Yes, I know this is Chris and Elizabeth Watch Movies and we’re smack in the middle of Oscar season. But Christopher and I just finished watching Lost. For me it was the first time, for Chris – who knows. But Lost has taken up a lot of movie brain space, and the finale was the length of a feature film, so I’m using our space here to write about it.
I’ll also add a disclaimer that I wrote this after seeing every episode of Lost including “The New Man in Charge” and every “Missing Pieces” episode. I also acknowledge that watching the show the way I watched it, which was nearly every day for a couple of months, was a much different experience than those who watched it when it was on, one episode a week over six years.
I was nervous about watching Lost. It’s Christopher’s favorite show and I was scared I wouldn’t understand it or like it. Once we started the show, it was clear pretty early on that those fears were totally unfounded. But the further along in the show we got and the more I shared with other people that I was watching through Lost for the first time, the more nervous I got about the series finale and how I would feel about it.
“The seasons got shorter because the show got sucky,” one person told me.
“Well just wait until you see the last episode,” another person told me after I told them I was watching and loved Lost. What did all that mean? It’s intimidating to barrel down toward a finale so many people are telling you is horrible, will ruin the show. But Chris did not feel that way. And the more I watched the show, the more I wondered what the ending could possibly be that made everyone so mad. I listened to the official ABC Lost podcast in between episodes, and executive producers and writers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse brought up multiple times that they don’t introduce any new element to Lost without knowing its resolution first. Nothing I saw contradicted that. I felt confident that the show would not end with something that negated the entire show, like everything being a dream (a theory that with “Dave” was debunked by the creators). I had trusted Lindelof and Cuse to take me through six seasons of Lost and I wasn’t about to lose my trust in them before the finale.
The finale was incredible. I didn’t know how I wanted Lost to end, but after seeing the finale I realized that that was how I wanted it to end; with dignity, love, and most of all resolution. So I was especially curious what all the negative fuss was about once I saw the ending for myself. I found that the biggest problems people had with the finale can be broken up into two categories:
A.) Those that didn’t understand the ending
B.) Those that wanted more answers out of the finale.
Those that didn’t understand the ending:
No, the characters on Lost were not all dead from the beginning. They were all dead at the end, yes, but that in no way means they were dead from the beginning of the show. After finishing the show I was shocked to learn that so many people walked away from the finale thinking that that’s what happened. The biggest reason for my shock is that, in what I’m sure was an effort to clarify the ending, it’s explained before the episode ends. Jack Shephard (Matthew Fox) is brought to a church where he sees his father, Christian Shephard, standing before him, although Jack knows Christian is dead. They have this exchange (emphasis mine):
Christian: Hey, kiddo.
Christian: Hello, Jack.
Jack: I don’t understand . . . you died.
Christian: Yeah. Yes I did . . .
Jack: Then how are you here right now?
Christian: How are you here?
Jack: I died too . . . [Jack begins to cry as he remembers.]
Christian: It’s okay, it’s okay. It’s okay son. [Christian approaches Jack and they hug each other.]
Jack: I love you, dad.
Christian: I love you too, son.
Jack: You…are you real?
Christian: I should hope so. Yeah, I’m real. You’re real, everything that’s ever happened to you is real. All those people in the church…they’re real too.
Jack: They’re all…they’re all dead?
Christian: Everyone dies sometime, kiddo. Some of them before you, some…long after you.
Jack: But why are they all here now?
Christian: Well there is no “now” here.
Jack: Where are we, dad?
Christian: This is the place that you…that you all made together, so that you could find one another. The most important part of your life was the time that you spent with these people. That’s why all of you are here. Nobody does it alone Jack. You needed all of them, and they needed you.
Jack: For what?
Christian: To remember…and to…let go.
Jack: Kate…she said we were leaving.
Christian: Not leaving, no. Moving on.
Jack: Where are we going?
Christian: [smiling] Let’s go find out.
Everyone was dead at the end because, as Christian says, everyone dies sometime. There are people we see in the church – Kate, Sawyer, Desmond, etc – whom we never saw die. But their characters were not immortal, so just because we didn’t see them die within the span of the show does not mean that they never died. When someone died, how they died, and how far apart they died from the others is irrelevant at this point. What is relevant is that now that they’re all dead, they can all move on from “purgatory” to “heaven” or whatever you want to call the afterlife.
Purgatory was not the Island. It did not start when Flight 815 crashed.
Purgatory was the “flash-sideways.” It started at different times for everyone because everyone had their own unique issues to work out. Purgatory was not so much the place for our survivors to “do everything differently” with the knowledge they gained in life, because if that was the case all of our couples (Jack/Kate, Sawyer/Juliet, Sayid/Shannon, etc) would have been together the entire time. Purgatory was more of a place for our survivors to work through the issues and struggles that plagued them in life that did not get resolved before their deaths, so that they could move on. A perfect example of this is David, Jack’s son that he never had but had in purgatory. David was a way for Jack to acknowledge the effects his own relationship with Christian had on him, to forgive him, and let it go – which he demonstrates by fully opening himself up to the love that David would give him. Once they were ready to move on, as we saw in the finale, each character gradually started to realize where they were and connected to each other once more, preparing to move on to heaven.
I’ll be the first to admit that as soon as the finale ended, I didn’t quite get it. I was so emotional (and had been for so long by that point), trying so hard to see everything in every frame and take in every piece of dialogue that I sort of missed the boat completely before I just let myself think about it for a few minutes and let it wash over me.
Some viewers point to “evidence” that they were all dead: Jack’s eye closing at the end (mirroring his eye opening at the beginning of the series) and quiet shots of the wreckage, without people, playing over the end credits. All I have to say about that is: if you truly think the minds behind Lost would leave the entirety of the show to a few seconds at the end – well, you just don’t know Lost.
Those that wanted more answers out of the finale:
There are plenty of very specific questions that remained unanswered when Lost was all said and done. Some examples I’ve heard:
Was Claire/Mr. Eko’s psychic a fraud?
Why was Desmond dismissed from the army?
Why can’t the Smoke Monster pass through ash?
It’s true that those and many other small questions never found an answer. But there were also some big questions that plagued the survivors from the moment the plane crashed:
What is the Island?
Why did the plane crash?
Why were the survivors brought to the Island?
What is the Smoke Monster?
All of those questions were answered, along with another one: what happens when you die. Or, more specifically, what happened to our main survivors when they died. It wasn’t a question that had been asked yet, but Lost answered it for us anyway. It blows my mind that anyone could watch all of Lost and feel that there were still missing pieces and burning questions that were unanswered. Not every element of every mystery has to be solved for the entire mystery itself to be solved. The Island is a place of mystery and mythology – not everything has an explanation and most things just “are,” and that is how we must accept them. Then there’s also the undeniable fact that Lost is a TV show and the writers can’t be expected to have an explanation behind every single element of every event of the entire series.
We don’t get answers to every question. But we get something much more important and satisfying – resolution.
You can break down Lost in a lot of ways, but I think ultimately and most importantly it was about the characters and their relationships. It’s worth noting that the flash-sideways/purgatory did not show the Island whatsoever. The place where everyone met at the end was a church, not the Island. So it wasn’t the Island that was important, it was what happened on the Island and who was there that was important. Did it matter than Ben murdered Locke? Of course it did. And I was very sad knowing that not only was Locke murdered by Ben, but that he was confused and sad when he died. But I liked to think that in this universe of Lost that Locke, or some part of him, would ultimately know the outcome of everything and know that he did have a purpose, that he didn’t die for nothing. So it was fantastic when, at the end, Ben apologized to Locke and Locke forgave him and went inside the church to move on. So yes, it mattered, just like everything else on the Island, that Ben murdered Locke. But in the end, it was not the most important thing to either of them. Locke, unlike in his life, finally found himself part of a family, part of bonds that could never be broken, and with purpose.
Another example of the connections being the most important would be the relationship between Sayid and Shannon. Shannon was on Flight 815 to leave an unhappy life full of dark, complicated relationships. Sayid was on Flight 815 to finally find Nadia, his long lost love whom he had just found out settled in Los Angeles. Neither were in a place where they would be looking for love or be open to a new relationship. And after the crash, they were still resistant – Shannon remembering how she told airport police about “an Arab guy” leaving his bags unattended (in Shannon’s defense, that was dumb of Sayid to just leave his bags at an airport, but that’s neither here nor there) and Sayid getting frustrated with Shannon’s inability to translate Rousseau’s message. But they are kind to each other, speak softly to each other, and touch each other carefully. Despite Boone “warning” Sayid about Shannon and Shannon’s fear that Sayid thought she was worthless, they continued to believe and have faith in each other. Shannon is a totally different person after Sayid enters her life and we see the warm, romantic side of Sayid in the way he treats Shannon with such tenderness. We never truly see that side of Sayid again after Shannon’s death, and he seems to make good on his statement to Ana Lucia that he’s “already dead.” His eyes stay dull and his voice never has the same sweetness as it did when he spoke to Shannon. There seems to be hope for Sayid’s happiness when he leaves the Island as part of the Oceanic Six and reunites with Nadia. But they’re not even together for a year before she too dies in Sayid’s arms. At the end of Sayid’s life, you could argue that he had and lost two soulmates, Shannon and Nadia. But in purgatory, Nadia is not with Sayid but instead with Sayid’s brother. Despite having affection for each other in purgatory, Sayid makes it clear that he was never meant to be with Nadia. After Hurley has come to his own realization about purgatory, he sets out to help his other survivors remember, namely Sayid. First he brings Sayid to a hotel he once stayed at with him – nothing. He shows Sayid a tranquilizer gun similar to one that had been used on Sayid at the hotel – nothing. He takes Sayid to a bar, where Sayid tells him that he is a bad person, and anyone who doesn’t think that doesn’t know him very well, when he’s practically cut off by Boone and Shannon running out of the bar, Boone and a random guy about to fight. It’s not clear at first that it’s Boone and Shannon, but Sayid is immediately interested and when the random guy shoves Shannon, Sayid is out of Hurley’s car in a split second. They see each other and, for the first time in the finale that we’ve seen, recognize each other from their time before. Shannon says Sayid’s name, Sayid says Shannon’s name. Sayid touches Shannon’s cheek and looks at her with the soft eyes we hadn’t seen in Sayid since Shannon was alive. He speaks to her softly as he did before and they kiss, knowing everything they need to know. As a torturer in the Iraqi army before 815 crashed, Sayid’s life was full of negativity, of loss, of trauma, of frustration. But all of that was secondary – to Shannon. Nadia was important, yes. But she was Sayid’s Rosaline – her importance was not so much her relationship with Sayid, but that she brought Sayid and Shannon together. So of course, when Sayid is dead and ready to move on to heaven, it’s not Nadia at his side, but Shannon.
Obviously a big theme that runs throughout Lost comes from Jack’s speech that they will “live together, die alone.” In the end, the fate of the Island and possibly humanity itself lies with Jack. When he accomplishes what he needs to do, it must be clear to Jack that he is about to succumb to his stab wound. He stumbles back to the same bamboo field where he woke up after 815 crashed, knowing that he’s essentially alone on the Island now. He knows that despite his efforts and his own speech, he will die alone. It just has to be that way. But then Vincent shows up. Vincent, Walt’s Labrador that was the first to greet Jack after the crash, comes back to Jack and with no prompting, lay down next to Jack. So no, not even after everything that happened, after all that Jack sacrificed despite knowing it would both separate him from Kate forever and kill him, he will not die alone.
Lost gave me so much and made me feel so deeply that it gave me a renewed energy as both a writer and a consumer of stories. It’s taken its rightful place next to True Detective as Greatest Show I Have Ever Seen. The finale was everything that it should be and we should all be thankful such a perfect piece of art exists, ready to be watched – whenever you’re ready.