Monday, May 24, 2010

Lost - the con-clusion

When Matthew Fox (Doctor Jack Shepherd) revealed in an interview with The Guardian, last year, that he was the only member of the cast to have seen the final scene from ABC's most ambitious television series, he inadvertently gave away a massive spoiler. It was obvious he would be in the last ever scene.

For many people Lost was lost after season 2. Those who persevered through the first season, we not rewarded for their patience and a lot of viewers just gave up on it. The last three years have been spent telling these people that they gave up on something quite extraordinary.

In the end, Lost was about a group of people, not about anything else. Life isn't neatly tied off, unless you die, but even then everything else goes on around you. Therefore there were things about the conclusion of the island story that were left completely dangling; these things are left to our imaginations to decide. If you come out of a disaster movie wondering who's going to clear all the mess up rather than enjoying the spectacle, then you're not the kind of person who'd have enjoyed the end of Lost.

In truth, all of the mysteries of the island and why there were there had already been answered; admittedly the true origin of the island was something that was never going to be fully explained, but someone I knew likened the island to the Garden of Eden and regardless of its biblical connections, I'm happy to accept that as a feasible explanation. The final double bill was really about tying up the loose ends and discovering just what was going on in the 'alternate universe'. There was the smoky side issue of how 'John Locke' was going to be stopped and what the ultimate fate of the island was going to be.

It was a phenomenal episode for its emotional impact and for best part of the 2+ hours it was on, you were completely drawn into this parallel world, where it looked like Desmond Hume holds all the cards. It makes you laugh, it makes you cry; there are reunions you never expected and everyone looks like they're going to get a happy ending - in both realities. But then after it all finished and the tears were wiped away, the stark reality of it starts to hit you. They didn't jump the shark, but they did cop out big time. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I believe they shrouded a poor finale in schmaltz and emotional indicators.

Season 1 was about the miraculous survival of Flight 815; season 2 was about the struggle with the incumbent 'other' residents; season 3 was all about the hatch and the Dharma Collective; season 4 was all about the arrival of would be saviours and the escape from the island; season 5 was all about time travel and began to clear some things up and muddy others. Season 6 just explained things, in an almost methodical way - who Jacob and his brother (Esau?) were; why the people who survived the crash were there (and that all but the names written down were expendable), what the purpose of many of the peripheral people was and the ultimate battle for control or destruction of the island.

In the end it was about keeping a plug in a hole. At the heart of the island is a light and that light comes from beneath the ground, it bestows magical properties on the island; if removed the island sinks. Jack, Sawyer, Kate, Hurley, John, Sun, Jin, Sayyid, Claire, Charlie, et al were all just players in a low key cosmic stand-off; one that seemed to neglect some pretty pretty poorly executed red herrings, unless they changed their mind about the denouement.

The first episode of season 6, where Juliet dies in Sawyer's arms, you later find out from Miles, the guy who talks to the dead, that the only thing Juliet was thinking when she died was that 'it worked' ('it' being the decision to blow up the island in 1974). At the start of the same episode, Jack and co are all on board Oceanic 815; they hit some turbulence over the ocean and below the sea is the island. Obviously, exploding an atomic bomb in the centre of the island in 1974 did work and this was the alternate lives of people on that flight, who hadn't been touched by Jacob. Except, with hindsight, Jacob's story started hundreds, possibly even thousands of years before this; destroying the island in 1974 would not have stopped Jacob from touching the lives of at least James Sawyer. But you don't think about that until after...

Season six steamrollered its way through sub-plots and mysteries; a lot of them being accepted by the survivors as totally plausible; but we're talking about a cast here that were either never ever informed of how it was going or could act bemused incredibly well. Jacob's death at the end of season 5 meant that one of our survivors had to become Jacob - become island protector. The John Locke/Smoke monster summed it up best when he said, "I kind of expected it." I think we all knew that regardless of Jack's lesser role in this season, he was heading for the big finale, he said it so himself.

With the mystery of the island virtually explained, this left the conundrum of the alternative universe and this is where a potentially excellent existential ending could have been manufactured and it seemed like it right up until the scenes with Desmond and Daniel's mother, then Jack and his father and finally the one with Hurley and Ben Linus. What appeared to be Desmond rushing around trying to reunite all the original survivors, perhaps to lead them to at least a version of the lives they would have had had the island not been blow up; but the feeling you had that Island Desmond and Alternate Desmond were sharing the same body but different universes was a red herring; a clever one; far cleverer than what really happened, but a red herring all the same - he saw the alternate reality; he said so as much, except the alternate reality he witnessed wasn't real... How does that work then? Desmond as god?

Desmond was collecting them all - getting them to reunite, meet their 'lost' ones, to remember what happened. He was giving them all what they all wanted - a happy ending. An ending so happy that even Jack's father, Christian Shepherd - dead from episode 0, was there to do all the explaining; or rather to give Jack the good/bad news. Despite the poorly executed red herring at the beginning of the season: the aforementioned island under the sea and Juliet's proclamation that 'it worked' - it didn't. The alternate universe was a waiting room for 'heaven'; they really were all dead; but not the way that hundreds of people had speculated. I think they were trying to say that after all their journeys, they would eventually all be in the waiting room area at the same time, to allow them all to be reunited one last time before they 'move on'. Because they achieved so much together, was the message Christian was saying; that what they did was important, even if only they will ever know about it and therefore they had to be reunited one last time...

The producers managed to squeeze every last drop of emotion out of the finale; cranking up each part of memory recognition on the alternate universe further and further. You get swept away by Charlie and Clare's reunion; Jack and John's realisation; Sawyer and Juliet's really powerful scene and finally Jack and Kate, when Kate starts to let the plot slip. All of this was designed to make the anticlimax as painless as possible - they wrung every emotional muscle in your body just to finally give you a conclusion that was wholly unsatisfying.

The conclusion of the island story was pretty lame; Desmond's prophecy didn't come true and Jack basically sacrifices himself. The unplugging of the source of the light, seemed to strip the immortal presence on the island of their immortality - suddenly Jack (now gifted with Jacob's power) and 'Locke' could hurt each other, Richard grew a grey hair and everything lost its magic. Jack fights 'Locke' to a stalemate and Kate manages to put a bullet in 'Locke' because he isn't looking or speaking to her. Big Bad dealt with in an almost rudimentary way. Kate and Sawyer go, Jack, mortally wounded, Hurley and Ben stay behind to try and save the rapidly disintegrating island (some uncharacteristically poor special FX here, btw). Jack saves Desmond, saves the island and Hugo and Linus believe him to be gone. So we're left with the fat millionaire, who has become new custodian of the island and the lying deceiving double crossing, totally lovable Ben as his sidekick and Desmond, still stuck on the island after all those years. Ben tells Hugo that now he's in charge he can perhaps do things a bit different from the old Jacob way, but that's just a line to end that story.

All that's left is Jack, who wakes up in the same place that the cave spat Jacob's brother's body - the essence of him had become the smoke monster. He isn't in a good way and still the producers' pull at those emotional strings. The close of the show has interchanging scenes - Jack slowly moving through the bamboo forest, Jack being reunited with all the survivors in a church that played a role throughout the series. As it becomes clearer that these people are spending their last time with each other before they go (Ben Linus opting to stay in purgatory (?) seemed to be a kind of sadly executed Judas moment), the scenes shift back to Jack, now lying in exactly the same spot he was in when the series opened, with Vincent the labrador lying next to him. The last thing he sees before he dies is the plane with Sawyer, Kate and the others flying over the gap in the canopy. Christian Shepherd opens a door and the congregation in the alternative world are bathed in brilliant pure while light... Jack's eyes close on the island...

The end...

I've already read pointless criticism at such pointless loose ends as: what happens to the 5 who got away? How did Desmond get off the island? How do you explain Richard Alpert? What about the rest of their lives? On the whole the programme didn't have any real goofs and you can't explain everything. I think the show's makers' wanted to tease us until the last moment, to make us think we could second guess them. But saying all of the above, I can't for the life of me think how they could have done it differently - there are clues throughout the entire series that pointed to this ending, even if the light at the source at the centre of the island was something of a deus ex machina moment in the show's normally well planned bombshells; some could argue that was where Jack landed after the crash and he could have walked the other way and found it immediately. The 'place beyond the bamboo forest' seemed a wee bit flimsy a plot device in the end.

If you want to be existential about this; the alternate universe could have been designed as a metaphor for success, or equally that they all did die on Oceanic 815 and those that 'survived' were there to perform the task they did - Jack admits something like this towards the end. They all served their purposes and had their real lives stolen away from them as a result, which is why the alternate universe has them all reunited, in circumstances that fitted in with the original storyline - a place to reunite them all where they all have memories of that 'life'. But, I'm afraid, it just doesn't hang together. Even if, with hindsight, the scenes where they were reunited with the special people in their lives seemed to hint at a finality. You notice, in the alternative world, that no one, once they remembered, talked about their futures.

But why Clare with a baby, apart from a plot device to allow both her and Kate to remember the island; why a cheerful, wonderful employer like Charles Widmore (someone who will spend his eternity in that world along with Ben, presumably). Why Desmond and his wife amongst the survivors moving on, but no Daniel Farraday, or Miles? Some of these can be explained by saying they were not fundamental in the course of events, or they weren't there when it all started, but Penny Widmore was peripheral at best. No, this was pure happy endings with a spiritual twist - use the God idea to wrap up a story.

So they all died, but maybe Kate and Sawyer both lived full lives back in the real world - one is a fugitive, one a con man, so explaining why they turned up with a 500 year old man might be difficult, but, that's neither here nor there. Perhaps Hugo and Ben had a great time on the island, they certainly seemed to think so in their final scene together. These are stories that people would like to know but aren't important. The bottom line is that two ancient creatures knew that time had come for a final confrontation with the destruction of the island at stake. Everything was set up like a chess board and they left them for 5 seasons to work out an order. There was much thrown in to confuse and throw off the hunt.

The survivors' were put there to whittle themselves down to the last one to do the job. The reunion was to show them they did something special, each one played their part. It was a lame ending, because it was a cop-out and it was executed poorly.

It doesn't detract from the fact that Lost was and will be one of the great TV series of all time; it had more twists and turns than the world's biggest twistiest and turniest thing; it had moments of laugh out loud incredulity and, cleverly, developed an entire community without the viewer being that aware. Much of it will be remembered for being brilliant television and I suppose it had all that to live up to.

NB: It is now Tuesday and 36 hours since I got up and watched it at an ungodly hour. I can't help thinking that it has kept me thinking; which is the mark of good television. The sad thing for me is that I can't reconcile myself to the fact that that's it, and for all the time, investment and emotions it cost me, I can't help feeling a little bit let down. The word contrived features a lot in my thinking, but most importantly, they opted for the most generic conclusion they could think of, after years of breathtakingly audacious television, they bummed out. The worst, yet best part of this is - they are never likely to make anything quite like it again. We can all rest easy that we won't have over 100 hours of our lives wasted on another flimflam ending.

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