The Lost Finale (Which I Love With Reservations)

So now I get to be the 1,234,987th person to write about the Lost finale.  I’m still putting my thoughts together but I feel if I don’t write this now, I never will.

I tend to go easy on finales.  While most I speak to are usually looking for reasons to hate the final chapter of their long-building show/film series/book cycle, I sit back and let it happen to me.  I enjoy Return of the Jedi, even with the Ewoks.  I think the end of The Dark Tower fit in well with the rest of the series.  I didn’t mind when The Return of the King hit ending number seventeen.  I’ve even come around on The Sopranos.  The most important thing to me is the characters end their arcs in a place that both makes sense and gives payoff to what they’ve been building up to.

In that sense, the Lost finale may be the most satisfying ending I’ve experienced.  I was expecting to be screwed with and what they gave me was one emotional catharsis after another.   I wasn’t ready for Sawyer and Juliet’s moment at the concession machine.  I mean, I was expecting it from a plot point of view, given the “love connection” device had been set up several episodes ago.  What I wasn’t ready for was how damn moving it was.  It was then I realized how invested I was in these characters.  It didn’t matter if I saw it coming or not.  The moment was an honest payoff to a realistic, powerful relationship.  The episode was filled with these.

The one moment that choked me up, but not anyone else I’ve heard from was when Jack handed over the guardianship of the island to Hurley.  I was really shaken up by this moment and now I know why.

For this entire season, my worst fear was in the end it would come down to people being on Team Jacob or Team Smokey.  After all, this was the show that thrived on setting up assumptions about the characters and turning them on their heads.  At any moment, someone’s heroic impulses could turn selfish or an “evil” character could find a moment of grace.  People talk about Ben Linus’ movement between light and dark but all the characters lived in the same moral grey area as any person with a real awareness of how the world works.  Goodness is not a state you live in.  It’s something you drive for, screw up along the way, and struggle to keep in your sights.  The greatest, most noble people in history lived with accute memories of the times they failed to do the right thing.

It’s this element that made the show for me.  Yes, the mystery of it all was fascinating but it was a backdrop.  My fear was that the backdrop would become the story and we’d lose the power of the characters’ arcs as they plunged into a war pre-programmed for them.  What bothered me the most was I didn’t see Jacob as being all that good anyway.  He operated as if every person were a piece on a chessboard.  For all of his talk about free will and people being good, he had very little regard for individual human lives.  I not only wanted to keep him in the background, I wanted his version of what was necessary and good to be repudated by Jack and his crew.  Up until the very end they all seemed to be willing to play along in the war of the brothers when all I wanted them to do was chuck the whole thing and find a new way.  That’s the type of ending that would give payoff to their stories and it lined up with where I wanted the show to land on a thematic level.  I was really scared we weren’t going there.

Not only did they go there, they made the point bigger and better than I would’ve guessed.  They did have to save the island and kill Smokey, just like Jacob wanted them to.  But when Jack handed the guardian role to Hurley, they set up a future that would create the third way I was hoping for.  Jack might’ve followed the old rules, but Hurley understands people and what they need in ways Jacob never could.  After all, he was raised by a zealot mother and in all fairness he was probably an improvement on her.  Hurley spent all of his story trying to give people what they needed on an emotional level.  If he has the powers of Jacob, I expect him to use them in a way that doesn’t, say, lead to gassing over a hundred people he doesn’t like.  Sure to protect something you have to sometimes be a bastard, but last time I checked Ben Linus has no problems in that category.  It’s probably good he was along.

The other key was that Jacob and Smokey were not embodiments of good and evil.  They had godlike powers but were not Satan and Jesus.  They were flawed people who wound up with incredible power to accomplish their goals, both selfless and selfish.  And in true Lost fashion, selfless goals were screwed up by selfish emotional needs (“I’ll get back at you, Brother.  Oops.  You’re now super-powerful”).

The end of Lost worked for me because like with any fantasy or science fiction story it has to both work as a story about people and as a metaphor for human life.  In this case, it’s all about doing the right thing under the worst circumstances.  You do what you have to do, even if you don’t understand everything and you were given the mission by someone who has done you wrong.  The Smoke Monster has to be stopped and the light has to be saved.  If you can find a way to survive and stay true to who you really are, despite grave screw ups, you may find yourself able to forge a new way going forward.  You’ll have a chance to make things better for those who come afterwards and move the human race another step forward.

This was more important to me than the mysteries of the island.  I wanted to see the characters find a way to do what they had to do, but not be pawns in the Jacob versus Smokey war.  Because they did just that, I left the show happy.

So what are my reservations?  I only have one.  I will forever be disappointed that the Sideways World storyline turned out to be so conventional.  Did I choke up with certain reunions?  Yes.  Did I love Ben’s final scenes with Hurley and Locke?  Yes.  My issue is we spent an entire season building to a Ghost Whisperer ending.  It was better done than that show, with richer characters, dialogue, etc.  In the end, though, “we had to find each other to work out our issues to move on” was not worth an entire season.  If you’re going to build slowly towards a resolution, I expect it to be a better one.  It didn’t kill things for me and like I said, it had enough good things in it to keep it from being a waste, but it wasn’t up to the standards of the show.  Especially since all the memorable moments from that storyline were from the second half of the season.  Like Across the Sea, it’s something that may have needed to be told but could’ve been told better.

In the end, it’s one of several missteps the show took.  The strength of the show is that it’s foundation was strong and when it did something right, it knocked it out of the park.  Only great shows can walk the tightrope like this and come out ahead.

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