*Lost*: commentary on the final episode

by on May 24, 2010 at 7:45 am in Television, Travel | Permalink

This is all spoilers, spoilers, spoilers, so it goes under the fold...

Most of all, it reminded me of Jacob's Ladder and especially Michael Powell's Stairway to Heaven (A Matter of Life and Death), two movies worth rewatching in any case.  The final scene, while the credits roll, is simply that of a plane crash with no survivors.  I view the show's cosmology as reflecting the existence of all possible universes and we get to see, and live with, a few of them.  That includes the universe where they all die in the initial crash, the universe where they all die in the hydrogen bomb explosion, the universe where the hydrogen bomb creates an alternative reality, the universe where there really is a miraculously surviving "Oceanic Six," the universe where the main island narrative happens, the universe where it is all a dream of Jack's, and bits of others as well.  This Leibnizian move "explains" the show's numerous unanswered questions, such as those about the lottery numbers and many more.  It was possible, so it happened, toss in the anthropic principles as well.

The most striking moment of the final episode was when Locke tells Jack, quite sincerely, that he does not in fact have a son.  The question remains how the different universes fit together or interact and in some manner it seems they do.  The final episode is extremely effective in bringing out the dreamy and speculative tones of many of the previous episodes.

Most of all I viewed the ending as tragic.  It was not mainly about any particular account of the metaphysics of the island.  It was about how few couples had the chance to actually live together, love together, and stay together.  The perfect reunions of the couples in the "we're all dead" scenario only drove this point home.  I found this contrast moving.

At the end, the door is left open for Jack (the body of Jack?) to become the next smoke monster on the island and you can spot some clues to this effect, such as Jack's body being strewn on the stones in the same manner as it was for The Man in Black.

I saw two major weaknesses in the denouement.  First, Widmore is dispatched too summarily in the penultimate episode.  That thread of the story is not so much hanging (which would have been OK), but rendered irrelevant.  Years of dramatic gravitas were swept away in a single, hastily executed murder scene.  Second, Ben is a weak and poorly defined character in the final episode and runs around like a puppy dog, with no clear moral stance.  Since he usually dominates any scene he is in, this is strikingly incongruous.

Overall I thought it was the best final episode of a series I have seen, with close competition from The Sopranos.

1 q May 24, 2010 at 7:56 am

I don’t watch much TV other than movies, and have no clue what *Lost* is or was.

But your description seemed to sum up the show: a bunch of folks in an airplane are stranded on an island when the plane crashes(?).

So, thank you for saving me however many hours I don’t have to spend watching it – I can re-read Balzac’s The Human Comedy instead!

2 anon May 24, 2010 at 8:11 am

I hate it when smugass “I don’t watch TV” types feel it necessary to point that out. No one cares. If you don’t watch TV, how about not commenting on posts about TV.

And Jack did NOT become a smoke monster.

3 Mathew Toll May 24, 2010 at 8:12 am

I never managed to watch one episode, never intend to. Don’t ruin the sopranos for me though.

4 Cognerd May 24, 2010 at 8:39 am

Matthew/Q:

We’re all so impressed. Thanks for stopping by to enlighten us.

5 Sharon Snuffer May 24, 2010 at 9:08 am

I never missed an episode. I liked your summation a lot. I was very moved many times during the finale. I especially liked the idea that all the characters had a special knowledge once they remembered the island.

6 ExtraMedium May 24, 2010 at 9:20 am

My theory is that EVERYTHING was real, but occurring on (in?) different dimensions. So when the plane went through turbulence in the opening of this season that was the give away that there were two possible worlds (the turbulence was the worlds colliding). One where the plane never crashes, and a second where the plane does crash. The deja vu the characters experienced were glimpses into the world if the plane crashed. Which leads me to believe the plane crashing was in the primary world. I liked how the Richard Alpert and Jacob-Man in Black/Smoke Monster stories were explained. Unlike X-Files or 24 (which ends tonight) Lost never jumped the shark and explained all the *major* loose ends. Jimmy Kimmel had a nice theory that the show was all about Jack.

7 R.J. Lehmann May 24, 2010 at 9:27 am

Jacob’s Ladder is exactly what I thought of as well.

8 8 May 24, 2010 at 10:03 am

The finale, closing with the “alternate world” character soul reunion, could have been the finale to any television show such as 90210, ER, Grey’s Anatomy or, what would be the most ironic and hilarious TV ending ever, 24.

Lost started with more of a sci-fi edge, but it bled almost completely into a soap opera, likely a result of television viewer demographics.

9 JW May 24, 2010 at 10:04 am

ExtraMedium wrote: “Lost never jumped the shark.” This phrase, “jumping the shark,” refers to a show becoming implausibly ridiculous. Of course Lost never _became_ implausibly ridiculous, because it started off that way.

10 ND May 24, 2010 at 10:11 am

I’m surprised that so many people seem mostly satisfied with the ending. The smarmy religious elements and the easy “it’s all real, but none of it really makes any sense, but that’s okay” attitude toward plot ruined the whole thing.

11 David May 24, 2010 at 10:17 am

I sympathize with the creators. It’s network TV where you can get your show count cut down in mid season, and you aren’t sure if you will be around for the next. So, I’m sure they have to tighten the plot and expand on the plot based on the whims of the network or the extent of the viewership season to season. I think parts of the plot, or any open ended questions about what’s real or what or who IS, is more the result of that than the actual intent of the creators.

I agree with Tyler about the Widmore plot. There was so much that could be interpreted about his contribution to the series, only to have him quickly killed over daughter grieving?

Granted its the final episode, but it irritates me that these characters come to such quick epiphanies simply by brushing fingers. Throughout the series, they are stubborn and reactionary.

Finally, by having a big hug-in at the end, you trivialize other characters by not including them. Ben chooses not to move on, but other characters, like Miles, Feherty, the pilot, Richard aren’t included…..and Desmond’s wife is?

12 MW May 24, 2010 at 10:39 am

ND: On smarmy religiosity, I noticed that when Jack was asking all the questions of his father in the back room of the church, the stained glass window depicted icons from six major religions.

13 anon May 24, 2010 at 11:07 am

I hate it when smugass “I don’t watch TV” types feel it necessary to point that out.

? smugass ?

It doesn’t seem like q was being smug in the least. Your assumption puts me in mind of this:

“Malice is ever complex and paranoid. Conscious of its own designs, it suspects only malice in others.”
http://justoneminute.typepad.com/main/2010/02/the-chris-rock-voice-maybe-ms-zernike-meant-chris-tucker.html?cid=6a00d83451b2aa69e201310f2233c9970c#comment-6a00d83451b2aa69e201310f2233c9970c

(And since it’s not your blog, not quite sure who you are to tell other commenters to STFU. If this IS your blog, just delete the offensive posts.)

14 Brendan May 24, 2010 at 11:11 am

David is spot on. The producers acknowledged in several interviews with NYTimes that they had more plans for the final season – Illana, Frank L, and Widmore in particular – but they just didn’t have time to do with them as they intended.

The Onion I think did a good job of summarizing what was wrong with the end Tyler. I think your interpretation is correct, but that’s sort of the problem:

“The End† was more or less in the same kitchen tonally as “Pilot,† but did it really seem like the resolution to that story? It told us what became of the people†¦ sort of. A lot of them died long before “The End,† but apparently got their acts together in the waystation to the afterlife. Others got off The Island and apparently lived for a while before dying and finding their way to the depot. And Jack of course died in “The End,† providing the series with a fitting final image. But again, if you think of Lost as one long story, I’m not sure that anyone was thinking after the first chapter, “I wonder what happens to these people after they die?† And I’m not sure that the enlightenment the characters achieved really resonates given that they didn’t get the chance (at least on-screen) to put those lessons into action on the real, off-Island world.

Does making “The End† about the characters “finding each other† rather than about them accomplishing some specific goal or learning some applicable lesson negate the previous 100-odd hours of adventuring? I don’t think so—as I’ll explain next—but it did make the closing moments in the church ring a little hollow for me.

15 burger flipper May 24, 2010 at 11:24 am

quite kind of Tyler to do the work the writers didn’t in constructing a satisfying explanation.

don’t be surprised if Carlton and Cuse read this at some point during their “radio silence” and adopt it as canon. Though Tyler is unlikely to get residuals.

the ending most reminded me of the false series finale of Magnum PI, before it was brought back at the last minute for a second final season.

16 Scott May 24, 2010 at 11:28 am

Lost Post:

A case study how the MR comment section can degrade.

17 Jim May 24, 2010 at 12:35 pm

I found the ending to be quite lazy and bad. It’s obvious that the writers have been largely winging it for years, just inventing new mysteries without solving any previous ones, with no idea how to tie much of it together. But I thought they would actually put SOME effort into the finale. Instead we just got a soap opera.

The sideways world was purgatory? You can’t tell me they had that planned out when the season started. Episode One showed the foot/statue from the island underwater in this timeline. I suspect the writers found they had written themselves into yet-another corner and had to change plans. Hence, sappy reunion time.

Overall it was one of the worst series finales I’ve ever seen, although it did not come close to the disasters that were Seinfeld and The Sopranos.

18 John May 24, 2010 at 1:03 pm

What we learned from the finale is that every device used, every reference and allusion, and every strange occurrence was a red herring, meant only to keep us interested while the writers were getting us attached to the great characters they created. See more on this: http://www.reelnerds.com/2010/05/lost-evaluation.html

19 Don the libertarian Democrat May 24, 2010 at 1:34 pm

“David Lewis, on the other hand, made himself notorious by biting the bullet, asserting that all merely possible worlds are as real as our own, and that what distinguishes our world as actual is simply that it is indeed our world – this world.[15] That position is a major tenet of “modal realism”.”

I’ve also bitten the bullet ( Wounded soldiers did this while being operated on. Yikes! ), and so I find your analysis adding to my appreciation for Lost.

I thought the Kate and Jack moments, Jack with the dog, and the not having a son were moving. In all, I enjoyed it. Since we’re all fans of Jacob’s Ladder and thought of it separately, I wonder now if the Lost writers are fans.

20 Kate May 24, 2010 at 2:25 pm

Why was Jack not having a son important?

21 Careless May 24, 2010 at 2:29 pm

David is spot on. The producers acknowledged in several interviews with NYTimes that they had more plans for the final season – Illana, Frank L, and Widmore in particular – but they just didn’t have time to do with them as they intended.

They knew exactly how much time they had to deal with three years ago. They wasted it and had to rush the ending plus beg the network for an extra half hour. It was incompetence. The last two seasons were a real failure by the writers to complete the story while playing with their characters.

22 M Gallo May 24, 2010 at 2:46 pm

In the sanctuary, Christian places his hand on Jack’s shoulder and the scene cuts to Jack’s dying on the island. The dog runs from the jungle to greet and kiss him, then lies by his side to protect and comfort. We know Christian has been on the island — here he is being with him at the end…the dog as shepherd bringing in the flock.

23 sam May 24, 2010 at 3:12 pm

“this is a place that you all made together so that you could find one another,”

That with the radiance when Jack’s father opened the doors of the church made me think of Blake:

And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love,
And these black bodies and this sunburnt face
Is but a cloud, and like a shady grove.

Little Black Boy

24 Dan Weber May 24, 2010 at 3:35 pm

How about when Widmore tells Ben in the previous episode that he already booby trapped the plane with explosives and we saw that the electrical system of the plane was indeed rigged with explosives in “What They Died For.” However nowhere in the finale do these explosives come into the plot.

Those explosives blew up the sub. Locke took them out. That’s why they were gone.

25 Borealis May 24, 2010 at 7:24 pm

I completely agree with the poor ending for Widmore and the poor last season for Ben (who made the series in the first few seasons as a great villain).

I thought the Lost finale was great because I didn’t expect them to explain much. There was no way to explain most of the mystery of the series. They made it mysterious to be interesting, not because there was a grand plan. They wrapped it up emotionally, which is more than most series do.

The Sopranos did not wrap it up emotionally. There were only four possible endings: (1) Tony lives happily-ever-after; (2) Tony turns state’s evidence (Goodfellas); Tony goes to jail for the rest of his life (realistic but boring); or (4) Tony is hit. They wimped out by implying #4 but leaving #1 as an option. Probably to leave open the opportunity for a movie.

Lord of the Rings had a consistent grand plan. Harry Potter was most like Lost. There was a Grand Plan, but it did not have enough to last 4 books or so. Lost followed the Harry Potter mold, which is not bad as it is better than most movies or TV, but it is not a tight story.

The real world lesson is that this type of TV show MUST have an end date in mind. Most of season 2 and 3 was clearly just fluff. Once they had an end date, the show took off. That distinguishes it from Twin Peaks, Xfiles, and other such shows.

26 Brendan May 24, 2010 at 9:03 pm

A lost writer has posted an explanation for all decisions regarding the finale and confirming that JJ Abrams wrote that last 10-15 minutes: http://lostmediamentions.blogspot.com/2010/05/someone-from-bad-robots-take-on-finale.html

‘Not 100% certain of the veracity.

27 brendo May 24, 2010 at 10:29 pm

Sorry, one more:
Mulholland Drive
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mulholland_Drive_(film)

28 bachwards May 24, 2010 at 11:20 pm

To clarify, I meant the 2008 film Passengers.

29 J May 25, 2010 at 1:41 am

The finale was unsatisfying. It was unsatisfying because the show in the Sixth Season (and ending of the Fifth) destroyed the island. The finale did what it could with a show that took away the fun. I have read a lot of people complain about the show not answering enough questions. I have the exact opposite complaint.

Lost answered too many questions. For five seasons, the island was in a delicate balance. As watchers, we were never sure if the island was real or unreal. Could it be explained by science or only magic? Are the characters surrounded by empiricism or mysticism? In a nutshell, John Locke or Jack Shephard? That was the great theme of the island. It was the impetus for the largest debates and most fun discussions. Could the island be explained by electromagnetic waves or radiation from a leaking nuke? Were the characters actually in hell or purgatory? But then Jacob appeared. And Lost was ruined.

I implore everyone to remember when Ben used the idea of Jacob as a prop to wield for power. Once again, religion became a tool of oppression, even as whispers of Jacob’s existence began to appear.

Jacob had two flaws. First, he was a boring character. No real development or motivation worth empathizing with. Even his back story was trite. The guy was flat, and this was highlighted by the incredible depth that the rest of the rest possessed by the Sixth Season. Lost was a character-driven show and the writers decided to lead it with the most unsatisfying character. Second, and most important, Jacob answered the great question of the island. It’s all magic! Electromagnetism? No. It is the soul of the island. The delicate balance of science and magic ended. John wins. Jack loses. Yay, magic.

So the finale of the show was a result of this choice. The ending could not be satisfying because any question would always be explained by one word…magic! The candidates came to the island because of the magic of Jacob. All of the craziness on the island (polar bears, box, time travel, smoke monsters) now had an explanation… it was a magic island with gods living on it. The problem is that this answer is not fun. The ambiguity was fun. The questions were often more fun than the answers. But the show in the finale went out of its way to say that science cannot explain any of this. Hell, the show beat home the idea that the island was real (with characters saying just that).

The island could be explained three ways. (1) Fluke spot with scientific explanation; (2) the island was not real either a dream or limbo or hell, or (3) godly magic. A lot of people enjoyed the show because of the ambiguity of these three options. But the finale along with season 6 answered this question (in an obnoxiously straightforward way). Even though Jack technically saved the island, the writers killed it. Deus ex machina. I am going to pretend the show ended in the middle of season 5. At that point the island remained a question mark with all the fun and intrigue that came with it.

30 Al Brown May 25, 2010 at 3:58 am

I’d add my 2 cents, but I don’t read blogs.

31 Yancey Ward May 25, 2010 at 11:02 am

J,

I only disagree with you in that I think they chose badly rather than that they chose at all. A good choice would have been OK with me, or not choosing at all would have been OK.

32 Tunnel May 25, 2010 at 12:29 pm

For the last three seasons, at the end of every episode I almost expected to see an overconfident writer appear on the screen and say “Did I just blow your mind or what?”. It seems like they were desperately trying to top the previous unexpected twist in their decreasingly interesting plot.

The decline of the characters is even sadder. The first two seasons establish some of the most memorable and well-defined characters of TV history. By the last three seasons they are amorphous blobs. Take a random line of dialog in the beginning seasons and you can almost always identify who’s is it. In the last seasons the same line could be uttered by Jack, Sawyer, Sayid, or any of the new badass guys whose names I don’t remember. Hurley hangs around because viewers love him without doing any of the stuff they love him for, except making idiotic superhero references. And remember when Locke was awesome instead of confusing?

The whole show has been running on the momentum of its first seasons. I propose an experiment: Take someone who hasn’t watched the show, and make him watch the second, or perhaps the third season (with a recap of the plot till then). They will likely want to watch more. Do so with the last three, and I predict they won’t, not because the story is confusing, but because there is very little to enjoy. I have watched three crappy seasons, and would probably watch a few more, all on the residual curiosity and interest for the characters built by the first seasons.

33 MP May 25, 2010 at 1:39 pm

This summary actually renewed my interest. I was an avid watcher until Season 4 and then started to lose interest. To be honest though, we were DVD watchers. Hated going through commercials and waiting a whole week to watch again. We would wait until the season was over, buy the DVD and then do a marathon. That could be why we were able to lose interest so easily. I’m looking forward to this season coming out on DVD so that we can watch from Season 1-7 with no interruptions!

34 lostie May 25, 2010 at 5:03 pm

I cannot square the statement “Whatever happened, happened” with the (supposed?) detonation of the Jughead at the end of Season 5 followed by the odd sequence to start Season 6 in which the island is seen to be at the bottom of the ocean.

Clearly the underwater island has turned out not to be a parallel universe, an assumption most people made when presented with the new “flash sideways.”

Is underwater island a red herring? Was the bomb detonated? If so, what was the result of it? I’ve read some strange theories that the bomb is what caused 816 to crash rather than ‘the incident.’ However in my viewing the show fairly clearly shows the opposite: that the detonation prevents 816 from crashing.

My head hurts.

35 Alistair Morley May 25, 2010 at 6:39 pm

When you play enough RPG’s you can tell when a GM is winging it, and when there is a coherent plot behind it all. Same goes for writers. Lost had all the warning signs of being made up as they went along. Consider the endless introduction of new mysteries without resolution of the old, the nebulous hand-waving, and the damming lack of ultimate coherence.

A decent plot must follow logically from what is already established. A good plot should a least be guess-able beforehand. A brilliant plot should have people kicking themselves for missing the obvious. Lost has none of these things. It failed as a story, and only weakly succeeded as drama.

36 Steve Lee May 25, 2010 at 8:28 pm

ABC said the final scenes with the credit rolling are NOT part of the story.

“Well, ABC wants to clear the air: Those photographs were not part of the “Lost” story at all. The network added them to soften the transition from the moving ending of the series to the 11 p.m. news and never considered that it would confuse viewers about the actual ending of the show.”

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/showtracker/2010/05/lost-exclusive-abc-sets-the-record-straight-about-the-series-finales-plane-crash-images.html

37 Phade2791 May 26, 2010 at 5:28 am

This reminds me of a Creative Writing 101 exercise in which we were tasked with righting dramatic prose that had only character development but no storyline. That was fun as a learning tool, but as a TV show that devoted six seasons to teasing the sci-fi geeks with whispers of quantum physical realities, only to reveal it was all metaphysical dreaming at the point of death in a mans mind (see Jacob’s ladder, a much better story), is only a slap in the face and a sad denial that the writers wrote themselves into a corner in season two and cheated to get out of it.

That said, I love every character, I love the mini plots, twists, surprises and the creative filming techniques that made this so much fun to watch, although frustrating in the finale.

Too many hanging plot threads leading to nowhere remain, no resolution has been met with this final episode. There’s no reason behind what happened, just what happened. Not really satisfying to a techno-geek such as myself who wants to know all the details. Please someone send me a fan-fic that has Ferriday (if that’s the right spelling) as the scientist that figures out how to save all of them in a more believable non-Unitarian fashion.

What would have satisfied me? Heck, even making this the origin story to Fantasy Island would have made me happy. Weird yes but it would have been cute. Ok, it’s not that great of an idea, but I did originally think LOST was a dramatic version of Gilligan’s Island in the first season, just with more characters. I would have liked that too.

Ok, sci-fi fans know that experiments going wrong is fodder for the sci-fi writers to use as excuses for the unexplainable, but it would have made much more sense than this. Or even using one of the lesser known Hindu origin stories as the reason for the island and that some of the characters where god’s playing games. Hell, I would have settled for a Purgatory type trial of fire for the characters and seen some go to hell and others to heaven. But truly I think a “Garden of Eden† explanation would have been best. I might just right a fan-fic of that myself.

There were a lot of good characters that just disappeared in all the plot changes, and sudden explosions (loved them), that are just gypped in the end here. Did they get to go into the light? Where did there faith get them?

More lost than the viewers who are mumbling WTF? Under there breath (and tears). Realizing that six seasons of great plot twists and teases, were all just the mans life flashing before his eyes.

Ho Hum, I need to go shoot my TV now. (Thank you Elvis, TCB)

It’s a bit like dating a really hot chick or handsome dude and realizing that even though you’ve been with them a long time there not and have never been as into the relationship as you.

No hatred, just disappointment, and yes I’ll watch most of it all again when my friend gets the DVD, because he can’t stand watching broadcast TV.

38 Seth May 26, 2010 at 11:47 pm

It’s a TV show. I enjoyed, I liked it. I’m glad it’s over so non-Losties in my vicinity won’t think ill of me for talking about smoke monsters, frozen donkey wheels, pockets of energy anymore.

I don’t believe Lucas knew Darth Vader would pop when the first Star Wars came out. DV did pop and I believe that helped Lucas focus the story around that moral equivalent flunkie. But it worked. People love that story and how it was told. I enjoy watching the Clone Wars (with my son, of course!) thinking it’s pretty cool that I first heard about the Clone Wars decades ago as something that happened “long ago”, and now here I am watching those stories unfold decades later with my kid.

The thing that bugs me about the ending of Lost is that they didn’t attempt to explain any of the stuff that was popping. Perhaps like the Clone Wars, we’ll be watching a cartoon series in a couple of decades about what the Island is.

I struggled with figuring out what David’s character was. Ultimately, I think he was a decoy to make the obvious a little less obvious.

I also interpreted the ending shot as – they died in the crash – but thought that was in direct conflict with Christian’s, Hugo’s and Kate’s lines, as others pointed out. I believe it was just a final set shot of “where it all started”, outside the fiction of the show and showing that it’s not active now as they all get ready to go onto what’s next for them.

I am thankful that Lost got me to explore some books. I recommend “The Third Policeman” by Flann O’Brien. It contains variations of many elements that made it into the show, even perhaps into the final show. It’s a quick read and it’s funny.

39 Dan June 8, 2010 at 10:33 am

I thought the plot was incoherent, but the character development was superb. Acting was mixed, but that is to be expected of TV. It was a bit too unnecessarily violent, but then viewers seem to expect that.

All of the characters were unique and represented exaggerations of the stark contrasts we see in everyday human nature. The story is about good and evil, revenge and salvation, and about sin, redemption, and condemnation. And, of course, love found and lost, and then found again. All had a chance at redemption, even Ben. Forgiveness is another theme that surfaces. Another thread is the evil of ends-justifying-the-means philosophy. All of this against the backdrop of a chaotic and confusing – and sometimes outright hokey – story-line.

My favorite character was the African gangster (can’t remember his name though), killed by the smoke monster after acknowledging and embracing his sins but refusing apologize for his life. At that point, I don’t think the smoke monster had become the evil twin brother of Jacob in the writers’ minds.

The worst episode was the one about Jacob and his brother, the light at the end of the tunnel as an explanation for everything was not enlightening, and the acting was awful. I almost stopped watching at that point.

The ending was better than I expected – the only loose ends tied up really were the relationships between the main characters and the explanation of the alternate reality.

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