector-ship from Jack to Hurley was one of the most surprising moments ever. It was always supposed to be Jack, he was the main character, the hero. But no, it was always supposed to be Hurley, and it’s something which could be traced back to the start of Season 4, when he began to gain the ability to speak to dead characters. It was a brilliant twist by the writers and allowed what some might say was inevitable to finally happen – Jack’s death. And it was this which also gave us the best throwback of all, when he stumbled through the bamboo forest, passing the white tennis shoe that belonged to his father still hanging by a lace. If you hadn’t watched the pilot since it aired, then it was a scene which was wasted on you, as it was a reversal of the opening scene. As Jack lay down near where it all began, it was the perfect way to end the show, to end the journey. And it wouldn’t be complete without a visit from Vincent, who comforted Jack as we all knew he was about to pass over. That scene alone, along with the closing of the eye as the final shot, proves the episode was written for the fans, not the casual viewers.
Time to let go.
In the end, you got out of Lost what you put into it. If you put your heart and soul into it, you got an emotional and satisfying ending. If you were only a fan for an hour a week, you were likely to come away disappointed. Now which of those two fans were most likely to complain they wanted that time back? It wasn’t the former, I can tell you. But before the final closing of Jack’s eye, the writers almost broke the fourth wall with a message which is now embedded into each one of those fans who came away satisfied. The final scene of dialogue explained everything the flash-sideways was about, as Jack finally met his father again and realised where he was, and what had happened. He put it like this “the most important part of your life, was the time that you spent with these people” and he went on to tell him they had met up once again “to remember, and to let go” before finally “moving on” to what was next. And it was this final message of remembering, letting go, and moving on which touched the millions of viewers who had put so much of their time into following the show, and it was ultimately the best way to say goodbye to them.
Finales rarely satisfy everyone, and Lost was certainly never going to. In some ways I’m sad it didn’t, as the legacy of the show is often discredited by naysayers who tell of the disappointment they were left with. But in other ways, I’m glad it divided opinion because people still talk about, and still debate it fiercely. Although we were told to let go, I hope we never fully do so that the show lives on, and is marked on every anniversary of the beginning and ending of the show. As I have said, just because the ending didn’t turn out how you’d expected or hoped, for one reason or another, it doesn’t mean the series as a whole was a wasted experience. It enriched my life while it was on air, and it probably did yours too. I’d like to finish by thanking anyone who read this fully right to the end. It wasn’t supposed to be quite this long! But I wanted to outline as best I could that the finale was certainly not awful, just because you didn’t like the outcome.