“We’ve been waiting for you.”
Lost ended its six year run in 2010. I can’t believe that it has been nearly eight years since we witnessed the conclusion to one of the truly great shows of modern times. Considering the competition that Lost was facing off against during, before and following its run, that is really saying something. Think of the great shows that we have been treated to in the last twenty years: The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Breaking Bad, Deadwood, Mad Men and of course Twin Peaks: The Return. Consider how Lost managed to not only get a following in among all of this supreme quality, but actually made a name for itself that deserves to be mentioned as one of the greatest TV shows in history. Through the veneration of mystery, to the significant number of characters who deserve to take their place as classic, memorable and compelling people, to a mythology that actually gave Twin Peaks – the primary influence on Lost – a run for its money.
Lost’s final double episode, titled ‘The End’, was, like so many episodes and moments in the show, polarizing. Some loved it outright, some hated it and claimed that it insulted their intelligence and wasted their time. I am firmly in the first camp, and I will try to explain to you why I believe that not only have these people gotten it wrong, but that ‘The End’ is one of the very few shows which went out in a manner that bettered everything that came before it in the series. My first comparison has to be with Six Feet Under, which had a similarly emotional impact in its conclusion. The iconic image of Claire driving out, as the show jumps into the future and lets us see how all of the characters we have grown to love, die. Lost covers similar ground in ‘The End’, though with a much more mythology driven flavour.
‘The End’ tells two stories at the same time: the first taking place on The Island, as we see whether the world will end at the hands of The Black Smoke, or if Jack and co. pull things through. This half is the much less controversial story that Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof and the cast and crew tell us. Few people had a bad word to say about the conclusion of all of The Island’s story, though some were still disgruntled that some of the “answers” to questions – some real, some imagined or confused – didn’t crop up late in the game. (I swear if I have to speak to one more person who *still* doesn’t know why there are polar bears on The Island, I’ll need a quiet room and a cold compress.) For the most part though, people were riveted by The Island scenes and felt it was a good conclusion to the story that they had followed for six years.
It is easy to see why this side of things was successful: it has a tremendous emotional core wrapped around all of the mythology that had built up so well over the previous years. It is epic, moving and full of brilliant twists and turns. Terry O’ Quinn as Locke/The Black Smoke was never better than he is here. He is menacing to the extreme, a genuine peer of Twin Peaks’ BOB, and Mr C. Yet his story is ultimately one which draws the sympathy of the viewer, in a way that BOB and Mr C. certainly didn’t have. This is not a force of pure evil then, it is a decent man who was perverted and twisted by his family. Yes, he is intent on death for his enemies, but only because he feels that he *needs* to kill in order to live a fully human life again. I have discussed some of these scenes previously, but let me reiterate that the dialogue between Jack and The Black Smoke about Locke – “You’re not John Locke. You disrespect his memory by wearing his face, but you’re nothing like him. Turns out he was right about almost everything. I just wish I could have told him that while he was still alive.” – is among my all time favourite moments from the show. Jack has become a man of faith through his journey, and he and Locke are revealed not as opposites but brothers on a common road. I also love the line “See you in another life brother,” delivered to Desmond.
The big issues with ‘The End’ arise when the show wraps up the other story happening off Island. Season 6 seemingly follows the previous five seasons by exploring the characters through their behaviour before/after/between their reality on The Island. I will try to accurately describe why it is that many people have a problem with the ending. The ending of the show reveals that while we assumed that we were watching an alternate timeline where Flight 815 never crashed, we were in fact watching what happens after our heroes and villains died. We are witnessing another dimension, yes, but it is one constructed by our heroes and villains in order to find each other before they move on to the next phase of existence.
The main criticisms of this were that it resolved things too cleanly, that there were no stakes as such. A friend of mine used an analogy of seeing a horse dying and being sad, but then realizing that the horse went to a horse based afterlife and having felt cheated for mourning for something that didn’t actually die. Some felt the ending was too overtly religious – something I will expand upon in a moment – and that it raised a whole bunch of new questions while – supposedly – leaving many questions unanswered from the previous five seasons. What about that? What about this? Why are we left to wonder?
I am an atheist and I don’t believe that there is anything after our bodies die, so why did I love such a passionately spiritual conclusion? Well, I will try to explain. Lost focused throughout its run, the way in which that reality was not just composed of what we could immediately recognize. There were many elements to The Island, and to the world at large, that are not easily explained with scientific know how. We went through time travel, a shape shifting villain who could take the faces of dead comrades, and the healing of terminally ill/crippled people. Lost was *always* a show that had its foundations in Science Fiction and straight up Twin Peaks style mystery. To fail to consider and explore what happens after death – something which countless episodes more than heavily suggested was the case – would have been to fail to answer the BIGGEST question of the entire show: what happens after death?
By answering this question, Lindelof and Cuse angered a lot of people. This cannot be denied. I feel though that these people are missing the beauty of ‘The End’. There is a wonderful article which I cannot find sadly, from The AV Club – the serious critical offshoot of The Onion satirical newspaper – where the writer discusses how the David Fincher movie The Game is really a secular attempt to manufacture a loving, personal God. (If you can find it, please share it below.) I feel much the same about ‘The End’. We cannot and more importantly should not allow legislation and government be driven by religious/super natural beliefs. Yes, the personal experience can often transcend the limitations of our physical reality, but we can’t *share* that experience in a similar fashion. At least not in real life. In fictional worlds though we can share a lucid dream together. Lost is an attempt to process all of that transcendent experience and allow us to experience it in similar ways, at the same time. I don’t think that we can be “saved” in real life, but we *can* be in Art.
‘The End’ is the desire to be forgiven, to be reunited with loved ones, to feel like there is more purpose to life than day to day drudgery. It is not, in spite of some words to the contrary, an overtly religious ending. It expresses quite clearly that there is no right or wrong religion, that there is no firm set of rules that allow a person to get in or not. One of the most subversive things about the ending of Lost is the suggestion that we all have the capacity to be in a sense our own Gods. That we are not looking upwards for assistance but deep inside ourselves. Jacob’s job was for a large part self-appointed. When Jack takes over, he doesn’t suddenly become something more than human, he just realizes the potential he always had to shape reality in a positive way. This is something that is further expressed in ‘The End’s’ closing moments, where Christian Shepherd explains that the in-between reality was itself constructed by each and every one of them, in order to find each other again. Rather than diminishing the impact of every death through the show, it gives those moments a deeper emotional resonance and a purpose beyond the minutia of the situations that led to it.
Just like Twin Peaks: The Return, ‘The End’ is the moment when we wake up from our shared dream. We are healed as the characters in the show are, of all of their insecurities and weaknesses. One of the most affecting moment in ‘The End’ is one where Ben decides that he is not yet ready to move on, that he is still conflicted, fighting with the evil in his nature. There is a wonderful moment in the Neil Gaiman comic book Sandman, where The Devil explains that nobody in Hell didn’t want to be there. They are being tortured because *they* feel like they deserve it. This is something that Lost examines very well, particularly the moment when Mr Eko decides that he shouldn’t have to ask forgiveness for the bad things he has done in his life. He forgives himself, and that is the most important thing.
‘The End’ is, to me at least, one of the great endings to any show. It is a place where mystery is held as holy, and where the viewer is taken on a similar soul journey as the characters in the show are. The ultimate mystery is held on to: what happens when they walk through that door? We don’t know. We aren’t meant to know. Yet. ‘The End’ is remarkably good at resolving a lot of questions, while holding on to the power of the question. And if you are still wondering about some of those niggling queries, have a watch of the epilogue on the Blu Rays, The New Man in Charge. ‘The End’ is a sublime and beautiful thing, for the way that it helps us with the most difficult and fearful part of living: dying. It has genuinely done far more for me in being grateful to be alive, and in possessing a stoic perspective for what comes at the ends of our lives, than anything religious. In Art, we can be healed and forgiven. ‘The End’ affirms our worth as sentient beings, and helps us come to terms with our essential frailty. It is powerful and profound.