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Monday, May 24, 2010

Lost Finale

I know it's not my normal topic of conversation, but the day after the big finale I'll damned if I don't write at least something about Lost. For 6 years now that show has been my absolute favorite hour of TV each week, and for some time it's been the only hour of TV that I will watch on a regular basis. Sure, there are a few other shows I will watch if they are on when I am looking, but Lost was the only show that I would arrange my schedule around.

Last night was the big, long-awaited finale and it completely soured the rest of the series. I don't know if I will ever be able to watch any of it again, knowing now that the whole thing was some huge farce. My questions were not answered, as was promised to me in the advertising blitz this year, and I was left completely unrewarded for all the time and effort I spent following along with this story.

And I followed. I watched almost every episode when it aired. I read lostpedia cover-to-cover. I talked with other fans on the internet and tracked down clues and easter eggs in the various guerrilla media campaigns that ABC ran. I did it all.

The rest of this blog post contains spoilers. Normally I don't like to be the one to spoil the surprise for other people, but I feel that the show spoiled itself last night. There's nothing left for me to ruin.

In the normal "island" timeline Jack, newly crowed as protector of the island and his team meet up with Locke, Linus, and Desmond on their way to the glowing source in the center of the island. Desmond lowers into the hole, uncorks the source, and the island starts to sink. Without the power of the light, Locke is human again and is killed by Jack and Kate. Jack enters the source himself to re-cork the island and bring the light back, but dies in the process. Hurley becomes the new protector, with Linus as his assistant. Everybody else (read: like 5 people) make it off the island in the Ajira plane.

This part is fine. Maybe it's a little unimaginative, but it's fine. It works.

In the "sideways" alternate timeline, All the stars are meeting up with each other and having flashbacks about their time on the island. They all go to a concert, where Clair has the baby. Jack shows up late, meets Kate, and they go to the funeral home to attend the funeral of Jack's father. But lo! Jack's father is up and walking around. They have an emotional conversation, Jack realizes that they are all already dead. Christian says something about leaving but won't say to where, there is a white light, and the series ends.

That's right: in the big "flash sideways" timeline, everybody is dead and it's apparently some sort of purgatory. Purgatory, you know, that thing that the writers said early in the series that it definitely wouldn't be. Everything in the flash-sideways timeline was basically a dream, which makes this one of the largest and most-watched usages of the "...and then they woke up" cop-out gimmick ever. According to Wikipedia:

Similar to a dream sequence is a plot device in which an entire story has been revealed to be a dream. As opposed to a segment of an otherwise real scenario, in these cases it is revealed that everything depicted was unreal. Often times this is used to explain away inexplicable events. Because it has been done, in many occasions, to resolve a storyline that seemed out of place or unexpected, it is often considered weak storytelling; and further, in-jokes are often made in writing (particularly television scripts) that refer to the disappointment a viewer might feel in finding out everything they've watched was a dream. 

If I learned nothing new about the show last night it was this: The writers were lazy and got themselves into more trouble than they could handle. They created a situation so complex and unbelievable that they couldn't deal with it, so they wrote it all away as a figment of imagination. It's not that they didn't have the time or the advanced notice they would have needed to wrap things up cleanly, they simply chose the lazy, easy way out of a story that they allowed to get out of control.

The vast majorty of the finale was actually very good. We see Jack solving the mystery of how to kill the smoke monster, and then sacrificing himself for the sake of the island and ultimately the whole world. Hurley becomes the new protector of the island, Linus finds redemption for his transgressions, and a handful of people from the island were able to leave for good. Everything was going fine until the last 10 minutes. At 11:20 last night they could have kept things going, ended on a strong note, and enshrined it as one of the best possible finales for one of television's greatest shows. But, they didn't.

Let's give one possible alternate ending that I think would have been far better:

Desmond uncorks the island and dies. Jack and Locke fight each other to the death. Locke dies, Jack is mortally wounded. The plane with the rest of the survivors takes off. Jack closes his eye as the island sinks below the water. That universe blinks out of existance, with the "sideways" timeline becoming the new main timeline. All the lost survivors have their memories of their time on the island and, through their bonds of comradery and new life experiences they learn to start resolving some of their personal problems to become better people.

That ending would have been much better in my opinion because it isn't a cop-out and we see the character development actually reach a conclusion for many characters. Another possible ending:

Desmond uncorks the island. Jack and Locke fight, Locke dies (Jack is wounded).  Jack enters the cave to re-cork the island, and when the light comes back, Jack is transformed into the new smoke monster (though, he is obviously a benevolent one). Hurley becomes the island protector. We see Jack and Hurley at some time in the future, fast friends, vowing together to protect the island with their newfound powers. Hurley allows all the remaining people from the island to leave, the island flashes and disappears. In the sideways timeline, all the survivors have their memories of the time on the island, get over many of their personal problems, and form a pact together to help protect what the island stands for.

A little touchy-feely and feel-good for my taste, but still far superior to the "real" ending we saw. At least we would have known that this ending was real and we weren't just watching some hastily-written dream sequence. Here's something even better:

It's the end of season 5. Juliet is in the well. She hits the nuke with the stone, the screen goes white. We see Oceanic 815 land in LAX as planned, the survivors get off the plane. While they aren't explicitly aware, they have been subtly changed because of the experiences on the island, and every one of them goes on to live long and fulfilling lives.

This ending cuts off a whole damn season, and yet would have been much more rewarding and would have left fewer issues unresolved. We wouldn't have gotten explanations for any of the weird things that happened on the island, but that wouldn't really have been so important. We could chalk it all up to the island being weird and magical, and now that the island is sunk under water and everybody is home safe, we can basically forget all about it. Maybe, we could even leave it ambiguous as to whether the events on the island even happened at all, or whether it was some sort of collective mass hallucination that changed the lives of all the people on the plane for the better. I would have been much happier with that ending, personally, even though we would have lost a whole year of the show. Hell, we could have pushed that ending back a year, and spent all of season 5 really digging into some of the mysteries of the island, the role of Jacob, the workings of the Dharma initiative, etc. That would have been cool too. And, it would have been much better than what we got.

And while I am rambling, I was promised that all my questions would be answered, but in reality very few of them were. If anything, too many problems and dangling plot threads were left completely unaddressed. I would have been completely willing to ignore some of these issues if I thought we were hurtling towards a cataclysmic ending that would shock and awe us all into a happy stupor, but with the main plotline being written off as a work of bad creative fiction, the other ommisions becomes more striking and infuriating. Some of the more pressing points I would like to enumerate here:

What was the problem with pregnant women and babies on the island? This is a pretty serious question, considering almost two full seasons were devoted to this issue alone. Juliet, being a fertility specialist was on the island for no other reason than to address this problem, seems to become a pretty pointless character without a satisfactory answer to it. With mothers dieing in child birth, Linus torchering his daughter's boyfriend to prevent her from getting pregnant, Ethan kidnapping Clair at night to inject her with technicolor drugs, Roussou having her infant daughter kidnapped from her and raised--on the very same island--without her knowledge, etc. There were so many important plot points tied to this phenomina, and it would have been absolutely easy to tie it up. Here's an example bit of dialog that, while short and vague, would have resolved the issue nicely:

Jack: When I get to the source, I'm going to kill you.
Locke: And how do you plan to do that? Guns and knives can't kill me. I can rip trees out of the ground and prevent women from bearing children. How do you possibly plan to kill me?
Jack: I have a plan. Wait and see.

Seriously, it wouldn't have taken much effort, just a passing reference by someone in the know and the issue would have disappeared. Maybe it wasn't the fault of the Man in Black, but was instead one of Jacob's "rules" for the island:

Locke, to Linus early in the season: Why would you be upset about killing Jacob? He's a man who never cared about you after everything you gave. He's a man who let mothers die because he made a rule against children being born on this island. His island. He created so much hardship for you and your people, even let your daughter die in front of you.

With this statement, Linus's conversation at the end with Hurley about how Hurley could be a better leader and make better rules would be much more poignant. Seriously, we could turn the whole notion of good and evil upside down and start to wonder whether Jacob was really good, whether the smoke monster was really bad, and what would be the real ramifications for everybody getting on the plane together and heading back to reality. It would have created a much more interesting metaphysical dilemma for our antagonists, tasked to decide whether Jacob was really the side of good when he did things that seemed so evil; for the sake of the island, of course. We also might have gained a lot of insight into Linus, the quintessential character who seemingly does evil to pursue good ends.  If that was the modus operandi of Jacob and even the island at large, we could have seen a lot of things in a different light.

What the hell did the atomic bomb accomplish at the end of Season 5? If the flash sideways in season 6 were just a view of purgatory where all the losties were already dead, then how could Juliet claim that detonating the bomb "worked"? If everybody died in the atomic bomb explosion, and sent everybody on the island to purgatory, then what do we make of the people still on the island in the "main" timeline? And if, considering what I said about Juliet above, the bomb didn't save anybody and didn't keep the plane from crashing, what purpose did Juliet's character really serve in the show? Sure, she created a bit of a weird and dramatic love triangle with Jack and Kate, and she did get romantically involved with Sawyer, though her death would only have reaffirmed his sense that his loved ones are always taken from him, and would have prevented any further growth of Sawyer's character. The main problem that brings her to the island is simply ignored, and the big self-sacrifice that she made didn't have any effect. If anything, apparently it created a separate reality where everybody either died or was already dead. Go Juliet!

If the atomic bomb didn't do anything worthwhile, what was the point of the survivors traveling back in time to 1977 in the first place? We didn't really learn anything new about the Dharma initiative, or about the power of the island that they were studying. We already knew that the island had the power to transport things through time and space, and those were the most important things that the Dharma people appeared to have been working on. I know that there were other things of significance that Dharma was supposed to be involved in, from other media like the Lost video games or other guerilla media, but none of those were mentioned even in casual passing in the show so they don't matter.

Before I let the issue with Juliet drop completely, one of the biggest problems with this show that has been gnawing at me (though it isn't really an unanswered mystery of the show) involves Juliet's death. When she died they were on their way to the Temple to heal Sayid. They put him into the pool of water and he was magically healed. Juliet's still-warm dead body is laying outside the temple, and inside the temple is a magical pool that can bring people back to life. Put two and two together and GO OUTSIDE AND GET JULIETS BODY AND PUT HER IN THE DAMN POOL. How is it that the entire damn braintrust is sitting inside the temple simultaneously mourning the death of Juliet, witnessing the resurrection of a dead Sayid and not once questioning whether somebody else recently-deceased could be brought back as well? That seems to me to be a remarkably stupid oversight on their part. I'm not saying that the idea would even have worked, since nobody has told me any of the details of the workings of that magic pool, but you can be damn certain that if I were there I would have at least given the idea some consideration. There's certainly no harm in trying, if you can toss any old corpse into the water and some of them come back to life and the rest just stay dead. Again, this is just an annoyance and not a real pressing mystery of the show. If anything it just shows how lazy the writers were.

What the hell was the deal with the cabin, the ash circles, the temple, and Dogan? Dogan apparently had the ability to keep the monster out of the temple, but how? Did anybody else have that power? Was it just an example of Dogan being "special", like several other people were listed as being "special", or was it some kind of gift given to him by Jacob? And what was going on with Jacob's cabin? I think we're lead to assume that the man in black was trapped inside the ring of ash around the cabin, but that doesn't really make sense considering the fact that we see the monster outside the ring in the very first episode of the season. How can he be outside, terrorizing the crash survivors and simultaneously trapped inside whispering "help me" to any passers-by? I also don't think Jacob was the one in the cabin, considering that we never see Jacob having a problem with ash lines in the ground, and we also never see Jacob being invisible like a ghost or needing help from somebody like John Locke. What is the significance of Horace Goodspeed having built the cabin? That's the kind of detail that could just as easily have been left out if they weren't going to explore it. There are lots of details like that throughout the show that they should have just left out if they were going to be too lazy to give an even cursory examination. Maybe the spirit in the cabin is a manifestation of the sentient island, and it was the will of the island itself that needed help from John Locke. It could also be this spirit force that the ash line was trying to protect from the smoke monster. Sure it's all speculation, but there is a lot that they could have done with this incident to gain a further understanding of the island and the relationship between it and Jacob, but they didn't.

Ilana and Brahm seemed to have expected to find Jacob inside the cabin, but were alarmed when they saw that the ring of ash was broken, and then set the house on fire. Maybe Jacob lived inside the cabin, protected by the ash ring that kept the monster out, and therefore kept Jacob safe from harm. But if Jacob was essentially barricaded in there, how would Jacob have gotten out to go make visits to the various characters on the main land? And, if Jacob were inside that cabin and Ben knew how to find it, why hadn't Ben ever met Jacob? In fact, why was Ben surprised when things inside the cabin started shaking and going crazy? If that was Jacob, why do we see Christian Shepard and Claire in there, people who are associated with the smoke monster? People call it "Jacob's Cabin". Linus didn't expect to see anything in there, Ilana and Brahm expected Jacob to live there, but the only other-worldly being we ever see there is the smoke monster, who we also see outside the ash ring. Forgive me for harping on this particular point, but it is very confusing.

Why did the smoke monster kill some people, like Mr Eko, but couldn't kill others, like Jack? Where were the bloody goddamn rules when Mr Eko was getting bludgeoned to death, or when the frenchman's arm was getting ripped off, or when Locke was being dragged by the leg into a pit? Everybody seems to know these rules, and despite a complete lack of stated repurcussions everybody seems to follow them blindly to the death, yet they appear to be completely porous and permissive when convenient. More information about the rules would have been much appreciated, but was never given.

Why wouldn't Ben have known a little bit more about the smoke monster? Conceivably Richard would have known all about him, having met him in person, or could have asked Jacob at least once over the course of hundreds of years. Richard knew that the smoke monster was the arch nemesis of Jacob and the ultimate evil force on the island, yet Ben seemed to view it as some sort of protective force that was, at least, benign and at best benevolent.

The smoke monster was able to kill Jacob through some elaborate loophole in some kind of rule. Seriously, look at the steps the smoke monster had to take to accomplish his goal: He convinced Linus to move the island (under the guise of Jacob, and nobody knew the wiser) which caused the wheel to fall off it's axis. He then convinced Locke to fix the wheel and also leave the island. Off island, somehow he influenced Ben to bring all the survivors back, along with the body of John Locke, at which point he assumed the form of John's corpse. Using his new form, and the form of his dead daughter, he convinced Ben to finally kill Jacob. This is awefully convoluted to be a plan, and you have to seriously wonder what kind of "rule" this solution was a workaround for. If Ben was the necessary killer, why go through the whole production of killing the mercenaries and sending Ben and Locke off the island only to bring them back? Or, maybe the "rules" stated that only a person who left the island and returned could kill Jacob, but it seems silly for Jacob to build that kind of loophole into the rules and then be surprised when it actually happened.

And while we're on the topic, why was the smoke monster trying to save the island at that point anyway? Why would the smoke monster kill the mercenaries and tell Linus to move the island? Why doesn't he convince the mercenaries to kill Jacob themselves? It would have been easy to do:

Locke: Here's a man named Jacob. If you kill him for me, I will tell you where Benjamin Linus is and I will help you kill him.
Mercenaries: Okay. Enough said. BANG BANG.

Much less convoluted and much less prone to errors than the plan he finally settled on. Or, better yet, He could have offered to save Linus' daughter in exchange for Linus killing Jacob. There are any number of other ways that the smoke monster could have asked another person to kill Jacob, but when put in the situation the smoke monster protected Ben and friends from the foreign invaders and actively tried to save the island. If the smoke monster really wanted to destroy the island, why would he help John Locke fix the broken wheel? Constant time flashes would have eventually killed all the surviving candidates on the island. Other uses of that light energy could have been used to destroy the island completely. Why didn't the monster pursue any of these alternatives earlier in the story?

What makes people special? The smoke monster apparently had the special ability to understand how things work. He was so intuitive that he turned observations about the magnetic attraction of a knife to the ground into a working time machine. How was Hurley about to see dead people, and how was Miles able to communicate with the recently-deceased? What the hell was the deal with Walt? What was really so special about John? How was Desmond able to withstand the electromagnetism of the hatch explosion, and how was he able to see the future (for a short while)? And, for that matter, when did Desmond lose the ability to see the future and why? Are these gifts that Jacob gave or, in the case of the smoke monster, that the current protector of the island can grant? Are these innate abilities that some people just have? Are these powers that the island grants to people to aide in it's own protection? And, if so, wouldn't that imply that the island had intelligence?

What the hell are the rules? Who makes the rules? How are they enforced? What would have happened if the smoke monster tried to kill Jacob? We heard a whole hell of a lot about the rules throughout the show, but none of the rules were ever explicitly stated. We know that some things didn't seem to be allowed, but we don't know why or what the consequences would have been. We also know that some rules had some pretty big damn loopholes in them that could be exploited in such a way that the rule appears to be completely broken.

We were told that the light on the island was inside all people, and we were also told that if the light went out that it would go out everywhere, implying that the light going out would cause people to die. News flash: Desmond put the light out, and nothing bad appeared to happen from it. Sure, the island shook a little bit, but that was hardly undoable. Similarly, what would really have happened if the smoke monster left the island? He started off as just a man and we have seen several men, including Jacob and Richard, leave the island. Why couldn't the man in black do the same? What was so bad about him leaving the island that the Mother had to kill all his people, fill in his well, and knock him unconscious to prevent it? I can understand that things would have been different after he turned into the smoke monster (the smoke is tied to the light, if the smoke leaves the island, the light goes out, etc), but what would have been the harm before that?

This certainly isn't an exhaustive list, there are millions and millions of small questions that have been raised but never addressed. Like I said, we could have easily glossed over all these things if we were given a proper ending. But, the ending as bad as it was made all the other omissions, contradictions, and unresolved issues all the more glaring.

The fact is this: Lost was supposed to be better than this. It's fans were supposed to be smarter and more dedicated. It's writers more learned, daring, and uncompromising. Lost could have and should have been so much more, but the ending it received cheapened the entire thing. I wish, sincerely, that things had ended differently. Maybe then I wouldn't have to write such a long and rambling blog post about it.


  1. I really enjoyed the end of lost but feel cheated by the writer's a bit

  2. Excellent write-up of the various ways that the final season of Lost failed to fulfill the prior seasons' mysteries. As you say, the explanations didn't need to be in-depth, just not ignored. And then the final season started adding mysteries like the Temple/Dogen, Lighthouse, sideways-universe, etc. The finale got me all choked up emotionally, but with time it's seemed less satisfying when compared to the whole.

    I had similar thoughts about possible alternate endings.

  3. Dagnabbit. All the anonymous comments I tried to post yesterday during the Epic Outage suddenly showed up, too.


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