Tuesday, May 25, 2010

LOST -- Episode 6.17/18 -- "The End"

LOST has gone into the light, and we were all witnesses to its funeral on Sunday night. The Swan Song that was season six is over and the time for discussion is now. So far, having read a lot of bloggers out there, along with television critics, and a couple message boards, there is not much consensus. Some loved this episode – myself included – while others abhorred it. Both sides have been equally vocal, but as I’m writing this I’m beginning to realize that it doesn’t matter much what our opinions of this episode are. All that matters is what we take from a show that was never afraid to push the boundaries of what could be done on primetime television.

“The End,” the final episode of LOST’s groundbreaking six-season run is everything a LOST episode could be. It had action, romance, fantasy, tearjerking moments, and mystery. It also did what most episodes of the show have done since the beginning – it refused to give us clear answers. The message was loud and clear: the questions are more important than the answers.

And in the end, we returned to the beginning, not just of the show, but of a new life for Jack Shephard and the survivors of Oceanic 815. Jack lays down in the bamboo forest, Vincent at his side, and closes his eyes, while at the same time in the Sideways World, Jack is seated in pew 23B, closing his eyes as he awaits his new destiny in the Great Beyond. It is a spiritual ending, new agey to be sure, yet respectful of all great world religions.

We’re left, though, to figure out for ourselves what it means to us and to the show. Some believe that this moment, and the subsequent credit images of the plane wreckage, is evidence that the Oceanic 815 survivors did not survive at all. Others believe the Sideways World is a purgatory where characters played out their issues after dying on the Island until they were ready to go into the next life. These seem to be the two most popular interpretations, and both are valid, as are others I haven’t addressed.

I don’t think the Sideways World is purgatory, but instead a creation of the souls of our survivors in the aftermath of the Island’s destruction by Jughead. The image of the sunken Island in “LA X” has loomed large over the season and it would be remiss to assume the writers ignored it, or did not wish to address this mystery by merely saying “the Sideways World is the afterlife, so therefore nothing that happened here mattered.” This image, as I see it, represents two timelines: one in which the light at the heart of the Island is extinguished, and one in which Jack and the survivors have the opportunity to course correct for Jughead’s detonation by defeating the Man-in-Black and restoring the Light.

You see, in the Sideways World, there is no Light, so the spirits of our survivors can’t “move on” as Christian put it. They are trapped in this world until Jack is able to course correct by re-plugging the “cork.” Jack had to orchestrate the removal of the “cork” via Desmond so he could destroy the Man-in-Black before re-inserting it. In a way, it’s no different than Christ “having” to die in order to vanquish Satan’s influence. Once he did that, he was able to resurrect and ascend into Heaven, leaving behind his disciples (re: Hurley and Ben) to carry on the “good news.”

I don’t want to place too much of a Christological interpretation on the ending of LOST because I think the show wants us to avoid making such dogmatic, denominational interpretations (hence the multicultural stained-glass window), but I think there is something to be found there. After all, Jack’s last name is “Shephard,” and his father’s name was “Christian Shephard” (which even Kate thought was weird. Sidenote: do you realize we’ve gone through 121 episodes, and Kate is the first person to note the oddity of a character named Christian Shephard?). To a degree, I think the writers wanted us to envision Jack as a Christ figure. He took a spear in the side, descended into Hell to right the wrongs of the world, and ultimately ascended into the Light.

This interpretation is helpful in that it makes all of the Island-events meaningful, as well as Desmond’s attempts to make the Sideways survivors “flash” on those events. It also makes the events extremely epic. Jack manages to save something better than the world; he saves people’s souls. The Light could very well represent the Universal Soul in this interpretation, of which we possess a part of, but could ultimately rejoin upon our death. Regardless, in LOST, Jack manages to save everyone in both the Island world and the Sideways world.

Our appreciation of and acceptance of this show should not hinge on these final moments, for it is merely a fraction of the whole, but I can understand the frustration many audience members feel. LOST has always openly frustrated us, and there are a number of loose ends, but isn’t that life? Marc Oromaner has been vigilant on his website about sharing the notion of LOST as a metaphor for life itself, and he’s absolutely right. Life is a messy business, with loose ends, unsolved mysteries and unexplainable mythology.

I know not everyone is with me on this, but I love that the show is ambiguous and sloppy. This means we have things to talk about. I think this was intentional. After all, weren’t the producers constantly saying in interviews that the only mysteries they planned on addressing were those the main characters cared about? They remained true to this. I don’t think Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Hurley, et al cared about Walt’s “specialness” or why women knocked up on the Island couldn’t give birth without dying. I don’t think the existence of Egyptian hieroglyphs mattered much either outside of the “wow, this place is really old” factor. What mattered most to these characters was addressed: the Monster, the Candidates, Jacob, the Cork, the Numbers, the Whispers. Maybe we didn’t like all of the answers (I know I was irked by the whispers answer), but we got them.

As with life, what mattered most to LOST was the people and their journey to self-awareness and acceptance. The ending of this beautiful show gave us this in spades as the characters we loved became aware of themselves in the Sideways World because of Jack’s sacrifice on the Island. Each came to realize the importance of Jack’s mantra, “Live together, die alone.” Before the Island, each was an island unto his/herself. Just like Christian said, it wasn’t until they got to the Island that they learned to live, and they learned to do it together. They struggled with conflict, made mistakes, kept repeating negative patterns from their pre-Island lives, but managed to figure things out with each other’s help. The Sideways world was an extension of this as they were once again self-made islands until Desmond came to make each aware of the others.

The ending of LOST, then, goes beyond storytelling and into the realm of lyric. It is an elegant poem that cannot easily be forgotten. A narrative for our times, written by craftsmen/women with a knack for being able to pull back life’s mysterious veil and give us a peek at what lies behind.

* * * *

I imagine there’s more to say about LOST, but I think I’ve said enough. I could expound on all the details of the finale, from why Evil Locke was made vulnerable to Hurley’s choice to become the Island’s next protector, but there seems to be no reason to. The major themes of the show are to be found in its coda – everything else takes its meaning from there.

Please leave comments and tell me what you’re thinking. I know my site is not widely read, but I love seeing other’s thoughts.

And lastly, just because LOST is done does not mean I am done blogging. I will probably post mainly movie reviews and commentary from here on out, but I do plan on blogging about the upcoming seasons of True Blood, and Dexter. Otherwise, I’ll be working on my novel, No Child Left, which needs to be finished this year.

Thanks to everyone who has followed LOST with me these last couple years on this blog. No other show has ever quite captured my imagination as ferociously as this one did. I started watching it after being nudged by co-workers, and it evolved into an obsession. It has been a “constant” in my life as I’ve had to deal with changing jobs, getting divorced, and struggling through other challenges. The show has been a friend, as weird as that sounds, for over 3 years now – for me, who started watching just before season 3. Now, though, it’s time to “let go” and “move on,” knowing that this show has helped me grow as a person.


  1. the show has made us all spoiled. we will never have a show such as lost again!

  2. I found your blog from Nikki Stafford's blog post, and I love your thoughts on Jack as a Christ figure. It didn't carry the atonement connotations so much (and I think that's why some Christians, e.g. Joe Carter from the First Thoughts blog, didn't think they did a good job with the Christ imagery), but it seemed to reflect another common way of looking at Christ's death, as a victory over the forces of hell (called Christus Victor).

    I also like your thoughts about what happened when Jughead exploded - I hadn't thought of it that way, and just assumed that it hadn't happened, or that it exploded but didn't completely destroy everything. But your theory makes sense to me. Still not sure which one it "really" is, but that's the beauty of the show.

  3. Jeremiah -

    I appreciate your swan song comments and fond farewell to the friend that Lost has been. I don't think our final takes on LA X matter all that much within the viewership that have honored the journey and the show's import beyond the characters' arcs and the island's mythology. For those of us who, including you judging by your comments and manifest spirit on Nikki's blog, saw the deeper implications for ourselves and our relationships, the ending delivered.
    I for one am happy to have had the sense of community and intellectual stimulation the show afforded, and am slowly becoming ready to release my obsession and reclaim my life. Sadder than the deep sadness of saying goodbye to the show has been the denouement of the committed responders to Nikki's blog. I have always enjoyed your comments and the connection with that group and am fortunate to have been welcomed to such a good-spirited, cohesive, and intelligent community so late.

    Take Care.

  4. Here's a link everyone might be interested in, an awesome Lost finale tribute video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4hHG46DaaLU .

  5. Nice review! I enjoyed your take on Jack as the "banish evil" side of Christ, something I haven't seen elsewhere.

    I won't get into it here (as I've already done so at length on Nikki's blog, my own, and elsewhere) so I'll just say that I'm less satisfied with the ambiguity, at least in terms of narrative (and not theme/meaning/motivation), than you are.

    Glad to see you're still blogging in the wake of Lost's end, and congrats on the new, higher-profile gig!

  6. Hi, Probably a waste of time responding to such 'old news' but I couldn't watch the finale until two weeks after it aired and I'm just today able to spend a little time reading comments and blogs!! Geesh!!! Love your review! 'Ambiguous and sloppy' are such perfect descriptives and I so agree that those words = life = LOST. Your takes on Jughead's detonation and the cork restoring the light in the Sideways world so that the Losties could move on just make sense - it's all so much more clear to me now!

    I'm obviously not yet able to move on but I, too, have grown as a person and become more cognizant of my issues that keep my light from shining - thanks LOST! Good luck to you!

  7. Heh... only got around to watching it last night. LOL I was thoroughly confoozed by the time it wrapped up, thinking, they were dead all along, that this was a purgatory that existed for a fraction of a second in Jack's mind before he died, etc. This, and other, explanations do help to make some sense of it all... it was a pretty weird ending, even for a show as (wonderfully) weird as Lost. Loved the show, but it really had its WTF moments.