Monday, May 24, 2010

Reflections on the Finale

I really, really enjoyed the final episode of Lost last night. In many respects, it was perfect. In a few respects, it was a little weak. I have tried to organize my thoughts into coherent prose, but I am not sure whether or not I succeeded. Here are my observations on what I liked, what I thought was weak, and my lingering questions. Note: I read about six or seven reviews of the finale before writing this. I have given credit to any ideas I have borrowed, but I did not link to the specific review, because I did not keep track of which ideas I took from each review while reading (and it was too much of a hassle to go back and do it after writing this). But where I am tossing out someone else's theory, I have indicated as much.

Thoughts and Observations -- here is what I liked about the finale.

Jack vs. John

Mrs. Side Bar and I watched the season premieres and finales of Seasons 1 and 2 yesterday before watching the series finale. It was a clear reminder that the battle between Jack and Locke, even though it was ultimately not-Locke, had been brewing from the very start. Last night's finale did not disappoint in bringing this conflict to its climax and resolution. First, the actual scenes between them were excellently done (if somewhat murkily explained, see below). The two of them peering down into the glowy cave - an obvious reference to the two of them looking down into the hatch (so obvious that smokey even jokes about it) - was awesome. And the actual physical battle between them - with Jack leaping off of the cliff to attack John - was legitimately exciting. (Side note: as one critic pointed out, the commercials got a little tedious last night, but they did add to the drama. The best example of that was Jack leaping off the cliff to attack Locke, only to be suspended there by a commercial break - a literal "cliffhanger"!!! (not my line)). Coupled with the nice juxtaposition to their relationship in the flash-sideways, where they are trying to save, not destroy, one another, and I just do not see anything left on the table between these two characters.

Jack = Jesus

Some people may not have found the overt references to Christianity/religion too interesting or moving, but I liked them (particularly because the show had a sense of humor about itself (as it did throughout this episode). "Christian Shepherd"? Kate asks, incredulously. Yeah, right). And for anyone who was left wondering, the show pretty much came out and told us that Jack was a Christ-figure. This was not an altogether shocking revelation, but they made sure we got it last night. The chalice, from which he takes a ritual sip, and then teaches his disciple to do the same. The cut in his side, just before he is crucified so others can live. His reunion with his father after he has died (not to mention his trip through hell and purgatory to get there). Mrs. Side Bar also made a passing comment yesterday about Locke, Jack and Desmond being Father, Son and Holy Ghost, respectively. And that was before last night's episode, when the three of them enter the glowy cave together. A holy trinity indeed.

The Island Story

Notwithstanding one of my mild complaints/criticisms below, I think the show did an excellent job of telling the story of the Island. From "Across the Sea" we know that the Island must be protected, and that Allison Janney, then Jacob, then Jack will protect it. Last night, Jack surrendered that responsibility to Hurley, who enlists Ben to help him (in a Richard-like role). Some of us spoke earlier about wanting to know what was different about this cycle; why was this story being told, rather than the one of Allison Janney, or Jacob, etc. But I am not sure we need to know that. When Hurley remarks that no one can leave the Island, Ben says "maybe there is another way." In response to our question, then, maybe the answer is that each cycle is unique, or special, because of the person in charge. Either way, we know that Hurley and Ben remained on the Island as its protectors for a while, because they each compliment each other on the job that they did as "number one" or "number two" in the final scene. In fact, since Hurley was the one largely responsible for the other characters' awakenings in the flash-sideways, you could even wonder (as one critic has) whether the "other way" that Ben spoke about was this gathering: a "gift" from Jacob/Hurley/the Island to its one-time inhabitants. But maybe that's a stretch.

The Flash Sideways

I was equivocal about the flash sideways all season until last night, when we finally understood what it was. And then I loved it. I think the best way to look at the flash sideways is as the self-contained plot for this season. When you think about it, each season of Lost had a duality to it: it contributed to the overall arc of the show, but also had a self-contained plot (btw - "character arc," and "the show's arc" and all this other "arc" stuff has been just abused by everyone discussing and wring about Lost, but whatever). Season 2 told the story of the Hatch, Season 4 was about the Freighter and the Oceanic Six, Season 5 was about time travel and the Dharma Initiative, etc. Season Six was about the flash-sideways: a self-contained story about how each of the passengers' lives might have turned out, but didn't, and how they became aware of the fact that their lives had ended The shocker at the end of Season 3 was that we were seeing Jack in the future, not in the past. The shocker at the end of Season 6, as he appears to stand over his father's empty coffin, is that we weren't really seeing Jack at all. Brilliant.

The Awakenings/Enlightenments

The highlight of last night - and the reason that the episode will go down for me with "The Constant" as one of the best ever - were the moments when each character became aware of where they were, and who they had been. And, to the show's great credit, it wasn't the "wake me with true love's kiss" bullshit, it was more intimate, more simple moments. Sun and Jin seeing their daughter on the sonogram; John wiggling his toes just as he had done in the pilot; Claire and Kate delivering Aaron; Charlie seeing Claire and Aaron; Jack placing his hand on his father's coffin (I left out the Sayid/Shannon moment because it did not really work for me, but whatever). And, in what might have been the most powerful scene of the whole episode, Sawyer and Juliet finding each other again in the hospital. These scenes were really beautiful, legitimately moving, and -- for the most part -- not sappy or campy. Mrs. Side Bar was a puddle by the end, but the rest of us may have gotten a little misty-eyed, too. And, as a bonus, these scenes even allowed the producers make this a little bit of a clip show in a way that was not at all boring or lazy.

Jack and the Arc of the Show - the Last Scene

It may have been predictable, but the bookends of this show - starting with Jack's eyes opening in the first scene of "The Pilot," and closing in the last scene of "The End," were marvelous. After all that we had seen on the island, it felt incredibly cathartic and appropriate to close the circuit as neatly as they did. Even if they had no firm idea of what the large middle would look like, the creators of Lost plainly know where they were heading with Jack from the very start. The last scene of the show, cutting back and forth between Jack's death on the island and his awakening in the church before moving on to whatever lies next is stunning. And, as always, the music on this show took a good scene with good acting and elevated it to something almost breathtaking. I really, really encourage you guys to go back and watch that scene again; start it when Jack walks in to the rear of the church, then run it to the end. It is extraordinary.

Weak Points -- A couple of thoughts on places where I thought the episode missed a step.

The Glowy Cave

The show basically wants us to accept that the cork in the cave was holding down some evil, and when Desmond removed the cork, the evil got out for a second. Then Jack corked it back up. But what was really going on here? Jack's "plan" - if you could even call it that - seemed pretty instinctual and not altogether well thought-out. Likewise Smokey, who has had thousands of years to figure this shit out, only to be completely and utterly wrong about the impact of removing the cork. I will buy the mysticism to a point, but I thought that if this whole piece was not going to be explained more, it could at least have been developed a bit more so that we could try to explain it for ourselves.

Ben's Accident

Maybe I am being nitpicky here, but Ben was pinned by a tree, announced that Locke had a boat, and then was not pinned by a tree anymore. If the show was going to put us through the utterly pointless exercise of seeing Ben pinned under a tree (from which he could not escape but suffered no injuries whatsoever) I think it is fair to show us how he gets out. Not a big deal, but just a pointless thread to leave hanging.

Open Plotlines

I am not going to be one of these people who finds every little open question that remained unanswered and then complains about it, but there were some significant questions that were asked and then not addressed. Walt was a hugely important character in Season 1, but that importance was never explained (or, to borrow from my point above, developed so that we could try to explain it). Likewise the numbers (which Open Bar and Chuck have addressed already). Dogan and the Temple was a very weak open to Season 6, so maybe it is better that they left it alone. And if you think back to Season 1 and Season 2, there was much importance to who the Others were taking and why. Remember the two kids that got kidnapped and the lived with the Others? WTF? As Chuck correctly pointed out, I didn't ask these questions, the show did. So give me something to work with in resolving these questions. But having said that, it was clear once we got to the last episode that these important-but-not-paramount plots were not getting answered in the finale. So maybe this is a more of a critique of Season 6 generally, not last night's episode in particular.

Claire's Story and Return Home

I had a difficult time feeling anything other than indifference to Claire when she was, at first, refusing to leave the Island, but then ultimately agreed to go with Kate. One critic I read this morning proposed a "My Two Mommies" Aaron-based sitcom spin off. The silliness attending Claire's storyline this whole season, to me, suggests that it could have been done better, or not at all.

Questions -- for discussion (other than the first, I don't think these are questions that could be/should be answered; rather, they are just my thoughts today):

What was with the shots of the plane crash at the very end with no people around? Was this meant to suggest that everyone died in the crash? I really do not think so, but why was that shown to us? I found it odd and I insist it was shown for a reason.

Why did some people make it into the church and not others? Some passengers from 815 were missing, other were there. And some people who were not on 815 were there, too (Penny). If this was Jack's farewell, were these the people most important to Jack? I might like that explanation.

Why didn't Ben go into the church? Does he get to stay in the sideways world with Danielle and Alex? That would be sort of cute and nice, but I don't think it would be consistent with how we are supposed to think of the sideways world.

What did Eloise Hawkins know when she asked Desmond if Daniel was going to leave? Like Desmond, she has always had a heightened consciousness of shifting realities; did she understand exactly what was happening?

How long did Hurley and Ben protect the Island? Was there a hint when Christian told Jack that some of the people in the room died "long after" he did?


Open Bar said...

Re: some of your Questions:

-I'm still not exactly sure where I come down on the whole shot-of-the-crashed-plane thing. I maintain that once Jack's eye closed and they flashed the "LOST" logo, that's it. Show over. But still, they did show the plane right after. If it means anything, I think it was probably a way (for us, the audience, not the characters) to say goodbye to the island, a quick visual reminder of how everyone got there and all that they overcame. (I had thought of a better way to explain that, but it escapes me now.)

-Haven't yet sorted out how you get a ticket or whatever to the church. Michael, I imagine, remains stuck on the Island Whispering stuff because he killed Libby (and Ana-Lucia too, but I was fine with that one), who was clearly one of the Good Ones. But Penny? I guess Desmond was allowed to bring her along. And what about Jack's (and Juliet's) son not being there? Locke said, "You don't have a son." Must suck to discover that that's true, huh?

-I really like Ben not going into the church. I think once Sideways Ben, who was an all-around good guy, realized all the awful crap he had done when he was actually alive (starting with killing his own father), he needed a bit more time than most to digest and, perhaps, repent. Also, I imagine the idea of getting his daughter back is probably a pretty big reason to stay, too. Like how Desmond described Ana-Lucia as being “not ready” to come with them, I don’t think Ben is ready yet to “move on,” though I think Locke’s genuine forgiveness and Hurley’s gratitude certainly factor in and will help Ben when he eventually decides to step into the church.

Side Bar said...

Are there footprints in the sand in that final final scene? Could it be a way of the producers telling us one more time, "this shit really happened. Don't go thinking this was all a dream sequence." If so, fair enough, but there were countless other, more direct ways of doing that.

It also could have been the Ajira flight, but that would be horrendously depressing, so I reject that.

It is also possible that it means nothing and was just a random shot. I am open to that, but would be disappointed if that were ever confirmed by anyone in the know.

Also, given everyone's reactions to the finale, and then comparing them with my own, I am totally convinced - now more than ever - that watching on DVD is a thoroughly more satisfying experience.

ChuckJerry said...

As it was airing I felt like the plane on the beach was the island as they left it. In that it's still there and still being whatever it is.

The Ben not going into the church is a great example of an unanswered question that was handled perfectly. If only they could have handled some of the other questions this way. Ultimately, if Ben is not evil, then no one is.

"Likewise Smokey, who has had thousands of years to figure this shit out, only to be completely and utterly wrong about the impact of removing the cork."

It's like no one ever really explained the rules to anyone. Like none of them really knew what they were doing there. It's like Desmond pressing the button every 108 minutes without knowing what will happen if he doesn't. Hm...that's an interesting parallel. That's really interesting, actually. I'm gonna have to think more about that one.

Sayid's ending was pretty wack. What was Boone's wakeup moment? That was probably a pretty good one.

ChuckJerry said...

Incidentally, can we all agree that the best line was when Locke/Smoke says in response to Jack being the island keeper, "That just seems so obvious." (sorry if i'm paraphrasing)

Open Bar said...

"As it was airing I felt like the plane on the beach was the island as they left it. In that it's still there and still being whatever it is."

I just remembered that the opening shot of season 6 was the Island underwater. Perhaps that final final shot was a bookend to that, to demonstrate that the Island escaped that fate.

"Likewise Smokey, who has had thousands of years to figure this shit out, only to be completely and utterly wrong about the impact of removing the cork."

Actually, he was right. Desmond was able to enter the Cave and reach the Light unharmed and un-Smoke-Monster-ified. What Smokey didn't know (and how could he have?) was that unplugging the cork would make him mortal.

And yes, the "Knowing Jacob, you just seem like the obvious choice" was my favorite line of the night. True to the characters and story, semi-fourth-wall-breaking, and funnier the more familiar you are with everything.

Open Bar said...

Re: the final final shot of the plane, according to EW's Doc Jensen (one of the biggest "Lost" bloggers), it's a big nothing:

"The plane wreckage over Lost credits: not part of the story, say reliable sources. Meant to evoke mood. No Ajira crash, no time loops.

ChuckJerry said...

"What was with the shots of the plane crash at the very end with no people around? Was this meant to suggest that everyone died in the crash? I really do not think so, but why was that shown to us? I found it odd and I insist it was shown for a reason."

It's not nothing. It's clearly something. Nothing would be nothing.

How about this? In the pilot Jack opens his eye(s) and runs to the beach to save everybody amongst the wreckage. Then in the finale he closes his eye(s) after having saved everybody. Though they're no longer there at the beach.

Open Bar said...

Well, it could simply be images of the plane, nothing more. That's not "nothing," but it's certainly not some clue to the secret real meaning of the ending.

Again, once his eye shut and they flashed the "LOST" logo: show over.

ChuckJerry said...

Ok, but it clearly echoes the pilot in which Jack wakes up and then there's a pan of the beach and the wreckage.

I don't think there's a deeper meaning behind it, it just serves to further bookend the series.

Open Bar said...

This should settle it:

"ABC told the LA Times that the network – and not executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse — added those shots of the beach simply to soften the transition from the emotional ending of the series finale to the 11 p.m. news and didn’t realize that viewers who had been obsessing over every detail of every scene of every episode might have considered the series’ final images as having some meaning.

'The images shown during the end credits of the Lost finale, which included shots of Oceanic 815 on a deserted beach, were not part of the final story but were a visual aid to allow the viewer to decompress before heading into the news,' an ABC spokesperson told the Times."

ChuckJerry said...

I kinda got the sense that we were both saying the same thing after a while. Though your level of correctness is clearly very high.