Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Lost: "The End"

The following review contains spoilers for the final episode of Lost in case you haven't seen it yet.

If there's one thing to take out of Lost's two and a half hour series finale it's that sometimes you get so busy worrying about how the pieces of the puzzle fit together and getting answers to every little question that you lose sight of the big picture. Everyone got so caught up in trying in trying to look for clues to guess how this would end that we missed what was staring us in the face the entire time. The show always had a running undercurrent of spiritualism to it but I don't think anyone could have guessed that it would have played as big a role as it did in the series' conclusion, especially after all the trippy sci-fi excursions the show took over the past two seasons. But it all came full circle in this episode and no one can accuse Cuse and Lindelof of not firmly putting their foot down and delivering an ending that provided definitive closure for its characters.

Whether you loved or hated the decision, the commitment made to conclusively resolving all these characters' fates was unwavering. From day one, this series was always about these flawed people being chosen and given an opportunity to test themselves on the island in a way they never could in their everyday lives. The big question was "WHY?" This episode answered that question while smaller, more nagging queries relating to the mythology will remain unanswered or open for interpretation. That's fine by me as I wrote before watching this that my biggest wish was not necessarily to get all the answers but have an ending that does justice to these characters we've invested six years into. Individual reactions to the finale will boil down to whether you're in this more for answers or the characters. For me it was never close. Some answers are nice, but I found what was delivered for these characters in this episode more rewarding than knowing every little detail about the island, which would have wasted time and pointlessly dragged down the finale. I should still be able to sleep at night not knowing more about the polar bears or why Walt's special. In the broad scheme of things, it just doesn't matter. True to form, the end result was polarizing and will probably be argued about for years to come, mainly because of a final mind-blowing twist involving the controversial flash-sideways universe.

Top to bottom, the episode was as perfect as I could have envisioned the finale to be and unbearably suspenseful to the point where the two and a half hours just flew by. Much of that excitement could be attributed to the fact that all bets were taken off the table and any character could go at any time. At the last half hour I thought to myself how surprising it was that so many of the main characters were still alive and also seriously questioned whether someone other than Christian Shephard could be in that casket. Little did I know what was coming. While I thought the episode would cause a split reaction, it's still hard to comprehend how anyone could complain about a finale that included:

-Richard Alpert alive (and aging!)

-Vincent the dog

-The return of Rose and Bernard

-The return of Shannon and Boone


-Survivors: Miles, Richard, Sawyer, Claire, Desmond, Kate and...Frank (!)

-Frank "Chesty" Lapidus fixing the plane and heroically flying the plane off the island (insert wild applause).

-Hugo and Ben: New "protectors" of the island.

And that still doesn't even begin to cover it. We knew the Sideways world would play a major role, though it was unclear exactly how. As it turns out, over-analyzing caused me (and probably many others) to miss that this season's events were occurring in one timeline, not two. In hindsight, it seems simple that the flash sideways was actually a flash forward afterlife the characters needed to discover in order to move on, but few could have predicted it because we were too caught up imagining crazier scenarios. Those claiming this was manipulative, attempting to draw comparisons The Sixth Sense or arguing the show "wasted six years of their lives" don't have a case. The characters weren't "dead the entire time" nor did the ending negate anything that happened on the island or in their lives. Oceanic 815 still crashed. Juliet's detonation of Jughead didn't create an alternate reality, as we had ASSUMED it did based on the evidence. Everyone was so focused on the Sideways being there for the viewer that the possibility that it could have just been there for the characters never entered our minds.

Playing completely fair, Cuse and Lindelof really did deliver their promised "game-changer" and I'm betting Season 4 and beyond (especially 6) would now play differently on a second viewing. Rather than negating anything, it brings a finality to previous events not present before. You can now officially say Ben did murder Locke in Season 4 and that he was never coming back. And that Faraday should have listened to his own advice because "what happened, happened." It couldn't be changed. This also gives Juliet's message from the grave that "IT WORKED" a more poignant, cryptic meaning. It didn't work, at least in the way everyone expected it to. Yet it also did, if you think about the direct implication of that statement.

A death that was already unbearable to watch twice before takes on an even deeper meaning the third time when you contemplate the fact that Faraday's plan failed and Juliet essentially lost her life for nothing. Her end is now even more final and tragic, and as a result her relationship with Sawyer means even more than it did before. While everyone will have their own picks of which character "awakenings" carried the most emotional weight, their mutual moment of recognition at the vending machine and subsequent flash was the highlight of the episode for me. Unlike some other characters they were always better together than apart and it's a testament to the acting talents of Elizabeth Mitchell and Josh Holloway that they turned what could have easily been an odd throwaway Season 5 sub-plot into the heart and soul of the show.

Ben was always a character whose motivations were in question throughout the course of the series. And even when he took steps to redeem himself he could never truly gain anyone's trust and always seemed destined to be on the outside looking in. It wouldn't have seemed right seeing him join everyone else when you consider all the evil deeds he committed as the leader of the Others, the worst of which caused the death of his own daughter. That's why the image of him sitting outside the church, deeming himself unworthy of joining everyone else inside, despite finally receiving the forgiveness and redemption he sought, is great writing. He completed his full-fledged turn to the good side fans were clamoring for (even if I'm still wondering how how he got out from under that tree) and found an unlikely ally in Hugo, a character whose series-long arc of gaining confidence reached its rewarding conclusion.

Previously, I've been very critical of the writing of Sun, Jin, Claire and Charlie, dismissing nearly everything the characters have been a part of as a waste. But bigger than my complaints that they're merely unimportant was my resentment at the writers for presenting them in a way that implied they were actually important to the show's mythology. They were always only cogs in the machine, which forced me to compare them to all the other characters and try to decipher how they fit into the bigger picture, if at all. But this episode was first time they didn't fill those roles and come off as unnecessary pawns in a game I couldn't figure out. We now know their purpose was the same as everyone else's: Come to the realization that the time they spent on the island was the most important in their lives and re-connect with the people who were a part of it. For once, all four of them were treated as being on the same level as the other characters and not just plot filler.

Ironically, in finally surrendering to the idea that Sun and Jin and Claire and Charlie had no purpose that extended beyond each other they took on a purpose they never had before. It's as if a weight was lifted from the characters and it finally wasn't painful watching an episode heavily focused on them, as the sonogram scene with Sun and Jin demonstrated. Their underwater deaths were well handled in "The Candidate" but now we had a reason to care about it. Similarly, it was a smart move to focus on Sideways Claire while leaving her crazy alternate island counterpart on the sidelines while Jack and the Man in Black battle it out, since her goal the entire time should have been to get home to Aaron. None of this undoes what I felt was the presentation of four very uninteresting characters throughout the show's run, but I am curious to go back to the beginning of the series to see if I'll now hold that opinion as strongly.

Christian Shephard's statement to Jack that "everyone dies sometime" is at the crux of the episode. It makes sense that the notoriously stubborn and resentful Jack would be the last to let go and come to terms with his death and that his father would be the person to help him do it. This also explains the strange presence of a son in the Sideways world as Jack had to continue working through his "daddy issues." Supposedly, Matthew Fox was the only actor let in on the secret that the ending scene would be his eye closing as he dies in the bamboo field but didn't have a clue how the producers would arrive at it. As it turns out, neither did we. The symmetry between the opening image in the pilot and the closing one in the series finale is perfect, officially bringing the show full circle. The idea of the island representing spiritual redemption for the characters has been touched on throughout the series and Lindelof and Cuse used the show's final minutes to put the focus on what the series was really about the entire time: These characters and their journey. And no, I didn't think it was too sappy when you consider six seasons were spent establishing the connections that came to a head in the finale. It felt earned.

It remains to be seen where this ranks among the pantheon of television series finales, but after a few days to process what happened (and believe me it was necessary), it still boggles my mind that so many are dissatisfied with it, though it's more than likely they would have been unhappy with anything. This is one of those shows where nitpicking about little pointless details doesn't pay off and only deprives you of enjoying everything it has going for it, which is an awful lot. Lost got a send-off few series' are able to attain because its producers were smart enough to set an end date and work out a plan to make sure it arrived there on top. They also achieved the nearly impossible goal of creating a completely original sci-fi saga over the course of six years in a genre not exactly known for its originality. And to think at one point we thought the biggest question was whether they'd ever leave the island.

Count on rumors of potential spin-offs and movies but don't count on them ever happening or being necessary. Like most of TV's greatest shows, not nearly enough people watched this. The best news is that the commitment required to follow it makes for ideal DVD viewing. I could easily see its fanbase growing and hardcore fans continuing to re-watch it, still searching for more answers. I'm guilty of taking the show for granted as it took me a while to realize just how smart it was and the respect it had for its viewers to actually think for themselves. It'll definitely take some getting used to not having Lost around anymore.

Series Finale Grade: A+

Season 6 Grade: B+


Craig said...

Great piece, Jeremy, and a relief to read after a few days of critical sphincter-clutching (see Salon or Slate TV Club or countless other examples). Some people don't like direct emotion or spirituality, preferring ironic detachment instead. No, it wasn't perfect; yes, there are gaping holes. But regarding any work of art, I've always said that I can forgive a lot if the emotions are real, and that's how I feel about the series finale of "Lost." The closing minutes took Jack's axiom "Live together or die alone" and brilliantly cross-cut between them. (Love how Jack takes his seat in the church and then drops in the jungle.) In the end, it was really "Live together and die alone." The balance of sadness and joy, tragedy and hope, was deeply moving and true to the spirit of the show.

jeremythecritic said...

Thanks, Craig. It has been disconcerting reading the reaction to the episode on the net. Knew it would receive a mixed response but the bashing has really gone off the charts. I think those unhappy with it wanted answers, answers and more answers. Anything else (like the larger issues you mentioned) they just didn't want dealt with. Maybe they don't want their sci-fi mixed with spirituality but the show has always been doing that. The ending was very true to the series and its characters. And amongst all this criticism, I've yet to read any ideas for a better one.