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I Loved Lost. All Of It. Even The Ending

I realize Lost ended years ago and now it seems like I’m digging up the past. Well, I didn’t have a blog then. If I’m being honest, Lost and spouting about Lost was the impetus for having my own blog in the first place and I’ve never been able to vocalize my thoughts on how it ended, so you’re getting this now. I only stopped constantly thinking about Lost very recently. It was just that kind of show for me, one that synced to my sensibilities in how I see the world, that there is one objective truth to everything and it exists independently of what we think of it or how we interpret it with our reasoning.

Lost wasn’t perfect, but no show is (not even The Wire). Now it’s over and I’m going to finish my thoughts on Lost and I guess move on to obsessing about Breaking Bad.

I was saying to a friend as the sixth season started, that the show was likely far simpler than everyone was making it out to be and actually hiding very little from the audience. When all is said and done, I think that's true. To sum up the plot, it was about Jack realizing his destiny in saving the planet and the particular group of flawed, complex people in a long line of flawed, complex people who were all a part of his struggle. No one does it alone.

But if I had to sum up the theme of the show concisely, I'd say it was about the struggle in human beings to understand their world, especially when confronted with the unexpected or the unexplainable. It seemed very complex because it was all going on against the backdrop of an incredibly dense mythology, but the show never wavered from this general theme from "Pilot" all the way through "The End".

The details regarding the mythology were never the point. I believe this is entirely deliberate. Unfortunately, I believe this is the reason that so many found the ultimate conclusion so unsatisfying. The mythology was what got many ensnared in the show and when it turned out the creators were using that mythology as a tool to arrive at their ultimate goal and not the ultimate goal itself (which was each character finding out what his or her purpose was-- again, something the show was never being coy about from the beginning...), it resulted in a lot of disappointed people, although it's completely untrue that the show leaves any more questions unanswered than any other show. I'll point you to this article, because this guy is as big a Lost freak and a far better writer than I. I pretty much agree with most of his conclusions. Damon Lindleof himself retweeted his work. 

Look at the central conflict of Lost: Science vs. Faith. What are both of those if not the two extremes through which humans try to find meaning in life? Lost took a group of disparate people and threw them into an unfamiliar, life-or-death struggle with things they couldn’t explain. When faced with the unexplainable, your brain will try its damnedest to come up with a way to make sense of it. Some characters turned to what was familiar, tangible and could be tested. Others turned a belief that there was a greater order involved, a destiny-like reason for everything that was occurring. In many cases, both sides were way off; at least in the details. There was the ultimate reality of events and it often differed greatly from how the characters were interpreting them. Just like life.

In many cases, the end result of a plot point would completely de-mythologize the mythology. This is a challenging concept for many. Also challenging was the fact that, while there was always a real truth behind everything we saw on Lost, few things were ever explicitly stated. We had a bunch of unreliable narrators at the helm. Answers are often inferred and you sometimes have to sort through the characters' flawed interpretations to get there. But the key things are absolutely present. I'm guessing many just didn't like the answers.

It all kind of came together for me while watching Across the Sea, the episode about the origins of Jacob and the Man In Black (MIB). I’m going to attempt to defend an episode that was famously derided by fans for it’s awkward and clumsy execution and it’s overall feeling of “Really? That’s it?” It IS clumsily executed and I was certainly among the disappointed but my problem was more in the wasted dramatic potential. It was just a dull episode. I got its point, though. It’s a key piece of the puzzle. We see the seeds of the show’s macro-mythology being planted. During the whole run of the show, there was a constant mentioning-pondering-arguing over “the rules”. The rules were very important yet they seemed to change based upon who was in charge and were never really nailed down. In Across the Sea, we found out why: the only power the “rules” may have is that the follower believes they matter. 

The rules revolved around "The Heart of the Island", or “the magic cave of light” as many fans bitterly dubbed it. After waiting for six seasons to find out what the point of it all was, we’re pointed to a cheesy looking glowing cave. The thing is, I’m willing to bet money that it was supposed to look cheesy. We were seeing it through the eyes of an ancient, primitive people. In that same scene there’s a shot where the camera is placed inside the cave looking out. It's a very deliberate choice. This shot is accompanied by that familiar electromagnetic hum that we've heard in The Hatch, with the Donkey Wheel, during The Incident, etc. This “magic cave” was the source of what we, as viewers with several seasons worth of knowledge, knew to be the sentient electromagnetic energy that made the island cure disease, significantly prolong life, bend time and space, keep the planet intact, etc. But since Mother and the twins had no knowledge in the way of science, no way of measuring or studying the energy or even perceiving it as such, it just looked like a magic cave of light to them. 

We never see where Mother gets her facts about how any of it works. Some say she picked up some sort of knowledge about the island simply by becoming it’s protector but there’s no evidence to suggest that. We watched three other people, Jacob, Jack and Hurley become protectors at different points and there was nothing to suggest they suddenly gained knowledge. In fact, Jack flat out said he didn’t feel any differently. What we can infer is everything she knows is based on what happened to her when she went into the cave and we know she’s gone into the cave because the episode all but screams that she is in fact a smoke monster just like MIB will become when Jacob throws HIM into the cave. What we can’t infer is how much she truly understands about what’s happened to her.

We know she’s a very fearful person, forbidding Jacob and the MIB from interacting with those strange people lurking about (who happened to be the twins' actual people). Maybe she’s afraid of what could happen if someone she doesn't trust were to find the cave and become what she is. Or maybe she’s just aware that those other people were trying to study the energy and glean new understandings from it. This could completely threaten her way of comfortably understanding her world, and possibly weaken her power over the twins. It’s a parallel for countless moments in our history when churches went nuts over some new scientific discovery that they felt would undermine church doctrine.

We’re also pretty sure she’s crazy. A sane person wouldn't bash a pregnant woman’s head in with a rock right after she’s given birth. And up until the twins came along it appeared she was also living alone on the island. So what we’re dealing with is Rousseau 1.0 and everything the twins learn about the cave and the island is through her prism of crazy and primitive. And this is what Jacob bases his rules on.

The island seems to choose exactly who it wants as a protector all on it’s own. Is that “now you’re just like me” water drinking ritual really anything more than ceremonial? Jack and Hurley even do it with crappy, dirty river water in a well-worn plastic water bottle. Did it really change anything that wasn’t already naturally in play? The show purposely never spells these things out for you because that's what faith is. When Jack did his test of faith with Richard on The Black Rock, did the island really spare them or did he happen to luck out and pick the one dud stick of famously volatile dynamite? Or could that very luck be HOW the island spared them? How about the bomb on the submarine? Was it really not going to detonate if Sawyer didn't mess with it? We'll never know. Because the reality of these instances is less important than the impact they had on the people who experienced them.

So in addition to the reality of the rules, this episode shows us that this mysterious Jacob, whom we’ve been hyping up since season three, is merely human. Not a god. He's as flawed and capable of misjudgment as any of the other characters. He really doesn’t have all the answers, even if he has developed a good deal of wisdom from simply being around for centuries. And now we also now know why he's so damn cryptic about what he DOES know. He never wants to create the kind of resentment in another human being that his Mother created in MIB by telling him what he's supposed to do. So he leaves people to come to conclusions on their own because he understands people HAVE to come to them on their own for them to mean anything. Sometimes a person needs to sit and stare at the ocean. If the people aren't given free will to arrive at the truth on their own, they will be too busy rebelling against it to see that it’s true. Unfortunately, such a tactic can leave a vacuum...

A whole huge chunk of the show’s mythology was now laid bare and, yeah, “really, that’s it”. And that's the point. There's myth, which gets built up and added to over centuries and there's the reality that inspired the myth in the first place. And if you hopped in a time machine and went back and witnessed any number of the instances from which our own current religious myths originate, you more than likely would say exactly that: "Really. That's it?" Actual historical record often puts the events of our popular religious parables in very different contexts than we're familiar with.

This was a show that had been dramatizing the ways myth differs from reality since the beginning because it's more interested in the effects of myths and belief than the myths and beliefs themselves. Why would its major macro-myth be any different? The big reveal we were promised in Across the Sea wasn’t a mythological one. Like everything about this show, the big reveal was the truth about motivations and perceptions. People have been misunderstanding the island and passing their flawed interpretations onto others since the very beginning. Multiply that by centuries. Can you see how far away from the truth we can get by what's essentially a multi-millennial game of telephone?

But that doesn't have to mean (and shouldn't mean) that the event no longer holds any meaning or significance. If anything, it's true nature being revealed adds to it's power in my view. When I saw Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as a kid, I didn’t realize that I was being taught something that would color how I see the world. It was those three trials in the grail tomb. When Prof. Henry Jones first describes them, they seem utterly unreal. Even as Indy is facing them they maintain an otherworldly mysteriousness. But each one had a very logical, very mechanical explanation that in my eyes was far more clever and creative then anything straight up supernatural. Seeing the “leap from the lion’s head” play out was particularly affecting. This must be how miracles really work! The logic behind a miracle is probably more fascinating than the miracle itself. For me, it doesn’t diminish the significance of it at all. For me, it makes it that much more special because so many millions of little factors that have line up just right for a miraculous event to be possible. 

Seemingly fantastical things on Lost often had logical explanations behind them yet the reveal of that logic never diminished their significance. They served their purpose in the characters' growth. Remember how Locke thought the whole point of them coming to the island had to do with The Hatch because a beam of light shot out of it? Turns out that beam was just Desmond checking to see who the hell was banging around up there. But just because it wasn't what Locke thought, was it any less important? It got them to open The Hatch. And while The Hatch didn't contain the secrets of the universe by any means, it was how they met Desmond, a man who would become very important to their survival. And they also came to understand a little bit more about what was going on around them by discovering the presense of The Dharma Initiative. The logical and mechanical explanations (mechanical in the sense that we could see the parts coming together) behind the great mysteries of this show were always far more clever than some deus ex machina along the lines of "it's aliens" or "they've actually been dead this whole time" (they absolutely were not, by the way). 

We all project importance onto things whether those things deserve it or not. It's that human condition. But there is always a real objective reality that exists regardless of our perception. At the heart of this show is a very real, very much alive entity in the island itself. It was a being that knew very well what was at stake if something should threaten it's life giving energy. It could tap into the greater consciousness to find people anywhere in the world who could help. It could manipulate events to keep people alive if necessary. It had all of these supernatural abilities at its disposal. It also had a litany of people who kept coming to the island and threatening to mess it all up with their flawed reasoning and manipulations of the island itself. There's probably no greater example of this in Lost than The Others. Their strict adherence to following and enforcing “rules”, the origins of which they didn’t fully understand and at the bidding of someone who falsely claimed to be speaking on behalf of a greater entity was behind a great deal of bloodshed. 

In the end, Jack succeeded when he finally discarded all of his preconceived ideas about how the world worked, all those superfluous details-- the rules, the things he’s “supposed to do”. He simply listens to his inner reasoning and puts his faith in the island and the people he cares about. That was his journey. And everyone who was with him on that island played a part in his journey. He couldn't have done it without them and they couldn't have done it without him. That's why they all got to meet up for one last reunion before "moving on". Everyone is connected. We're all a part of one great big whole. Everything else is just a story. It's decoration. 

Those for whom the entire meaning for the show's existence revolved around what the Hurley-bird was or who was shooting at them in the outrigger, or what MIB’s real name was (it’s Barry. No, I’m not making that up) or any number of the ultimately incidental details, of course you'll come away disappointed by the ultimate resolution of Lost. The show is not about those things. I've talked to so many people who got hung up on characters who had maybe a minute of screentime, or things that were mentioned or seen once. Some things are not meant to have explanations, either because they're simply there to add color and texture (no one was disappointed in Star Wars because Hammerhead didn't get a back story), or they're just better when left mysterious.

Remember Boba Fett? Of course you do. Star Wars fans love Boba Fett. He's got a combined total of maybe five minutes of screentime across Episode's V and VI, yet many, including me, fixated on him. Who was this taciturn guy who let his elaborate armor speak volumes about him? Well, we got our answer, didn't we? He was an annoying, idiot kid whose father became the genetic basis for the clones in the Clone Wars. Boba Fett is actually tied into the overall mythology of Star Wars in a huge way. And he instantly lost all his mystery. We would have been better off just wondering...

There's a balance to keeping things mysterious. You got to give just enough detail for the audience to work with and Lost did this brilliantly. It's popularity bears that out. While we may not have been given any definitive explanation as to the origins of the island's electronmagnetic/source of all life energy or how it really works, we do know from quantum physics that everything is energy at its most basic level. Maybe the island's energy is so basic, it’s actually pure creation, a potential for anything and everything. We can only infer. But maybe centuries into the Hurley era, science will have advanced to the point where someone will come to the island with the knowledge to figure it out. Even if that happens, that energy will still be the most amazing thing on the planet. Just because they’d now understand it wouldn’t make it any less miraculous or sacred. If anything, it would be more meaningful than ever.  

Barring all of that, if you still have things you can't let go as far as unanswered questions, I don't know what to tell you. Maybe it just wasn't the show for you. I’ve also never tried to run a major network show, planning major character arcs that are pivotal to the overall picture only to have actors suddenly quit or having a writer’s strike cut an entire season in half. I'm sure those things messed up some well-laid plans. As far as allegations that the writers were making it up as they went along? That's every show on television. No, I doubt they had every little thing mapped out. No show does, even Breaking Bad. Vince Gilligan admitted that when they filmed the scene where Walt buys the M60, they still had no idea who he was going to be using on it, let alone how.

I really don't feel that solving mysteries was as important to Lost as the effect that mysteries and not having the answers can have on us as human beings. I give them a pass on the things they botched because they got so much more right. A show that features a healthy, positive spiritual element in this day and age, one without any agenda is rare. A major network allowing a complex sci-fi plot is just as rare. Take both of those and combine them with a character drama, one that has about twenty main characters and you have a show that will never happen again. I'm glad I was around to watch it happen.

Crayon rendering of Richard Alpert

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