SPOILER ALERT: For three years now I’ve been writing about ‘Lost’ and trying to avoid spoilers in doing so. I don’t see how I can write about this final episode without getting into specifics.
In my review of the first episode of this season I promised not to complain about the finale. I’m going to clarify my position on that a little, and claim that it was meant to be a promise not to complain that the ending, if I found it unsatisfactory, invalidated the whole show. It’s of particular importance this time out, of course: I’ve been evaluating each episode of this season both as a piece of TV in itself and as a contribution towards the overall ‘Lost’ picture, and those dual criteria apply even more this week, certainly to ‘Lost’, perhaps more than to any other episode of any TV show. Ever.
As a piece of TV? That’s the easy one. Astonishing. I didn’t move from in front of the TV for over two hours. It had almost too many perfectly-judged moments to count. On-island we had the long-awaited final battle between Flocke and, well, the rest of the world, represented by Jack, Kate, Hurley and Desmond. With Ben somewhere in between. Anyway, not for the first time in ‘Lost’ history Desmond’s down the hole, on this occasion to, y’know, pull the plug out (and who knew that vending machines and islands could be reset in essentially the same way?). Then, as the island starts to fall apart, Flocke faces off against Jack, in another iteration of the conflict we’ve been seeing since season 1. While all of that is going on, though, Lapidus lives! And he’s a pilot, in case we’ve forgotten, so Miles and Richard – who also lives! – get the plane ready for takeoff.
Perhaps my favourite moment of the whole episode happened in this timeline, when Jack passed the mantle of leadership onto Hurley. I hope I’m not reading too much into this, but it seemed to me to be freighted with fourth-wall symbolism: Hurley has always been the voice of the viewer, the Everyman-and-woman; he’s me, he’s you, and as far as I was concerned this amounted to nothing more or less than Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse handing the island over to us – they’re done, it’s ours now, and we can make of it what we will.
And in Sideways-world, for those of us who’ve stuck with ‘Lost’ for the duration, it’s all just lovely. It really is. (I’m not ashamed to say, incidentally, that I hadn’t spotted the symbolism of Christian Shephard’s name until it was pointed out.) Shivers down spines, goosebumps on goosebumps, the lot, as most of the main characters remember their Island existence while sorting out their sideways lives: Jack’s flashback is particularly moving but they’re all good, as it happens, and just about everyone finds their constant. In a week when the ensemble all got to play a part it would be invidious to single out any of the actors for praise – perhaps this week’s MVP award, in recognition both of six years of outstanding work and a particularly dazzling contribution to the final week, should go to soundtrack composer Michael Giacchino.
As for the endings: if I understand them correctly everything in the “original” island timeline happened, and the finish there was absolutely right; perhaps predictable to a certain extent but happily so, as a plane doesn’t crash, Jack closes his eyes, and we come full circle.
The sideways one I’m more troubled by. It looks as if the characters were slowly assembling in a sort of planet-sized post-death ante-room as one by one they died in the “real” timeline. So for example the Hurley/Ben axis could have ruled the island for thousands of years (although who’s replaced Hurley, and how?); Sawyer and Juliet probably got together, and so on. Now, this all serves as an explanation of the flash-sideways timeline, which covers – what? – about half of season 6, but doesn’t begin to explain away anything else. To be clear – I’m not particularly looking for answers; but if we’re being given them anyway it seems somewhat half-assed to solve the riddle of the flash-sideways in this particular way, while leaving some of the bigger questions unaddressed.
UK viewers, of course, have just seen the end of ‘Ashes To Ashes’, which featured a not-dissimilar conclusion. I compared it, perhaps a little unfairly, to everyone’s least-favourite ‘Dallas’ plot twist. The big problem with Pamela Ewing’s year-long dream, as well as a pretty lazy way for the producers to get themselves out of a corner, was that it essentially amounted to the writers saying: everything you’ve just seen? Everything that moved you, made you laugh, made you think? None of it mattered. Now, I’m going to be kinder to ‘Lost’ than I was to ‘Ashes’, because Darlton never claimed that their ending would answer all the questions, and because it only required us to write off half a season anyway. In the ‘Lost’ universe, the island timeline events all happened. The flash-sideways didn’t. The ‘Ashes’ writers, on the other hand, claimed that their ending would sort everything out, and in the event it required us to assume that just about everything we’d seen over five seasons hadn’t actually happened.
It might seem as if I’m drawing a sort of arbitrary line between what “happened”, and what didn’t. It’s all fiction; I know that. But a suspension of disbelief is a necessary part of becoming truly invested in a work of fiction, and it involves – if this isn’t trite – a willingness to believe in the reality of that fiction. In exchange for our belief in what the writers are putting before us we give them our good faith, and expect theirs in return. Which is why I don’t much care for dream sequences in drama – if it didn’t “happen”, it probably doesn’t matter, and why should I care? And if I can’t believe in what I’m seeing, even to a certain extent, I’m going to withhold my emotional involvement, or feel slightly cheated when the rug gets pulled from underneath me.
Perhaps my adverse reaction to it had a personal aspect to it: I’ve really enjoyed the flash-sideways, and to be told that none of it had happened was somewhat deflating. If it didn’t happen, then did it matter? And should I have got quite so worked up about my adoration of, say, Dr Linus the history teacher?
I’ve reflected overnight on the ending, and I’m bound to say that I’m more relaxed about it today than I was last night, when I viewed it as something of a cop-out. But the bigger point, and my fulfillment of my promise, is this: it doesn’t even remotely come close to tarnishing the enjoyment six years of ‘Lost’ have given me. Out of over 100 episodes, only a handful have been less than thoroughly enjoyable, and some have represented benchmarks for TV drama. It’s provided plenty of thrills and character-driven emotion blended with philosphical and literary allusions, and it leaves the TV landscape permanently altered. I don’t hold with the doomsayers who say that it’s the last of its type: something big, satisfying, ambitious, and challenging will come along soon enough, and we’ll all be talking about it. But it won’t be ‘Lost’.