One word I would not use to describe Lost’s 6-year run is “consistent.” The show was a rollercoaster of loose plotlines and mysteries; of false-starts, twists and revelations. There were high points and low points, and while it was thoroughly enjoyable for most of its run, consistency was not one of its strengths. Just look at how the last three seasons compare to the first—with the exception of the characters (which, granted, is a pretty big exception) it’s hardly even the same show. But there were many great episodes, and one thing that could be called consistent was the excellence of the finales. Each of the first five seasons’ finales were some of the show’s highest points, and even the weaker seasons delivered in the finales. With the sixth season, that changed.
Lost’s last episode—the series finale—was a disappointment.
Let me be clear. It wasn’t entirely disappointing. The on-island events of the past season were wrapped up nicely. The characters were also provided a certain emotional closure, and the montages as they “remembered” brought a tear to my eye. The episode did a wonderful job reminiscing on the importance of the characters’ relationships (romantic and otherwise) over the years, and as for the emotional aspect of the show, it was mostly fulfilling. Even the perplexing flash-sideways—which many fans and critics alike found lacking since the beginning—were explained.
As a Season 6 finale, it was decent. But as a series finale—as the final episode not just for the stories introduced in Season 6, but for the stories we’ve been watching since the pilot way back in 2004—it was abysmal. Hardly the sendoff six years of Lost deserved. It was an inept attempt to place all of the series’ importance on the events of the sixth season. The major revelation of the finale—and therefore the series—was that what we’d been calling “flash-sideways” since they were introduced were actually something created by the characters so they could reunite after their respective deaths. Call it the afterlife, or purgatory. It was a complete shock—but not one of the carefully arranged and foreshadowed ones that Lost is known for. The afterlife had nothing to do with what the show was about from the beginning. It felt like an ending pulled out of thin air, not an ending carefully constructed and hinted at for six years, as I was expecting. There were even numerous red herrings throughout the season to distract from the truth, like the blood on Jack’s neck or Juliet saying “it worked.”
Scott Mendelson decided that Lost ended after the third season. Perhaps it would have been as effective to imagine the the flash-sideways never existed. They serve no purpose but as a ploy for emotional montages and “closure.” And taken in the context of the afterlife, even the meaning of those scenes is diminished. The only closure the characters got was in the afterlife, not even in the “real life” story we’ve been following since the beginning.
The finale makes Lost seem like a series of irrelevant events, loose plotlines, and MacGuffins—the war with the Others, Walt, infertility, the sickness, the cabin, the Dharma Initiative, the Ben-Widmore feud, etc.—with the only defining connection being that they all get to meet up after they’re dead. A lot was wrapped up over the past few seasons, however, and my problem isn’t with the answers that were given but with how the finale relates to the series as a whole. It left a bitter taste: even the memory of a delicious six course meal can be tarnished by a bug in the last bite of cake. I also feel that it ruins re-watchability, since instead of trying to see how everything fits into the ending, it’ll just be watching all the mysteries unfold knowing precisely which ones will never be resolved.
Perhaps the biggest issue with my reaction of the finale were my expectations. I expected more out of the final, 2½ hour episode. I expected a finale more fitting to the entire series, and I felt that it only touched on the last season, and mostly just the last few episodes. I don’t think my expectations were unrealistic, but they were too high, and even if this was not one of the worst episodes, it was definitely one of the most disappointing. Perhaps I would have felt more satisfied if I did not have expectations for a finale more meaningful to the mythology of the show and the stories and mysteries we’ve invested in over the years.
It felt inadequate; a bitter aftertaste to an otherwise delicious meal. But there’s one theme it got absolutely right: it’s time to let go.
Negative Reactions to the Series Finale
While plenty of people felt the finale was perfect, I’m certainly not the only one left feeling unfulfilled. Here are some other articles, with quoted sections relevant to what I’ve written, that I recommend reading if you’re feeling similarly slighted:
The finale didn’t matter because the story it told was seemingly invented from whole cloth at just the start of this season. By creating a whole new mythology in its final season, in a failed attempt to give the show ‘deeper meanings’, the series chose to ignore everything that viewers had become invested in. It takes a certain chutzpah to craft a finale to a long-running series that purely centers around incidents revealed in the last four episodes and the revelations behind a narrative-strand that was unveiled at the start of the final sixth of the story.
But when the entire island story line we had been following for six seasons turned out not to matter very much within the internal organization of the show’s narrative — to be largely disconnected from that final quasi-religious resolution of the plot — it was deflating, despite the warm feelings the finale otherwise inspired
Rendered insignificant, in this scenario, were the particulars of what they had done on the island. Pushing buttons, building rafts, blowing up hatches, living, dying — all the churning action and melodrama that made Lost so addictive in its early seasons — none of it was directly connected to this final outcome, beyond that it constituted ‘the most important part’ of all their lives.
For weeks they’ve been giving interviews and saying that they wouldn’t answer questions when the finale was over because they wanted the show to speak for itself.
Well, the show didn’t speak for itself. It was vague. I’m sure they will say that was the plan, to keep it vague and open to interpretation. Let me tell you, a little of that goes a long way, but I have six years worth of questions, six years worth of stakes in the story and the characters that are going to go forever unexplained. Not just because they weren’t answered in the show, but because the writers are going to refuse to answer them. Probably in an effort to make people feel stupid. Maybe in an effort to save face. Last night’s finale has, ‘You just didn’t get it. written all over it. I can hear it coming now. Well writers, that’s a lovely way to give the middle finger to an audience that paid your salary for six years, that cared about the characters you created. The very LEAST you can do is explain yourself if you can’t explain the story.
There is little real dramatic tension in a contest with random rules and imaginary stakes. The early seasons of Lost were gripping because we embarked on a voyage of discovery with the characters, exploring the dangerous mystery of the island by torchlight. By the end, everyone was plodding back and forth across the bland expanse of that island, blind pawns in an ancient contest whose rules and outcomes they couldn’t begin to understand.
Storytelling requires a commitment of trust between author and audience. Lost squandered six years of that trust. None of the plot elements from the first two-thirds of the story had anything to do with its resolution.
My absolute BIGGEST complaint with the purgatory idea is that these characters somehow NEEDED this world to move on. I think it cheapens the growth they had during the show.
Don’t tell me Jack needed to fix John, or talk to his Dad to be able to let go and move on. When he smiled at Ajira, and shut his eye with his last breath he had already learned to let go. When he told Flocke that he wished he could have told John he was right when he was still alive he had already learned to let go. When he saved Desmond and bathed in Radioactive Gatorade to return the cork he had learned to let go. These characters didn’t DO anything in the X world that redeemed or completed their souls, they were just there and had memories of what they had already done. I think most of our favorite characters had come to these resolutions in their own time on the show, and to say that they all needed to see each other again to realize this is a disservice to the character arcs they had already established so strongly.
It was like someone saying ‘hey, come to this construction site. we’re building you a kick-ass house!’ and you go to the construction site and dudes are building a huge mansion with secret rooms and waterslides and a helipad and shit. Then, just when it’s almost done being built, you find out that this isn’t the construction site for your ‘kick-ass house.’ Instead, they built you a little church.