Warning: The following article contains major spoilers for Lost seasons 1-6, and also spoilers for the ending of The Sopranos.
I started watching Lost almost a year after it first aired in the U.S. This was mainly down to the UK getting an air date way later than our friends across the pond, but also because watching it in bulk on DVD always seems the best way to get into a show. While the show was over halfway through its first season on British TV, I managed to get a hold of an American box set of the entire season. I watched the whole thing in two days. I was hooked. I had found a show like no other I had attempted before and for the next five years I couldn’t get enough.
I was so hooked, in fact, that I couldn’t hold out for the complete season box sets and turned to watching them one-by-one as they aired each week, enthralled by everything from the iconic mystery to the compelling characters. With each shocking episode cliff-hanger (the kind which, in the best way possible, makes you want to bang your head against the wall in anticipation of the next episode) I grew more and more invested in all that the show had to offer.
On May 23rd 2010 Lost ended its six-year run with the most divisive TV ending since The Sopranos. Although not quite as surprising an ending as the famous [Sopranos SPOILER ALERT!] cut-to-black of David Chase’s epic crime saga, the conclusion of ABC’s surprisingly successful show about a group of people who crash land on a mysterious island split audiences. Some found a great sense of closure and emotional payoff for these characters who they have invested six seasons and six years of their lives in, not just by actually watching the show but discussing, pondering and debating it with friends, family, workmates (“the water cooler effect”) and, perhaps most crucially, with fellow Lost fans on the internet. Others found the lack of concrete answers to the million-and-one questions and mysteries Damon Lindelof, Carlton Cuse and Co. had conjured disappointing, and in some cases downright infuriating.
While I can understand where those latter people are coming from in some ways, I say to them what exactly did they expect? A finale which in checkpoint-ticking fashion answered every question ever raised by the show? Take away the impracticalities of pulling off such an ending, that type of a finale would have been boring, and certainly wouldn’t have allowed it to live on in the hearts and discussions of fans for years to come.
I personally couldn’t have been happier with the ending. It is true that a great many of the questions raised throughout the show were left open-ended, but the important thing is that the significant ones were answered. The only major one that comes to mind which really should have been answered was the mystery of Walt’s power. This was a huge part of the show’s mystery throughout season 1 (after “the Others” inexplicably stole him off the rescue raft) and particularly in season 2. Unfortunately it was just one of those mysteries which, due to other characters and storylines taking precedent (not to mention the actor, Malcolm David Kelley, growing beyond the years of his character) simply had to be dropped.
Other than that most of the important questions were either plainly answered – the Numbers, the Black Rock ship being in the middle of the jungle, what the Smoke Monster was, and yes, those freaky Polar Bears (you only need to look at season 3 to find out that answer) – or the show gave you enough information to work it out on your own: for instance, the pregnancy mystery of season 3 could be attributed to the detonation of the hydrogen bomb at the end of season 5. I firmly believe most of the loosely answered mysteries were intentionally written that way to up raise the audience’s concentration and intellectual partcipation in the show – this was definitely not a show for casual viewers.
But if mysteries were that important, why then do I feel like the ending was pretty much perfect? Well because, in my humble opinion, the characters were more important. Lost was never just about the mystery, it was just as much about characters, if not more so. Every weird occurrence or scary experience (I still remember the exhilaration of that chase scene involving this unknown entity making machine-like noises chasing Jack, Kate and Charlie through the jungle in the first episode) was always about how it affected the characters, how they reacted, what it meant for them moving forward. In that way the ending brought everything together (for the characters quite literally) into one place and sent the show off on a note that while sentimental felt right because we were saying goodbye to who were, for some (myself included), several of the most beloved TV characters of the last decade. It’s the only ending to bring me to tears (and yes I am man enough to admit that, and so should all you other male fans out there!) and one of the few I have watched over and over on its own and detached from the rest of the finale.
Throughout its six seasons (that’s 121 episodes in total!) Lost dealt with more themes than you could probably name (redemption, good and evil, religion, philosophy, parental issues, to name but a few), but right near the top of that list would be the issue of fate vs. free will. Do we really have a set course which we are destined to follow or can we choose our own paths? Two of the show’s key characters, Locke and Jack, had multiple disagreements on this issue, with Jack stubbornly holding his ground for most of the show as “the man of science” and Locke holding down the fort as “the man of faith.” It was only after Locke’s unfortunate death (which some say was a flat-out mistake for the show as a whole) that Jack began to see the light, as it were. By the end of season 6 he had taken a 180-degree turn from where he was in season 1 and had become the man Locke always said he’d be (“I don’t believe in destiny,” Jack once said, with Locke retorting, “Yes you do. You just don’t know it yet.”). This transformative arc of Jack’s could almost be looked at as a parallel of some of Lost’s most faithful fans, those who may have started the show thinking everything was clear cut and had to have an answer, but by sticking with it right to the end realized it was better to have faith in the unknown. That ambiguous and happy ending felt truly earned in my eyes.
So Lost may have been populated by polar bears in the jungle, a mysterious black smoke monster, strange research “hatches” all over the place and a four-toed statue (the list goes on…) but at its core it was a show about characters. And making the “Sideways” world (a clever development of the flashback/forward storytelling device) actually be, according to the theory I believe in, a holding ground before the characters moved on to a better place (whatever that place may be, it’s up to you to decide) was quite the stroke of brilliance. It’s an area of belief I don’t hold in my own life but I was invested enough in the show to believe in it within this context. A show which can temporarily change your whole philosophy is quite special indeed.
In the end Lost may not have been perfect however I believe the ending was. But that’s just me.
Namaste and good luck.