Monday, May 24, 2010

“Wait... Polarizing is a Bad Thing?”

After the episode “Across the Sea” aired and audiences were pretty divided down the middle about loving it or hating it, Damon tweeted what I’ve used as my title for this post. (I, as the geeky Lost fan, just sniggered and went, “He said POLAR.”) He wasn’t just talking about “Across the Sea”... he knew what was coming in two more weeks.

Last night the episode aired and I was absolutely shattered. The show I had followed and researched and written about and LOVED above everything else was now finally over. I'd spent the week working on my Finding Lost: Season 6 book and had been completely mired in all of the twists and turns of this final season. And now I was saying goodbye to the characters. I literally dropped everything (pen, paper) and just sat on the couch with my face in my hands, rocking back and forth and sobbing uncontrollably. The patio door was open behind me and I imagined all of my neighbours, outside setting off fireworks because it’s the long weekend here in Canada, all wondering what the heck is wrong with that woman in her living room over there. I was just... wrecked. But those tears were cathartic tears, saying goodbye to the show, goodbye to the characters... and goodbye to the anticipation of this wonderful finale. But what I was NOT saying goodbye to, was the speculation.

For yes, this finale has left things WIDE open for the viewers. The same people who thought The Sopranos ending was a major cop-out, leaving things to the viewers to figure out, will hate this ending. And yet, think about what would have happened had they actually provided answers. First, most people would hate them. “Uh... the whispers are the bad people stuck in an island purgatory?? That is LAME,” shouted many when they finally answered that question. “So let me get this straight... after 5 years of documenting every single frakkin’ use of those six numbers, they just HAPPEN to be the random freakin’ numbers that Jacob used when he was listing off the candidates? Oh my GOD that is stupid,” said many people when they revealed THAT one.

Without sounding totally sycophantic here, I actually was fine with both of those answers. I thought they happened a little abruptly, with Hurley saying, “Hey, I think I know what the whispers are!” in one, and Smokey saying, “Jacob had a thing for numbers” in the second one. But I was still content with those explanations.

So if they’d come out and said, “This is what the island is. And this is what that shiny light was. Oh, and Jacob and his brother actually turned out to be nothing more than this. And this is the sideways world... and this is how the Dharma Initiative found the island... and the Others originated like this...” we would all be sitting here right now simply debating whether or not we liked their answers. But look what we’re doing instead – we’re talking, REALLY talking about what this series was about, and what it meant to us.

Yesterday I wrote up a tribute of what this show means to me. I come to Lost on a very personal level, with my own views of faith and family and political affiliations and beliefs and set of morals and personal “rules,” to use a Lost term. And every single person on this blog and watching Lost comes at it with their set, and they are unlike the set of anyone else watching. So the writers made it personal – they gave us this finale that offered us a way to interpret it in a personal way, while also giving us the tools we could use to actually figure it out for ourselves.

After I got up from the couch, still sobbing, and made my way over to the kitchen table to do the CTV chat (fittingly, with my giant Sopranos poster behind me that you would have seen if you’d caught me on the National last Friday), I still had tears streaming down my face as I logged into the chat, and after I was in there, I did a quick flick over to Twitter to see the reactions. It ranged from, “Thank you, Damon and Carlton, for 6 wonderful years” to, “I hope you rot in hell and your house burns down.” SERIOUSLY. Someone wrote that.

It actually made me pretty angry to see such personal comments and personal attacks made against them, and I considered recording an angry video podcast. But I changed my mind this morning after sleeping on it, and realized that when you make a show that’s as personal as Lost is, unfortunately you’ll have to bear the brunt of personal attacks when people are unhappy with what you gave them. A lot of Skaters will be upset with the show, for example. I was actually surprised at how much Kate did NOT choose Sawyer... But for me, not having shipped either way in the past 6 years, it certainly didn’t cast a pall on anything for me. I could understand why it would for those who had really wanted Kate to end up with Sawyer. If it’s any consolation to them, I really thought that Kate taking off in the Ajira flight was a suggestion she WOULD end up with Sawyer off the island, and would take him back to meet her bestie, Cassidy, and he’d meet his daughter, and Claire and Aaron would come and live with Kate, and they’d all live happily ever after as one big communal family. But that’s because, as much as I claim not to, I really love happy endings sometimes. BUT... if they’d actually presented that ending to me on screen, I would have called it trite and ridiculous. It makes more sense in the rainbow world of my brain.

So... polarizing is a bad thing? While I’ve said all along that I didn’t want the Lost finale to overshadow the series that came before it, I love how much people are talking about it today. I doubt the end of 24 or Law & Order will spark this much discussion... nor will ANY ending this season. For the next few weeks, that finale WILL overshadow the rest of the series, but for the serious fans like us, we’re already going back over the series and pulling together the threads that led us to this place. And maybe in doing so, some people who either originally disliked it or were confused by it will suddenly get it, and it’ll change their view of it.

Some people will hate it, yes. But if you loved the show up until episode 6.16 and then didn’t like the finale, are you REALLY going to dismiss the six years that came before it? Did people dismiss the entirety of Seinfeld just because the ending sucked? No. And while this is obviously different – Seinfeld was not a serial with an overarching mystery that pulled everything together and instead was a series of standalone episodes – I think the things we loved about this show were still present in the finale, whether you liked it or not. Sawyer and Kate didn’t end up together in any obvious way, but the writers (and Josh and Evangeline) gave us Sawyer and Kate to begin with, and many moments of the two of them to savour. Perhaps you didn’t like things coming down to Jack’s perspective in the finale, but you can’t argue that Jack wasn’t integral to everything.

Because I loved it, maybe after I've thought it through I'll actually like it less, rather than more. (I mean, the obvious thing that jumped out at me this morning was the sadness that this WASN’T Locke’s journey, as I’d hoped it would be.) But for now, I loved it, and will continue to look at it in the days and weeks to come. So let’s keep talking. ;)


TresBelleKnits said...

This is what I tell the people that are ticked off about the unanswered questions:

Those answers were left for us to explain ourselves.

What's your theory on them? Maybe you're right, maybe not. But it gives us things to debate for years. The show has been made immortal because of the unanswered questions.

Too much TV is spoon fed to us. Lost made us THINK. The ending...the unanswered questions were the perfect way to leave things. They always had us questioning. Why should they stop because the show is over? :)

Wanda said...

Sigh. If you want to see polarizing, check out the incredibly nasty and personal comments over at LA Times because the reviewer interpreted the crashed plane in the credits as Oceanic 815. And anyone who would do so would have to be an idiot...,0,1472915.story

As if the fact that a suddenly benevolent Christian Shepherd (not the most reliable character in the LOST family) explained something, that made it exactly so.

Will a ghost tell you he isn't real? Even Kate says "give me a break" upon hearing this gathering is about a Christian shepherd's journey and resurrection. Too bad they didn't show it on Easter.

The series has always traded in ambiguity. Why stop now? Especially with wreckage (of Frank's duct tape flight, or the other one?) strewn on the beach.

The church scene was incredibly sentimental. This is not a compliment in my book, even thinking back on the relationship of the sideways/afterlife to what may or may not have happened on the island. And agreed, Locke's journey interested me far more than Jack's. I'm happy to see the last of Matthew Fox for a while, and I'll miss many of others.

But many thanks to Nikki, for encouraging differences of opinion to be aired civilly, but with feeling, figuring it out together you might say. Hurley would be proud.

Beth Skipper said...

The writers of LOST have respected the intelligence of their audience from the beginning, to do anything less than that in the finale would have been insulting. Yes, I have unanswered questions--that is okay. The series leaves me having to think for myself as I ponder and wrestle with the unknown. Because of that I am able to say KUDOS for the most satisfying series finale that I have ever seen.

Chelsea said...

Polarizing most definitely is not a bad thing - and it was inevitable for a show like Lost, where viewers are so emotionally and intellectually invested. An ending that pleased everyone would have been trite.

I'm kind of astounded that so many people have interpreted what Christian said as meaning that they were all dead from the crash of 815 on - to me it was very clear that the flashsideways was the only place they were all dead. Even if you don't trust Christian Shephard, the rest of the story makes no sense otherwise. But I guess that's going to happen in a show that deals in ambiguity.

Chelsea said...

And I forgot to add that I love that Jack and Kate were together in the end. I've never gotten into the shipper stuff and I didn't even know I was a Jater until I saw them together at the end and started bawling. It worked for me.

Dave said...

"The End" had me cheering (come on, that fight scene between Locke and Jack was EPIC...the shot of Jack jumping to attack before commercial...I was like "AWESOME!!!! Best episode ever!!), crying (at pretty much all the times the characters had their memory flashbacks (and yes, even Sayid and Shannon but mostly Jin and Sun), laughing (the protector of the island saying 'dude' and other moments), and feeling entirely satisfied.

The BEST things in TV and/or movies is when the viewer is left to answer some things, to imagine things (Kate, Sawyer, Hurley and Ben's lives after the show ends for example), and to make up stories on our own. They also never should spell out answers. I'm reading a lot of stupid comments this morning (lots of great ones too), and all I have to say is: you make up the answers for yourselves. To me, Lost was about the Characters, and these characters were framed by a pretty intricate, incredible situation/story.

My answers are: the island WAS a firmament between heaven and hell, a cork like Jacob said, and the sideways reality was purgatory, where they had to find each other again to transition to heaven. And I do think, as Matthew Fox said, that's beautiful.

I couldn't have been happier with the end. Best series ever.

humanebean said...

Polarizing is neither a good thing or a bad thing in and of itself, obviously. It refers to a topic that registers such a strong connection with people that they have a near-instantaneous reaction to it on several levels - one of them often an emotional one. Of course, when we respond with our emotions first, we run the risk of evaluating poorly or short-sightedly and allowing a first impression to be the only one or a dominant one that overlooks nuance and depth.

I'm sure that all of us who have followed the show so avidly during the last six seasons have seen the instant responses provoked by some of the series' most provocative moments. In the first season, we saw Jin as a domineering and arguably abusive husband to Sun. He was violent, dismissive and cold. Yet, with time and by viewing both his and Sun's backstory, we came to understand that our first impressions - valid though they may have been - were incomplete and somewhat misleading.

Shipping on the show provoked some of the most intense (and mean-spirited) discussions of the entire series. It quickly got to the point where one had to ban or severely constrict this topic to prevent it from overwhelming everything (and everyONE) else. The Hatch. The polar bear cages. Jack's tattoos. Nikki and Paolo! (well, okay, Nikki and Paolo) ... these are all issues of note on the show that polarized segments of the fandom and threatened to overshadow a clear-eyed enjoyment of the series.

So - none of us can be truly surprised that the finale proved to be polarizing. It's been clear for some time that they show would not be able, and would likely choose NOT to, answer the bulk of the many, many, MANY questions, theories and mysteries evoked by the storytelling. Now, to what degree one accepts this or rejects it, can overlook the disappointment or be willing to have one's most fervent hopes dashed in the end ... well, that determines to what degree a more nuanced evaluation of the whole is possible.

AND I fully support those who feel strongly that the area of most concern to THEM proved to be inconsequential, overlooked or ignored by the finale or the sixth season in total. Polarizing is only potentially a BAD thing if none but the most extreme elements make themselves heard in the discussion.

R.P. McMurphy said...

Nikki, thanks for all your work and giving all of us Lost fans a place for us to "come together."

I loved the finale. I'm glad you brought up the Soprano's as well. Hated that one initially but wihin a few days came to feel it was brilliant (Tony is dead).

The Lost finale certainly left a lot open to interpretation but I am disappointed in how they had Christian lay it all out for us at the end. I would have preferred to have to work a little harder at figuring that part out. I LOVED it and feel that this is the best series I've ever watched but it may have been better with some of Christian's speech left unsaid.

Thanks again for everything. Can not wait for your book on this season!

margosita said...

What is disappointing for me about the ending is that LOST does become Jack's story. It's all about Jack in those last fifteen minutes and while I like the closing shot of Jack's eye closing... This was an ensemble cast. There were so many stories and arcs happening on LOST that had little or nothing to do with Jack. So for it all to narrow down so dramatically and to have Christian Shepard be so key to the final image of the light... ugh. I agree, I don't want all the answers. But I also wanted to feel like the ending was bigger than Jack and it didn't feel that way for me.

The Shout said...

I personally thought the ending was perfect. I 'gave up' on expecting answers to every question along time ago. In a way, they were only a means to an end. It was the emotional journeys of the characters which were always the centre of the show.

The worst thing that could have happened would have been if the finale had left me cold. All I hoped for was that it carried the same emotional punch as the series' best episodes, which it did quite beautifully.

After 6 years of mysteries, cliffhangers, revelations, and brain frying twists, it was definately worth it.

JS said...

Even as I was watching I knew everyone would not love it. I actually got a couple of calls and IM's afterward, also ranging from - it couldn't have been more beautiful, it was perfect, to that was a total suckfest. I ended that call and said I needed to process before sharing.

I just rewatched and sobbed. Right now, I do not care so much about answers. I probably will in a few weeks. I already havea few questions popping up. But, you know, they got me thinking, they got me crying, and that is quite an accomplishment for a TV show.

JS said...

The other think I loved about the finale - I felt like the important characters - Ben, Locke, Kate, Hurely, screen time, worked a few things out for themselves, and had some resolution. That conversation between Locke and Ben (and Ben and Hurely) really was powerful. So, it ended with Jack, but I don't think it was all about Jack. We started with him, we ended with him, but the story would be nothing without everyone else's story, both when they did and didn't relate to him directly.

Rachel said...


"I'm kind of astounded that so many people have interpreted what Christian said as meaning that they were all dead from the crash of 815 on - to me it was very clear that the flashsideways was the only place they were all dead. Even if you don't trust Christian Shephard, the rest of the story makes no sense otherwise. But I guess that's going to happen in a show that deals in ambiguity."

Yes! I saw one comment (not at this blog) immediately afterward that said essentially, "Oh great, so the whole show was just Jack's dream!" Um... huh?? Not sure how you got that. Christian very clearly said that everyone was very much alive, the entire show really did happen. It's only the sideways world that was spiritual (although containing real characters).

Anonymous said...

I personally loved the ending as it was. Jack opened the story and it was fitting that it was his death and acceptance of it that ended the story. his father was there in his afterlife to guide him as he did in his life.
we were never going to get a road map to all things Island, so just "let go" and take what you need from the stories. what ever gives you peace.
Kathy T

Teebore said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Erin said...

I love this, Nikki. I love what you've written almost as much as I love this show. You've summed up how we feel and why we feel it, and I for one am not at all disappointed (even though I have always, always been a Skater and found the Sawyer/Juliet storyline annoying and not very believable... probably because I hadn't invested in it the way I had Sawyer and Kate... but I was still moved by their reunion last night, cried when Kate told Jack how much she'd missed him... AND loved that Sawyer and Kate were on the plane together at the end and maybe did get to be together for a while... but anyway, I digress!)

I love that we will be able to continue to discuss and deliberate and wonder over things. That we'll be able to go back and re-visit key scenes and make more sense of them.

It is so clear to me that Oceanic 815 did crash on the island, that there were indeed survivors and that the rest of their lives were shaped by the things that came after. It was not a dream. They did not all die when the plane crashed. People freaking out about that clearly weren't paying attention to what Christian said. They should go back and take another look once they've calmed down a bit. I know I will. I can't wait to watch it all again, all 6 glorious, wonderful, frustrating, mysterious seasons! And we can keep on talking about it, right Nikki?

Not sure what else to say right now. I'll come back later with all my highlights. For now I think I need another cup of tea. Gotta have some caffeine to get me through the day. I barely slept a wink!

Teebore said...

@Nikki: So if they’d come out and said, “This is what the island is. And this is what that shiny light was. Oh, and Jacob and his brother actually turned out to be nothing more than this. And this is the sideways world... and this is how the Dharma Initiative found the island... and the Others originated like this...” we would all be sitting here right now simply debating whether or not we liked their answers.

But don't you feel, as storytellers, Darlton has a responsibility to TELL THEIR story, despite fears that the audience might not like that story (ie find the answers they give trite and uninspired)?

I mean, if I write a book and a reader buys it, aren't I responsible for, in the pages of the book, telling the reader MY story, whether I'm worried they like it or not?

Sure, I can and should leave things like meaning, theme, and motivation open to interpretation, but don't I have an obligation to at least tell a complete story?

Yeah, it's fun and stimulating to discuss Lost's themes and meaning, but we shouldn't have to come up with the plot that fills in all these blanks. That's not our job, it the job of the storytellers.

Now, don't get me wrong: I enjoyed the hell out of the finale. As I've said elsewhere, it was very emotionally satisfying, and the season six plot was wrapped up nicely. In that regard, it succeeded, masterfully.

But in terms of wrapping up the show as a whole, leaving behind a completely-told narrative, it failed. As we all kinda knew it would, going in, because Darlton had made it pretty clear they weren't concerned with creating a complete narrative, despite promising us one, once upon a time.

It's like Darlton set out to tell a story, then towards the end, said "nah, we don't have enough confidence in our story, so we'll just let everyone else make up their own". To me, that seems like a failure of storytelling.

I'm not saying I'm going to tweet them death threats, or even that I don't like Lost; I still love it, and plan to continue talking about it and re-watching it, but while the character and thematic work is top notch, the plot feels, in the end, more like a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book than a literary masterpiece.

Anonymous said...

Lost has always been a show about forgiveness, love and redemption. The finale culminated everything in the biggest shows of redemption and love. Ben's scene requesting forgiveness from John and his redemption as no. 2 in the island world follow those themes. This is a show that has always been about faith. The finale was spectacular. Darlton and the actors and crew could not have done it any better! I can't believe it's over.

Kurt said...

While I absolutely *loved* the episode, I can understand just a very little bit about what some people are annoyed about. While I like the open-endedness, there are a few questions that nag at me (who did Juliet shoot in the outrigger canoe? Where the heck were Walt, Michael, and Mr. Eko? What/when/where exactly was the island destroyed and underwater as seen in the season premiere?). But talking to friends today, it seems like a lot of them are under the assumption that the characters were dead the entire time! When I explain to them what the flash-sideways world was, and how...when it came to the island...whatever happened, happened (heh), they seem to like the ending a lot more.
I think that a lot of the disliking is based on people's misconceptions about what really went on in the finale.

Professor Beej said...

I, too, am upset that it turned out to be Jack's story and not Locke's as I had anticipated. But that makes the most mainstream sense; if it had been Locke's there would have been too much screaming that Jack was the main character. So it's up to us as writers and thinkers and conversers to find out how it turns to Locke anyway.

I'm in the middle camp, not the love nor hate. I think that it was appropriate in much the same way the Sopranos ending was appropriate. I also think it could have been handled better in terms of answering some questions rather than having monotonous "awakenings" every few minutes. Those got old, actually, once we realized what was going on.

I think in a lot of the cases the answers we got weren't satisfactory. I can see professors writing on my papers notes like "Proof?" or "So what?" if I had included that kind of evidence as answering an argument. Jacob has a thing for numbers, great. But why are they everywhere? Where did the power they had come from? Was it just coincidence they were on the hatch and won the lottery? The same for how the MiB couldn't hurt Jacob or change from Locke. Because someone said he coudln't, he couldn't. We got no explanation for how those rules were enforced, and I feel that those answers weren't answers; they were stall tactics to get us to the pathos-laden finale, where we forget what we didn't know and become immersed in the characters and their journeys.

There was no "right" way for this finale to work. In the end, I think it was appropriate, and that's enough.

Nikki Stafford said...

Teebore: I think you've made some very excellent points, and the moment it ended, I was caught up in a deluge of emotion, but there was definitely that simultaneous nagging where I thought, "But... did they just leave all the work to us? WAS that a cop-out?" Time will tell. I love open-ended things like that... Memento is one of my favourite films, The Sopranos one of my favourite series. But I do remember going to see Lost Highway and coming out of the theatre and my brother said, "So basically the filmmaker had all these crazy ideas, threw it up on the screen and said, 'I COULD make sense of this... or I'll just throw it up there, let people dissect it and make sense of it themselves and I'll call it ART.'" And that is very much what could be lobbied against this ending. The thing is, I liked it. BUT... I'm not frowning and shaking my head at people who didn't. I understand wholeheartedly how they're feeling right now.

Gillian Whitfield said...

I agree with everything you're saying Nikki. I personally LOVED the finale. What was wrong with it? So what if they didn't tie up every loose string in a nice little box. They left things open and loose for us to THINK and to speculate. This finale made me cry more than I have ever cried at a TV show or movie. For over an hour, I held a box of Kleenex on my lap.

After the credits came on the computer screen this morning after watching it for a second time (thank goodness I was home alone when I watched it on CTV's site), I buried my face in a Kleenex and weeped. I never cry at anything like that (with the exception of Lord of the Rings). For a TV show to do that to me . . . not many TV shows can make me laugh, cry and destroy my sleeping pattern all at once. And now I'm thinking about the final 15 minutes, and I'm reaching for the Kleenex.

. . .

OK, I'm good now. I think there has only been one episode this season that was a bit weaker than the rest, but other than that, I've been in love with this season. For four years I've been invested in this show. And 97% of the episodes are phenomenal.

As for the fireworks at our place, to keep ourselves from crying (it didn't work), we joked that the neighbours had snapped, and had a gunfight. Eventually, once they stopped, we said, "They're all dead".

VW: Chess. I'm game. If I knew how to play

And blogger doesn't think that I put in the right letters. New VW: scolonch: the noise one makes when blowing their nose.

Teebore said...

"So basically the filmmaker had all these crazy ideas, threw it up on the screen and said, 'I COULD make sense of this... or I'll just throw it up there, let people dissect it and make sense of it themselves and I'll call it ART.'" And that is very much what could be lobbied against this ending.

Ha! I love it.

And don't get me wrong: I love my fair share of ambiguous, "you figure it out" type stories. My frustration with Lost is simply that it only became that kind of story in the course of this season. Before that, both implicitly and explicitly, we were told Lost would be a story where the pieces fit together, where even if theme and meaning were left open to interpretation, the plot, in the end, would be laid bare.

I mean, when I got into a David Lynch movie, I don't expect narrative cohesion. But Lost didn't start to sell it itself as a Lynch story until this season, and that's what frustrates me.

Thankfully, I managed to alter my expectations well before the finale, and so could still enjoy it on its own merits, even if the show, as a whole, is somewhat disappointing in terms of narrative resolution.

Rainier said...

@Beth Skipper: The writers of LOST have respected the intelligence of their audience from the beginning, to do anything less than that in the finale would have been insulting. Yes, I have unanswered questions--that is okay. The series leaves me having to think for myself as I ponder and wrestle with the unknown. Because of that I am able to say KUDOS for the most satisfying series finale that I have ever seen.

Huh...This is the same thing that I have always loved about the show. And while I am OK with most of the unanswered questions, and having to think for myself, I felt that the cheap appeal to sentimentality disrespected the audience's intelligence and gave us a mushy, touchy-feely end instead of a thoughtful one.

How about a more thoughtful resolution to the conflict between reason and faith, instead of crumpling up reason and chucking it across the room?

I loved the series, and I was OK with the ending on the island. I loved that they left us with the best of the castaways and the worst of the others working together. I loved that Hurley asking Ben to help him, and respecting Ben's experience and knowledge made all the difference for Ben in the end. I just wish the writers would have shown us the same respect.

Rainier said...

I do want to add that as an artist, I am well aware that great art is not about what we like or don't like. Art that creates an emotional reaction in the viewer (even if it is loathing) is always strong art. It is art that doesn't - and might as well be wallpaper - that is bad art, or not art at all.

aec said...

All in all I loved the finale- and your entries on it have helped me understand a little more about what was going on with the sideways world at the end.

The part I'm still confused on, is *why* was stuff so different in the sideways world? Like, why was Sawyer a cop- how was that important for everyone getting together?

Also, the crashed plane in the credits- what plane was that?

Zari said...

@Teebore: storytellers, Darlton has a responsibility to TELL THEIR story, despite fears that the audience might not like that story....if I write a book... I can and should leave things like meaning, theme, and motivation open to interpretation, but ...I have an obligation to at least tell a complete story.

Again, I agree with you completely!

It's challenging and interesting to discuss Lost's themes and meaning, but we viewers/“readers” should not have to construct the facts of the actual plot. That's not our job, it’s the job of the storytellers.

The character and thematic work of the series is very, very good, but, but for me, the plot fails because it is incomplete.

Linda said...

Kurt wrote:

You nailed it with these questions and here's one more: how/why does ash stop the monster? That's one I've always wondered about, tbh.

I too was hoping to see Mr. Eko as he was my favourite character--the perfect epitome of the strong and silent type, courageous to the end. He didn't say much, but what he did say something, it was thought provoking and made one think.

I loved the ending. I've cried only twice in my life to the final episodes of only two series: M^A*S*H and now Lost.

Both were a mixture of sadness at seeing an extraordinary series meet its end as well as the fact that it was done right.

Lost is a series that never tried too hard to answer questions, it put out story lines that made its viewers think and wonder what was going on. That is the true legacy of Lost, an intelligent and brilliant series that had a fitting ending.

To everyone working on this series, I give you my heart felt thanks for six seasons of a television show that I and millions of other viewers) will never forget.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was a beautifully done episode. If they answered all the questions clearly people still wouldn't be satisfied. When there's a show like this that means so much to so many people, there's no way you can adequately satisfy the masses.

Lynn Allen said...

At the risk of being redundant and trite, thank you Nikki for your six years of mindful analysis, and for providing this forum for fans of LOST to gather and enjoy the company. I look forward to tracking your next obsession!

Kurt said...

Good point, Linda...I never even thought about the ash stuff. There is quite a bit about "the rules" that I don't understand. I remember that the rules supposedly didn't allow Ben to kill Widmore, but he did anyway.
And every series finale that I see will be compared to the "M*A*S*H" finale. Which my opinion...absolute perfection. I remember watching that as a kid the night it aired, and I was blown away by it. I don't think anything will ever compare, but the "Lost" finale, to me, is definitely in the top three I have seen.

keegan said...

So confused... At Darlton Live they said that Walt would make an appearance in the finale. CONFUSED

Nikki Faith said...

I loved it too Nik!! :) And I got to see it at a huge finale party in LA with guest Michael Emerson!! Here's some pics:
Can't wait for your season 6 book!!!!

redeem147 said...

I'm not surprised that the finale was Jack's story - almost (if not every) episode concentrated on one of the characters. It's fitting that it ended with Jack's, the way it started. That is not to say that they couldn't have focused on another one.

And there were many scenes where Jack wasn't involved, so it wasn't ALL about him.

Fred said...

I was wondering where to put this, on this thread or the one above. I hoped it would be read by someone like Teebore or Benny, as we had been discussing the merits of LOST's narrative and whether the writers had answered many of the questions, or whther they had shirked their job.

So this rather longish response focuses on how the final episode went for emotional affect, and what might have happened to the narrative by the writers doing so. It's exploratory in many ways, and I hope I've captured something of what was good about the finale and what went amiss.So here goes:

In a mere 2½ hours LOST accomplished what few television series could, a satisfying emotional ending that brought the storyline full arc back to its principal characters, while concluding multiple stories that still had open endings. When a television series concludes, audiences want a sense of resolution to what they’ve know for so long, a dénouement that sets the stage for emotional release (an Aristotelian catharsis). The degree and measure of that catharsis may be a measure of the success of the conclusion to the series.

But in the first Monday after the LOST’s ending, something different starts to happen as we begin to filter our understanding of the show in its entirety, and not just in terms of the last episode. Over six years we have invested a part of our lives examining and re-examining this serial narrative, and what we have found is that LOST has proven to be a greater challenge than we had at first imagined. If LOST were to be understood only in terms of its ending, then we might find no need to continue the debate over the larger drama that unfolded over six seasons; closure is necessary for the rounding out of fictional narratives, but closure does not imply the ending of audience reaction to the story. We are now allowed to draw on knowledge we never had before; the final episode provides only another reference point from which to respond to the entire story.

What was the affect offered in the final episode? Before passing judgment on the success or failure of the finale, we should consider just how the affect was conveyed, and if that affect fits in the overall story of LOST. What motivated the writers to choose the direction they chose is something to be considered at a later time, but for the moment there may be more fertile terrain in exploring how the writers went about the final episode. And by doing so we may come to understand why the finale may be seen as standing apart from the rest of the show (does this mean the unsatisfactory nature of the finale is really a matter of personal taste, or is it something more objective).

One contributing element in that final reference point was the montages or flashes as each character recalled their past island experiences. Since most viewers are accustomed to processing visual images in split seconds, the images flashed triggered memories of each character’s arc, while also eliciting emotional responses in the viewer to those images. In a sense the flashbacks make an argument for the rightness of the final episode since they have a “fit” with each of the characters that supposes their relationships with their “constants.” As if to strike the point home, the flashes of memory are in vivid colour, almost overexposed, a psychedelic rush in contrast to the side-world which remained ground in a muted colour palette. It recalls Desmond standing before the terminal for Oceanic, his face reflected in the words (our intellectual side knew the reaction to the flashes would be experienced as “oceanic” in the Jungian sense—a “here and now” that stands outside of time).

Fred said...

continued ...

Here then was something new, in a show that had built itself on intellectualism, or the resolutions of puzzles, here for the first time we had an episode completely devoted to emotionalism (on this distinction fans may announce they are going their separate ways, that a turn to emotionalism is a turn away from the governing genre of the show, as if Monk turned into Touched By An Angel). Whereas science conformed with the nature of the puzzle film, faith conformed with the nature of emotionalism (or a spiritual world view). For some viewers the shift during this final season reveals the naiveté of assuming the narrative genre could be so easily manipulated. No matter the noble purpose of the finale, for the sake of aesthetic unity of the work the ending must fit the greater part of the work. But the emotionalism of the finale to characters we had come to love over the seasons triumphed over the intellectualism that had reigned for so many seasons previous—if flashes of memory could prevail as argument, then so too could seeing lovers found prevail over the need for plot resolution.

The organization of the episode, with its moments of humor courtesy of Hugo in both worlds, proved more compelling for the audience than the need to find solutions to unsolved puzzles (even the possibility that all of this was a long con by Jacob to save his brother was a possibility that could not be entertained as it would have detracted from the affect of sentiment). And so the challenge of answering questions through narrative story-telling fell by the wayside as in a timely manner, each of the characters became enlightened to their state. The binary nature of the two stories dovetailed well, as when each character in both worlds was juxtaposed by film editing. The register was perfect as the island story stayed focused on defeating the MiB (his defeat depended on his regaining his humanity, in other words, his mortality); the problematic figure of MiB was reduced in his Miltonic stature to a broken and desperate being making a last bid to escape (when Jack tells MiB he disrespects the memory of Locke by wearing his face, would there be only nothing if MiB shed his impersonation of Locke?). By the time Kate shoots MiB it is an empty gesture, robbed of its meaning as revenge, a shot fired into a straw man. MiB’s death has none of the mystery of Jacob’s death, nor even the pathos of John Locke’s, nor the self-sacrifice of Charlie’s or Boone’s, the savagery accompanying Eko’s; it is simply an empty death without emotion.

Fred said...

continued ...

And with the demise of MiB, the island itself became less substantial; why then would there be any need to answer any of the main questions still outstanding since the island could be summed up as The Source, as though the audience would accept a quasi-mystical understanding accompanied by some iconic props (the cave resembled a ride at Disneyland, complete with skeletons, sounds and light). Ben had told Locke of a magic box on the island, only to tell him later it was a metaphor—we can now address Ben’s description as not even a metaphor (just another piece of dialogue that went nowhere). By this point, the writers are saying to the audience, look the island doesn’t matter, time travel doesn’t matter, even the oppositions between black and white do not matter—the magic of the island resides in the characters, in the journey of their lives both on and off the island. And if there is one journey we should distinguish among the rest, it is Jack’s—the magic of opening an eye on a strange world and then closing it is as powerful as the magic of creation represented by The Source. The mythology of the island, which had seemed to stand alone for so many episodes, is replaced by the experience of sentiment: Jack was right when he declared they could live together or die alone—die alone he did not, as Vincent remained with him until the end—and dying is not a final state, the writers are telling us, but an ongoing one. If we were privileged to see the fate of MiB in the afterlife, mightn’t we find him alone (a Pincher Martin confined to the island of his own Hell?).

Nevertheless, Monday must come, and audiences will once more start to ask questions and wonder if the structure of what they have seen makes sense given their previous experience of the show. (For the sake of emotionalism, science was pushed to the side, but it could have easily been included—mightn’t the alternate world really have been that, a separate reality into which the memories of the island world bled through, in which, as in Rushdie’s Haroun, story reappears in the wider world that had lost stories—why then bring Haroun onto the plane and to the audience?). In the end, this didn’t matter, just as any other nagging questions about the alternate world do not matter. It simply is, the writers are telling us, don’t worry about it, go with the flow of what we are telling you. We were already becoming accustomed to what some were calling sloppy story telling when Dogen was killed and the Temple destroyed, when Widmore ended his days hiding in a closet, when Ilana dropped a satchel of dynamite and blew up, or when there never appeared that canoe whose occupants fired on the time travelers. We were told to go with the flow, and sometimes it worked, beautifully, as when we were given Ab aeterno. But so much more of it was hackneyed, but by this point we had already invested so much emotional energy in this show we were not about to criticize too vehemently (who’d quit watching now, so close to the end?).

Fred said...

continued ...

We may even have felt cheated that the alternate world turned out to be Purgatory-lite, although we had been told not to expect anything like Purgatory. There was then no time to connect our new understanding with the rest of the show, we had simply to watch, weep and lament the beauty of such a fitting end to Jack and everyone’s story. (No time to question why the island was at the bottom of the sea, or was there even a sea if this world was a creation made by the survivors, as Christian suggested to Jack). The only thing that was real in this universe were these people, whose final appearance before the white light engulfed them represented a farewell to the audience (on the stage they would have come out for a final bow before the curtain dropped). The alternate world became not a place of any worth, but a backdrop against which we could experience the characters once more before the final curtain, and as such nothing mattered except for the emotional release. Perhaps that was why we felt many of the stories for individual characters in the alternate world were unremarkable. Kate’s alternate story merely recapitulated her earlier story of running from the law, while that of Sayid seemed to go nowhere. As a contrast, Sayid’s island story in Sundown felt like a stellar performance by a tremendous actor. Before the finale, we were still committed to the island stories for each character, and in these the actors excelled in their art. Why then did it all shift in emphasis to the alternate world, where we learnt what was going on? Clearly the writers wanted to keep the secret of that world under wraps, as though the final pay-off was worth keeping the truth from us. But was it, was the final pay-off really worth undermining how we had come to see the alternate world? I am of the opinion in time we won’t be so ready to say, yes.

sbeck said...

I am on the team that LOVED this finale. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I love it. I've re-watched the episode twice now and I cried harder on the final viewing than I did when I watched the episode.

The final scenes in the church - they just felt so epic and magnificent and LARGER THAN LIFE to me - I was in awe watching it all unfold before my eyes. I understand that some people will be frustrated with the lack of answered questions (but, then again, will the people who want to know what the deal with the Hurley bird is - and many other questions-that-aren't-really-questions - ever be satisfied with anything?). But I feel like a lot more people will come around the this idea of a 'purgatory'-esque state that the sideways world was after they watch it more and think about it more. That's what happened to me, at least.

Now, when I go back and watch Kate say to Jack "I've missed you SO much" or Hurley say to Ben "you were a great number 2" - it hits me how epic the scope of this thing was. Kate got off the island (presumably safely in the plane), probably helped Claire raise Aaron, maybe even married someone, had kids of her own. And yet, her love for Jack spanned decades - an entire life and even a time in limbo and death - and when she finally sees him again and knows him - that's epic. I was reminded of Titanic when I saw Jack and Kate's relationship unfold. Hurley probably lead the island as a "Jacob" for thousands of years with Ben (by the way, there's your sequel idea right there!). And there they all are in the church - wise, enlightened, redeeemed and ready to move on together.

A beautiful, perfect ending for a beautiful, perfect series, in my opinion. Rest in peace, Lost. I guess it's time for the rest of us to finally let go.

Andrys Basten said...

Wanted to share a comment I just read by someone who quoted a Variety writer (I saw it at The Guardian).

'I echo the sentiments of Variety newspaper's Jon Weisman -- who calls this finale one of the best in TV series history -- in saying that

"Lost wasn't about what I learned, it was about what I felt."

If Lost was, to you, poetry, a beautiful painting hanging on the wall of a museum -- that is, if you think of Lost as art -- you understand that idea and nod your approval. If, instead, Lost to you was a complex mathematical equation in need of a solution, well, you're right buggered, aren't you?


JS said...

@Fred - well said. It "feels" like the creators made a decision at some point to focus on the feelings instead of the facts. Probably a harsher oversimplified way of saying it than they would, but a it makes the point. This is not an open question, it is what they did. And, I will admit, in our discussions, I was ready to "let go" of my questions a few episodes ago, knowing if I didn't, I would not enjoy the finale. Did I want my questions answered? Absolutely. But, if given a choice between answers and feelings, I am glad they chose "feelings" because my investment in the characters was much higher than in the potential answers I may have argued anyway. That's me, and frankly I have changed my mind a couple of times already. But I come back to the same thing - there are no answers that would have had me making excuses for lack of character spiritual journey resolution.

Thanks for your excellent essay. It makes the point well.

JS said...

NB - I wished for both.

Rufus said...

@Fred: Islandsidhe (who I thank so much for the quote) over at another board reposted a quotation from a poem:

“The Bridge of San Luis Ray” by Thornton Wilder:

“Soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”

That quote said more than I could ever argue to anyone about how I feel about The End. I like what you said as well.

Teebore said...

Very, very well said Fred.

I wish, given our previous discussions, I had something nearly as enlightening or entertaining to add, but I can't seem to come up with anything.

Spinning off what you and JS said, I'll second (third?) the idea that the producers made a conscious decision to move towards an emotional ending rather than a narrative one.

I enjoyed the finale because it was emotional, and because, like JS, seeing the writing on the wall, I ranted and raged about the lack of proper narrative resolution long before the finale began. Expectations tempered, I was able enjoy the finale for what it was worth.

The question, as you suggested Fred, then becomes about legacy, about how the finale works AFTER the gut-punch emotionality of it wears off (if, indeed, it ever does). That is what remains to be seen.

paleoblues said...

Upon first seeing the finale, I was one of those sitting firmly on the fence. I was a bit disappointed to not have my questions about the island answered and confused about what actually happened. After watching it for the third time today, I have fallen off the fence and landed firmly on the “I loved it side.” It’s all a matter of time and reflection.

Darlton continually told us, over and over again, this is a story about people and their relationships. It was not an historical documentary about an island. For example, think of a story involving the Empire State Building. Do we need to know who built it and when?Do we need a back story about who the first settlers of New York were? I finally accepted that the island was simply the setting of the story, not its focus.

As I started to watch it that third time, I found myself tearing up from the very beginning. I realized that showing the coffin arriving would lead to Christian actually leading (shepherding) everyone to the light. (I should also mention how moving the score was throughout, as usual).

Then, near the end, when Kate tells Jack how much she’s missed him and he started to “see”, it hit me full force. I am Jack. I was on this journey. The whole thing was about me and each and everyone of you that shared the journey with me. Hopefully (and I stress hopefully), regardless of our belief system, we can all eventually “let go” and find that sense of peace.

Anonymous said...

For those out there that didn't find the finale to be satisfying, I can only say I feel sad for you. I'm not condescending here, I really wish that you could have gotten the same level gratification that I did.

I've always closely identified with Jack, and really, Lost is Jack's story. See, I'm a 'man of science', too. Or at least I've always considered myself to be. I'm a mathematician by day, so I'm used to following rigid and structured procedures in solving problems. And in the end, there's no ambiguity, there's always a singular and definitive answer. What's been so fun about Lost for me through the years is the challenge of trying to solve these mysteries, just like a math problem. And many times, the overwhelming need to get to the bottom of these questions has detracted from my complete enjoyment of the series (I've never not enjoyed Lost, just enjoyed it less). Partway through this final season, I started to realize that my questions were not getting answered, and were probably not going to be answered. I was exhausted trying to figure them out. And to echo a line throughout the series, I just 'Let it go'. Not worrying about which questions weren't going to get answered allowed me to just take in the final episodes and see them for the beautiful storytelling that they were. I guess, in a sense, that 'letting go' completed my transition to a 'man of faith' (like Jack). As a 'man of science', it's easy to believe that everything can be explained away - that there's a reason why things appear and behave the way they do. It's nice to have things that can be defined and predictable. But also as a 'man of science', I must also concede that there are things out there that have never been discovered, seen, identified and examined. And to say that something man has yet to discover can without any doubt be measured, quantified and defined is not only wrong but also hypocritical. I think this last statement is one that a 'man of faith' can easily identify with.

For some viewers, Lost was only about the characters, and for others, it was only about the mythology. I would surmise that for most viewers, it was a combination of both. I was lucky that I found a balance I could live with. For those that valued the mythology more, the finale was probably a disappointment. So for those that didn't savor the finale, I can only hope you consider the following... bury your 'man of science' and embrace your 'man of faith'. Find your balance. Know that not everything can be dissected, labeled and defined. Instead, remember what you loved about Lost in its' true essence - you loved these flawed characters, you loved their heart wrenching and emotional journey through this wacky, confusing, mysterious and unexplainable time in their lives, you loved when every episode ended with a thump and you thought 'WTF just happened?', and you loved that the only thing you could predict about the show was that it was going to be unpredictable.

I'm sorry for being so long-winded to those of you who actually read through my entire post. It's hard to be concise about something I'm so passionate about. In closing, I want to mention a quote by Walt Disney. He said 'Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.' I think this is so relevant and appropriate to the legacy of Lost. Lost was never a show for the unimaginative. By not tying it up in a tidy little package, Lost will live on.