Of all the high-wire narrative devices Lost employed over its six seasons—the flashback, the flashforward, the time-skipping—it certainly saved the most ambitious for last. The premiere of the final season found two versions of the characters, one set still stranded on the world’s freakiest landmass, and the other safely in Los Angeles, their original destination, living as close to the good life as such fundamentally flawed people can expect. It was a divisive choice, a storytelling split-the-difference that some fans felt was a cop-out—or worse, an aimless time suck. Why should the audience care about completely rebooted characters, ones whose actions had no bearing on the story they’ve been watching for all this time? But, same as it ever was, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, the show’s crafty creative duo, upended expectations and restored the faith by combining the two timelines. If what you wanted out of the Lost finale was emotional, heartwarming conclusions for the characters, then the finale, simply titled “The End,” delivered in spades … sort of.
Unfortunately, I’d venture to guess that this isn’t what most people who watched “The End” wanted. Lost has always been about its mysteries, and to its credit, the sixth season managed to stitch in answers to some of them (the level of satisfaction they provided depends greatly on who you ask). But that was as good as it was getting. If there was a checklist of questions to answer, “The End” tore it up and set it on fire. The two-and-a-half-hour episode chronicled the final showdown between the surviving castaways and the sinister Man in Black (Terry O’Quinn), and naturally, the island’s smoke monster was vanquished. Meanwhile, Jack (Matthew Fox), who’d been entrusted to keep the island safe, sacrificed himself for the good of the island he had spent so much time trying to escape, while many of the remaining characters escaped on a plane piloted by a not-dead-after-all Lapidus (Jeff Fahey).
But most of the payoff took place in the alternate timeline, where at various moments, each character had an encounter that reminded them of the life they led on the island, the friendships they formed, the adventures they undertook, and the love they found. Each of these moments was well-earned, well-acted, and genuinely touching. The irony of the season is that at its beginning, viewers wondered why they should care about alt-timeline characters, but by its end, the parallel universe was where all the action was. I found myself much less interested in the island action than in the tearful reunions. Maybe I’m just a sucker for happy endings.
In every season of Lost, the finale is crammed full, with one last beat added for good measure. “The End” is no exception, and it’s the last beat of the episode that fans will be dissecting and debating for weeks, if not years, to come. After all of the characters in the alt-timeline recalled their other selves, they gathered for a reunion of sorts in a church. Jack went to his father Christian’s coffin, only to find he wasn’t in it. He was up and about, walking and talking, but not alive, he explained. Christian (John Terry) told his son that neither of them were alive, nor were any of the reunited castaways. The place they were in wasn’t quite heaven, or hell, but rather a place they created so they would be able to find each other. So is it safe to call it purgatory, a theory floated by rabid fans since season one—a theory the show’s creators always fiercely denied.
Until Lindelof and Cuse break the silence they’ve imposed for themselves, much as David Chase did following the daring finale of The Sopranos, we’ll never know. It will be left up to conjecture and theories, much like the show was throughout its run. As a fan of the show and an avid viewer since its premiere, I found the episode thrilling until its final few noncommittal, New Agey minutes. “The End” will be polarizing, to be sure, but if the definition of a series finale is to encapsulate the essence of the show, then to be polarizing was the goal, and Lost certainly met it.