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Monday, 25 of May of 2020

Lost – “The End” (Noel)

All of this matters.”

As this season has proved, Lost doesn’t answer questions very well. Either off-handedly provided (the whispers) or just never exactly satisfying (“Ab Aeterno” and “Across the Sea”), the answers seemed not to matter as much. Indeed, Damon Lindelof’s assertion that “Across the Sea” is how the show does answers indicates this. And, if anything, the finale only reasserts the claim that the answers aren’t ultimately what’s important.

Because there really weren’t any answers (except, for maybe, what the flash-sideways were all about), and I suspect that was the point. The answers, ultimately, don’t matter. Why pregnant women die on the Island isn’t answered. What the Others thought they were doing there (because Ben clearly didn’t have a clue) isn’t answered. Why/How Eloise seemed to know, well, everything, isn’t answered. Who was shooting at Sawyer and the gang in the outrigger isn’t answered (I know many of you were looking for that). Those are just off the top of my head.

But the finale provides a sense of closure, and that’s ultimately what finales tend to do (or at least, it would seem, what people expect from their finales). Closure, however, is a tricky thing in a show like Lost where expectations are different, where it means so many things to so many people. Much ink, actual and digital, will be spilled over this finale, concerning what it meant, how it worked, and whether or not it was a satisfying finale, and as a result, the idea of whether or not the show provides a sense of closure will be the debated issue.

It’s difficult to determine if I liked “The End” because I really don’t know. Unlike the Battlestar Galatica finale, it caused no immediate gut reaction. Part of this could simply be because I had found BSG to become increasingly scattered and lacking and saw the finale as an extension of this, whereas with Lost, I had never felt someone had fallen asleep at the frozen donkey wheel. With that said, whether or not I liked “The End” may not really matter, and the show (thankfully?) is decidedly okay with that.

The ending is, like the church they enter into, a Unitarian one (notice those stained-glass windows?). It can mean what you want it to mean, however you want to approach it. Indeed, that the show would leave itself open-ended (though my atheistic tendencies have me feeling the show does land in somewhat of a religious mode: you can’t have a father character named Christian opening up doors to church and allow light to start pouring not to have a religious connotation (all of that had me expecting Roma Downey to show up at any moment)) allows for it to be all things to all people.

For those focusing on the eastern religious aspects of the show, it becomes about reincarnation and remembering your trials. For a more western religious take, there’s issues of sacrifice and reunion in the afterlife. For anti-fans, it’ll be that the show that didn’t deliver answers (how did that polar bear skeleton end up in the desert?) and ultimately copped out in the end, collapsing under the weight of its own narrative.

So the episode’s ending can be explained as a vision of the afterlife, or the afterlife’s waiting room. Or it can be explained from a somewhat non-theistic point of view (again, you can’t have this happen in a church and be free of religious connotations) in that it celebrates the connections between human beings, and how those connections ultimately define us, shape us, make us who we are. And this idea has played throughout the show, as we see characters making connections with one another through family members, friends, playing 6 degrees of separation with each other.

To end with an explanation that the time these people spent on the Island was the most important in any of their lives enforces the show’s argument about how important human interaction ultimately is to us. While it sets this up in a religiously-themed way, it’s still a largely non-theist idea. You might even go to Lost as a Jungian text (just as much as it is a Freudian one), as a collective unconscious experiment in archetypes and connectedness among us. To further this idea, how we’ve lived our lives is ultimately just as important.

The entire flash-sideways narrative, which is ultimately not narratively significant, proves to be thematically and characterly significant. As many of us noted, characters’ lives in the sideways reality were almost too good to be true, and that, I think, may have been the point. These were lives largely without struggles, and struggling in life is how we may ultimately define who we are, religious or not. Remembering what their lives were like before the Island, during the Island, and, in some cases, after the Island brings the characters (as well as the show’s thematic concerns) full circle and allows them, ultimately, to have a full life.

One of the reasons I appreciated the flash-sideways is that they gave a fuller sense of the characters and who they might’ve been. This, again, gives the series the emphasis on character (not mystery) that is why the series works (producers of other shows with mysteries, take note, again!) So the flash-sideways allow more character work to come to the forefront (to a degree). It’s rewarding if only for that.

The show allows for this idea of a struggle to be brought into focus as not everyone is ready. Ana Lucia wasn’t. Michael, Walt, Mr. Eko, and the freighter folk weren’t sought after for the reunion. Arzt or Nikki and Paulo don’t even register. Ben decides not to leave. And Ben’s decision not to leave indicates not only the degree of choice these characters have, but also that Ben may feel that he has more to atone for, now that he remembers not only the work he did with Hurley as the new Richard, but to treat Alex and Danielle better than he did before.

Enough metaphysics. From a nuts-and-bolts level, let’s applaud Matthew Fox for a really amazing performance. From confidence to determination on Island to watching the entire weight of the diegesis being lifted from his shoulders as he hugged his father and as he died, Fox acted the hell out of the finale. And you have to give credit to not only Fox for making Jack’s arc work, but to the show’s writers for trusting that the arc would pay off in the ways that it does. To go from being a jerk to one who saves the Island and his friends, Jack can die knowing that he finally fixed everything.

Despite having two and half hours though, the rest of the cast is forced to do a lot to convey the necessary emotion to provide the character payoffs necessary in very little time. So short scenes of awakening work better than others. Sun and Jin: Absolutely (and how sad is it that this is the first, only?, time Jin gets to see Ji Yeon?). Sayid and Shannon: No, but that could be because I never really liked that couple anyway. Sawyer and Juliet: Absolutely again, though I felt it a bit forced in the long run.

But as we’ve noted, the awakenings were largely centered around heterosexual love (and childbirth, a result of heterosexual coupling). My stance on this issue remains largely unchanged, though I do feel its problematic from a representation point of view. Equally problematic, and perhaps more pressing for me, is that the narrative still falls squarely in the hands of white men, ending with man’s best friend no less (again, Michael, Walt, and Eko’s omissions only enhance the lack). Kate’s take down of Smocke, while kind of neat, does little to renew the lackluster image of women that was ultimately presented this season. Furthermore, Kate and Claire’s roles were both located around childbirth, something I still don’t feel the show earns with Kate (“motherly” is not a word I would use for her).

While I kept saying I would write about the Man in Black as the big bad, it turns that I needn’t bother. As the big bad, he is too poorly characterized to seem like nothing more than a final obstacle to reaching the goal. I don’t understand why, exactly, him getting off the Island would’ve been a horrible thing. And since he turned out to be a massive MacGuffin I suppose it doesn’t matter, but given that we’ve spent a great deal of time with the character and to have his (potential) impact mitigated cheapens his role in the series.

But I’m getting sleepy. In closing, I will say that the show followed through its very first idea: live together or die alone. And as problematic as that concept became due to cast omissions in the afterlife’s waiting room, it still largely worked on a number of levels, however you want to interpret it: Regardless of whether or not you liked the destination, what matters was the journey to get there, and that was pretty amazing.


  • No fade to black. Fade to white, yes, and then title card.
  • Give Giachinno an Emmy, now, please.
  • Richard’s gray hair was a nice, gentle hint that he may finally get the mortality that he has longed for for much of this season. Good for him.
  • Shot of episode: Jack watching the plane fly away.
  • I may add more thoughts later, as I come up with them, but I am bushed.

Aside from this review, each of the writers for Monsters of Television will provide their takes on Lost, from their own perspectives. Here are Nick’s thoughts about why the ending wasn’t responsible for tying it all up in a pretty bow. You can also read about Matt’s thoughts on the nostalgia the finale created and about the love of his life, regardless of when or where, Juliet. And Karen provides thoughts on what the show, as a whole, meant for her.

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