IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE FINALE FOR "LOST," SKIP TODAY'S POSTS AND COMMENTS.
When I watch any TV show, I ask myself two questions:
1. Was I entertained?
2. Was the conclusion satisfying? (We're talking about how the episode is structured in this case, not the individual plotline).
People came into the finale for "Lost" with extraordinarily high expectations, thanks partly to the hype ABC put in for the episode, and partly because few series have built up so many questions during the length of its run.
Indeed, that's what made "Lost" a success and what will make it stand out in the history of TV, the way it challenged viewers to try to interpret what was on the screen.
Unfortunately for Team Darlton -- Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindleof -- that meant trying to bite off more than anyone could chew. The show was so riddled with questions and, well, riddles, there was no way anyone could answer them all.
I tried to temper my own expectations going in, partly because things get so over-hyped these days, there's an inevitable sense of disappointment when things can't live up to people's preconceived notions.
For me, over the past five years, the show that set the standard for finales has been "The Shield," which ended on a perfect note. I suspect creator Shawn Ryan had the finale in mind almost as soon as he created the show. I didn't expect "Lost" to equal that finale, since "The Shield" focused on one character even though he was supported with a strong ensemble.
"Lost," on the other hand, had a dozen key characters with deeply complex issues, and during its last season, was telling two stories -- the one on the island and the one in the sideways universe. Throw in the show's penchant for philosophy and religion, and there's no way it could be straightforward.
So, back to my two questions.
1. Was I entertained? Going scene by scene, the answer is a very solid 'yes.' Most viewers of the show have identified with most of the key characters, so to see their struggles and successes over the six years, one had to feel the sense of triumph when seeing them happy and tragedy when things went wrong.
When Frank Lapidus was shown to be alive, I cheered. When Sawyer and Juliet found each other at the end, I got a bit misty. I couldn't predict what was going to happen in each scene, and I think that's a good thing.
2. Was the conclusion satisfying? This one is a lot trickier to answer. I re-watched the end a day later to try to figure things out, and I still find the ending and the themes the writers were trying to convey to be ambiguous. While I said I didn't necessarily expect to get clear-cut answers, I didn't expect what we did get to be as muddled as it was.
I never expected the island or the light or the civilization that once lived there to ever be explained. Like Jack, I ended up taking a leap of faith and just believed. That was OK.
But for me, the ending hollowed out the story Darlton has been telling for six years. To wit, if the island was real life and the sideways universe purgatory, why did the characters find such relief at the end to know they had died? To me, most of their lives in purgatory were pretty good. Sawyer and Miles weren't conning people, but instead lived as cops. Jack was at peace and raising a son. Sure, he and Juliet weren't together, but they were on good terms. Jin and Sun were on the run from her father, but were at least happy. Daniel Faraday wasn't a tortured physicist, but rather a happy-go-lucky musician. So was Charlie. John Locke was getting his life sorted out. Hurley was a millionaire and a philanthropist. Ben Linus was a good teacher making a difference in Alex's life. And so on.
Yes, some of the other characters weren't that much better off -- Sayid, Kate, Claire -- but they got to the place they were at through their own choices. None of the characters were manipulated by Jacob to have their lives go awry.
That leads to one of the major inconsisties the series never resolved. For a long time, the producers seemed to focus on the existence of free will, to the point that they named many of the characters -- John Locke, Rousseau, Jeremy Bentham, Hume -- for philosophers who made that a central theme in their dissertations. And yet it was Jacob who set everyone on the path that led them to seek redemption in the first place. How might they have turned out if Jacob didn't meet them? The flash-sideways gives us a pretty decent indication.
Another problem in the finale was that we learn everyone of the castaways, and by extension their loved ones like Juliet and Penny, died at some point. Was it during the initial plane crash itself? If so, then what was everyone doing on the island for six years? Why did some characters like Boone, Charlie, Shannon, the Kwans, etc. have to "die" again? Or, did they all die when we saw them die, and somehow Kate, Sawyer, et. al. die offscreen? (Probably when the nuke went off).
We'll assume for the sake of argument that the characters survived the initial crash of Flight 815 and their lives played out for us onscreen. It doesn't explain why all of them had to go through purgatory, yet some of them had to go through massive amounts of pain in order to redeem themselves, while others didn't. Shannon, killed off in a meaningless accident, didn't do much on the island to redeem herself. Jack, on the other hand, was the "shepherd" for the castaways for the run of the show, saving countless lives time and again. Yet he and Shannon entered (heaven? Nirvana?) at the same time.
I supposed Christian explained it best when he said that the church (and perhaps the sideways universe) was some place they created to find each other, so that they would be together in the great beyond. It doesn't explain why we don't see Faraday, Charlotte and others during the final scene.
It also doesn't explain why it was so necessary for Kate, Sawyer and Claire to make it onto the plane at the end when Jack saves the island. Yes, they fly off. But since they are dead in the last scene, it makes the whole tension sort of meaningless. Where did they go exactly in that plane?
The Jacob-Man In Black dynamic is never really worked out, either. We know Smoky was evil, but Jacon wasn't exactly good. He denied the castaways free will in order to preserve the island. And we know Mother was pretty rotten, for exactly the same reason. Yes, she was trying to protect the island, but it's hard to say the ends justified the means in her case.
And why do Hurley and Ben talk about the island in the past tense at the church if they are still there, running the show? We see Hurley offer Ben the No. 2 job, and moments later, at the church, Hurley says Ben WAS a great No. 2. When did they die on the island? In theory, Hurley should be immortal as the new Jacob, and Ben should be immortal as the new Richard. Yet Hurley joins everyone in the church, while Ben makes the conscious decision to stay in purgatory, perhaps because he still has so much to atone for.
The only real explanation comes from Christian, who tells Jack that time has little meaning in the world of the church. So, it's possible all of the deaths were years apart, including Hurley's, but in limbo, it seems they all met up simultaneously.
We never really learn who The Others were or why the Dharma Initiative was created by the Hanso Corp., among other things.
So, how will "Lost's" finale be remembered? The show garnered a very solid 13.9 million viewers, and was probably more when one factors in the many "Lost" parties people had. A TVGuide.com poll said 55 percent of the respondents liked the ending, compared to 28 percent that didn't and 17 percent who were indifferent. Many other internet sites seem to be split pretty much down the middle.
I don't count myself in either camp, completely. There were parts of it that were beautiful and parts that were maddening. I wasn't quite satisfied with it, but I didn't think it was outright terrible, like the cop-out ending of "The Sopranos."
I think Darlton wanted the finale to be debated, and threw out enough concepts to keep it going for a long time, a' la "The Prisoner," which is still being debated some four decades after its finale aired. My brother e-mailed me and said what was shown was an insult to the fans, but I don't think so.
I think they wanted to give us an unconventional ending to an unconventional series, and that's what they did. Saying good-bye is never easy, anyway.
TUESDAY'S BEST BETS: Whew, that was a long one. Anyway, some other new stuff tonight. I thought "Glee" (Fox, 9 p.m.) rebounded splendidly last week thanks to Joss Whedon, Neil Patrick Harris and Broadway star Idina Menzel, who looks freakishly like Lea Michelle, making her a perfect pick to play Rachel's mom. It follows the penultimate "American Idol."
Gibbs is captured by a mercenary on Part 2 of the "NCIS" (CBS, 8 p.m.) finale, while Callen tries to learn about his past on "NCIS: LA." "The Good Wife" wraps up its excellent freshman year at 10 p.m.
"The Biggest Loser" (NBC, 8 p.m.) crowns its champion, followed by the season finale of "Parenthood" at 10 p.m.
ABC crowns a champion as well on "Dancing With The Stars" at 9 p.m.
On cable, "Justified" (FX, 10 p.m.) is new, as is "Ashes To Ashes" (BBC America, 10 p.m.)