It began with an eye opening. It ended with an eye closing. In “The End,” love conquered all. It’s a cliche, of course, but a time-honored one and it worked to brilliant effect in the series finale of “Lost,” which aired Sunday night on ABC. (This isn’t a recap, but spoilers will follow…)
Millions of us followed these characters, led by Jack Shepherd (Matthew Fox), for six seasons as they struggled first to leave, and then to return, to the mysterious island where Oceanic 815 crashed in 2004. “Lost” didn’t always make sense. You had to be patient. You had to put up with a lot of nonsense. At times you wondered, with good reason, whether the writers were just making it up as they went along. But despite its flaws, “Lost” will undoubtedly go down as one of the finest, most beguiling science fiction programs in TV history.
Was every questioned answered? Are you kidding? The Dharma Initiative was at bottom nothing more than a device to keep a couple of lead characters separated by space and time while bringing another pair together. The island at the center of the show was itself one big MacGuffin. Indeed, in the final few episodes, we were served up a MacGuffin within the MacGuffin.
But I loved it. I watched as a fan, not anything like a critic. I thought the resolution was beautiful, right down to the white light. Most satisfying about “The End” was that just about everyone got their happy ending. (What happened to Walt? Apparently, he got his happy ending a couple of seasons back and that’s all there is to it.)
Every fan had a favorite. For me, it was not Jack, Locke, Sawyer or Hurley, but Benjamin Linus. Beguiling from his first appearance in season two as “Henry Gale,” Linus — brilliantly portrayed by Michael Emerson — was a very bad man who desperately wanted to be good. Like all great villains in our post-modern age, Linus could evoke sympathy one week and loathing the next. As the one-time leader of the Others, Linus was a manipulator and a traitor. He let his adopted daughter be murdered. He himself was manipulated by the Man in Black and coaxed into betraying and murdering Jacob, the island’s protector. Emerson remarked in the retrospective show that aired before the finale that his character may be “the most beaten man in television history.”
Yet in the end, we’re led to believe that Linus, too, had a chance for redemption. In the “sideways universe” that played out in the series’ final season, Linus reconnected with his adopted daughter, Alex, and the woman from whom he stole her as a baby, Danielle Rousseau. When Linus murdered Charles Widmore and seemed to cast his lot with the Man in Black in the penultimate episode, it was… a disappointment. But when given a chance, the utterly depraved Linus found his grace. He couldn’t quite enter the church with the other castaways in the episode’s final, but the show seems to suggest that Ben would “work it out” in time. Once lost, Ben Linus, too, would be found.
What made “Lost” special among network television series was its high production values, its marvelous original music by Michael Giacchino, and its willingness to engage the audience with great questions of faith and reason while entertaining us. Other shows have attempted to replicate “Lost’s” formula — most recently ABC’s “V” and “Flash Forward,” which feature former “Lost” cast members. But the trouble is, both of those shows, and others before them that have come and gone, play up mystery and mythology at the expense of character.
For those of us who stuck with “Lost” through thick and thin, it was never really about uncovering the island’s secrets — fun as some of those mysteries were to see untangled. It was always about what was going to happen to these people. As Emerson told an interviewer in the lead up to the show’s finale, “What if you’ve been seeing what the show is about all along and just haven’t realized it?” He wasn’t talking about Smoke Monsters, hatches and polar bears.
Recently, my collaborator Joel Mathis and I podcasted on the impending end of Lost with Jason Snell, editor of Macworld magazine and one of Lost’s earliest online boosters. You can hear it here. We’ll be chatting with Snell again this weekend for his reflections on The End. I hope you’ll listen.