ABSTRACT: (My scientifically-minded friends have asked several times for a Too Long; Didn’t Read version of my posts, so…) People complain about the final season of Lost. I do not share their view. I will address the common complaints of the flash-sideways limbo (which was emotionally satisfying and a very Lost thing to do, thematically) and the perceived lack of answers (which I appreciated with the same faculty with which I appreciate something like poetry, for example.)
I love Lost. (The title might have given that away.)
Recently on the Jay and Jack Facebook group (you don’t know Jay and Jack? You should!) there was a discussion of TV shows that had either gone on too long, or had spawned a spin-off that had tarnished the reputation of its predecessor. Lost was mentioned, not in the spin-off category, but as a show that had gone on too long, and some criticism of the final season was opined.
I love Lost. I’m shameless about it. So what will now follow will be a totally biased and uncritical love letter to season six. I might as well be honest about it.
Oh, I might acknowledge problems with the show (there were some), and I’ll try not to be too blindly in love, but I know where I stand.
I’ll make you a deal. Rather than having a giant rambly post about Lost, and then finish up with a hurried defense of Season Six at the very end, I’ll just focus mostly on the final season, and then in a week or so post a long rambly no-holds-barred talk-about-anything Lost dissertation. Fair? More than fair.
At the very least, I will be dropping spoilers about Lost. So if you have not seen Lost, please stop reading, and go watch it. Watch all of it. Watch Season Three even though you’ll be wondering if the show is going anywhere (the second half of season three is crazy good, so it’s worth it.)
Although I love Lost (I did mention that, right?), I understand that not everyone does. I’m not trying to change your mind, or tell you that you are wrong. Appreciation and disappointment in regards to Lost is, I feel, a very personal and subjective thing.
I’d prefer that if you should care to respond, that you respond in kind. Tell me how you feel about Lost without the need to try and change my mind. But don’t let me dictate things to you. I’m not going to tell you what you can’t do, Locke.
Lost: The Final Season
In my opinion, people usually concentrate on two major elements when it comes to their disappointment with the final season of Lost. (Should you have other problems than the ones I state, I welcome you to inform me in the comments, or keep your peace, as you see fit.) These problems I’ll label as 1) The Sideways Alternate Universe Was Purgatory and Therefore Meaningless and/or Proof that Lindelof and Cuse Lied, Yo! and 2) What the Hell was All that Jacob and Man In Black Stuff Anyways AKA Where are the Answers???
I’ll try to address those issues as best as I can, mostly to illuminate why I’m okay with what was presented. To make some of this work, I’ll be bringing up some stuff from previous seasons, but I’ll try to keep the rambly to a minimum.
The Sideways Universe
As a reminder, the finale of season five centered on some of the Oceanic 815 survivors (and Juliet, lovely doomed Juliet) trying to change destiny by detonating the arming core of Jughead (a wonderfully apellated hydrogen bomb) at the Dharma Initiative Swan Station in the early 1970s. The Swan station was built on top of a massive elecro-magnetic phenomenon, which is allegedly responsible for the crash of Oceanic 815 in 2004. The idea is that if the phenomenon could be short-circuited, the future would be changed, the flight would not crash, and we’d have a time-travel paradox that would required an assemblage of anglophone aliens with acoustic instrumentation to sort it out.
In the last moments of the episode, with dying Juliet hammering on the undetonated core with a rock, there is a white flash.
Season Six had two storylines, one which followed the island survivors in what appeared to be a continuation of the timeline where Jughead had not exploded and a new timeline that appeared to be an alternate universe where Jughead had indeed gone off. Because Oceanic 815 lands safely at LAX.
There are some differences. James Ford is not a con-man, but a cop. Jack has a son. Sayid’s love Nadia has married his brother. Sun cannot speak English. Desmond is BFFs with Charles Widmore, but has never met Widmore’s daughter Penny. Benjamin Linus is no longer the leader of the enigmatic Others, but is a history teacher. I could go on and on, and maybe I will in the later post, but my point is that things are different. Seeing these different aspects of the characters is refreshing. One interesting aspect of Lost was the use flashbacks that illuminated attributes of the characters, and seeing them in a new situation was kind of nice.
But, things were not what they seemed to be. This was not an alternate timeline.
In the final episode, Jack Shephard, the central focus character for the series, is given information that the sideways world he was moving through was an imaginary construct. Something outside of time that existed to give him, and those close to him, a measure of peace so they could move on. Kind of a station for souls to work out issues, before moving on.
Jack, on the island, has faced off against the Man in Black doppleganger of John Locke (Man in Locke? Blocke?) and sealed a mysterious well of energy on the island. He lives long enough to witness his friends leaving the island in the Ajira commercial aircraft, and joined by Vincent (the dog) he dies. His death is presented in close proximity to the “flash sideways” where many of the characters are presented as moving on (while some remain to work things out in the otherworldly limbo.)
For me, the image of Vincent laying down alongside the dying Jack is one of the most moving moments of television, and I’m not ashamed to say that as I recollect that scene, I must pause and wipe my eyes. We all deserve someone in our life so wonderful as to patiently be with us at our lowest moment, and to indicate “it’s cool, man. I’m here. You’re not alone.” One of Jack’s taglines in the series was “live together, or die alone” and it was dramatically beautiful and important to me that noble Jack Shephard had a friend to keep him company as he died.
So… why am I talking about Jack’s island story? This section was advertised to deal with the off-island alternate reality limbo storyline! True enough. But the core I wanted to get at was emotion. It’s emotional when Jack dies, when the Ajira plane leaves, when Hurley and Ben Linus assume their positions are Number One and Number Two on the Island. And that emotion flows back and forth from the flash-sideways universe. The writers could have tried to connect the two universes plot wise (in some ways, they did) but instead, it is cleaner to let those stories largely be non-intersecting. The island story gave us an ending, but the off-island story let us say goodbye. If we were willing to do so.
But, shouldn’t the off-island flash-sideways story have been an alternate reality caused by Jughead? That’s what we all thought! We were looking forward to a time-travel multi-dimension meetup! What a scam!
Exactly. That’s why I REALLY liked the flash-sideways storyline. We were presented with the reality of the flash-sideways without explanation, we came to a conclusion, had expectations, and we were wrong. It’s okay. Lost had been doing that to us for years. And it was one of the strengths of the show.
Locke and his wheelchair. Sun and Jin. Jack looking like hell in what turned out to be a flash-forward and not a flashback, in season three. We were presented with information, we made our own conclusions, we had our expectations, and we were wrong. (Yes, I deliberately repeated myself.)
For season six to be a Long Con... I give the writers extreme props for that. If we as viewers had our own interpretation and were going to desperately cling to that, well that’s on us. It’s not the show’s fault. They didn’t sell us a false bill of goods.
But wait! (I hear some of you say. At least, I do in my head. Since it’s quite possible I’m the only one reading this.) Didn’t Cuse and Lindelof totally lie when they said the island wasn’t purgatory, and that the Oceanic 815 survivors weren’t dead? Huh? HUH?
I’m not even going to bring up that Lindelof and Cuse were addressing the purgatory issue specifically about the Island. Okay, I guess I am going to bring it up.
People early on suggested that the survivors of Oceanic 815 had died in the crash, and the Island was purgatory, or limbo, or whatever. Obviously it wasn’t. There was sufficient interaction with the broader world that made that clear, unless the entire world was also limbo, in which case the island was no different, and therefore the situation was the same as if they weren’t all dead anyway. I’m pretty sure no one asked L and C if the flash-sideways world was purgatory, so I feel pretty confident that they never lied about that. But that is completely not my point. My appreciation of Lost does not rely on the truthfulness of two guys who are saying stuff about the show. I’m only concerned about the stuff happening *in* the show.
As far as I am concerned, Lindelof and Cuse can say whatever they want. They can lie, misremember, pretend that the first half of season three never happened, pretend Nikki and Paulo never died, whatever. (For the record, they have not pretended those things.)
It doesn’t change what was presented on the show and that’s what I’m interested in. What was shown on the show. Their behind the scenes stuff is pretty cool and interesting, and as far as I know, still consistent with what we saw. But if a viewer wants to interpret something that they said that is inconsistent from the show, the reality of the show doesn’t change.
Lost presented mysteries and would occasionally provide answers. Sometimes the answers were less satisfactory than others, but rarely (like, never maybe) were they inconsistent or in violation of previously established facts. The answers would often violate our preconceptions, like Jin being an abusive husband (he wasn’t), or Locke being hale and whole (he wasn’t, we didn’t realize it at first, but he was wheelchair-bound) but that made things even better. There are some shows (X-Files, I am looking right at you!) that would establish facts in their mythology, and then violate those facts with unresolvable contradictions. That was super annoying.
There’s a certain amount of inevitable inconsistency to be found in a complex story. There are certainly questions that can be raised that would be hard to answer. But in my opinion, Lost did a good job in being internally consistent. (Even if some of that consistency was enforced by obscurity. I’ll talk more on that in the next Lost free-for-all opinion post. Next week maybe. Feel free to bring up inconsistencies to my attention. If I can’t come up with a plausible explanation, bravo to you. Bravo.)
So, although some might not have found the alternate universe storyline a satisfactory one from a story-telling point of view, I was fine with it. More than fine. Because it hadn’t violated what had gone before, where it intersected the main storyline (Juliet’s dying conversation with Sawyer) works, and it was a fine example of letting the viewers hang themselves on their own preconceptions.
If someone hated the flash-sideways story, they can certainly edit those hours out of the final season and pretend they never happened, and Lost would still have a beautiful ending with Jack dying in the jungle as the Ajira plane flies away.
Jacob and the Other Guy – The Rest of the Story
Okay, maybe I’ve convinced you about the flash-sideways universe (or I didn’t need to convince you, or I couldn’t possibly convince you, that’s all good) but in the final season of Lost, certainly we deserved answers to the Island? To Jacob and his brother?
As a reminder, in season one, the survivors of Oceanic 815 not only had to deal with basic survival, torture, attacks by the Others, polar bears, boars, domestic strife, but there was always the danger of That Thing in the Jungle. The click-click-click-awwwoooooooo tree-knocking, body-breaking, nerve-wracking Thing in in the Jungle. Eventually, our protagonists see the creature (near the end of the first season) and the term Smoke Monster was born.
In Season Three, while being held captive by the Others, Sawyer first comes across the name Jacob (while busting Carl out of room 23 on the Alcatraz island.) From then on, Jacob starts to appear large and in charge (at least in the Other mythology.)
At the end of Season Five, in an interesting flashback to a time when there was a big statue to an Egyptian fertility goddess on the island, we see Jacob. And we see his brother who is never properly named, but is from then on referred to (not in the show) as the Man in Black. Season Six pretty quickly establishes that Jacob’s brother is Smokey the Bear. I mean Smokey the Monster. Click-click-click-aaawwwooooo…
The storyline on the island in Season Six largely revolves around the conflict between Jacob and the Man in Black. In many ways, they represent the mystery of the island and the only gateway to answers. Their conflict, which seemed to be more of a game with ill-defined rules than out and out conflict, was never properly explained. The varying dissatisfaction with the fraternal battle would certainly impact a viewer’s appreciation of the final season of Lost. If Jacob and his bro’s story did not engage a viewer, they couldn’t really ignore it like they could the flash-sideways.
The final season’s island story directly dealt with the Man in Black’s attempt to leave the island for good, and Jacob’s expectation that one of the members of Oceanic 815 would act to not only prevent MiB’s escape, but would end his existence. Jacob’s plan is not without a cost; the Man in Black, wearing a body modeled on John Locke, had manipulated Ben Linus into killing Jacob. It’s a large gamble for Jacob, but it pays off for him. Kate kills the mortal Locke/MiB, Hurley ascends to be protector of the Island, and Jacob transitions onto whatever fate awaits him, after existing as the island’s protector for thousands of years.
I completely understand that having such a major storyline that provides only some answers is a big problem for many viewers, possibly more so than the flash-sideways red herring.
It’s okay if you don’t buy my defense (of course it’s okay!) but here it is anyway:
We get answers. We get a lot of answers. Pretty much to the important questions.
What’s the Smoke Monster? We kind of know. If we don’t totally get what he is, we get that Jacob’s brother was turned into the smoky monster when Jacob hurled him into a place of power on the island. Isn’t that enough? You need more? Okay, see Jacob’s brother is actually a Balrog from Tolkein’s universe. Those demons were described as smoky right? Obviously I’m wrong. But who cares? I could be right. And we’d pretty much still not have answers to the nature of the Man in Black. Did we need Cuse and Lindelof to come up with something equivalent. He’s a boojum. He’s a boogie-monstro-man. He’s… he’s a Smoke Monster. There. That’s it.
Just what is Jacob? Well, he’s this guy. He became guardian of the Island, and the island has power, and he has power. We don’t know the limits of his power, but he appears to not have unlimited power. Just like Gandalf from Lord of the Rings. Gandalf’s a wizard. Do we know all of what Gandalf can do? He also seems to have a lot of power, but it’s not unlimited. Do we flip out about not having his Dungeons and Dragons stats? No. We don’t.
So, what is the Island? It’s a cork for evil? What?
Er, it’s an island the floats, right. Which basically means IT’S NOT AN ISLAND. Islands don’t float, or teleport to different parts of the Pacific Ocean. Islands are nearly-flooded mountains. So… it’s not an island. It’s okay that everyone calls it that. But it’s not an island.
But it’s something. Something that has electromagnetic events, and supernatural phenomenon. Do I have to really know more than that? If someone told me “oh, it’s like Atlantis or something” that really wouldn’t provide more details. It’d just kind of limit what I might imagine it could be.
For me, I don’t need to know the details. It’s enough to understand some of the backstory of where Jacob and MiB came from, and the nature of their conflict. The other bits I can speculate on. And I will, much later in this, in the rambly post to come.
I can probably come up with a pet theory about the Island. What it might be. Stay tuned to this channel.
Sometimes, not having things spelled out explicitly is okay. Recently, I’ve been reading on twitter a lot of #MicroStory submissions. Microstories have to provide a high concept story in 140 characters. That’s a challenge to write, and a real challenge to be good.
Lost provided a lot of mystery, but it also provided this wonderful framework for the viewer to flesh out on their own. I will do some of that fleshing out later (there’s no need to go into detail here) but the framework for me is enough. It’s like a poem.
A poem delivers the essence of an idea with emotion. It allows for interpretation. It usually is beautiful in its simplicity, even when the poem is structurally complex or has complex elements. Subjects in a poem often lend themselves to allegory. The TV show Lost contains all of those things to me, and the final season of Lost brought me the framework I needed to find my own answers.
Not all of the answers, again, were necessarily 100% satisfactory. Was the Island just a “cork” keeping in evil as Jacob explained to Richard Alpert? I think it was more than that, but as an explanation from a supernatural being to a 16th century superstitious man, it was quite succinct and apt. Poetic even.
Was it satisfactory that the voices the survivors occasionally heard were just ghosts, or the souls of people trapped on the Island as Michael told Hurley? Well, I guess it works as an answer, and I was hoping for more, but maybe my hopes are not unfounded. How exactly would Michael know if there wasn’t more to the voices than just communication from trapped souls like his? Isn’t it possible that he might not be aware of the full picture?
Juliet from the flash-sideways talked to Sawyer in the main reality. Desmond after experiencing the magnetic forces experiment by Widmore seemed to be connected to the flash-sideways. I have no problem believing that some of the phenomenon the survivors experienced on the Island, like the voices, was caused by interaction with this timeless surreal world. I can give the voices more meaning if I want to. And I’m not necessarily wrong.
My bottom line is that Lost provided me with an emotional perspective, characters I cared about, things to think about, and an experience that I could share with friends, family, and co-workers. It was so worth it. Could it have been better? Yes, sure. I’m not stupid. It wasn’t perfection. Could it have been worse. Yes. It could have tried to be perfect and gone off the rails. This is also true of the finale. All things have to end. I think Lost ended well.
Lost taught me many things, I guess. I won’t try to list them off, because that’s lame. But one thing Lost showed me that has worked for me in real life as well as for TV watching: that even someone that appears to be a tremendous asshat might be okay if I could just see the world from their point of view.
It is known.
© Patrick Sponaugle 2013 Some Rights Reserved