David Bianculli at NPR:
The smartest thing the producers of ABC’s Lost did, other than generating such an interesting show and series pilot in the first place, was to decide, a few years ago, to end the series in May 2010. That simple yet bold decision allowed the writers to pace, to focus on what was important, to make the most meaningful use of the time they had left.
On the one hand, all that did was turn Lost from an ambitious weekly TV series into an even more ambitious mega-TV miniseries. On the other hand, it also turned the TV series into a metaphor for its central message, and for the journey of its Lost protagonist. For the show’s writers, for us viewers, and for Jack Shephard, the lesson was the same: It’s a temporary journey, so enjoy the ride — and embrace each other.
Instead of giving us one ending — if you haven’t watched the finale yet, you should stop reading here — writer-producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse gave us two, one for each alternate storyline. This is where, if you weren’t following the show, or even if you were, you could easily get lost with Lost. But basically, this past season had us watching two stories at once.
In one, our heroes were on the island, fighting to return home and also fighting the island’s evil force, who had taken the shape of one of their own. In the other storyline, seemingly triggered by a nuclear event on the island, the ill-fated Oceanic passenger jet had never crashed on the island, and we saw what the passengers’ lives would have been like without the crash, or the island. Except that their lives were different somehow, and so were the details.
Enough of that. You either buy into it or you don’t. In the expanded 2 1/2-hour finale, all the people in that alternate existence eventually found one another, giving viewers the satisfaction of one mini-reunion after another. Off the island, without the island, these people touched each other — often literally — and their memories of the island came flooding back to them. So did a feeling of peace.
The last person it happened to was Jack, who got that rush of memory when he touched his father’s coffin — the coffin he had transported back from Australia. Jack, played by Matthew Fox, opened the lid, and the coffin was empty. But suddenly, next to him, stood his father, played by John Terry, and the biggest question posed by Lost was answered.
And then we got those two endings, played out simultaneously.
One ending — the one back on the island, where Jack had restored the life force to the island but was losing his own — was purely visual. It echoed, in reverse, the powerful opening of the series, returning Jack to the bamboo field where he had first regained consciousness after the plane crash. Lost the series had begun with a close-up shot of Jack’s eyeball opening. Its final image, last night, was of that same eye closing as Jack died, having accomplished his mission and found his purpose.
But the other ending of Lost was purely verbal, returning to one of the show’s most resonant and recurrent themes — father-son issues. When Jack’s dead dad emerged from that coffin, he explained that it wasn’t an alternate timeline at all, but a timeless line, a limbo, a gathering place. And Jack’s death in the “real” world, on the island, enabled the eventual happy reunion of everyone off the island.
Max Read at Defamer:
For years, the show’s creators and actors have been running the same bullshit line about how Lost is a character-driven show. Here is the thing, though: It is not a character-driven show. It is a show, that has characters! But the characters do not “drive” the show, except in the sense that they do things that help advance the plot. Because it is a “plot-driven” show! Lost is a show that is interesting because it has an interesting plot. Frankly, most of the characters suck! Especially Kate. And Jack. And Sawyer. And, really, all of them, except for Ben.
So what we got was a show with an engaging, mysterious plot, that was constantly being sabotaged by fool writers who thought that what the audience really wanted was, like, a love triangle. A love square! “Yes, Mr. Cuse, I don’t give a shit about the donkey wheel. What I really am after is the answer behind the mystery of Jack’s hideous tattoo.”
And yet, somehow, we all kept coming back. I’m not going to use the “abusive relationship” metaphor, because that’s hacky and offensive, but I’ll say this: Those guys know how to write a finale. Season after season, it was the same thing: The first five or six episodes were great. The middle ten were terrible—just lazy, premise-stretching garbage—and then they’d pull it together for the finale.
Do you remember the hatch lighting up? Or Jack blasting In Utero and realizing that you were witnessing—I still shit my pants thinking about this years later—a flash-forward? That was why we kept watching the show: The amazing, game-changing, cliffhanger finales.
And so it stood to reason that maybe they would pull together this pitiful excuse for a season with some kind of halfway-coherent, tightly-paced, tightly-plotted finale that would answer some of our lingering questions and wash the taste of C.J. Cragg as Hypatia out of our mouths. Ha, ha! Why did I think that?
What we got instead was another two hours of running around the goddamn island with everyone having feelings and stuff—which wasn’t even that bad, honestly!—and then, and I have to type this in caps because it’s the only way to really let my rage out, IT TURNED OUT THAT THEY HAD ALL DIED. All of them! And not even all together, simultaneously, in some awesome disaster/explosion. They had all died, at various times, throughout history. (Except for Michael and Walt, apparently!) And then they, like, remembered that they were dead, in this terrible, unfortunate excuse for Heaven they had created, and the Church went to white, and Jack was lying there, dying, with the dog.
The dog. I swear to God, Abrams, Super 8 better be a fucking masterpiece.
Charlie Jane Anders at I09:
In the end, it’s hard not to see Lost as the longest con of them all. Not because we didn’t get enough answers – it’s really true that after this episode, I don’t need any more answers than what we got. But because all along, Lost seemed to be a story. Until the end, when it wasn’t. In the end, it was just a bunch of stuff that happened.
It’s way too early to tell, but I have a feeling that this will go down in history with the “Patrick Duffy stepping out of the shower” thing on Dallas. It just felt like a cheap, cop-out ending. In a sense, nothing that happened in the “flash-sideways” universe mattered because they were all already dead, and they were going to “move on” eventually one way or another. And nothing on the island mattered, because… well, it just didn’t seem to matter very much.
We’ll have to wait a bit to see how the zeitgeist as a whole decides to think of this episode – maybe it’ll wind up getting a free pass, because the show as a whole was so good. Maybe it’ll wind up getting damned. But let’s hope that people do remember how great Lost was at its best, since Lost was such an influential, successful show, and I hope somebody else eventually tries to duplicate all of its achievements.
As for me, I think I’m going to wind up thinking of Lost as an anthology show, another Twilight Zone or Outer Limits. It served up some wonderfully weird, allusive stories. It gave us some brilliant mind-benders. There were individual episodes and story arcs that stand out as among the best hours of television ever created. You just can’t think of Lost as one unified story any more, because then you realize it all leads up to this utter flatness. This zone of apathy and new-age “walk into the light” catharsis.
There were three reasons to watch “Lost” — or to stick with it, more aptly, across six immensely engrossing and immensely frustrating seasons. You could watch for the characters, who were two-dimensional and archetypal in a way, but rich and relatable and even lovable in the way that great pulp casts can sometimes be. You could watch for the thrill of it — the endless cliffhangers, the constant narrative whiplash, the mobius-strip plotting, and the way the show could blithely disassemble and reassemble its narrative architecture (flashbacks followed by flashforwards! flashforwards followed by time travel!) and somehow have the whole thing work. And of course, you could watch for the macro-plot — the mythology of a mysterious island, which layered puzzle atop riddle atop intrigue like no show since “The X-Files,” promising all the while (or seeming to promise, at least) to be building up to a revelatory denouement.
Last night’s series finale was a great success if you watched the show for the first reason, intermittently interesting if you watched it for the second, and a great crescendo of failure if you watched it for the third. I watched it for all three, so I was by turns moved, engrossed, and deeply irritated. But mainly I was irritated, because in the end I’m a plot-centric person, and “Lost” was a densely plotted show, and the macro-plot turned out to be … well, a big nothing seems like an awfully strong way of putting it, but it was certainly close to that.
To be clear, I have no inherent objection to a finale that emphasizes teary romantic reunions over detailed, Hercule Poirot-style exposition of What We’ve Just Seen, and as a Christian I certainly have no objection to a story that ends by saying, quite literally, “and then they all died and went to heaven.” But in the end, the show didn’t just discard, ignore or leave unresolved far too many mysteries that once seemed essential to the plot. (I could sit here all day listing them, I’m sorry to say …) It also refused to really answer the most fundamental questions of all: What was this mysterious island where its characters found themselves marooned? Where did it come from, what were the roots of its magical properties, what was the nature of secret power that it kept? Why did this power, this shining golden energy, need so desperately to be protected? What were the stakes, for the characters and for the world as whole, if that power fell into the wrong hands (the threat, seemingly, for most of the show’s running time) or if the island were simply destroyed outright (the threat in the final episode)? In other words, why should we care?
Most of all, it reminded me of Jacob’s Ladder and especially Michael Powell’s Stairway to Heaven (A Matter of Life and Death), two movies worth rewatching in any case. The final scene, while the credits roll, is simply that of a plane crash with no survivors. I view the show’s cosmology as reflecting the existence of all possible universes and we get to see, and live with, a few of them. That includes the universe where they all die in the initial crash, the universe where they all die in the hydrogen bomb explosion, the universe where the hydrogen bomb creates an alternative reality, the universe where there really is a miraculously surviving “Oceanic Six,” the universe where the main island narrative happens, the universe where it is all a dream of Jack’s, and bits of others as well. This Leibnizian move “explains” the show’s numerous unanswered questions, such as those about the lottery numbers and many more. It was possible, so it happened, toss in the anthropic principles as well.
The most striking moment of the final episode was when Locke tells Jack, quite sincerely, that he does not in fact have a son. The question remains how the different universes fit together or interact and in some manner it seems they do. The final episode is extremely effective in bringing out the dreamy and speculative tones of many of the previous episodes.
Most of all I viewed the ending as tragic. It was not mainly about any particular account of the metaphysics of the island. It was about how few couples had the chance to actually live together, love together, and stay together. The perfect reunions of the couples in the “we’re all dead” scenario only drove this point home. I found this contrast moving.
At the end, the door is left open for Jack (the body of Jack?) to become the next smoke monster on the island and you can spot some clues to this effect, such as Jack’s body being strewn on the stones in the same manner as it was for The Man in Black.
I saw two major weaknesses in the denouement. First, Widmore is dispatched too summarily in the penultimate episode. That thread of the story is not so much hanging (which would have been OK), but rendered irrelevant. Years of dramatic gravitas were swept away in a single, hastily executed murder scene. Second, Ben is a weak and poorly defined character in the final episode and runs around like a puppy dog, with no clear moral stance. Since he usually dominates any scene he is in, this is strikingly incongruous.
Noel Murray at The Onion AV Club:
I respect the position of the dissenters, but I wish they’d respect the position of the defenders, which is that for all of Lost’s imperfections—and they are myriad, I’ll grant—the show still offered an experience like no other in the history of television. I stayed out of the commenting fray last week, largely due to Lost fatigue, though also because many of you were articulating what I would’ve said. It should come as no surprise that I’m squarely in the “MayorVaughn” camp. I like that Lost has dropped enough clues to its minor mysteries—just about anything to do with DHARMA, for example—that viewers can interpret them however they’d like. Why couldn’t women give birth? What was the deal with the statue? Those kind of questions are answerable, with a little viewer imagination and the details already provided. When the show spelled out its answers, it became painfully prosaic. When it was focused on keeping viewers stimulated and disoriented, it worked much better. (Even though, as I noted last week, what made for an entertaining hour often worked against telling a cohesive six-year story.)
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what makes television unlike any other medium, and what responsibilities we people who write about TV have to those unique qualities. I’ll save most of those thoughts for some future non-Lost blog post, since I know you all have other things on your mind right now, but where that topic is germane is in the way opinions about Lost have evolved over the years—and even over the weeks. Myles McNutt wrote a spot-on blog post over the weekend about how difficult it is to register an opinion about a serialized show with a story more in flux than most. McNutt’s attitude has been the same as mine: the best you can do is treat recaps as reports from the field, recording immediate impressions. There’s value in that; down the road, interested parties can read all the reviews in succession and they’ll tell a little story about the show and the people who covered it.
Then they can look down in the comments, and that’ll a story too. Much of what’s been fun about the show these past three years has been bouncing theories and observations around with you guys. Heaven knows we’ve disagreed plenty about what makes a good Lost episode, but by and large we’ve been enthusiasts together—laughing at the parts of the show that don’t work, marveling at the parts that do, and considering what it all might mean, both literally and philosophically. And we’ve had time between episodes to venture guesses and anticipate outcomes—perhaps not always to our benefit. Often Lost hasn’t gone the way we thought it might, or—as I mentioned last week—its payoffs haven’t matched what we’d built them up to be over the years.
Writing about Lost has undoubtedly aided in my appreciation of the show. Often I’ve started out writing a mixed-to-negative recap, and have found that in the process of describing the action and considering its thematic implications, I’ve changed my own mind. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that this season has been a bit of a grind—not so much to watch but to write about and defend. A big part of me wishes I could’ve enjoyed these last few episodes the way so many Lost fans have—throwing parties, raising a toast, whatnot. Instead I’ve been picking through disapproving think pieces and gleefully snide dismissals, while trying to explain why I still love this show without sounding too much like a sucker.
In the end, I’d point to Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Marvel Comics… all the popular serialized entertainments that have sought to divert and provoke on the installment plan. Lost brought back the thrill of big stories told in tiny pieces. Like I said, it’s too soon to say what Lost’s legacy will be, but I have a strong feeling that people will still be watching it years from now, and introducing it to newcomers, and starting arguments all over again. And I think the images of Hurley, hatches, Smoke Monsters and Sawyer will be pop-culture touchstones for a long time to come. These are the new myths. Now it’s up to us to misinterpret them.
I’m told that the finale of “Lost” had the third highest ad rates of this season, behind only the Superbowl and the Oscars. How many people watched those ads? According to Bloomberg News, about 13.5 million.
Compare that to the finale of MASH, which was watched by almost 106 million viewers (including me, up late by very special dispensation).
Now, MASH was the most watched finale of all time. But the stark difference between its numbers and those of the most-heralded finale of the year illustrate why no series is ever going to surpass MASH’s record. (The superbowl finally did this year, as people tuned in to watch the Saints.) We live in a different world, one where there’s something for almost everyone–but not the same thing.
UPDATE: Will Wilkinson
Peter Suderman at The American Scene