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Remember, and Let Go: Thoughts on the Lost Finale

Lost finally ended on Monday morning UK time. What a ride. It left me satisfied in a way and unsatisfied and curious in others — very fitting for such a structurally mysterious show. My only complaint would be that the island storyline seemed to get too little attention — given all the build-up about the Man in Black and the Heart of the Island the finale dispensed with those with remarkable economy. It felt like this season could have done with a few more episodes.

Unlike many, I don’t think “lack of answers” was a problem. The answers are there for those who can accept them. In many cases the answers are metaphorical and imperfect and invite you to draw your own conclusions. If you like your answers neatly tied with a bow on top Lost is the wrong show.

Unlike Battlestar, at least, Lost did not explain away whole sections of the plot as divine intervention.  I am very thankful for that. At the same time, Lost raised complex questions about philosophy, faith and science from practically the very first season, so the ‘sudden’ segue into spiritualism was neither unexpected nor jarring. In fact, one of the key themes of Lost was that its characters were lost not only physically on an island, but also morally (a point made over and over in the flashbacks of season 1-3), because of the choices each of them had made. Bravo to Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse for rescuing the Losties not only physically (some of them) but also morally and spiritually. It was not perfect, but it was the perfect plucky ending to one of the most ambitious pop storytelling efforts of our time.

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Christian Shephard: Nobody does it alone, Jack. You needed all of them, and they needed you.
Jack Shephard: For what?
Christian Shephard: To remember … and to let go.

–Lost, “The End”

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An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church says of the anamnesis: “This memorial prayer of remembrance recalls for the worshipping community past events in their tradition of faith that are formative for their identity and self-understanding”.

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In Indian religions, Moksha or Mukti, literally “release” (both from a root muc  “to let loose, let go“), is the liberation from samsara and the concomitant suffering  involved in being subject to the cycle of repeated death and rebirth (reincarnation).

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“Remember. Let go. Move on. I will miss it more than I can ever say.” — Lost creator Damon Lindelof on Twitter, after the airing of the finale.

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The Church in the Lost finale episode - "The End". This shot shows Buddhist, Christian and Hindu motifs.

The Church in the Lost finale episode - "The End". This shot shows Buddhist, Christian and Hindu motifs.

Why Lost Matters

Slate:

It’s easy to hate on Lost—the sometimes silly twists and turns, the millimeter-deep characters, the ever-increasing suspicion that the writers entered this tale with no exit strategy in mind. But show a little respect for a program that serves up quality sci-fi, on free network TV, to the great enjoyment of a large slice of America. A show that’s unapologetically expensive to make, and looks it. A show that rewards the dedicated die-hard, not the casual drop-in.This isn’t a singing contest, or a dating game, or a crime-scene procedural where one week is no different from the next. This is a serial narrative filmed on location with a huge ensemble cast. My vote is for more of that on TV—not less.

LA Times:

Somehow I am not worried; the particulars of the story have never been what “Lost” is about for me. There is something always at work beneath the surface in this show, a kind of structural poetry that embodies its themes of coincidence and fate through parallel actions and mirror images, visual and verbal echoes across space and time and, lately, worlds … These devices are the meter and rhyme of “Lost,” and — with the rhythms of the actors and the colors of the island — they’ve kept the show kind of beautiful, even when it hasn’t made much sense or has wandered into unprofitable cul de sacs.

After six years, Lost is coming to a close tomorrow. For me, the beauty of Lost was always how it encouraged its viewers to look beyond the surface. In many ways, watching any given episode was almost like receiving a clue to a cryptic crossword. Cryptic clues paired with the Internet (would Lost have succeeded the way it did before ubiquitous connectivity?) created a whole community of fan-sites that dissected scenes, analysed episodes and proposed theories. In many ways, the show had become an alternate reality game in itself.

Television is often criticized for being a great, lowest-common-denominator wasteland. However, Lost’s success shows us that viewers are smarter than they’re given credit for. They took Lost’s solidly middlebrow teleplay, which downplayed its most intriguing ideas and often hid them away as easter-egg grade flashes of books in favor of explosions and “character moments”, and weaved theories that often turned out to be better than what the showrunners ultimately put into the show. But it is to the showrunners’ credit that they recognized what fun the fans were having and encouraged it with their slow drip of wink-and-nod hints, even if it meant confounding those who were looking for resolution. It is interesting that so many episodes of Lost begin with a shot of opening eyes. The sheer number of viewers this show found, and their devotion and resourcefulness, may be the biggest eye-opener of all.

Looking Forward to Lost's Series Finale

A good TV show begins well, but a great TV show must end well. With a bang, not a whimper.

Many critically acclaimed shows would have a tough time with that definition. For example, Battlestar Galactica was a wildly uneven ride [Battlestar Galactica awesomeness sparkline]. It started extremely well (the mini series and the short first season). It lost a bit of steam in the 2nd season and by the middle of the 3rd I began to suspect that Ron D Moore didn’t really have a plan about how to end his story. Nevertheless, BSG’s mid-season and season finales remained very good, but they left the rest of the season looking like filler.

The mid-season finale for the fourth season, in particular, was excellent and would have been a perfect ending for the series. Instead we had to watch the actual ending, which I liked on first viewing but soured on as soon as I thought about it for two minutes (Note: Spoilers ahead). Not because of the more implausible plot points (“Let’s give up all our technology and go back to the stone age! Ooh, angels!”) but because of the giant deus ex machina planted in the middle of the story (“God did it!”). BSG often hit high notes that other shows struggled to achieve, but its flaws are hard to ignore.

By contrast, a lesser-known show called The Shield qualifies. It started reasonably — an interesting police procedural, not a bad series but not great either. But it improved over time [The Shield - awesomeness sparkline]. In later seasons, it cut the fat to an astonishing degree, becoming almost mini-series like. It also brought in excellent actors like Glenn Close and Forest Whitaker to beef up the already excellent cast. And the final episode was amazing. That is how you do a character-driven ending without sacrificing plot (Ron Moore take note). I was left wondering about the fate of a major character right upto the last few minutes.

Now, in a few weeks, Lost — another long-form TV series — will come to a close. It started with a very strong first season, but lost steam during the second and most of the third. Luckily the showrunners recognized this and trimmed the fat, and as a result season 3 ended on a high note and the shortened seasons 4 & 5 and what we’ve seen of season 6 have been better for their efforts [Lost awesomeness sparkline]. Lost’s innovative and complex narrative has served it well in episodes like Through the Looking Glass and The Constant, but will the story hold up under the weight of all the mystery? This week’s episode, Ab Aeterno, promises great things. I’m really hoping showrunners David Lindelof and Carlton Cuse don’t lose their way.