You can let go now.
For years I have imagined LOST’s future and its resolutions. I have greatly anticipated “The End”. Some of my ideas were good, some were not. Some of my hopes were justified, others were, frankly, pretty unreasonable. I can guarantee you that my version of the ending would not be as good, or as moving, as the one we saw. And I think that’s probably true for all the possible ending we had collectively anticipated.
Without any doubt the finale hit all the right emotional notes for me. Kate and Jack’s separation, Hurley’s acceptance of leadership and Jack’s death were very special moments. Living in the UK we watched the finale the following morning and our 2 year old son woke up towards the end and joined us. And as Jack was reunited with his father, my son came to sit and cuddle with me. It was all a bit too much. And then Vincent sat down with a dying Jack, perhaps the greatest moment in all of LOST, and I was gone. All of the ‘Awakenings’ were so well written and executed and had me welling up – except the Sayid & Shannon one, I’m sure we all were thinking “Shannon? Really?”, though I suppose they did indicate earlier in the season that Sayid didn’t deserve Nadia – one bomb to the chest does not totally excuse 20 years of torturing and murdering! There were some seriously awesome, stand out dramatic highs – Locke threatening to kill Rose & Bernard, the two groups meeting on the hill, the Jack/Locke literal fight to the death, the Ben/Locke forgiveness scene outside the church. So many satisfying moments. Yet these are not the things that most people are talking about.
The ending was not what I was expecting – the Island story was far more straight forward and its resolution contained no great twist (which I suppose is a twist in itself). The other timeline (the terms ‘Alternate’ or ‘Sideways seems redundant now – so I’m going to call it the ‘Flash Upwards’) finished on a truly surprising note; the afterlife; the spiritual realm; the first plain of heaven.
I did not see that coming. I have always loved the spiritual part of the story but for it to finish on a purely spiritual note – that was bold and fearless storytelling. I am still shocked actually.
Just as shocking was that the story of the finale was actually quite simple:
On the Island – Desmond puts out the light at the heart of the Island which causes the Island to fall apart and for Locke to be mortal again. Jack and Kate kill Locke before the team separates – Kate and Sawyer joining Claire, Miles, Richard and not dead Frank on the Ajira plane off the Island. Ben and Hurley choose to stay and help Jack restore the light, causing him to die, leaving Hurley as the New Jacob with Ben as his number two and Desmond alive and able to return home.
The Flash Upwards was even simpler; each of the Losties gaining their epiphanies before heading to the church where Jack gained his epiphany and the central conceit of the Flash Upwards was revealed by Christian Shephard.
The job of recapping “The End” doesn’t seem so important as it did before – the story is fully told and we are no longer theorizing over potential outcomes but are now trying to understand and process the events and prescribing them meaning and significance. So rather than track through the various scenes and pick through the dialogue I’d rather look at the events of the finale in terms of meaning and significance – Okay? No? Well, tough.
The Island story worked on the premise of the mythology revealed during the rest of the season. The clearest description of the Island is that of a ‘cork’ that prevents evil and malevolence from corrupting and destroying mankind. The heart of the Island is the light at it’s source – when the light goes out the Island fails and the evil takes over. The smoke monster wasn’t the evil itself but the MIB had become an agent of this evil. I have no doubt that he would have killed Penny, Charlie, Aaron, Walt, JiYeon etc. had he escaped from the Island. Or perhaps he wouldn’t have needed to – Was the implication of the light going out on the Island that it would also go out in the heart of every man, leaving mankind soulless, or without conscience, and the human race would have descended into anarchy, oblivion or armageddon?
So Jack’s death wasn’t for nothing – despite Locke’s suggestion moments before his own demise. It was sacrificial – literally for the good of all men. It kept alive the hope of redemption and progress for all people, allowing the rest of humanity to grow and be transformed like Jack himself had done during his Island experiences. The ‘Jack-as-Christ’ allusions have been there since “316” – which was a rather blatant hint towards Jack’s destiny. He even seemed to receive a partial resurrection. He did not perish in the bowels of the Island but was transported to the spot where Jacob found his lifeless brother. There was enough energy and strength in the Doctor to stagger to his final resting spot – the place where his journey began, amongst the bamboo – to watch the plane fly over and for him to know that his mission, his purpose, was complete – he saved those he loved and all of humanity too.
The imagery and pacing of Jack’s death and sacrifice were beautiful. I found the final moments of the Island story to be everything I had hoped for; beautiful, moving and complete. What surprised me was how the rest of the Island story was resolved in the series but not in the LOST universe – with the Ajira 6 leaving and Ben & Hurley as Island leaders it left a mass of potential for future novels, comics and online stories – even film and TV spin offs. Whether or not ABC/Disney will cash in or honour the story told remains to be seen. But if Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings etc. are anything to go by, we will be wooed into paying for more chunks of the LOST universe in the future. I had expected a more finite ending to the one we were given (basically a lot more deaths and for the Island to sink). Although I am a little nervous about future cash-ins and sub-standard LOST material I think having only 2 deaths in the finale and leaving the Island intact is a great move. The fact that the only people who died in “The End” were Jack and Locke – the story’s central characters – made their passing more poignant. They could have easily littered the finale with bodies as they have done in previous years – Rose & Bernard, Miles, Richard, even Desmond, could have died without a dramatic change to the story line – but they reserved the deaths for those crucial moments. A good choice that served the story well.
Daniel Faraday had set up the concept of the alternate timeline. His idea to reboot history – to stick a great big atomic variable in the middle of the river to divert history’s course – was the set up that made us believe the other world we have been watching all season was a different version of history to the one we have witnessed in the preceding five seasons. We now know that this was ‘The Long Con’ they have been building towards. The twist that this world was not an alternate reality but a realm of the afterlife has two consequences for the story. Firstly it causes us to reevaluate the whole ‘Flash Sideways’ story as a ‘Flash Upwards’ – the parallel tale of this other world has been an epilogue of the Island story – a narrative device to bring resolution to unresolvable story threads. Secondly it causes us to reinterpret the whole story, all six seasons, as a spiritual journey. Of course this has been alluded to from the very start – the first two episodes to follow the Pilot were ‘Tabula Rasa’ (the spiritual state that is represented by the clean slate opportunity of crashing on the Island) and ‘Walkabout’ (as Locke himself says – “a journey of spiritual renewal”). We’ve had Dharma wheels and statues of Mary and Bible verses and Churches and Christians, Catholics, Muslims and Namaste and Priests and Monks and ‘The 23rd Psalm’ and baptisms and so many more images of spirituality that I couldn’t possibly list them all.
The big thing is this: they are not allusions and references anymore – they are the story. The final scenes of “The End” put the whole story into a clearly spiritual framework. The spiritual side stopped being an element of the show and became the heart of the show. It became part of the narrative. It moved from being hinted at, to being talked about. It went from being in the background, to right at the forefront. The key other-world narrative structure of the final season was a spiritual premise. No longer a part of the story, it became the story. Because of this I want to spend some time delving into the theology revealed in the finale and what they are saying about the the afterlife, but more importantly, what they are saying about life itself.
The ‘Flash Upwards’ world is not purgatory – I think the show has been very clear, it is what you do in your life that counts. Those who aren’t ready yet stay as whispers on the Island – seemingly until they have paid some of their debt. The Island experiences of the castaways have been a metaphorical purgatory – they have sought and achieved redemption and release from their mistakes and destructive habits even, like Jack and Sayid, it is only really at the end of their lives they reach that place. The ‘Flash Upwards’ was about awakening and remembering not penitence and reconciliation.
The ‘Flash Upwards’ world is also not a limbo – though this idea goes closer than purgatory. Limbo was thought of as the place where people went they died prior to Jesus’ sacrifice, which made it possible to pass on to heaven. As we saw it, the last act on the Island, Jack’s sacrifice, is followed by the Losties moving on into the light. But it is Jack’s awakening that allows that, not his Christ-like sacrifice. The afterlife is not affected by Jack’s Island sacrifice – Sun, Jin, Sayid, Charlie etc. are still in the ‘Flash Upwards’ and they died before Jack’s final actions. So this realm is not the limbo of traditional thought.
The ‘Flash Upwards’ is also not a part of heaven. Not the heaven of Christian Theology anyway (though perhaps, Christian Shephard Theology!). What are we to make of the fact that the ‘Flash Upwards’ world was inhabited by Keamy, Mikhail, Omar and Anthony Cooper? Were they there to get a second chance that they failed to take? Or were they seeing out their cosmological destinies – dead and disabled? Or was this world only real for those who were in the Church? If so what about Ben, Alex, Rousseau, Helen, Nadia? Does Locke’s reveal to Jack – “You don’t have a son” apply to him too – “You don’t have a wife”? Or was this world only real for the survivors of Oceanic 815? If so why does Ana Lucia not get a ticket – she certainly reached a point of progression, growth and redemption before she died? Is it mid-section survivors only (plus Libby & Bernard who were romantically attached to Hurley and Rose)? Or was this just Jack’s collection of people – if so why did the other’s have to wake up? This is certainly not the your-in-by-grace or out-through-sin of Christian theology. Most importantly – any heaven where there is no all-loving & all-good God is no heaven at all.
In fact there can be no direct overarching explanation of this world from traditional religious beliefs – a fact rammed home to us by the statement making stain-glass window that dominated the final encounter between Jack and his father. All religions lead here. All are right and all are wrong. This is an important distinction in LOST because the story is more about spirituality than it is about theology. It is not about explanations but is about experiences.
The ‘Flash Upwards’ is what Christian Shephard said it is:
“Everyone dies sometime Kiddo… there is no ‘now’ here… this is the place you all made together so that you could find one another… the most important part of your life was the time you spent with these people, which is why all of you are here… nobody does it alone Jack… you needed all of them and they needed you… to remember and to let go…”
Even though the ‘Flash Upwards’ is a spiritual ream – the first plain of the afterlife – we are not shown this because the writers wanted to share their thoughts on life-after-death. We are shown it because of how our future existence and our spiritual nature change our lives before we die. Jack and Desmond describe this very thing when Des claims that ‘This doesn’t matter’ because he knows of the afterlife that awaits them. Jack strongly disagrees – “All of this matters”. Life is not about where you end up when you die, it is about what you do now, the people you love, the difference you make, the good you do. The central premise of the entire show is this: ‘Live together, die alone”.
Amongst all the many themes that have made up the intricate tapestry of LOST, this one has been the centre. It is the characters themselves, their spiritual journeys and the community and relationships they formed which help them grow and progress and ultimately, find redemption. Nobody does it alone. No man is an Island. Sawyer, the man who defined ‘Every man for himself’, had precious little to do in the finale, save punching Ben in the face, stealing his gun and holding Kate’s hand. Whereas Jack the man who defined, ‘Live together, die alone’ had everything to do. He has the world to save.
As I’ve spent the last few days pondering the finale another thing has crossed my mind. The idea that ‘Nobody does it alone’ applies not just to our characters but also to the ‘Lost community’. We have all been enthralled with the events and characters of this epic saga and now we are in our own ‘Flash Upwards’ world – needing to process what has been, needing to find others, needing to remember, needing to let go. By writing and reading and commenting on this very article we are all engaging in our own awakenings and epiphanies. I’ve watched virtually every episode of this show alone with my wife. It has been a precious thing for us. There are others in my life, friends and family, particularly my sister, who I have spent six years debating and discussing every detail of the show with. And increasingly online I have engaged with many of you and many other recappers and bloggers and theorists. We all would have enjoyed this show alone, but it is has been infinitely better and special doing it together. Everyone else who engages with this story in the future will not have the privilege that we have had of working it out together. The final scenes will be on Youtube, the plot summary will be on Wikipedia and the key story parts will infiltrate popular culture so that no-one will be able to approach LOST with fresh eyes again.
LOST has meant a ridiculous amount to me. It has been brilliant escapism, diving into this universe and exploring it for six years. Yet it hasn’t been simply entertainment – it has been a door way into dozens of great books, particularly The Stand, The Dark Tower series, Slaughterhouse 5 and The Fountainhead. It has also upped my meagre level of education - I know tons more about Roman, Greek and Egyptian myths and culture because I’ve trawled through Wikipedia seeking to understand the show a tiny bit more. There is so much I’m going to miss. I’ll even miss the hiatus.
So Jack’s eye has closed and the story is over. We are now in that place where we are learning to remember and let go together. I’m going to do some other posts over the next few weeks and months – including one on the visual imagery of LOST which I am really looking forward to. Thank you to everyone who made the show over the last six years. All of it mattered – it mattered to me.
JACK: “Where are we going?”
CHRISTIAN: “Let’s go find out”