There will never be another episode of LOST. Throughout Season 6, an annoying ABC promo blared “The time for questions is over.” Well, now the time for answers is over too. Like the audience as a whole, I am deeply divided.
Part of the problem is that “The End” was answering many different questions: Was this a good episode of LOST? Does this change my perspective on Season 6? Was there a coherent series-long arc? Was it worth it? I’ll try and tackle these questions one at a time.
Was this a good episode of LOST?
This is the question that I feel most comfortable answering with an unequivocal “Yes.” There was as good a mixture of character moments, action, and mythology as you’re going to get in a LOST episode (actually, it now occurs to me that many of the all-time great episodes, “The Constant,” “The Economist” “Walkabout,” most of the season finales, also contain that balance). While the writers have talked at length about how they see Season 6 as a mirror to Season 1, I think that the series finale contains tonal elements from every season of LOST: the fight over the heart of the island hearkens back to the first discoveries of island properties in Season 1; as noted by Smokey in the episode, the Jack/Locke conflict and descent into the heart parallels some of the hatch conflict in Season 2; the walking back and forth on the island from Season 3 (just kidding, but kind of not really); the on-island/off-island dynamic, and the snazzy clothes from Season 4; the sci-fi elements from Season 5; and the sentimentality from Season 6.
There were some great lines and exchanges; my favorite is probably Locke’s quip about how Jack was the obvious choice for Jacob’s successor. There was some great acting. If you had told me at the beginning of the season that I would be on board for a Jack-centric finale, I would have rolled my eyes. Jack has been the standout character from this season, however, and I thought he completely earned his dramatic moments in the episode. Also great work from Terry O’Quinn (the cold-hearted badassery in the Rose/Bernard/Desmond/Locke scene was chilling). I was grateful that we got a real resolution for Richard Alpert and Frank Lapidus, as well as some nice moments from Jin and Sun (who were criminally underused by the show both this season and for the second half of the series).
As an episode of LOST, it was perfectly fine, and indeed one of the better episodes of the series.
Does this change my perspective on Season 6?
This answer is a little more complicated, because it breaks down into two questions: Was there a direction that the events of Season 6 were moving towards? and Am I (the viewer) satisfied with the way that they got there? The answer to that is yes, and not even close.
Unlike some people out there, I don’t have a logical problem with the ending scene. The way that I interpret the ending is that when Jughead was detonated, the combination of the losties’ proximity to the blast and the extreme emotion of their desperation, hope, and love created an alternate universe in which they and those they love are fulfilled (this is because the island is a place of both physical (aka electromagnetic pockets) and spiritual energy). I didn’t take Christian’s “everybody here is dead” [pf.] to mean that the church, or alternate timeline, was purgatory, but rather a reassurance to Jack that in a sense he is dead, but he [Jack] also made himself another life in which he could be fulfilled. It’s a little mushy, but it makes sense with what we know of the heart of the island and the sidewaysverse material from this season.
Whether I am satisfied with they way that they arrived here is a completely different story. With the final puzzle pieces in place, the time spent at the Temple at the beginning of the season seem like even more of a waste. In interviews, Darlton have been saying over and over that this is a character-driven show, and that Season 6 would come around to the same tone as the character-driven Season 1. I’m OK with that. I’ve generally enjoyed the small, non-action, non-mythology character moments in this season. What I’m not OK with is wild goose chases like Sayid’s “disease” or the tragicomic way that Jin and Sun never crossed paths, or Sun’s inability to speak English. Those aren’t character moments, those are character gimmicks. Plus, it’s hard to take the writers seriously when, in the final season no less, LOST has churned through unexplored, interesting characters like Dogen, Illana, and the Temple crew. A lot of the Season 1 character conflicts are closed: no more daddy issues plotlines from Sawyer, Jack or Kate, no more Sun/Jin marital conflict, no more “Don’t tell me what I can’t do.” And yet the writers chose to revisit old territory (without adding much to the story or the characters) rather than advance a new plot. I’m not OK with that*.
In fact, I’ve never felt more betrayed by the show than when Kate kissed Jack. I thought that the writers had learned their lesson from Season 3, that a) Jack and Kate don’t have much natural chemistry, and b) the audience is incredibly tired of the Jack-Kate-Sawyer love triangle. I supposed I could have guessed that the show might dip into that well one more time after this NYT interview:
While the mythology was important, first and foremost the show was about the characters. I think that a lot of people care much more about what’s going to happen to Kate. Is she going to end up with Jack, is she going to end up with Sawyer?
I think this shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the show’s audience. Of course it is the characters that keep the show engaging. The writers are right when they say that the weakness of LOST-clones like FlashForward is that they spend too much time on the mythology early, before their audience becomes invested in the characters. At the same time, I (and nobody I know) didn’t much care whether Kate was romantically linked to anybody anymore.
Season 6 also has a huge problem that I would like to hear the writers explain: if the alternaverse was created when Jughead exploded, did the events of season 6 matter at all? We’ve seen crossovers between the timelines in wounds, Desmond, and (perhaps) Jack looking up at the sky and seeing a plane (do we know if it’s the plane?). This would suggest that events on the island can affect the other timeline. At the same time, Christian says that everybody dies sometime, suggesting that no matter what happens in the original timeline the characters will be there*.
*Also, how annoying is it that in interviews and in podcasts, the writers tried to discourage the use of the word “alternate” as in alternate timeline? That’s basically the big reveal.
In short, I do think that the season completed a coherent story arc. It remains, however, one of LOST’s weakest seasons, albeit with some standout moments. Given that the show had an end date scheduled three years ago, and that this was the final season, I find it incomprehensible that they wasted so much time.
Was there a coherent series-long arc?
This is the tough question. It really pains me to do so, but I’m going to have to answer no.
This has been the preemptive defense of the series from the writers: a) LOST is a character driven show, and b) it would ruin the drama to explain every mystery, every mechanic (e.g. midichlorians). As I wrote above, I agree with the former. I don’t agree with the way that they use the latter as a defense.
My feelings can be summed up by commenter retro on the AV Club (in response to, “The show was always about the characters.”):
False. The show was about a fucking magic island that the people had to deal with. It’s easy to write characters losing and gaining relationships; it’s difficult to wrap up a mystery in a satisfying way. At some point, darlton said fuck the mystery, let’s make it seem like that was never the point. It’s a shitty copout.
This comes close to how I feel. I think that there’s a pretty big gap between “We don’t want to explain the mechanic of how the pool in the Temple brings someone back to life” and the way that they ended the show. In fact, we know this based on the way that the show handled the Dharma Initiative in seasons 4 and 5. The show didn’t get bogged down in the minutiae of how the project was financed, or the connection between Widmore and Paik, or the specific nature of the projects that were being researched at the stations. But we did get a satisfying sense of closure, a sense that the time we spent speculating about that plotline wasn’t time wasted.
That security wasn’t present in the final storyline. It was never established why the island mattered in the first place. It’s a cork. For what? We don’t know. We don’t know that the smoke monster is bad, except that it upsets us when he kills people. We don’t know how the island relates to the real world. As far as we know, the worst that would have happened if Smokey had succeeded is that the island would have ceased to exist. We don’t know why that’s bad.
And this is why I have a problem with the self-righteous attitudes from the writers about character. It’s hard for me to be invested in a character when I don’t understand why they are making the choices and sacrifices that they are. It’s not enough for Jack to make a sacrifice. There’s no chance that I will be invested in that action unless I understand what Jack is thinking about, what options he’s presented with, what’s weighing on his mind.
Ultimately, the writers did not have what it takes to close on the series. After the doldrums of Season 3, it looked like after they had planned their ending, the series would tighten and form a greater coherence. That paid off in Seasons 4 and 5. Unfortunately, it didn’t continue through Season 6.
Was it worth it?