Lost Season Six and the Importance of The End

“It always ends the same.”

“It only ends once. Anything that happens before that is just progress.”

—Jacob and the unidentified Man In Black, from the Season Five finale of Lost

The sixth and final season of Lost kicks off tonight, in what is likely the most anticipated final season since at least the end of The Sopranos. It’s conceivable that Lost is actually more anticipated than The Sopranos final season. For one, more people watch Lost, since it’s on a network and not premium cable.

But it’s not simply the number of viewers the show has, it’s the type of viewership the show inspires: There are no passive Lost fans. You cannot just check in every few weeks to see where the characters are—you will be totally fucking confused. The show is so deeply enmeshed in mystery and ambiguity that missing any steps in the narrative will get you completely lost. This is also what makes the show so addicting.

Lost is so saturated with questions and mysteries that unfold gradually and grow deeper with every episode that this becomes the primary reason to watch. Unlike any show before or since, Lost has made an art of the TV cliffhanger. And the finale of last season set the bar at a new high, even for them.

All of this helps explain why the excitement for tonight’s season premiere among fans is barely containable (and, for non-fans, totally unbearable). This also shows why the final season of Lost will not be judged by the typical rubric used for judging final seasons.

A TV drama’s last season is always a tricky thing to judge. The Sopranos featured a drawn out conclusion, but one that saw the creative rejuvenation of the show. The Wire spent too much time introducing new characters and storylines. The West Wing’s final season was practically a spin-off version of itself, featuring new characters and a new primary story. Deadwood, due to contractual issues with HBO, never really got a true “final season.”

And yet despite this mixed bag, all of these series are considered some of the best of all-time. This is because, for most great shows, the final season is merely the icing on the cake. Sometimes they go a little wrong, but most viewers have already fallen for the show at that point. If the ending isn’t perfect, then that doesn’t change how most viewers feel about the bulk of the series.

For a show as heavily dependent on questions and unexplained mythology as Lost, though, the typical rules don’t apply. How certain questions get answered (and which ones do) will absolutely shape how the rest of the series is viewed, so the final season will either solidify Lost as a TV classic, or vindicate those that stopped watching years ago.

Noel Murray, who recaps the show at The A.V. Club, has a theory called “the shoplifting rule” that explains why this season is so important. As he explains it, “Until you leave the store, you haven’t stolen anything.” In other words, plotlines that seems stupid, loose threads that inexplicably dangle from the story, and allusions that go by unaddressed are all acceptable, since the show still has time to explain it. Last season’s time-travel plot, for example, allowed the show to fill in many gaps in the story’s history by placing the characters in the Island’s past. The “shoplifting rule,” though, only applies before the show ends. Once the finale has aired, that’s it; you’ve left the store. Any remaining unanswered questions are just demerits for the show.

The Lost showrunners, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, have already acknowledged that they won’t be answering every question with the final season. That should have been obvious—the show has introduced so many oddities and coincidences that explaining them all would be tedious and pointless. For most of the mysteries in the show’s canon, the producers have given us implied or suggested answers. In a fifth season episode, for example, we got hints that Richard Alpert arrived at the Island via the Black Rock. They were by no means conclusive, but, since the mystery itself was rather minor, the details were enough. For most of the shows’ mysteries, I feel like such answers are enough. There are even some mysteries—like what Libby was doing in Hurley’s insane asylum—that I simply do not care at all about. If they want to leave those unanswered, that’s fine. I can come up with some plausible-enough explanation on my own (Libby was suffering from post-partum depression—there, that’s as much as I need on that), or I can just accept without explanation (for example, if the explanation for why the rules of time-travel don’t seem to apply to Desmond are just “they just don’t,” then I can accept that, since certain people being “special” is a theme of the show).

But there are some mysteries for which hypothetical and even implied answers are not enough. These are questions relating to the essential mythology of the show. In general these questions are not as simple as “What was Desmond doing in that hatch?” or “What  exactly does lies in the shadow of the statue?” Anyway, here are, as I see them, the Four Essential Things That Need Answering On This Season of Lost:

4) What’s the deal with the Island and dead people? As Ben said last season, “Dead is dead,” but we’ve seen a half-dozen supposedly “dead” people apparently reanimated on the Island—Christian, Alex, Locke, Claire, Yemi. Are these apparitions merely the embodied form of the dead used to manipulate those they appear to (as Alex told Ben to do whatever Locke told him to last season)? Do dead people have a kind of “afterlife” on the Island and, if so, why do they seem to have a special connection with the Island’s will after they die? Or are the dead simply “ghosts” in the traditional sense, able to appear to those that remember them and offer guidance and counsel? Are there different answers for some ghosts, like Yemi and Christian (who died off the Island and appear in traditional ghost settings—in dreams or one-on-one—on the show), then for others, like Claire and Locke (both of whom “died” under controversial circumstances)?

3) What is the relationship between Jacob and the Man in Black? One of the most interesting scenes the show has ever done was the opening scene of last season’s finale, which featured the introduction of Jacob, the Island’s much discussed and until then never seen guru. What made the introduction even more intriguing, though, was the inclusion of an unnamed counterpart, dressed all in black, who declared his wish to “find a loophole” and kill Jacob. This is the first real indication that the “will of the Island” is not some monolithic force, but rather the product of an ongoing struggle between Jacob and an opposing force. There is strong evidence, as many others have suggested, that the Man in Black is, in fact, the smoke monster, and therefore has been just as influential in the lives of the Island’s inhabitants as Jacob. Is this a struggle between Good and Evil, with Jacob, dressed in white, representing purity, and his counterpart representing evil? But it’s hard to see it that simply, as we’ve seen Jacob be both benevolent and cruel. Maybe the most interesting idea floated, though, is that the Jacob/MIB relationship is merely an earlier incarnation of the Jack/Locke relationship.

2) Why these people? For many fans of the show, this is the crucial question of the series: Why were those on Oceanic 815 picked to crash on the Island? For me, though, this has never seemed like all that important of a question. For one, we’ve already seen plausible explanations for many of them—Jack performed surgery on Ben, Hurley can see the dead, etc. More importantly, though, the show is just as interesting and compelling if these people were not chosen. That is, each of them brought something to the Island, but not necessarily by design; it was merely a function of a large, diverse community relying on the different strengths of its members for something integral. This was, after all, an important theme of the show’s first season. With that said, the show has heavily implied that at least some of the characters were in fact selected by Jacob/the Island/the Man in Black. But, for most of the characters, the extent to which the Island was their “destiny” has already been sufficiently explained.

1) Is Locke actually special? This is, for me, the most important question that the series has to answer. John Locke is not the show’s main character (that would be Jack), or even the show’s most interesting character (Ben), but he is absolutely the show’s most important character. Locke is the only character to be both fully enmeshed in the Island mythology and yet still relatable as an everyman. Locke has, unlike Ben, Desmond, Jacob, Richard, and everyone else more fully versed in the ways of the Island, been around since the beginning of the series. He has always been something of an underdog, unable to succeed in any meaningful way in the real world and unable to retain control on the Island for any length of time. And yet, unlike the rest of the original cast, Locke fully believes in the power of the Island. Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Sayid, Charlie, and the rest of the main cast have all played their roles in the grand scheme of Island-mythology, but they have all done so begrudgingly, unknowingly, or out of a personal allegiance that had nothing to do with serving the Island and everything to do with getting off the Island. Locke, however, has willingly submitted to whatever he thinks the Island wants him to do since the beginning. Is this because Locke is particularly favored by the Island, or the only one who truly understands the power of it? Or is it a misplaced faith, something that comes from Locke’s deep-seated messiah complex? Is Locke special, or does he just want to be special? How the show answers this question will likely be the most important development of this final season.

How the final season of the show deals with these four issues will ultimately shape how the entire series is remembered. Truthfully, though, it may be a little misleading to think of them “questions that need to be answered”; it’s a little reductive and simplistic to ask shows to provide easy, definitive answers. But these are four crucial issues that need to be addressed. Without a final comment on these four plots/themes/motifs, then the series would seem incomplete.

And that’s why this season may be the most important final season in TV history. After all, once the audience knows how mysteries will resolve, then suspense is no longer enough to sustain interest (not to mention the fact that if a show’s suspense doesn’t build to a satisfactory climax, then many fans will feel betrayed as was the case with Heroes). How these themes are resolved will decide if Lost is merely a show that grabs our attention, or one that truly makes us think. Once the series ends and the mythology is solidified, the legacy of the entire show will take shape. So they better get it right. After all, it only ends once; anything that happens before that is just progress.

9 responses to this post.

  1. […] may have noticed that John S was rather psyched for the season premiere of Lost last week. Well, he wasn’t the only one: Alan Sepinwall […]


  2. […] with how it connected to the aftermath of Sayid’s resurrection, gave us even more progress on the first of my Big Questions that the show seems to be answering: Namely, what is the deal with the Island and dead people? As […]


  3. […] Hey! A Locke episode! Yeah, after an episode that left him out completely, we get an episode totally centered on John Locke, who I’ve already called the show’s most important character. […]


  4. […] S has been enjoying, and recapping, the final season of Lost over the last few weeks. Hopefully, he’s been able to offer more insight than this blog. […]


  5. […] second main difference is that one of the central questions about Locke’s character was whether the Island was a fundamental part of his fate. So having a story in which he found […]


  6. […] This episode really got to the nature of the conflict between Jacob and the Man in Black, something I noted the importance of before the season began. In Richard’s first scenes with both characters, they gave him more of an explanation than any […]


  7. […] fact that The Return of the King was the final installment in the Lord of the Rings series. As I’ve said before about other things, conclusions are always important to a story that you’ve invested a lot of time in, and how a […]


  8. […] But were you at least satisfied about the answers we got regarding the dead? To be honest, I was shocked that Jack asked such a direct question about whether the Man in Black was the one who appeared as Jack’s dead dad way back in “White Rabbit.” Characters on Lost, particularly Jack, so rarely ask direct questions. Also, Locke 2.0’s answer, that he only did it to help Jack find water, was not really consistent with his “always be straightforward and honest, never manipulative” theme of the past. But, between that and Michel’s explanation of “the voices” to Hurley last week, we seem to have a complete answer about what the Island does to dead people, which was one of my big questions heading into Season Six. […]


  9. […] now. Have a sufficient amount of questions been answered this season? Before the season started, I said that there were four questions I wanted to see answered by the show’s end. In descending order of importance, they were: […]


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