As an initial reaction, I found the the final episode of Lost to be fantastic. In every sense of the word. The tearful reunions, the death of FLocke, the passage of the torch to Hurley. It was a satisfying conclusion that was well worth the wait. The final scene, with Jack’s eye closing and the plane flying away, was truly poetic.
However, the more I reflected on the episode, the more my enthusiasm began to wane. The part of the finale that focused on island events held up well enough (as long as I could get past the somewhat silly notion that turning off and on a magical light at the bottom of a cave was the key to humanity’s survival). It was exciting and rewarding to watch.
My real problem was with the flash-sideways universe. Superficially, it too was wonderful to watch. The reunions of all those characters, many of whom had died seasons ago, was touching and heartwarming — providing me with a sort of personal redemption for all the time and energy I had devoted to the show over the years. However, I eventually realized that I was being seduced by these mini-happy endings. As enjoyable, well-written and well-acted as they were, they were covering up serious flaws.
The entire flash-sideways universe turns out to be a microcosm of the main problem with Lost itself. It is not so much that there are so many mysteries that remain unanswered. It’s that what answers we have and what mysteries remain just don’t hold together well. There are internal contradictions, things that don’t make sense, and a lack of a basic framework to hold it all together.
Here are just a few of the questions that I find myself asking about what happened in the finale:
Why did this flash-sideways sort-of-purgatory exist at all? Is it a necessary passage for everyone who dies or just the people related to the island?
Why was the flash-sideways universe constructed to represent a better version of a world that sort-of might-have existed if Oceanic 815 had never crashed? Of all the possible sort of purgatories that one could imagine, why this one?
With almost all the characters in the flash-sideways universe having a much better time than they ever did in real life, why should they be in such a hurry to leave once they discover what is going on? [Okay, I know going to some sort of “heaven” must feel even better…but still.]
For that matter, the characters’ awakening seemed to depend on Desmond putting the wheels in motion. Desmond only did this after being awakened himself, apparently due to the “test” that Widmore gave him on the island. What if Widmore never gave that test? Would they all remain in the flash-sideways world forever? Or would they gradually awaken anyway?
[Speaking of Desmond’s test, why was it even necessary? If Desmond had failed the test, it’s not like there was a Plan B. Why wouldn’t Widmore trust Jacob’s advice and assume Desmond had the necessary power to survive the light?]
Further, why was it important that these flash-sideways characters be unaware of the true nature of their existence — until after Desmond begins his final quest? And why was the simple realization that they were dead all they needed to know to move on?
If Jack didn’t really have a son (as he was told in the episode), then what exactly was his imaginary son? All the other main characters were “real” now-dead people. What happens to the son and all the remaining people (including Ben) after our heroes leave? Does the flash-sideways world continue without them? Is Jack’s son suddenly an orphan? Does anyone remaining in purgatory wonder what happened to these people? Or is the purgatory world just rewritten as if they never existed?
[Speaking of Ben, I found his role in the finale to be disappointing. After having a grand performance the week before, where he kills Widmore and seems to become FLocke’s ally again, all of that is dropped in the finale as he largely fades into the background until he meekly emerges as Hurley’s #2.]
It also seemed a bit odd that the final gathering at the church was so focused on Jack. Everyone was waiting for Jack’s arrival — from people who died before Jack to people who died long after Jack. Why was Jack’s arrival the key event needed for everyone else? Why not Kate? Or Hurley? Or Sawyer? Was this Jack’s personal purgatory? Did the other characters have their own?
And what was Penny doing in the church? She was not one of the island people so important to Jack. In fact, Jack hardly knew her at all. Based on what Jack’s father explained, she didn’t seem to fit.
Worst of all, after all the build-up and promises, the sideways universe turns out to have nothing to do with the main story line. I had assumed that somehow the sideways universe was a consequence of the Jughead H-bomb blast at the end of season 5. But no. All that blast seemed to accomplish was to move the key characters from the 1970’s back to the present. The only real purpose of the whole flash-sideways universe appears to have been to offer a way for the producers to give us a quasi-happy ending.
Many of the answers to my questions are admittedly not critical to know. But, to me, if you’re going to build a fantasy world and ask us to invest in it for an entire season, you can at least put it in a context that is more than a set of arbitrary “rules” with no way to predict or understand why any rule is the way it is.
If pressed, I could come up with answers to some of the questions. But they would be ones that I made up, not necessarily the “true” ones. I know some will say that the answers don’t really matter — that there may in fact be no true answers. It’s all meant to remain a mystery and be open to different interpretations — that was the deliberate intent. It’s only the redemption of the characters that matters. I am willing to go with this idea up to a point — but the episode pushed too far beyond that point for me.
Finally, I confess to have trouble with the whole spiritual direction that Lost took this season. Had I known, back in seasons 1 and 2, that this was to be the ultimate answer to Lost’s mysteries, I might not have kept going. It did not seem to be where Lost was promising to go back then. I had expected a more science-fiction direction — and I am disappointed that this was not the case. But that’s just me.
Still, in then end, I’m glad I did stay around. Despite its flaws, Lost remains one of the most ambitious, intriguing, and thought-provoking series ever on television. I truly enjoyed the ride. We won’t see its likes again anytime soon — if ever. Aloha Lost — I’ll miss you.