5 years after Lost’s ending, I still hear and read the opinion “that it was rubbish.” That it “didn’t make sense” or “it was a complete let down.” And yeah, astonishingly people still think they were dead all along. This post is my attempt to explain why Lost’s final episode hit the nail on the head in doing what it was supposed to do, and while it may have disappointed some (more on that later) it was certainly not rubbish. It was actually quite brilliant.
Please note, there will be spoilers in this blog if you haven't seen the ending. It's also quite long, but stick with it
If you already understand the ending, feel free to skip the next paragraph
Let’s get the big question out of the way first – what was the ending really all about. Ah yes, the ending. For the entire last season we were shown an “alternate” timeline where Oceanic 815 never actually crashed, and everyone lived happily ever after. Except they didn’t. Because they were dead. It was never actually an alternate timeline. It was, for lack of a better word, the afterlife. The world the characters woke up in after dying in the real world. Yep, the real world. They weren’t dead before, but they are now. Still with me? Good. It ran almost parallel to the timeline in which the characters lived on the Island. When Boone clocked out early in Season 1? He woke up on Oceanic 815, right next to good ol’ John Locke. This is where it gets confusing. If Boone wakes up next to Locke, but Locke is still alive on the Island, how is it parallel? Well, here’s the thing – time in the afterlife doesn’t flow at the same rate as the real world. Nope, there is technically no “now” in the afterlife. I guess you could say it happens all at once. The characters experience it all at the same time, and all at different times. I told you it gets confusing. But enough explanation of the big twist, because if you’ve attempted to understand it before and still haven’t grasped it in 5 years, I’m not going to make it any clearer. Besides, that’s not what I’m here for.
So yeah, some people hated the ending because they expected a reveal that made every question click together seamlessly. So why did the rest of us love it? It’s basically one massive love letter to the fans of the show. I don’t mean the casual viewer who only watched it every week and scratched their head trying to remember what they saw last time. (Most of which were the ones disappointed by the ending) No, I mean the ones who would immediately scan the episode for easter eggs and references to literature after it finished airing. The fans who came straight to Lostpedia to document the episode and contribute to the analysis and trivia on the episode article. The people who jumped straight onto their favourite forum and started sharing their giddy reactions and spend the next week writing theories, reading others or recording their very own podcast. The people I’m talking about are the diehard fans, who put all their time into the show between episodes. People who could pick out an intentional allusion to a previous episode, because they knew them that well.The producers do this by throwing lots of nostalgia and references out there. Things like Sawyer telling Kate he’d ask her to come with him, but it would take all the fun out of telling her she can’t – and then Kate’s reply that she has to resist following him anyway. The very nature of the flash-sideways in Season 6 played very heavy on nostalgia and giving eagle eyed fans references and scenarios from past seasons, even to the point that the first 5 episodes focus on exactly the same characters flashes in exactly the same order, as Season 1 did. There were even episode titles which flipped the wording from previous titles – "What Kate Did"/"What Kate Does", "Everybody Hates Hugo"/"Everybody Loves Hugo". But something else happened in the finale which cleverly gave the writers a chance to look back over the 6 seasons – the awakenings. Every time two characters started to remember their previous life, we would see montages of moments on the Island, complete with fantastic score from Michael Giacchino. The self-referencing continued, even to the point of Kate helping Claire give birth to Aaron once again, and Juliet giving Sun an ultrasound. It was always going to be an emotional send off, but these montages impact you hard and you’ll struggle to not reach for the tissues as soon as the music kicks in.
Speaking of the music, it was once again on point with a blending of old themes that had you recalling past scenes, and newly written material. The episode kicked off with a beautiful theme used at the end of the first episode of this final season, as the characters started their journey through the afterlife, and once again accompanied with a montage of the characters starting their final journey. The final piece of music blended all of the biggest themes together perfectly for an emotional crescendo, and a new theme around the Heart of the Island provided a final awesome and memorable piece. No final goodbye would have been complete without the return of many previous cast members and regular guest stars, the latter of which were credited as main cast for the first time. A final moment for Rose and Bernard on the Island topped it all off. All of this was portrayed with outstanding performances by all of the actors on screen.I have to admit the finale felt very strange for me whilst watching. It was like nothing I expected it to be (expectations can be quite dangerous of course) but it was a good thing. What was different was the pace compared to previous finales. Although they were always top-notch, they tended to build up slowly to a set piece final 30 minutes. I expected the big showdown of the episode – Jack vs. Locke, to be near the end, but instead it was out of the way fairly quickly. In fact, they met almost as soon as they had set off to look for the light at the centre of the Island, which was completely unexpected for me. In doing this, the confrontation and epic set piece was done within the first hour, leaving a huge amount of time for the aftermath, resolutions and final farewells. It was a great decision, once again highlighting that it was about the characters more than anything, and it made the tension remain throughout the episode from the very start. It was these final farewells where the episode really came into its own, and if you managed to keep yourself from crying before those scenes, you sure as hell would submit at this point. The passing of protector-ship from Jack to Hurley was one of the most surprising moments ever. It was always supposed to be Jack, he was the main character, the hero. But no, it was always supposed to be Hurley, and it’s something which could be traced back to the start of Season 4, when he began to gain the ability to speak to dead characters. It was a brilliant twist by the writers and allowed what some might say was inevitable to finally happen – Jack’s death. And it was this which also gave us the best throwback of all, when he stumbled through the bamboo forest, passing the white tennis shoe that belonged to his father still hanging by a lace. If you hadn’t watched the pilot since it aired, then it was a scene which was wasted on you, as it was a reversal of the opening scene. As Jack lay down near where it all began, it was the perfect way to end the show, to end the journey. And it wouldn’t be complete without a visit from Vincent, who comforted Jack as we all knew he was about to pass over. That scene alone, along with the closing of the eye as the final shot, proves the episode was written for the fans, not the casual viewers.
Finales rarely satisfy everyone, and Lost was certainly never going to. In some ways I’m sad it didn’t, as the legacy of the show is often discredited by naysayers who tell of the disappointment they were left with. But in other ways, I’m glad it divided opinion because people still talk about, and still debate it fiercely. Although we were told to let go, I hope we never fully do so that the show lives on, and is marked on every anniversary of the beginning and ending of the show. As I have said, just because the ending didn’t turn out how you’d expected or hoped, for one reason or another, it doesn’t mean the series as a whole was a wasted experience. It enriched my life while it was on air, and it probably did yours too. I’d like to finish by thanking anyone who read this fully right to the end. It wasn’t supposed to be quite this long! But I wanted to outline as best I could that the finale was certainly not awful, just because you didn’t like the outcome.