Eternal Island - a eulogy for LOST

The six-year run of the ABC television drama LOST came to its conclusion on May 23, 2010. As with any program that has captured the attention of a loyal fan base, opinion on the finale is as varied and nuanced as the individuals possessing the opinions. However, it’s fair to say that most of us – I include myself as a fan – have come down in one of two camps: Either we liked how the story ended, or we didn’t.

For my purposes, both as a viewer and as someone who has reflected on the magic of storytelling, the finale was a triumphant, beautifully realized piece of televised fiction. I wasn’t looking for somebody to give me all the answers to the questions on the show. For me, that wasn’t what the program was about. If I wanted that kind of thing – the binary question/answer, black/white, yes/no, dead/alive, good/evil thing – I would have been watching other dramas, reality shows or sitcoms over the past six years.

I enjoyed LOST because the writers seemed more interested what motivated their characters rather than the morality of the character’s actions. This quality humanized the show for me, and made it feel authentic. The fact that this character-centric drama took place on a mysterious time-traveling island peopled by ghosts, monsters and individuals named after philosophers just sweetened the deal as far as I was concerned. And I’m pretty sure the writers on the show felt the same way. They seemed more invested in the characters and their evolution than the peripheral questions of who the smoke monster really was or how the hell some dude dressed in black goes through life without a name. For them – and for me – the real mystery was how these characters would evolve, and what would motivate them through their development.

The metaphysical implications of the show aside, LOST remained character-driven to the end, and that’s why it worked. While there were definitely times that the show’s sci-fi and allegorical artifice threatened to overtake the narrative, the decision to tell the story of LOST with human dramas – like Aaron’s birth, Jin and Sun’s wedding and the death of Jack’s father – grounded the program in a reality that is recognizable to most of us. I know I’ve witnessed a birth, a marriage and a death in my time; there are few more universal – or humanizing – events a person can encounter. The May 23 finale reminded viewers of our part in such events and of the attendant mysteries that lie at the root of our most fundamental experiences.

It would seem disingenuous at this point to say that I believe LOST is just another piece of popular primetime TV tripe from the people at Disney. Obviously that isn’t the case. I actually believe the show to be the rarest of creations – an impeccably crafted work of art that has both integrity and mass appeal. And the intent behind all art – regardless of its popularity – is to make us curious, to leave us with questions, to promote discussion and respectful debate, and to entertain us. It should make us look at things differently and challenge preconceived notions. It’s up to us as viewers to answer the core mysteries at the centre of LOST for ourselves. There’s a reason why the pivotal events in the show revolved around themes of birth, death, love, forgiveness and survival. It’s because these themes beg the perennial questions for which humanity has no conclusive answers. Where do we come from? What is our purpose? Where do we go after we die? Does love transcend death? Of course, traditional religion provides ready-made responses to many of these questions, since we all seek the answers sometime. But LOST grappled with the subjects admirably – and differently - in the short time it was on the air. The writers on the show embraced a spiritual secularism that made otherworldly programs of yore - like the X-Files or Twin Peaks - seem pedestrian in comparison.

So what did it all mean – the finale? Honestly, I’m still digesting it and when I’m finished, my interpretation will be hardly definitive - if such a thing exists. After watching a show for four years (I saw the first two seasons on DVD), I have to say I’m willing to reflect on it for a couple days. There was a lot to consider and a myriad of ways to interpret what happened. One thing is for sure - LOST didn’t talk down to me as a viewer and it captivated me in a way no other program ever has before.

At one point in the finale, Jack and Locke look down a lighted cavern into the heart of the Island. It is a scene which echoes the final moments of season one, when the same two characters peer into the original Dharma hatch. For me, these two scenes are metaphors for the deep mysteries that I believe the LOST writers hoped to explore in the program. These same mysteries – of love, death and birth – surround us all, but they are not questions to be answered. I think that the same will ultimately be said of LOST.

RIP LOST
2004 - 2010

(2010)