The series is now concluded. Over the past weekend and several days, I watched the entire final season -- all 18 hours or so (much less when you skip commercials). I've been saving them on my DVR so I could watch them in one sitting, because the show's cliffhangers drive me nuts. I didn't quite do it in one sitting, but found it surprisingly compelling and often stayed up well past midnight to watch one or two more episodes.
First, let me give the standard spoiler warning, because I cannot discuss this show without giving things away, so if you haven't watched the finale yet, don't read any further. (I'll try to avoid spoilers as much as I can, but you are warned.)
Second, let me preface my comments by pointing out my history with the show since that influences my impressions. When Lost first debuted, I tuned in. After about two or three episodes, I dropped out. The show reminded me way too much of J.J. Abrams' Alias, which I hated. Like that show, Lost seemed to throw out lots of weirdness or dramatic plot twists with no rhyme or reason. I had little faith that the show had any rational explanation behind the weirdness. While I was intrigued by many of the ideas and I liked the concept of the show, I just didn't trust the producers (which I felt had betrayed me on Alias) and so I stopped watching.
Over the years, I tuned in occasionally, but I probably only saw an episode or two a year -- just enough to remind me how much I didn't know about the show. Some seasons I saw more episodes and had a slightly better idea of what was going on. More recently, Lost reruns started on cable and I recorded them and watched them on fast-forward. Basically I skipped through storylines I didn't understand or care about, and mostly followed the main plot and the stories of the main characters. That may not sound like the best way to watch Lost, but the interesting thing is that it worked. Not only did I catch up with what was happening (for the most part) without it taking nearly as much time, but I started to see how the show was tying in stuff from the earlier seasons. Events in earlier episodes that had seemed random and just bizarre for weirdness sake suddenly had real explanations. I got hooked. Last season I recorded and watched most of the season all at once, and I did the same thing this season. (That is by far the best way to watch Lost, in my opinion. It is not a show that benefits from a weekly break.)
So, what do I think of the final season and the show in general? Here we go.
In many ways, Lost is an impressive show. It features terrific drama, amazing actors, unusual story arcs, wonderful music, and of course, fantastic island landscapes and cinematography. From a storytelling perspective, it is almost the perfect show: a fantastic world where pretty much anything can happen. The show is an incredible blend of science fiction and fantasy, and I love the way it pits faith and science against each other, with non-spiritual characters becoming spiritual and vice versa. I also love the way its characters are not black and white, but wonderful shades of gray. You aren't sure if people are truly evil or just making mistakes. The way the show sets up a person as a bad guy one week, then switching it around the next, is truly astonishing.
Much of this season reminded me of the very best of Lost. Instead of backstory of the characters, we followed them into the "sideways" universe, where the plane hadn't crashed and things were similar but different. The crisis of faith versus science was brought to a head. Some of my very favorite moments of the series happened in this season.
Unfortunately, all that was ruined by the final episode. Take away the final episode and you're still left with mystery and wonder. The finale tries to pull back the curtain so we see the little man running the show and we're naturally disappointed. What I feared from the very beginning on the show became true: the producers had no idea where they were going and wrapped everything up in a convenient dream sequence. (I saw a joke on a competing show which claimed "the whole thing was a dog's dream" -- and sadly, that's not too far off.)
The problem that I have with the finale is that Lost, from its inception, was a show grounded in reality. People died. People suffered. There were injuries and recoveries, tragedies and triumphs. People sacrificed themselves for others. People were greedy and selfish and cruel and evil and loving and kind. We were shown this over and over. No matter what odd or weird thing happened, the consequences were real. The show gave us the impression that there was science behind the mysteries. The unusual things had rational explanations. That is what made the show interesting. We tuned in to discover those explanations.
Please note that I'm not against supernatural explanations. I am a spiritual person and I have no problem with such a resolution, if it is done correctly. This was not. The finale was ham-handled, promising a great explanation and delivering nothing at all. It was a thin excuse by the producers to flash back through all the show's events and actors and bring everyone together for a final scene. It was a feeble attempt to give viewers a "happy" ending while still resolving the show. It was a cheat and a con, and I feel betrayed. The finale taints the entire series for me. I would recommend people watch the show, but I would advise skipping the last episode which will only disappoint.
How should Lost have ended?
The problem, like I said, is that since the show has always been reality-based, it cannot suddenly turn to mysterious supernatural stuff at the very end. The show is violating its own laws of physics. That isn't to say there couldn't be a spiritual component to the explanation. The original Locke character, for instance, is considered the spiritual heart of the show. He was the man of faith -- a converted skeptic, the most dedicated of all. Why not end with a little mystery? Give us a rational explanation for 90% of what we've seen and leave us with a spiritual loophole that a character like Locke can point out. Have a scientist-type person accept the technical explanation with some doubts, wondering if there's more to the spiritual side that he's neglecting. The method the Lost writers took was a cop out.
Unfortunately, I don't know if there was ever a good way to end this series. The whole premise of the show was the mystery: what is the island? Why do such odd things happen there? Pretty much any explanation is going to leave you unsatisfied, either too mundane or too supernatural. The producers did a great job milking that mystery for six seasons, but end in the end, they ran out of places to hide. Far better to just let it end on a mysterious note, leave us wondering. Instead of wondering why we wasted six years of our life on this pointless story.