It’s over. After six months, my personal journey with the TV show Lost has come to an end, and this is the final article in the series. As you may recall, I began watching Lost in October 2015 when my husband got a new job that required him to work evenings. This schedule ironically ended just about the time I was finishing Season 6 of the show. Originally urged to watch the show by a mysterious friend of mine, who I’ll call “J”–and who shares my affinity for certain concepts and stories one might term “Borgesian“–I found it a fascinating exploration of alternative storytelling structures and possibilities. Lost wasn’t perfect; it was a network TV show that came at the tail end of the era in which network TV was relevant, now having been largely replaced by niche-market cable shows like Mad Men. But for what it was, it was pretty good. Here are my previous analyses: Season 2, Season 3, Season 4, Season 5.
Season 6, the final season (which aired in 2010), takes the story in a much more epic direction. (Major, major spoilers!) Now no longer about the Oceanic Flight 815 survivors’ struggle to live on the island, their struggles to get off (or to get back), or their conflict with the Others, Season 6 is primarily about the metaphysical and supernatural manifestations of the Island, embodied by the conflict between two seemingly immortal beings, Jacob (Mark Pellegrino) and the Man in Black (Titus Welliver). The Oceanic crew is caught up in this struggle, as the Man in Black–the human personification of “the smoke monster” we’ve seen throughout the show–has taken the human form of deceased Oceanic survivor John Locke (Terry O’Quinn) and is now attempting, evidently after several thousand years, to get off the island for good. Jacob is something of a “guardian,” and it’s clear that he’s been bringing people to the island, including those on Flight 815, for some grand cosmic purpose. It turns out each of our main characters–Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Hurley, Jin, Sun, etc.–are being tested to replace Jacob as the guardian. Only at the end, after a battle with the Man in Black, does one step up to that responsibility.
In the meantime, time has fractured, and the same characters are living in an alternate reality totally separate from what’s happening on the island. Lost fans refer to this as the “flash-sideways universe.” In this alternate reality, in which Oceanic Flight 815 didn’t crash, Jack has a 12-year-old son, Hurley is the owner of a chicken franchise (and a philanthropist), evil Others leader Ben is a high school history teacher, and Locke, still crippled, is a substitute teacher. Only Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick) perceives the “real” universe behind this false one, and he seeks to snap the characters into a state of awareness about their true destiny. In my own stories I’ve dealt extensively with alternate realities and their relationship to “real” worlds; Life Without Giamotti is all about that premise. Thus, the ideas in Season 6 appeal to me on a very basic level.
Overall I enjoyed Season 6, though it was a bit uneven. The flash-sideways stories were quite interesting as they show us the familiar characters in new and different roles. My favorite episodes from this season include “Lighthouse,” which features a very Borgesian set-piece: an ancient lighthouse with a mirror that focuses on the lives on Jacob’s various candidates, whom he can watch from afar across time and space. I also loved the episodes involving Claire, who has gone feral and somewhat crazy on the Island, clutching her voodoo-like “squirrel baby” in lieu of her real child who was taken off the island; and “The Substitute,” which shows us Locke’s flash-sideways story and also explains what the Numbers actually mean. I was less satisfied with the ultimate explanations of the island’s phenomenon, and the seasons’ riskiest episode, “Across the Sea”–in which none of the major characters appear–was, although necessary to the story, not as successful as the writers probably hoped.
This Season 6 recap (no real spoilers) shows some more of the interesting concepts in the final installment of Lost. Note the lighthouse toward the end.
And now we have to talk about the ending. From the very day I announced I was watching Lost people began warning me, principally on Twitter, that the finale was a “cheat” and I was going to hate it. (Most of them did not realize what I thought of the “Tommy Westphal snow-globe” ending of St. Elsewhere). The ending of Lost, I discovered after seeing it, was widely misunderstood. After Hurley steps up as the guardian of the Island, Jack suffers a mortal wound, and dies; in the flash-sideways universe his father guides him to a sort of memorial service, peopled by the entire cast, where he’s being welcomed into the afterlife. At the end of this scene, in fact the final shots of the series, we see pictures of the Oceanic Flight 815 wreckage on the beach with no humans around. This suggested to many people that the ending was supposed to be that there were no survivors on Flight 815 and the whole series was “just a dream” or something to that effect, echoing the ludicrous 1986 Dallas season finale. In fact that’s not what the writers intended at all, and they’ve gone on record numerous times to make this clear. The shots of the deserted wreckage were added in post-production by ABC and weren’t even in the script. Most people got upset for nothing.
Lost’s ending can be interpreted a number of ways. The flash-sideways universe does seem to have been unreal, but what’s “real” on Lost is definitely not clear nor, do I think, is it intended to be. I actually don’t favor the interpretation that the Man in Black, the “smoke monster” or the “heart of the island” shown in the final few episodes are literally real. How about this? Oceanic Flight 815 crashed on the island. Its survivors, including our main characters, did the best they could to adapt to conditions, but ultimately succumbed, one by one, perhaps to disease or deprivation. The drama they saw themselves as inhabiting–the Others, the “smoke monster,” leaving the island, everything else–was an internal reality they generated to give meaning to their ordeal, which would otherwise have been meaningless. This constructed reality was different for everyone, which accounts for why so many aspects of the story are internally inconsistent. Essentially, the series is a “long goodbye,” with each character inhabiting a sort of fantasy world that makes their own death–or their permanent marooning on the island–meaningful to them. The shots of the deserted wreckage at the end perhaps suggest a future many years hence, in which all the survivors are now dead.
This fan-made video attempts to explain the ending of Lost. I do not necessarily agree with it, but it’s one explanation.
This isn’t a neat and tidy package, to be sure, but I don’t think Lost was ever intended to be. Those looking for a pat resolution were bound to be disappointed. That’s what I love about the show: you can interpret it any way you like. My journey to the island and back through the Lost characters was a fun and personal one. I’m glad I got a chance to see it and think about it. I now file Lost away with so many other wonderful stories in my head, yet another example of the peculiar magic that storytelling and imagination have to help us explore all that it means to be human. Thanks for reading.