Last night's Lost finale may have been emotionally satisfying, but critics compare the episode's lack of answers to The Sopranos conclusion — except, "I wouldn't have expected The Sopranos finale to clear up my questions about a giant stone foot."
Below, critics' reactions (our own massive recap is coming later today).
While Jack was fighting for his life on the island, he was getting sweaty over Kate at his father's funeral. Jack's dead father, Christian, told Jack in the roomful of everyone who had ever been on the island (and on the show), "This is the place you all made together so you can find one another. You're not leaving, you're moving on." What? Were they all dead all along? Probably. After the show was over, as the credits rolled, we saw the horrific, original wreckage. Perhaps the series was really about what would or could or may have happened had they lived. The possibilities, the loves not loved. So, no, my friends, there was no polar bear; Hurley wasn't really able to stay fat despite a diet of mangos; and no one fell in love. Or maybe they did. Who even knows if it's really the end of the show. Perhaps, like the plot itself, "Lost" is actually still playing somewhere in the alternate universe.
But weirdly, I'm feeling sanguine, because while they never resolved many absolutely key plot elements (why did the Others act the way they did when the Losties arrived? What in hell was up with the pregnant women dying?), and while they bracketed the whole thing with this Jacob/Smokey crap, while the shove-the-cork-in-the-hole sequence was so Freudian even Freud would have giggled, it was daring - I'll give it that. It was actively unpredictable. There were nice performances, plus the value-added nostalgia of everyone's breakthrough flashbacks. And after a season of corny and frustrating missteps, from Tina Fey to the entire Temple arc, punctuated by one fun Desmond episode, I didn't expect it to make sense, I just wanted it to be interesting enough to talk about with people.
While that's a feel-good ending, it's also an easy way out. While Cuse and Lindelof denied the purgatory aspect of the island years ago, it turned out to be the ultimate solution here, presented in a context that's meant to be universal: we all die.
For some viewers, that's the ending that they wanted: a sense of resolution and finality (the ultimate kind, really), but others are likely to be frustrated by the lack of answers here, not just about the island but about this purgatory as well.
Because even in purgatory, there are questions of logic. Why weren't Walt and Michael (Harold Perrineau) there? Why did we see the island at the bottom of the sea in the Sideways timeline? Why was Eloise Hawking (Fionnula Flanagan) so adamant that Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick) not wake them up? How did she know that they were in an intermediate state?
But you have to think that the gauzy, vaguely religious, more than a little mawkish ending of Lost – "Touched by a Desmond" - will not sit well with a lot of the show's fans. Many of them will have thought that things were going pretty well for the first two and a quarter hours of the final episode, as the producers treated them to a series of montaged moments in the sideways reality world, in which the main characters regained their memories of the island. But then came the ending, in which most of the main cast members gathered at a church for the big reveal: they were all dead.
So what was the island? Those who have been voting for purgatory all along can make a case, though it seems highly unlikely that the creators had anything so specific in mind. Fans and commentators will go through all sorts of twists and turns to make sense of the ending. From here, it seems that if everyone is dead, the only thing that makes sense - if that's a requirement - is that everyone was dead at the beginning. The finale will be compared, in its effect if not its form, to that of the "Sopranos." The "Sopranos" finale was ambiguous and a bit of a shrug, but not puzzling; to me the "Lost" finale, in the immediate aftermath, felt forced and, well, a bit of a cop-out.
What the chosen ending of Lost verifies is what most of the speculators have been saying for a few seasons: there would be no way to adequately wrap up the criss-crossing plot lines, the unending questions, the bottomless allusions. They feared that the show was begging for a big cop-out, catch-all ending. I feared they were right, but hoped that the most original show to grace network TV since ‘The Twilight Zone' wouldn't go out that way. Surely the writers of this unique show would prove them all wrong.
Well, they didn't. They couldn't have proved them more right if they'd had Jesus and Krishna themselves make an appearance on the island and tell Jack that, "everyone will go to a warm, lovely place that they made together to be together to remember that they were together somewhere for some reason, because that's what people have been wasting their time for six years to find out."
And in the end, LOST shows us the possibility of a world in which we are fully aware of our lives and how short they are. Call it Heaven or Nirvana or Enlightenment, but it doesn't take magic to get there–it's available to us right now.
That this message was transmitted by a network television show originally inspired by Survivor is a stunning achievement incomparable to any drama before it. It stands among The Illiad and Shakespeare in terms of telling the story of who we are as a species. But more than beautiful drama, LOST is a call to action to our own lost world.
It sends massive warning to obsessive fanboys, be the object of their obsession comics or nuclear bombs or the minutiae of a television show, that they are chasing the wrong things. That in the end, what matters is each other.
If you were looking for explanations for every twist and turn, you didn't get them. (Some viewers won't be satisfied until the producers churn out a multi-volume island manual that answers questions that were never actually posed.) But if you could be content with the "big" answers to the big questions - with exciting adventure, tragic consequences, flashes of humor and romance, and, ultimately, a happy ending - there was satisfaction in abundance. Thrillingly, cleverly, and in a manner that tapped into the simple, profound truths of great American works like Our Town, the show spelled out for viewers what it has been saying all along. Lost is about life and death, faith and science, spirit and flesh, and has always stressed that the title refers to the characters' souls, not their location.
So the sound you heard 'round about 10 Sunday night was thousands of nonromantics wishing for a time slip that would give them those 2 1/2 hours and possibly six seasons back.
Which is ridiculous, of course, because the message of "Lost" had nothing to do with smoke monsters or even true love - it was about living in the present. The slippery, ever-shifting, oh-now-there's-a-temple-in-the-jungle present. Viewers either went with it or they didn't.
No matter how you felt about the resolution of the finale, the 144 or so minutes that preceded it were pretty compelling television, proof if nothing else that if Kate ( Evangeline Lilly) picks up a gun in the first episode, it will go off in the last, that O'Quinn and Michael Emerson (Ben) should be nominated for at least two Emmys apiece and Cusick needs his own series.
There are certain song lyrics that are much more effective if you try to absorb the impression that they give without trying to break them down too literally, and this finale may wind up being like that. Trying to parse the literal specifics of what the sideways world was is never going to be entirely satisfying, but the final scene, in which everyone was reunited, made perfect sense from an emotional and character standpoint. The joy and relief that Jack felt in having the opportunity to offer forgiveness and receive forgiveness; to hug Boone, whom he couldn't save; to greet the happier, untwisted John Locke that should have been, whom Jack never really got to meet; to be lifted off his feet by Hurley one more time. It seems strange to say "It felt like what it really would have been like if these people had been able to see each other after they all died," but it did.
Everyone on the mainland - even Jack and Locke, who became Jack's patient in surgery - kept being illuminated by unpredictable but joyous surges of connection to their other lives. It was as if Dorothy had woken up back in Kansas and all the farmhands said, "Shut your trap, Aunt Em. Dorothy's right. We DID see her in Oz." And then, at last, we arrived at the requiem anticipated from the start of the show. I won't spoil it for you, except to say that it was so mistily open-ended as to be pointless: It was The Sopranos with a heavenly choir instead of Journey on the jukebox. The difference is that I wouldn't have expected The Sopranos finale to clear up my questions about a giant stone foot.
Have you ever been in one of those pop culture conversations where you've seen a movie that someone else hasn't, and you trick-spoil them by joking, "And in the end, they all died"? Well, be careful using that punchline if you find yourself at the water cooler tomorrow morning with someone who hasn't seen tonight's Lost finale, because yes, they really did all die in the end. (At last, I'm pretty sure they did. Your first question: What was your intepretation of the scene inside Eloise Hawking's Church of the Blessed Dharma Pendulum, aka The Ark to Heaven?)
Does it work as a finale? Yes and no. As noted above, it was definitely emotional, and allowed fans to say goodbye to the characters. But Lost wasn't just about the characters; it was about the place where the characters met and lived together and died alone and had that shared adventure that Christian Shephard insisted represented all of them at their best. Understand this: I don't need to know any more about The Island than we already do. It's a source of great power that can be exploited for ill and thus must be protected-I get that. But in focusing so much on the Sideways resolution, I'm afraid that "The End" doesn't give The Island itself a proper sendoff. This is a magical place, right? I needed to feel that magic a little more in the closing moments.
I don't completely understand what happened. I'm not satisfied by the glowy magical light and the plug in a giant sink as reason enough for all of these people to have ended up on the island in the first place. Many major questions were left unanswered. Is Smokey really defeated? If Hurley is now the protector, is he immortal? Who put the island there in the first place? Are you sure everyone didn't actually die in the original Oceanic 815 plane crash? If you asked me, like a well-meaning non-fan friend did a few weeks ago, "so what exactly is the island?" I really don't think I'd be able to answer you. But, ultimately it was satisfying. This episode was right in glossing over the sci-fi logistics and focusing on the character stories. After all, who needed any more time-skipping when you got that reunion scene between Juliet and Sawyer? Any episode that had me so consistently pumping my fists in the air had to be, on some level, good.
Until Lindelof and Cuse break the silence they've imposed for themselves, much as David Chase did following the daring finale of The Sopranos, we'll never know. It will be left up to conjecture and theories, much like the show was throughout its run. As a fan of the show and an avid viewer since its premiere, I found the episode thrilling until its final few noncommittal, new-agey minutes. "The End" will be polarizing, to be sure, but if the definition of a series finale is to encapsulate the essence of the show, then to be polarizing was the goal, and Lost certainly met it.
First, the performances, and chief among them I have to give it up to Matthew Fox. I've had my issues with Jack as a character over the years—my feelings ranging from irritation to admiration that Cuselof would make such an irritating guy the center of the show—but he acted the hell out of this finale, both action and emotion. When he finally clasps his father—not Smokey-in-disguise but his father—and sobs, you can feel the weight lifting from him. And when he lays himself down in the bamboo and smiles, laughs at Vincent walking up—a gorgeous last display of childlike happiness—he sells Jack's relief at giving up life, at his work being done, at having, finally, fixed things.
Yet he also sold Jack's confidence and determination as he committed himself to face down Locke. And that—from the march through the jungle to the breathtaking fight scene on the rocks to his descent into "hell"—sold the episode's suspenseful narrative drive, in a season that had sometimes lacked it. (And there were other strong performances around him, like Jorge Garcia showing Hurley's horror at the enormity of running the Island.)
"The End," and thus season six, and thus Lost, was not perfect, because nothing is. I still believe that Jacob and the Man in Black were never characterized as richly as other characters, like Ben, which rendered Locke in the end too much of a generic baddie. And the final images—with the heavenly light shining though the doorway of the chapel, as Christian walked into it a la Close Encounters—were a bit overly touched by an angel.
But the finale, as good TV finales do, captured what the show's essence. Lost is a story about community, connections and interdependence. You live together, it told us, or you die alone. And when you live together—when you share of yourself and make meaning with others—you never die alone, even when you die bleeding out on the floor of a bamboo forest.