Sunday, May 30, 2010

The End (of Lost) part I

After much thought, I've decided to divide this post into two parts. The second part, which is still a work in progress, will focus on the various questions that weren't answered and just how much those unanswered questions take away from the Lost experience. But I first want to focus on the end, as in "The End" the finale and the end of Lost in general. A good number of critics and fans took the position early this year that they were waiting for the show to end before commenting to deeply on what they thought of it. It was a smart decision because the real purpose of the flash sideways wasn't revealed until the finale and trying to make sense of season six without that understanding would be like trying to make sense of the early seasons without knowing that the flashbacks were actually events that already happened.

I've seen comments from numerous Lost fans who feel let down and wonder if they've wasted countless hours of their lives on questions with no answers and rabbit holes with no bottoms. But personally, I'm finding myself more and more fulfilled by the end of Lost. Yes, I've got my complaints (and I'll get to them below), but as a whole, the story paid off thematically and paid off as far as our characters go. Lost was unique in television history, where the search for meaning amongst the characters mirrored the experience of the audience. It's no surprise that John Locke was such a fan favorite, seeing as he was just as desperate to unravel the mysteries of the island as the viewers at home were. For fans, Lost often meant spending more hours on the show away from the television than in front of it. In a way, Lost was sort of an inverse Star Trek, where instead of pushing meaning well beyond the show borders, fans searched for meaning within the show's four walls. If you really think about it, it makes the ending to Lost a near impossibility. Lost fans can be a bit crazy, so if someone can come up with a better ending I'd love to see it, but I'm just not sure there's a better ending out there. Getting wrapped up in the mystery we sometimes forget that Lost is entertainment ... it's a story. And wishing we had more answers (or better answers) is one thing, but writing them into a cohesive and compelling storyline that fits the confines of network television is another matter entirely.

My initial reaction to the finale was good, followed by some doubts on Monday, but the cacophony of complaints I've heard sent me deeper down the rabbit hole and I like what I've discovered: The flash sideways were a brilliant storytelling device and the more I think about it, the more brilliant it seems. Again, let's return to Lost as entertainment. Damon and Carlton have mentioned in any number of interviews that they conceived of the flash forwards sometime during season two when it seemed obvious the flashbacks had run their course (none of course more obvious than season 3's Stranger in a Strange Land, where we learn how Jack get's his tattoos). Not having heard any differently, it makes me think they conceived of these flash sideways rather early on too, around the time they began to chart the end of the series. I make this point because it certainly seems as though this was the way they wanted to end the series and that these flash sideways were not some haphazard last minute idea when they couldn't figure out what to do after Jughead went off. As viewers (even the fans who saw Lost as a first and foremost a character drama) we tend to think most about mystery and plot, but Lost has always relied on these non-linear storytelling devices and for the writers, I can imagine those storytelling devices were part of the beginning of the creative process. If you're one of those fans who think the flash sideways were a waste of time, then what's your better idea? And does anyone want to make the argument that the flash sideways were "more of a waste of time" then the vast majority of the flashbacks? I'm all for nitpicking and we'll get tom plenty of that, but at some point you've got to appreciate the structure of the show for what it was.

If you really want to get down to it, the flash sideways was really the only way to end Lost's final season. It was a means of further exploring our characters and a means of returning to the off-island connections that tantalized us for the first several years of the show. And at a very basic level, it was the only way to end the show that would allow us to say goodbye to the characters we'd grown to love so much. Purgatory is the word that's being used to describe the sideways, but the sideways reality was much more than that. Yes, it was a place for our characters to meet before moving on, but my interpretation was that it was also a fully realized universe, albeit one where our characters retained buried memories of the previous life they'd lived. One of the more interesting ideas I've heard is that Hurley somehow created the sideways reality as part of his work as the new Jacob. But however it came to be, my interpretation is there was objective reality in the sideways. The notable absence of certain characters not in the church- Ben, Faraday, Eloise Hawking- tell us that the sideways reality was to continue after all our main characters moved on. The David character, Jack's son who didn't exist in the on-island storyline, represents the objective reality of the sideways, as does the image from the start of the season of the island sunk below the ocean. David in particular, is the son not just of Jack, but Juliet. So yes, from a storytelling perspective he represents Jack's resolution of his daddy issues, but the idea that Juliet would spend a decade and a half raising a son is also significant. Add in the fact that you have a baby Aaron "moving on" and it's a good bet that this is a fully realized independent universe and not one that exists solely for our characters.

Now, discussion of the sideways obviously devolves quickly into a philosophical death spiral, but these threads such as the island, and baby Aaron, and David's existence are not simply unresolvable loose ends, but launching off points for the discussion as to the nature of the sideways. What happened to all our characters was an awakening of their old consciousness and the recall of their old lives. But what does that mean for their sideways selves, some of whom led very different existences. The idea that Jack and Juliet's son would mean nothing is sort of nihilistic. It takes away some of the power of our characters meeting if this world where they experienced full lives literally had no meaning. The walking talking Christian from the end of the finale shows us that our sideways characters have already taken a step towards moving to their final destination. Perhaps in moving on, their island souls separated from their sideways souls, or better yet, the characters moving into the light are permitted the benefit of the experience of all their lives, while their sideways selves continue on. Either of those interpretations are preferable to the idea that the sideways somehow continues without our characters and a not yet ready cop named Ana Lucia has to investigate the mysterious disappearance of all those Oceanic 815 passengers.

Of course there is the question of why our characters experience their flashes of realization when they do and I have a theory on that. The island reality didn't start to bleed through until the moment of that crash, when they flew over the sunken island in LA X and up until that point our characters were stuck living their new lives. But after that point, we begin to see the literal bleed through, in terms of the wounds on Jack's neck and our characters are finally able to re-discover their former lives. Now as we see, our characters become truly ready at different times. I suspect Rose and Bernard made their discovery rather early on, which would explain Bernard's odd behavior when Jack goes to see him earlier in the season to ask about Locke's file. Jack on the other hand, takes awhile to give into faith in something beyond him, just as he did in our island story. And some, like Ana Lucia, are still not ready at our conclusion, perhaps because they still need to atone or perhaps because they have more of a spiritual journey to make.

In terms of our characters and the story, the real purpose of the flash sideways to explore the concept of fate and the role of Jacob and the island in our characters lives. Some things in life are fate and some things in life are coincidence. For example, Locke was always fated to be in that wheel chair, but he was not fated to have a lousy relationship with his father. Sawyer was always supposed to play by his own rules, but his career path (con man versus cop) was never supposed to lead one way or another. Ben always was supposed to be involved with Alex, but he was never fated to be a power hungry killer. And Sayid was never supposed to be with Nadia, which is why I had no problem with his reuniting with Shannon in the sideways (unlike some people, who really hated that particular reunion.) This is obviously a fairly superficial reading of the similarities and differences, but you could delve as deeply as you'd like.

To move on past the sideways, I have to say that upon further review, I'm even less happy with the on-island story this last season. On one level, almost nothing happened. We had weeks with our characters at the temple and weeks with our characters at the beach, before the plot finally got into gear toward the end of the season. And while most of Lost has involved our characters essentially being stuck on the beach, that was because that was where our characters made our home for the first four years of the show. I think this season and the latter half of last season proved difficult for the writers in terms of what to do with the multitude of characters who suddenly didn't have the same goals and the same home on the beach to return to. I'll go out on a limb here and say that the story became unwieldy at the point when the Oceanic Six returned to the island, as from that point forward most of what our characters did was a contrivance or a cheat of one sort or another. Season five managed to wrap itself up rather well, mostly because of the sheer strength of Jack's resolve, but I never quite understood why Miles or Jin were more than ready to detonate a nuclear bomb.

In season six, we did see any number of characters- Jin, Kate, Sawyer- go off on their own, but we wound up with all our characters in either Jack or Locke's camp, no matter how little sense it made for Kate or Jin to follow Locke around. But beyond the character contrivances, as I mentioned, very little actually happened. The on-island story of season six could be summed up as simply as this: Our characters go to the temple, Locke attacks the temple, our characters go to the beach, Widmore comes to the island, Jack meets Locke, Locke blows up sub, and Jack and Locke finally have it out. We did get a few neat moments early in the season- Sawyer finding the cave and Jack finding the lighthouse- but by the end of the season we just had Desmond being dragged around as a piece in motion for half a season in the manner that was typically reserved for the episode before the finale. Contrast season six with season three, which had the added hurdle of spending it's first six weeks in polar bear cages. We had Jack's relationship with Juliet and his operation on Ben, Sawyer and Kate's escape from Hydra island, Locke's quest into the jungle, blowing up Dharma stations and subs, the discovery of Dharmaville, Juliet leaving the Others and being a double agent, Locke joining up with the Others and challenging Ben, Naomi coming to the island and all the other events leading up to the showdown on the beach and in the Looking Glass.

And that's not to mention we had Mr. Eko's death, Desmond's time flashes and visions of Charlie's death, Hurley finding Roger and the Dharma van, Sawyer killing Anthony Cooper, and Sun's pregnancy. I suppose what I'm really getting at are those wonderful intersections of plot and character which Lost used to be so good at. Even when "nothing" was happening, most seasons of Lost had so much going on, but this last season seemed to be a lot of pieces being moved around on a chess board.

Even though they abandoned the concept of the beach as home, season five worked in some ways that season six did not because you had two groups of characters, one off the island trying (or not-trying) to get back and one on the island just struggling to survive the time flashes. But this last season just struggled to tell compelling on-island stories. We had a few stellar moments, but far less than most other seasons of Lost. On one level, this is a problem unique to the end of a story, the end of this story. I'm not sure how else you could have utilized all the characters in this storyline and I don't think I really have a better idea as to how the on-island story could have been constructed differently.

Similarly to how I feel about the endings for our characters, I think Lost managed to do justice to it's many thematic elements in it's final season and final episode. Many fans hated Across the Sea, the Jacob and Man in Black back story, but I thought it was Lost storytelling at it's finest, basically giving these two God-like characters the Lost treatment and elevating the mysteries of the island as beyond even the two of them. If Lost has been about anything for six years it's been about the search for meaning, the search for answers, in our lives and the world around us. As viewers we were literally as Lost as our characters were, both in terms of the "why are we here?" and the "what is this place." it's no wonder that John Locke, the man most interested in the secrets of the island and the man most invested in the search for the meaning of it all became such a fan favorite.

To return again for a moment to "Across the Sea," what we learned in our mythological flashback was that Jacob and MIB were just as lost about the meaning of it all as we were. Jacob has faith in what Mother told him, but the ultimate explanations he's given us about the island are no more clear than MIB's assertions earlier this season (as Locke) that the island is just an island and nothing more. Protecting the island is a value judgment made by our characters, or in this case, Jack, and later Hurley. And protecting the island has been the rationale for all the conflict and drama on the island, from Ben turning that wheel, to the purge of Dharma.

Since the very beginning Lost has been about making these value judgments, about this search for meaning. You could be a man of science or a man of faith, but ultimately there were never any real answered to be had about the island, just as there are no answers to be had about our universe. Whether it's a magic light that needs protection or electromagnetism, we're just giving meaning to forces that we just can't understand. Lost works and the end of Lost works precisely because so much of the mythology of the island was cloaked in the same search for meaning that paralleled the journey of our characters.

There's plenty more to say, particularly in regards to the journeys of our characters, but seeing how unwieldy this post is already, we'll call it a day.


Blogger McMc said...

"If Lost has been about anything for six years it's been about the search for meaning, the search for answers, in our lives and the world around us"

And yet, LOST left us with no answers and no meaning...

I loved LOST for a long time. I was one of the few people telling others to have faith this last season. I was a person who didn't care much for the mysteries of the island. But now that all is said and done, I find myself more and more disappointed with the show as a whole.

I'm not here to debate the merits of the finale. Whatever. It was a fine episode, I enjoyed it and the end was cute. Yippy.

But after six years of LOST talk/debate and trying to figure stuff out, a lot of things were rendered meaningless and I'm having a hard time ignoring it all. You can prat on and on about how great the writing on LOST was, but I don't think that's necessarily true anymore.

Take "the rules", for example. For years, we heard about these rules that our characters had to follow. The MIB searched for years for a loophole to these rules, which is all well and good until you see the last few episodes. In those last two episodes, we twice see the Jacob of the island kill the MIB. First it's actually Jacob, then it's Jack. These rules are passed on to Ben and Widmore too, but that doesn't stop Ben from shooting his counterpart in cold blood. The truly devout LOST fan probably has some roundabout answer, but guess what? All of Season 5 was about the MIB manipulating Ben so that he could kill Jacob for him. Several times "fate" intervened to prevent death. So why oh why could the MIB be killed by the person who wasn't supposed to be able to kill him? This is bad writing. The first parts are all fine and dandy but ultimately there was no justification for it all.

Or how about this gem. Christian tells Jack that no time in his life was more important than his time on the island. Ummm...what? Jack was a spinal surgeon in real life and he had probably saved countless lives. The only reason his life stunk was because of Christian. Then Jack winds up on this island, and all Jack does is make mistakes and get people killed, does he not? Sure Jack meets Kate, but was that relationship ever much more than a physical one? They couldn't make it work in the real world, that's for sure. Jack's lasting legacy on the island is saving it, which to me seems like it could have been avoided if he never ended up going there. The only reason Jack was ever there is because some jackass named Jacob needed (or wanted?) someone to take his place...but he didn't really because he wasn't in any danger until he brought people to the island. I digress though. To recap... Jack's life only had meaning because he met Kate on the island. Whatever.

I read my old blog posts now and I just can't help but laugh at all of the crap that was supposedly important that ended up being meaningless or swept aside. I just hope you all recognize how lame it is to build entire plot lines off of mysterious checks you don't cash or never had any intention of cashing.

By the way, don't even get me started on "the light". Talk about one of the great cop outs in history. No one will ever convince me otherwise that the writers didn't know how to end it, so they just came up with this idea for an all mysterious light that's the heart of the island. Ugh.

12:45 PM  
Blogger lonely libertarian said...

I can't argue with you on a lot of this, but I'm surprised the light bugs you so much. It is a bit hokey, but I've just taken it as the physical manifestation of everything we've already seen. As I've always said, the lack of real answers about the island doesn't bother me.

You make a very good point about the rules though and that will be explored in my next post. Besides Jacob and MIB, what about Widmore and Ben? What rules were they playing by and why? I'll obviously get into it in the next Lost post, but I'm disappointed with Widmore's ending and feel as though much of his story was left unfinished.

As to what Christian tells Jack, I think that falls into that gooey category of Lost's debatable red meat. We're meant to get a happy ending, but how superficial is that ending? Is Jack's time on the island really the most important time of his life? Was Sun and Jin's death and orphaning of little Ji Yeon really all worth it. The relative merits of what happened on the island have been left intentionally vague.

But what's the deal with Christian - is he right - is that Christian we see really Jack's Dad, or is it still the Christian that's somehow a spokesmen for the island (You can go now Michael)? And another question no one's asked is whether or not our characters are going to heaven because of the island ... Do they even get there without their time on the island .... Was the island the redemption and salvation their souls needed, the very sort of thing we saw from Mr. Eko much earlier in the series .... There's always a lot of ambiguity with Lost and just as I shouldn't have gotten so worked up about the good versus evil themes and imagery earlier in the season, I don't think you should get worked up about something that may be equally as ambiguous.

But they'll be more on Lost, trust me ... and you're certainly right to the extent about some of the mysteries and you may be surprised where I come down on some of them.

4:06 PM  
Blogger McMc said...

The Light bothers me so much because of all the loose ends. I can't help but think of the writer's room, with all of them sitting in there wondering how to end it and then finally someone comes up with this mystical light. Just bugs me.

3:12 PM  
Blogger lonely libertarian said...

I'm slowly but surely working on my questions post, but I think you've got to just keep in mind that the unanswered questions are a lot different than the ending of the show as a whole. Because as I delve into all the unanswered questions, it's easy to see how and why they didn't fit into the story and this ending as a whole. That's not to say some of these unanswered questions aren't big holes in the story, but that we should look at them at holes in the entire story and not just the holes in the shows ending. I'm actually finding myself getting more worked up about some of these unanswered questions because I'm growing happier and happier with the ending itself.

The thing is, I think they did have answers for a lot of these questions (and by the way, there's supposed to be 20 minutes of bonus footage on the DVD's of stuff that didn't fit well into the story- supposedly stuff with Walt and stuff with Hurley and Ben running the island, among other things. Obviously this won't be everything, but it plays into this idea that there was more they wanted to do and more questions they had answers for that just didn't fit into the story.

But just hang on for this post, because I think we can have some fun debating what really sucks.

11:46 AM  

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