Miles: “I do believe in duct tape.”
Yes, yes, the Lost finale was very moving, and I got teary-eyed on several occasions. The part that really got to me is when Hurley tells Sayid the one thing the Iraqi widower needed to hear all his life, but, hey, I’m sure you’ve read it all before at this point. Here’s the real question on everyone’s mind: is the expiry date on Shannon’s inhaler still valid after all that time-travelling?
No one so far has given me a satisfying answer, so let’s tackle instead faith versus pragmatism, which has been at the heart of the series since the pilot (the one that made television history with its twelve million dollar budget, not the one played by the Lawnmower Man). A lot of fans feel, after six long years, the writers gave the bird to its atheist viewers. I don’t subscribe to this point of view, partly because celebrating one belief doesn’t, to me, denigrate other philosophies and partly because I apparently saw a different ending than everyone else.
Before we get to that, though, allow me to digress about the episode’s final quarter, which shows all the signs of a mid-production rewrite. Consider the oddity of having Ben get crushed by a tree and then walk away unscathed two commercial breaks later. We can all presume Jack and company freed him off screen, but one has to wonder why the writers bothered with this particular plot point. The same can be said of Miles and his last-minute repairs to the Millennium Falcon. After years of quiet build-up, what’s the sardonic medium’s big contribution to the story? Duct tape.
The flash-sideways have a few inconsistencies as well, the most notable of which is the notion of time. Desmond’s conversations in the last half hour are carefully written to avoid any mention of temporality, thus matching Christian’s claim there is no now, but he had no such qualms in the previous episode when he said Anna Lucia was “not ready yet”. It stands to reason the resolution of the sideways universe might have been altered or at least truncated late in the game.
Now, I’m not suggesting that the writers figured out how to end their story midway through the finale or that we somehow got robbed of their vision. The creators said they made the show they wanted to make, which is necessarily true, since they would’ve had to approve any compromise. I’m merely pointing out the seams were starting to show, which I found distracting, as much as I love the idea of Miles going down in history as the Lost character who systematically refused to take part in the plot.
Anyway, we got the conclusion we got, and, though I feel a bit cheated we were invited to care about plot points that turn out to be a dream (mystical or otherwise), I think there’s something for everyone, even agnostics and deconstructionist humanists like me. Of course, it all depends on how you interpret the final revelation that the flash-sideways were glimpses into the afterlife. I, for one, don’t believe a word of it. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a lovely explanation that holds both in terms of internal logic and dramatic relevance, but Lost has always celebrated ambivalence, so why start taking things at face value now and accept just one resolution?
Here’s how I view the whole thing. Everything that happens in the main timeline is real: the passengers of Oceanic Flight 815 crash on the island, and Jack gives his life to either save heaven’s vestibule or stop an electromagnetic phenomenon, depending on whether you’re a person of faith or science. If you’re both or can’t fathom why the two are considered mutually exclusive, welcome to the club. I’m having a barbecue next week.
Because of the way the final scenes are juxtaposed (Jack collapses on a patch of grass; Jack sits on a bench) and the shot of the Ajira plane flying by our hero much like Oceanic Flight 815 passing over a sunken island, I interpret all the flash-sideways stuff as Jack’s dying thoughts as he exits the source. I’m limiting the fantasy to the alternate world for one reason: thematic pertinence. I mean, what statement would a six-year posttraumatic delusion make other than “Jack’s got an overactive imagination”?
In contrast, the idea Jack would, in his final moments after delving into the source, find comfort in a spiritual narrative says oodles about his journey, his state of mind, and his love for his fellow castaways. Consider the doctor’s compulsive need to fix Locke’s spine in the flash-sideways, an expression of his regret, or the fact the lost souls are greeted by Christian, the father he never got to mourn, instead of, say, Jacob, the jerk who got nearly all of them killed.
It also helps explain a few oddities like Aaron’s age at the chapel: it isn’t really Aaron, the child Jack failed to raise, but a manifestation of the family he wishes for Claire and Charlie. There’s also the matter of Christian’s assertion that the gathered spirits’ time on the island was the most important in their lives. This is true of Jack, certainly, not so much of Penny, who incidentally shows up without her son, presumably because the good doctor never met the boy.
It’s worth noting as well the issues the characters work through in the flash-sideways include only those Jack might have heard about (mostly from Kate, who never could keep her mouth shut) or deduced. As such, Sawyer’s daughter is never mentioned, even though the conman’s last act before jumping off the helicopter in season four was to ensure she’d be taken care of. By the same token, Desmond pushes every castaway toward his or her respective emotional catalyst, but Jack gets several because this is his narrative.
It’s fitting, really. Lost has always been about perspective, what with all the eye shots and character flash-whichever-directions. In the end, at least as I understand it, we get to see existence as interpreted by one man, and I think I might enjoy watching those scenes again to learn how Jack perceives his friends on the island. As always, the flashes reveal new depths in the protagonist’s motivations, but this time, instead of trauma, we witness joy and compassion. Whether the afterlife or an insight into his psyche, the alternate world confirms that Jack is finally at peace, and really that’s the answer I needed above all.
I know what you’re thinking: “Well, whoopie-doo for you, Dimitri, but I want to know what the devil happened these past six years!” I actually feel the writers have provided reasonable solutions to most of the long-standing mysteries. Keep in mind, though, ambiguity is a must in a series about faith (defined as the act of believing without knowing), so we’re mostly given dots to connect on our own. This suits me just fine, seeing as I abhor lengthy exposition.
It’s also worth noting Lost is a character-driven show, by which I mean the questions are always filtered through the heroes’ narrow perspective. The answers has to follow the same narrative rule, so there are bound to be a few holes (okay, like a gazillion hundred). In other words, we were never meant to find out where Jacob’s mom came from because the castaways never met her. She isn’t part of their story. As such, only a handful of mysteries need to be solved for the story to work.
I considered including some of my own conclusions regarding the series’ enigmas and then decided against it after writing over a thousand words (full of really lame puns) on the matter. If you’re curious, just let me know, and I’ll be happy to post them as a separate article. I just didn’t want to obscure the point of this here piece, which is that sceptics needn’t reject the final chapter of the castaways’ journey. You might have noticed most of those who get off the island are non-believers.
From its inception, Lost has been about philosophical diversity. The conflict at the heart of the series involves two strangers, one who believes and one who doesn’t. In the end, Jack and Locke’s roles are reversed, but the nature of their clash remains enigmatic: does the island truly house the source of all life, or is it just a patch of land that happens to rest on a pocket of electromagnetic energy the way Edinburgh happens to rest on a volcano? That ambiguity isn’t a plot hole. It’s a statement: we each give meaning to our own life, whether we believe in God, electromagnetism, or duct tape.