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The finale of LOST

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on May 27, 2010

LOST, the television show that became a cultural phenomenon–watched at its peak by over 20 million viewers in the United States alone–concluded with its final episode this past Sunday. As I will now discuss that episode, and the sixth season more generally, this post contains MAJOR SPOILERS. Follow along after the jump…

George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen–my favorite blogger–offers his thoughts on the finale here. As I largely agree with what he said, I will use his post as a jumping-off point.

First, some gripes.

Miles didn’t really get to do very much. Fixing the hydraulics on the Ajira plane wasn’t exactly a revelatory moment, even if it resulted in one of the episode’s more memorable lines (“I believe in duct tape”). More importantly, nothing big came of his special ability to commune with the dead. I had hoped that his earlier “conversation” with Alex or the people who died at the Barracks in Season 4 would offer some sort of help. Also, the cause of Miles’ powers was left open. In the same vein, Hurley’s ability to converse with spirits of the deceased–on and off the Island–was not explained, except as him being “special”, (although possibly being connected to Hurley being a Candidate and being chosen by Jacob). The Man in Black, back when he was just an ordinary man (or boy), was able to speak with his dead mother (Claudia) in the same way Hurley was able to talk to Charlie, Ana Lucia, Michael, and even Isabella (Richard’s wife, who died off the Island). Was the Man in Black, as a mortal man, “special” as well? There is some evidence that “Mother” (Jacob’s predecessor as protector of the Island, not the twins’ actual mother) thought the Man in Black was more “special” than Jacob. (Jacob tells “Mother”, regarding guardianship of the Island, “You wanted it to be him.”) I understand that the writers wanted to make the finale about the characters and not, as Tyler notes, “about any particular account of the metaphysics of the Island”. However, I would have liked further information, fit in somewhere in the final season, about what it means to be “special” in the context of the Island (like Walt was, allegedly) and where that special-ness comes from. Heck, Battlestar Galactica explained the source of Baltar’s visions, even if the explanation was ridiculous.

The writing for Ben Linus towards the end of season six was mediocre at best, almost as bad as the writing for Juliet at the end of season five (“I changed my mind”–thanks to Mark Z for reminding me last year how stupid that scene was). I strongly agree with Tyler that Ben was aimless in the finale, and that Ben’s execution of Widmore in the penultimate episode was a poor writing choice, as it threw away over a season’s worth of context (Tyler calls it “dramatic gravitas”) that placed the Ben-Widmore rivalry second only to the rivalry between Jacob and the Man in Black in importance to the show’s overall arc (I would say the Jack-Locke rivalry comes in third, as by the time John Locke is in the coffin, he and Jack are no longer rivals, Jack has been converted to Locke’s perspective, and Jack is taking trans-oceanic flights with the hope of crashing). Widmore was following Jacob’s instructions by returning to the Island (with Desmond in tow), and he acted nobly in trying to save his daughter from the Man in Black’s (prospective) wrath. I actually spent much of the day after I watched “What They Died For” feeling sorry for Charles Widmore, to have met such a cruel and abrupt end after undergoing a major transformation from the show’s primary antagonist to a crucial ally of Jacob. To expand on Tyler’s sentiments, all the time we viewers spent caring about Widmore (whether rooting for him or against him) seemed wasted in the finale, as he ended up playing no major role in the Man in Black’s downfall, except for having brought Desmond back to the Island.

Overall, I thought the finale was very good. From a cinematic standpoint, the moments of revelation, where the Flash-Sideways characters “remember” their prior lives and loves, were brilliantly done. I would rate the LOST finale as 9 out of 10 (for purposes of comparison, I would give the Battlestar Galactica finale 7.5 out of 10, and the Dollhouse finale 8 out of 10–Joss Whedon loses a few points for killing off my two favorite characters in “Epitaph Two”.) Forget hydrogen bomb detonations and the wonky Flash-Sideways Timeline; the main Island-related story ended fittingly. LOST told this story–a story that begins with Jack waking up in the jungle in the pilot episode, and ends with Jack dying in the finale–using unforgettable acting, incredible music, and top-notch cinematography. Everything about the show, with the exception of a few minor bloopers along the way, screamed “well done”, and it was clear throughout that the producers and the network put the necessary time and money into LOST. Although I have enough Modernist sensibilities to be suspicious of any show that is too popular, and I initially refused to watch LOST because of its popularity (thanks to Max T and Ben H for persuading me to watch it, and to Scott O for watching Season 4 with me), LOST turned out to be an excellent show that literally changed the face of television. As Yunjin Kim (the actress who played Sun) said in the clip show/retrospective preceding the finale, the show included primary cast members from Canada, Australia, the UK, and South Korea, in addition to the United States. I’m not one to demand diversity for diversity’s sake, but I think it is notable that outside of the two most prominent characters (Jack and Kate) who were white, LOST featured Hispanic, black, and Asian main characters, all with their own fully fleshed-out storylines–quite a rarity on prime-time network television, and virtually unheard-of six years ago. LOST didn’t merely pay lip service to diversity–it was a show about a diverse and multifaceted group of people.

Two of my other favorite bloggers, Ross Douthat and Megan McArdle, offer their perspectives on the end of LOST as well. Ross is pessimistic about the way the finale resolved (or failed to resolve) the “macro-plot” elements. I agree that some central questions (particularly about the nature of the Island) were left almost completely unanswered. My favorite unanswered question is: how could “Christian Shephard” manifest off the Island if he was really the Man in Black all along? Megan is right that the writers and producers of LOST literally “lost” their way by the third season, piling mystery upon mystery without any sense of how they would write their way out of the maze they had constructed for themselves and for the viewers. She correctly notes that this was largely caused by uncertainty over the show’s renewal prospects, a problem that wasn’t settled until late in Season 3, when the executive producers and ABC agreed to end the show after six seasons. The sharp increase in quality in the fourth, fifth, and sixth seasons compared to the unfocused and meandering third season was evidence of this sea change, and a testament to the steady hands of executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, who worked hard to rescue their show and set it back on track.

As Ross notes, there are multiple levels on which one could appreciate LOST, and although the writers did not cater to all of these levels equally, I am largely satisfied with and impressed by their final product. While it certainly has a few inconsistencies and rough edges, LOST stands as one of the greatest achievements of contemporary television, made all the more impressive by the fact that it ran on a broadcast network (and not, like The Sopranos or The Wire, on HBO). Even though not all of my questions were answered, I still enjoyed the conclusion of LOST, and I hope that you did as well.

I will leave you with a list of my favorites from the entire run of LOST.

Favorite Characters (descending order): Locke, Desmond, Richard, Miles, Daniel.

Favorite Episode, Season 1: “Walkabout”. Runner-up: “Do No Harm”.

Favorite Episode, Season 2: “Live Together, Die Alone”. Runner-up: “The 23rd Psalm”.

Favorite Episode, Season 3: “Flashes Before Your Eyes”. Runner-up: “The Man Behind the Curtain”.

Favorite Episode, Season 4: “The Constant”. Runner-up: “Cabin Fever”.

Favorite Episode, Season 5: “316”. Runner-up: “Jughead”.

Favorite Episode, Season 6: “Happily Ever After”. Runner-up: “Dr. Linus”.

Favorite Directors: Stephen Williams for “316” and Mario Van Peebles for “Dr. Linus”.

Favorite Guest Stars: Alan Dale (Charles Widmore) and Titus Welliver (The Man in Black).

Favorite member of the production staff or crew: Michael Giacchino, composer of the musical score for LOST.

Favorite Scene of the entire series: Jack and Ben in Eloise Hawking’s church in Act 3 of “316”. “We’re all convinced sooner or later, Jack.”

Thanks for reading, and Namaste!

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