This past Saturday, May 23rd, marked ten years since the television phenomenon known as LOST aired its series finale. Appropriately titled “The End,” it was a polarizing final episode, with seemingly half the audience loving it and the other half hating it.
I fell in the camp of absolutely loving it. I not only think it’s a perfect ending to the series, I believe it’s the best finale in television history. And as the years have passed, it’s become more and more apparent that the majority of people who have actually watched LOST from start to finish love, or at least like, how it ended. So why is it still brought up in articles discussing the worst finales in TV history?
Let’s take a trip back to 2010. Twitter was just starting to become a more widespread method of communication in the late 2000s, and LOST was the first mega-successful television series coming to a close in this new age of social media. When a vocal minority blew up Twitter post-finale bashing the episode, it was what the press latched onto and wrote about the next morning. It made it appear as if the majority of viewers thought the finale was disappointing.
It perpetuated the inaccurate assessment that “they were dead the whole time,” a notion that was proven untrue in the climactic scene of the finale when Christian Shephard explicitly tells his son Jack that everything that happened on the island was a part of his real life. Some of Jack’s friends died before him (RIP Locke, Charlie, Jin, Sun, Sayid, Boone, etc.) and some died long after him (Hurley, Sawyer, Kate, Desmond, Claire, etc.), but they all ended up finding each other in this waiting room to the afterlife so they could let go and move on to the next chapter together. It’s pretty clear cut, leaving little room for confusion.
Some claimed they were confused due to the fact that when the finale aired in the US, the Oceanic Flight 815 plane remnants were shown lying on the original crash beach over the end credits, implying to some that the plane had laid on an empty beach like this for the entirety of the series since the characters all died when it crashed. It was quickly made clear that ABC made the decision to put that stock footage over the end credits without the producers’ knowledge and that ABC’s intention was to give everyone a calm, familiar sight to help decompress after the emotional finale.
For those of us who watched and understood what happened in the finale, it was a beautiful, emotional, and cathartic send off to the characters we’d come to know and love over six years and 121 episodes. The character development on LOST is unparalleled, even to this day. It changed the way we tell stories on this medium, introducing flashbacks which have become a staple in television since. Learning about each character’s life before the plane crash, you’re able to see into the core of who they are, understanding and sympathizing with certain decisions, mistakes, or mindsets they each may make or have while on the island.
The writers also introduced flash forwards and even the flash sideways in the sixth season, stretching the limits of how one can tell a story. We learned about every nook and cranny of these characters’ lives. The ending completed each and every character arc, giving us the emotional satisfaction we deserved after six years of watching these castaways every week. And on top of the emotional gratification of the finale, it was just plain epic.
First off, it’s called “The End.” I loved that about it before even watching the episode. What bigger way is there to end a sci-fi adventure epic than to just call it “The End”? There isn’t. Second, the finale pits the forces of good and evil against each other, giving our protagonist Jack, who has spent the entirety of the series wanting to be the hero and wanting to save everyone, his chance to do just that on the largest scale possible. He literally has to save his friends, the island, and the entire world from the Man in Black given the destruction that will follow if MiB is able to leave the island. Huge stakes.
Will the remaining castaways finally make it off the island? Yes, they will and they do. Kate, Sawyer, Claire, and company escape the island once and for all as Jack sacrifices his life to save them and to save humanity. He then lays in his final resting spot, in the same spot he first opened his eyes in the very first shot of the series. As he sees the plane his friends are on flying away from the island, he smiles knowing he succeeded and they made it out. He then dies in that same spot he first awoke from the plane crash years earlier.
His eye closing is the final shot we ever see, a poetic complement to the opening shot of the show and a full circle moment. Better yet, Vincent the dog finds Jack and lays next to him as he takes his final breaths so that he doesn’t have to die alone. A recurring line in the show is “live together, die alone,” born out of the season one episode “White Rabbit” where Jack explains that if this group of plane crash survivors can’t learn to live together, they’re going to die alone. If you’re not sobbing as Vincent comes to make sure our hero doesn’t have to die alone, do you even have a soul?! It’s beautiful.
On top of all this, we learn the flash sideways we’ve been seeing throughout season six is actually a spiritual “waiting room” the castaways have made together after each of them has died in their own lives so that they could move on to the afterlife together. They each slowly figure this out over the course of the finale, remembering their past lives in the real world and on the island, which leads to some very emotional reunions.
We don’t fully figure this out as viewers until Jack enters the church in one of the final scenes, seemingly going to his father’s funeral, but when he opens the casket it’s empty. His father appears behind him and explains to him what I just explained above. I get teary eyed even thinking about the scene right now. Then Jack goes out into the main room of the church to reunite with all his friends, where they all are now ready to move on to the afterlife together. It’s so emotionally satisfying on all levels.
Just to cap it all off, head writers/showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse gave us fans many nods throughout the episode (Jack’s “I’ll see you in another life, brother” to Desmond, Sawyer with a couple classic witty lines/nicknames, Jack telling MiB that Locke was right all along, etc.). We get an intense final “battle” between Jack and the Man in Black that had my brother and me screaming in our childhood living room when it cut to commercial break after Jack leaps off the rock at MiB. Bottom line, the finale delivers.
When I meet someone in real life who groans when LOST is brought up, it’s almost always someone who has not actually watched the show but heard it ended poorly. I can count on one hand the amount of people I’ve spoken to in real life (out of hundreds) that actually watched the finale and told me they didn’t like it.
Each of those people were convinced that they were dead the whole time. I explained to each of those people what actually happened and they admitted to being more casual viewers who didn’t pay attention to every detail of the show. The thing is, LOST is a show that requires its viewers’ full and undivided attention. It challenged us and then in turn, rewarded us for digging deeper than the typical television audience.
Admittedly, there are a handful of viewers online that claim some of the show’s mythology and mysteries were never explained. For those viewers, I can understand some level of disappointment. Not every question about the mythology is answered. Most of them were. The ones that weren’t didn’t matter in the grand scheme of the storyline is my gripe with that critique. They would have been nice easter eggs, but they weren’t important in finishing the story we were being told.
LOST was always about the characters. It was about this group of strangers, all broken in different ways, who were brought together by this plane crash and by this island. They had to come together to overcome their own personal demons and flaws, and it was within that personal growth that they were able to heal and move forward. As Christian says to Jack in the church, Jack spent the most important time of his life with these people on the island. They all healed in their separate ways, but they did it together. The finale did a beautiful job of tying up each character of this large ensemble cast’s story.
As you can probably tell, I’m very passionate about LOST. I binged the first season in three days as a junior in high school and never looked back. Season two was airing that year, so I caught up and watched live every week until it ended on that fateful day in 2010. I introduced my younger brother and some of my best friends to the show, and I’d either talk to my brother or call one of my friends to discuss what had just happened during commercial breaks.
Afterwards, we’d theorize for hours on end for the rest of the week until the next episode aired. It was the first show to cultivate this kind of rabid fan base and community who all had different theories they wanted to share about the show’s mysteries and mythology. It was the first true water cooler show, and it changed the landscape of television forever.
It tackled lots of different issues, both big and small, that were very relatable to life. Watching it as a teenager in high school and then during college, it’s not an exaggeration to say that LOST helped shape my values, ideologies, and spirituality. It taught me things about myself and taught me how to cope with certain situations that everyone deals with at some point in their lives.
I love a lot of television shows, but none of them has ever or will ever have the impact that LOST has had on me. It’s in a league of its own. As the years go on and even more people are introduced to its magic through streaming, I cross my fingers that the overblown social media reaction to the finale continues to fade into oblivion like a distant memory. It’s time “The End” is remembered as the spectacular ending it is, and it’s time LOST further seals its legacy as one of the best shows of all time.