Fans Split on Masterful, Frustrating 'Lost' Finale

At least the dog survived

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Update, 3:10 PM: The Atlantic's Suzanne Merkelson presents her take on the Lost finale.

Last night marked the series finale for ABC's epic sci-fi thriller Lost. Since the final season premiered in February, viewers had speculated how the series would conclude. Lost began as a survivors tale, chronicling the crash of Oceanic Flight 815 on a mysterious island in the South Pacific and the struggles, both physical and mental, of its survivors. With an extensive mythology and bizarre inhabitants (polar bears, anyone?), the island and its denizens had only become more mysterious as the series progressed. Today, critics and viewers find themselves somewhere between disappointment and joy. Many praised the emotional end to the character-driven series, while lamenting the lingering, unanswered mysteries of the island.

  • A Cop-Out  Unnerved by the "gauzy, vaguely religious, more than a little mawkish" sequences, the New York Times' Mike Hale admits that  Lost finale felt, "forced and, well, a bit of a cop-out." Hale anticipates the reactions of die-hard sci-fi fans. "Many of them will have thought that things were going pretty well for the first two and a quarter hours of the final episode, as the producers treated them to a series of montaged moments in the sideways reality world, in which the main characters regained their memories of the island," writes Hale. "But then came the ending, in which most of the main cast members gathered at a church for the big reveal: they were all dead." Even The Sopranos, whose cut-to-black ending has served as a benchmark for TV critics in the weeks preceding the finale, was "ambiguous and a bit of a shrug, but not puzzling."
  • Frustrating, Yet Magnificent  Jace Lacob at the Daily Beast also expresses frustration at the Sideways timeline. "Considering how much time viewers have spent trying to figure out the relationship between the island timeline and the Sideways one, it is also frustrating that it turned out that there is none—or more precisely, that what happened in the Sideways timeline didn’t affect what happened on the island at all," huffs Lacob. "The show could have just ended with Jack dying in the bamboo forest where this all began, fulfilling that journey of human condition: from awareness and life to closing one’s eyes and diving into the big sleep." That being said, Lacob concedes that no matter how you felt about the church ending, "the majority of the episode, particularly the highly cinematic and taut sequences set on the island was magnificent."
  • Fantastic, Considering the Expectations  James Poniewozik of Time praises producers Damien Lindelof and Carleton Cuse for meeting the tremendous challenge of wrapping up such a beloved and confusing series. "It mattered, it moved, and it achieved," declares Poniewozik, despite the unanswered questions and plot problems posed by the finale:
The Island world, we learned, absolutely mattered to the physical fate of the survivors. (And sci-fi purists ticked over the spiritual ending should at least give it up for this: what happened, did, indeed happen.) And the Sideways world mattered because it was the culmination of the spiritual, moral, human lives--the souls--of the characters.


And before we get into any dissection of the plot logic of the ending (or, retroactively, the entire series), the answers or lack thereof, or the balance between science and faith in the resolution, this has to be said. “The End” was an epic, stirring two and a half hours of television, full of heart and commitment, that was true to “Lost”’s characters as we knew them from season one. And through elaborate use of symmetries, echoes and callbacks—as well as some go-for-broke acting and a visual grandeur by director Jack Bender that matches the show’s pilot—it brought them powerfully and cathartically full circle.

  • A Emotional Victory For The Cast  Entertainment Weekly's Jeff Jensen is enthralled by the emphasis on the Lost cast. "I was so moved by Jack’s heroism and sacrifice and the glorious significance of ending where he began, as well as that Doubting Thomas allusion there at the end," gushes Jensen. "I loved Ben’s contrition. I loved Locke’s forgiveness. I loved it when Ben told him to stand up and walk again, and Locke did. And then there was Vincent. You know, playing the dog card is kinda shameless, but man, did that work for me. I was satisfied." Of course, Jensen recognizes that the emotional powerplay by the Lost producers may have been overwhelming ("Sayid and Shannon—seriously?"), but his complaints remain mere "quibbles" speckling an overwhelming heartfelt review.
  • No Need For Answers  Tom VanDerWerff of the Los Angeles Times provides a thorough and thoughtful critique (with a masterful comparison to the timeless "Watership Down"), inevitably approving of the finale's character-driven emphasis. "Big, giant answers about what the Island was or its place in the world’s cosmology or why it had Egyptian stuff all over it or anything like that were probably bound to be disappointing, as most of the answers dispensed this season were, only even more so," concludes VanDerWerff. "Saying what the Island is is like saying what the meaning of life is; it’s a question you can ask but never receive a really satisfying answer to. Really, what would you have liked? It was a crashed spaceship that somehow ended up in the ocean and had life grow upon it? It was a long-lost, fabled isle like Avalon or the Garden of Eden? It was Purgatory?" Despite the plot ambiguities -- the "hard-left turn into outright mysticism" -- that have left critics and viewers alike perpetually baffled throughout the season, VanDerWerff thinks he's got it figured out. "This flash-sideways universe is one final gift from the last protector of the Island that we see -- Hurley -- to everyone he ever knew or loved. It is a chance for him to do what he does best, as Ben says. He is taking care of people, giving them both what they wanted and what they needed."
  • A Masterwork, or Just Plain Stupid? At True/Slant, the finale of Lost means something larger for Japhy Grant than his fellow critics' comments on the plot and characters. "LOST shows us the possibility of a world in which we are fully aware of our lives and how short they are. Call it Heaven or Nirvana or Enlightenment, but it doesn’t take magic to get there–it’s available to us right now," muses Grant. "That this message was transmitted by a network television show originally inspired by Survivor is a stunning achievement incomparable to any drama before it.  It stands among The Illiad and Shakespeare in terms of telling the story of who we are as a species. But more than beautiful drama, LOST is a call to action to our own lost world. It sends massive warning to obsessive fanboys, be the object of their obsession comics or nuclear bombs or the minutiae of a television show, that they are chasing the wrong things. That in the end, what matters is each other." Fellow True/Slant contributor David DiSalvo took a less philosophical approach, declaring that "six seasons of smart ends with a sloppy dollop of stupid." "Dear writers of Lost: Limbo?," seethes DiSalvo. "I’ve been watching this freaking show for six years and you give me Limbo?"
  • Definitely a Masterwork The Wall Street Journal's Chad Post echoes his fellow commentator's concerns about the hanging plot points...before disregarding them entirely, eloquently summarizing the appeal of the highly-romanticized finale:
Art isn’t about answering questions — it’s about the journey, about the movement from one perspective to another. It’s about creating something intriguing, multi-layered, beautiful.And that’s why I’m personally a fan of this finale. There was a distinct movement from the opening scene in the first episode of Jack opening his eye to the final seconds of tonight’s episode when his eye closes. But on a metaphysical level, it’s maybe more interesting. One of the key memes for the first few seasons is “live together, die alone,” yet the finale presents a dramatic philosophical shift — these people are linked on some higher plane and die together. Which is much more comforting.
  • 'Goddamn You, Lost' Meanwhile, Slate's Jack Shafer characterizes Lostie anger (in an article aptly titled "Goddamn You, Lost": "Locke was evil. He was frightening. But then when Kate blasts him in the torso (natch!), and Dr. Jack gives him a kick and his last vertical ride, did you feel … anything? Did the viewing party audience cheer or did they just shrug? Or did they pass out from boredom, as I did? Finally, did not Lost's creators promise again and again that the survivors of Oceanic 815 were not in purgatory? They did. So where do they get off making the whole sideways world of Season Six a purgatory in which the inhabitants must come to grips with their lives and deaths before they move on? I call this cheating!"
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