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Thoughts on "The End"

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I should probably wait until I’ve had a reasonable time to absorb it to write about the series finale of Lost.

I probably should, but I’m not.

Before I get to my evaluation of the episode itself, I’ll go back to the five criteria I mentioned last time, and merely give a straightforward response to how (or whether) each question was answered:

1. What is the conclusion of the Man in Black / Smoke Monster’s story? This one was answered definitively. With the “Source” gone out, it seemed as though the island’s mysterious properties were suspended. That’s the explanation I’m going with as to why Kate’s last shot actually damaged the Man in Black. I suppose that’s also why Desmond was considered a “fail-safe” for Jacob. Desmond could de-power the Man in Black by de-powering the island, also setting the stage for Jack to make his sacrifice to re-power it. Desmond’s comments prior to entering the Source cave also indicate his limited clairvoyance had returned. Anyway, there was definitely a clear ending to this story: The Man in Black was killed by Jack and Kate.

5x05 HelloEloise

I suppose we'll have to fill in a few gaps ourselves

2. How did Eloise acquire superior knowledge? I said that this was critical to the story because, “In 1977, she had no idea until after the fact that she had just killed her own son. In 1996, she knew Desmond wasn’t ‘supposed’ to buy the engagement ring, that the man with the red shoes was going to die, and that the universe has a way of course-correcting. Similarly, in the FST in 2004, she told Desmond he wasn’t ‘ready’ to know more about Penny yet. So, what happened between 1977 and 1996? Without some explanation, some pretty key elements of this story don’t add up (the early part of Season 5, for one).” They left this out, and I think that’s not a positive. The hypothesis I would throw out in their defense would be that one of Desmond’s actual abilities was not as it originally seemed. If we’re to piece together what happened earlier this year, it seems a bit like Desmond traveled mentally to the FST (which we now know is part of the afterlife), and then returned. So, if one of his abilities is to have his consciousness “cross over,” when he comes into contact with high levels of electromagnetism, then return, perhaps what we saw in “Flashes Before Your Eyes” was a trip (and return) not to the actual 1996 as it appeared, but, rather, to the afterlife (or, if you prefer, the flash-sideways 1996, albeit with minimal apparent changes). Since Eloise was technically only omniscient in FBYE and in the FST, all of that could be explained by saying that Desmond crossed over and came back in FBYE. Of course, it would be nice if I didn’t have to connect that many dots on my own.

3. Why is Aaron so important? I said the likelihood of this was low, and offered an acceptable alternative theory, but neither were taken. Ultimately, we know that Claire returns to Aaron in 2007 and presumably raises him from age 3 forward. Maybe that renders the question moot.

UnderwaterPortal

Never mind!

4. Why is the island sunk in FST / what happens if MiB “wins?” This, I think, might be the biggest “failure” of the episode. I can chalk up the island being sunk in FST to “that’s just how the people who haven’t moved on yet think of it” (more on this in a bit), but I still have no clearly-defined explanation of what would happen if MiB got off the island. Although I think we can all agree that the Source was real/important within the context of the show’s reality, I honestly think that MiB leaving the island being unacceptable or dangerous may have just been a fairy tale spun out of Mother’s dim view of humanity. That “rule” was perpetuated by Jacob, but, as Ben hints toward the end of the episode, Jacob’s rules aren’t necessarily the best way of doing things.

5. How do the timelines merge? As we now know, they aren’t, in fact, two timelines. What we call the OT is the show’s earthly events. What we call the FST is a layover of indeterminate length that is an intermediary step or first step in the afterlife. It’s a place which exists so that those destined for the peaceful, loving existence described in the FST at various points can come to terms with what’s happened, repent if necessary, and, ultimately, let go and move on. A fully-robust analysis of the season would undoubtedly turn up a few plot elements that become problematic in light of this explanation. I’ll leave that to the disgruntled nit-pickers. We got our explanation, as expected.


One last thing before I bottom line this episode and the series: The stuff I got right, and the stuff I got wrong, just for vanity’s sake.

Wrong: Nobody in the OT was from the future. Aaron didn’t directly figure into the OT plot in any meaningful way. The Man in Black had no name at all.

Right: Juliet was Jack’s ex-wife in the FST. Jack was called upon to heal/fix the island in a vague callback to his first surgery. The final shot was the bookend of a dying Jack’s closing eye after making a sacrifice to save the island. Rose and Bernard rescued Desmond. Hugo “I’m just glad it wasn’t me” Reyes wound up being the next protector of the island after Jack’s William Henry Harrison-esque tenure. Jack suffered an injury in battle with MiB that led to the neck bleeding we saw in FST.


As with most things “Lost,” this episode is very difficult to evaluate in a traditional sense.

I’ll start with my only specific negative criticisms (despite what I say above):

1. I thought the death of MiB came a bit early and was also a little anti-climactic. Not a huge issue, but an issue nonetheless. I did like the nice touch of mirroring MiB’s kick of Jacob into the fire with Jack kicking MiB toward the water.

2. The Shannon-Sayid storyline was one of the least favorite / most implausible of the entire series for me, and I was sorry to see
1X13 ShannonBooneFlashback

At least she didn't hook up with Boone again. *shudder*

it revived - and for eternity, no less!

3. The further reveal of the Source did little to shed light (no pun intended) on related plot points. I wasn’t expecting an explanation, but, for instance - why did MiB become a smoke monster, whereas Jack does not? My assumption is that MiB’s pre-existing “special” abilities caused him to be converted into that psychic cloud. Of course, Mother seemed to know it would happen so . . . oh, I don’t know. It’s just an added complication that didn’t seem necessary. I guess the alternative (Jack and Desmond both turning into smoke things) is much worse, so I should be grateful.

But those minor quibbles aside . . . Had I simply read the script, I would have likely been dissatisfied with this episode. No real explanation of the stakes if MiB made it off the island. No reference to Aaron’s importance. No explicit description of Eloise’s all-knowing nature (although I think the dots I connect above are reasonable).

And yet . . . I came away happy. And, more importantly, moved. The emotional component and the intangibles overrode most of the concerns I had about the plotting or story structure.

I’ve never seen a television program that was ultimately so engulfed by a singular concept: Faith. Not just specific religious faith, although that’s one component of it. Broader notions, too, like what we do has greater, even cosmic significance, even if we can’t see it.

Things happen for a reason.

This ranges from the themes of the show to the writing to the nature of its fandom. Now, at the end, we’re still left with questions. I have to admit that my response to most of them is “does it really matter?” What mattered, in the end, was not so much the show’s strange intrigue, but the fact that these characters could generate emotional responses in viewers. As different as Lost was as a television show, and as unlikely as it is we’ll ever see anything like it again on network television, it worked in the same way that every other successful piece of fiction has throughout history: These fake people, in a very fake place, with all sorts of fake events, somehow extracted real emotions from the audience.

I think that’s one of the points of the show: These characters were faced with truly bizarre, often inexplicable surroundings. But it wasn’t the bizarre that made them noteworthy. It was finding purpose, just as any of us can, even in mundane circumstances.

5x16 Christian smirk

This man had many important lines in the last few minutes of the series.

For those who want a more thorough explanation of the FST, this is how I would describe it: It’s a “place” after death that exists as a stopover before the afterlife proper. Its purpose is several-fold. For some, it’s a place to experience the great unknown of what their lives might have been, and to come to terms with the reality of their true lives. For others, it’s a chance to repent for some of the things their lives actually were. But, for all of them, it’s a place to do those things prior to moving on to the full afterlife - the warm embrace of love that Charlie described to Desmond. And it was a meeting place for these closely-connected people to gather together.

“The most important part of your life is the time that you spent with these people.” - Christian Shepherd to Jack.

So, John Locke can live a life wherein his father loved him and Helen was to be his wife. Sawyer and Miles can be buddy cops. Ben Linus can receive a form of absolution by mentoring Alex. Hurley can be blessed rather than cursed. Desmond can have the respect of Charles Widmore. Eloise can have a son who gets to do the one thing he always wanted to do - play music - and not be coerced into becoming a physicist. She can make amends, as can all of them in this place. Of course, she doesn’t want to move on yet, because, even though she knows the truth about where she is, this existence is one devoid of the guilt she felt when she knowingly sent her son to his death at her hand. She’ll get there, but not just yet.

Jack can have a son and not repeat the same mistakes his own father made.

And, at long last, he can attend the funeral that he was meant to all those years ago.

Not everyone is there, however. Some (like Michael) can’t move on because of what they did. Others (like Walt, perhaps) aren’t present in the church because the most important part of their lives was some other time, which makes sense.

These people, though - this hodgepodge of folks from all over the world and all walks of life - each played a role in something very important. Eventually, they remember this, cherish it, and are ready to move on to the next level of existence. They were unknowingly linked before they got on flight 815, they were linked on the island, and, as it now turns out, they were linked even beyond their earthly lives.

1x04lockesfootsmall

Turns out, Locke "got it" pretty much from the outset.

Locke was right all along.

And, in the end, that’s what this was all about . . .

A group of strangers, chosen by destiny, come to an island that is of great significance. There are supernatural and scientific forces on the island not found anywhere else on earth. That, in and of itself, makes the island special and worth protecting. It has likely been guarded since the beginning of humanity, but Lost was the story of how this one specific group of people, in their relatively short time on the island, saved it and its uniqueness from destruction. This was the most important thing that any of them ever did, whether they realized it at the time or not.

As fascinating as the island and its magic and mystery were, as central as the themes of good vs. evil and free will vs. fate were, as once-prominent as the idea of a subset of “special” humans was, the story was about these people. These ordinary, flawed, conflicted, damaged people. People, like many of us, who, when put in the most unusual and dire of circumstances, rose to the occasion to be greater than the sum of their flawed parts. As it often was with this show.

In the process, they overcame those flaws, put aside differences, and became connected in a special and ultimately eternal way.

So, we discover the FST becomes a flash-forward of sorts. Jack dies at the very end of the show, and, perhaps, that’s where his FST story begins in LA X. Shortly into the episode, after turbulence, Rose tells him “You can let go now.” Some have been there since prior seasons (Shannon, Boone, Libby, etc), while others won’t get there for years (Hurley, Linus, etc). They all initially perceive themselves as contemporaries because, as Christian explains, “There is no ‘now’ here.”

It’s noteworthy that a show in which time played such an important role wound up in a place where time was essentially meaningless.

Benjamin-linus

Someone finally *wants* his help

In the earthly reality after Jack’s death, Hurley and Linus remain on the island, with Linus finally getting what he never got from his father or from Jacob: A sense of self-worth and value. He’s genuinely touched when Hurley asks for his help in running the island, in sharp contrast to Jacob’s cold indifference. Linus’ redemption is complete, although he still has to make further amends in the FST, which is why he doesn’t join the group in the church. Hurley and Linus work together to attempt to send Desmond home at some unknown time in the near future. When all is said and done, years - perhaps tens or hundreds of years - of service are summed up by this affectionate exchange:

“You know . . . you were a real good Number Two.”

“You were a great Number One, Hugo.”

“Thanks, Ben. I’ll see ya.”

As for the rest of our friends, Sawyer, Lapidus, Richard, Kate, Claire, and Miles constitute the roll call of people who make it back to the civilized world once and for all (besides Aaron and Walt). Desmond presumably joins them later with the help of Hurley. Rose, Bernard, and Vincent remain on the island, happily living out their remaining days, with Hurley as guardian and Linus as his advisor.

My original theory of the FST was that it would be what we the viewers were left with when the show concluded. The idea was that it would be comforting - realizing that we had actually been seeing the post-show exploits of our favorites during the sixth season of the show. I quickly abandoned that notion, thinking that the writers wouldn’t be so foolish as to “undo” everything that happened on the show and reset to an alternate 2004 for fear of the backlash.

It turns out that the FST is what we’re left with, but in a way that I did not anticipate. Nothing is undone. Whatever happened,
6x16 jack mirror

The mirror is trying to tell you something, Jack

happened. Re-watching season six with this knowledge will be interesting, but, I suspect, will not fundamentally-alter the viewing experience.

Most everyone gets a happy ending in an episode packed with emotional moments. When you think about it, it’s the happiest ending possible, I guess: Some form of eternity with the love of your life and the people who were most important to you.

The two moments that were the most powerful for me - Locke’s conversation with Jack after he wakes up from surgery, for reasons that are largely related to my late father’s passing. Secondly, the scene at the very end also hit me hard. It wasn’t because of the parallelism to the opening of the Pilot. Although I thought that was extremely well-done, I had anticipated that much. What I hadn’t anticipated was Vincent running out of the woods to be with Jack as he lived his final moments. Not only do I love dogs and believe that they have a sort of capacity for understanding human emotion, but all I could think of was, “Jack didn’t have to die alone.”

As soon as the episode was over, I started thinking of what the next round of debate would be among some of the more “intense” fans now that we’ll get no more new episodes. I suppose it will come in the form of some making contrarian arguments that everyone really did die in the plane crash at the outset, and that the OT and FST are merely different levels of the afterlife, or that Christian Shepherd really was Christian Shepherd all along, and that MiB was lying. Or the opposite, and that the Christian we see at the end was really MiB.

As my tone indicates, I find these arguments without much merit. My take on the show has and will always be: No, the writers didn’t have it figured out from the beginning. And, although there’s a lot they don’t show us, the things they do show us can normally be taken at face value. I think Christian’s line “Yeah, I’m real. You’re real. Everything that’s ever happened to you is real” was intended to deflect such arguments.

This was a show about unexpected friends, enemies, lovers, and allies joining together to write one exceptionally memorable chapter in the long history of an island about which we’ll probably never know many things - and I can live with that. It was about these people surpassing limitations, whether mental, physical, or emotional, in ways they never could in their old lives.

I suspect the response to the show as a whole, but specifically the finale, will be tied to a given viewer’s personal feelings about faith, destiny, and so on. I think that’s true for this show more than any other successful network show of my lifetime. Personally, this show touched a couple of different nerves for me in its six-year run. Where it wound up was not the location I expected, but it delivered an emotional impact that made the unanswered questions more than worth it.

800px-Hurley bird

Apparently not important

We’ll never know for sure why women started having pregnancy issues. We won’t know why Dharma kept making food drops. The Hurley Bird will likely remain a mystery forever. And who was shooting at the outrigger during the time-shifts? We don’t know. And maybe that’s ok.

I don’t know if this is the last time I’ll write about Lost. I may revisit it once the complete series is released, but probably not. I enjoyed this show as much, if differently, than just about any show I’ve ever watched. I think I’ll probably watch it all the way through once more within the next year, then fondly put it to rest.

But, of course - “moving on” or “letting go” isn’t the same thing as “forgetting.”

It’s been a strange and fun ride, Lost. Thanks for six great seasons.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

--Montecore's Revenge 09:45, May 24, 2010 (UTC)

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