We found ourselves rewatching the “Lost” pilot on Saturday night (ABC re-aired it to amp up expectations for the finale), and we were reminded that from the very beginning the writers have always been opening boxes without knowing what’s inside them. The smoke monster, the polar bear, Charlie’s “Guys, where are we?” — we eventually got answers to these mysteries (sorta, kinda), but it took a good six seasons.
Those weren’t the only boxes though. By the end of season one we had the Black Rock, Adam & Eve skeletons, the Others, the lame walking, a baby-stealing French woman, and of course the hatch. Season two began with more boxes — there’s a guy in the hatch, and he pushes a button every 108 minutes? — and the boxes kept coming, one after the other, all the way up through last season, when the writers opened one with TIME TRAVEL written on it, and into the final season, when they opened a box labeled ALTERNATE TIMELINE/SIDEWAYS WORLD that threw everyone for a loop. The writers’ aversion to anything resembling certainty, much less closure, has been the show’s most frustrating but also its most essential quality. Ambiguity has always propelled the show forward. (Whether you wanted to stay along for the ride was another matter.)
So it all came to a close tonight with “The End,” and there were two essential questions we had going in: 1) Would somebody explain to us what was in all the boxes and how they fit together?; and, regardless of the answer to #1, 2) Would we care? Another way of putting it was whether “The End” would end with — let’s use Michael Giacchino terms here — a harp or a trombone. Would the finale be the equivalent of one long slow-motion beach sequence, a happy reunion free from dry eyes? Or would it be a cliffhanger what? twist, something more akin to the Sopranos fade to black?
The answer, it turns out, is both, although it was certainly more harp than trombone. Like many a TV show finale, the writers gave us a literal reunion — they put all our favorite characters in one room, a church, and they shocked us by making it a funeral. (Yes, “Everyone died” is actually a pretty accurate description to tell your friends who didn’t watch it.) As Jack stumbled to the same spot on the island where he first awoke (this time with Vincent curled up beside him, which made no sense whatsoever — a dog who has been AWOL for the past, what, four seasons, suddenly turns up with island hippies Rose & Bernard and then follows a dying man through the jungle so he can lie down next to him while he breathes his last? — but boy if the sight of man and dog didn’t make us tear up a little), he looked up and saw a plane overhead, this one not crashing but lifting off with his friends in it, the ones he saved by, um … rolling a giant rock plug into the island’s drain so that the Water of Life could flow once more through the Cave of Light. This scene, Jack’s island death, was emblematic of the entire last season: It strained credulity but there was still powerful feeling behind it. As an image, and as the story coming full circle, it was emotionally resonant and deeply satisfying. “The End” was something rare indeed: an ambitious finale that went for broke. Logically, it really didn’t all add up. But emotionally, it delivered.
We got answers tonight (like the fact that was no appendectomy scar), but they will be different depending on who you ask. Was the island purgatory all along? Was it real in the first place? (Christian Shephard said yes.) Or was the Sideways world purgatory? Was everything we saw simply from Jack’s perspective, his reconciliation and redemption and letting go? We may or may not have answers after we sleep on it. Honestly, though, we’re pretty satisfied as is. We were fine not having all the answers; we just wanted a good goodbye.
It was probably a mistake for the writers to keep ripping open boxes like a six-year-old on Christmas morning, but we let them get away with it because of the characters. No matter what missteps the show’s creators have taken over the last six years (and they definitely took some), the story never strayed from its principals, and the characters they gave us were rich, complicated, fascinating creatures. Jack got redemption. So did Kate. (And they got each other.) Locke got his soul back. Ben got forgiveness. Hurley got the island. Sawyer got Juliet. (We were happy.) Lapidus got his plane. Daniel got his concert. Claire got her baby and Charlie got Claire. Richard got gray hair.
“Lost” was unafraid to think big. It was a show about good and evil, redemption and salvation, science and faith, life and death. It found a way to dramatize these themes that was unlike just about anything network TV had seen before. We’ll certainly miss it. We liked “The End.” But we also knew it was time to go.
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And thank you to Tad and TB Smith for hosting a kick-a “Lost” finale party.