Jack, for the last two years you and I have been engaged in our own struggle of reason vs. faith. At nearly every turn, you told me that the show had written itself into a corner, and the only way out was through a hackneyed trick-door. I didn't believe you—Lost had righted itself so many times that I was convinced it could do it again.
Now I say to you the same thing Locke said to Eko in Season 2: "I was wrong." Last night Lost crashed, and crashed hard.
Granted, for about two hours there, I thought the show might just find an abandoned runway to make an emergency landing. Contrary to your disgust, Jack, I was enthralled with the episode until His Holiness Christian Shephard showed up for a heart-to-heart with Jesus Jack. Like Seth, I thought the cliffside skirmish was one of the highlights of the season. The flashbacks were surprisingly emotional, like looking through a high-school yearbook the night before graduation. Seeing all the different characters arrive at the concert was like watching a gang of superheroes assemble for one last hurrah.
But then … well, it's nearly too painful to revisit. Tomorrow, I'm going to write a full missive on those final 15 minutes and what it tells us about the show's larger message. (An advance abstract: Fates are discovered; choices are destined.) In the meantime, let's all agree with Seth: The revelation that the flash-sideways were visions of a collective purgatory was sudden, abrupt, and rude. This season wasn't a long con. It was a weak trick.
The purgatory scenes are a symptom of what, in retrospect, was Lost's greatest flaw. It refused to follow its own advice and let dead be dead. In the early seasons, Lost prided itself on its willingness to kill off any character it wanted. This, we were told, was proof that on the island the stakes were high. But then Lost's writers fell in love with their characters, and people started wearing bulletproof vests, recovering from harpoons to the heart, and returning as Demon Spawn. By granting the characters' souls eternal life, in purgatory or elsewhere, the writers diminished our interest in their actual lives—the ones audiences spent six years watching. Lost's writers should have taken a lesson from their characters and learned to let go.
In the end, though, the purgatorial clusterfuck was relatively self-enclosed. It's tempting to let it ruin the entire series, but it was more of a discrete miniseries than an integral part of the show. This is not the kind of thing that invalidates all that came before. It merely taints it, providing nagging proof that maybe the writers weren't actually the geniuses you hoped/expected/thought they were. If you edited the flash-sideways scenes out of the season, the show would still stand on its own and would be a stronger, more cohesive piece of television.
Imagine, for example, a final season that doesn't feature the flash-sideways at all. (ABC, please make this an option on the DVD set.) This final season then plays out relatively nicely. (Though, Jack, you'd still take issue with much of it.) The final scene of Dr. Jack closing his eyes in the bamboo forest is poignant, as is his martyrdom. The characters on the island meet different fates (unlike the one-note purgatorial lovefest), but they all attain some sort of emotional resolution. And although there are an astounding number of loose ends (I think of a new one about every hour), the key questions—What is the island? Who will win? Who will Kate ultimately suck face with?—have all been answered.
Most importantly, the finale answered the question we all wondered about heading into this season: Did the bomb work? Now that we know the purgatory stuff has nothing to do with what happened on the island (besides a vampire bite here and there), we can say that the bomb absolutely did not work. This was the most important but underplayed revelation of last night: The incident—the one that Chang talks about in the Dharma training videos—was always the nuclear bomb. Faraday was wrong about everything. Whatever happened, happened.
Unless it happened after you died, in which case it's just a figment of your anxious subconscious. Was anyone else extremely confused by the disappearance of Jack's son? I haven't rewatched the finale yet—and don't know if I'll be able to for some time—but I don't think Jack Jr. reappears after Locke tells Jack he doesn't have a son. And what are we to read into Locke's comment last week that JJ looks just like Jack? Is Jack's son nothing more—and nothing less—than the ultimate expression of Jack's narcissism? I say yes!
There are, as always, plenty of other things to discuss. These questions are even more rhetorical than usual, since now we know they'll never be answered.
- We've seen the church that they all assemble in before. It's the same one that Ms. Hawking uses to guide the castaways back to the island in Season 5. (It's called "The Lamppost," which is another C.S. Lewis allusion.) What's the significance of that? Are they actually headed back to the island, or some version of it? And what will it look like when they get there?
- Why do they all need to leave together? Couldn't Desmond smooch Penny, get her to remember their old life, and then shack up in the eternal light? Why wait for everybody else (sans Faraday and Charlotte apparently) to have the same awakening? This was the hokiest element of the purgatory segment to me—the idea that they all loved each other so much they wanted to spend every moment for the rest of time together. This also means the Jack-Kate-Sawyer staring contest is sure to flare up again a million years from now.
- Where are Michael, Walt, and Eko in this collective purgatory? Does their absence mean that they don't cherish their island-mates the way the rest of the characters do? Or that the producers hate black people? Discuss.
- So if removing the plug broke all of the island's rules (the Man in Black becomes mortal, etc.), what does that mean about Jacob's off-island actions? Does Juliet's sister suddenly have cancer again? Is Dogen's kid no longer brought back from the dead? Am I the only one who still cares about these things?
- Speaking of the plug, it had hieroglyphs on it. Who put them there? Smokey in his spare time? The skeletons that were lying around down there? Presumably it wasn't Jacob, since he was told never to go down into the cave.
- One last plug question: Why did it sound like a motor stopped when Desmond pulled it out? Could the light have been powering some type of hell-stopping machine?
- Why does Kate change outfits in the church? Does she not want to wear a little black dress for the rest of eternity?
- What was the point of having everyone look into mirrors in the flash-purgatories? Is it a symbol of self-evaluation—the mirror as the place where we can reflect on ourselves and on our souls?
- Why does Jack's neck actually bleed? I don't mean to ask about the parallel, I get that. But why is Jack the only character whose island death carries over to purgatory? If Jack's neck is bleeding, Boone's leg should be falling off! Charlie should be coughing up water at all times! Then again, maybe that's why he's drowning himself in alcohol. Those Lost writers, so clever.
- Oh, and I suppose Jack's appendix scar was not only a result of Juliet removing it in Season 4 but of Smokey stabbing it in Season 6.
- Why is Juliet the only character who spoke from beyond the grave when she was on the island? Last night we saw that her "Let's grab coffee" line was an artifact from purgatory. Are there other characters that had a similar thing happen to them? Somebody assemble a YouTube mashup of everyone's dying breaths. Eko's final words—"I saw the devil"—seem especially worth investigation.
Gentlemen, we'll talk again tomorrow, when hopefully this stuff will make a little more sense or hurt a little less. Until then, I'm playing "The Constant" on repeat so I can remember the good times.