Did ‘Lost’ Lose Itself?


There was a time when Lost was unquestionably my favorite television show of all time. It’s the first substantial show I’ve religiously followed from inception to conclusion, the type of which will probably never be seen again. Therefore it’s no surprise a lot was riding on last night’s 105 minutes, and over the course of the evening one word stuck out to me more than any other – hollow.

The creators could have settled upon almost any ending and the show’s legacy would have remained intact; what had come beforehand was that strong. But Lost was never one to settle. Ever since it had picked an end date it had been aiming for the stars, trying to cement its place among television’s all-time greats. Still, for all its ambition and originality one can’t help but be disappointed with its Hollywood-like ending – a curious mix of Sixth Sense and Lovely Bones that failed to answer or say anything with real meaning.

But, one might correctly point out, Lost at its core was never about that stuff, it was about the characters and their journeys. True, it was a character study more than anything else, and that’s what it will be remembered as. The way it juggled more than a dozen main characters is and forever will be unparalleled. Chief among them was Jack Shepherd, the man of reason turned man of faith that should go down as one of the strongest arcs in TV history. He was my favorite from the beginning and finished the series strong, finally finding the salvation he had been searching his entire life for.

And here’s where things start to get wobbly – the creators didn’t have the guts to go out with anything but a happy ending. The show had never been one to pull punches before, but, man, did they do so in the end. It would have been fulfilling had Jack made the ultimate sacrifice so that everyone else could live, which was what I had been hoping for all along. It makes perfect sense and completes his character in a meaningful manner, but they wanted to have their cake and eat it too. Instead, his sacrifice was cheapened as merely a catalyst to get to a happy reunion with all his buddies.

Lost was a show that tried to transcend genre and be something for everybody. There was sci-fi mythology for the geeks, action for the dudes, romance for the ladies, philosophy for the educated and character drama for the adults. I guess it should come as no surprise, then, the ending followed suit. It essentially said that all roads lead to heaven and the only thing that matters along the way is to help those around you. A nice, politically correct sentiment that goes down easy and isn’t going to upset many, except perhaps hardcore atheists, but one that isn’t going to satisfy anyone with an analytical brain, either.

Which brings us to the sideways timeline being their self-made purgatory, one of Lost’s lamest revelations that pales in comparison to such WTF? moments as the flash-forward ending of season three, never mind that fans have been postulating purgatory theories since season one. Perhaps that is why so many people loved the finale, because in Universalism we all get that happy redemption with loved ones in the sky, just like Jack. But too many people are like Rose and Bernard, trying to get by on their own merit, stay out of the fight and make peace with everybody, failing to realize that gets them nowhere and plays right into the enemy’s hand.

I have no problem the Island and a bunch of other things weren’t fully explained. I stopped expecting answers after the first two seasons and was simply happy to be along for the ride. As J.J. Abrams said, “A good question is often better than a good answer.” However, I think Lost had to answer more than it did. It upped the stakes at the end of season five to a cosmological battle between good versus evil, which it left in no man’s land, rendering the Jacob/Smokey storyline moot. Seriously, who cares if Smokey had left the Island? Would anything bad have actually happened? That was the climax of the show, and it turned out to be inconsequential. Instead, it focused on the individual characters and how them being a community allowed them to move on to their white-light afterlife.

Brushing aside the show’s mythology was almost as if the writers admitted they didn’t know what to do with the monster they had created, so they did the easy thing – nothing. I fear when I go back and rewatch things from the beginning there will be logical fallacies throughout that were quietly swept under the rug, like the time traveling and the hydrogen bomb. When you actually think about it, 99% of what one does in life doesn’t matter in the long run. However, this is TV drama, not real life, and if hardly anything the characters do, either on the Island or in their purgatory, has any real significance, then what was the point of the show?

As I continue to ponder the meanings of Lost my faith in the show has been shaken, although I have no doubt its legacy will live on. I’m like a bearded Jack but not as possessed. It’s no longer my clear cut number one, and the feeling of crossing the marathon finish line tastes more like second place than sweet victory. I thought the episode itself was well done but fell short of the likes of The Shield’s satisfying and thought-out conclusion and Scrubs’ poignant sign-off. I wasn’t as moved as much as I thought I would be, despite the amazing cast’s superb effort.

I wanted to love it. I wanted to believe. The last shot with Jack dying in the bamboo forest was the perfect way to go out. Unfortunately, I didn’t completely buy into what had gotten us to that point. I will reserve final judgment until Lindelof and Cuse get a chance to defend their decisions, yet I can’t help but think about what the great T.S. Eliot once wrote: “Between the idea and the reality/Between the motion and the act/Falls the Shadow… This is the way the word ends/Not with a bang but a whimper.”