The LOST Finale as a Meta-Metaphor for the Death of a Series

I wonder if the “Man of Science/Man of Faith” argument could be extrapolated to refer to the skeptics vs. those who had faith in the writers.

“Lost” (pun intended) in the hubbub of last night’s “polar”-izing finale, buried beneath the mystical corks, and cliffhanger fights; airplane escapes and journeys into the afterlife together, is a metaphor that I have yet to see in any of today’s recaps, though I have purposely waited to read Jeff “Doc” Jensen’s EW column for fear of it being the only one to taint my idea with his. Most of the disagreement over whether it was a satisfactory conclusion stands between the two camps of fans: people who wanted more “answers” to mysteries of the island (Jacob’s Cabin, The Hurley Bird, Walt and Aaron being ‘Special’, or even why there’s a giant cork in the island to begin with), and the ones who were more interested in where characters’ stories ended. There are those people (NY Times and NY Post, I’m looking at you) who didn’t understand things that were plainly spoken (“What happened was REAL”), but I tend to throw them out, because they obviously haven’t put enough thought into it.

In case there’s confusion, a brief recap of the important points. The entire season we’ve been given what the show’s writers endearingly call the “flash-sideways”. Instead of mixing in the main narrative with flashes of what has happened (flashback), or what will happen in the future (flash-forward) like they’ve done throughout the series (though the term “future” is relative, and makes my brain hurt), they’ve shown us the same characters we’ve known, in a time that we’ve already seen, now in a world whose relationship to the island universe is unknown. Now, the characters are different though, taking us back to the mindsets and issues they were dealing with in the first season, before all of the crazy island adventures changed, and in most cases, killed them. The characters, while having the same hearts and basic characteristics as the ones we’ve come to know, are altered a little bit, but dealing, in essence, with the same baggage as they did in the real world. Much of the enjoyment of this sixth and final season, just as in the first, lies in discovering who these people are in this world and realizing just how much different they are than the characters we grew to know. The only complication of this narrative device is that since we, the viewer, are incapable of coming to an understanding that both of these universes can simultaneously exist, we have to find a way in our own minds to reconcile the two together. “Which one isn’t real?”, or “Which one will become real?” we ask, because we can’t imagine how both of them can exist and still have meaning. My guess early in the season was that each one of them carried the same amount of weight and that the finale would create duel endings (not reconciling these universes), one happy, and one where everyone died. This would leave the viewer to have to decide for himself which one was real or if both were. I was wrong.

The way they were reconciled was by having each character in this “sideways” universe realize that it wasn’t real; that everyone there had died and that it was a holding place for them to move on to “what comes after death”. Everything on the island had happened. Some people died in the course of the show’s run; some lived full lives After Jack Shepherd (A.J.S.). But there they all were, waiting to move on as one group, changing Jack’s “Live together or die alone” mantra to one of “Live together AND DIE TOGETHER”. Their hurdle to enlightenment and realization of where they were in this universe was letting go of petty issues, guilt, fear, atonement, and instead, embracing the love of others. The Island, and the time spent on it were the most important parts of these people’s lives, and all that came before it was just a prelude and backstory. The relationships forged lasted beyond the characters lifetimes and stayed in the collective unconscious until they were ready to “let go”. Once this was understood, they could all go together towards that slightly cheesy white light, to whatever lay beyond. It was a mostly beautiful, and, at the time, slightly sappy ending, that I ate up wholly, reuniting characters but not compromising by bringing them back to life. Dead is Dead. And it seems as though they successfully put to bed the themes of death and love that hearken all the way back to when the first character, Boone, bit the dust as John Locke’s sacrifice to the hatch.

Before the finale, someone at my place remarked about how more than eighty percent of the characters ever introduced on the show have been killed off, and after last night’s episode, I realized that these deaths weren’t merely part of ratings boosting, or shock value, or plot progression, but they were there to bring about discussion on the theme of death. Anyone can go at any time. That’s a phrase I’ve heard the writers say they’ve wanted to impart on our minds for the entire run of the show. They were going to go so far as to potentially kill Jack in the first episode, originally. If you think about it, there’s probably a whole section that I could write about how the smoke monster/man in black was the antagonist because he couldn’t come to terms with his own anger at his death. Sure he wanted to move on (get off the island), but he couldn’t let go of the pain of the past, and parental issues and learn to accept his life for what it was and love. Jacob, as well, stayed around the island, in spirit form, until he was able to let go of his island protector-ship spurned by his guilt over his brother’s death. Michael was trapped as a spirit on the island forever because he couldn’t get past his misdeeds. But this is all discussion for some other time.

What I’m interested in here is the idea of how the show deals with the topic of death, as it relates to the actual death of the show itself. Wow! THAT IS META! Let me clarify that sentence: In the episode, characters are struggling to deal with the idea that their lives are actually over, and they must move on to the next phase together by letting go and embracing a community of love. Hell, the first scene is a coffin coming out of an airplane and the last is a wake/funeral; if that’s not metaphor material, nothing is. In fact, I’d venture to say double metaphor: death of the characters themselves (aside from the specific Christian Shepherd, as the surface example) AND death of the show. Imagine, if you will, that instead of Christian, inside of this casket is a show that has grown with us over the past six years, one that has become our friend, safe haven, source of philosophical debate and stability in a constantly changing world. Imagine that the fan community for the show, one that brings people together in discussion and love, and one that fills living rooms with ten people or more (or less) per week to share in this joint experience is the crowd of characters in pews embracing each other, joyful, weeping, and filled with human emotions. Last night’s episode wasn’t just about characters accepting death and letting the minutiae go, it was about us as fans of the show learning to do the same. But with this show, unlike most, we had to go together. We had to let go of all the unresolved plot points from four years ago and accept that it had ended. And fill the world with love for it and each other. And last night, and this morning, the internet pretty much exploded, with people who loved it, who will remember the good times and cherish it forever in the “what comes after”, and with those who felt burned, angry about the small things, and may never be able to find peace in the resolution. They’ll be haters, but they’ll be stuck in their “waiting room”, ready to be enlightened when they let their cynicism go.

The more I think about it, the more I realize they been trying to prepare us for this the entire season. Obviously, they knew the show was going to die. The entire flash sideways as a denouement not only works in the context of the characters dying, but for the show itself. While the characters were all set up with different life scenarios and what-ifs, many of them better versions of themselves dealing with the same problems, so was the ENTIRE PREMISE of the show itself. “What would happen if Hurley became a successful businessman, or Sayid could protect Nadia, or Sawyer could actually put away criminals instead of being one?” becomes “What if this horrific plane crash never happened?” What would a self-actualized, but slightly askew version of the first season flashback storytelling look like? How would it mirror (oh snap!) the beloved first season that served as the birth of these characters? In the exact same way as the characters went through this season’s sideways stories, not knowing what their place was, we ventured along the same way, only to be enlightened at the end, and able to see these stories for what they were: a waiting room, there to bring us back together with our deceased friends and help us move on to the place after as a group, a “fandom” if that doesn’t sound too nerdy. Bless you LOST, for the friendships you’ve helped create and strengthen over the past six years will surely be enough to carry us over to whatever comes next. I’ve let go.

****½
I think this metaphor pretty much works, but I’m sure there are a few holes you can punch here and there, and I didn’t mean to come off as preachy in more than an “it’s okay to move on” way.

As for the finale itself…
****½
Learning to let go of the minor things, the mysteries, and go back to my first season mindset, where all I cared about were the characters, this was a total success for me. Sure there weren’t “answers”, but that’s life. I’m dealing. The foam rocks falling seemed a little cheesy though, for the -.5 star. Seeya in another life, Brotha.

2 thoughts on “The LOST Finale as a Meta-Metaphor for the Death of a Series”

  1. The problem is exactly what you state in your rating for the finale: this idea creates an attitude that we can’t find answers in life. Such an anti-knowledge perspective is dangerous because it impedes progress and development, which is ultimately how life is improved.

    Of course, that’s the point they’re going for, isn’t it? We need to stop focusing on what we can attain and do and start focusing on appreciating other people. But then how does that focus reconcile with the apparent need to do something, protect the island?

    Oh, wait, I’m asking for answers again. See, it’s a circular self defeating argument. (Though beautifully crafted.)

  2. I’m happy with where the characters ended up, but for how many times the creators promised explanations grounded in reality, grounded in science, it’s just a little disappointing to come away with so little in that vein. It’s the use of such a literal Deus Ex Machina that really irks me. They couldn’t explain how the smoke monster worked (or the time travel, the source of the electromagnetic energy, teleporting into Tunisia, etc) so they gave this light at the heart of the island as the source of everything, and that’s the closest thing to an answer that we’ll ever get. It’s a cop-out and unfortunately it’s a not a very satisfying one. Even if they had left clues about alien technology or ancient civilizations I would have felt more satisfied.

    I mean, if the Others knew enough about the Smoke Monster to create the fence that keeps him out, why couldn’t they impart some of that knowledge to us in a scientific-y way? Just mention Higgs Boson particles and we’re all set, then tell me more about crazy Libby. The Lost fans are fanatical enough that they’ll make the connection to the theoretical God particle (maybe there’s an ancient civilation’s CERN lab following the circuit of all the Dharma stations) and they’ll disseminate the information for you. It’s simple, it’s still bit of a cop-out, but it would have been something.

    I still can’t say I hated it. There was clearly something about the drama between these characters that kept me tuned in for 6 seasons, and seeing the realities they might have created for themselves if the island had never existed was truly interesting. For example, seeing that Juliet as a doctor might have ended up in the same hospital as Jack and they would get married and have a kid and Jack would still end up with Kate in the end. I’m just not sure that a relieved, “thank-god-I-don’t-have-to-spend-any-more-nights-entranced-by-show sigh” is quite what they were going for.

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