‘Lost’ – ‘The End’: See You In The Other Life, Brother

A long and rambling review of the “Lost” series finale coming up just as soon as I believe in duct tape…>

“I’ll see you on the other side.” -Jack

How you respond to “The End” will depend largely, I think, on how you approached “Lost” over these last six years.

If you were on board with Darlton’s thesis that this was a show about character first and foremost – if you mainly cared about Charlie and Claire, or Jack and Hurley’s friendship, or unlocking the mystery that is Benjamin Linus – then I suspect you loved “The End. After all, it was loaded with reunions of characters both dead and living – or, at least, who were living when Lapidus flew the Ajira jet away from Craphole Island, since we learn that the secret to the sideways universe is that everybody’s dead and hanging around in purgatory until they can all go off to Heaven together(*) – that tugged early, often and appropriately on the heartstrings.

(*) I leave it to the people with more grounding in theology to debate exactly what plain of the afterlife the sideways universe was supposed to be, factoring in all the different denominations and creeds represented on the stained glass window in the church office where Jack and Christian spoke.

If, on the other hand, you cared more about the mysteries than the people in it – if you wanted to know more about the rules, or the fertility problem, or Taller Ghost Walt – then I imagine you found “The End” to be quite maddening. Even keeping in mind Darlton’s pre-season warning about not answering every question, we end season six, and the series, with an awful lot left perfectly muddled, with a lot of story resting on the golden well of souls we were introduced to only two weeks ago, and with the sideways universe revealed to have no relation to the plot of the series, except in the sense that death is the end to every story(**). (As we saw with the famous “Six Feet Under” finale.)

(**) Though ultimately, I suppose, my “epilogue in advance” theory was correct. Just not in the way I meant it at the time. Don’t ask me why in this construct of purgatory some people are getting along splendidly while others are miserable; this was still the end of everyone’s story, sometimes moments after they left the island (like Jack), sometimes years (Hurley, Ben, Kate).

Of course, those are two extremist views of “Lost” – all plot vs. all character – and I suspect most of you fall, like me, somewhere in between. And because of that, I’m still wrestling with my feelings about “The End” (and will almost certainly feel compelled to write another review down the road, maybe in days, maybe in much longer).

As two and a half hours of television – as an extra-long episode of “Lost” – I thought most of it worked like gangbusters: the reunions in the sideways (Sawyer and Juliet in particular, but all of them were splendidly played), the farewells in the real world, the final battle between Jack and Smokey on the cliff, the very-not-dead Lapidus (whoops) just barely getting the plane off the runway Kate and Sawyer built, etc. You would have to be made of stone to not get choked up at one or multiple points, whether it was Jack passing on the protector job to Hurley (an appropriate end for the fan surrogate character, and the scene that finally wrecked me) or Kate and Charlie again helping Claire deliver Aaron, or Locke forgiving Ben, or one of a dozen other moments like those. Really, up until those last minutes, which I’ll get to in a bit, I thought it was a wonderful episode, with Cuse, Lindelof and director Jack Bender once again teaming up to heighten the emotions and action of a bonus-length “Lost” finale.

But as someone who did spend at least part of the last six years dwelling on the questions that were unanswered – be they little things like the outrigger shootout(***) or why The Others left Dharma in charge of the Swan station after the purge, or bigger ones like Walt – I can’t say I found “The End” wholly satisfying, either as closure for this season or the series.

(***) Several people asked me what I was referring to when I pressed Darlton about this at the end of the post-“Across the Sea” interview. Quick refresher: at one point in season five, Sawyer’s band of time travelers are in an outrigger on the water when another outrigger appears behind them and opens fire on them, and Sawyer and company are saved by a fortuitous time jump. All throughout season five, every other time loop got closed at some point or other – we saw how Richard knew to bring Locke the first aid kit, for instance – except that one. And I will admit that even here, in the finale, after I’d been told that this would not be something that would be answered, as soon as Miles and Richard got in the boat, I couldn’t resist wondering if Darlton had played me, and that we would finally get closure on that one right at the end. Oh, well.

Jack tells Desmond at one point, “Trust me, I know: All of this matters,” and that’s a very similar sentiment to one espoused by Lester Freamon on “The Wire” – a show where all the pieces did, in fact, matter, and everything that was introduced paid off down the road. It’s not a fair comparison, both because “The Wire” is the greatest drama ever, and because it was telling different kinds of stories in a different way from “Lost.” But when I hear Jack say something like that, at the end of a series at which a whole lotta things wound up not mattering at all, it’s hard to ignore the thematic dissonance.

Even leaving behind issues from seasons past, I’m not sure how well the structure of season six holds together now that we’re at the end. It had always been my hope that knowing what the sideways universe really was would give us a different perspective on those scenes, but I don’t think “What Kate Does” will improve any with the knowledge that Kate, Claire, Marshall Mars and the rest are all already dead. Desmond’s dual role in both realities as the man with the plan, meanwhile, amounted to much less than I had hoped for. I’m not exactly sure how Widmore’s electromagnetic device somehow sent Desmond into the afterlife and back, but it turned out that island Desmond didn’t know nearly as much as had been suggested earlier, nor was it clear why Jacob thought that having Widmore bring Des back would help stop Smokey.

And given what we ultimately learned about the nature of the sideways, I’m no longer clear on why Desmond was the special one who was responsible for bringing everyone together. (Charlie, after all, was the one who tipped Desmond off to their real lives, yet he was still largely in the dark until Aaron was born.) And all our speculation on bleeds between the two universes – whether Sun lost her English because alt-Sun didn’t speak it, or whether it was a coincidence that most of the characters who could most clearly remember the real world were ones who had died in it (when, as we learned here, everyone was already dead, because time has no meaning in the afterlife) – proved meaningless. And that’s not to mention Dogen and the temple folk, or Widmore and his crew, or the many trips back and forth across the island, and between the main island and Hydra, and the various factions splitting apart and coming back together. There are narrative dead ends in every season of “Lost,” but it felt like season six had more than usual, perhaps because it was the last one.

And I still don’t know how I feel about the scene in the church, and about Christian’s suggestion that the people everybody met on the island are the ones who matter the most to them now that they’ve crossed over. While I think that’s a nice nod to the idea of “Lost” as this show that matters so much to those of us who stuck around through the end, the conceit doesn’t seem to hold up to the “it’s all about the characters” philosophy. Why would Sayid’s heavenly soulmate be Shannon and not Nadya? Why would Jin and Sun be okay going into the light without Ji Yeon? If this is only a reunion for people who were on the island, why is Penny (who never set a foot on the place) there, while Daniel, Charlotte, Miles, Ana-Lucia and so many more are not? (Won’t someone please think of Nikki and Paulo?) Couldn’t Ben just bring Alex? Do Jack and Juliet no longer care about their imaginary afterlife son?

I’m not saying there’s a right or wrong answer for any of those questions, but when you deliberately go vague and spiritual on your ultimately resolution, you inevitably run into the same kind of fuzzy afterlife logic that leads Robin Williams to star in “What Dreams May Come.”

And I see in looking back on what I’ve already written that the negative seems to be far outweighing the positive, and I don’t want that to be the ultimately balance of my take on “The End.” Because I did greatly enjoy so, so much of it. I loved the reunions (did a fist-pump when Rose and Bernard made their annual appearance) and I loved all the callbacks and recreations to moments from earlier in the series: Jack and Locke peering down another deep hole in the ground with Desmond at the bottom, the re-birth of Aaron, Jack lying down in the same place where he began the series (and with Vincent once again running by to provide him company), this time with his eye closing as the appropriate final shot of the series.

Really, if it’s possible to remove a judgment of “The End” away from expectations of what a “Lost” series finale must be – and we can debate whether that is in any way possible – then my only major objection to the episode as an episode is that Ben turned out to not have much of a plan, whether it was being Smokey’s henchman or running a con on him. He was just wandering along, letting other people make things happen. (And he was miraculously freed from the fallen tree trunk, and unharmed in the process.)

Yet even that was alleviated by that great moment when Hurley invited Ben to be his number two. It’s a job Ben held for many years, but not in the way he wanted. Jacob never appeared to him, never seemed to treat him as a person of consequence, and so much of Ben’s reign can be written off to either Smokey’s manipulations or Ben just being an ass. Here, though, the island’s new Jacob isn’t hiding from Ben. He asks for his help directly, says he values his expertise, and it’s clear how much that affirmation means to him – and Hurley and Ben’s brief conversation outside the church suggests that once he got that affirmation (and some leadership from Hurley that was less obnoxious than how Jacob ran things, or how Jack might have had things stayed predictable), he turned out to be a damn fine number two. So even though Ben declines to go into the light – whether to repent more for his many sins, or simply to enjoy his time with Alex and Danielle – things work out relatively well for him in life. And in death, he gets forgiven by Locke, as Terry O’Quinn and Michael Emerson get one final superb moment together playing their original characters (or more contemplative metaphysical versions of them).

Ultimately, “Lost” didn’t succeed because of the mythology. We’ve seen too many examples of mythology-heavy, character-light series fail over the last six years to think that. “Lost” succeeded on emotion, whether that emotion was fear of the monster in the jungle, or grief over Juliet dying, or joy at Desmond reuniting with Penny, or thrills at Sayid’s breakdance fighting and Hurley riding to the rescue in the Dharma bus. When “Lost” was really and truly great, it locked you so deep into the emotions of the moment that the larger questions didn’t really matter.

So many moments in “The End” lived up to that standard (excuse me while I pause this review to watch Juliet and Sawyer again… okay, back) that I don’t want to complain too much. But knowing that this is it for the series – that there aren’t any more opportunities to say, “Okay, I can wait a little longer on the big stuff, because that moment there was so cool” – I do wonder how I’m going to feel about this episode tomorrow morning, next week, or five years from now when I stumble across a repeat of “The Man Behind the Curtain.”

With every episode now out there to be analyzed, I don’t know how “Lost” hangs together as a large narrative, but as a series of moments, it was often incredible, right up until “The End.”

Some other thoughts:

• I like that not everybody’s flashpoint was finding their one true romantic love. Kate, for instance, needs to see the birth of her adoptive son, while Jack needs to touch his father’s coffin before he can truly embrace who and what he was. I do wonder, though, what Boone’s was (Fienberg joked that Hurley just showed him a mirror), and what Rose and Bernard’s was, since they were already together in the sideways universe.

• I also liked the choice of clips for the flashbacks, which not only seemed character-appropriate in each case, but which also served as a reminder that for all the hell these people went through together on Craphole Island, and however badly it ended for most of them, there was a lot of joy there, too. Just as there was in watching “Lost.”

• Interesting choice of characters to survive (not counting people like Penny and Walt, who were doing fine when last we saw them in the real world): two Others in Ben and Richard; two of the freighter folk in Lapidus and Miles; six Oceanic passengers in Hurley, Sawyer, Kate, Claire, Rose and Bernard; and Desmond, who will hopefully be on his way back to Penny and baby Charlie. And I hope that Hurley’s new non-smug leadership entices Rose and Bernard to stop hiding and start enjoying other people’s company again.

• Miles spots a grey hair on Richard, suggesting he’s now mortal again. Is it a coincidence that this happens around the same time Smokey becomes mortal, as well? Does Jacob’s magic wear off after his death? Did Desmond pulling the big stone stopper out of the bottle that is the island do it?

• Kate chooses Jack, and while I never much cared about the triangle, I was glad they didn’t try to force a Kate/Sawyer kiss only days (in island time) after the death of the woman Sawyer loved for three years. Frankly, I was more pleased to see Kate be the one to put a bullet into Smokey, and then to jump off the cliff ahead of Sawyer. The show has waxed and waned on Kate’s level of bad-assery, and I’m pleased she ended the series the way she began it, and not as the damsel in distress she became for a while.

• I took note of a lot of lasts in this one: among others, Hurley’s last “Star Wars” reference (re: Jacob, “He’s worse than Yoda”); Sawyer’s last nickname (he called Lapidus “Chesty”) and last “Sonuvabitch!”

• One somewhat cheesy sideways moment: Hurley’s pep talk to Sayid about how he has to believe in himself. Too on-the-nose.

• On the other hand, I cannot say enough good things about Jorge Garcia in that scene where Jack annoints Hurley. Hurley has believed in Jack as the leader from day one, and at the same time doesn’t see himself as anything but the follower and the comic relief. Garcia was fantastic at showing Hurley’s distress and disbelief at Jack going on a suicide mission and leaving him with this awesome responsibility.

Well, that’s all I have right now. Again, with something this big I want to let it sit and see if my opinion changes. It’s entirely possible that this conflicted but mostly positive reaction is the one I’ll always have. (My take on “The Sopranos” ending is largely unchanged from what it was that night.) But I imagine I’ll have more to say on the subject (even if it’s finding a new angle on the same opinion), maybe later this week, maybe next. Right now, though…

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com