**WARNING – EXTREME SPOILERS FOR THE LOST SEASON SIX FINALE BELOW**
As divisive as it was once popular, LOST was a true cultural phenomenon that showed the potential of television as a cinematic tool. Rich in both character and mystery, Season One was a smash-hit and had an average of 15.7m viewers per episode. The central concept of flashbacks interspersed with the narrative allowed writers to develop the characters in greater detail, contrasting their pre-Island lives against their new roles as survivors. In those early days, the series’ mysteries were vague and unformed but over time the mythology became more dense as fantasy and science-fiction collided together to create a truly magical viewing experience. As the list of unanswered questions grew, viewers became more disillusioned with the series and the writer’s ability to write an ending that will tie it all together.
After enough time-travelling to give Doc Brown a headache, the finale of Season Five featured the detonation of a nuclear warhead (affectionately known as “Jughead”) in the 1970s which propelled our heroes into the future, and seemingly created an alternate reality that would become known as the “Flash-Sideways”. This narrative technique appeared to be the next incarnation of the flashbacks and flashforwards that had been prevalent through the series until this point, and appeared to imply that we were seeing how events would have played out if the plane had never crashed on the island. This was extremely cathartic for viewers as we got the opportunity to see the narrative strands established in the pre-island flashbacks play out as they were intended. Yet again, LOST had played about with its narrative in a smart and engaging way – providing viewers with a “What If?” scenario that contrasted against the cataclysmic events occurring on the island.
Seemingly disconnected at first, as the series hurtled towards its conclusion the lines between the “Flash-Sideways” and the original timeline began to blur as LOST’s OG time-traveller Desmond Hume crossed between the two. It soon became obvious that this alternate reality would play an important role in the series finale, but it was still unclear how exactly. In the final few episodes, Desmond begun bringing the survivors together in the Flash-Sideways, reminding them of their other lives and attempting to bring them to a set location for an unknown purpose. The big twist of the finale was that these Flash-Sideways were actually glimpses into a limbo/purgatory where each of the various Losties had arrived upon their death – be it in the series itself, or long after it finished. Once each character died, they were brought to this in-between place where they would live out a twisted version of their life until they realised they were dead and agreed to “move on” to the next place.
On an emotional level, this was the perfect ending – it took the “Man of Faith vs. Man of Science” argument that laid at the heart of the series and gave a definitive answer. The writers had chosen faith, and had the characters reunite in the afterlife for a powerful finale that was full of nostalgic call-backs to the entire show as a whole, and also had a reassuring message about the afterlife. It was a beautiful conclusion, and managed to give viewers one final twist reveal before coming to an end. I have to admit that it took me a while to absorb the message, and I am still torn as to whether it was the “best ending” for the series or not. Emotionally, it hits a home-run, but I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if the writers had chosen science, instead of faith…
What if the writers didn’t include that final ‘purgatory’ twist and instead played it straight with the Flash-Sideways, and had the detonation of Jughead create an true alternate universe where the crash of Oceanic Flight 815 never happened? What if the entire flash-sideways was indeed rooted in a different reality, and every time one of the Losties died in the “real universe”, they awoke in the Flash-Sideways with their memories intact. Effectively, giving everyone a second chance at life. The series could have somehow tied this into Jacob and the Man in Black, or the island itself – perhaps as a consequence of the events of the original timeline? It would have rewarded the sacrifices of the Losties, and redeemed some of the more tragic storylines, such as the deaths of Locke, Jin & Sun. We could have still had that emotional reunion at the Church as everyone reunites, remembering their life on the Island, but able to move forward and live these new lives untouched by Jacob. Sure, it lacks that spiritual punch of the original ending, but every character would have gotten a happy ending!
Ultimately, it is the difference between a happier ending and a bittersweet one. Both endings work, but as someone who spent six years invested in these characters, I think I would have preferred to see them get given one more chance to live their lives without any interference of a higher power, be it Jacob or the Man in Black. Of course, the series works perfectly with its original ending – even if it is unfair to some of the Losties. One of the main criticisms of the LOST ending was that it used the “purgatory” scenario that theorists had been shouting about since the first Season – although, it should be noted that the Season Six purgatory takes place after the main timeline, and not instead of it. They all survived the crash, it was when they died afterwards that they went to the Flash-Sideways universe. If the series had avoided any mention of purgatory altogether, perhaps casual viewers wouldn’t have been confused and people would say “they were dead all along” – the most common misinterpretation of the series’ ending.
LOST was a series about duality – good vs. evil, Jacob vs. the Man in Black and ultimately, science vs. faith. Perhaps my preference for a science-fiction ending is rooted in my own belief (or lack thereof) of an afterlife, yet others may prefer the more theological aspects of the finale. Looking back at the series as a whole, the real beauty of LOST was its characters not its mysteries, and perhaps the real message of “The End” was as much about me coming to terms with letting go, as it was them.