Monday, May 24, 2010

Lost: The Finale and What I Thought

Spoiler Alert!!: if you have not watched the finale yet, do not read on!

Let me say first off that I think the writers of LOST truly kept up the pace until the bitter end. They managed to maintain supreme quality writing from the first time we see Jack open his eye, until the very end, when his eye closes at his natural death. Secondly, an analysis of this 120 episode show can only really be accomplished by looking at it in a very general, universal way. If we try to arrange the details to fit like a puzzle, it just doesn't work. That said, I really don't think arranging the details is really necessary. The writers obviously kept the plot very open-ended, as all good writers do. Any great work of writing inevitably creates a conversation, and better yet, one without any closure whatsoever. It allows the piece to live on indefinitely, as LOST will. I think having a television show of this caliber with this wide of a scope should tell us a lot about where we are going as a society. Television isn't merely a form of mind-numbing pleasure anymore. Television has the same sort of capacity for change and transcendence as literature has always had. Technology is giving humanity new forms of communication and ways of relating, probably on a bigger scale than we have ever seen up until now.

So, now to try to decipher what this show has really meant, or at least my opinion of its meaning. I think the best place to start is with the characters. It seems that the most important, crucial characters have names that are symbolic of something:
First character that we see is Jack Shephard. He is the Everyman Jack (see second Footnote) trying to make his way in the world, but it is obvious he begins life with more than most of us have: wealth, intelligence, a father who is an MD and a brain surgeon, confidence, his own MD in brain surgery, and a God complex (which all or most doctors probably need to have in order to do what they do). So, in reality, he really isn't an Everyman Jack after all (on the other hand, see first Footnote). He is exceptional in many ways and, to add to this, he is also a born leader and takes the lead in every endeavor he attempts, not to mention always needing to be the one to "fix" things. This is where the name Shephard comes in, not spelled the same as the protector of sheep, but we get the picture. His father's name is even more perfect, Christian Shephard, which we see the meaning of why he has this name at the end. Christian is the first one through the doors to the light. Jack also spends his time either looking for his father or trying to find his father's lost body. Jack will eventually lead his own "flock" through those doors (they loyally wait for him to remember and join them), following his father, Christian, a play on the name of Christ who is the first to open the gates of heaven.

The next character of importance is John Locke. John and Jack clash over the question of faith vs. science and I think what is significant is that they are both leaders. They seem, as the series progresses, to each take one side over the other. John Locke believed that the island has a higher purpose, and Jack had trouble believing this. Jack desperately wanted to find every means for escape and try to get everyone to follow. In the end, John Locke is right, but Jack, ever since he returned to the island after having left it, has acquired this faith. At the same time, Locke begins to doubt his own faith due to lack of proof or signs. His doubt almost leads to his own suicide (if Ben hadn't interrupted and killed Locke himself). Jack tries life away from the island, but the island kept drawing him back with a very powerful unseen force. John Locke is named after the 18th century English philosopher who very curiously believed that all knowledge begins with what comes to the mind from the senses. Only then can people begin to organize this information through reason. His symbolic name echoes the reason why he kept waiting for the island to give him some kind of sign. At the time, he felt that the hatch was that sign. To Locke, the hatch represented the island and its higher purpose, and he wasn't exactly wrong about that, as we now know. It is pretty fitting that the smoke monster used Locke's body as his vehicle to influence people to follow him. Locke is not only a born-leader, but one whose sincerity and optimism wins over most people he comes across. He seems to look at you like he knows you and has complete trust and confidence in you. People are at ease and open with him, and this allows the smoke monster to win over many to his side. Locke, like Jack, has a troubled relationship with his own father, and we can contrast this struggle with Jack's attempt to deal with his own father's death.

Desmond Hume is the next most significant character. His name also means something. David Hume was an 18th century philosopher, and Scottish to boot. He wanted to bring philosophy to its senses, and he scoffed at the idea of human reason. He believed that what people knew of the world began with the senses. I find it ironic that the philosopher Hume did not believe in god or science, but Desmond Hume has so much faith. He pressed that darn button for how many years? Hume the philosopher did not put any faith in either science or religion because people can only have the ability to see these ideas from a limited perspective. Desmond is not limited at all in that he is a kind of all-experiencing character. He is able to withstand the power of the island and is able to travel over the alternate realities. He maintains multiple perspectives, to override Hume's insistence on "tunnel vision" in human reasoning. Desmond ultimately is the coordinator of this reunion at the church at the end. His faith is real in that he can prove it through his own experience.

And, let's not forget Hugo Hurley, the lovable guy who inherits the island after Jack's death. Hurley's favorite word is "dude", and one can't help but feel at ease around such a casual, fun-loving individual. Hugo is unique in that he was perpetually haunted by the six numbers he used to win the lottery back home. (I'd list them, but I don't want to jinx myself.) Everywhere he goes, the numbers pop up. And these numbers always cause bad things to happen. For instance, the numbers that Desmond had to enter into the hatch's computer so that it wouldn't implode were Hurley's numbers. The only time that Desmond neglected to enter them caused Oceanic Flight 815 to crash! I suppose it is possible that Hugo was named after Victor Hugo, the French writer who was the champion of those less fortunate and social injustice. Hugo himself is obese, and Sawyer creates new and more demeaning names early on in the series to comment on his appearance, an unfortunate casualty of his obsession with food. To me, Hugo is the sweetest , most down-to-earth, and accepting character of the bunch. It is perfect that he is chosen to nurture the island after it has been restored by Jack. And, it is even more perfect that he chooses a partner, Benjamin Linus, to help him. Hurley forgets Benjamin's faults and outsider status and welcomes him in with open arms.

Benjamin Linus is one truly damaged, "lost" character. When we first meet him, he is the leader of the Others. This fact is significant in that Benjamin never belongs anywhere,(he is always an "other"), whether this is due to his own fault is beside the point. He maintains this status as outsider because of his ambition. His self-esteem is seriously deficient, and he spends most of his time trying to restore it. It is quite possible that Benjamin's last name "Linus" is a play on the word "lie" in that this is what Benjamin does best. Unfortunately, he uses deceit and manipulation as his means, but if we examine him closely , we see the incredible scars he has had to live with and can somewhat forgive him for his actions. But because he kills John Locke, the only one who can offer him forgiveness is John himself, which of course he does. Benjamin chooses to remain in the alternate reality in the end, remaining the perpetual outsider, to work out his mistakes and selfish tendencies. At the end, he is a symbol of humility, which for him, is huge! He does not allow himself to join the group, even though he is invited by Hurley to do so. Benjamin was obviously a good second in command to Hurley, and this fact shows that he is headed in the right direction.

Sawyer is significant in that he is known by the name of his sworn enemy. He is the rebel of the group, and the guy who grows the most. Sawyer starts out as bitter, negative, and suspicious of others, and he learns to love and make friends by the end of the series. He opposes Jack in many ways. They both love Kate and Juliet at different points in the series, but Sawyer's true love is Juliet. Sawyer is as lovable as Hurley by the final episode, and he learns to live by integrity alone, instead of merely his desire for revenge.

I am not sure whether this is a good or bad thing, but it seems all the female characters are defined by their roles as mothers. Kate is crossed out from the list of candidates due to her becoming an adoptive mother to Aaron. Sun is disqualified after becoming a mother. Claire is the mother who goes insane and neglects her child. Juliet is a fertility expert, who is the mother of Jack's son in the alternate reality. And, it seems there are an awful lot of female characters who have died: Juliet, Charlotte, Libby, Shannon, the foster mother of Jacob and the Man in Black etc. I'm really not sure how to interpret this lack of female strength, but it is what it is. Any female who asserts herself in a too-masculine way, gets gunned down eventually. It is possible though that motherhood is considered to be of primary importance, even more important than the "source". Therefore, females would be considered the sole protectors of creation and so would be disqualified to be protectors of the island. And, let's not forget that it was Kate who ultimate killed the smoke monster in the end. She was helped out by Desmond, who shut off the source and made him immortal, but it was Kate who shot that last bullet. So, maybe after all, femininity is the ultimate power here in LOST world.

OK, so now let's get down to what I thought about what actually happened in this crazy TV series, what the ending tells us about what happens beforehand, and what we will take away with us now that it is ended. So, after seeing the finale, it is apparent that we were seeing this whole thing through Jack's perspective and experience. I found this surprising because most of the time, I had trouble relating to him. He is the kind of guy that you love to hate--hyper-successful, effortlessly rises to the top, who everyone appears to adore i.e. too proud in my book. These last episodes showed a Jack who is just as flawed, lost, and terrified of the future as the others. Jack is inevitably the glue that binds everyone together, not because of his perfection, but because of his own very human flaws and tendencies. He is the last to show up, the last to "let go and remember". He is true to himself until the end in that he is the last to let go of reason and embrace faith completely. Jack tries to love Kate, but he can't. He isn't allowed to love her like the other "lovers" in the series, but like he loves everyone else in the church---with a universal, binding love, full of compassion and togetherness, bound by human weaknesses and human potential. Jack saves the world and is the true hero, but he remains somewhat isolated within this heroism. Jack as a character is the embodiment of the lone hero, therefore he cannot truly bind to Kate completely. The ending of LOST serves to circumvent and "correct" this quite burdensome archetype of Jack's. The ending emphasizes that, in the words of Jack himself, "We can live together, or die alone." No one from "Jack's flock" dies alone in LOST. They are bound together by this togetherness that they have fostered throughout the six seasons of ups and downs. Let's face it. Most of these characters had gone through horrific circumstances, so why wouldn't their time together be the defining time of their life? Who can really top this? The ending was not corny, or overly simplified. Everyone seemed natural and accepting at the end. What we hope to all be.

So, let's get to all the complicated stuff that happened before Jack died. What is this source? Who are Jacob and the Man in Black? What about Eloise and all this talk of time travel, coordinates, the pendulum etc.? What about the Dharma initiative and their move to the island? Who is Charles Widmore? Is he bad or good? Well, I see it pretty simply. I am going to call it "anti-agnosticism". LOST is commenting on the point our world has come to: the advancement of science so far that the reason for our existence has been proven (or in the real world, quite possibly about to be proven). Within LOST, the human race has started to discover this "source". Charles Widmore merely represents to me a kind of scientific explorer, for good or evil depending on your perspective. He and his team have found proof of the source's existence and now wish to use it for human benefit. We can compare him to Christopher Columbus discovering the New World. I am sure the consequences would be similar if no one was protecting the island. The "source" would be raped and pillaged for all it has, like the Native Americans and their land was. Eloise symbolizes the opposite of this scientific discovery: intuition. She is able to sense things that go beyond reason, so combined with Widmore's powers, they are a formidable force. I found it very interesting that they were married in the alternate reality. Daniel Faraday (Widmore) was their tool (and it is quite fitting that he was their son in the flash sideways). He was the idealistic scientist searching for the ultimate truth. His goal was idealistic, as are all ideas when they are created. It is only when these ideas get into the wrong hands that they are twisted around and abused. The Dharma folks were others who wished to harness the power of the island, but in a more benevolent fashion. Linus breaks off from the Dharma because he was much more ambitious than them, and thirsted for power.

No child could be conceived on the island. So the mysterious original protector of the island (the unnamed woman) needed to steal Jacob and the Man in Black, so that she would have someone to take over when if she were ever killed. The water that these new protectors drink is symbolic for the source and its strength. If you drink the water handed to you by the previous protector, you become one with your predecessor and one with the source. This is reminiscent of the process of transubstantiation that we see in the Catholic sacrament of Holy Communion. The protectors have one goal: to protect the source and as we can see, not everything they do is pure and good for the sake of the island. The protectors are all humans, and humans are destined to be flawed in their humanity, as both Jacob and the Man in Black were.

So, at the end, we are really left with two things: the restoration of the source, and thus the salvation of the island, and the salvation of Jack and his "flock". As I said in the beginning, in order to understand LOST, you must simplify down to its essence and universality. Within LOST itself, the characters undergo this same purification process. They too let go of everything at the end, and they are brought down to just the essence of who they are and how they relate to the group. To me, this ending symbolizes the compassion required of all of us to achieve the ultimate spiritual transcendence. The source has been restored and the survivors of Flight 815 (and a few others) can move on. The island and its mysterious source are real, the survivors were alive until their individual deaths, and the alternate reality was just a purification process of remembering the joy, heartache, and compassion that they collectively experienced before they were able to leave this world.

The penultimate meeting at the church at the end was arranged by Desmond in order for their lives to be celebrated and remembered before they "move on", kind of like a funeral where only the dead are invited. LOST's final episode is a type of funeral within a funeral because LOST itself will no longer be with us and we will all move on with our lives. We will eventually find something else to fill our Tuesday evenings, but LOST's memory will live on in our hearts, and in our conversations, for a long, long time.


From Columbia Encyclopedia:
Everyman, late-15th-century English morality play. It is the counterpart of the Dutch play Elckerlijk; which of these anonymous plays is the original has been the subject of controversy. When Everyman is summoned by Death, he can persuade none of his friends-Beauty, Kindred, Worldly Goods-to go with him, except Good Deeds. This allegory has been used as the basis of plays by later writers and has remained popular in modern times.

From online dictionary:
every man jack
n. Informal Every single person of a group

No comments: