So that's it. Lost, arguably the most important genre show of the past decade, ended with a fizzle. People will tell you it was fine until the last 15 minutes, but they're wrong. Spoilers below...
Oh, and hey, West Coast peeps and people who got up early to watch this in England. I mean it. Don't read this until you've watched the episode. Really.
Sure, the last 15 minutes of "The End" were pretty wretched, and that's when I gave up all hope that this was going to turn into something awesome. But rewind an hour and a half, to the moment when I suddenly realized I didn't give two craps whether Desmond pulled a rock out of a hole. Or whether Jack put a rock back into that same hole. I just. Didn't. Care.
Lost, the show, was absolutely genius at making you care about stuff. That was one of the half dozen things that Lost was brilliant at getting us to invest in, along with intriguingly murky characters and starkly surreal storytelling. Probably the greatest weapon in Lost's arsenal was always its ability to make you care, desperately, feverishly about what happened to these people.
And in the end, I just didn't care if that rock went in that hole or not. By extension, I had stopped caring whether the island sank. I had stopped caring about the fate of the Man In Black, long before he got kicked out of the episode prematurely. I didn't care about any of it.
I'm carefully using the first person singular here, because maybe you did care about this stuff. I had cared about it, in some abstract sense, before, but this time around, I just stopped about an hour in. Maybe because it all became more and more abstract, until it just felt like I was watching people play a sport whose rules I wasn't familiar with. Yes, Lost's finale was a game of Baseketball.
I'm saying this as someone who actually kind of liked "Across The Sea," because it made Jacob seem relatable, and who actually had been keeping an open mind about this. I had been aware that some last-minute spoilers about the finale were coming out over the weekend, but I hadn't looked at them because of that desire to keep an open mind. That open mind turned, by degrees, into a sinking feeling.
Like I said, not even talking about the last 15 minutes of the episode yet. That's a different - pardon me - circle of hell.
All through its run, Lost has had moments of kludgey storytelling, where it felt like people were doing stuff merely because the plot required it. And there have been times when the characters seemed to turn into rats in a maze of the writers' design. And there have been moments where supposedly huge consequences were swept under a rug because a storyline was over and we were supposed to move on.
And then there have been moments when Lost felt like it was touching something grand and meaningful. When the show's sweeping collection of characters and locales seemed like a fascinating web, and the show's mysteries felt really sinister and terrible (in a good way.) There have also been moments when the characters felt both larger than life and like people we might have been friends with.
In retrospect, you can see how the show, over its final year, swung from the latter type of storytelling to the former type. But I felt this sapping of the show's sense of purpose far more keenly tonight.
Someone took a rock out of a hole. Someone put a rock in a hole.
Instead of talking about all the stuff that left me unmoved, here are the things that actually did move me:
I really loved Jack telling Smokey that John Locke had been right about almost everything, and Smokey was disrespecting him by wearing his face. First of all, it needed to be said. And second of all, there was a spark in the midst of all the lifelessness, and it felt for a second like we were going to get the epic showdown we deserved, now that Jack had come over to Locke's point of view and Locke was a fraud who espoused Jack's former philosophy. It was a great moment.
I loved the redemption of Benjamin Linus - even though he did nothing to earn it, and we waited all season in vain for Ben to Do Something. I also loved Ben telling Hugo that he didn't have to run things in the fucked-up way that Jacob had. And yay for the hint that Ben turned out to be a great Number Two. (No pun intended.)
And yeah, Hugo getting to be the new Jacob was also great, and much deserved - he was a much better candidate than Guilt Guy.
And I really, actually got choked up when Juliet and Sawyer finally recognized each other and she asked him out for coffee and they embraced and cried and kissed - of all the dozens of reunions and awakenings we witnessed in this episode, the Juliet/Sawyer one was the only one that made me get teary. A lot of the other teary montages just felt like the producers were saying, "Hey remember when this happened? Back when the show was awesome? Remember that? Huh? Huh?"
Oh, and when Jack goes flying through the air to kick Flocke in the face, it was a nicely composed shot and a decent air-punching moment.
Apart from that, the island storyline felt really blah. Almost everybody was relegated to the status of "extra," and I didn't really care if Lapidus and his gang flew off the island or not. I mean, yay, I guess. But since that plane was crammed with characters I'd long since stopped caring about, it was a bit anti-climactic.
Sigh. And then let's talk about the "flash-sideways" universe. So... almost everybody gets awakened to their memories of the "real" world by encountering their true love. Which means that Jack really was Kate's true love after all? But Kate wasn't Jack's. And Shannon was Sayid's true love? I mean, really? Shannon? Not Nadia? I mean, okay, whatever.
The two main exceptions, in this episode at least, were Jack and Locke. Jack gets awakened by his dad's coffin, and it seems as though his "true love" was the whole community of castaways, whose well-being he'd cared for so ineptly throughout the show's run. (Everybody else gets montages of just their love relationships, but Jack gets a montage of the whole gang, sort of.) And Locke, meanwhile, can't be reawakened to the "real" world until he has the mythical surgery and regains the ability to walk. Because walking, not Helen or anyone else, was Locke's true love. Or something. Wha huh? Or maybe it's supposed to be that the island was Locke's true love, and somehow regaining the ability to walk makes him think of the island.
And now we come to the revelation of the episode's final minutes, which I've been putting off talking about. The flash-sideways universe wasn't an alternate universe at all, it was... purgatory? Limbo? Some kind of afterlife way-station. And for some reason, the Losties had to come together in a church before they could move on to the real afterlife.
I can see this spawning a million parodies based around the opening monologue of Prince's "Let's Go Crazy."
So why was it 2004 in purgatory? Why was the island underwater? Why was Sawyer suddenly a cop? With Miles as his partner? (Even though Miles doesn't get to be there in the end.) And why were the details of Locke's accident changed so it was Locke's fault? Not to mention, why did Jack and Juliet have that creepy Stepford kid? (Because we were supposed to think this was an alternate universe that resulted from Jack's hydrogen bomb, and it was a fake-out.)
Those are questions we really shouldn't ask, I guess, because they don't matter. All that matters is that in the end, this particular community of people form something meaningful, even something holy, and they can't go to Heaven unless they all leave together. Yes, it's another set of Rules.
And the final moments, after Jack's dad gave his heavy-handed explanation, and everybody was gathered inside the church from Madonna's "Like A Prayer" video, and there were handshakes and reunions and a door full of light... I started swearing at my television set. I think I'm still in shock at how lame and idiotic the final five minutes or so felt.
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.
But maybe you loved this ending and I'm on crack. What did you think?