Tuesday, May 25, 2010

LosTalk: The End (6 x 17 & 18) and a Lost Post Mortem

So Dead is Dead, and Whatever Happened Happened, and the full emotional weight of Lost withdrawal has set in.

It's Tuesday night and there's no new Lost. Not this Tuesday, not any Tuesday, not any other day of the week ever again. I'm sitting here, head still spinning two days later. After years of arguments, thoughtful discussions, and countless words written, I'm still trying to process how I feel about the finale.

This post is long. How could it not be. Read it in chunks if you have to.

So what just happened Sunday night? I spent the first two hours of the finale absolutely loving it. The island was crumbling, Jack was throwing down with Flocke, Kate was saving the day (for once!), Frank was surviving, people were escaping. Over in the Flashsideways World everyone was converging, people got to fall in love all over again.

I was right there with them. I could live with this ending -- even if it didn't explain why Mikhail wouldn't die, or how Dharma knew to contain Smokey behind a sonic fence, or why the Others bury their dead at sea, or why the ancient island dwellers worshiped a fertility god. Forgetting all they stuff, I could live with what was happening. All the right heartstrings were pulled.

I loved it right up the moment with Jack walked into the little Unitarian church room with his father's coffin. I thought, please let Christian Shepherd be up and waking around -- that would be the perfect weirdness to drop into this second universe that had been mostly void of hocus pocus. I don't know how they'll explain it, but just do it...

And they did. And then I kinda hated everything that came out of his mouth... the explanation of what was really going on... how the story was really ending.

I know some people loved this ending, found it emotionally fulfilling. I know other people are furious about it. I'll try and get down why it's left me queasy, and maybe it's best to start by asking what I would have wanted from "The End."

So-called "answers" aside, what I really wanted was the Losties to save the day and to save themselves. (They don't all have to live obviously, but it'd be nice to see some of them make it home and happy.) You might say, yo, what's wrong with you? That's exactly what DID happen! Jack saved the island and at least six people survived.

Saving the Island

Sure. Jack did save the island (and in the process redeemed Locke's memory). But after six seasons, it's never been clear what saving the island means. So the island has the energy, the light that's in all of us. So what? What does it mean if the island is destroyed? What happens to the world if Black Shirt escapes? What happens if the light is extinguished? Oh, the light goes out in all of us, you say? Wait, the light was extinguished and I'm pretty sure we're not mean to believe the whole world died, or went evil, or became soulless or something.

Just last week we were told THIS was the reason the Losties came, suffered, and died. But there's nothing really tangible about what, at the very last minute, became the main stakes of the show. Usually in these ticking clock scenarios we understand the terror of what might happen. We know what will happen if James Bond doesn't disarm the nuclear bomb, or if the Rebels don't destroy the Death Star.

Here I don't know what will happen if the island sinks. In fact, I've already been shown a world where the island IS sunk, and that world doesn't seem so bad -- everyone's falling in love over there. And with a half hour left in the show my mind is still racing to connect the two worlds, and to figure out how the Losties might save the day in a world where the island is destroyed.

Surviving the Island

And yes, a rather random assortment of characters did fly away and presumably lived full lives. Thank goodness the important characters of Miles, Alpert, and Frank made it! It is interesting that Claire and Sawyer got to go home. After all, when Jack wanted the Oceanic Six to go back and rescue everybody, Sawyer and Claire were really the only major characters left behind that they knew were alive.

But these characters getting to live happily ever after is somewhat diminished when THE REAL END is revealed for what it is... purgatory and heaven (or some permutation thereof). And EVERYONE is there, or almost everyone.

The After Life

The mythos of Lost was recently expanded to tell us the island is not just a source of time travel, teleportation, and healing, but it is THE source... of magic, and light, and, I don't know, the Force or something. Like I've said, that's a big mythos.

Now the mythos is even bigger because we've got concrete proof of an afterlife, one that comes in two phases: a temporary purgatory-like phase, and a final happy heaven-like phase. That's a spicy meatball!

I know that sometimes as an audience member you've got to turn off the literal mind, and just appreciate what they want you to feel and appreciate what it's supposed to mean. I have a tendency to lean on the overly analytical mind (duh!). At the same time you've got to ask what's really going on here and how does it relate to this story we've spent so much time with.

Purgatory and Heaven

So what is really going on here? Apparently in the world of Lost you've got a soul, and after you die it goes to this purgatory place, a purgatory that looks an awful lot like your real life (except your plane doesn't crash!). And the best part -- all your buddies' souls are there too. Not all your buddies, just your closest buddies. And somehow all your buddies' souls knit together a matrix of their collective consciousness that plays out together in real time.

Now this purgatory isn't about paying penance per se. It's about "letting go" of your past life, so you can move on. How do you let go? By bumping into your soul mate, a.k.a your Constant. Once you've found your old soul mate you're ready leave purgatory for the happier heaven place, and it's best if you go together will all your old friends. This doesn't sound quite like "letting go" of the old life to me.

It should be mentioned that not everybody gets this purgatory/heaven experience. Some people (like Michael) who have done questionable things (like killing a couple ladies) get their souls stuck on the island. I'm not sure if that's unique to the island or if souls can get stuck elsewhere.

Also, certain people in purgatory seem to doing a little penance. For instance Ben (who's killed countless people) gets the purgatory/heaven combo, but he (like Ana Lucia) isn't quite ready to head into the light with the rest.

Finally, not everyone from your real life who appears in the purgatory matrix is really there. Take Mikhail, who was shot and killed in purgatory. What happens to you when you die in purgatory? Or take the reborn baby Aaron. He's more of a soul prop for his mother Claire. Surely the real Aaron, who we assume lived to adulthood in the real world, would get his own purgatory where his soul is an adult. Who wants to be stuck as a baby for eternity? (Or maybe that would be nice, dunno.)

No idea why in purgatory Eloise Widmore believe that Desmond's actions are a "violation," and why she, Dan Widmore, and Charlotte are not ready to move on the heaven.

Also, somehow physical scars from the real world can open up on your purgatory body: Jack's neck and side wound.

After seasons of speculation that the island might be purgatory (a pretty good theory), it seems cheap to say the island isn't purgatory but there IS a purgatory you've just never seen for five seasons.

I know there's a lot of room for interpretation with what we were shown. And I know I'm leaning on over literal analysis. Let's just say it is what is. Now how does this ending fit with the rest of the story?

Whatever Happened to Flashing Sideways?

I suppose what frustrates me most about this purgatory/heaven scenario is that it's the most flagrant misdirection yet in a show full of red herrings. When the curtain was pulled back, the reveal felt cheap instead of brilliantly satisfying.

(BTW, I was always more a fan of Sayid/Nadia than Sayid/Shannon.)

Compare that to the Season 5 finale when we learned that Locke was dead and Black Shirt had been masquerading in his body for half a season. In one moment we learned the man of faith, who's special insight we had been following since day one turned out to be wrong! It was devastating, but Lost can be a harsh mistress. It was also brilliant because, standing on the doorstep of the final act, the bad guy was at his most potent and our characters at their most helpless.

Alternatively, the reveal that the Flashsideways World was in fact purgatory lacked the brilliant "gothca" effect. It was melancholy and, frankly, didn't make sense with the story leading up to it.

In S5 our main question was can you change the past? Our heros most desperate action - detonating a nuke and creating the Incident - was taken in hopes of doing just that. And now we know their actions were in vain. The nuke did nothing.

Faraday was wrong, there are no variables, you can't change the past, and whatever happened, happened. No one can come back from the dead, not even in alternate timelines.

(Yes, the nuke zapped them back to the future. Again we have to plug our ears and go "nah, nah, nah" ignoring who or what controls the time travel. Add it to Jacob's kinda sorta powers list.)

Then in S6 the main question is which timeline will be Jacob's one true end? Did Jacob create this timeline as a backup plan? Do Jacob and Black Shirt even know or care about this Flashsideways timeline?

Well you can throw that whole debate out the window because the two timelines never coexisted. The Flashsideways wasn't even a timeline. Just the collective consciousness of a bunch of lost soul buddies, a.k.a. purgatory.

The fact that the plane never crashed in purgatory doesn't matter. These events have no bearing on the real life events of the story. In fact you don't even need this whole magical island story to have this ending. The story could have been about two plumbers who died and go to plumber purgatory until they let go of plumbing and "move on."

It's ironic that in the spirit world everyone's lives are rather mundane, compared to the real world in which their lives were literally filled with supernatural, miraculous, pseudo-science, conspiracy, and gobbledygook.

Sunken Island

Add to the list of red herrings. The sunken island we were shown in the first minutes of Season 6 is absolutely meaningless. None of the main characters in this "world" had ever been to the island (except Ben) so why does it exist and why is it at the bottom of the ocean?

This image exclusively fueled a season's debate over how the worlds were connected, how they spawned from the same moment (the Incident), who would sink the island and how. All this debate was for naught!

Just How Special Are You?

Learning that Desmond was Jacob's failsafe, last week we could assume Jacob wanted Desmond to arrange the characters' "enlightenment" over in the Flashsideways world. That Desmond would be responsible for the timelines convergence, etc.

However that's obviously not true. The Flashsideways not-actually-a-world had nothing to do with Jacob's plan. Apparently Jacob needed Special Desmond only to do exactly what he did, a reletively simple feat -- remove the stone and put out the light -- so that Black Shirt could be killed. How Jacob knew this would work when Black Shirt did not is beyond me.

Yet Desmond did so much more! Not only does Desmond's special reaction to electromagnetic energy allow his consciousness to travel between times, it also lets his consciousness travel INTO THE SPIRIT WORLD!

Somehow when zapped by Charles Widmore's machine, Desmond's mind flashed into his purgatory-bound soul and came up with a plan to round up his friends and tell them this isn't their real life. Is this something Jacob wanted him to do or even cared about? If Desmond hadn't had this miraculous intuition, who knows how long it would have taken our wandering Losties' souls to reconnect and move on.

That's a pretty special ability if you ask me.

"It Only Ends Once"

Very true. But with the debate out the window over which timeline would be Jacob's one true end, what do Jacob and Black Shirt's philosophizing amount to?

"Across the Sea" showed us Black Shirt's cycle. The earlier island protector had to find her replacement between candidates. The seemingly special candidate became Smokey (like Locke), and the reluctant candidate eventually took the mantle (like Jack). The selfish humans seemed like a threat to the island and had to be purged (like Dharma and so many others).

But did that cycle really end? The island still has a protector, and won't Hurley have to find his replacement when his time is over? And did Jack's self sacrificial choice during his brief tenure as top dog somehow equal "progress" for mankind at large?

The series ultimately seemed just as concerned with our character's choices to find each other in purgatory as their choices in the real world, choices that have no bearing on actual mankind. Offering a choice to everyone in purgatory makes their dramatic choices during life feel meaningless (although, I suppose the real notion of purgatory has the same implications).

What I liked

I did like that we got both Jack sacrificing himself to save the island and Hurley becoming the good-willed new protector -- fates they both seemed headed for. I didn't think we'd get both though.

I like that Frank survived, somewhat justifying that none of the Losties batted an eye or even mentioned his name after he seemed to blow up in the sub. He got to fly the plane home as he seemed destined to do.

(Hopefully there was enough gas left to make it anywhere.)

(And hopefully they left on a correct bearing so they're not stuck in the island's time travel bubble for a millennium. Is the time travel bubble a natural property of the island, or was is put there by Jacob and disappeared when he left?)

I like that Kate took the final shot that did away with Smokey and saved her man Jack.

I liked that we got nearly everybody back this week, including Rose, Bernard, Boone, Shannon, Charlie, and Vincent. (I guess Nikki and Paulo were too expensive to get.)

I liked all the reunions during the Flashsidways. I could have seen more Juliet/Sawyer, but now I'm revealing my true stripes a bit too much.

I liked that the whole affair was appropriately melancholy and joyful to conclude a story six years in the making.

What I Missed

I'm not going to attempt some kind of list about what Lost left "unanswered." Lots of other bloggers have done that. But I will mention my biggest four unresolved issues, all hearkening back to Season 1 and 2 mysteries:
  • Walt, his special abilities, and mysterious appearances got no resolution.
  • Aaron's prophesied birth and the importance of him not being raised by another.
  • Who are the Others really? What's their special relationship with death? What do they really know about the island and Jacob's purpose? If nothing, then why are they so freaking weird?
  • What did Dharma really know about the island besides it's time travel energy. They somehow knew how stop Smokey with that fence. They even built a house over the Smokey summoning toilet. Why are there hieroglyphics on the hatch countdown clock? Why do some of their members carry the ankh - a symbol of eternal life. Seems to be some crossover with the Others that was never clear. Were they really trying to save the world with the Valenzeti equation and how does that relate to Jacob's one true end?

I appreciate the fact that there are uncontrollable factors that affect TV production and story lines -- actor's schedules, actors leaving for other shows, writers coming and going, production budgets, number of episodes ordered, etc. The complexity of Lost's many plots is part of the appeal, and I would never expect 100% of everything to be wrapped up nicely in a bow.

But at the end of the day, winding down plot lines isn't like controlling an oil spill. They're not a force of nature that must be fought. These are just plot lines that were created by someone, surely someone should have had some idea how to finish them!

It's under-whelming that these brilliant writers and producers who crafted compelling and thought-provoking moments throughout the years, didn't at least imagine up resolutions for as many of their mysteries as their fans have.

You might say, dude, more was answered than you want to admit. Sure, you can take any aspect of the show, and looking at it through five hazy lenses of what "might" be going on, and speculate about the reason for things. But you can also swap out those lenses for five different ideas of what "might" be going on and get a different picture. There's a dissatisfying lack of clarity to it all. That same lack of clarity is what's made the show so fascinating and worthy of discussion over the years.

Alas, sometimes I feel that Lost has been so thought provoking to me because its murky forest-for-the-trees focus, its muddled paths of cause and effect, its here-one-minute-gone-the-next quality of significance -- all remind me of real life more than just about any other work of fiction I know. Lost deserves kudos for enabling discussion among the masses about faith, science, freewill, fate, and Patsy Cline music.

Thanks For the Journey

Many a blogger has focussed their final analysis on thanking those that shared the journey with them (perhaps in leu of feeling truly satisfied with the show, which to me feels like enjoying the icing without the cake). I'd be remiss if I didn't do the same.

Lost truly has been a journey, and it's been a focal point for my LA-based "family." Those who made the commitment to be there most weeks really shared something, and became part of the inner circle of friends.

Thanks to those who introduced me to Lost. I was a late Season 2 bloomer.

Thanks to my wife and friends for hosting Lost night over the years and throwing some really spectacular parties.

Thanks to the people I've met online and shared conversation with.

Thanks to my LA readers who want to argue with me each week.

Thanks to my readers from back home and from growing up. I'm glad we got to share a common interest after all these years.

Thanks to those readers I don't even know but have decided to chime in from time to time.

It's because of all of you that writing any of this was worthwhile, and because of you Lost became the encompassing life experience it has been.

(I kinda doubt this is the final word I'll ever write about Lost, and I do hope to post pics of the finale party asap. Thanks to the "Lost Media" site for letting me steal their screencaps without permission!)

And now I'll succumb to ending this post like every Lost blogger is supposed to...



Annie McMillan said...

Great blog, I've enjoyed reading it, obviously.

I'm not going to defend the finale from how you felt about it... I can't. What happened, happened. And you probably read my blog and everything I have to say about it, so there's that. I will say a couple things though.

First, I think the stakes were present, though not explicit. It's clear to me that Jack did in fact save the world. From what, EXACTLY, we don't know, but one can assume that if he had not killed MIB and allowed the island to sink (which, in my opinion, was what Mother feared as a consequence of allowing the light to go out) bad shit would have gone down. The fact remains they left it vague, and as I do everything else with this show, I chalk that up to intent. The writers wanted it vague; like you said, if they wanted to show the world blowing up or something implying that would happen, they very easily could have, but they didn't. It is what allows us to draw our own conclusions, which I think is a gift not many works of fiction present us with.

One last thing: "There's a dissatisfying lack of clarity to it all. That same lack of clarity is what's made the show so fascinating and worthy of discussion over the years."

It sounds to me like you contradicted yourself here... or maybe just answered your own unasked question?

Namaste to you as well, D. :-)

Dustin said...

I don't know if it's a contradiction. You may think I'm exclusively negative about Lost, but I try to look at Lost from as many angles as possible. That's why my feeling are mixed so often.

Annie McMillan said...

I don't think you're exclusively negative, at all. I was just trying to understand that statement and what you meant by it.