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 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.
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.
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?