The end to one of the most baffling shows to hit primetime
by Jack Kentala
There’s an old sort of theory. Or just an image, really. It’s a man riding a horse, and rigged to a stick is a carrot dangling just in front of the horse. The horse wants to eat this carrot, so it moves forward, but, alas, so does the carrot. The horse, though, keeps going for that carrot, and the rider of said horse gets where he wants to go. It’s the same sort of logic of a “Free beer tomorrow” sign permanently outside a local dive; an enticing promise that turns out to be empty.
That’s what Lost has been for the duration of its six seasons. Carrot and stick. Since the show thrives on creating mysteries that the hapless viewer think will get resolved, a reasonable person could assume there’d be equal parts carrot and stick. This, unfortunately, has not been the case.
Seasons one through five have concocted riddle after riddle on the enigmatic Island, and many viewers, myself included, finally thought the showrunners would finally give us that fucking carrot at the end of it all. We’ve endured polar bears, dinosaurs, magic children, visions, ghosts, hatches buried in the ground, the Dharma Initiative, a smoke monster, and, shit, wave after wave of plane-crash survivors and island inhabitants materializing each subsequent season just to pad out the cast of castaways.
Consider it a bad case of American television gone amok. If there’s party to finger, I blame ABC, getting the show’s writers to keep the endless, unresolved mystery going season after season because, hell, ratings weren’t that bad. Only once the scribes knew there was one season left to go, they could finally start gift-wrapping all the little oddities of the show and put an end to the shenanigans.
Season six was supposed to be the Rosetta stone for everything that had happened prior. But it wasn’t. It invented more things. Introduced new characters. Had the gall to put a Mayan temple on an island in the South Pacific with, sin of all sins to anyone halfway knowledgeable of civilizations, Egyptian fucking hieroglyphics inside. And it prominently featured a sideways parallel universe of sorts, in which the famed Ocean flight 815 didn’t crash, and all the passengers went on with their magically-intersecting, marginally-happier lives.
For those hoping the grand finale wouldn’t be total bullshit, well, it was a reminder that Lost never really was that great of a show past its first season. Once it gained its cult status, it veered into a really smarmy, smug, pompous, self-important show that had every sort of limp religious allegory thrown at it, along with a long-running debate of free will versus destiny that held about as much water as the shoddy Star Wars prequels. Same with the latter, Lost has always been pulp; one of the most expensive soap operas ever produced, complete with paper-thin characters, black-and-white morality, and oddly-foreseeable twists. All the while being, naturally, a horrid frustration for anyone wanting a legitimate, scientific explanation of What The Fuck Is Going On besides some warble about the Island possessing an enormous volume of electromagnetic energy.
All the minor mysteries of the show will be debated long into the dull future for the show’s diehards, but I’ve always considered the biggest riddle to be, “What is the Island?” Only a bit after the finale I came to an obvious answer: the Island is a red herring; simply a place for people to come together and stage this mainstream-television fantasy, complete with the standard rainbow of ethnicities and tiresome character archetypes.
I can’t imagine anyone reading this either a) hasn’t watched the finale, or b) gives a shit what happened, so I’ll give my take on the series’ ending moments. It was like a perfectly white tablecloth: boring, pedestrian, and fairly predictable. In short, everyone had died and was living in the sideways universe just to reunite with each other, since their time on the Island was the most significant in their lives. It’s the sort of Everybody Eventually Dies message ripped exactly from the ending of the equally-wonky but overall-better HBO series Six Feet Under. Lost, though, had the dumb idea to assemble everyone in a church and then overwhelm them with – I kid you not – a giant White Light that comes off as a saccharine, autistic-child’s version of a Christian heaven.
(Never mind that in this sideways universe – that if it’s Heaven, should be perfect – Sayid had to murder like four people before being reunited with one of the blandest characters in the show’s history.)
So that’s it. Done. I’m forever relieved that I won’t have to spend my Tuesday nights in perpetual frustration of that carrot dangling in front of my face. Let’s pray to the god of your choice that the next serialized show to hold our entertainment culture hostage is worthy of the zeitgeist Lost so wrongfully seized.
Postscript: For anyone looking to watch a far-superior show with a central mystery, I highly recommend the UK version of The Prisoner. On Wikipedia you can find a good listing of the “essential” episodes to watch, given there’s some chaff amid the wheat. However, don’t expect anything near closure for The Prisoner’s extremely avant-garde, heavily-symbolic finale. The AMC-produced American miniseries adaptation also doesn’t give up any easy answers at its end.