The Last Great 'Lost' Debate: Falling sideways

lost-desmond-hurley.jpgAs we enter the final week of new content here on the " Lost" blog, I wanted to touch base once again with my Zap2it colleague, Rick Porter. He's been kind enough to offer his thoughts on the series throughout the course of Season 6, and I'd be remiss if I didn't check in with him one last time. He's been busy with a million different things here on the site, but he was generous to share some thoughts about the finale, the sideways world, and the series as a whole.
 
Ryan McGee: OK, Rick, we're a week out from the "Lost" finale, and clearly, the debate around the sideways world's true nature hasn't died yet. In fact, I'm pretty sure that most future discussions about the show will HAVE to include some mention of this reveal as part of their overall analysis of "Lost" as a whole. I've spent the better part of the week trying to flesh out my interpretation of what I saw, but before getting into our debate about how the sideways-world-as-psychic-holding-ground will ultimately define the show, I was hoping to hear your perspective as you watched on Sunday night.
 
Rick Porter: I've said in these debates, in other writing I've done about the show, to friends and to the wall that my primary hope for the end of the series was that it be true to its characters, and I think the finale hit that mark extremely well. So I left the show largely satisfied -- if a little confused by the final images of the Oceanic 815 wreckage over the credits (which, we've since learned, was a bad call on ABC's part and not anything intentional by Cuse and Lindelof). I share the general concerns about plot holes vis-à-vis the sideways world, but so far they haven't overtaken (or really come close to overtaking) my appreciation for the emotional weight of what we watched.
 
But yeah -- it feels like it's important to hash out those gaps. My semi-formed notion about the purpose of the sideways world for the characters is that, however it came into being, it was a way to get everyone to see how much they meant to one another. Whether it did that for us in the audience is, naturally, up for discussion, but that's where I am at the moment.
 
RM: As I soak in the finale more and more, I find myself thinking more about those still in that spiritual weigh station far more than those that sat in the church at the end. After all, the sideways world didn't end with that white light for those outside the church. To me, that speaks volumes about two central tenets of the show: atonement and community.
 
Let's start with atonement: having Ben outside the church gave us two achingly lovely moments, one with Locke and one with Hurley. The first one gave something to Ben that he desperately needed: forgiveness. It wasn't enough to make him feel ready to move on, but it was a step in the right direction. The everyday struggles that these characters subconsciously put themselves through were related to the amount of guilt and unfounded desires with which they died. For instance, Sayid decided to punish himself, taking everyone's "you're a killer" opinion to heart even into the afterlife. For his part, Ben took care of his ailing father in the sideways world, itself a type of penance that made up for his guilt over his father's murder in Dharmaville that simultaneously ensured a lack of happiness in his own sideways existence. But even doing that wasn't enough to make up for the genocide that was The Purge, never mind a host of other atrocities committed during his time as Island Leader Pretend.
 
Now, to the second part: community. So much of what we know about Ben Linus stems from his consummate position as outsider, even while ensconced within large social groups. Not to bring up The Episode That Should Not Be Named, but I have to think that the message on Jack's tattoo ("He walks among us, but he is not one of us") equally applies to Ben as well. What does he want, above all else? A family. But he raises a daughter that's not his own while surrounded by people who fear, rather than love, him. His father figure, Jacob, won't speak to him. And he's willing to side with The Man in Black because, "He's the only one that will have me." So for Hurley to give Ben a seat at the table during his Island reign is important, and clearly heals a lot of Ben's wounds. But not all of them.
 
All this leads to something I think intrinsic to the sideways world: You cannot leave it alone. Maybe you don't need the love of your life, but you need the love of another to fully let go. What does Ben do now? Eloise? What do these brokenhearted, yet fully awake, people do after the Lostaways have gone?
 
RP: You make an excellent point. One of the big questions about the final scenes was, "Why wasn't [Michael/Walt/Ana Lucia/insert character name here] in the church?" But the more I've thought about the sideways world, the more I've come to believe that it wasn't just Jack's life passing before his eyes. Because A) that part of the story was told from multiple points of view, and B) and more important, I don't think it's that narrow a construct. Ben's sitting outside the church means he's not ready to go yet, and so maybe he'll go back to being Dr. Linus, continuing to take care of his dad and keeping tabs on his prized student Alex, maybe even continuing a relationship with Danielle. Maybe that's his way out.
 
I think that interpretation of Sidewaysland also explains why Eloise Hawking was so desperate to keep the others (if not the Others) from waking up. She's not ready to face up to what she did to her son -- not just the fact that she shot him on the Island, but for the way that she raised him and the things she did to him as an adult. So of course she would want to hold onto this idealized existence, one where Daniel's (more or less) happy and well-adjusted and she can push her guilt down. If she can't get past that, she may never move on, but if she can -- which is to say, she'll have to forgive herself before seeking the love of any others -- then maybe she can move on. Or maybe not. I haven't really thought of that place as a type of purgatory, but for some of these characters, that may be just what it is.
 
The other thing that's been occupying my mind since the finale was Desmond's reaction to NOT getting to the sideways world after he unplugged the Cave of Light. That, for me, was one of the more intriguing twists in the finale as it suggested that the Desmond in the Island world, like us in the audience, didn't quite know what to make of the sideways world. I don't think that detracts any from his "specialness"; rather, my feeling is that Island Desmond saw it as a place where nothing would interfere with his relationship with Penny, whereas the Island represented nothing but interference. He needed that community -- Hurley and Ben, in this case -- to help him "move on" in his own life, and his presence in the church indicated that he got there eventually.
 
I could probably, in fact, go all fanfic on how Des got off the Island and got back to Penny and little Charlie, but I won't (at least not here). But it's nice to think that once those who survived did get home, that they were better for their time on the Island, isn't it?
 
RM: See, I LOVED that Sideways Des and Island Des were actually trying to accomplish two very different things. It's almost as if Island Des was suddenly in "Flash Forward," only it was a version of "Flash Forward" that wasn't terrible and didn't make me want to beat my head against a wall. He had a vision, but didn't have the full picture. If anything, it made him less of a narrative shortcut and more of a human being for me, and I'm perfectly fine with that. We've talked in the past about the "Des ex machina," effect, and in some ways, having Island Des actually have the wrong idea played off audience expectations in a nice way.
 
My take on Eloise: something woke her up, but she's so scared of what lies beyond her current status that she's happy to maintain a fragile, false existence in the sideways world rather than risk losing him again. I love the idea of Daniel forgiving her at some point, but that's something that can linger in my mind as opposed to ever be answered in a future article, book, panel, or DVD extra.
 
In fact, I'm ready to do something that the characters in the show did in the final episode: let go. Maybe more "answers" will come in some ancillary form, but for me, "Lost" consists of the sum total of episodes aired on ABC between 2004-2010. It's over, and while it's nice to think about interpretations at this point as opposed to theories, interpretations are intensely personal. We've watched "Lost" together, but in some ways, we can only determine what the show means (as a whole) alone. Any final thoughts on the show as a whole before we end this final debate?
 
RP: So what you're saying is "Watch together, think alone"? I think I can get behind that, actually. One of the things that made "Lost" special outside of its creative heights was the community of devoted fans it created. That's not unique in the Internet age, but over six years I got a ton of enjoyment out of talking about the show with you and other Losties -- and the ideas and thoughtful responses the show provoked in others added to my own enjoyment of it
 
I'm pretty well ready to let go too -- and exceedingly glad that "Lost" got to end on its own terms. (Let's give a note of thanks for that to, yes, "Stranger in a Strange Land," which Lindelof and Cuse have said provided ABC with motivation to accept the end-date idea.) This is a show that goes into my personal pantheon, and I'm walking away with a lot of good memories of it.
 
RM: And I'll be walking away with a lot of good memories of these debates over the course of the final season. On behalf of the readers, namaste, Rick!
 
Photo credit: ABC
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