Lost’s Lingering Questions

26May10

The finale of Lost, “The End,” has generated much online chatter, both pro and con, about its various layers of ambiguity. Many fans are griping because it neglected mythological answers in favor of showing us what happened to our characters and their relationships. And many are crying shenanigans over potential contradictions and confusion in the finale’s events, especially in the final scenes. And some are just haters, relishing the perverse pleasure found within their blackened souls.

I’m on record as a strong advocate for the finale and its strategy for forgoing many plot answers in favor of thematic resolutions, an emphasis on emotion and character, and a tolerance for ambiguity – read my review for more thoughts on the finale’s religiosity, sentimentality, and thrills, and definitely check out the best piece on the finale I’ve yet read, Todd VanDerWerff’s meditation for the LA Times.

But questions matter for any narrative, especially Lost, so I wanted to explore and answer many of the lingering questions out there, providing fact, opinion, and analysis to help resolve some people’s hesitations. Check out other sources too, like this post claiming to be one of the Lost writers (I’m skeptical, at least that they were a writer in the final season) or this witty take on many allegedly unanswered questions. My answers aren’t claiming to be based on insider knowledge – just the product of somebody who has spent way too much time studying the show and thinking about how we watch it.

Don’t proceed on to the questions and answers if you’re not caught up with the show (or if you’re a hater)…

First off, some questions about what happened in “The End”:

Is the island purgatory?

NO! This is the lingering question that seems to me was most clearly resolved. Christian tells Jack in the church that the island was real, and in fact it was the most important time in all of their lives. On the island, what happened, happened, and dead is dead.

But don’t the images of the crashed plane over the final credits mean that nobody actually survived, and the whole thing was the afterlife?

No.

Why aren’t Michael, Walt, Ana-Lucia, Daniel, Charlotte, Miles, and Mr. Eko in the church at the end?

Michael is trapped on the island as a ghost, condemned to whisper and talk to Hurley because he can’t get past his on-island deeds. Walt is one of the mysteries that will allegedly be addressed in the DVD extras (pre-order now for August 24!), but Walt was never really that important to anyone but Michael and Locke, who let him go in “Life & Death of Jeremy Bentham.” Plus he’s really tall now. Ana-Lucia is “not ready yet.”

Daniel is left in the sideways realm as per Eloise’s request to Desmond, and presumably Charlotte has no deep connection to anyone but Daniel. Miles needs a close encounter with duct tape to awaken. Mr. Eko is a victim of casting politics, as the actor allegedly turned down the offer to appear in the finale. There are dozens of others who could have been there, but it’s clear that the church was reserved for the original Oceanic 815ers, plus Desmond, and their loved ones. I’m content with that.

Why is Sayid’s soulmate Shannon instead of Nadia?

The meta reason is that it was a good way to get Boone and Shannon into the finale. The story motivation is that Sayid’s ideal of Nadia was always more illusion than actual romance. The on-island connections were the most important ones in these people’s lives as part of paths toward redemption and self-actualization, and just as Charlie/Claire and Hugo/Libby were short-lived and unconsummated romances, Shannon was Sayid’s most meaningful connection despite its short duration.

Is David Shepherd real?

“It’s all real,” says Christian. But remember, it’s also all a TV show. I don’t mean “just a TV show” to belittle it, but as a reminder that we’re talking about different layers of fiction. I see the sideways reality as a world collectively created by the characters to have a do-over on the relationships and choices they made in the real world – not completely virtual, but not grounded in the relative realism of the island. Thus it is more fictional than the island, but it’s all degrees of embedded fiction – David is less real than Mr. Eko (who is seemingly not in the sideways world at all), but they are both less real than you and I. And Lost, more than most network dramas, is constantly reminding us that it is a fantastical story being told to us, not a ripped-from-the-headlines slice of realism. So don’t get worked up over what’s real or not, as none of it is. David was created by Jack and Juliet to process their experiences and share something together, which is the function of all stories.

Why did Jack / Smokey / Desmond all want to pull the plug on the island?

This is a bit of a storytelling shorthand, asking us to infer motives for why the three powers of the island all decide to do the same thing for different reasons. Smokey wants to destroy the island and rightly thinks that sending Desmond down to turn out the light will work. Jack thinks that Jacob brought Desmond back to the island, and thus his special talent must be a secret weapon against Smokey. He’s right in part, as pulling the plug makes Smokey (and Richard) mortal, but it comes with the side-effect of destabilizing the island and triggering really cool cliff-collapsing effects. It’s left ambiguous whether Jacob really did come to Widmore and tell him to bring Desmond back, or whether Widmore is still just playing for Team Widmore. However, it does make sense that if the plan was to use Desmond to turn out the light, that Widmore would be searching for the electromagnetic wells to find the cave, so I choose to believe that he was working for Jacob.

As for Desmond, knowing what we do about the sideways now, in “Happily Ever After,” he became awakened in sideways world that he was dead and needed to move on. But on the island, under the influence of intense electromagnetism, his consciousness bled across worlds, leading him to believe that they were all actually dead on the island and that the sideways world was real life. Hence his blissed-out laissez-faire attitude was because he thought there were no stakes anymore; all he needed to do was ride out the storm, blow-up the island, and get his friends back to the better world of the sideways. Clearly he was wrong, which he realized down in the cave, in a nice parallel to the hatch implosion in season 2.

Those are all of the questions I know of tied to what was happening directly in “The End.” But there are also some interesting meta-questions:

Were Damon & Carlton trying to fool us to anticipate another ending?

I think so. Weeks ago at a Paley Center event, Damon teased that the key word for the finale would be “water.” At the Times Talk Live event last Thursday, the producers referred to one of the last scenes being a “physically taxing and wet” group effort. And at that event, an audience member (whom I now suspect was a plant) asked if the first scene with Desmond and Jack in the season 2 premiere – where Desmond tells Jack “you need to lift her up” – would payoff in the finale; Carlton assured him that “he’d be satisfied.” (And Carlton alluded to that line right before the finale aired on Twitter.)

So with that extratextual information, I was anticipating that the island world would culminate in sinking the island, and that in the sideways world, Desmond would get everyone together in a last ditch effort to raise the island – perhaps even culminating with a Moebius strip loop, with each of the two realities triggering each other. Assuming that this seed was purposefully planted by the producers (and peppered in the show as well) to inspire such anticipatory theorizing, why? In retrospect, I think it was quite useful to make us anticipate a more apocalyptic and grandiose finish, as it made the choice to underplay the ending for emotion over spectacle even more powerful. At least for me, that’s how it worked – I was caught off guard that the end was so humane and grounded in a way that I’d never really expected on this often over-the-top show. And that surprise added to the power. Whether this was an intentional ploy or just a set of random misdirects, I don’t know – but I think it was clever.

Aren’t the finale’s low ratings evidence that Lost wasn’t really that important except to a vocal cult audience?

No. Claims that the ratings were bad are from people who don’t understand how TV works today. Comparisons to finales from the 1980s and 1990s are irrelevant, as the spread of cable channels, online viewing, DVDs, and other factors have eroded the audience to the point that some high-rated shows today would probably be cancelled with similar ratings in the 1980s. Here are some better comparisons: Lost was the highest-rated finale of any show in the last five years except ER (which was always much more broadly popular). And the night after Lost, two longer-running popular shows concluded – Lost got over 30% more viewers than either 24 or Law & Order, both of which came in 3rd in their respective timeslots. Plus, of course, there’s no way that anybody who didn’t watch Lost would be able to comprehend the finale, which is how most finale events get blockbuster ratings. In short, the ratings weren’t exceptional, but they were certainly better than most finales today. (Plus the finale set a record for illegal downloads!)

Why didn’t the finale answer everything?

Because the producers learned to let go, and are asking us to as well. Narrative enigmas are very good at driving the story forward, but their resolution are nearly always a let-down. So Damon & Carlton have left us to ponder many mysteries on our own, giving clues or partial answers, but not definitive solutions that would close down our imagination and dull our sense of puzzling play that we’ve developed over the last six years.

For many fans (including myself), Lost often seemed to be a show about the mythology – the goal of the characters seemed to be to solve the mysteries of the island in order to facilitate their personal goals. This game-inspired approach to storytelling was not what the show turned out to be. Instead, the show was about how flawed people could establish relationships and a community to discover themselves, explore their beliefs, and ultimately make choices that were noble and/or damaging. The mythology was the backdrop for this human drama, and it provided a lot of fun for fans to puzzle out; however, ultimately the mysteries of the island were not designed to be answered, but rather to facilitate the character arcs.

Isn’t that a cop-out or a bait-and-switch?

Perhaps. It’s up to each viewer to decide: whether you want to hold onto a sci-fi & puzzle-driven vision of the show that you thought you were getting, or accept the vision of the show that the producers delivered where puzzles are left open for more theorizing and contemplation. The producers made an argument in the end that you should follow their vision and accept these terms of the series. It worked for me, but I recognize that it’s a bargain not everyone is willing to take. Lost is about choices – and here’s one for us viewers to make.

Or more cynically, you can choose to believe that the writers had no idea what any of the answers were, and when forced to come up with a conclusion they distracted us with sentimental melodrama and hoped that we – arguably the most participatory and obsessive fanbase yet seen for an ongoing series – wouldn’t notice. Believe what you want.

But can we still try to answer some of the lingering mysteries?

You bet. Below are my theories on a bunch of them. I don’t claim that these are definitive, but they’re my best guesses today. Most are underwhelming, which is the point – the crazy possibilities are far more interesting than the most likely answers that fit the larger narrative. For the mythological questions, the answers are sketchy – I can imagine longer stories to be told, but not directly involving the characters that we care about. But here’s my question for you: would you like the series any better had a character said any of these answers on the show, like Michael’s explanation of the whispers, rather than a critic on a blog? Or if there was an “Across the Sea” type backstory episode? If so, why?

What’s the deal with Walt?

Maybe the DVD addenda will address this, but Walt has psychic powers (as do Hurley and Miles) that overwhelm The Others and allow him to tap into the computer system to IM Michael. They send Walt and Michael home, where Walt disowns Michael because of what he did to get him back. Is there really much more to be known?

Why is Aaron special?

Aaron is special because he is the first baby to be born on the island since Miles Ethan in 1977. The psychic who told Claire that he must not be raised by another was a conman. He might have actually foretold something in this instance (echoes of Professor Trelawney from Harry Potter?), which makes sense if Jacob was pulling strings to get Claire and Aaron on the island. But Aaron is not relevant to the larger island mythology beyond that – in fact, the island and Jacob are seemingly not so interested in kids (although The Others were).

What’s the deal with the numbers?

This was answered in large part in The Lost Experience, concerning the DHARMA Initiative and the Valenzetti Equation. The fact that these mythological bits never appeared in the show should have been a clear indication that the producers were serious about what they frequently said: if the characters don’t care about a mystery, it won’t be dealt with on the show.

In short, the numbers are constants in an equation that predicts the end of the world. DHARMA came to the island to do research on various areas (electromagnetism, time travel, polar bears), hoping to change the numbers and delay the apocalypse. How does this fit with Hurley’s luck? Why does this correlate with Jacob’s numbers for the candidates? I don’t know – but I’ll chalk it up to a broadly permeating and inexplicable power tied to the numbers. I do think that any actual answers for this mythology would be disappointing, so I can live with it as simply inexplicable.

What’s up with all of the Egyptian stuff?

Prior to the Roman-era events of “Across the Sea,” there were Egyptians on the island who built statues and temples, established hieroglyphic iconography, and probably brought the Mother character to the island to become Protector. I don’t need to know this story, just like when watching The West Wing, I don’t need to know anything about administrations before Bartlett except as their legacies impact the characters I care about. Stories have to start somewhere, and there’s always backstory left untold.

What’s the deal with the glowy cave?

It’s magical and electromagnetic. There’s a plug in a hole that makes it work. If you take out the plug, bad things happen to the island. Who built the plug? How does it work? Unless you want to build your own, why do you care?

What happened when Jughead went off?

We were led to believe throughout season 6 that Jughead created the alternate sideways dimension, an explanation explicitly offered by Daniel Widmore in “Happily Ever After.” But that version of Daniel is a musician, not a physicist, so it turns out to be one of many narrative misdirections. Instead, Jughead was The Incident that created the electromagnetic anomaly requiring the Swan Station and the countdown clock, as Miles had forewarned. (Did Miles ever get anything wrong, even though nobody listened to his opinion?) It also seemed to have rebooted the timeline by moving all of the time-traveling characters back to their rightful timeline in 2007. Again, I’m less interested in the mechanics of such matters than coming up with a timeline that is more or less coherent.

So why did Juliet say “It worked” in “LA X” if Jughead didn’t trigger the sideways universe?

In her dying days – and having just been exposed to the heart of the island’s electromagnetism in the Jughead blast like Desmond was in season 2’s Swan fail-safe – she was bleeding between the dual realities. “It worked” was in reference to her vending machine hack, not the bomb. Another misdirect, but one that paid off in the finale in one of the most emotionally satisfying reunions and awakenings.

Why can’t women have babies on the island?

The last baby we know to be (presumably) conceived and born on the island was Miles Ethan in 1977. I assume that one of the side effects of the nuclear/electromagnetic incident was that women cannot carry a baby to term on the island anymore. The mechanics and cause are far less important than the how it affects the actions of The Others.

What’s going on with Eloise and Widmore?

This one interests me a lot, and I would have loved to see a Widmore/Eloise flashback episode, as there are so many steps along the way in their stories. Without it, here’s my best guess at gap-filling speculation: they rose to the top of the island hierarchy in the 1970s, when a twist of fate led to Eloise shooting her grown time-traveling son. She helped Jack get Jughead as a potential loophole to form a universe where her son didn’t die, and left the island to try to escape her fate. Eventually she molded Daniel into a physicist to allow him to plot the loophole back in the 1970s, and then became an island expert at the Lamppost station. Why was she the “temporal policeman” for Desmond in his flashes? I think she’s enlightened to the nature of the sideways, and wants to avoid letting go. I’ll need to rewatch it, but “Flashes Before Your Eyes” might be our first glimpse of a sideways world, constructed by Desmond to process what’s going on after triggering the fail-safe, echoing Juliet’s reality skipping moments.

As for Widmore, after his pregnant partner left the island, he became more corrupted, leaving frequently and having an affair to father Penny, and generally misusing the island’s power and enabling Ben to usurp him. He did use powers from the island to build a fortune and plot his return and seek vengeance on Ben. I don’t know how much he knew about Desmond prior to the sailing race, but he certainly seemed intent on keeping Desmond away from Penny to protect her potentially from island-related issues. In the end, I accept that Jacob did summon him to bring Desmond to the island and make Smokey mortal, and perhaps Jacob even delivered him to Ben as a consolation prize for never considering him a viable candidate, allowing Ben to fulfill his vengeance over Alex’s murder.

What was the Man in Black’s master plan?

This one is interesting to parse out, and should occupy forensic fans rewatching the series for years. I think Ben had been manipulated by Smokey most of his life, helping to betray Jacob and enable the endgame to embody Locke and murder his brother. Presumably it was Smokey incarnating as Ben’s mother to take him to Richard in the first place, and inhabiting the cabin to give guidance to various people over the years. Does it really matter how much each of the steps were part of an advance master plan, or is the way it plays out in the end more important? It’s a key question for both the storyworld and the storytelling – and I feel like how it comes together is more important than how it was planned for both.

What was the Man in Black’s name?

Samuel. (At least according to some insiders, it was indicated as such on a script.) Does that answer help you enjoy the show? For me, no – and I don’t intend on using it.

What are the rules?

Each protector establishes a number of parameters for the island (don’t ask how until you drink from the magic cup) – Mother ensured that Jacob and his brother cannot directly hurt each other. When Jacob took over, he seemed to provide a number of rules: Smokey cannot kill candidates. Smokey must keep his word. (Has anybody discovered an outright lie told by Smokey?) The candidates must always have a choice. I’m sure there are others, but I’m not interested in generating a comprehensive list, as the more important element is that the island is a rule-governed world with constrained free will. The Others follow a number of rules as well, seemingly dictating the code of conduct between Widmore and Ben that the former breaks with the murder of Alex, but I don’t think that these rules were handed down by Jacob, who seems invested in letting people create their own choices within basic parameters.

What lies in the shadow of the statue?

Another story I’d love to see told is how Ilana, Bram and their crew became soldiers of Jacob. We don’t really have much to speculate on here, but I fully accept that there are aspects of the mythology that really don’t matter enough to the core story to warrant their own episodes.

Perhaps there will be a licensed comic book series telling the miscellaneous tales of the island that we never got time to dive into, a kind of Lost Silmarillion. But the lack of such explication of every myth and reference does nothing to diminish my enjoyment of the series – and I believe that the more we learned about many of these questions, the less we’d actually care about the storyworld. It’s more fun – and in keeping with what Lost was for six years – to be left puzzling the ambiguities and loose ends than having the show lay it all out for us.

And finally, an extra credit question that I’ll leave unanswered:

Is the show’s entire narrative about the need for faith in larger meaning instead of obsessing over the rational explanations of little things like the cabin or the food drops, and the ability in the end to choose what’s important to you over what you’re told by somebody else, a meta-commentary on how fans engage with the show and its producers?



34 Responses to “Lost’s Lingering Questions”

  1. 1 JCRHoo

    Excellent work.

    Nerd nitpick: Who’s younger: Miles or Ethan? They were the final 2 babies born on the island before the Incident, right? I think Ethan was only days old at evacuation, and Miles was a few months old.

    But you’re awesome and this was a great essay. I’m just a nerd.

    • Thanks for the correction, however nerdy – I was inaccurately remembering that Ethan was born in 1974 when Sawyer first got to DHARMA. I’ll correct it…

  2. Why is everyone so certain that the sideways reality WASN’T created by Jughead? Christian tells Jack that it’s a place they created for themselves, and he could mean that in a spiritual subconscious way, or he could be referring to something more concrete: the detonation of Jughead, which was a collaborative effort on the part of the Losties.

    • I guess, but I don’t really see how that makes more sense or betters my enjoyment of the narrative – which is the goal of such speculation. But if it works for you, no reason to shut down that interpretation.

      • For me it does, because I prefer to think of the Island as the motor for all of the mystical/spiritual happenings on the show rather than some generalized statement about the afterlife (perhaps because I’m not at all religious or even spiritual). I also find it nicely circular, in that it ties their final final fate back to the Island and the Incident that brought them together in the first place. It might even provide some insight into Desmond’s role in all of this.

        That’s honestly what I ASSUMED when I was first watching it on TV, and I’m just surprised nobody else thought of it in those terms.

      • That makes sense at the thematic level, but I interpreted Christian’s speech to imply that this is how things work in general, not tied to the bomb. Also, Desmond wasn’t on the island when Jughead blew, so I’m not sure why he’d be in the sideways. But clearly there’s room for multiple perspectives on what happened…

  3. 7 Cole Moore Odell

    “Stories have to start somewhere, and there’s always backstory left untold.”

    Can you please travel back in time about 15 years and tattoo that on the inside of George Lucas’ eyelids?

  4. 9 jenna

    thank you. love this…
    my rambling thoughts here…as well as several fan reactions..http://ihearttvdotcom.blogspot.com/

  5. 10 Eli Cash

    I might be mixing up my episodes here, but wasn’t Ethan Goodspeed born after Miles?

    • 11 elizabeth

      Yes. And Miles was born off-island and brought back (to listen to lots of “Shotgun Willie”), as Ethan was supposed to be, if his mother had not gone into labor prematurely, prompting Juliet’s intervention in the preemie breech birth that necessitated the Caesarian the island doc wasn’t prepared to do. I would love to know how Ethan Goodspeed became the Others’ Ethan Rom, however, considering his character had more post-death screen time than any other. It was cool that he retained his original name in Sideways, and in retrospect, I wonder if that wasn’t the influence of Sideways Juliet.

  6. For me, the Widmore/Eloise situation is the hardest question to let go of. Maybe because they are characters, and not just mysteries. Up until the second that Ben killed Widmore I was sure they were going to tell Widmore’s backstory.

    But it’s kind of fascinating that we will never definitively be able to say when/whether Widmore was truly just out for himself vs. trying to act in the best interests of the island. And how much was Eloise able to understand/foresee/control, or was she also just guessing at what was the best thing to do?

    • Agreed – the fact that they have unknown motives and relationships, rather than just mechanics and mysticism, makes them more frustrating enigmas. Perhaps on the DVD?

      • 14 elizabeth

        Which I hope will also give us at least a clue about that mystifying conversation Ben had with Widmore before killing him, The freighter was clearly Widmore’s, but Widmore referred to it being blown up by Ben’s “people.” Writers this careful did not have them discuss this by accident. Was Widmore actually ignorant of who blew the freighter? (It may have been Ben’s C-4 – although we don’t that for sure, either – but Michael was warned in the end not to use it, and then tried to stop the bomb.) Or were Keamy’s team actually part of a long con by Ben? (Ben sure had no compunction about killing Keamy in spite of the deadman’s switch.) Maybe others feel this has been answered adequately (and the ambiguousness of the freighter, who sent it, and Ben’s behavior, probably justifies such a scenario, and that the rules about Alex’s death were some kind of real compact between Other Leader adversaries Widmore and Ben), but I was caught by total surprise by that conversation.

  7. 15 Nick Bestor

    I think another one of Jacob’s rules was that the Island was extremely difficult to find or leave. Ben’s line to Hurley about helping Desmond get home, and how that behavior of the Island was “Jacob’s way” (I believe that was the phrase), but it didn’t have to be Hurley’s, seemed to hint at that. Could be a convention of the Island that predates Jacob. I suspect under Hurley’s reign, the Island will still be difficult to get to, but I doubt he’d let anything like what happened to Desmond happen again.

    I agree on your take on Walt and Aaron, and it’s always a big pet peeve of mine how obsessed people are with demanding answers to what they must perceive as major unanswered questions. As far as I’m concerned, everything we need to know about Walt was pretty much directly addressed in the first two seasons: kid’s got psychic powers, the Others kidnap him, but are scared by just how powerful he is, so they let him go. I’ve always felt that Aaron’s importance, other than the symbolic power of his being the first birth on the Island in a long, long time (though remember Alex was born post-Incident too), was for Claire. Claire minus Aaron equals Crazy Lady. Crazy Lady who played right into Smokey’s hands. Things worked out in the end, but I doubt she ever would have ended up on Team Locke if Aaron hadn’t been taken away from her.

    My personal theory for why Walt wasn’t in the church: it just wasn’t the most important time of his life. This is a ten year old boy who clearly has some crazy potential. He spent something like two months on that Island. I’m sure it’s a decisive and defining part of his life, but not to the same extent it is for the other survivors of 815. Everyone else who didn’t show up in the church, seems like you can chalk them up to either being stuck on the Island ala Michael or not ready to move on like Ana Lucia or Ben. Mr. Eko, I chose to believe he’s stuck as a Whisper.

    One question I was pondering the other night was the nature of the Sickness. It’s something that we got introduced to really early on, then all we’re really left with are Sayid and Claire who seem like they might be under its effects, which seem to boil down to being under the thrall of Smokey. But it’s not an especially strong thrall, as they both seem shrug it off without too much trouble. What I couldn’t remember was whether anyone else had ever actually addressed the Sickness other than Rousseau. Given the whole kinda crazy and alone for 16 years part, she might not be the most accurate account of what happened on the Island. What little we saw from Jin’s perspective still doesn’t tell us if there really is a Sickness, or if Rousseau invented it to justify her actions.

    One cool little thread I noticed on the discussion page of The End Lostpedia page was trying to trace the gun that Kate used to shoot Smokey. In the episode, she got it from Sawyer, who got it from Ben. There was some question as to whether that was the gun Ben had been given by Smokey himself to kill Ilana. Given the fun little timeloop of the compass from season five, it might be interesting to see if the ultimate origin of that gun was at all significant.

    • Good catch on Alex – clearly I’m weak on my baby timelines!

      I saw the whole sickness & infection trope as a way for characters to explain the inexplicable – people under the thrall of Smokey can lose the light of their soul, thus becoming apparently infected. But as you say, we’ve got unreliable reporters and inconsistent symptoms. A constant theme in the show is people trying to understand things beyond their comprehension – typically Lost refuses to explain them better to us, making it feel incomprehensible rather than clarified. Frustrating to comprehend, but consistent with the show’s themes.

    • I totally agree re: Walt (and co). And the others. Those who are in the church are those for whom this was the defining moment in their lives. Given his backstory, I’d be kind of surprised if Eko was there — more important things have happened to him, and the island is small potatoes. Ditto with Ana Lucia, espec. since she never really liked anyone all that much on the island, and thus probably would have been quite happy to spend her afterlife elsewhere with folk she enjoyed more. Faraday’s probably going to an Oxford afterlife or something like that. And so forth.

  8. 18 intricatenick

    Hurley seemed to care about the numbers. He was also a character. So using the idea that “if the characters don’t care about the mystery…. we won’t deal with it” seems to not be a valid reason to dismiss it. There may be better reasons to not go into it, but it doesn’t really make sense to use that argument in this case. Just saying…

    • I said the same thing for years, expecting that the Lost Experience revelations would come to matter in the show because of the Hurley connection. By the end of this season though, I came to think that Hurley has let go of trying to understand the numbers, but merely wants to be free from their power. That might be a rationalization, but it seems consistent with the larger process of letting go of science and embracing faith.

      • 20 elizabeth

        Hurley actually and overtly began this process with his successful dive down the mountain with the Dharma van with Charlie. (“The curse is over!”)

  9. 21 Bill

    Thanks so much! I greatly enjoyed your detailed thoughts — I feel much the same way about the “unanswered” questions. I can understand people’s desire to have answers, but the emotional wash of the ending was so powerful for me that I am at peace with sorting out the unanswered details for myself.

    And a little mystery is a great way to keep LOST alive.

    Take care,

    Bill

  10. 22 Jeffrey Jones

    Extra credit question: asked by the guy who is an avowed atheist!🙂 Well, at least you are asking the question.

  11. 24 Ben B

    Thank you Prof. for your analysis. This has been my go to website for insight for a long time and its going to be sad to not have the wonderful reading each week. Just another adjustment with the passing of the show.

    So I finally must comment. I have been thinking a lot about the island itself. The purpose of the island is wrapped up in the intertextuality and layers of the narrative but can we pinpoint an actual specific purpose. It keeps spirits before they can move on–so the Jacob figure is leading people on through some spiritual progression?? But then we also have living people who are led/drawn to the island and we know the island jumps around in time and space.

    What is the ultimate purpose? Is it to act as an intermediary, transitory space between life and death–and then why is it so important to keep smokee in that space? If the island had actually ended up on the bottom of the ocean, what would have been the harm? I understand how the candidates needed to come to the island so someone could replace Jacob (I also fail to see how non-candidates like the flight attendant and the two kids deserved to get caught up in it all) but the purpose of the island and its relation to the real world is still a mystery to me. I thought this would be part of the Eloise, Charles answer as well…

    Sorry for the rambling and thanks again…

    • 25 elizabeth

      I think it was intended to be mysterious, a metaphor for the mysteries of human existence. If we knew why we were the way were (especially those of us of traditions that choose to fight, lie, corrupt and die to paraphrase the mother and MiB). We each have what some traditions call “a soul” (or spirit or a brain of which we only use about 5-10%), an inner light to guide our consciousness, be it the unconsciousness, the crown chakra, or whatever suits your spiritual bent. We each have the capacity for evil, an inner Smokey, if you will. So there’s your Magical Glowy Cave and Pilot-Killing Monster. (All hail Frank Lapidus! Charon survived in spite of the Monster’s attempts!) As for Cindy and the kids from the plane, I think they were simply collateral damage in Desmond’s fateful fight with Kelvin and failure to hit the hatch button. Yes, Jacob worked for years to guide the candidates to the island, but I don’t think Jacob orchestrated that event, it just corresponded nicely with his hopes. Unfortunately, that meant non-candidates ended up crashing too. I’d wager most of them died in the crash, but a few survived, which may be what prompted Ben to draw up those infamous lists (presumably at the bidding of “Jacob” of the cabin or more likely the MiB), to pull several of the castaways away from the tail section or kill them. Just my take, FWIW.

  12. Response to the extra credit question: It’s a false dichotomy. A show can be both internally consistent, have big ideas and be emotionally fulfilling. It’s not necessarily an either/or choice.

    Also, using terms as “obsessing” and “little” with a show that sold itself artistically through making exactly such details pay off is, I think, a bit of reaction to the hype and counter-hype going on right now. Clearly, the producers made a choice to sacrifice some internal coherence so that they could devote loads of time to metaphysics in the final season. Fans don’t have to be defensive about the fact that the producers made that choice, although I, for one, didn’t find the Jacob plot line remotely as rewarding as the relationships and those little details. (So the clip show effect of the sideways ‘verse was quite rewarding to me.)

    But various web sites highlighting the exact nature of that trade-off and questioning its worth is completely valid to my mind. It’s speaking truth to cultural power, especially since producers telling fans to, in paraphrasing your words, let go of critical inquiry in favor of faith in a higher power is clearly a beneficial philosophy to those with higher power, the show runner.

    Especially when that show runner’s origin story includes the final season of Felicity.

  13. 27 elizabeth

    Nice work, Jason. I would add a thought about David Shephard. Looking back on the night before the Ajira flight, after Kate and turned Aaron over to his grandmother, she and Jack had a “reunion.” I predicted that she would become pregnant to “reproduce” the key elements of O815 (i.e, Claire). Perhaps not by design, but by island magic, by accident, or whatever. This was never addressed (and as they were only on the island for a couple of weeks in “real time” she may not have empirically known). But what if she had become pregnant by Jack and had that child after they escaped on the Ajira plane? She raised her son and Claire raised Aaron. So what if David was not only about wish fulfillment (e.g., Jack’s father-son issues), but indeed a real reflection of a son Jack never knew? (A son that was obviously either still alive during our glimpse into Sideways or just not critical to the reunion of islanders and their agent of doom?) That Jack and Juliet (who had unresolved feelings for each other on the island, obviously resolved in Sideways) saw him as theirs, and Juliet imbued him with her desires (having children in general as well as possibly the music) and Jack with his, was simply a way for them to work out their “stuff” even if it was different from the real world?

  14. 28 elizabeth

    Another comment I’ve seen in many places is the concern about baby Aaron in the church of Lostaway Reunion. As many Sideways characters were actually reflections of things each castaway saw in themselves (remember all those frickin’ mirrors?), or in wish-fulfillment, it seems perfectly plausible to me that baby Aaron was not the actual Aaron we saw spend three years with Kate, but more a projection of an island event that was crucial to bringing Claire, Kate, and Charlie together – both on the island and in Sideways enlightenment. (Remember that Claire rejected Charlie several times before and after Aaron’s birth, but Aaron always brought them back together?) Another school of thought is that everything in seasons five and six were precursor to Sideways because everyone actually died on the freighter or in the helicopter crash, or as a result of Ben turning the Donkey wheel. While the unreality and time travel of those seasons does make this a compelling argument, I lean more toward the former idea, FWIW.

  15. 29 Christopher

    Season six, I believe sets out to be a companion piece with season five (my impression is that these two season are the only season of Lost that have some thematic coherence). Season five (IMHO, the best season of Lost) was bleakly deterministic — whatever happened, happened & dead is dead. True, Faraday did say that people were the variable — but then he was shot dead by his own mother who would later send him into the past to allow her to kill him. I predicted that season six would be a counterpoint the fifth, where free-will play a larger role on the Island. I think that sort happens — while whatever happens, happens still holds for the Lostverse, it does allow that human beings to define some meaning in the relations the made during their lifetimes. It made for some nice end points in various character’s arcs, and the finale was quite beautiful as well.

    Still, I think that season six is a disappointment. The flash-sideways purgatory reveal really was a dick move on Darlton’s part. They said that they wanted pay tribute to the fans, and I don’t doubt their serenity on this manner. The problem is that for a good deal of the fandom, the myth arc was an important part of the Lost experience. And they should have honoured that. I think it was entirely possible to bring emotional closure to the character’s arcs and provide some of the Island mysteries.

    Re: MIB’s name. My impression from Across the Sea is that the Man in Black has no name – his mother was killed before she could think of one, and Mother and Jacob didn’t give one throughout his life. It’s kind of chilling, as his namelessness dehumanizes him and disconnects him from a stable identity. It portends his future misanthropy and space-shifting abilities, and contrasts him with Jacob, who sympathizes with humanity, and doesn’t shapeshift all those years (or at least he never chooses to do so). Also, being The Man Without A Name connects him to the Island Without A Name, a place with he spends all of his time despising & trying to escape, yet doomed like his brother to protect in a way.

  16. 30 Stuart

    A lot of people online seem to be pretty annoyed about the supposed narrative misdirection going on this season with regards to the flash sideways timeline. For example many are complaining about the shot in the premier of the island underwater and even Jason above talks about Daniels remarks about having created an alternate timeline as more misdirection to fool the viewer into thinking the flashsideways was one thing rather than another.

    But I think that rather than being deliberate red herrings these narrative elements are actually solid clues as to what the flashsideways is, that is a literal ‘sideways’ timeline created in the wake of the Jughead explosion. For me the flashsideways is not the kind of afterlife creation of the characters that many interpret it as. In my interpretation it does not come long after the events on the island once everyone is dead, rather it exists alongside the island timeline, which is why particular characters can exist in both at the same time and share a conciousness there.

    The way I read it is that both timelines are equally real and equally valid. One is the timeline we’ve been following for 6 seasons while the other is a tangential one created by the events of The Incident. This is why the island is at the bottom of the sea, because the detonation of Jughead created a situation similar to the one we see happening to the island in The End, thus sinking it. Ben and his father after all remember a time when they lived on the island prior to Ben’s becoming a history teacher.

    My main point I suppose in that the flashsideways is not purgatory, the afterlife or the subconcious manifestation of all their deepest desires. Rather I would suggest it is a ‘gift’ from the island, a timeline in which the characters get to live out their lives had the island never existed for them, and thus the lives they all thought they wanted to live in the first place. However owing to the mysterious circumstances of this timelines creation, eg. in the wake of a huge electromagnetic event, the characters experience ‘bleed-through’ from one universe to the next, thus allowing them to experience memories of both.

    The significance for me of the final scene in the church is that the characters have made a choice between one life or the other. Most of them realize that the lives they thought they wanted were in fact not what they wanted at all, and that really, as Christian states, ‘the most important time in your life is the time you spent with these people.” Significantly perhaps not everyone chooses the island timeline over the flashsideways. Both Ben and Daniel choose to stay despite experiencing their own awakenings, suggesting, at least for me that both universes are real and valid and that the choice is up to the characters to make regarding where they want to be. Regarding where the characters ‘move on’ to in the final flash of light, i would say the answer is…nowhere. Or maybe ‘the island’ is a better answer. These characters have chosen their island lives over their idealised ones, so at the end they just simply dissapear as they don’t want that life anymore.

    Of course this is just my interpretation, what a think is the beautiful thing about the finale is that it leaves so much open to different readings of what actually happened. My reading of the finale and of the flashsideways timeline is the one which works best for me and which enriches my reading not just of the sixth season, but of Lost as a whole, because for me it is consistent with the themes which the show has explored over the past 121 episodes.

    Of course this

  17. 31 Mark

    I have been following your writings on Antenna and this blog. I am still trying to decide about the finale and the season. My first response was quite negative (I felt cheated), but I am still processing. I am still not sure what to think about the final season, was it simply a coda/epilogue/elegy tacked on to the end of Season 5? Does it force me to re-evaluate the entire series? Do I want to re-evaluate the entire series? Did the bomb actually go off at the end of Season 5, or was “the incident” simply the released electromagnetism that pulled the bomb and Juliet down into the pre-hatch hole?

    However, there is one point that occurred to me, almost immediately, and that was how damn Buddhist the finale was. The sideways world definitely qualifes as a bardo. It may be that LOST has been the single greatest mass communication vehicle for Buddhist teaching ever. (Although it is a very Christian friendly version of Buddhism, as befits a dominately Christian viewing audience). This may be end up being the truly significant legacy of LOST. Here is something from beliefnet on the topic, but I think it goes well beyond what is mentioned here:
    http://blog.beliefnet.com/onecity/2010/05/lost-finale-the-dharma-initiative.html

    • 32 elizabeth

      Thanks for the link, I’m off to check it out. I’ve actually read a number of critics note the Buddhist overtones of the show, and as a progressive and ecumenical Christian, I found these fascinating myself. Buddhist monk Thict Nhat Hanh has worked for years to facilitate relationships with Christians and other faiths because he sees overlapping themes of faith. Indeed Karen Armstrong even explores the origins of these overlaps, dating back to to the Axial Age, as defined by Karl Jaspers. (*The Great Transformation*) From my POV, I think LOST communicated a sense of ecumenical spirituality (not religion-based, but faith-based, using some religious imagery). But it does seem particularly heavy on the Buddhism/Christian imagery.

  18. 33 Kelly

    Alex was the last person born on the island before Aaron, not Ethan.


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