Daniel Johnston’s “Walking the Cow” seems like the most appropriate song for the “Lost” finale.
I know that, as an atheist, I’m supposed to be pissed at the “Lost” finale that showed the Losties all reunited in death in a heaven-like place. But I’m not, for a number of reasons. The main one is they earned it by having 6 seasons of unusual storytelling techniques, and hammering at this afterlife thing all season long. Also, the show has always been, at its core, about life and death and redemption. And I always liked their idea of redemption, which was written in small letters and was very human, all about coming to terms with yourself and letting go of the bullshit. In this version of purgatory, there isn’t a reckoning about sin against god and faith. Everything is about internal peace and relationships. There was something both sad and satisfying about this image of purgatory as a place where you’re trapped in a mundane fantasy of what might have been, and until you wake up and accept your life for what it actually was (and resolve sins committed against others, though not against some kind of god), you can’t move on.
That, and there was a genuine brilliance to revealing that the alternate timeline was purgatory, because since the show began, people have sworn up and down that the island must be purgatory. The writers have done a lot of hard work trying to disabuse people of this notion, but it was hard to shake it as a theory. And that’s because the notion that these characters were in purgatory felt right. Polar bears, smoke monsters, endless treks through the jungle, repeated hostage crises—these elements were fun, but they were always in service of a story that was about people who were profoundly fucked up in various ways and who were in a crisis that presented an opportunity for starting over. The audience’s yearning for this to be a story about purgatory snapped into place for the writers, and so they did give us that story. And we didn’t realize it, because they imagined purgatory as looking a lot like normal life, but just a little different. About quiet tales of redemption instead of the huge, action-packed story of the island. The only thing that really annoyed me was the ham-fisted set design of the church. It would have been cooler if it had been in another place, a more mundane one.
I saw people bitching about the finale online, and I think honestly that there was just so much expectation that it would suck, people went right for that instead of letting it sit in for a second. But there were two main objections to it, and one I think can be resolved pretty quickly, and the other pretty much never. Some people were clearly pissed that the exposition fairy took the day off when they were writing this finale. They wanted mysteries solved in clean, clear-cut ways. But as Jesse noted yesterday, the exposition fairy is actually why this season was so often boring. You should try to avoid clearing up mysteries by having characters sit around and explain them as much as possible, and instead reveal through storytelling. Which is what I think the finale did. We know now the answers to a lot of questions. We know that the bomb never worked, and did in fact create not an alternate timeline but the hatch that had to release energy every 108 minutes. We know what Juliet was seeing when she said, “It worked” was not an alternate timeline, but she was drifting into the afterlife and was seeing her reunion with Sawyer there. Many of the other mysteries of how the island were run were resolved with the Ben and Hurley dialogue—Jacob really ran the place poorly (which is probably why his mother wanted the Man In Black to do it). Things like why a woman couldn’t conceive and bring to term on the island make sense, now that we know it seemed to have never happened in the history of the island. Why was Walt special? Whatever it was, it mattered only after his time on the island—certainly, the reason the Others kidnapped him was to get the bigger bounty of Jack, Kate, and Sawyer. In a show where multiple characters have supernatural powers of some sort, I’m not going to question the assertion that Walt is special, even if we never know how. If people who wanted more exposition think about how much they learned, I think they’ll be pretty fine with how much the show resolved.
The other objection is something that’s been an issue dividing fans from the beginning of the show, and that’s over what kind of show people want this to be. For people who wanted it to primarily be a sci-fi action adventure, the purgatory storyline will piss them off, full stop. There’s always been a section of the fan base that generally objects to any and all “Lost” story lines that take us away from the island to fill in the character’s lives. A lot of people started dropping off as viewers or complaining during the second season, when the show started insisting that the entirety of these characters’ lives were central to the narrative, and things like Sawyer’s routine con jobs or Jack’s failed marriage mattered. For me, this is what made the show a good show, and way better than a standard issue sci-fi/fantasy narrative. Some of the back story narratives were silly, but most of them were interesting. I was always attached to the idea that the theme of the show was that this ragtag group of losers were suddenly thrust into a space where they had to find meaning and redemption, and that story wouldn’t have been compelling if you didn’t know exactly how much they were a rag tag group of losers. Therefore, you get the petty marital disputes, the inability to let go of mommy and daddy issues, the childish unwillingness to face up to what you’ve done—and bigger stories, like Sayid’s grappling with the consequences of torture and war.
If you’re on Team Stick To Island Adventures, I suspect you will always hate that ending. If you’re on Team Back Story like me, then the ending makes perfect sense. The island was always a catalyst, never the point in and of itself. The glowing shit at the middle of it might as well have been labeled MacGuffin or been the briefcase from “Pulp Fiction”. The show for me was always about the characters. In fact, one of my big annoyances with it this last season was how it got away from the themes of community and personal redemption and relationships and chased down this story about good vs. evil and apocalypse. The sideways story about purgatory managed to pull off a neat trick, of bringing the original themes back to the forefront while making the entire struggle to control the island make sense. Also, for once, the heartfelt, tearful reunions felt important to me. Some of these people hadn’t seen each other in decades.
My high hope for the finale was the show would get its mojo back. The little things are always what made “Lost” so great, and we saw that again in this episode. The jokes were solid. The moments of hope and wonder were heartfelt. And the sadness was very effective—I’m still tearing up over Jack’s death scene with the dog. Jack has been one of the most consistently frustrating characters of the show, but that was always on purpose. He was supposed to be a stubborn jackass, which just meant his redemption arc was longer, because at every turn his own overblown ego blinded him to what he had to do. Since we’ve learned about the candidate system, I’ve been saying that Jack should step aside and let Hurley have it, and that’s exactly what had to happen before he could let go. The smile on his face as the plane flies away is enigmatic. He’s happy his friends escaped, but I think he, like Juliet, was already on the other side and seeing that they were waiting for him. The dog was a nice touch, driving home how alone Jack is in that moment. The motto of the Losties was always, “Live together or die alone”, which was a good motivator but eclipsed the fact that you always die alone. But this ending made it clear that living together is its own reward. Relationships are what mattered at the end of the day, and mattered more than even survival.