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Art of the Finale: Lost “The End”

Christian leaves the church

The Lost series finale may be one of the most polarizing series finales ever. Some people hate it with a passion. Others will adamantly defend it and say it’s great.

I fall within a complicated middle ground between these two viewpoints. And after rewatching the episode in anticipation of writing this article (which would be my third viewing), it has become even more complicated.

Lost‘s two-part series finale, “The End,” capped off six seasons of one of my favorite shows of all time. I say this as someone who really disliked the finale when it aired on May 23, 2010. And when I rewatched the entire series a few years later.

But watching the episode in isolation of the other episodes in the season this time around, I was surprised to find that…I didn’t hate it?

In addition to the typical Lost adventures on the island in which groups of characters team up, follow other characters, and threaten them with guns and/or dynamite, “The End” culminates with the characters in the “flash sideways” storyline converging at a church, where Jack says he was going to have his father’s funeral. One by one, the characters have remembered their time on the island, as well as the relationships that made Lost so special, and realize that they are dead. Eventually Jack remembers everything and encounters his father within the church. Christian Shephard (metaphor alert!) tells his son that the church/flash sideways universe was created so these characters could all find each other and travel into the afterlife together.

In life they were all drawn together by a force of fate, so it makes sense they would meet once again. In Lost’s constant debate of faith and science, it’s the faith that wins the attention of the show’s ending, as the characters walk hand-in-hand out the doors of a church and into a bright light. On the surface, it’s an interesting interpretation of what would happen to these people after death. But do I really care what happens to these characters after their death? I’m not sure I do.

However, I believe “The End” faces a lot of unfair criticism. Early on in Lost‘s run, many people hypothesized that the island was purgatory and that none of the show’s characters actually survived the crash. Lost creators Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse emphatically stated throughout the course of the show’s airing that that wasn’t the case. But then when “The End” concludes with the church scene, I feel like a lot of people mistakenly believed everyone was in fact dead the entire time.

That’s simply not the case. As Christian tells Jack in the church, everything that happened on the island was real. The characters in the church are, at that time, dead but they all died at different times. So for example, Jack dies on the island after plugging the hole in the Heart of the Island. Kate, Sawyer, and Claire fly off the island and live for an unknown amount of time before they die. Hurley lives on the island with Ben—who knows for how long—but eventually they die and end up at the church. (Interestingly, Ben isn’t shown entering the church. I wonder if he ends up joining the others at some point.) Despite dying at different times, the characters all look like they did when they lived on the island, so time must be slippery in this universe.

Another common complaint about the ending of Lost is that too many questions were left unanswered. What were Charles Widmore’s “rules”? What happened to Christian’s body? Why was Walt so special? What was “the sickness”? None of these mysteries were given clear answers.

In anticipation of writing this article, I asked some co-worker friends, who I watched Lost with back when it aired and I knew strongly disliked the ending, to share their reasoning for their dissatisfaction. A lot of their comments revolved around the unanswered questions, and one said: “I felt like the whole series was a long con…the television equivalent of click bait.”

ABC may have fanned the flames a bit, often promising in commercials that ALL QUESTIONS WOULD BE ANSWERED. Fans were made to think everything would be wrapped up neatly, but instead they were shown a magical afterlife church scene.

While people were so mad that the Lost creators didn’t answer enough questions, I actually thought the last season of the show suffered from trying to answer too many questions in the final season, such as what the Temple is (which was not an impressive explanation), the origin of the Black Rock and Richard Alpert (which I liked but why tell that story so close to the show’s ending?), and all of the Jacob/man in Black backstory.

My general dissatisfaction with Lost’s series finale is not hung up on the unanswered questions. In general, I don’t mind when aspects of TV shows are left unexplained and up to interpretation. But one part of the show should have been cleared up, in my opinion: Why was the island special? How exactly did it become so special? The fact that the island has a giant cave and pool with a bright light (that by the way, somehow the characters never come across until the end) at its center shouldn’t make it special. It’s not a good enough explanation. So would it have been better to see an island origin story instead of the ending in the church? I’m sure fans wouldn’t have been satisfied with that either, but I think I would have rather had that resolved.

I mentioned earlier that I had a more favorable reaction to this most recent viewing of “The End.” Why was that? I think it’s because of not having to watch the final season as a whole. In my mind, the flash sideways storyline really distracts from the ending. I can accept the afterlife conclusion, but I could have done without the misdirection of characters (who are in a self-created afterlife) getting arrested and shot, or Sawyer and Miles enacting a buddy-cop scenario. To me, the flash sideways was a waste of time.

Another portion of the final season I didn’t care for: With Locke dead, “Locke” on the island is actually possessed by the Man in Black. And while I think Terry O’Quinn’s impressively was able to pull this off, it was a shame to not have such a great character—the real Locke we grew so fascinated with in the first few seasons—around. Not having to watch the entire meandering build-up of the flash sideways and some of these other disappointing aspects of the final season (the Temple, Sun hitting her head and forgetting how to speak English, etc.) made the finale more palatable for me.

My feelings for “The End” are not all negative, however. Most of the island scenes in the episode are entertaining and echo a lot of the classic fun we’ve seen in other Lost season finales. We get to see some old faces interacting in heartfelt moments, such as when Charlie and Claire’s memories flood back. These are the kinds of moments that Lost really excelled at.

Perhaps my favorite outcome of the finale is what happens with Hurley. Before plugging the magic hole in the Heart of the Island (sounds ridiculous doesn’t it?), Jack leaves Hurley in charge of taking care of the island. When Jack doesn’t emerge from the cave, Hurley is at a loss. But Ben tells him to do what he does best: “Take care of people.” Hurley is the new Jacob, but he will be better than Jacob. And in a twist, Hurley asks Ben to help him run the island—basically all he has ever wanted. I really loved this part.

“The End” comes to a close with a really nice touch. Jack, who somehow is transported out of the Heart of the Island, limps off to the beach, injured from when Locke/Man in Black stabbed him. As he lies on the ground dying, he finds himself in the exact spot he wakes up in the pilot episode, with Vincent at his side. Just after seeing the escape plane that holds Kate, Sawyer, and Claire fly off the island, Jack closes his eye—a call-out to the many scenes in Lost where we see characters open their eye.

These two moments—Hurley leading the island and Jack’s death scene—are unfairly overshadowed by negativity. But they really are great moments.

Overall, I view the end of Lost as a disappointment. Some of the fan complaints are overblown, but the ending still didn’t live up to the lofty expectations built through the earlier seasons. I’m very glad Damon Lindelof got another chance to get it right, with The Leftovers, which had a much more satisfying finale. I’m glad I gave “The End” another chance, however. It may not be perfect, but I now like it more than I once did.

Written by Bryan O'Donnell

Bryan O'Donnell is a Writer and TV Editor for 25YL. In addition to TV and Twin Peaks, he loves music, baseball, reading, and playing video games. He lives in Chicago.


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  1. I *adore* LOST, and while I think the sixth season gets kind of soggy, mainly in the on-island story after the Temple is ransacked, I’m a big fan of the finale.

    I have minor problems with it. I don’t like Jack saying that Locke was right about “damn near everything” – the interesting thing about all of the science vs faith stuff in earlier seasons was the contrast and the contradictions, it wasn’t something that needed a definite answer.

    And, while I’m not too fussed about the question of why the island is special, there is one question that I expected to get an answer which didn’t – namely why is it that we are supposed to think the Man in Black is the bad guy? Obviously he’s not pure good, but equally it’s not clear that he’s responsible for any more deaths than Jacob is, and the flashback episode humanises him to an extent. So I really wanted a clear explanation as to why it would be so bad if he left the island, and the show doesn’t really go there.

    But as a finale I think it’s glorious. I cried about 5 times as the characters regain their memories and reunite. Cuse/Lindelof put some extremely self-indulgent lines into Christian Shephard’s mouth when he says to Jack “Those times on the island were the most important times in your life”, in other words “these years making the show were the greatest times in our careers”, only one step away from “the time viewers spent watching the show was the greatest time they spend in front of the TV”. But at its best LOST made you feel like that was true.

    • I think we’re on the same page here. That’s a good point about the Man in Black; I think that would have been beneficial to explain as well. Keeping it a mystery in that instance doesn’t do a whole lot for me.

      And I completely agree: when Lost was at its best, it’s hard to beat. Don’t think we’ll ever again get another show quite like it.

  2. I stumbled over your article because my little niece bought me the whole show on DVD as a birthday present.

    She thought i might like it. That poor 14 year old girl doesnt know that the show and I have a past.

    It was my favorite show for a long time, The latest Episode was the hottest topic for all of us, sharing all kind of theories and how it might end. Back in season 3 it was a common joke to say “They all will walk into a white light” …

    I dont blame them for the mediocre endling. I kind of “liked” the emotional moments. But it still hurts when i think about all the interviews where they promised us not only to bring the charakter arcs to an satisfiying end, they also wanted to please all of us who were so much into the mystery elements of the show.

    Maybe i would be fine when they were honest about it. Deep down all Fans knew that they were putting in too many mysteries.
    I think most of the fans are dissapointed because the showrunners kind of “lied” to them and they just didnt need to. We all would have watched it till the end, even if they would have told us that wrapping it all up will be a too difficult task.

    It may sound cheesy, but the finale felt a bit like breaking up with girlfriend on bad terms. When you find out that she was lying to you. When you tell her she never had to be afraid to tell the truth …

    I never planned to watch it again. But since this Box stands right in front of me, i will give it a shot. Maybe remembering those long nights full of discussions about the latest episodes, the moments of joy and the introduction to real “wtf”-Cliffhangers before they became a common thing to do in a TV Show.

    “Lost” may not become my favorite tv show ever again, but maybe we can live on as friends…

  3. I’ve always had a different understanding of what Christian means when he glances around (eyes going up, notably) and tells Jack that “this” was created so everyone could find each other. The unspecified “this,” I think, is the church rather than the sideways universe as a whole. It’s the very interfaith church where they assemble, and this gives a deeper weight and meaning to Eko and others’ intent to build a church seasons earlier. We’ve already seen that the sideways universe as a whole is filled with its own dangers and mayhem, as well as the opportunity.for characters to make wrong choices. So to me it’s the church that Christian is looking at and referring to when he speaks with Jack. Significantly, too, Christian is only seen in the church, not the sideways universe as a whole.

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