Monday, May 24, 2010

'Lost' Goes Spiritual in 'The End'

*Warning: Spoilers ahead from the last ever fresh episode of Lost.*

Live together, die alone.

And there Jack Shephard was, dying alone (except for Vincent the dog) in a field of bamboo as the camera zooms in on his eye closing, a reversal of the very first scene of Lost which was a close-up of his eye opening after Oceanic 815 had crashed.

I was a puddle while watching that scene, as I was every time a torn-apart couple was reunited in the sideways-flashing world “remembering” the powerful feelings they had for one another, sparked by their experiences on The Island (except for Desmond and Penny). Charlie and Claire. Sun and Jin. Sawyer and Juliet. Jack and Kate. Sayid and Shannon. They embraced. They kissed. They glowed. And it was good. All of the “remembering” moments prompted tears because that’s what I would’ve wanted for the characters: Peace, love and being together after the hell that was The Island.

Those scenes got to me every time because, over the past six seasons, I’ve come to love these flawed characters. I’ve rooted for them, even for the sinister Ben Linus whose great love was his adopted daughter Alex. I loved seeing dead Jack being hugged by his dead father – in a conspicuously multi-denominational room bearing symbols of various religions and cultures – and mutually redeemed as they expressed their love for one another. And that’s how many people hope that things will turn out when we all meet our own demise: That in the end we’re surrounded with people whom we loved.

But as Jack closed his eyes for the last time, as much as I was happy that the characters in the sideways-flash found solace, the nagging questions made me angry. I felt as though the writers had punted, opted to not to try to make it make sense. They went for emotion. In the wake of this, I spent an embarrassingly, frustratingly long time in the hours after the finale ended trying to find an overarching logic to this but fell short.

Every time I thought I figured out the full meaning and implications of the finale I’d have a question like: So when Juliet detonated Jughead and we suddenly saw Jack on Oceanic 815 . . . and then watched it land, was everything truly a re-set?

The sideways-flashing world was . . . a way station between heaven and earth? When you decided you’d made your peace and were ready to go, you could step into the light and into the warm embrace of your loved ones who’ve already died?

Or wait, is that what The Island was, a kind of way station for our characters to be tested and ultimately redeemed? (I lean toward the test theory.)

Did Ben not enter the church with the rest of the Losties because he’d done too many bad things to go to heaven, or was he just not ready to go?

Do I have this right: Christian said what happened on the island really happened, so when the characters died on the island they died in real life and then, I don’t know, their souls or something went to the sideways-flashing world? But wait, then why was Penny there in the church afterward? Oh, yeah, Christian said that, where they were, there was no concept of time. They weren’t in a time. Some people inside the church had died a long time ago, or some had died recently, it was all over the place, really . . . (Does this explain the time travel, or was that unrelated?)

It shouldn’t be this hard. I shouldn’t feel as though I’m trying to intellectually pound a square peg into a round hole to make this make sense. Several weeks ago I thought I’d made peace with the fact that many mysteries were going to be left unaddressed (killer pregnancies, Walt appearing as a ghost when he was alive, the healing island, how Locke’s father made it into that magic box after he said he'd died, who dropped the Dharma food?). I was relatively okay with this. But given that the writers had ample of advance notice of how many episodes they had remaining, they had time to plan it out all in spectacular fashion to tackle some the series’ major mysteries, mysteries they themselves set in motion. And in this respect, they let me down. They seemed to be saying, “Too much. Too complicated. We’re going another way.” On that front, “The End” series finale was a disappointment as the writers embraced the new shiny penny of a creative device, the sideways-flash, and pitched everything else overboard and then seemed irritated when fans kept asking questions.

I originally fell in love with Lost because of the characters. I wanted to find out what made them tick, what motivated them, what scared them and what their histories were. Watching disparate characters interact and form a make-shift society under such dire circumstances where they felt as though they were fighting for their lives was riveting. I could’ve been happy without the complicating issues such as the polar bear, the Hatch, the Dharma/Widmore stuff and the Jacob/Man in Black thread. But the writers are the ones who introduced all of those sticky wickets and ultimately dispatched then with insufficient explanation after intentionally going to the trouble of doing things such as planting Easter eggs throughout the episodes, encouraging fans to delve more deeply into the series, creating an appetite for answers. And they left us starving. Okay, maybe they tossed us a blanket in the form of cozy emotions and romantic reunions, but we were still hungry.

It cannot come as a surprise that my feelings about “The End” -- like many fans whose feeds I follow on Twitter -- are extremely mixed. I loved the emotional salve provided by the reunions and plotlines like Jack finally fulfilling his island destiny, the drive for which had ended up destroying his relationship with Kate after they’d gotten off The Island. As a whole though, I feel let down because the complex story they created was obviously too unwieldy and weighty to resolve.

One of my favorite series cappers was the Six Feet Under finale, where we saw a beautiful, incredibly emotional montage of every character dying at the end of their lives. It was hauntingly powerful and stuck with me for quite some time. It was fitting for the dark drama. Lost too concluded its saga by showing most of its characters after they’d died, having found peace, surrounded by a warm, bright light and love. But it just didn’t feel the same.

Image credits: Mario Perez/ABC.


Cooley Horner said...

I can see what you mean about the writers using super-emotional reunions and scenarios to gloss over what they weren't telling us, but frankly I'm okay with that. The Jacob flashback episode delivered answers (and, yes, more questions) in rapid succession, and it felt gratuitous. As much as I'd like answers, I don't think they could have been given without seeming like handouts. "Here, gentle viewers--This is how the island moves. And here, this is why women can't get pregnant on the island." I like that they ultimately gave us stuff to chew on, especially since it was such fantastic fantasy that anything could be an explanation. I joked to a friend that they could just roll an FAQ during the final credits, but when it was all said and done, I'm glad they made it about the characters rather than the island.

Evangeline Lilly recently did an interview where she suggested the show's mythology was trumping its plot and characters; I don't know if I'd take it that far, but the first few seasons were great because we were learning about all these wonderfully flawed people. They were still there in the last 2 or 3 seasons, but Dogen, Jacob, Man in Black, 4-Toed Statues, and other WTF plot devices kind of took away from the characters. I'm glad they went full circle to the people they started with, and the closing shot of Jack watching the plane go away, with Vincent at his side, had me in tears.

Christoph said...

Emotion in place of explanation. The finale was a cop out. More than two YEARS to plan the culmination/ending and the creators decided to play the emotion card. It just shows that it didn't all make sense and the creators know it, because along the way they did things that were fun and interesting; but ultimately not consistent with the story they were telling. I want my 119 hours back.

Meredith O'Brien said...

Christoph -- I think that's what bothers me most, that the emotion was used as a substitute, to prove viewers with something that made them feel warm and fuzzy (and have me go through Kleenex) when the writers weren't providing us with the threads to knit the whole wonderful world of The Island and its castaways together.

As a writer, I can't imagine creating such a complex web and, in the end not closing the loop, not on every little thing, but on the major items that we've invested all this time parsing and discussing. The shot of Jack's eye closing did bookend the shot of Jack opening his eye in the pilot, but that's not enough.

amy said...

i loved the ending in terms of resolution of the characters, but i feel ripped off in that none of the mysteries were resolved. As much as I loved the characters on Lost, I also loved the mythology element of it too--what about the numbers? Why were they bad? How did the mental patient know the numbers enough to recite them over and over to Hurley? I felt that the numbers especially were such an important device in the show that to end it without any explanation was sloppy.

Why those people? Why that plane? Why did Jacob target them? How come Jacob could leave the island and not Smokey? Who were the original Others? How did Dharma find a hidden island? What were the "rules" that widmore broke when he had Alex killed?

I can buy that electromagnetism or whatever it is can pull planes out of the sky, that maybe it prevented women from becoming pregnant, that it made the island stay hidden...but it doesn't explain how so many survived the plane crash, why Rosseau's team went crazy (and her with it), and the whole time travel thing. I wanted it all to mean something, for the writers to have had a plan and at the end reveal...whatever it is. I wanted to be surprised, shocked, had the big "Ah ha!!" moment that, in good books, makes me re-read the book from the beginning because NOW i know why this happened here, and that meant this. After this finale, I wanted to have the compulsion to rewatch the series and find all the ways the writers led us to this, the final reveal. Instead, i feel...well, a little empty. I wanted more.