Thursday, June 03, 2010

Thank you, Namaste and Goodbye

This should go without saying, but there are big, honking SPOILERS for the end of Lost in this post. This is your last and only warning.

Lost has been one of my enduring obsessions for the last six years, and that will sound like a staggering understatement to anybody who has ever met me. I'm sure that I've bored the shit out of everyone by talking about it endlessly. This isn't an apology. This is, however, intended to be my final public utterances about Lost. Time to open our eyes one last time...

The final episode of Lost absolutely worked for me, and as time passes, I appreciate it more and more. Whilst I accept and understand that it was never going to work for everybody (and I do have my own issues with some elements of the final season's FlashSideways strand) some of the more vitriolic responses I've read have puzzled me, in particular the hysterical screeds weighted with an unwarranted sense of entitlement. Writers have one duty only - to tell the story that they want to tell, not the story the audience wants to see. (And let's take it as read that you can't please all of the people all of the time.)

The dissatisfied segment of the audience seem to have one overriding complaint - that all of the questions and mysteries set up over the last six years weren't answered. Personally, I don't have a problem with that. I'm glad that everything wasn't answered. Lost wasn't a parlour game or a mathematical equation that needed solving. It was a story. Stories should entertain on some level without succumbing to lumpen piles of narrative-killing exposition. Stories aren't about answering questions. They are about asking questions. And one of the things that I loved about the Lost finale was that it was sufficiently ambiguous in places to allow room for the viewer's interpretation to seep in and fill the gaps. After all, did we really need a cast-iron scientific or even mystical explanation of the Island in painstaking detail?

If you don't believe me, then look at Heroes or FlashForward - shows that tried to emulate the multi-character narrative and mysteries that had worked for Lost and failed. Because they were so wrapped up in the mythology and the puzzles and the tricksy answers, that they short-changed the characters. And without the characters, you may as well just pack that shit up and go home.

But Lost knew that if you placed the characters front and centre, with convincing, compelling characters played by talented, well-cast actors, then the audience will follow you anywhere. It's no coincidence that the first season dwelt almost exclusively on the survivors of Oceanic 815 and their backstory before unleashing all the freakier elements. Because once you buy into the characters, you'll have less resistance to smoke monsters and four-toed statues and time travel. They just become additional elements woven into the story.

Cries of "They were making it up as they went along!" were inevitable. Specific character beats and details were undoubtedly shaped in the process of scripting, sure. All good writing evolves as it gets sculpted and crafted on the page. Why reject a new idea or insight or scene if it helps the story? But with hindsight, you can find evidence of the ending seeded throughout the show's past. After all, we were clearly told "All of this matters" and Jacob's answer is the clearest explanation of the ending: "It only ends once. Anything that happens before that is just progress."

Jack was always meant to be the one who killed the Smoke Monster. All of his experiences since the plane crash were leading him towards that final moment, and he needed all of those experiences and relationships to get there. Likewise, Hurley was always going to be Jacob's true replacement for the same reasons. (And I never bought into Jack as the Candidate. He could never have been the Candidate, because he was meant to literally be the Shepherd).

On the subject of the Smoke Monster, I can't call him the Man in Black or Jacob's brother. Riven with guilt and grief and warped by his adoptive mother, Jacob made the mistake of treating the monster as his brother, even though I think Across the Sea shows that it was not his brother, it was just a skin for the monster to wear. It wasn't Jacob's brother, just as it wasn't John Locke or Christian Shephard or Alex Rousseau. In the Season 3 episode The Cost of Living, the Smoke Monster as Yemi, just before he deals the death blow to Mr. Eko, says: "You speak to me as if I were your brother!", a subtle bit of foreshadowing that wasn't destined to pay-off for another three years.

Or, if we are trawling through a backlog of 121 episodes for pointers to the ending, how about Penny's letter to Desmond tucked away in his copy of Our Mutual Friend way back in the Season 2 finale Live Together, Die Alone? In particular, I'm thinking of the line "Because all we really need to survive is one person who truly loves us."

And how about the Dharma Initiative's greeting of "Namaste", which ties in to both the glowing light in the heart of the Island and the environment of the FlashSideways, because any Yoga practitioner will be able to tell you that "Namaste" translates from Sanskrit as "The light in me sees the light in you". If anyone has an issue with the spiritual overtones of the finale, it may be worth pointing out that Lost has always been peppered with religious markers along the way from Christian Shephard (and I'm stunned that so many viewers seem to have missed the connotations of that name. Names have always been significant in the Lost universe) to "God loves you as He loved Jacob" and Eko's Jesus Stick inscribed with "Lift up your eyes and look north John 3:05". And that's barely scratching the surface.

So fuck the naysayers. I liked it a lot. I loved the reappearance of Frank Goddamn Lapidus. I never believed for a second that he had died in the submarine explosion. The Island had tried to pull him there three times (once as the pilot of Oceanic 815; once on Widmore's freighter and finally as the pilot of the Ajira flight.) After all that effort to get Lapidus there, he wasn't going to be killed off so easily. Everyone brought to the Island was there for a reason (John Locke was right) and, never forget, you don't get to die or escape if "The Island isn't done with you yet."

Then there is the perfect yin and yang of Hurley and Ben taking over as the Island's protectors, a double-act of the one with the sweetest, most incorruptible nature reaching out to the one with the most blood-stained, tainted soul to forge a new way forward, breaking the centuries-old cycle driven by Jacob's dysfunction and Mommy issues and free from the destructive powers of the Smoke Monster.

The Ajira plane takes off as the Island is finally done with our survivors. Richard is finally ready to live (his first grey hair was just one of many killer moments in the finale). Claire is finally ready to be a mother (as she was told way back in the first season "It is crucial that you yourself raise this child."). Kate has finally allowed herself to love unselfishly. Miles and Sawyer are finally ready to star in the wisecracking buddy-cop spinoff LaFleur. (Oh how I wish that last one were true).

And how beautiful it was that the plane carrying his friends home was the last thing that Jack saw before he was allowed to die. The Island was done with him, and Jack had finally done what he had been trying and failing to do over and over and over again since the beginning. He fixed everything. And, damn, if I didn't get a little misty-eyed when Vincent came loping out of the bamboo cane to lie down next to Jack. They had all learned to Live Together, so Jack didn't have to Die Alone.

And now one of the most literate, erudite, thought-provoking, ambitious, densely-layered, exciting and sometimes infuriating mainstream shows in recent memory is over. Where else are you going to find a show where the world is saved by the combined forces of true love and duct tape? But now it's time for me to shut the fuck up about Lost once and for all. What happened, happened. And I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

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