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“See You in Another Life, Brother” — Josh Bids Farewell to Lost

May 24th, 2010
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So that’s it.  We’re done.  “The End,” the epic-length two-and-a-half-hour finale of Lost that aired last night, was a magnificent episode.  It was pretty much everything that I could ask a series finale to be: both a thrilling, emotional episode on its own as well as a wonderful capstone to the series as a whole.

Too bad it comes at the end of one of the most disastrously terrible seasons of a previously-great show that I can remember.

Spoilers obviously lie ahead for the finale of Lost, gang, so be warned!

The Lost finale reminded me of everything about the show that I used to love.  From start to finish, “The End” exuded a narrative confidence that has been sorely missed.  A two-and-a-half-hour finale could very easily have been a bloated, indulgent exercise, but I found the episode to be exquisitely paced.  Yes, they took their time with the story, but I felt this was worth it in order to give all of the wonderful reunions in the sideways world their due.  The writers cashed in every single chip they had in terms of the audience’s investment in these characters, but I thought those moments paid off phenomenally well.  It was delightful to see so many of the familiar faces return, and each reunion felt like a powerful emotional payoff to six seasons of storytelling.  (But where were Michael and Walt???  More on this later.)  And those slow, emotional beats were well-balanced by some terrific, tense sequences on the island.  (I thought the take-off sequence aboard Ajira 316 was particularly compelling.)

Yes, the exact nature of the sideways world was left vague, but that is the kind of narrative vagueness that I have no problem with.  I don’t exactly understand whether that universe was intended to be a glimpse at what awaits us all after death, or whether it was (as Christian Shephard seemed to hint) something magical that was somehow created by the collective unconscious of all the castways.  Either way, I don’t really understand why the characters didn’t immediately remember who they were — why they each had to somehow be “woken up.”  But, you know, I don’t really care.  J.R.R. Tolkien didn’t precisely explain the nature of the Gray Havens in The Lord of the Rings, and it wasn’t necessary for him to do so.  What was important here at the end of Lost was the idea that, somehow, all of our characters got a taste of the happiness they’d all been chasing — and that we, the audience who had invested in those characters, also got to taste that happy ending.  That the ending was tinged with the bittersweet — since the show made clear that this alternate universe was NOT the “real world,” and that these characters were all dead — only made the ending more powerful to me.

But the vagueness that I DO have a problem with — and the reason why I was so crushingly disappointed by season six — is the show’s complete and total failure to answer so many of the questions that the writers had posed over the course of the first five years of the show.  Take a gander at my long list of unanswered questions that I put together before the start of this final season.  Here now at the end of the show, the vast majority of those questions remain unanswered.  That is a colossal failure of storytelling, and I’d go so far as to call it a betrayal of the show’s fans.  This isn’t one or two lost threads in the overall tapestry of the show.  These are MAJOR mysteries that the writers spent episode after episode building up, only to abandon.  What was so special about Walt?  What caused the infertility problems on the island?  Was there ever an infection on the island?  (And if not, what was up with the quarantine signs on the hatches, and the inoculations that Desmond & Kelvin gave themselves while pushing the button in the hatch, etc.?)  What is the meaning behind the numbers?  I could go on.

Even more frustratingly, there were so many times during season six when the writers actually brought up many of those old mysteries — only to rub our noses in their refusal to answer our questions!  The writers found a (clever!) way to bring the story back to the mysterious Room 23 — only to fail to tell us anything more than we’d already guessed about the origin and purpose of that weird Dharma room.  We see again Ben’s secret closet and the mysterious way he was able to summon the smoke monster — but aren’t given any answers as to who set up that system or why the smoke monster would ever want to do the Others’ bidding.  We see flight attendant Cindy again — but are given no information on why she was kidnapped by the Others, what she’s been doing for the past three years, why she seemed to be completely turned to the Others’ cause, etc.  We hear the word “infection” pointedly referred to over and over again (several times, in particular, in last week’s penultimate episode), only to get no further answers as to the true story behind the infection on the island that may or may not have existed.   Again, I could go on and on.

Twisting the knife further, season six introduced a number of new mysteries that went absolutely nowhere.  What was the story behind the Temple-dwelling Others?  Who were these people?  What was their connection to the Others we knew?  How did they have special knowledge about Jacob and the Man in Black?  What was the nature of the magic pool?  How did it change people?  Was Sayid really altered by his resurrection, or was that all in his head?  When/why/how did Claire wind up in the pool (as mentioned by the Dogan)?

But most damningly of all, season six failed to offer up any clear answers for us about the major underlying story-point of the entire season: the feud/contest between Jacob and the Man in Black.  Yes, we got the episode-long flashback “Across the Sea,” but that came WAY too late in the year, and completely failed to give us any of the key answers we needed in order to invest in this season’s stories.  Why couldn’t the Man in Black leave the island?  How is it that Jacob could, and why/when did he decide to do so?  When/why/how did Jacob’s “contest” with the Man in Black begin?  What was the nature of the oft-mentioned “rules” of that contest?  Why did Jacob allow himself to be killed by Ben?  What did his dying words “they’re coming” mean?  If the Man in Black could “possess” any dead body on the island, why did he have to go to so much trouble to engineer Locke’s death off the island?  What was the Man in Black’s plan to leave the island?  What did he really need the castaways for?  Without really understanding any of what was going on between Jacob and the Man in Black, I found it impossible as a viewer to invest in any of the season-long back-and-forth machinations of the smoke monster/Locke and those forces arrayed against him.  (And weeks later I am still seriously pissed by Allison Janney’s line in “Across the Sea”: “Every question you ask will just lead to another question.”  What an insulting slap-in-the-face comment to all the fans who have the unmitigated gall to actually expect the writers to resolve some of the mysteries they themselves created.)

The finale fell victim to this narrative weakness, in that even here in the final episode we got zero information as to: What caused the Man in Black to decide to use Desmond to destroy the island?  (If he knew/thought Desmond could do that, why did he throw him down a well a few weeks ago?)  Why did Desmond decide to pull that stone cap out of the pool of white light?  (Why didn’t Dez just sit and do nothing after being sent down that waterfall?)  Why was Jack so convinced that Desmond couldn’t destroy the island?  (Just what did Jack think would happen when Dez went down that hole?)  The idea that Desmond unplugs the island and so almost destroys things, and Jack saves the island by replugging the hole, is pretty stupid.  And that we don’t have any information about the cave or the light or really any other island or Jacob/M.I.B-related things totally undermines what drama MIGHT be able to be drawn from that macguffin.

But circling back to the finale itself — other than that silliness with the light and the hole and the plug, I really did enjoy the heck out of the episode.  To me, a series finale is all about how satisfied I am, as a viewer, by the places in which our beloved characters wind up.  I think the writers handled this really well.  I’ve already commented how much I enjoyed all of the alternate-world reunions, but I was particularly touched by the Claire-Charley scene.  (Though did anyone else laugh at how clean Kate’s hands were five seconds after delivering Claire’s baby???)  I also loved that Daniel and Charlotte got a small moment (those are two characters who I had no reason to expect would get any screen-time in the finale, and I LOVED that they too got to reunite).  On the island, I loved that Hurley wound up as the next Jacob.  I loved that he was the one character to finally show some kindness to Ben (and I loved Ben’s reaction to Hurley’s offer).  I liked that, after six seasons of who-will-she-wind-up-with soap opera, Kate chose Jack in the end.  I was very pleased that Lapidus and Richard hadn’t actually been killed off, and I loved that they made it off the island.  I liked Richard’s white hair.  I liked Miles’ faith in duct tape.  I liked seeing the Elizabeth again.  I loved the long-awaited return of Vincent.

And I absolutely adored the final scene — and in particular, the final shot — of the episode.  What a wonderful way to bring us full-circle to the opening scene (and the opening shot!) of the premiere episode.  So many little attentive details in those final moments combined to evoke the beginning of the show (such as the reappearance of the shoe on the bamboo stalk… and attentive Lost fans couldn’t forget that Jack had a pain in his right side when he first awoke in the premiere).  And that last shot — what a great payoff to all the eyeball openings that we’ve seen throughout the run of the show.  Just perfect.

Really, the only major piece of character resolution that bugs me has nothing to do with what we saw in the finale — it’s that I’m still sore over the deaths of Jin and Sun on the submarine.  Sayid’s self-sacrifice felt right to me, but killing off Jin and Sun right after they’d finally been reunited felt needlessly cruel of the writers — particularly when one considers that they have a now-orphaned child off the island.

Actually, as I think about it, the deaths of Jin & Sun aren’t the only major character story-lines whose resolutions (or lack thereof) irritate me.  Let’s all take a moment to lament the exclusion of Michael from the finale — as well as the complete and total pooch-screw that is the story of Walt.  Walt was a major character in season one, and even after his disappearance from the show, we heard over and over again about his special abilities and his special destiny.  And then we never heard from him again.  So disappointing.

There’s no question that the dismal season six has significantly impacted my over-all opinions about Lost.  It’s hard for me to recommend the show to anyone — or to consider ever re-watching it, myself — knowing at the lack of resolution of so many of the show’s key story-lines and mysteries.  Maybe my feelings will soften with some distance.  But for now, my disappointment still runs deep.  Still, I was thrilled by how much enjoyment I got from the actual finale episode itself.  I’m so pleased that, in its final two-and-a-half hours, the Lost that I had loved made a triumphant return.  I only wish a fraction of that quality could have been found in the other sixteen hours of this final season.

And with that, this epic saga — and my engagement with it — is over.

See you in another life.

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