Monday, May 24, 2010
Lost 6.17/18: "The End"
So...Lost. Maybe I'll just start writing until my feelings on the finale -- and indeed the whole series -- make sense. Because, I can tell you right now, I loved almost all of the 2.5-hour series finale, and especially those last 15 minutes some people seem to be struggling with. Which is really weird for me, because my thing with this show has always been that I love the mystery but hate the characters. Even the ultra-controversial "Across the Sea" (which I liked and everybody else hated), was more about deepening the show's mythology and setting it into an ancient Biblical/mythological/pre-literate context. People hated that it ignored our fair Lostaways entirely. I was more than okay with that.
But "The End" was a success almost entirely because of these characters we came to know and love (and tolerate and be exasperated by and loathe). Even before the celestial end-game revealed itself, there were so many emotional payoffs owing to the history these characters have with each other. Even Sayid and Shannon, whose reunion was almost comical given how much we had all forgotten their what's-the-opposite-of-epic romance. Six seasons full of Nadia-based longing/whining from Sayid and we're supposed to remember that six-week courtship with Shannon? And yet, that moment really worked, if for no other reason than two extremely attractive people making out seemed very right. (Though, nobody gets to mack on Boone? That seems terribly unfair.)
And if you know me at all, you know that the Sawyer/Juliet moment tore me right up, as I fully expected it to. What I didn't expect was that I'd be almost as caught up in the Charlie/Claire reunion. And I thought this episode had a much more emotional capper on Jin and Sun's story than "The Candidate" did. The steady stream of flashbacks felt like a great reward for the fans, and for the first time, I felt invested in the Sideways universe. But before I get to that, how 'bout the Island itself.
While I will agree that everything surrounding Desmond and the cork and the light and the whatever felt like so much MacGuffining around, the emotional payoffs surrounding it were uniformly excellent. Jack getting one over on NotLocke, Sawyer and Kate jumping off that cliff together, that team of expendables (Frank, Miles, and Richard) getting the Ajira plane up and running, Jack making his sacrifice, leaving a truly unlikely team of Hurley, Ben, and Desmond behind to steward the island going forward. Hurley's accepting of the role of Island Protector was some strong storytelling, and got the added benefit of the best acting of Jorge Garcia's career. In fact, all around, the acting that I had previously found to be wildly overrated came up big when it counted. For Pete's sake, I even marveled at Evangeline Lilly. (!) I love the idea of Hurley and Ben as No. 1 and No. 2, and the small changes they brought to the island (Hurley as a less capricious version of Jacob; Ben having his experience and opinion valued) felt large in impact. And if, indeed, as I've seen speculated this morning, Hurley did use his new Jacobean powers to create that little slice of afterlife knows as the Sideways universe (and I'm not really sure I buy that), then it would mean even more.
So about that Sideways universe! I'll say right now, I loved it. I knew a lot of people wouldn't, because once you utter the word "heaven" (nobody on the show did, but everyone at home must have), half your audience is turned off, either for personal reasons or for fandom-mandated genre-loyalty reasons. Don't you try to tell a sci-fi geek about heaven or God. He will throw a big red FAIL stamp on your forehead. I don't think it was a copout to have everybody be dead at the end. As they only reminded us a billion times, what happened on the Island happened, and it mattered. And in the end, all the characters we knew best came back together after they died -- whenever they died. Boone and Charlie, who died years ago; Jack and Jin and Sun, who died very recently; Hurley and Ben who died long after they decided to partner up on the island -- they all wound up on the alternate Oceanic 815, because that's where they all ultimately wanted to be, together. As Christian told Jack, this was the most important time of their whole lives. It was where they died, or gave birth, or fell in love, or redeemed themselves. But you'll note that in Sideways world, they didn't return to the Island, just each other. Ultimately, this WAS a story about the people. There was a mystical island that drew them all to it, and it raged at them and scarred them and healed them and ultimately gave itself over to them. Its mysteries and the actions it saw were real and mattered. But in the end, they lived together and died ... well, together.
I was kind of amazed to see how many people didn't quite get it. Not "didn't like it," that I can't argue with. But there were a lot of people thinking the whole show was in purgatory, or at least confused as to what events those final minutes ultimately invalidated. Right after it was over, even I was like, "So that whole Sideways plot was completely meaningless until this week." And in a way, it was. I can't imagine watching Season 6 back again and being at all invested in Sun getting shot or Kate on the run or Locke's operation -- even Desmond's quest to be the James Bond of soul-gathering. In terms of plot, those scenes are meaningless now. (Of course, the rewatchability of Lost has been in serious question for some time now. Have you tried to watch an early-seasons episode lately? Have you counted the dropped plot points or the mystical hoo-ha that never amounted to anything? I liked Lost a lot, but I was never under any illusions that all the loose ends were ever going to come close to being tied again.)
But as I keep thinking about the Sideways, I feel more and more like they were necessary. Not just for the structure of the season, though that was important. We don't get the amazing payoff of the finale if we hadn't put in the time, nearly every week, investing (even a little) in this timeline. They couldn't have sprung the alt world on us in the finale -- or even with 4-5 episodes to go. It's similar, actually, to how the flashbacks began as essential backstory and quickly became structural assistance for a series that had to suddenly become built to last. [Also similarly, I had about as much patience for the side-flashed as I did for the flashbacks, which is to say not much.]
But more than just buttressing the finale, the Sideways does seem to have served an emotional purpose. The characters lived out the lives they could've had if the Island had never pulled them to it. For some, like Ben, this is an atonement, which I guess plays into the "purgatory" angle, though I don't think that's quite right. For some, like Sayid, he ends up back in the loop of violence and longing for Nadia (also Kate's still a criminal). Jack is a dad, Hurley's lucky, Sawyer's a cop -- some don't follow a literal line of "here's the damage you have to overcome" but they all make some kind of comment on the characters' lives. (Well, for the most part. Again, this show never seems to get it all right. Why would Juliet have dreamed up an alternate life for herself where she's Jack's ex wife? Why would Locke still want to be in a wheelchair?)
I liked that not everybody had to be "ready" at once. Sure, that gave them a built-in excuse for why Michael and Walt and Eko and Ana-Lucia weren't there -- at some point, we're gonna have to stop blaming the showrunners for the fact that Malcolm David Kelly got too old and Adebisi didn't want to live in Hawaii. Ben wanted more time with Alex; Eloise wanted more time with Daniel; Nikki and Paolo probably wanted to enjoy the lives of sexy movie stars for a while. I'm okay with Michael not being there. I fanwanked it that he wasn't there because, for him, the Island WASN'T the most important time in his life. But then I remembered his restless spirit is still on the island. And then I remembered that nobody likes him and I stopped worrying.
Was it an imperfect end to an imperfect series? Absolutely. I could list the plot holes and inconsistencies all day. But in the end, Sawyer and Juliet walked hand-in-hand into whatever was next, and everybody lived until they didn't. In a way, it reminded me of the Six Feet Under finale that way, with Michael Giacchino's soaring score standing in for that Sia song. I felt satisfied.