Life and Death


Totally saw that one coming.

No, not the ending, but the fact that the ending would elicit a full spectrum of reactions from “epic” and “beautiful” to “disappointing cop-out.” I get that, I do. That’s actually why I’ve let myself sleep on this (twice) before writing my post. I thought it would be a disservice to try to wrap it up after the six-hour marathon on Sunday night, and Monday night, well, I went drinking. So sue me. But I’ve needed that time to dissect how I felt about, “The End.” And I’m happy to report, I still have no idea.

But this isn’t going to be about whether or not I liked the finale. (I did). It’s about what LOST’s purpose was now that it’s all said and done.

What Happened
First, let’s make sure we’re on the same page with the events that unfolded. I believe there is some confusion here.

Everything you saw on the Island, that all happened. From the crash to the Others to Jacob and his brother, ageless Richard Alpert and the Dharma food drops. Even the time traveling, that happened. That was all real. Real, mystical and possibly unexplainable. Which is why it wasn’t fully explained.

The alternate storyline was a pseudo-purgatory that our characters created, in their minds, as a place to meet up before venturing into the afterlife. Everybody died at different times. Boone died in that beach craft plane. Jack died at the end of the episode after being stabbed by Locke. Kate, Sawyer, Miles, Frank and Richad (now mortal) escaped the Island on that plane and died sometime later. Ben and Hurley stayed to protect the Island, and died years later. But the Alternate Afterlife was a place free from the confines of time and space where our characters could meet up before going to the afterlife. I’ll explain its significance later. Or try to.

The Island’s light was essentially a life force. My interpretation: it granted mankind mortality, but was used with Jacob, Jack and Hurley to grant immortality. Why do we need something to grant mortality? For the same reason LOST itself needed to announce it’s end date. Without a horizon to drive toward, without a destination in place, without a time limit, we are essentially wandering vessels, doomed to aimlessness. Just look at the MIB. His corporeal form deserted, he was forced to wander the Island as Smokey for centuries. Remember how pissed he was? Me, too. So I think the Island’s light source was the “thing that existed in every man,” that put some sense of urgency and purpose into his daily life. It’s the ticking biological clock we all have that impels us to take risks, to make something of ourselves and seek out meaning and truth. That's why it would've been so catastrophic for it to go out permanently. The light source was also manipulated, one way or another, to have the opposite affect on Jacob, who then passed that on to Jack, who then passed that on to Hurley. They were given eternal life by the light, in exchange for protecting it. Which, as we saw, was a mixed blessing.

At least, that’s what I think. But what did it all mean?

Life and Death
LOST’s epic score (an underappreciated element of the show) is anchored by the iconic theme, “Life and Death.” It’s the song that goes, “Do do doooo, do do do dooooooo, do do.” Oh just google it.

After the finale, that title makes sense to me. Because that’s what the show was about. It was about people who must learn how to live in the face of death. The grim reaper was all over that Island. As Charlotte said, “This place is death.” Our castaways’ arrival was surrounded by death, as the plane crash killed off dozens and left others maimed and beaten. Soon after, Boone, Shannon, Ana Lucia, Libby, Eko unnamed red shirts and more fell off one by one. The castaways experienced death at a much higher clip than the average group of 70-some people do.

In the face of that, they had to learn to live. As Jacob said, they were all flawed, scared, lonely individuals who hadn’t discovered how to live with purpose and make peace with their demons. We saw that develop over six seasons, with all the daddy issues, addictions, lies, etc. These people were not overtly evil, but they were certainly flawed in ways that we, as viewers, could identify with.

And so, one major theme of LOST was forcing people to work under pressure. Put another way, they were forced to examine their life and its ups and downs against the backdrop of certain death. That’s what the Island provided them: a deadline, much in the same way that it’s light provides every man an eventual deadline. Being on the Island, closer to the source, merely accelerates that deadline, or threatens to. And as we all know, we learn a lot about ourselves when we work under pressure.

Bottom line: they were forced to find what their purpose in life was. Only then could they move on.

To aid in that discovery, the Island presented our characters with a plethora of philosophical constructs against which to examine themselves. Like the old nature vs. nurture debate. The show was rife with characters eschewing long-held beliefs in favor of more communally and personally beneficial ways of living. We saw Jack transition from science, to faith, to somewhere in between; and along the way, he ditched his addiction to “fixing” everything. We saw Sawyer learn the actual value of selflessness, after arriving on the Island as a selfish, scavenging hoarder. We saw flighty Kate learn to fight. The examples go on and on. But clearly, part of these people’s ability to grow was contingent on their ability to question the unquestionable and reexamine their own worldviews. Those who did moved on. Those who didn’t are still whispering in the jungle.

Fate and free will was clearly another important concept. I’d say the show put forward the argument that reality requires both. They made that argument, oddly enough, by the use of time travel as a narrative device. As Daniel and Eloise explained, certain things are fated to happen (the universe has a way of course-correcting, etc.), but what people can change is the manner in which those things happen. To use another Faraday explanation, if life is an equation then the constants (fate) are just as important as the variables (man’s free will). But for our characters, what’s more important than the recognition of their fate is their ability to react to it correctly. Throughout the show, they each had to learn to make their own luck while always dealing with the hands they were dealt, simultaneously. For Hurley, that meant exuding positive vibes in the face of adversity. His fate was to land on the Island, but he used his free will to make the best of it and cheer up his friends. Similarly, Charlie was fated to crash in that plane; but he used his free will to overcome his addiction and learn to love (Claire). For Claire, again, it was her fate to crash on Oceanic 815; but she willed herself to make peace with motherhood and convince herself that she was worthy of Aaron. And that’s what I think LOST was trying to say about free will: that life’s not about what happens, it’s about how you deal with it. Plain and simple.

You know what? I could draw a myriad number of conclusions about what LOST was trying to say throughout this show. They certainly extended themselves to touch on every “life issue” they could cover in six years. I could sit here and write for days about what the show said about fate, free will, good, evil, nature, nurture, maternity, paternity, eternity, purpose, faith, science, religion and a host of other things.

But the point of the show was not to make a declarative statement about each of those things. It was to develop a narrative in which they all work together. It was about what the creators always said it was about: the characters, and how they reconciled the contradictions and commonalities between all those over-arching themes in order to find their purpose and learn how to live in the face of death.

And one thing to understand is that there isn’t a declarative statement on how all those things work together. Truthfully, it varies from person to person. The value comes in finding a balance between the dichotomies and appreciating how others operate within those same parameters.

So that’s what I think the Island was about. Life.

Moving On
The alternate universe, however, was all about death, and making peace with it.

Early in the season six premiere, “LA X,” Oceanic 815 hit some turbulence. Rose turned to Jack, whose knuckles were white as he clenched the arm rest, and said, “You can let go now.” At the time, we took her literally. In retrospect, we understand her deeper meaning. In fact, my little theory is that in that moment, we saw the genesis of Jack’s experience in the Alternate Afterlife. That’s when he died in real life.

The Alternate Afterlife (AA) was all about moving on and letting go, just like Rose said. Understandably, Jack was the one who took the longest to let go. But Hurley, Desmond, Penny, Boone, Shannon, Rose, Bernard, Libby and all the others in that church that night had all made peace with who they were and what they were. They were ready to let go of their earthly life and move on somewhere new.

Do I think this is a Christian parable? No. I don’t think it’s aimed at explaining any certain religion actually. Rather, I think there’s a fairly secular element to the whole thing. What I got from the AA was that these people created this world as a reflection of what was most important to them: the relationships they formed during their ordeals on the Island.

The time that these folks spent on the Island was, as Christian said, the most important time of their lives. I mean, hands-down, no-contest. For all the reasons I explained earlier, for all the themes it explored, for all the ways it made them examine themselves and learn what their purpose was. And for the relationships that they formed in the process. Those relationships were an inevitable byproduct of the challenges the Island presented them, and the way they were formed and progressed made indelible impacts on each of the characters. Would Jack have been the same Jack without Locke? No. Would Hurley have been the same Hurley without Libby? No.

So if the Island taught our characters that life is not about what happens, but rather how you react to it, then the AA taught our characters that of equal importance is the people you surround yourself with when whatever happens, happens. The AA was the place they created to meet up once their personal journeys had culminated, so that they could forever hold onto the relationships they had forged in the process.

The End
And that’s what I think the show was about. LOST used a mystical, magical Island to explore the way that people deal with deep philosophical and emotional issues in practice, and how the relationships they form along the way continue to shape them. They explored it in terms of living amidst the dying, and used astronomical conflict in order to expedite and highlight the struggles of that journey.

No, it didn’t explain the trickier sci-fi elements or mystical happenings. But that’s the point. It’s about how people deal with the unexplainable and the difficult things that happen to them. As Carlton Cuse said in the preview special, the title LOST is not about people being lost on an Island, it’s about them being lost in themselves.

And to me, that’s a much better story. If I had to choose between hearing about how people deal with deep philosophical questions or hearing about how time travel could possibly work, I’d pick the former over the latter, a hundred times in a row. I loved these characters, and I’ll bet you did, too. 
I’m not trying to be an apologist. There were things I didn’t love about the finale. But I’m glad they made it about the people, not the science. Because that’s something everyone can connect to and relate with. And I thought they did an excellent job.

I believe this is my last post. I mean, good lord, I could write a lengthy post about each character and carry this thing through the summer. And I’ll be happy to address questions and whatever else in the comment section here.

But I’m going to leave it where LOST did: I've given you my basic account of things and I'll let you all discuss and think about its specific outgrowths on your own. I think you’ll like it better that way. You wouldn’t want all the answers, would you?

And so, just in case I don’t hop back on here to say hello, let me say this: thank you. I have so enjoyed writing this blog and examining this show with all of you every week for the past few years. I will most definitely miss it as a creative outlet, a place to connect and an intellectual test. You all have made the experience all that much richer, giving me someone to write these posts to. And I sincerely appreciate that. It’s been lovely working for you people, and thank you so much for all the kind words, encouragement and questions over the years.

We made this thing on a whim, and it’s turned into something really cool and memorable for both Maggie and I. You’re why. Thanks friends.


28 Snarky Comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks again, Maggie and Charlie. I wish I had run across this blog much earlier.

NYBO1965 said...

Well, now I'm crying again, thank you Charlie for a wonderful moving post. Thank you both for such a great shared experience. It has been a pleasure sharing it with all of you. Kudos to the cast and crew of such a wonderful show, full of mystery, wonder, excitement, humor, drama and of course love.

Beth said...

Charlie and Mags- Great posts, well done over the past few years, thanks for making the show great for me. You're both amazing, hilarious, creative, and talented friends, and I love you both! (And for the record, I just read this post listening to the "Lost Jams soundtrack I made for the week, and I found it fitting that the last song played was the Lost Theme. I'm going with fate, and further proving it's time to let go of the show...until the blu-ray comes out in august!!)

Laura said...

Thanks Charlie for giving such insightful additions to the episode each week. It was something that complemented the show for me, and one couldn't be without the other.

I agree with you that the finale was about the people, rather than the science and answering questions. I noticed that our remaining questions were left unanswered, and but none of it really matters, because what happened happened. You have to give them credit for explaining most of it (the big one about Jacob, Smokey /MIB) and the whole flash sideways afterlife was just an addition to give our characters all a happy ending.

If you noticed, the church they were in, when Jack steps in the back to where the coffin was, I saw a Menorah (and didn't get why that would be in the church). Then the stained glass window showed symbols of all faiths (Christianity, Judaism, Yin and Yang, Islam etc).
I thought that was a nice detail.

Charlie said...

Good catch Laura. I've also heard that the six-paned glass was somehow a metaphor for the six seasons of LOST, that each one corresponded somehow with a season. Which makes me wonder if each season was a meditation on a different faith. That'd be an interesting thing to research!

LJLA said...


They are all Lost themed. The End.

Also, enjoy this:

Anonymous said...

Thanks Charlie and Maggie, loved reading each week!

Shawn said...

Thanks Charlie and Maggie for the insight. It made a really incredible TV show even better.


I'm just sad I didn't have the opportunity to pop over during food day this season and waste a good 15 minutes delving deeper into the show with you.


Laura said...

I have one final question. does this mean that the jughead bomb explosion at the end of season 6 didn't work?
We know the AA was independent of all of this, and that everything that happened did indeed happen.

(now makes sense that Juliet asked Sawyer if they could go for coffee)

Charlie said...

Laura, yes, I believe Jughead was ineffective. Essentially, Faraday was wrong. And Jughead was one big red herring. Which kind of disappoints me, but oh well.

Unless you look at it from the standpoint of what the Jughead ordeal forced our LOSTies to deal with before they could die. Sawyer learned to cope with tragic loss, Jack realized the consequences of his fixing obsession, etc.

Des said to Jack that none of it (the Island) mattered. Jack replied that it all mattered. I think you could apply that back-and-forth to Jughead. It didn't matter in terms of what it physically created (or didn't), but it's aftermath deeply affected our characters.

Jessie said...

"If I had to choose between hearing about how people deal with deep philosophical questions or hearing about how time travel could possibly work, I’d pick the former over the latter, a hundred times in a row." I couldn't disagree with that line more, haha! But I'm very left brained and am NOT a philosophy/psychology kind of person. Oh well, I still liked the show though. My only beef is if all of the sci fi stuff essentially didn't matter, why even have it in the script in the first place? The producers had to have known that that was a big thing keeping a lot of people interested (more so than the characters for me). That's a big reason why I felt it was a cop out and was disappointed. Oh well, I really enjoyed reading this blog through the years. Thanks Maggie and Charlie!

Charlie said...

Jessie - I totally respect that, and I would've loved a big meta-explanation of all the sci-fi stuff. But rethinking about it in terms of what that sci-fi stuff taught our characters, I'm at peace with the lack of technical explanation.

Laura said...

I think that's where Electromagnetism is the overall answer to everything.

Why did the island time travel? Electomagnetism
Why did the plane fall?
Electromagenetism and Jacob's manipulation of people handling the Electromagnetism
Why was the island so hard to find?
It's magnets messes up navigational systems

mootpoint said...

Such a great show and what a wonderful blog accompaniment! Thanks guys, for the heartfelt and intelligent harmony. This was by no means an intellectually easy show to digest and in particular I really appreciated the tone that you two applied here: open arms. It would have been easy to be condescending and arrogant with your reviews/previews and even more so with the plethora of questions that were fielded. Not so, however. Grace and tact were all over this mother. Thank you for that!

This last season of LOST was a joy and I loved the final episode. Rose and Bernard? Hello! Even Vincent! Shannon? Meh. Still, I loved the beautifully choreographed flashbacks as the AA characters "remembered" each other. It was a perfect tool that harkened back to season one flashbacks. I loved the final image of Jack closing his eye. There was nothing I didn't love. That's just me though. It was a beautiful story. And I'm glad it was told.

My wife made the comment that this show really seemed to hit it's stride with "our" generation. The twenties and thirties crowd. I don't know about that, but I bet it was very serious and potent fodder for some amazing artists yet to be. Maybe I'm being dramatic, but you won't see surprise on my face ten years from now when the high society artists, directors, actors, musicians of that time are asked about their artistic genesis and they include that old "LOST" show as key inspiration.

Present company included.

Thanks again Charlie and Maggie! Namaste!

bret welstead said...

Charlie and Maggie, thank you so much for writing your thoughts, prompting discussions, and providing a number of laugh out loud moments around every episode of Lost. I have so enjoyed reading this blog the past few years.

I'm going to miss the show, and I'm equally going to miss the Dharma blog. In a way, this blog has mirrored and exemplified exactly what you said the show emphasized: the context is the storyline, but it's really about relationships.

And thanks, LJLA, for posting the link to the video.


Jessie said...

A very funny video on the unanswered questions:

Paul said...

Great show. Great blog. Great finale. Great memories. Our generation's Star Wars.

Thanks for your great work.

Dudeson/Chris Beutler/Paul

Aimee said...

Alright. I personally did not have the same view of the ending as everyone else. Actually I didn't even think of the purgatory thing at all until I read this. It makes sense though, and I understand how people would see that, but it's just not what I thought.
I think the Jughead explosion simultaneously worked and didn't work. But since whatever happened happened, the alternate time line people were able to remember the things they had done. Everyone remembered before Jack did, and they all met up at the church in order to help him move on. By "move on", I do not mean go into the after life, which is what everyone else thinks. What I think is that they wanted him to "move on" as in forgive people (namely his father) and let go, as in stop trying to fix everything and stop trying to figure everything out.
I think the people who were upset about the finale are all people who decided that the alternate time line was purgatory. With my interpretation, you get a satisfying ending without the need to discover all the answers. Telling Jack to "let it go" was the writer's way of telling the viewers to "let it go" and just live your life by doing what is good for you and all people, and you don't need to know and understand everything in order to be happy and satisfied, and you don't need to believe in God in order to have faith.
I feel like I don't need to search out for all the answers to all my questions. I like the way it ended. It was emotional and beautiful and philosophical. Great show, great blog, great life that I should get to instead of watching 120 hours of more TV.
This is only my interpretation. I think everyone is right no matter what as long as they take away a meaningful message from it.

sideways and byways said...

First, thank you guys for writing this blog. You have kept me entertained and sane at times when all I could think was WTF after watching an episode.

I am not upset that questions were left unanswered. I mean, of course they left questions unanswered - this IS LOST after all. I am upset that after 6 years of originality and awesome groundbreaking TV the ending was just blah. I expected more from the writers - I did not expect a blatant rip-off of the Sixth Sense. It seems like Darlton spent the last six years reading the blogs and the theories and they thought "well, since everyone thinks it's purgatory - we might as well give them what they want since we can't think of anything else." Sorry, just venting - i just feel robbed :(

Anonymous said...

This may seem funny, but the part where each character began to "remember" reminded me of the Christopher Walken SNL skit "Ed Glosser: Trivial Psychic" for some reason. I see someone else posted the video.

Thanks Charlie and Maggie for giving me something to add fuel to my addiction.

Anonymous said...

If Jack actually dies on the plane (right when Rose tells him to "let go,"), then how can everything on the island be real?

The Glamour Machine said...

Congrats on your final post Charlie. You and Maggie did a great job with this blog and most definitely enhanced my LOST experience.

All in all I liked the ending, altho I think I was one of many fans who called something along these lines when Charlie showed up to Hurley back in season 4(?). I just loved the way they put the reunions together! They were all great but I completely girled out and watched the Sawyer/Juliet one twice. And I laughed out loud when Jack rocked the "300" vengeance leap on Locke during the cliff fight. That was a riot.

I'll miss the show - I'm glad they bowed out gracefully.

D'Ann said...

Maggie, I remember when this was just a friendly morning after recap sent out to all of our accounts ... more than anything the end of LOST makes me reflect on where WE were, who we were all those years ago. All those years ago ... GOOD memories. Thanks Maggie and Charlie for making this show so much more fun than it was on its own! I mean, LOST is a good show, one of the best qualities about this program was that it - in my opinion - could not be fully enjoyed and appreciated without community. Thanks for being that for us all.

Karen Borchert said...

You guys are awesome! Thank you for all the help deciphering this show, and for the excellent, awesome writing. As much fun to read as the show was to watch. And I'm not just saying that because I'm your sister.

Anonymous said...

Maggie, I would like to hear your final thoughts on the series. thanks for all your hard work.

ricki said...

i'm a little behind...but as far as the finale goes...i'm not sure it ended the way i would have ended it, but i have to accept that it wasn't my call and that doesn't mean i didn't like it.

i think the sentiment was perfect, regardless of whether or not i agree with the route the writers took to get there....the idea of being "granted" mortality is really interesting and could it be more true that it is not what happens to you in life but how you react to what happens to you that defines your character? thanks LOST, for that reminder and thanks maggie & chuck for your embracing this blog and making it such a fun thing to be a part of. it's no secret how much i loved it!

Chris and Abbey said...

I second the request for Maggie's final thoughts!

Island Girl said...

My first response to the finale was that it was good, then, discussing it with friends and fellow Losties, I began to get frustrated with the lack of answers.I have spent the last few weeks re thinking my opinion about the finale. I think it was good, but then I really wanted more of the sci-fi parts explained. Anyway, I think my final thoughts are along these lines- it reminded me of the Chronicles of Narnia, especially The Last Battle. I just finished reading that volume to my 10 year old, and now I am seeing several parallels. In the last book of Narnia, the characters are again transported to the land of Narnia (returning to the island). Only the younger ones are able to return (Ana Lucia and some others not being ready for the trip yet). Fighting the last battle against evil (Jack and Flocke on the cliffs). At the end, the characters are trapped in a building and it seems like the end is near, but Aslan appears and they discover they have died and this is Heaven (The gang gathering at the Church and walking into the Light). Also Eloise called the Dharma station in the church basement "the lamp post" (the lamp post is a major landmark in Narnia) This helps me make peace with the fact that I didn't get all the answers that I wanted, but I felt satisfied with the ending. Sorry if this is long, I have been pondering this for awhile. : )
I am going to miss Lost, but I hope I don't get hooked on another show for awhile. 6 years is a long time to wait!

Also- what do you think, Maggie?