A Defense of the Finale of Lost

During the last season of Lost, I've enjoyed reading the conversation between Chadwick Matlin, Jack Shafer, and Seth Stevenson after each episode on Slate. However, all three (including the show's biggest defender) have been bashing on the finale. Personally, I was satisfied. That may not sound like a ringing endorsement, but after reading some of the brutal commentary I think the episode needs some defending. And, unlike these three, the more I think about it, the more I like it.

Warning: Spoilers (at least one big un').

Seth Stevenson sums his dismissal up this way: "I've seen the idea posited that there are two kinds of Lost fans: 1) those who watch for the sci-fi twists and surprises, and 2) those who watch for the characters and relationships. If you watch for the mysteries, this theory holds, you were disappointed by the finale. If you watch for the characters and relationships, you were thrilled to wallow in those happy reunion hugs in that nondenominational spiritual venue."

This depends on a false distinction. It was the sci-fi twists that illuminated the characters and their relationships, and in the end, it was possibly the biggest twist of all which brought those relationships to some (schmaltzy, warm and fuzzy) closure. It fit the show perfectly.

I think a lot of folks are missing the element of the finale that was most successful: The show has always been about discovering that our assumptions about characters are wrong because we make those assumptions at a given point in time. Hence the flashbacks that opened our eyes to characters' choices in Season 1 hooked many of us in the first place. That's what sold me on the show at first; discovering that I was understanding what a character did in a previous episode only after learning about their life from a flashback. Then the flashes-forward served this function in a new and really cool way. Then the characters themselves were lost in time, so they were experiencing the same thing we had already grown accustomed to as viewers. The last season seemed to be plodding along, revealing all this information about the island in a more traditional, expositional way while doing the same in an alternate time-line caused by the A-bomb, but both time-lines, on their own, seemed straightforward. Admit it: How many times did you have that "Ah-ha" moment when some event in the parallel world told you something revelatory about the people (seemingly) still on the island? Never. We reveled in the cleverness of the parallel world, noticing the connections to the world we'd come to know, but we didn't gain new insight into the people on the island, as we had before. Only the flashbacks about Jacob/Smokey/Alpert seemed to have that "Oh, now that makes sense" phenomenon. By the end we were all hoping to see how the two stories would intersect because we'd all assumed they were parallel and had begun at the moment of the A-bomb.

And then, in the finale, we're given one of the biggest Ah-ha's yet. The parallel world didn't begin at the A-bomb explosion! It began where the island story ended! It wasn't a flash sideways at all! It was a flash forward that we all assumed was a flash sideways!

Just like in the first season, our assumptions were being exploited. Only this time our assumptions weren't small and limited to specific character's behaviors. Our Season 1 assumptions were small: We assumed "Kim is a jerk because of the way he treats his wife," only to discover that he really loved her and had essentially sold his soul to her father, only to have that blow up in his face and push her to cheat on him. Now his behavior made more sense (and made him more likable). But in the final season our assumption was huge: We'd assumed the A-bomb caused the rift, and someone (Desmond? Jack? Ben? Hurley?) would bring it all back together at the end. When the assumption was revealed to be false, instead of saying, "Oh, I was wrong about that particular guy", we had to reconcile the fact that we were wrong about half the season, and all the moments throughout which had seemed to be straightforward might have been revelatory about the characters on the island after all.

Admittedly, I didn't like the purgatory angle particularly (and I had a real moment of panic where I thought Christian Shepard was going to say it had ALL been purgatory and I would start to froth at the mouth and throw things at the TV) but I realize that my personal agnosticism shouldn't be any more piqued by a reference to purgatory than to ghosts or smoke monsters or magical islands. I'll bet lots of "haters" are frustrated because of the seeming religious (though insultingly vaguely religious) overtones of the finale. But let's face it: If we could accept the elements of the island as fiction, why can't we accept purgatory as part of that fictional universe? Once I can do that, then I see that the great twist of the flash-sideways becoming a flash-forward is not lazy or merely clever, but genuinely earned. This wasn't a deus ex machina ending, but a thematically consistent ending, since the show has always been about betraying our assumptions about its characters. Moreover, it's been about betraying our assumptions about characters to make us like them, or at least sympathize with them enough to care about them, despite our first impressions. So if the ending was schmaltzy (and, hoo boy was it) that fits, too.

If someone doesn't like that the show cleverly played with our assumptions, or that it did so to appeal to our sympathies, then I wonder why they have been watching it for the last six years.

Election fatigue mixed with high anxiety and a dash of...

Last night I found myself overwhelmed by two seemingly contradictory emotions. On the one hand, I felt a tsunami of election fatigue. I've been reading every bit of election news I can get my hands on, despite obviously diminishing returns as pieces not only repeated the same facts, but even started repeating lines stolen from one another.

But while the coverage made me feel tired, my anxiety about the outcome had me hopped up like I'd been mainlining Jolt Cola. All the data points to an Obama win, but I've seen that kind of thing before. I'd get excited about celebrating, then agitated about the nature of my mourning should things go all screwy. Would I rend my clothes and put ashes on my head, old testament style? Would I try to pull out my hair? How does a bald guy do such a thing? Tweezers? Would I just end up with a bunch of unsightly scratch marks?

Tonight I felt a third, even stranger emotion: I began to prematurely miss all the interest the county has discovered for their own governance. Will we return to worrying about the failed relationships of celebrities, the next blond girl to get kidnapped, the personal beef between Rosie O'Donnell and Donald Trump? Luckily, Jack Shafer and Anne Applebaum assure me this will not be the case, as the press will immediately turn on President-Elect Obama and the international community will only warm up temporarily before realizing much of our foreign policy will remain unchanged. By November 6th or 7th we'll be reading angry op-eds about how Obama hasn't magically delivered on every campaign promise, enacted the entirety of the liberal agenda, ended hunger, brought about world peace, and filled my refrigerator with Mountain Dew and loaded my cupboards with Cool Ranch Doritos. (Okay, I'll be writing that last one in a couple days.) So, thanks to Anne and Jack for letting me return to simply being worn out and freaked out, comforted by the knowledge that we'll all still be nearly as politically obsessed as I am.

See, now you're worried and exhausted, too!