Throughout the course of “Lost,” the titles of the episodes have called attention to themselves. Sometimes they are self-referential, either explicitly punning on the show’s title (“…and Found”, “…in Translation”). Sometimes, they explicitly bookend another episode (“The Constant,” “The Variable.”) Sometimes, they straight up suck (I’m looking at you, “Eggtown.) But in cases like this week, they get the mind firing on all cylinders even before a moment of the episode has aired. Episode titles such as “The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham,” have done this in the past, and this week’s title “What They Died For” has done the same.
To me, that title’s a gauntlet, thrown down by the writers as a statement of purpose to the viewers. It states, “This show has stakes, and these stakes matter, and what’s transpired over the course of six seasons has weight that can’t be thrown off in the final few hours.” It doesn’t tell you the “what” in question, but at least it indicates that the increasing body count on the show will not be meaningless. This is a touchy topic, one that obviously transcends the show and reaches into the hearts of its audience. Can death have meaning, and if so, what meaning can it impart upon those left behind?
Trying to answer this question has been at the heart of the sideways world, and if nothing else the creation of this parallel plane of existence has forced the audience to overtly question what they want the events of the show to ultimately mean. Those on the side of Team Island Timeline have advocated an application of Jacob’s Theory that things only end once, corporeally speaking. You might have The Whispers hanging around with memories of what they were and what they did, but the end game of the show won’t materialize them to their previous state. Those on the side of Time Sideways Timeline have advocated that what we’ve seen all along is the end result of the pain and suffering in the Island Timeline, a reward of sorts for sacrifice and moral righteousness without expectation of a second chance.
Team Island thinks that the gradual awakening of the people in the sideways world is a call to arms that something is wrong, that even though these people are in nominally or overtly better situations these situations are “wrong” in that they are unnatural. They believe that people dead in the Island should not be alive in the sideways one, not because they are bloodthirsty hooligans but because they believe that cheapens the actions that we’ve watched over the past five years. Team Sideways looks at that world as an opportunity for people to live the lives they were supposed to live, that these lives were not ever meant to be without pain but simply be life without interference. Charlie and Hurley and the myriad of others now once again alive have a chance at the happiness the Island denied due to the defeat of, not victory by, The Man in Black.
I hope I’ve represented both sides fairly accurately, but most of all with respect. The two sides don’t agree. How could they? But while I’ve been Team Island all the way, I get the appeal (if not always the logic) of Team Sideways. The most common complaint about my POV is, “Why do you want Charlie to stay dead?” To me, that’s asking the wrong question. I’d point instead to this week’s title, and if Charlie’s alive in the sideways universe, and that universe “wins” (for lack of a better term), then the answer to this week’s title is, “Nothing.” Because if the show ends with those that have died now alive, than all deaths in the show’s history retroactively are meaningless.
Let’s take the most recent schism in applying these two viewpoints to the show: the massive death toll in
“The Last Recruit.” “The Candidate”. I was a mess watching that show. Not a hot mess. Just a plain ol’ mess. I said so in my recap. Team Sideways called me and others with my opinion out, noting that they are still alive in the sideways universe, so what’s the big deal? I want to set aside the “big deal” issue for a second and reframe analysis of the events in the sub another way: if the show made a big deal about these deaths, only to show them living out their lives indefinitely in the sideways universe, wouldn’t that be a monstrously bad narrative misstep on their part?
“The Last Recruit,” “The Candidate,” these deaths were filmed like they mattered. Produced like they mattered. Orchestrated like they mattered. The reaction of the Final Four on the beach mattered. These deaths were supposed to hurt. If they were simply supposed to hurt for a few weeks, only to be undone by them living out their days either in jail (in the case of Sayid) or on the run (in the case of Sun/Jin), wouldn’t that feel like a complete cop out, irrespective of the moral argument from either side? I keep thinking of the line in “WALL-E,” in which the captain of the ship is arguing with A.I. about returning to Earth. The ship’s protocol is shaped around the survival of the human race, but the captain has other concerns: “I don’t want to survive. I want to LIVE.”
Unfortunately, merely surviving or actually living means inevitably that you die. I’m insanely unhappy that Sayid, Sun, and Jin are now dead, which makes the sideways universe incredibly appealing to me. But I think that’s PRECISELY what that episode was trying to achieve: putting the audience in the same perspective that has driven people like Sayid to team up with The Man in Black to recapture that which can never truly come back in the way we once had it. Team Sideways rejoices in the fact that Hurley and Libby had their beach picnic. Team Island sees it as bittersweet, a lovely moment checkered with grief. Team Sideways sees it as a second chance. Team Island sees it as a taste of what could never be.
All this boils down to the title of this week’s episode. One side would answer, “So they and others can live in the sideways world, in the way they were they were meant to live.” The other side would answer, “So the remaining few could makes this world slightly better, in the way that they have to live.” I’m not here to say which one is right, because I don’t know what the final three and a half hours will bring. I know to which one I subscribe, which has caused no small amount of distress and anger amongst Team Island’s participants. I have nothing but love for you, “Lost” fans, no matter on which side of the fence you currently reside. The fact that we’ve been able to have passionate arguments about this insanely interesting topic for months now only speaks to how powerful the themes of this final season of “Lost” truly are. Even if the show itself has occasionally stumbled over these final episodes, the ideas at the heart of it never have.
Can’t ask for more than that, can we?
Photo credit: ABC