Television series are often judged by their series finale, for better or worse. Here at 25YL, we’re going to be looking at both the best and worst finales and what made them great (or not so great) in our “Art of the Finale” series. Got a finale you think should make the list? Be sure and let us know!
The Lost series finale may be one of the most polarizing series finales ever. Some people hate it with a passion. Others will adamantly defend it and say it’s great.
I fall within a complicated middle ground between these two viewpoints. And after rewatching the episode in anticipation of writing this article (which would be my third viewing), it has become even more complicated.
Lost‘s two-part series finale, “The End,” capped off six seasons of one of my favorite shows of all time. I say this as someone who really disliked the finale when it aired on May 23, 2010. And when I rewatched the entire series a few years later.
But watching the episode in isolation of the other episodes in the season this time around, I was surprised to find that…I didn’t hate it?
In addition to the typical Lost adventures on the island in which groups of characters team up, follow other characters, and threaten them with guns and/or dynamite, “The End” culminates with the characters in the “flash sideways” storyline converging at a church, where Jack says he was going to have his father’s funeral. One by one, the characters have remembered their time on the island, as well as the relationships that made Lost so special, and realize that they are dead. Eventually Jack remembers everything and encounters his father within the church. Christian Shephard (metaphor alert!) tells his son that the church/flash sideways universe was created so these characters could all find each other and travel into the afterlife together.
In life they were all drawn together by a force of fate, so it makes sense they would meet once again. In Lost’s constant debate of faith and science, it’s the faith that wins the attention of the show’s ending, as the characters walk hand-in-hand out the doors of a church and into a bright light. On the surface, it’s an interesting interpretation of what would happen to these people after death. But do I really care what happens to these characters after their death? I’m not sure I do.
However, I believe “The End” faces a lot of unfair criticism. Early on in Lost‘s run, many people hypothesized that the island was purgatory and that none of the show’s characters actually survived the crash. Lost creators Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse emphatically stated throughout the course of the show’s airing that that wasn’t the case. But then when “The End” concludes with the church scene, I feel like a lot of people mistakenly believed everyone was in fact dead the entire time.
That’s simply not the case. As Christian tells Jack in the church, everything that happened on the island was real. The characters in the church are, at that time, dead but they all died at different times. So for example, Jack dies on the island after plugging the hole in the Heart of the Island. Kate, Sawyer, and Claire fly off the island and live for an unknown amount of time before they die. Hurley lives on the island with Ben—who knows for how long—but eventually they die and end up at the church. (Interestingly, Ben isn’t shown entering the church. I wonder if he ends up joining the others at some point.) Despite dying at different times, the characters all look like they did when they lived on the island, so time must be slippery in this universe.
Another common complaint about the ending of Lost is that too many questions were left unanswered. What were Charles Widmore’s “rules”? What happened to Christian’s body? Why was Walt so special? What was “the sickness”? None of these mysteries were given clear answers.
In anticipation of writing this article, I asked some co-worker friends, who I watched Lost with back when it aired and I knew strongly disliked the ending, to share their reasoning for their dissatisfaction. A lot of their comments revolved around the unanswered questions, and one said: “I felt like the whole series was a long con…the television equivalent of click bait.”
ABC may have fanned the flames a bit, often promising in commercials that ALL QUESTIONS WOULD BE ANSWERED. Fans were made to think everything would be wrapped up neatly, but instead they were shown a magical afterlife church scene.
While people were so mad that the Lost creators didn’t answer enough questions, I actually thought the last season of the show suffered from trying to answer too many questions in the final season, such as what the Temple is (which was not an impressive explanation), the origin of the Black Rock and Richard Alpert (which I liked but why tell that story so close to the show’s ending?), and all of the Jacob/man in Black backstory.
My general dissatisfaction with Lost’s series finale is not hung up on the unanswered questions. In general, I don’t mind when aspects of TV shows are left unexplained and up to interpretation. But one part of the show should have been cleared up, in my opinion: Why was the island special? How exactly did it become so special? The fact that the island has a giant cave and pool with a bright light (that by the way, somehow the characters never come across until the end) at its center shouldn’t make it special. It’s not a good enough explanation. So would it have been better to see an island origin story instead of the ending in the church? I’m sure fans wouldn’t have been satisfied with that either, but I think I would have rather had that resolved.
I mentioned earlier that I had a more favorable reaction to this most recent viewing of “The End.” Why was that? I think it’s because of not having to watch the final season as a whole. In my mind, the flash sideways storyline really distracts from the ending. I can accept the afterlife conclusion, but I could have done without the misdirection of characters (who are in a self-created afterlife) getting arrested and shot, or Sawyer and Miles enacting a buddy-cop scenario. To me, the flash sideways was a waste of time.
Another portion of the final season I didn’t care for: With Locke dead, “Locke” on the island is actually possessed by the Man in Black. And while I think Terry O’Quinn’s impressively was able to pull this off, it was a shame to not have such a great character—the real Locke we grew so fascinated with in the first few seasons—around. Not having to watch the entire meandering build-up of the flash sideways and some of these other disappointing aspects of the final season (the Temple, Sun hitting her head and forgetting how to speak English, etc.) made the finale more palatable for me.
My feelings for “The End” are not all negative, however. Most of the island scenes in the episode are entertaining and echo a lot of the classic fun we’ve seen in other Lost season finales. We get to see some old faces interacting in heartfelt moments, such as when Charlie and Claire’s memories flood back. These are the kinds of moments that Lost really excelled at.
Perhaps my favorite outcome of the finale is what happens with Hurley. Before plugging the magic hole in the Heart of the Island (sounds ridiculous doesn’t it?), Jack leaves Hurley in charge of taking care of the island. When Jack doesn’t emerge from the cave, Hurley is at a loss. But Ben tells him to do what he does best: “Take care of people.” Hurley is the new Jacob, but he will be better than Jacob. And in a twist, Hurley asks Ben to help him run the island—basically all he has ever wanted. I really loved this part.
“The End” comes to a close with a really nice touch. Jack, who somehow is transported out of the Heart of the Island, limps off to the beach, injured from when Locke/Man in Black stabbed him. As he lies on the ground dying, he finds himself in the exact spot he wakes up in the pilot episode, with Vincent at his side. Just after seeing the escape plane that holds Kate, Sawyer, and Claire fly off the island, Jack closes his eye—a call-out to the many scenes in Lost where we see characters open their eye.
These two moments—Hurley leading the island and Jack’s death scene—are unfairly overshadowed by negativity. But they really are great moments.
Overall, I view the end of Lost as a disappointment. Some of the fan complaints are overblown, but the ending still didn’t live up to the lofty expectations built through the earlier seasons. I’m very glad Damon Lindelof got another chance to get it right, with The Leftovers, which had a much more satisfying finale. I’m glad I gave “The End” another chance, however. It may not be perfect, but I now like it more than I once did.