So here’s the deal: this will not be a complete recap of the series finale of “Lost.” To try to make complete and coherent sense of what just dropped our way would be 1) impossible, and 2) be a disgrace to what just happened. Because what just happened isn’t something you instantly react to, but rather mull over during the course of a few days, weeks, months, or years. After all, that was the final episode. We have all the time in the world to think about its implications until we “move on.”
And yes, I use the phrase “move on” specifically due to the use of the phrase by Christian Shephard in the sideways universe, which we know now to be real only in the emotional sense of the world. All throughout the season, the producers of the show have assured us that what happens over there had stakes and meanings, and this is still completely true in the most basic of senses. Neither the pro-epilogue camp nor the pro-Island timeline had it exactly right, even though both camps had valid perspectives to bring to the table and pieces of the puzzle in hand. What “Lost” brought instead was a third perspective, one that nobody really saw and one that I bet made a core section of its audience completely and utterly insane with anger.
Looking at the finale from a perspective of mythology isn’t the best way to go about it. (I started to jot down “So who put the stone in the devil cave in the first place?” before slapping myself silly.) Looking at the finale from a perspective of plot probably isn’t the best ay, either. (Waaaaay too much time spent on getting Ajira 316 up and running again, especially considering the sideways resolution. And there are enough holes in the overall plot as a whole to dig a few dozen wells down towards the light inside all of us.) But looking at it from an emotional perspective, I thought the finale was a masterpiece.
In a sense, “The End” was a love letter from the show to itself and, hopefully, to the audience as well. But it didn’t pay off donkey wheels and Dharma Initiatives but the core characters of the show themselves. The sideways universe did offer a second chance, but not in the way that those that saw the sideways world as a chance to live their lives free from the Island. Instead, it offered each character a tremendous grace note, one felt both by the characters but also the audience at home. When these people “flashed” to their Island lives, they didn’t flash to epic moments in Island history: they flashed to empty jars of peanut butter and freshly picked flowers and all the small moments that make up a relationship.
If the show had to get one of three aforementioned elements right (character, mythology, plot), then it absolutely focused on the right one. As of this moment, writing in the immediate aftermath of what I just saw, I could care less about what happened to Kate and Company once they left the Island. The point of the show seems to be that what you do is less important than the meaning behind what you do. And moreover, if you live those lives in the correct manner, then the specifics are null and void. In the end, you arrive at the same destination. (In Richard’s case, you arrive there with newly graying hair, and the chance to actually buy the eyeliner you’ve long been accused of using.)
Now, let’s talk about that sideways destination itself. If put on the spot, here’s what I think we’re supposed to take away from it: As Island Protector, Hurley envisioned a way to give a gift back to those with whom he shared his time on the Island. Mother had her style, Jacob had his style, and Jack had his extremely interim style. But placing Hurley in ultimate charge of the Island? Brilliant, and not just because I predicted this last Fall and am happy I got at least SOMETHING right.
He’s the absolute perfect person to take the Island from what it was (something to be protected) into what it should be (something to be shared). In a show full of selfish people, Hurley is the epitome of unselfishness. Go back to the pilot episode: he’s distributing food on the first night (including a double dose for Claire, eating for two at the time). In “Everybody Hates Hugo,” he once again institutes a massive redistribution of foodstuffs. In both the Island timeline and sideways one, he uses wealth as a means to help others, giving away his cash rather than hang onto it. So having him established as the final Protector of the Island that we see (though, I imagine, not the final one by any means) worked for me.
What I imagine did not work for a LOT of you is the fact that we’ve spent one-half of the final season of the show watching events that would have been solved in “LA X” had Haley Joel Osment been on the flight. It’s a feeling that I have sensed coming for a while: the sideways world was doing such a damn good job of providing emotionally resonant moments that it eventually turned into an overwhelming attractive option for both the characters and the viewers. In fact, it turns out that the major players had absolutely no problem moving on once they made their emotional connections/breakthroughs, and instead willingly moved onto whatever lies on the other side of that white light.
As such, I look at the sideways world now as something created by Hurley (with Ben’s help, and maybe the leftover mental residue of each Lostaway past and present) as a stopping ground for all major players in the “Lost” universe to meet at once, irrespective of when or how they died. As Christian says, there is no “now” over there. Time is just a relative construct created by people who are used to seeing events progress in a linear manner. What does Hurley ever want? For his friends to be happy! So what does he do? Well, he doesn’t build a golf course, he builds a space for them to somehow connect after shuffling off their mortal coil and all end up getting the moments of happiness that eluded them, making connections that had been previously missed, and getting forgiveness once thought impossible. They don’t have to be alive to have these things matter once achieved in the sideways universe, which is why I was behind the ultimate explanation 100%.
In the end, electromagnetism had nothing to do with the sideways world. There was no Faustian bargain between Eloise Hawking and The Man in Black. I’ve spent the second half of the season (ever since “Happily Ever After”) arguing that theory, and I’m delighted to be wrong. Why? It’s easier to buy “Hurley’s gift” as a reason as opposed to trying to throw Schroedinger’s cat as a reason for the sideways world. And that “gift” yielded scene after scene in the sideways world that reminded us all why we care so much about this show: its characters. I’m sure everyone had their particular favorites: for now, I’m putting Sawyer/Juliet in the pole position with Charlie/Claire as a surprising second. I’ll take scenes like this over lengthy exposition of the true nature of the glowing cave any day.
It’s obviously easy to say, “Well, the characters are happy, so we should be happy.” But clearly it’s not that simple. After all, these characters are fictional, constructs of the writing staff, whom I am sure went into hiding knowing that there would not only be questions but flaming torches/pitchforks aimed their way once this episode dropped. If we didn’t care about these characters, then there wouldn’t be such anger. Either you read interviews and now feel deceived, or you’re generally displeased that our characters are all dead. I’m not going to tut-tut you from that perspective, since it’s your perspective and you’re totally welcome to it.
To me, anything in the sideways world ended up being something of a bonus, both a meta-level and a narrative level. The show didn’t do the one thing I prayed it wouldn’t: negate the sacrifices and deaths on the Island timeline for some sort of reboot/do over in the sideways timeline. So, we got to see really interesting combinations and remixes of existing characters in unusual settings, with those settings driven by a combination of subconscious psychological desires and latent psychological holdups. (Kate sees herself as the innocent victim, rather than an actual killer, but is still on the run. Sawyer fashions himself a do-gooder, but is still unable to shake the memory of his parents. Jack invents a domestic life he never had, inserting a new body in his life in the form of a son to replace the father he could never find.)
On a character level, the sideways world allowed these characters the chance to let go in ways that they were unable to do in their actual lives. To fault the show for creating such a space when we have so often lamented the unfairness or abruptness of their deaths seems a bit hypocritical to me. For example, let’s take Sun/Jin. Many howled when they died, unable to believe two seasons apart boiled down to one episode; many others noted that it didn’t move them, due to the couple being alive in the sideways world. Turns out, the sideways world gave them another chance to “be together,” as the latter group suspected, but also honoring the sacrifice that tore up the former. I’d love to call this win/win, but I’m not sure I’d get many takers on this.
Let’s take another example: John Locke. Here’s a man that died a potentially pitiful death in “The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham,” only to have his life honored and vindicated in the finale. Without inspiring Jack, the good doctor doesn’t return to the Island, and never becomes Protector, and never stops The Man in Black, and never passes off the torch to Hurley who in turn creates a special world in which Locke not only gets to have the relationship with Jack they never had on the Island, but also gets to forgive his murderer. I could give a flying fig about the other people on the outrigger if I get payoffs such as this instead.
And, as many of us suspected, the show closed on a familiar image, in a familiar place. Some might find fault with the heart of the Island being so near the place where the show started, but if The Island has taught us anything, it’s that looking and seeing are two different things. Charlie couldn’t “see” his guitar until he chose to give up his drugs. The cave is no different: Jack couldn’t see it until he was ready to see it. That’s the work he had to do all along. By bookending the series around a man opening up his eyes to the unknown and closing them as a man who learned what it meant to truly live, “Lost” encapsulated its’ primary thematic concern: what it means to live and learn through other people. They lived together, and none of them died alone. Not in the end. Perfect.
I’ve tried to thematically address the biggest issues/ideas of tonight’s episode. I realize I am short on specifics, but I also realize that there’s probably a huge need on your part to talk about this episode as quickly as possible. So I’m going to end things here, but know that this is just the beginning. Over at Zap2it’s Guide to Lost, we’re going to spend all week looking back at this episode, and by extension, the series itself. Next week, we’ll be continuing our look back at this ambitious, epic, emotional, imperfect, messy, glorious, unique show. I look forward to hearing your comments below, and I look forward to continuing the discussion with you further over on the blog throughout the week.
Ryan writes about “Lost” over at Zap2it’s Guide to Lost. He invites you to join the hundreds already in Zap2It’s Guide to Lost Facebook group. He also encourages you to subscribe to the Zap2It’s Guide to Lost Twitter feed and Zap2it’s main feed for all the latest TV, movie and celebrity news.
Photo credit: ABC