Monday, May 24, 2010

LOST - Where Are We? - 6.17 - The End

I considered titling the column "Where Were We?" this week, considering the show has now ended, but something tells me that the real analysis of LOST is only just beginning. As with 6.15 (Across The Sea), the knee-jerk fan reaction to the finale seems pretty split down the middle, with many heaping praise at the beautifully elegiac nature of the characters' various send-offs, and many offering only scorn at the myriad of unanswered details the show has left in its wake. Still others just wish they knew how to easily classify what exactly the Altered Universe turned out to be in the episode's final minutes.

And this viewer? I wouldn't call the finale perfect, but I also unabashedly loved it -- and I also have a feeling it's going to age VERY well on series re-watches through the decades. The emotion and character beats were highly wrought and exquisitely pitched. The on-Island events were appropriately epic, and brought a true ring of finality to the story of the Flight 815 Survivors and their role in the Island's search for a new protector. The Altered Universe events were captivating throughout, and concluded on a staggeringly spiritual (and admittedly heavy-handed) beat that pulled the rug out from beneath viewers' perceptions and left them thinking long into the night, and will quite likely haunt them for some time beyond.

And all those questions? Well, to be honest, I'm a bit tired of hearing people say that the show never gave us "answers." Simply put, it gave us PLENTY of answers -- it just didn't provide them in fully fleshed-out, detail. Would I have liked more detail? Sure! As much as the next fan - probably more so than many, as I'm clearly into this whole LOST thing. But we certainly got all the answers we needed to complete the story, and more than enough to clearly make out the puzzle -- even if there are still many pieces mising (of varying degrees of importance). Let's take a look at what pieces we DID get...

The Island Unleashed:
So if Desmond was Jacob's failsafe, Jacob must have had a hunch that un-corking the Island might be the only way to stop the Man In Black once and for all. The Man In Black, having failed to prevent the Candidate-process, chose the exact same failsafe, hoping to bring the Island down with Jack on it - all while escaping aboard the good ol' Elizabeth. So while detail-seekers might be frustrated that we don't know every last ramification of uncorking the Island (or who built the cork, or whose skeletons those were down there, et cetera), they ought to take a bit of solace in the fact that this was the whole point: neither did Jack, the Man In Black, or even Desmond. Each expected and hoped for different results in pulling the plug, and thus LOST cements itself as a story of mankind struggling to deal with the unknown. At least this wasn't the first time we've seen an Island drain -- Ben's method of "summoning" smokey was eerily similar in nature. So, as with most mysteries on the show, things don't become clear with explanation, but they at least become clearER with repetition: if this spot was the birthplace of Smokey, it makes sense he might be connected to similar spots around the Island.

But, again, like most aspects of LOST, what's of key importance here is not the what or the how, but the who and the why. If Jack, the ultimate man of science, can take this kind of leap of faith, and just TRUST that this is what he's supposed to do, even if he doesn't understand all of it, then so must the viewers: that's just the nature of the story being told. Desmond, on the other hand -- who we thought was the man with the plan -- turns out to have it all wrong. And here the Altered Universe makes its single major impact on the events of the Original Timeline. For Desmond is confident that when he reaches the source of the Island's energy, he's going to be transported to the AU (Just as he was when Widmore blasted him with electromagnetic energy), and now we know why he was suddenly okay with Widmore asking him to get blasted again: he thought (like much of the audience, this viewer included) that the AU was meant to be his "happily ever after" -- and by making his sacrifice, he'd be headed to a place where he could be happy. He descends with the confidence of a man who knows what he has to do ONLY because the AU's existence convinced him to do it. But this time -- instead of the light surging his consciousness into another place -- the light fizzles out, and the Island begins to sink into the sea, as the Man In Black predicted.

However, it doesn't take Jack long to figure out that his own instinct was also right: with the Island's energy gone, the Man In Black is rendered mortal. And after a pretty spectacular brawl, he's soon rendered dead. But while the antagonist has been defeated, it took risking the very thing it has ALL been about protecting: the Island itself. And if everything we've been told about the Island is true -- that it's the source of the electromagnetically-charged energy that fuels all life and death -- then Jack's final foray down the waterfall is for the sake of all existence as we know it: just like Widmore said; just like Richard said. And that's what it has ALWAYS been about. We knew this, even back in Season 2 when all it took was entering a code and pushing a button every 108 minutes. We just didn't have the context yet to see Dharma's Swan hatch as a microcosm of what Jacob and the Others had going on with the whole Island. So to an extent, they certainly were "the good guys," just as they always told us. They were just a bunch of total douchebags as well, limited in their methods by the limitations of a leader who couldn't bring himself to personally impact the goings-on beyond getting things started by bringing people to the Island.

But now, with Jacob dead and his followers reduced to a handful of wishy-washy turncoats who have scattered into the jungle, it falls onto Jack to tell Desmond he's done enough, and fix the Island himself. And with the job done, he's transported/zapped out via the light (just as he was during the crash of Oceanic 815, off of Ajira 316, and out of the Incident, and just like what happened to the folks in the Swan hatch when it imploded, and to anyone who turned the Frozen Wheel [see, clearER with repetition!]) and Jack wakes up right by the same spot Jacob found the Man In Black's discarded body all those centuries ago -- presumably removed from the heart of the Island before the energy was strong enough to fry him or disembody him smokey-style. And so, Jack Shephard stumbles back to the spot where his time on the Island began, and -- succumbing to the knife wound in his chest -- ends it with the same golden retriever by his side.

The Ajira 6:
While one does have to wonder what the heck Kate, Sawyer, Claire, Miles, Richard, and Lapidus are going to tell the press, there's much less mysterious to talk about with their part of the story, other than a thrilling escape and Frank and Richard agreeing to not battle over who got the most ignoble death. Also, Richard's grey hair did put a grin on my face. And I'm very glad Kate will be able to reunite Claire with Aaron. From a survival point-of-view, rather than a protecting-the-Island-and-through-it-all-of-mankind point-of-view, this reunion alone really justifies the Oceanic 6's entire return.

And The Meek Shall Inherit:
Hurley really is the best leader the Island could ask for. I thought the exchange of Island leadership from Jack to Hurley was a perfect endgame to the mythology half of LOST's story, and I should have seen it coming, but didn't. Of note is the fact that no specific, cup, water, or incantation was required for Jack to transfer his power. I found this a nice way of saying that the Island's power is more about commitment and a person's decision than about magic words sprinkled over magic elixer (as many feared after Mother's ritual in 6.15 [Across The Sea]. The only thing missing from Hurley's assumption of leadership was an ending montage shot of him and Ben gathering Rose, Bernard, Cindi, the Kids, and any other scattered Others. Could have been a cool last image for him. But I DO get why they dialed everything out to focus on Jack in the final minutes -- that is, after all, where we began. At least we got to hear that he and Ben had a good run of it in the Altered Universe. Oh and speaking of --

The Altered Universe:
If you're reading this, then you probably already know that the endgame of the AU is what's going to cause the greatest contention among fans when discussing the finale (and perhaps LOST in general) for the rest of eternity. The decision to yank our happy altered reality (with all of our "woken up" characters) away from us, and replace it with an acceptance of death, was a bold and somewhat cruel one. Though it's probably worth noting that many of the viewers who complain that the AU having lead to death was a cop out, might very well be similarly crying foul had the AU turned out to be the "happily ever after" that many fans (and Desmond) preditected. The "happily ever after" AU would have, after all, rendered all of the tragedy and sacrifice that happened on-Island over the course of the series somewhat moot. And even as the AU character awakenings over the course of the finale were reaching a fever pitch of awesome, I couldn't help but feel that a successful jumping-over of all our characters from one timeline to the other would really undermine the drama of what was happening on-Island. And it actually somewhat did! I wasn't nearly as into Jack's final sacrifice until it was suddenly revealed what the AU really was, and once that reveal arrived, I was too reeling at having our charcters' chance for a happy reality shut down to savour the tragic impact of Jack's death. While this is, indeed, a stumbling block of the finale's, I didn't find it to be a deal-breaker, and on re-watch (KNOWING the genuine stakes of Jack's sacrifice and the true nature of the AU), it actually plays extremely well and brought me to tears.

So, what the hell IS the true nature of the Altered Universe, you ask? I've heard the words purgatory and bardo bandied about the web, as well as afterlife, pre-afterlife, and next-afterlife -- but personally, I'd rather just take the explanation the show gave us all along: It was, indeed, an altered timeline -- the result of our survivors detonating a hydrogen bomb in the middle of one of the Island's richest energy pockets ("a place [they] all made together"). Rather than change time by letting the Island be damged in 1977, fate course-corrected (as it always does in the world of LOST) and in this case, it shunted the results of Jughead's detonation into an Altered reality that existed outside of time, wherein the Island sank long before Oceanic 815 flew over it. Nothing new here; we figured this from the beginning of Season 6. What we didn't know (even though AU Charlie and Faraday TOLD us in 6.11 [Happily Ever After]) was that this place wasn't the truth: this place wasn't supposed to be. And so, as one-by-one our characters awoke to remember their true lives -- ALL of their true lives through to death -- the AU was revealed to ultimately exist for the purpose of letting the characters find themselves and find each other beyond the events of the Original (real) Timeline. But not so that they can live forever together in bliss, but rather so they can "remember," "let go," and "move on" together. Mystical? Yes. Sad? Yes. Beautiful? A fair bit. Heavy-handed? Also a fair bit. Appropriate? That's your call. I thought it was; you may not.

But while calling the AU purgatory or bardo or whatever you like is fine by me, I think it important not to discard everything we've known about the AU in light of the finale's final revelation. I've read many comments that say things like "so it wasn't the result of Jughead afterall" or "so it didn't matter the Island was at the bottom of the sea," et cetera. In fact, it's tempting to say that NONE of what happened in the AU over the course of the season mattered at all. But, do remember, that the signifigance of the AU lies EXACTLY in the details that differed from the OT, and that it ALL mattered to our characters. They were the same characters in the AU as in the OT, even as their experiences differed. And everything they learned about themselves during their experiences in the AU are things they're now able to take to their ultimate rest, and for some (perhaps all, but particularly Jack and Sayid come to mind) these were experiences key to their finding peace in whatever lies beyond. Jack needed to experience David before he could truly "Let Go." Sayid needed Hurley to tell him to stop letting other people label him as a killer. With Shannon as one last example, Hurley showed Sayid that at heart he was a protector. And these examples exist for all the characters, informing both us and them about who they are in important ways.

For some, such as Ben, there was still more he needed to learn, more he needed to find out about himself before "letting go" and "moving on" -- hopefully Danielle and Alex will help him find it out. Faraday and Charlotte were another fascinating exception to the AU's mechanics: He couldn't even wake her up. Was their Island connection not as deep as he had hoped? At least Eloise will be happy about his remaining with her, granting her the life with him that the Original Timeline so harshly denied. (And for the record, I'm still betting she knows all she knows because she obtained Faraday's OT journal in 1977 in both timelines). But while the Altered Universe may still carry on for those left behind, things clearly turn all supernatural for those ready to move on. As Jack slowly and somewhat stubbornly comes 'round, bit by bit, David seems to disappear from both the narrative, and very likely the world itself ("You don't have a son, Jack."), and finally, after the truth dawns, Christian Shephard makes his one final appearance. For the sake of those fearing that the Island itself was a purgatory-like place, he clarifies for us that everything that ever happened to Jack was real, and then everyone gathers for one heartfelt farewell reunion. What's next? None of them know. Neither do we. A story of mankind struggling to deal with the unknown, remember?

Now we as viewers can speculate for the rest of our lives if Season Six could have told the EXACT same story just as well without the Altered Universe, but it's hard to imagine a more emotionally satisfying end to all the character's story-archs amidst the harsh happenings and epic sacrifices of the Original Timeline's on-Island story. And it's equally hard to shake the feeling that a "happily-ever-after" in the AU would have been a kind of cop out. So we're left with the AU being an affirmation of the characters' lives and an ease through to their deaths. There's something deeply moving in knowing a character to their core and seeing them lifted up and appreciated by each other. And in The End, this is what the detonation of Jughead and the purpose of Desmond's mission in the AU all boiled down to. It's the same endgame as Sun and Jin's narrative in the Original Timeline: the characters fighting for the right to die together. And depending on your point of view, this is either VERY profound or VERY dumb. You already know I'm in the former camp ;)

About Those End Credits Images:
I didn't for a moment think that showing images of the Oceanic 815 crash site over the end credits of the finale meant anything other than a "hey, remember where it all began?" call-back. I've read of people founding theories on the placement of these images, but I personally refuse to. The show ended with the slamming of the "LOST" title, and that's where I end my analysis.

The Answers:
As discussed earlier, I feel the show has given us almost all the important answers even though it's been stingy with the details. What's the Island? It's a hub protecting the electromagnetic energy that makes up life and death. It's a hard place to find, capable of moving through time and space thanks to the power/effects of its energy stores. Since before anyone can remember, man has encountered the energy, some choosing to protect it, others choosing to try and wield it for power/science/etc. Who are Jacob and the Man In Black? Jacob (representing faith in the Island) was the most recent Island protector, could wield the Island's powers in many ways. The Man In Black, his brother (representing science and/or man's need to understand), was cursed to remain tethered to the Island as a mysterious living embodiment of the Island's energy. Jacob brings people to the Island to try and see if humankind is good or bad (a question put into his mind by his Mother who was deadset against humanity). Who are The Others? When Richard arrives and takes a job as Jacob's intermediary, "The Others" as we knew them were formed -- a collective of people who arrived a the Island in different ways over the years and were herded together as "the good ones" to follow Jacob and protect the place as they saw fit. What was the Dharma Initiative? The Dharma Initiative was the latest and most modern of mankinds attempts to mine the Island's energy (electromagnetic properties) for science, and the Others made a mediocre attempt to coexist with them, but Dharma drilled too deep ("The Incident"), damaged the Island, and eventually were wiped out by the Others, leaving only the Swan hatch to plug the hole they created. The Swan hatch and the energy it covered, led to the crash of Oceanic 815. The rest is the Survivors' story.

Details, Details, Details:
And what details are we missing? The vast majority fall under four major categories: The Others, The Dharma Initiative, Special People, and the Island's Vast Array of Powers. And, I've got a LOT to say about all of these, so we'll have to save it for another time. "The End" may have come and gone, but stay tuned for a thorough analysis of LOST's mysteries, how they impacted the characters, and how they were essential to the overall narrative.

"It only ends once. All the rest is progress."

And that's where we are!

31 comments:

Beth said...

Fabulous review. Thank you for your insightful comments!

Anonymous said...

I am not ashamed to admit that as Jack walked through the bamboo forest one last time, the tears flowed out of this grown man - for quite some time.

Anonymous said...

I am on both sides of the fence. On one hand I did like the finale a lot because I loved seeing the characters find themselves/each other and I'm glad the Island was saved.

But on the other hand, I still feel like the mythology presented didn't really help in resolving any of the major mythology points they shoved down everyone's throats all of the other seasons. It's that mythology that kept most people who weren't jack or kate fans hooked to the series and endure episodes like the one with bai ling.

But I can appreciate your insight into the episode and it makes me hate it a little less.

Anonymous said...

I've thought about it another week and while I don't hate it anymore, I also don't feel anything for it. In that light, the finale not only failed for me, but it also nullified ANY feelings for the series. And indifference is worst than dislike.

Anonymous said...

A lovely review, thanks. I had been expecting an episode focusing on Widmore, how he accrued his vast wealth after being banished, etc.

Sagacious Penguin said...

@ Anonymous 3 -- Sorry to hear that, but surely if you're reading stuff on this site then there must be SOME stories the show told that you still like!

@ Anonymous 4 -- I would have LOVED an episode about Widmore's history, too. As I said in the write-up, these are probably non-vital details to the overall story, but I enjoyed his storyline so much I would have loved to learn more. Widmore and Eloise remain two of the most under-illuminated characters on the show. I definitely wish we'd gotten an episode about their history before the end.

I guess the only mysterious character explored less is Ilana, but her storyline was never interesting (or present enough) to be of too much concern. Oh well! The stuff I WOULD have liked to seen on the show could fill a twelve-volume novel, but I also thoroughly enjoyed what we did get!

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Anonymous said...

Hey - come on back with those additional thoughts you promised...

Sagacious Penguin said...

I'll be back one of these days, I promise! I have a lot stored up to talk about, but I've been super busy purchasing all the sweet health drugs and downloading all the awesome viruses that our most vociferous anonymous poster keeps recommending!

notWalt said...

Any day now....

Sagacious Penguin said...

notWalt --

Thanks for still swinging by in my ludicrously long absence. I promise it's been for a good reason!

When my life becomes my own, I'll be back with both a Lost retrospective as well as Clone Wars Season 3 capsule reviews to catch things up.

Might still be another month though. Ya gotta do what ya gotta do...

notWalt said...

Just saying...

"And what details are we missing? The vast majority fall under four major categories: The Others, The Dharma Initiative, Special People, and the Island's Vast Array of Powers. And, I've got a LOT to say about all of these, so we'll have to save it for another time. "The End" may have come and gone, but stay tuned for a thorough analysis of LOST's mysteries, how they impacted the characters, and how they were essential to the overall narrative."

Sagacious Penguin said...

notWalt --

OK, you win :)

notWalt said...

well done!

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