‘Lost’ in Thought: The End

‘Lost’ is officially over. Forever. I’m still trying to come to terms with that. The loss of this series leaves a huge void in my TV-watching life. Immediately after finale episode ‘The End’ aired, I left a quick post with my initial impressions, and promised to follow up with more thoughts in a few days. It’s taken me a full week to get there. Sorry about that. Partly, the delay was due to my being very busy last week. Partly, I needed the time to process everything that happened and to sort out my feelings about it. (Spoilers to follow.)

In the meantime, I’ve read a lot of other peoples’ thoughts on the finale. The Internets have been ablaze with fanboy rage that not every single one of the show’s mysteries was conclusively answered and tied up in a neat little bow. That’s to be expected. There is literally nothing that the producers of the show could have done that would satisfy every viewer. Further, I don’t think it was ever their obligation to even try. They clearly ended the show on their own terms. They prioritized the things they felt needed to be prioritized, answered the questions that they felt needed to be answered, and left ambiguous the mysteries that they felt should remain ambiguous. Even if I may not necessarily agree with every one of their decisions, I think I understand why they made those decisions. As I said previously, I found the finale pretty satisfying overall. With a little time to think about it, I feel that way even more so.

For those of you who haven’t already found it on your own, I recommend Noel Murray’s excellent summary of the episode over at The AV Club. I don’t necessarily agree with all of his opinions either, but it’s a very thorough and well-reasoned analysis. The fact that he had it published the very next morning after the episode aired leaves me a little in awe. Either he somehow managed to see the tightly-guarded finale in advance (How??!!), or he stayed up all night writing the piece. Personally, I like sleep.

Let’s clear one thing up right away. A number of complainers seem to be under the impression that the final scene in the episode means that all of the characters died in the plane crash and have been dead all along. That is simply not the case. Honestly, I think the episode makes this perfectly clear. Everything that happened on the island really happened. The characters were alive the whole time. The Oceanic Six really left the island, returned to the mainland for a few years, and then went back to the island again. At the end of this episode, Kate, Sawyer, Richard, Miles, and Lapidus escaped the island on the Ajira plane. They will presumably reach the mainland and live out the rest of their lives.

Only the Flash Sideways reality was a form of purgatory where all of the characters met up again after they each died. It’s perhaps not “Purgatory” in the Catholic dogma sense, but at the very least in the generic sense of being a waiting area where people have to come to terms with their lives and their sins before moving on to the next phase of the afterlife. Because time has no meaning there, some of these characters died earlier (Jin, Sun, Sayid, Juliet, Libby, etc.), some died during the events of the finale (Jack), and some will die in the future (Kate, Sawyer, etc.). Because Hurley and Ben stayed behind on the island to become its new protectors, they may even have lived on hundreds if not thousands of years. When Hurley sees Ben again outside the church, he tells him, “You were a great Number Two.” And Ben replies, “You were a great Number One.” These two have a long history together after the events of the finale that we haven’t seen. Likewise, Kate tells Jack how much she missed him, which implies that she went on and lived a full life without him after he died.

In one way of thinking, the Flash Sideways was really a flash forward. Really, really forward, to the end of everybody’s lives. As I see it, this Sideways reality was a gift from the island, or possibly from Jacob. In either case, it’s a recompense for the way that they were each used by the island to play out the game between Jacob and Man in Black. The island stole the lives that they might have had. The Sideways is the gift of seeing what those lives might have been. It also allows them to reconnect, to eventually remember everything they shared, and to move on.

I’ll be perfectly honest, I have mixed feelings about the whole purgatory thing. On the one hand, it makes logical sense, and is consistent with everything we’ve seen in the Flash Sideways storyline. I feel like I should have figured it out earlier. That’s perhaps the genius of it, that it’s so obvious and yet so completely unexpected at the same time. On the other hand, it feels like a cheat. The producers have long denied speculation that the island was a purgatory and that the characters were dead. Technically, that’s true… about the island. But not about the Flash Sideways, wink wink. That one’s the purgatory, ha ha, fooled you.

I’ve got to say it, I also find the afterlife angle to be a little cheesy. I’m not even sure why that is. I’ve faithfully followed the show as it delved into all manner of outrageous fantasy concepts like time travel, supernatural god-like beings, and eternal life. And yet the afterlife just seems a step too far.

I still hold the Season 2 finale, in which the Swan hatch imploded and the sky turned purple, as the high-water mark of the show’s ability to wrap up a season with a gigantic mind-screw. Season 3, which unveiled the revelation of the flash forwards, wasn’t far behind. I was expecting something really mind-bending along those lines for the series finale. But that isn’t what we got. The purgatory revelation is relatively sedate in comparison. It’s not an Oh my god, what just happened?! It’s more of an Oh, I get it now. Huh.

Nevertheless, the ending does tie together most of the season’s (and the show’s) storylines in a coherent, conclusive manner. It may not answer every mystery, but it does answer some big ones. More importantly, it provides emotional closure for the characters.

That’s really what the finale does best. It brings the emotional journey of these characters to a rich and satisfying close. I’ve long said that this series only works as well as it does because the producers have spent so much time investing us so deeply in the characters. Because of that, we’re willing to follow the show into all manner of crazy sci-fi and fantasy tangents that the writers take us to. This refrain has been repeated a lot lately in defense of the finale, but it’s absolutely true: This show is first and foremost about the characters.

All of the finale’s best scenes were those in which the character stories paid off. These started with little moments for supporting characters – like Rose and Bernard coming back around, Richard realizing that he’s mortal again, and Charlotte recognizing Faraday at the benefit concert. I actually cheered at the revelation that Lapidus was still alive. Then, of course, we have some amazing, emotionally overwhelming scenes like Claire giving birth to Aaron while Charlie’s memories flood back to him, or Sun and Jin remembering everything. Anyone who didn’t cry when Sawyer and Juliet found each other again simply has no soul. I’ll freely admit that I bawled like a baby. Those moments hit such high peaks that they transcend any need to have every single loose end tied up. These are the real connections that needed to be made, and the finale makes them all brilliantly.

That final image, of Jack lying down to die, seeing the Ajira plane fly off to safety, and closing his eye in the exact same spot where he awoke in the pilot episode is nothing short of poetic perfection. This is absolutely the way that the show always had to end.

Some random thoughts to wrap this up:

Hurley starts the episode saying, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” That’s obviously a ‘Star Wars’ reference. I’m sure it’s also the writers’ acknowledgement of the apprehension many viewers would have going into the finale.

I’m undecided how I feel about Sayid reconnecting with Shannon. It’s nice that the writers brought that storyline back around after dropping it so abruptly a few seasons back. But the last few seasons have really hammered the point home that Nadia was Sayid’s One True Love.

Pierre Chang makes an appearance in the Flash Sideways. We never did learn why he went by so many different names in the DHARMA orientation videos. There’s a lot of story left in DHARMA after the events of the Season 5 finale.

I have to admit that I found pretty much everything to do with the interior of the Cave of Light to be kind of cheesy. First of all, everything we see in there more or less contradicts the scene in ‘Across the Sea’ where Jacob pushes MiB into the cave, and MiB immediately turns into the Smoke Monster and flies away. From what we’re shown here, he would have had to travel quite a bit into the cave and hit the pool of water around the Magic Cork before that happened. And yeah, Magic Cork, really cheesy and lame. But then, I’ve always felt that the Donkey Wheel set was also pretty cheesy and lame, so I guess this is consistent with that.

Fake Locke’s dawning awareness that putting out the island’s light also means that he’s mortal again is priceless. Terry O’Quinn is a remarkable actor to be able to play these two different characters in the same body so well.

I guess I was right the previous week when I suggested that Jack taking over from Jacob was a red herring, and that someone else would have to step in as the island’s ultimate protector.

Jack passed his responsibility on to Hurley during a time when the island’s light was out. Wouldn’t that mean that the island’s magic wouldn’t be working, and the ritual wouldn’t work? Yet it doesn’t play out that way.

Ben ultimately becomes second banana on the island to Hurley. This character’s rollercoaster journey between good and evil, back and again, is really one of the most fascinating aspects of the show.

We never did find out why Hurley is called “Hurley.”

Penny has a brief appearance at the church. It’s nice to see her, but I would’ve liked more. Does she even have a line?

I’m very surprised that Julie Bowen (as Jack’s ex, Sarah) never made an appearance in the Flash Sideways. ABC went to the trouble of flying her out to Hawaii for a special tropical episode of ‘Modern Family’ right around the time that this ‘Lost’ finale was filming. Are you telling me that was a coincidence?

Other major characters missing from the Sideways include Michael, Walt, and Mr. Eko. Actor Harold Perrineau explained Michael’s absence during the Jimmy Kimmel wrap-up special by saying that Michael was still trapped on the island as a whispering voice. That makes sense, and ties in with what Michael said during his last appearance on the show. This could also explain where Mr. Eko is, or we can just assume that he’s wandering around some other part of the Flash Sideways reality that we never happened to see.

I like our reader besch64’s theory that Walt wasn’t in the Sideways because he was only a child on the island. The island was only a pit stop in his life, not a defining moment. I can buy that. However, there are a lot of unanswered questions about Walt’s special abilities that we’ll never learn.

I’ve been thinking that Desmond visited the Flash Sideways before, during the episode where we were first introduced to Eloise Hawking. Could it be that Desmond actually died during the Swan station implosion and was revived later? If so, does that tie in with his immunity to the electromagnetic effect?

In the final analysis, yes, I would like to know more about the Numbers, Walt, the DHARMA Initiative, and what the island and its bright light really are. But I feel like the show gives us enough to piece together our own explanations for those things. When I hear people complain that the finale didn’t answer enough questions, I have to wonder exactly what essential mysteries – not nit-picking loose ends – are left unresolved. The island is a magic place with a supernatural power at its heart. Do we really need to know where it comes from? Is that actually important?

Moreover, it really upsets me when I hear people say that they don’t care about the characters and only wanted the mysteries answered. How is it even possible for anyone to watch this show for six years without becoming emotionally invested in the characters? I don’t understand that at all.


  1. BostonMA

    i only read the opening intro due to spoilers but i’m really looking forward to starting up the series.

  2. Quote: “I’ve been thinking that Desmond visited the Flash Sideways before, during the episode where we were first introduced to Eloise Hawking. Could it be that Desmond actually died during the Swan station implosion and was revived later? If so, does that tie in with his immunity to the electromagnetic effect?”

    How long was Desmond in charge with resetting the timer to avoid implosion? I think it was several years, and maybe because he did it so long he developed an immunity, along with the Island’s help.

  3. nick scurr

    Hurley is named after his car, think it was in season 1 or 2.
    It’s the one he’s working on with his dad.

  4. ganthc

    Josh, I agree with you that the ending was a nice resolution to the characters and I was satisfied with that angle of it. However, I do disagree with you that the writers had no obligation to tie up mysteries that they introduced. I think it was lazy writing on their part to focus the show on so many puzzles (the Numbers, Walt, the Statue, the Temple, babies not being born, Aaron, the Ghosts (what were their motives?), etc, etc. The show devoted significant episodes and even seasons to some of these issues, and then left the string unraveled and unanswered.

    I could understand if the season was suddenly cancelled and the writers didn’t have time, but the writers had several seasons advance notice of when the show would end. For me, there is no excuse for the writers not to resolve major character and non-character themes in the show. These weren’t nitpicks. Nitpicks are bare glimpses at Egyptian symbols on the wall. Walt, the numbers, etc, were things highlighted over multiple seasons and focused on in episodes. While it doesn’t diminish the entirety of the show, it does cheapen the story as just chintzy plot points to get viewers wondering. Even if the writers glazed over some of these mysteries, it would have been great to see resolution on them (like we got to see with Libby, of which, I was extremely happy). LOST was awesome and a fun ride, but the ending was disappointing in that it could have delivered more.

  5. I agree and disagree. I agree that I cared about the characters, but they focused so much on the mysteries of the island that to leave them all hanging at the end was LAZY. “It’s about the characters, not the mysteries,” (LOST writers) equals “We wrote ourselves into so many corners we can’t possibly fix it, so we’ll just pretend it was ALL about the characters now.” I say again, LAZY. I didn’t need scientific theorems or every single question answered, but good lord, how about a few of them? How about ANY kind of explanation, no matter how fringe pseudoscience. Here is an enormous list of things they left wide open:

    While I understand why they did what they did, it was so lazy. They assured fans several years ago that there were scientific explanations for everything happening on the island…and yet at the end, they didn’t explain anything scientifically and gave us some quasi-religious “up to you to decide” ending. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I hate it, but I am ultimately disappointed. Lost was my favorite Sci-Fi show that didn’t end up being sci-fi at all.

    • Josh Zyber

      Did they really promise “scientific” explanations for everything? I don’t recall that. They may have said that there were explanations, but I don’t remember them promising those explanations to be scientific. If I’m wrong about that, feel free to point me in the direction of the interview/podcast/whatever.

      Let me ask you this: If the finale had ended with the revelation that Jacob and MiB were aliens and the island was a big spaceship, would you honestly have been less disappointed, or more? Personally, I think that would have been incredibly lame.

      Lost was never exclusively (or even explicitly) a sci-fi show. It’s always had more fantasy elements than science fiction (the smoke monster, magic numbers, and the heavy burden of Fate directing everyone’s lives). I think perhaps your disappointment stems from your attempts to pigeon-hole the show into one particular genre.

      • I’m with Josh on this one. Lost is only sci-fi by the loosest of definitions. That’s why I gave up on it pretty quickly 😀

  6. besch64

    The End was a 10/10 of the purest caliber. As far as I’m concerned, there was only one mystery that truly mattered ever since Jack opened his eye in Pilot Part 1: why these people, and why this island? And that was completely explained in the penultimate episode. All the finale had to do was close out this specific story of these characters, and it did that in perfect fashion.

    Here’s a timeline of the emotions I went through:

    -During the Ben/Locke conversation outside the church, my hear started to beat a little faster.

    -Jack’s conversation with his father, I began to tear up.

    -Jack reuniting with everybody in the sanctuary, particularly Locke, I started to cry.

    -As Jack hiked through the bamboo and saw the patch of ground in front of him where he first woke up, I began to sob.

    -When Jack smiles as the Ajira flight passed over him, I lost it and cried and moaned like a little girl.

    A beautiful and compelling closing to the most beautiful and compelling show of our time.

  7. RQuinton

    Here is my theory on Walt:

    We were told multiple times Walt was special. In one flashback scene, we see Walt being ignored by his Mom’s boss, and while Walt is reading a book about birds, one flies into the window.

    Birds use the Earth’s electromagnetic fields for navigation, and I believe this is the key of why Walt was special and why he was so sought after by the Others. He was able to control/withstand the electromagnetic force inside the cave, which we now know is one of the biggest keys to killing Flock.

    This would make perfect sense when you look at the scene in the first season where Locke is teaching Walt backgammon, one side is light and the other, dark. Who else has been repeatedly told they were special their entire life? John Locke. A very nice foreshadowing of the end in the series in the very first episode.

    In a podcast, Damon and Carlton mentioned that scene was a very important clue that many had not picked up on.

    Then a practical and unfortunate problem emerged, the actor was quickly growing, and one they could not explain on the show. So, the writers wrote Walt out of the show and transferred his electromagnetic abilities to Desmond.

  8. Josh Z, I had loved Lost for its 6 season run and (while the ending was emotionally satisfying) can now be counted amongst those feeling “ripped off”. I agree with those above who’ve commented that it was “lazy writing” and they certainly had about 3 years preparation to figure out the last season.

    I love a good riddle, and heck, I believe that you’re a David Lynch fan, too. But as wacky as a Lynch movie can get, there is the feeling that every facet CAN be explained in some manner (if you just think hard enough!).

    With Lost, it’s all either a mammoth, broad stroke you have to take: either you have to believe that the “sideways world” AND the Island were both after-death experiences, …or you have to believe that the sideways world is the after-death experience, and that the Island was real –but not ONE iota of all the crazy events explained. You have to just “accept” that it was a sci-fi world and the Island as some great deus ex machina for anything ever written during 5.5 seasons. :-O

    Given THAT choice, I’ve taken to believing that BOTH were purgatory and that Jack opening his eye and then closing were the final moments of his actual life. The 5.5 seasons representing the purgatory of their sinful lives, and the sideways world of .5 season representing the purgatory of their saintly lives. Neither version may be their ‘true’ selves or lives, or it may be a mixture.

    It’s not a perfect wrap-up, but at least it doesn’t leave me “holding the bag” trying to explain everything Cuse, Lindelof, & Abrams didn’t bother to provide one single damn clue for. –Should we watch Fringe in order to try and make sense of the oddities in the Lost Island? (I believe that people have detected ‘crossover’ components in the two shows.)

    I don’t think so. Ambiguity is one thing. Failure to provide ANY clues whatsoever should go unrewarded. I won’t say that the time spent with the characters/actors on the Lost island was totally without worth, …but that I do believe the value of that time spent was diminished by the conclusion. I mean, I don’t think I’d EVER want to watch everything again: what’s the point? (That would be like a form of purgatory!) 🙂

  9. MenaceGB

    What you say makes sense and you obviously have a good grasp of the show.So i have a question for you.

    Why did Jacob need to bring them to the island in the first place ? seems to me it was a pointless task,at least as far as the Island and MiB go.

    MiB couldn’t destroy the one thing that kept him on the island (the Light)by himself so there for nobody needed to be there to protect it.

    As for the Finale it’s self.My problem wasn’t with the Purgatory stuff as i thought that gave a nice ending to the Characters.My problem lies with in the on island stuff and the ease and quickness to MiB’s demiseand the rather unexciting unexplosivness of the ending of island activities.

    Considering series endings like “Through the looking Glass”,”Exodus” and “The Incident” which i thought were all great.The season 6 Finale left a lot to be desired.

    • I think Jacob was just as selfish as MiB. For as desperate as MiB was to get off the island, Jacob was equally desperate to find someone to take over and relieve him of his responsibility.

      This was always a big game between the two of them. The object for MiB was to leave the island, and the object for Jacob was to find a replacement. In the end, Jacob achieved his goal first and “won.”