Monday, May 24, 2010

Lost - 'The End' (6x17)

Let me start off by saying that just because the series finale was somewhere between weak and a total debacle, that doesn't invalidate the greatness of many moments throughout the history of Lost. I wrote up my ten favorite episodes, and the troubles in the finale, and the final season in general, don't invalidate the amazing things about those episodes. But, it also doesn't redeem the many mistakes that this episode makes, both in the final moments and throughout the hour. This is an episode that tries to use emotional moments from the show's past to mask the fact that it essentially abandons the narrative we've been following throughout the entire series.

I said in the first review of this season that the notion of going back to the supposedly 'character based' first season, and “bringing things full circle” doesn't appeal to me at all since the start of the circle was a pretty weak show. And yet, this episode hinges almost entirely on our fond memories of a show that was nowhere near as strong as it came to be. For me, Claire and Kate delivering the baby is an insignificant moment in the show's history, and Claire in general is a character who could walk off frame and not appear for a season without anyone caring. To just show us something we saw before, with flashbacks to remind us what was going on, is like a glorified clip show. Even if there was emotion in that moment, it's not that exciting to see it again.

That said, those reunions did work on an emotional level from time to time, mainly because of Giacchino's score and some canny editing. As you're mourning the loss of Lost the show, even the lamest couplings, like Sayid and Shanon, can gain a bit of emotion. When the characters actually did matter, as in the case of Charlie and Claire, it was great to see them come together again.

And, the episode's strongest scene was Sawyer and Juliet's reunion. That relationship was the emotional core of the series' final season and there was a cathartic pleasure in seeing them reunited. Juliet remains one of the series' strongest characters, and particularly in contrast to non-entity female characters like Kate and Claire, she's a strong, real person. It was a huge mistake to kill her since it took the show's heart away.

The problematic thing about those reunions is that even though they work on an immediate emotional level, they compromise the stakes of the concurrent island storyline. The problem this entire season has been how can people invest in two different versions of a character? When the prime-verse Sawyer has been going for five years, why should we care about alt-verse Sawyer? It's a question the show was never truly able to reconcile, most of the exciting moments in the alt-verse come from either powerhouse acting from the show's best cast members, or the thrill of seeing all the characters gradually coming together. It wasn't from me really caring about what would happen to alt-verse Jack or something like that. The only character who totally worked was Desmond, who was aware of the nature of the universe and acting with agency.

In this episode, the emotional stakes flip and I became more invested in what was going on in the alt-verse. That's partially because all the characters were remembering, tying the two universes together, but it's also because of what Desmond said, that they could all escape to the alt-verse by moving into the light. It implied that the alt-verse was 'real' and the island world was going to cease to exist. By doing that, it did a great job of making the alt-verse work emotionally, but it essentially short cut any emotional impact of the actual on island material. By choosing to reduce the on island story to just action with no emotional beats, it undercut the story that had been in the work for six years, and made for an utterly underwhelming conclusion to such an epic story.

One of the biggest problems with sci-fi stories is that they have no existing set of rules. In certain genre stories people can fly, sometimes people can read minds, sometimes bullets bounce off them. Part of creating a genre show is defining the rules, and though Lost mentioned the rules a lot, it never really established what was going on with the Smoke Monster. So, his death here ultimately feels arbitrary and the character we see here doesn't fit with the more sympathetic character from “Across the Sea.” The Titus Welliver Man in Black from “Ab Aeterno” and “Across the Sea” feelings like a totally different character with different motivations than the Locke version we've seen this year, and our lack of understanding of the island's rules means that his motivations throughout the season make no sense.

Based on this episode, it seems like Locke's plan was wait two thousand years for the right set of circumstances to come along so that he could kill Jacob, kill Jacob, then ask Sawyer to leave the island with him even though he can't leave the island, wait for Desmond to come to him then throw him in a well, decide to kill Desmond but not care enough to follow up, wait for the rest of candidates to come to him, trick them into leaving on a sub and kill them, reveal that killing them doesn't matter and that all he really needed was Desmond, also reveal that he doesn't want to leave the island but instead wants to destroy it, find Desmond again, destroy the island, and then leave on the same boat he had the whole time, irregardless of whether any candidates are alive.

Why didn't he just take Desmond to the cave when he first showed up? Did killing the candidates actually mean anything? Why couldn't he leave the island in the first place? Specifics of the rules, like why he was stuck in Locke's form, are nitpicky, but when your whole season hinges on the idea that Locke wants to kill the candidates so he could leave the island, why reveal at the end that that doesn't matter. This is basic storytelling, and it's a great example of the creators manipulating the “rules” of the island to serve whatever story they come up with, and extend the narrative in a way that doesn't actually add anything to the story. Smoke Locke's plan was so absurdly elaborate, it makes no sense, and we weren't given the understanding of the island's rules that we need to make sense of it.

Similarly, what kind of terrible plotting is it that the hero's big plan to defeat the villain is do exactly what the villain wants and hope that it works out good instead of bad. Maybe it's some kind of science vs. faith riff that evil and good will do the same thing, but good hopes that it will have a positive result and evil a negative, but typically stories benefit from conflict, and it's not too exciting for Jack and Locke to be talking about stuff while doing exactly what Locke wants. I liked the moment where Jack tells Locke that he doesn't deserve to wear Locke's face, but it doesn't make up for a failure on a very basic plotting level.

Similarly, why was Locke all of a sudden vulnerable at the end? Did it have something to do with the light of the island going out? Maybe, but it felt arbitrary and not earned. Why did he not turn into smoke form when fighting Jack? That fight was awesome, but you can't all of a sudden switch up the rules for no apparent reason and have it feel emotionally true. I liked that fight quite a bit on a visceral level, and visually it was epic and amazing, but it didn't feel appropriate to defeat this incarnation of epic evil by shooting him once then kicking him over a cliff.

Now, you may say, you can nitpick any story to death. There's similar plotting illogic in “The Incident,” but it's one of my favorite episodes. When an episode works in general, it's easier to elide weak plotting and focus on the positive. But, when the overall story isn't working, the flaws along the way stick out more and more.

And, the biggest flaw of this episode is abandoning the prime-verse as a space for emotional experience. There's no moment in the series where we mourn for the loss of the real John Locke. This is arguably the show's central character, but by bringing him back in Smoke Monster form, and then in the alt-verse, we never really miss him. The reason that death is emotional is because of its finality. You will never see this person again, their story is over and you have to move on. Normally, Jack's death would be an emotional moment, as would Jack and Kate's final parting, but any emotion felt by Jack and Kate parting on the island is killed by the fact that in the very next scene we see them together in the alt-verse.

The alt-verse seemed to be an attempt to give the viewers what they wanted, to bring back all the old characters who'd died and give us one last moment with them. The thing is, as Joss Whedon once said, you have to give people what they need, not what they want. We may want to see Juliet and Sawyer together again, but it kind of compromises the power of their parting to see them reunited. The same goes for Sun and Jin's death, if you want us to engage in the emotion of them dying, don't show them together and happy two episodes later. It removes any sense of consequence from the narrative if everybody gets a happy ending.

The end of the episode reveals that the entire alt-verse is about people coming to terms with their own death and rediscovering the people they were on the path to a higher plane. You could argue the entire alt-verse is a Mulholland Dr. like passage into death, with iconic moments from the various characters' lives presented in different, reconfigured ways.

My interpretation is that the characters we see in the church have a kind of pooled vision of the world, their own “table” in heaven so to speak, and that they're the only ones who “really exist” in the alt-verse. People like Miles, Charlotte, Pierre Chang, etc. are not really there, they just exist as the memories that people have of them. That makes the most sense to me, but it could also be that they have their own different “tables” in heaven, that's why Desmond tells Eloise that Daniel won't be coming with them.

I don't necessarily have a problem with this conceptually, but it doesn't do anything to redeem to explain the many terrible alt-verse stories we see over the course of the season. I feel like, if the point of these stories was supposed to be the characters coming to terms with and accepting death, you could have told some really powerful allegorical stories before revealing the true nature of the universe in the final episode and tying everything together.

But, in practice, the stories were all over the place, ranging from positive to tragic. You could read it as the characters having to go through the process of awakening and realizing that they're going to die, as in Donnie Darko, but the first ten episodes of the season did not deal with that at all. Technically, they brought the characters together and made them deal with certain traumas, but not in a way that feels any more than arbitrary for the final revelation. I don't think the idea of the alt-verse, in light of what's revealed here, is inherently flawed, but I think as executed, it was a total debacle and structured so as to provide cheap emotional punches in the finale after fifteen episodes of stuff that didn't really work.

And, I think centering so much of the emotion in the alt-verse really deprived the island story of a satisfying resolution. Yes, the people get to leave and that's fine, but we have no idea what really happened to the characters beyond dying. It felt like the mysteries of the island were back burnered, to the point that I wonder why they even developed the Jacob mythology at all. As I said after “Across the Sea,” there's nothing we learned about Jacob this season that really added to our understanding of his mission, it only muddied it. The scenario set up in “The Incident” was so simple and elegant, and this season has convoluted without complexifying it.

The story choices made with the Jacob character, or with Richard in “Ab Aeterno” just don't work. They take epic mysterious characters and reduce them to boring motivations of “my wife died” or “my mom doesn't love me.” And, the problem with Richard is that after that episode he did nothing. He could clearly leave the island when he wanted, so it wasn't a great satisfaction for him to depart here. I suppose there's the beat of him starting to age, but wanting to live. But, I think he's a character who would have been better left dead at the end of season five and remained something of an enigma.

Ben is another character ill served by this season, and his arc this year makes no sense. Last episode he killed Widmore in cold blood and said he was going to kill more people, but that wasn't touched on at all this episode. His arc makes sense if you remove last episode, it's just boring. But, the sudden swerve here doesn't make sense. You could argue that he wanted revenge on Widmore then gave up his killing ways, but that's not how it played last week. Maybe he was tricking Locke, who knows? Why did he wander into the castaways' camp to begin with and pretend to be Henry Gale? Unknown.

The creators love to talk about how the show is really “character centered,” but unfortunately this finale confirms their worst tendency in character creation, the notion that all we are is a product of past traumas/experiences, and we can't grow and change in the present. We watched fifteen episodes of alt-verse stuff just to find out that none of it mattered, it was all a path for people to remember who they really were, go to a church and disappear. That means that anything they do in the present doesn't matter, it's just about finding out who they were. That's all too often the case on the island as well, they assume that developing Richard is showing who he was, not turning him into who he will be. That was the flaw with the flashbacks from the beginning. It should be character development, not character excavation, and this finale is way too much about the latter.

We have no idea how people are resolved in the real world, no moment of reunion between Desmond and Penny, no catharsis for Kate losing Jack, who's apparently her true love. Presumably she lives for many years afterward, but what kind of life? Why would any of these people be happier now than they were before going to the island, or during the flash forward era? Maybe they weren't, maybe that's why they all go to the church and think back to the island years, since they were always unhappy otherwise, but I want to see that, I want to feel the desire to reconnect, I want to miss the characters and have the church be a great catharsis.

It didn't feel that way for me, and the frustrating thing is, I think it could have been amazing conceptually. The beauty of the fifth season for me is the fact that the characters finally seemed to realize that they belonged on the island, that being on the island was better, and the ending reinforces that, but it's a message that's obscured by the whole alt-verse storyline, which I will reiterate does nothing at all and is pointless because it's resolved by all the characters realizing that the world we've spent so much time in is NOT REAL!

I also think it's incredibly reductive to have almost every character be returned to a moment of romantic love, when relationships were never the center of the show. Were Sayid and Shanon soul mates? I don't think so, he wasn't begging the Smoke Monster to go to a world where he could with Shanon. Maybe the whole thing was just Jack's fantasy, who knows, but that detail didn't make much sense.

Ultimately, I wanted the finale to do something a bit more unexpected. There were no real twists until the final moments, everything played out as you'd expect. The Smoke Monster got killed, the characters in the alt-verse remembered who they were and everyone died happily ever after. I wanted to see something crazy and audacious and that just wasn't here. It was sappy at times, emotional at times, but never surprising or particularly exciting. I wanted more.

In the end, the show was always a mixed experience, with two amazing seasons, two seasons that ranged from amazing to terrible and two weak seasons. This was one of the weak ones, and to be honest, I think the show would have been better off with it never existing. But, what happened happened and at least we got the great moment of Jack being weirdly electrocuted in the island bathtub cave. That was one to remember.


Anonymous said...

Ha ha, don't hold back now, Patrick!

I agree with what you feel about the finale. In fact, I think the whole final season has been a mistake. It's going to make sitting through all those alt sideways episodes hard for a rewatch.

Not only wasn't the ALT world real, nothing in it mattered, apart from the arbitrary remembering of their past lives. There wasn't even any suggestion that it was a place to work things out, other than Ben not wanting to leave. It existed solely for a big reveal in the finale, with NO stakes whatsoever. Funny, given your previous post, it was in fact a placeholder.

It played a cheap trick on us to give us the 'happy' ending with the emotional reunions and left the island stuff to be completely redundant. If they all meet up in the end, what did it really matter that Jack was successful or that the others got away on the plane? They only postponed the eventual (death). An unusual show to make the stakes for the entire series turn out to be inconsequential. Hell, even if the smoke monster had got free and killed everyonev in the whole world, would that have been such a big deal, seeing as how the afterlife is so cool?

Why did they even want to 'move on' anyway?

So it cheapened the one true thing that we have, life, and further reduced the stakes of ANYTHING that happened in the 'real' world. At least the other big tear jerker that used this technique, Titanic, showed a montage of photos to show that the old lady had a long and full life after the crash. Indeed the famous 'Six Foot Under' ending did similar, to show that while eventually being reunited with loved ones is important, so is living life to the full. What's more both these left it open to interpretation.

A lot of the emotion really comes from the feeling of loss we, the viewers, have from the show ending, but to pander to our desire to see a happy ending at the expense of the story felt a bit shabby to me. Jack's sacrifice felt pointless, in fact it didn't feel like a sacrifice at all, seeing as everything is so hunky dory and we can all hold hands in the afterlife. So, you're dead, Jack, no biggie. You can still be a doctor, what's more you get a son too! Woo hoo!

Even if they had've been brave and made the whole Alt world just Jack's afterlife fantasy and finished it the way they did, but cut to Hurley crying over Jack's body or something (with room for interpretation like Pan's Labyrith-type of thing).

I completely agree about the John Locke point too, death seems to be not a big deal in Lost, a bizarre concept for a 'character' drama.

It is still a series I'll treasure, but it's last series diluted a lot of the reasons why I do and the finale pulled some cheap emotional shots on me. Don't get me wrong, I wiped a few tears away while watching it, but I recognise the emotional manipulation that went on.

Anonymous said...

I respectfully disagree.
As Todd Vanderweff discusses somewhere I think has always been treated with real weight by the show.
I see no evidence that the alt-verse isn't 'real', it just depends on how you choose to define that idea. It's suggested that the characters 'made' the alt; either by the incident creating a tangent universe, or/combined with Hurley changing the rules.
Either way the alt states ambiguity is presented as more than just accepting death-but a space in which consciousness find dharma-achieved not through accepting death, or finding romantic love-but through a recognition of community at a spiritual level.
"Where are we?" was always a question on the island. On the island where exotic matter freed consciousness from time and space, the characters through their interactions built a place where time no longer mattered and though dead is dead, what endured were their connections.

Patrick said...

I totally agree. The big difference between this and the Six Feet Under finale is that Six Feet Under gave us some character reunions, like David seeing Keith before he died, but it gave the characters real lives and experiences outside the confines of the show. It let them age and grow and change, and let us feel the sense of loss and death. I didn't feel that at all in this finale because any sense of loss was replaced by people just remembering who they were all of a sudden. It compromised the narrative integrity of the entire show proper.

The frustrating thing is that the more 'character based' the creators try to be, the more they lose sight of what actual character development is. In a show like this, character development and conceptual material about the island have to work together, it's not a choice of one or the other. In an episode like "La Fleur," we get a ton of information about the island, which is used as background to enhance the character arcs going on.

This year, there's been a strict divide between ostensibly character based stories that don't even involve the characters or take place in a world with any kind of structural reality, and infodumps about the island. You can't say that the mythology doesn't matter because the show is character based, if that's the case why take so long to reveal all this information about the island. Why distract the audience with questions and inactivity when you could be focusing on what really matters?

They could literally have shown clips of Party of Five in place of the Jack episode, or Lord of the Rings for Charlie, and done the same ending and not had to change anything.

And, I'd love for some of the people praising the finale to explain such basic narrative lapses as Locke's plan for Desmond, which undermines the entire story of the season. You could cut from Juliet blowing up the bomb to the church and it would barely make a difference in the overall story.

Patrick said...

I don't have a problem with the alt-verse in conception, and I think the story you're presenting would have been a great one. The problem is, much like the series itself, it was an elaborate rambling narrative with a lot of nonsensical digressions en route to a fairly simple concept that would have been much more powerful if it was presented in a straight forward manner.

If each of the stories we saw over the course of the season fit the theme of coming to terms with death and allegorically dealing with traumas from the island, that could have worked fine, but they really didn't, and for ten episodes of the season, there was no narrative momentum in the alt-verse whatsoever, just a bunch of haphazard events.

So, we wind up with a final episode that has an interesting idea, but also says that the stories we saw in the alt-verse in the previous fifteen episodes, and the little world they built there, don't really matter because those characters were all erased when they 'woke up.'

Anonymous said...

The alt verse was about coming to terms with the individual lives the individual characters lived, and not just the traumas, but the positive parts too. It doesn't cease to matter when they wake up, the strcuture of that world does, but not its significance in acting as a crucible for their 'redemption' - for want of a better word.
I don't see the ending as all that different from the characters entering the super-context, or whatever. It's just being draped in more conventional religious symbology- though the show explicitly suggests that 'science' had a part in creating the alt, through these specific people's interaction with the light on the island.
Roamtic love isn't solely what allows to 'leave', it's the distillation of all that was most significant in their lives, much of which was made possible by the relationships and growth they experienced on the island.

Patrick said...

That makes sense, but I feel like it's mainly applicable to what we saw in the last episode, not so much to the previous alt-verse stories. I definitely see the Tibetan Bardo coming to terms with death through an alternate life thing going on, but I wish that the stories in the alt-verse were better. I wish they revealed more about the characters and didn't rely on cheap pop cameos and arbitrary differences to keep us wondering what was up until the end. I love the concepts you're describing, but I just don't think they're there in the vast majority of the alt-verse stuff.

And, I think that focusing so much of the emotional axis of the final season on the alt-verse, regardless of its quality, undermines the emotional impact of events on the island, and thus negates a lot of the show's overall direction.

I hate that this finale, and the interviews and press surrounding it, presents a mutually exclusive concept of character and mythology, when the two should be woven together to enhance each other. In the series' best episodes, the mythology is a device to reveal character, not an obstruction in front of it, and not using it in that way this season means that the mythology episodes are weak and the so called character moments don't have the weight of narrative significance behind them.

Anonymous said...

Good write-up, but I think you missed the point as far as Locke's plans for Desmond are concerned. Locke didn't know Desmond was special until after he spoke with Charles Widmore; that is why his plans for Desmond changed so suddenly. He saw Desmond as an opportunity to destroy the island.

Patrick said...

Hmm, that at least makes some sense. But, why would Jacob have Widmore bring Desmond to the island if Widmore saw him only as a weapon. I guess the idea was he was a weapon for either side, but it's not quite clear enough. And, considering so much of the season hinged on that, I'd have liked to see it clarified a bit more.

Anonymous said...

I find myself amused by some of the theories going around about the finale.

What's clear, however, is that the sole purpose of the Alt stories was to keep us from guessing the true purpose of the Alt world. They were red herrings, no more, no less. They weren't there to add insight, rather the complete opposite.

I like the previous poster's ideas about collective consciousness, but let's face it, that had zilch to do with these stories. A final season would have been so much stronger if that had been the case, but of course, they wouldn't have had their last minute surprise that way.

Perhaps in Ben's case you could argue that the world is to help one resolve matters before moving on. But most of the stories were kept purposely away from that territory, so we the viewers wouldn't guess the alt world's true nature. They were so utterly pointless and your point about Party of Five and Lord of the Rings is a valid one.

And the revelations were so arbitrary, so little sense of being earned at all. In fact Desmond had a large part to play in bringing people together, complete deus ex machina and totally at odds with the idea of self-realisation.

I know a lot of people complained about the BSG finale, but this revelation really will make it difficult for me to rewatch this last season. The whole alt world stories were a smokescreen for a big last 10 minute shocker, nothing more.

I am not a believer in an afterlife in any form, but I am prepared to accept the concept in my fiction, where it brings good drama or asks deep questions. But the last season was all about keeping us guessing, rather than pondering any questions about life and death.

The alt world's whole purpose was to be a place where they could all gather when they all realised they were dead. What a trite concept! Why not a waiting room? Why does your dead consciousness put up such a convincing front, when clearly moving on is all it wants to do? If it exists outside of time, why the need for the awakening at all? None of it makes any sense.

Instead they chose to have the last season of such a well respected show to have little or no relevance to what went before all for a cheap m night shyamalan ending.

Anonymous said...

Not to keep banging on - but I really have to dissent from the outright dismissal of the alt as a smokescreen filled with cheap cameos to preserve a twist ending.

I also think Lost didn't practically separate the mythology from the character stuff. That's a point of view, sure, but I don't think it's as definitive a move as being made out here.
For me, the 'mythology' was a prop, full of metaphysical import sure, but one that built the narrative space in which the type of resolution we got occurred.
Much like BSG used SF concepts (downloading/projection)as analogues for what is usually understood as a religious or mystical experience, so too did Lost, and for me, arguably, managed to pull these threads together in a much subtler, more visually poetic style than the BSG finale did with its more clunky style of exposition.

I think there's too much emphasis placed on the sideways as an 'after'-life or place to come to terms with death. Sure, that's how it climaxes from Jack's P.O.V. but the sideways' stories and many aspects of the finale demonstrate that it's more about coming to terms with a life that you've lived and coming to find meaning in that life, from within the unique 'sideways' perspective that I believe the show infers did not exist prior to the action on the island BUT now has existed retroactively forever, since it is outside time.

If the island's key 'mystery' is that it's a place where a light, an exotic matter - that parallels the flashes before our eyes at death or in memory, or in reflection on an imagined possible future - interacts with human consciousness, producing in a variety of ways, what we understand in the drama as SF tropes pertaining to various types of time-travel, 'a voyage in time' then either unintentionally with the bomb or via Hurley or Jack's candidacy (yes, it's left ambiguous)these characters found a loophole to create a timeless 'place' in which to rediscover what gave their lives value.

If Jacob manipulated their destinies, took their agency, and labeled them 'flawed', restriced them; and if MIB recruited them to an 'ersatz' community of zombie-dom, madness and meaningless death ('I just want you to know Jack before I kill you that your life meant nothing') Jack and Juliet's sacrifice, in fact their combined sacrifices, enabled them to open a loophole in the linear time of 'what happened, happened' in order to re-experience aspects of their lives and find resolution in the community THEY had built on the island (distinct from the god-game that brought them there).

The cameos and connections and echos throughout the alt-verse aren't just empty fan service, they're what gave their lives meaning, enabled by their stint, as you point out, on the island, that allowed all this to be originally staged.

The church at the end originally pointed them back to the island in '316', here it points them to the light, the distillation of the island, and its meaning that MIB nihilistically denied.
The Side-ways resolves with the island's light coming to them ('this light is in everyone'), a climactic recognition that it is always a part of them. But the rules have changed.

The season is book-ended by two religious structures/architectures: the temple with its phoney religion of Jacob, underpinned by a strictly dualistic morality overseen(?) by remote God figure, and the church - where the sacred is located in a community built on the new rule of 'live together or die alone'. The Temple, with its corrupted religion, collapses when its doors are flooded by the black smoke of violence and despair. The Church floods with the white light of found meaning...

Anonymous said...

I'm not saying everyone will have emotionally or intellectually connected with that thematic in the show; but I don't think it's a stretch to see it as a valid reading amongst others, and I believe it's robustly supported by the show; without denying that it obviously didn't work for everybody.

But I think I very much disagree with the idea that the alt had no consequence to the main narrative because it wasn't 'real'.
Even the inter-cutting between the church and Jack's death show their interconnectedness and their interlocked stakes. In SF terms it's a deliberately paradoxical construction. The sideways doesn't happen 'after' death necessarily; it's outside time, so is literally sideways to the linear experience of the characters. It can only be experienced from Jack's P.O.V as occurring after death when he 'wakes-up'. But from the god's eye view of the viewer it is an alt-timeline with unique properties; just one with a very unusual relationship to time, which accounts for Desmond still being able to access it (though misunderstanding it's meaning).

I think it's an original conceit to show a secular 'after-life' generated by a combination of SF tropes and musings on time, elementary to the show's design since the beginning.

Anyway, sorry for such a long post. Thanks for reading. Appreciate the blog, despite disagreements; just been a bit disappointed that despite many good reviews, the ending hasn't generated much examination of its ideas (I know critics will again say that's the show's fault for not obviously foregrounding them), that for me and many others I know blended the SF and the emotion in a very strong, surprising and aesthetically bold ending.


Patrick said...

Yes, the church and Jack dying was interconnected, but that was only because we were finally aware of the nature of the alt-verse. But, the rest of the stuff doesn't quite hang together with the idea that the characters are coming to terms with their life or doing a final penance or something like that.

I think that idea, and the version of the alt-verse that you describe, is great, and the frustrating thing is, I think they could have done it without 'spoiling' the surprise of the ending for viewers. I love the idea of characters going on a symbol laden journey through a reconfigured world to atone for their sins, and in certain stories, Jack's first flashback in particular, you do feel that. But others feel arbitrary and random and don't gain any more significance in light of the final revelation.

I think it goes back to Mulholland Dr., that's the conceit of this finale, that the characters built a new world to ease their transition into death. The genius of Mulholland Dr. was that it used its own 'alt-verse' (i.e. the first part of the film) to reveal a lot about character psychology, and I think Lost could have done the same. But, the stories just didn't.

I don't have a problem with the concepts you're discussing, or the ending in a general sense, but I think the individual alt-verse stories throughout the season don't contribute to that overall thesis in the way that they could have, and in being so all over the place, it makes it feel like they're just placeholders to allow the show to bring back all the characters who died and hit us with those big emotional beats in the finale.

And, even if the alt-verse was great, I feel like the choice to intercut it with the island story undermined the reality of both worlds, and investing in the reality of a world is key to engaging with it emotionally. I'd have rather had emotion come from actual plot developments that happen in this episode, not from replays of great moments from the past.

If I was making the season, what I would have done is not show the alt-verse at all, but play everything on the island the same, and still have Desmond mention the other world to Jack in the cave. End the penultimate episode with Jack in the cave frying in the light, then play out a compressed version of the alt-verse story over the course of the finale, and end things just as they did with Jack dying on the island intercut with the church scene. That way our emotional investment isn't split, and therefore diluted, and the same points are made in a clearer way. We still get the mystery of the alt-verse and its revelations, but are able to end the island story in a more satisfying way.

Anonymous said...

Well Danny, I admire your positisim and, like Patrick, would have loved the final season to have overtly alluded (even by symbolism) that this was a journey of the sort you believe it was.

Unfortunately, I really didn't see any of that.

Strictly speaking the altverse did not exist outside of time, as time seemed to pass normally in it. Perhaps it existed independently of our timeline, but time was evident in it's normal form within it (ie event b seemed to follow event a with no evidence of discrepancies). Perhaps this is a limitation of the medium, but there really didn't seem to be any strangeness with how time passed in the alt world.

I really saw little evidence of coming to terms with their lives in any of the previous episodes (except perhaps Ben and maybe Jack) and, as I said, the realisation that they had a previous life seemed pretty haphazard to me and certainly not 'earned' through new experience at all.

The resolution of the community you mention happens right at the end, it is the real purpose of this world. I agree with that. My problem is the stuff that happens before it. Patrick mentions Mullholland Drive, there's also Lost Highway as well. The alt stories should have really had much stronger images and symbolism, you have the right to expect much more freakiness about the whole place. This should be a world where the subconscious rules, as per Lynch, not a Matrix for the dead.

It was just so banal, bizarrely so, when compared to the on-island 'real' stuff (I hope you don't mind me using that term).

Lynch's films are great at showing the subconscious intruding in jarring and alarming ways to pass a message on. To have gone that direction would have been far stronger in my opinion, particularly when the main timeline of the show has conditioned us to expect the unexpected.

I won't argue that what you suggest was the intent of the writers. I don't believe it was, but I have no evidence either way so it really boils down to interpretation.

What I will say is if you are correct, I believe the writers failed miserably to convey this in a successful way to my eyes and wasted a whole season doing their best to disguise the alt world and in a pretty boring fashion some of the time.

I have enjoyed reading your thoughts and you've give me a few things to think about the finale, but it really doesn't jar with What Kate Does or Sundown or the Alt episode where Jack absolutely has to try to 'fix' Locke.

That's what my real complaint about the finale is - it negates the stories that precede it, in my opinion at least.

Patrick, I agree the season would have been stronger with what you suggest, but of course they decided they wanted to mirror the first season with it's flashbacks.

Anonymous said...

I understand there's a lot of resistance to Lost's essential methodology here, and though I think it has its merits I'm not insisting that it worked for everyone; just presenting another point of view.

The Lynch aesthetic isn't appropriate to every type of narrative that trucks in these tropes. Occasions where Lost dabbled in a style derivative of this in the past mostly failed.

Lost was always generically committed much more to the romance and sweep of adventure stories than to the aesthetics of American surrealism. Lost developed its own visual language and story-devices based on the flashes, which generally resided at the lyrical end of the SF scale. S6 brought this to its ultimate thematic conclusion, in a way that was consistent with the show as a whole and providing an appropriate elegaic tone.
Not for everyone, sure - and unsuccessful in others' eyes, but a valid choice I believe, in tune with the show as a whole.

A graver genre disappointment this year for me has been Moffat's Who thus far; which I notice Patrick has not mustered enthusiasm to review.

Patrick said...

Yeah, Moffat's Who has been okay, and not that different from the Davies era on the surface, but it's been missing the effusive emotion and joy that made, particularly the Tennant era, such a resonant show for me.

The thing I always loved about Tennant is that even in a weak episode, he'd be so enthusiastic and excited to be wherever they were that you got caught up in things. The stories are similar, but that emotional engagement just isn't as strong so far this year.

I've been meaning to write it up, but it never quite drives me to, which is perhaps the most accurate review I can give.

Shlomo said...

Hey danny, I like your POV and observations, especially:
"The church at the end originally pointed them back to the island in '316', here it points them to the light, the distillation of the island, and its meaning that MIB nihilistically denied.
The Side-ways resolves with the island's light coming to them ('this light is in everyone'), a climactic recognition that it is always a part of them. But the rules have changed."