Winter Cleaning: ‘LOST’ Finale: The Neverending Story (And a Brief Discourse on Series Finales)

Note: We began this post the day after Lost’s series finale.  Unfortunately, do to a series of fortunate events, we became otherwise occupied, and soon a Lost finale review seemed rather dated.  But with the end on the year quickly gaining on us, we thought we’d finally finish that piece, perhaps all the wiser for having an extra half-year to let the series’ end sink in.

For most of Lost’s final season (and for the first five) we’ve offered little, if any, commentary, instead leaving the expert analysis to the experts. In fact, besides a couple of links and a few Jimmy Fallon videos we’ve only really spoken in-depth about the season premiere. However, much in the fashion of Lost, we feel compelled to call back to that post and close the circle.

However, before we delve into the finale, the series, and the nature of season finales, I think it’s necessary that we first outline our particular history with Lost. The show premiered during my senior year in college, the four-year period when I probably should have been OD’ing on television, at least on the Mr. Show DVDs, but instead foolishly focused on my studies, only making time for The Simpsons, Survivor, Friends for some reason at beginning and, thankfully, Arrested Development towards the end (talk about growing up).  Lost premiered during the fall of my Senior year, but I was far too wrapped up in my penultimate semester, and getting in as much Mario Tennis as possible, to pay it much mind (plus, it seemed like a risky venture to get involved with such an ambitious show that likely wouldn’t make it past its first season).  During winter break of that year, I did record a couple of episodes on VHS (the dark ages!), and found it interesting, intriguing and definitely full of potential.  But without the benefit of having seen the pilot, and understanding the context of those episodes, I was, in essence, lost.  So it wasn’t until the following summer when, on somewhat of a whim, I just went ahead and purchased season 1 on DVD.  And that basically changed my life.

At the time my friend and I were catching up on the entirety of  Sopranos, which had basically been a summer-long endeavor.  But as soon as we completed that task we embarked on Lost, picking up two more of my best friends along the way.  And with that was birthed an addiction, tearing through three or four episodes a night, basically whenever the four of us could find mutual free time.  As soon as we finished the Season 1 we switched right over to the Season 2 premiere, which we had recorded on DVD (times they were a’changing!).  And once we were all caught up we commenced Wednesday night viewing parties in my basement, which, thanks to TiVo, we could enjoy virtually commercial free.  And then when I moved to Brooklyn, whom did I move with?  Two of those three friends, and the two who were least acquainted when we began our Lost journey.  And then the Lost nights shifted to our Brooklyn apartment, complete with Park Slope’s best pizza.  And for years, over various timeslots, with a guest list that would grow and shrink by one or two, Lost was our tradition, it was our constant.  It was, and we’re not overselling this, the most important thing in our lives.  So however Lost ended, good or bad, it was, like cotton, part of the fabric of our lives.

Which now brings up the question, “How did Lost end?  Good or bad?” [and hopefully we can now approach this issue with the benefit of seven month’s distance]  BUT, before we tackle that question, we first want to deviate once again and discuss the nature of series finales and how they color our perception of the series in general.  For a late in the game thesis we’re going to assert that there are four kinds of reactions to a series finales: a) the entire finale was great and thus reaffirms the series’ greatness, b) the last scene was memorable, novel and/or shocking, making for a successful finale and strong finish to the series, c) the finale was lacking but does not negate the quality material that came before it and does not diminish the legacy of the show, or d) the finale was lacking and it does negate what came before it and does diminish the legacy of the show.  We want to start this digression with scenario B, the memorable, novel or shocking last scene.  When you think of the all-time great television finales what shows do you think of?  More often than not the answer to this question is Newhart, St. Elsewhere, and M*A*S*H.  And why is that?  Well, for M*A*S*H, it’s because it is the most watched non-sports program of all-time.  But for the other two, it’s their twist endings that earned them their renown, with both series being shown to be (SPOILER ALERT!) a fantasy of some sort (the former a prolonged dream of Bob Newhart’s character from the Bob Newhart Show, and the latter the imagination of an autistic child).  These two finales are widely recognized as two of the most memorable, appearing on nearly every list on the subject.  But do the majority of people remember anything that happened before the twist endings?  Unlikely.  So is it fair to judge a finale on the basis of its last scene?  Probably not.  But that is what seems to happen.  We have a tendency to base our reactions only on what transpires at the very end.  And that certainly works against Lost.

What about judging an entire series on the basis of its last scene?  Or even just judging the series on the basis of the entire finale?  Here’s where we can get closer to the Lost scenario.  It is not a stretch to say that most people did not care for, or fully comprehend, the ending of Lost, as (SPOILER ALERT!) the sixth season’s “sideways world” is revealed to be no more than a post-mortem waiting room where all the Lostaways can find each other and move on to the next life together.  A little too spiritual for our liking, and basically negates any emotional investment we had in the sideways world.  So, flat-out, did we like that resolution to the sideways world, and, in effect, the eventual fate of our heroes?  Not really, no.  However, as far as the on-island continuity, the real and only real world, we’re more than satisfied by how that concluded, with (SPOILER ALERT!) Jack fulfilling his destiny as doctor, as fixer, saving his friends and the island, coming full circle and laying to rest in the same place on the island where he first opened his eyes.  We never for a second doubted the veracity of that world, and, for us, the sideways spirit world didn’t spoil everything that took place on the island, all the heroics and sacrifices made by the characters we had come to love and care for over the last five years.

In our opinion, the finale, to put it in baseball terms, was pitching a no-hitter up until the point when (SPOILER ALERT!) Sayid reunited with Shannon in the sideways world, and even then the finale kept the game scoreless until the very end.  In the bottom of the ninth, it got nicked up a little bit, gave up a few hits, maybe allowed a run or two, but still came away with a decisive win, an impressive performance.  Because, besides the unfortunate Sayid and Shannon reprise, we really felt that the episode was perfect until they stepped into that church.  And that somewhat disappointing denouement does not erase the giddiness we felt when (SPOILER ALERT!) Jack jump-punched Locke, or the tears we cried when Saywer reconnected with Juliet next to a hospital vending machine.

You, on the other hand, might have walked away from the finale unhappy.  Which is fine.  But what we would implore is that you didn’t formulate your opinion on the ending alone, and certainly to not let that last scene cloud your feelings towards the series as a whole [again, seven months away from the series might help this].  That would be unfair.

But let’s assume, just for the sake of argument once again, that you didn’t like the finale through and through.  It wasn’t just the ending that didn’t work for you, it was the whole episode.  Or maybe even the whole season.  Okay, sure.  Question: what episodes are looked at as the greatest failures in TV series finale history?  Well, the first one that comes to mind for us, and likely for most people, is Seinfeld.  That finale was critically maligned and generally denounced by viewers.  Maybe Larry David still stands by it, but even he recognized its shortcomings, creating a (SPOILER ALERT!) de facto second, more fulfilling, finale in the last season of Curb Your Enthusiasm.  But if the finale of Seinfeld was a failure, do we consider the series in the same light?  No.  No one says that the Seinfeld finale ruined the nine seasons that came before it.  Obviously comparing Lost to Seinfeld is not an ideal, or even a fair, comparison, as the former traded on mystery and misdirection and delayed gratification, and the latter was a show about nothing.  But we think it’s worth pointing out a situation in which a finale was widely perceived as a disaster and yet we still regard that show as easily one of greatest of all-time.

Which is all a long way of saying that even if we didn’t like the Lost finale, we’d still love the series as a whole.  We’d be disappointed, but not defeated.  And if we didn’t like the ending, which we didn’t, it wouldn’t spoil the finale, or the show by extension.  And we understand that Lost is a special case, that the creators asked the viewers to be patient, promised (or at least implied) that their questions would be answered, and in the end many of those questions were left either unresolved or addressed in a manner that left us thoroughly unsatisfied.  And it’s a valid complaint that Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof probably used the “we said we couldn’t and wouldn’t answer every mystery” card a little too liberally.  But, then again, Damon and Carlton might be right that it in some cases it’s better to have no solution at all than one that is forced and ungratifying.  We’re quite certain that if the finale was a series of explanations and expositions then it would have been significantly less enjoyable.  It was clear to us that after the third to last episode, the Jacob/Man in Black origin story “Across the Sea,” that the show was just about done with mythology, and we should just strap in and enjoy the final ride as best we could.  So that’s what we did.  And we did enjoy it.   Damon and Carlton always said that the show was first and foremost about the characters , so it was fitting that it ended with the characters, nearly all of them from the show’s six seasons, at the forefront, together.

What, then, is Lost‘s legacy?  An all-time great drama?  A generation-defining series?  A new paradigm for utilizing multiple platforms to create an experience beyond the show?  An anomaly?  A highly ambitious, incredibly original program that forever altered the TV landscape?  Or a fraud?  A house of cards?  An over-reaching series with wax wings that flew too close to the sun?

We certainly don’t think it’s those latter, more critical suggestions.  But is it the first few?  Well, that’s the thing about legacies, they take some time to develop.  But, for Jumped the Snark, even though we’ve put the show aside, even somewhat relieved that it’s over with, we doubt there will ever be anything like it again.  There have been and will be other shows that are stronger from episode to episode, with better writing and more consistency, and with more satisfying conclusions.  But nothing will ever take over our lives quite like Lost did.  No other show will simultaneously thrill and infuriate us, and no other show will so thoroughly monopolize our attention and emotion.  And maybe that’s a good thing.  We’re not sure we’re ready for another Lost, or if we ever will be.  But, no matter how it ended, we would never trade all the joy, suspense, and frustration that it offered us over six seasons.  We’re thankful we got that much of out it.  And, conversely, somewhat thankful we didn’t get anymore.  For us, that’s LOST‘s legacy.

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Filed under Analysis, Count Bleh, Flashback!, In Memoriam, LOST

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