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Looking Back on Lost: Paradise Lost and Found

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Physician, heal thyself. — Luke 4:23

Now, after all this time, many of you have probably gone on with your lives AL (After Lost). I have been thinking about it for over a month now, and I have been able to deal with my loss of Lost. I have been going over the final episode, watching it several times, and I have tried to get my thoughts straight about all six seasons. I have reached a point where I can actually understand, if not be happy with, the way things ended.

In the very last second of Lost, we get to see Dr. Jack Shephard’s (Matthew Fox) eye close, as we saw it open in the very first episode. In essence then the story of the series has been everything that happened between the opening and closing of an eye; in this case, the eye of a man who was like a rock and (get ready for extended metaphor) the island itself, around whom the ocean of the story swirled, with all the other characters being rivers flowing into and sometimes away from Jack.

Jack collapses and dies at the spot where he woke up originally. Right before he dies, he sees the plane flying over head with new Oceanic Six (or Ajira Six, actually): Lapidus, Kate, Sawyer, Miles, Claire, and Richard (whose gray hair tells us that he is now mortal). They escape and go on to live their lives and, we suspect they will remember that Jack did indeed save the island before dying, and in doing so he leaves behind Hurley and Ben to take on this somewhat sacred duty.

So for me, this all seems to make sense, but I have been bothered by one thing most of all: what of the “sideways” world and what we saw there all during season six? I am sure many people have different theories about it, and I must admit mine was all wrong: I believed the "sideways" world was the world after the bomb. I came to realize while watching "The End" (the last episode in the series) again and again that the "sideways" world was a wish fulfillment zone, a place where the characters could have things they aspired to achieve: Sawyer and Miles became the good guys (cops), Jack a loving father, Ben a kindly teacher, and Jin and Sun happy new parents. There were also those who did not change their stripes like Kate, Sayid, and Hurley.

In all of those "sideways" portraits we saw shards of a shattered rainbow, a world of wishes that could never be but were played out by each person in some attempt to rectify wrongs, to make adjustments for lost opportunities, to eventually lead them to accept what could not be changed, and thus inspire them to (eventually) make their way to the church for the group meeting that became the last scene of the series.

As they all sat in the church after the extended group hug, I thought "Amazing Grace" should have been playing as Jack's father Christian walked down the aisle and opened the doors to the bright white light coming from whatever was next step for them all. Think how appropriate the lyrics would be for these characters, and especially for Jack Shephard: "I once was lost but now am found/Was blind, but now I see."

Jack, the man whose open eye started it all, spent most of the six seasons not seeing the truth. No, I don't believe they all died in the initial plane crash (as I heard people bouncing around at the water cooler the next day), thus making the island a sort of "limbo" or "purgatory" where they had to earn the next step. I think everything that happened on the island was real, the escape of the Oceanic Six was real as well, and then the return to the island brought everything back full circle. As Jack suspected all along, the island wasn't done with him (or his friends) yet.

Many fans were expecting some kind of metaphysical explanation of things, sort of like a Lost 101 meant to answer all questions philosophical or profound. Well, I have to tell you the truth: I am really convinced that it was correct for the writers not to divulge all the answers. What was the island? Who were Jacob and Esau (I mean Smokey)? What happened to Aaron and Sun and Jin's baby? And so on. The questions could be lined up ad infinitum.

I think the Lost writers and creators had an approach to this series that shaped it like a novel, with six distinct chapters that broke down the story over six seasons. Taking more than a page from Faulkner (who wrote "The past is not dead; it's not even past."), they were able to show us multiple points of view, time travel, flashbacks, flashes forward, and eventually sideways. In all of this there was a thread of continuity, and that was Jack Shephard (appropriately named to lead his flock).

Another great novelist, Ernest Hemingway, had the "Iceberg Theory," which I follow when I write fiction. He said the text of the story (the written words) was the tip of the iceberg; the rest of the iceberg was what the reader had to infer from the story. In the case of Lost, all six seasons were the tip of the iceberg, and now you can spend the rest of the time you want to invest on contemplating what everything meant and unravel mysteries to satisfy your own point of view.

Perhaps the greatest mystery at the core of this whole thing was not the cave of light, the smoke monster, Jacob's room, or the polar bears, but the unbearable angst suffered by Dr. Shephard and how he could finally arrive at some peace (physician, heal thyself). Jack was so worried about everyone else, right up until the very last seconds of his life, when mortally wounded he walked toward the place of origin, passing the sneaker on the tree, and falling down and seeing Vincent (the dog) as he did originally when he woke up after the plane crash in episode one.

Jack's road to redemption or salvation or even inner peace is the story, with all the other twists and turns adding to it and making the ride worthwhile. The Lost title can mean many different things to many people, but I see it as how Jack Shephard, who lost his way, could find a road back. It is Jack with whom we identify as the center of things, the man who had the authority to lead by the sheer force of personality, but the one thing he could not do was lead himself to the truth.

In terms of what really constitutes a tragedy (for this word is so often misused these days), Lost‘s Jack Shephard fits the definition as surely as Shakespeare's Hamlet. Jack had all the characteristics of a tragic hero: he was noble because being a brilliant surgeon elevated him above the common person, he possessed inner goodness, and he also had a tragic flaw. Hamlet's was procrastination; Jack's was more the heft of all that he carried on his shoulders: failed marriage, his father's death, his mother's disappointment in him. Then he gets to the island and somehow sees the crash as his personal responsibility, and taking care of the survivors and leading them off the island as his destiny.

And like Hamlet, Jack becomes aware in the end of just how his flaw has done him in. What is different here is, unlike Hamlet, we don't have to imagine flights of angels singing Jack to his rest. Jack is supported by all those friends he made on the island. His father Christian tells him that time on the island was the most important time in his life (so, for all who thought they died in the first episode, wrong!). Jack learned about himself, about his limitations, and his amazing capabilities. He led by example, and thus he was the "shepherd" who saved his flock.

When Jack sees his father in the back room of the church, he grabs him and asks, "Are you real?" This reminded me of George Bailey in the film It's a Wonderful Life, who, after having his own sideways trip into a world that showed him what life would be like without him, grabs his wife Mary and asks, "Are you real?" Both need to confirm that what they are seeing is not an illusion, but more the rendering of amazing grace that has now opened their eyes.

So the series finale of Lost may leave many of us feeling that way. Having come to know these characters, loving some and hating some like real people, we now have to "let go" just as Jack had to let go in order to be finally free to move on. The last scene has that cathartic feel to it, the immersion in light that takes on the darkest night of the soul and dazzles it with unrelenting daytime.

The ending in the church also reminded me of the last scene in the movie Titanic. Though Rose went on to live her long life after the death of her lover (another Jack) when the ship sank, after she dies she is drawn back to the ship, where everyone who died when the Titanic sank now meets up with those survivors as each one dies over the years. It is a comforting moment in the film and also in the series finale; it is wonderful to know you will be welcome into the club.

Jack's father tells him as much. He says that some died before him (like Sun and Jin) and some died after him (like Kate, Sawyer, and Hurley), but they are all there waiting for Jack. As he enters the room there is redemption, there is forgiveness, and there is the unmistakable truth of seeing for the first time what could never be seen. So we should be able to take a deep breath and feel good about the way Lost ends, because for once a tragic hero has an opportunity to overcome the tragic flaw. Jack accepts his fate, takes Kate's hand, and is ready for whatever comes next. We should all be so lucky.

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About Victor Lana

Victor Lana has published numerous stories, articles, and poems in literary magazines and online. His books In a Dark Time (1994), A Death in Prague (2002), Move (2003), The Savage Quiet September Sun: A Collection of 9/11 Stories (2005) and Like a Passing Shadow (2009) are available online and as e-books. He has won the National Arts Club Award for Poetry, but has concentrated mostly on fiction and non-fiction prose in recent years. He has worked as faculty advisor to school literary magazines and enjoys the creative process as a writer, editor, and collaborator. He has been with Blogcritics since July 2005, has edited many articles, was co-head sports editor with Charlie Doherty, and now is a Culture and Society editor. He views Blogcritics as one of most exciting, fresh, and meaningful opportunities in his writing life.
  • http://notesfromnancy.blogspot.com Nancy

    “Smokey”, aka the man in Black may have started as Jacob’s brother, but ended up in Locke.

  • http://deathknellforseriouscriticism.blogspot.com/ Kate

    “I have reached a point where I can actually understand, if not be happy with, the way things ended.”

    Hi Victor: It sounds like you’ve talked yourself into not only understanding but being happy with the ending. If not, I’d be interested in hearing what you were unhappy with.

    I agree with your analysis of Jack as tragic hero – I suppose hubris would be his flaw – but in choosing to concentrate on Jack as closure to the series, the showrunners sacrificed cohesion, logic, and the legitimacy of the other characters.

    It was an ending based upon emotion rather than forceful, creative storytelling, but that’s just my lowly opinion of course.

    Thanks for the article – it was a great read and a reminder of how much I loved Tuesday nights.

  • http://viclana.blogspot.com/ Victor Lana

    Yeah, Kate, it’s a double-edged sword for me. I accept the way it ended but I am not happy about loose ends, yet life gives us these all the time. Could we have a spin-off (perhaps Number One and Number) featuring Hurley and Ben and their years on the island? Would we care?

    I hear on the Dvd there will be deleted scenes and more info about things. We’ll have to wait and see.