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May 24, 2010

How To Survive Now That Lost Is Over

[Warning: this post is absolutely chock-full of show spoilers. Please, please, please do not read this if you have not watched and ever plan to watch the series, especially the finale.]

If you are a fan ABC's Lost, you are probably happy, sad, elated, frustrated, satisfied, unsatisfied, certain, and confused about the series finale, "The End," that aired last night, and about the series as a whole.

If you are not a fan of the show, you're probably just plain happy that it's over with. If only: the show's legacy, I believe, will last a long time. It's short-term tail will definitely keep fans talking (and therefore haters hating) due to the countless unanswered questions, old and new, left open as the curtain closed on the series. Being a fan of Lost, it's only right that I share my thoughts with Cerebral Pop and its readers.

First things first: no series finale to a show that garners such avid fans can ever satisfy 100 percent of the eager audience. From the many interviews I've read with Lost writers/producers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof, they struggled with how to finish the show with an episode (or movie--the finale was 2 1/2 hours long) that respected fans but also maintained their integrity as writers. Assuming that these two criteria are almost impossible to reconcile when we're talking American television, I sympathize with the difficulty wrapping up the plot. For what it's worth, I was happily surprised by many of the events of the finale, and on the whole satisfied with the ending.

One point of contention with which even I am concerned is the lack of loose-end-tying that Cuselof gave us last night. Countless questions piled up since the pilot, and many of us--probably all of us--counted on the final season to give us answers. We wanted forehead-smiting "Oooooooooh!s" but we didn't get many. Rather, I explained it last night like this: instead of looking back through the past six seasons and making sure all the confusions were beaten to an explicitly obvious pulp, the finale progressed the story forward.

If you played Metal Gear Solid 4, whether you loved it or hated it, you know that much of the narrative was spent explaining how all the other Metal Gear games coalesced into one believable universe. Season Six of Lost didn't really have time for that.

I heard Cuse and Lindelof once say that each season of Lost had its own story to tell in addition to the over-arching plot. In Season One, we meet the island and the castaways; in Season Four, we see flash-forwards of the characters' lives after they leave the island; in Season Six, we get the confusing flash-sideways (which appear to depict some sort of afterlife). That might explain why the finale was more than simply "Remember that one thing? It means this," ad nauseum. Still, I and many others would have liked a deeper explanation of many of our questions, some old, some new.

For instance: What was the significance of the temple in the beginning of this season? We know it was untouchable by the Man In Black, and was sort of an Others' Headquarters, but it's quick-in-quick-out appearance in the show made it seem insignificant. And what about the murky water inside? What was Sayid after he came back to life?

What exactly did the Dharma Initiative achieve by their research? Sure, they built a few hatches, but what progress did they make on harnessing the energy of the island? Didn't the Man In Black do the same thing centuries earlier with his digs?

Who built the giant statue of the alligator-faced god and why? Was that really Jacob's home ever since his mother died?

Who was capable of supernatural powers on the island and why? Jacob's adoptive mother had power to imbue near-immortality on her children, and also to create arbitrary rules like Jacob and his brother cannot hurt each other. What? She's not the God of the series, surely. And for that matter, was she the protector of the island before Jacob? Was there ever one before him? Was a protector even necessary without Smokey wreaking havoc?

What was the light at the heart of the island? Who first sealed its energy? Which leads me to one of the bigger questions: What the f*ck is the island?!

Here's one problem I have: I cannot tell whether the influence of the island is self-contained or worldwide. What the show tells us is that Smokey wants to leave, but Jacob knows that would end in the deaths of all the candidates' loved ones. So is Smokey/Man In Black the sole force of evil in the world (in which case he would kill more than just those related to the passengers of Oceanic 815)? Or is he just a vindictive jerk-hole who'd keep his wrongdoing to those whom Jacob chose (in which case he's not nearly as scary and powerful as a force like the embodiment of evil itself)?

We know that the island protects the world from the Man In Black. But why did Jacob need a planeful of people to crash on the island to find a replacement? Which reminds me. Why did he choose to spy on these people's lives and not more. And did Jacob contrive everything with god-like control? If he didn't, Desmond might have pushed his button as planned and Oceanic 815 would've passed over the island without a hitch.

As many questions as I have, don't misconstrue my confusion with dissatisfaction. I love fiction that gives me plenty to discuss after it ends. With the answer-heavy MGS4, you can talk about how cool a plot point is, but not what actually happened. We already know what actually happened in that series.

As for the non-sectarian church where the show ends, its imagery was still too religious for my taste. I understand that the afterlife/transition/place-they-made device was easier to explain in religious terms because we're in America, but I read or heard somewhere that the flash-sideways world was possibly just a memory, not heaven or something like that. Not a memory in the sense that they were remembering a past experience, but that the world was a creation of their minds, based on their ideals of their most important friends. Then again, that world was not perfectly ideal, making it seem like the ideal-world theory doesn't work. Jack was divorced, Kate was still on the run from the law, Hurley lacked a girlfriend--everyone had some problem. Heck, Walt wasn't even there. For these same reasons, it couldn't have been heaven. But it was, if Christian is to be believed, a creation of the people involved. Somehow.

I've read that Hurley created the flash-sideways world as a gift to his friends before he died. My reaction to this theory, which is both happily satisfied and skeptical, reflects my reaction to the finale as a whole. Coming into the finale, I wanted answers. Badly. What I got was something entirely different. What's more, I got even more questions. The bright light that Christian walks into at the end? I honestly still don't know what the flash-sideways world really is, but I know why it matters. I was afraid the flash-sideways were all pointless contrivances to keep us guessing for nothing. But they weren't. They culminated in a beautiful expression of the show's message.

In the end, like V for Vendetta or Y the Last Man, the name of the Man In Black which fans so desperately wanted, was never provided. But if you're upset about not knowing one personal pronoun, you have missed the point of the story. I'll admit, it was something I've been concerned with since the show ended last night: what do I do with all my questions when clearly the writers want me to care about something besides those questions?

The answer is, just like in all fiction, to think about the themes, the morals, the message. Friendship, dependence, fate vs. free will, redemption, righting wrongs, life and death, and love, are the important ideas that we take away from the characters and the universe of Lost. Putting minutiae aside for the sake of learning profound lessons is a sign of a more mature reading of a story. And that's what the creators of Lost want us to do.

I was in tears by the end of the finale last night. I never thought I would appreciate Matthew Fox's acting so much, honestly. Until very recently, I never thought that the 100+ hours I've put into watching this show would move me so deeply. The elation in the church in one world juxtaposed with Jack's final trek through the woods to the very spot where he first woke up from the crash in 2004, his eye opened, the spot where the series began, his happiness as his friends leave the island because of the work he did, lying there with Vincent, the pretty puppy who was right there in the beginning as well, Jack had completed his journey--his eye closed.

What will be my next favorite story?


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