The Final Act of Lost

The “Lost” finale was pure genius. I say this with no hyperbole. It was the best ending to the best show in the history of television. In my last post, I had two predictions about the final act: (1) good and evil will be sorted out, and (2) someone important will have to die. Both of those predictions were born-out in the finale. Good and evil were embodied in Jacob and his nameless brother, and their epic conflict finally came to an end in the battle between Jack and “Locke.” When Jack killed “Locke,” the good finally prevailed. Someone important did have to die in order to save the island. And that someone was Jack. Did you notice that his side was pierced? The Christ-allusion was not accidental.

The finale did leave us, however, with some questions. What was the meaning of the “flash sideways” world? What was the final meeting in the church about? What was the point of the apparent resurrection of Jack’s father, Christian Shepherd? These questions were not answered definitively, and I think the writers intended for there to be more than one possible interpretation. It’s like the end of the college football season. The championship game doesn’t really settle the big question for some people. Often times there’s an argument to be made for more than one team, and a part of the fun of college football is arguing about it. For Lost fans, arguing about the meaning of it all will be part of the fun. That was by design.

My best shot at explaining the sideways world is this. The sideways world is a sort of purgatory (without the purging) for all of the characters. Some of them died on the island, some of them died much later. Nevertheless, all of them eventually died. This sideways world was the place where they came to terms with their real-life deaths before moving on to the afterlife. It was the place where they learned that what they did in their real lives on the island really mattered. It’s why all of them went on to “glory” while Benjamin Linus had to stay behind and was not able to join them just yet. Christian Shepherd was so named (remember that Kate made a big deal of his name) because he was a Christian leader of sorts. He blazed the trail for all of them, having preceded them in death. The show ends with the redeemed going on to their reward.

“Lost” captivated millions because it drew upon a variety of universal themes. It was self-consciously theological and philosophical—an approach that really sticks-out among the mind-numbing pabulum offered daily on television. Characters were named after famous philosophers (e.g., John Locke, Desmond David Hume), storylines were mistaken for religious narratives (e.g., the theory that the island is purgatory), and classic metaphysical dilemmas appeared throughout (e.g., fate vs. free-will, good vs. evil).

As I’ve said before, the Lost story was not your run-of-the-mill postmodern critique of metanarratives. Good and evil were in a pitched battle, and the good won in the end. Viewers saw in this story what they already perceive to be true about their own story. The world that they live in is broken, something has gone wrong, there is evil afoot, and something needs to be done about it. Everyone living in this broken-down world is broken-down themselves and in desperate need of redemption.

I think it’s easy to see why viewers have been attracted to Lost’s mythology. They feel a yearning that what was true in Lost’s story might be true in their own. They hope to find that what they did here did have meaning and a purpose and that good will win-out in the end. The Christian gospel teaches that this universal human yearning does have an answer. It teaches that good does in fact win-out in the end, that there is a purpose to it all, and that redemption is possible—even for the vilest characters in this drama (1 Timothy 1:15). There was really a man who was pierced for our transgressions to make a new world and new life possible (John 19:34; cf. Isaiah 53:5; Zechariah 12:10). Only this man didn’t live in a mythological TV-world. He lived here, was one of us, and has gone on to prepare a place for those who know Him by faith (John 1:14; 14:2-3).

“Lost” highlighted the itch that only the gospel can scratch. This was the unwitting genius of the show, and it is why people will be talking about it for years to come.

—————

Here are some worthwhile reads on the “Lost” finale. Many of them offer a decidedly more negative evaluation than my own.

Joe Carter, The Unnecessary Christ of Lost (First Things)

Tyler Charles, “‘LOST”s Adventure Doesn’t End with the Finale,” (Books & Culture)

Ross Douthat, “The ‘Lost’ Finale” (NY Times)

Ree Hines, “That was the end of ‘Lost’?! Are you kidding us?” (MSNBC.com)

Jeff Jensen, “Lost Finale Instant Reaction” (Entertainment Weekly)

Michael Patton, “Lost: The Greatest Hoax in American Television History” (Parchment and Pen)

Chad Post, “‘Lost’ Finale: The Ending Explained” (Wall Street Journal)

Trevin Wax, “Lessons from Lost”

37 Responses to The Final Act of Lost

  1. Joe Rigney May 24, 2010 at 1:14 am #

    Denny, here’s my shot:

    SPOILERS AHEAD

    1. Sideways Timeline was the characters own personally created purgatory (in-between place). When they died at any point in their lives, their consciousnesses jumped to the Sideways world where they needed to realize their past lives and get over their issues and “let go.” Desmond helps them in this process due to his special abilities.

    2. Once they wake up to who they are, they all get together at the church to move on together (to heaven or whatever you call it).

    3. Thus, Frank, Sawyer, Kate, Claire, etc all get off the island together in the plane, live their lives and die. Hurley and Ben stay behind and run the island together and then someday die. We see Jack die. But whenever they die, they end up in Sideways world and then get “awakened” so they can “leave” together.

    4. The story that Lost tells is basically the final testing of Jack, and all the characters that intersect with him. That’s why the Pilot and the Finale both have his eye opening and closing.

    I’ve still got unanswered questions (Walt and Michael? Eloise Hawking knowing so much? Still unclear about what exactly the Smoke Monster was), but overall I think it was a satisfying ending.

    Cheers.

  2. C Michael Patton May 24, 2010 at 1:14 am #

    Ummm…did we watch the same finale? All season long I heard this, “All your questions will be answered.” None of them were. More questions. Better, I was left with the impression that I was so fearful would happen for six seasons: the writers did not really know what was going on either! Matrix all over.

    Other than that, great character development.

    It was no Battlestar Galactica.

  3. F.A. May 24, 2010 at 1:17 am #

    I think Joe is pretty much right on. And I loved it, too.

  4. D.J. Williams May 24, 2010 at 7:53 am #

    Hmm. My wife and I both had the impression that everything, the island included, was some sort of purgatory and they all died in the crash. Which felt disappointing, seeing as how that was the oldest theory in the playbook.

    As a final episode, it was excellent. Not sure that I liked those last few minutes, though.

  5. Mickey McBrayer May 24, 2010 at 7:59 am #

    For me, LOST ended where I feared it would end, in a final plug for inclusivism. Anyone notice all the religious symbols on the stained glass in the church – Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Yin Yang, etc.? All the while, the “Christian Shepherd” implicitly teaches that all roads lead to this “heaven.” The world thinks it is doing Christianity a favor by commending it as one option among many, but the offense of Christianity is precisely that the real “Christian Shepherd” taught that He was the only way. LOST was a fascinating show, but I can’t give my final approval to a show that co-ops Christian symbols to teach something clearly unbiblical. Not that it has to be a biblical show, but don’t borrow our symbols to teach something false.

  6. D.J. Williams May 24, 2010 at 8:35 am #

    Though, the notion that only the flash-sideways was an afterlife does make some more sense of things. Now I’m rethinking.

  7. caroline May 24, 2010 at 8:54 am #

    Wish we had seen Mr. Echo. So Jack’s son isn’t “real”? It was incredible up until the ending then I was confused. Someone smarter than myself needs to explain it!
    Denny, your first commenter helped!

  8. El Bryan Libre May 24, 2010 at 9:09 am #

    I saw it the same as Joe. I thought it was brilliant.
    Greatest show ever and a fitting ending.

  9. Derek May 24, 2010 at 9:17 am #

    The various religious symbols throughout the church entrance where Christian Shepherd was resurrected was supposed to be a signal.

    Freedom, peace and eternal life is found in an array of little “t” truths. Big “T” truth is an illusion. Ultimate meaning and hope derives from the collective wisdom of our community, whatever that community is.

  10. MRS May 24, 2010 at 9:39 am #

    Loved the show, loved the finale – but this is not the greatest show ever. That title belongs to the Sopranos, as far as I’m concerned.

  11. Matthew Staton May 24, 2010 at 9:44 am #

    I watched the first 4 seasons and have been interested in catching up on 5 and 6 but never got around to it. I decided to just jump in and was able to watch the second hour of the pre-finale stuff and then the finale.

    I like the initial tension in the show that existed between Jack and John. Jack is a man of science and has used science to change many lives. John woke up on an island able to walk. This reflects real life dilemmas in thinking about faith and science and I was curious to see where it would go. In the Lost world, it seems John was the sucker, so science wins the day.

    I believe one of the most intriguing moments of TV for me ever was the scene of the music playing and Desmond going about his life in the hatch. I doubt if any TV show ever again will contain that much mystery, confusion, possibility, I don’t know the right words. The early days of the hatches – those were some amazing shows.

  12. Matthew Staton May 24, 2010 at 10:04 am #

    About redemption: I think a show like this finale underscores the genius of the Christian story of redemption. I enjoyed seeing the happy reunion in the church. In earlier days of the show, I was really pulled in to the story and some of the individual stories. I so badly wanted Desmond and Penny to reunite and Jin and Sun to be happy.

    But what magic wand changes people and makes their past OK? How do Boone and Shannon deal with their past relationship, just to name one example? I think it is natural to desire a heaven where we reunite and are happy but such a heaven is not possible without some way of answering past sins and changing ourselves so that we don’t turn around and commit them again.

  13. Kristina Taylor May 24, 2010 at 10:08 am #

    The curve ball at the end of purgatory really threw me off when my expectation was that somehow the worlds would fuse. I guess the ending makes sense if the premise is that spirituality is a vague light as Jacob’s mother explained. It leaves me unsatisfied. While I was moved by the reunions and characters I can’t help but have a hollowness that so much of the context of those relationships, i.e., the things that happened for them for 6 years were rarely explained. These are not minor details. They are the situations and circumstances that made these people who they are and mystery after mystery was created and never answered. That is misleading and it seems lazy to let it all come down to “protecting the light” when that was only introduced this season. My husband and I are in the minority I suppose, but we were avid fans who are pretty disappointed.

  14. Michael Graham May 24, 2010 at 10:38 am #

    There were two things that were compelling about the LOST narrative: it’s characters and it’s mythology. I believe that humans are hard-wired for stories. The most compelling stories are stories that illuminate some aspect of the Biblical storyline of creation-fall-redemption-re-creation. LOST focused heavily on the brokenness, alienation, and self-destructive patterns of its characters/candidates. We can empathize with the fallen condition of these characters – sons that didn’t measure up to their overly-expectant/deceptive/abusive fathers, addiction, purposelessness, and low self-esteem. We can empathize with the arcing of their characters as they realize their brokenness is due to a lack of community and that when we ask for help, redemption comes.

    My frustration with the LOST narrative is its re-creation (I am not prepared to speculate about whether the flash-sideways end state of most of the characters is purgatory, a kind of heaven, or some sort of eternal recurrence, so no comments there). The fallen condition was redeemed through community and I was tracking with the arc of the storyline until the re-creation narrative (the final 10 minutes of the show).

  15. Derek May 24, 2010 at 10:45 am #

    Jacob and his brother were keys to understanding the meaning of the show.

    Just as there is no big “C” Christ figure, which many of us supposed was Jacob, there is only small “c” christs. Remember that various people became frustrated with Jacob because he couldn’t give them all the answers. When Jacob was younger, he was also confused and frustrated by his role. But he found peace and fulfillment when he played the part of a small “c” christ. This is why he understood that he would pass his delegated role on to someone else. He was no master of the island – he served the island. When he was ready to pass the torch, Jack had “evolved” and was ready for this role, because in earlier days, he wanted to know and control everything. At the end, he became a man of faith, embracing mystery just as Locke had and he realized that he was to lay down his life and contribute his part to the collective for a period of time. Note here the interaction with Benjamin Linus and Hugo towards the end. The torch would then pass from Jack to Hugo. As Benjamin told Hugo, he would lead differently than Jack and Jacob did. Even more importantly, Benjamin indicated that he would be more enlightened than Jacob was, which affirms the show’s premise that truth is revealed in an progressive manner, always in a de-centralized way and in the context of community.

    By contrast, Jacob’s brother never embraced community, his limitations or his finite role. Until the very end, he wanted to control everyone and everything. He believed that community, truth and enlightenment was a false hope. Note that even the villain Benjamin Linus was the same way until we see him at the entrance of the church, taking baby steps towards repentance. Jacob’s brother never repented. He is the “anti-christ” and the key to understanding the show’s understanding/metaphor for evil.

    At least 6 different religious symbols were shown in the resurrection scene, including Buddha, Islam, Judaism and Christianity. But the most compelling truths shown in this series were borrowed from the Biblical narrative and symbolism. I believe this is what made the show resonate with millions of people. We must always remember that every false gospel MUST contain truth or it will not resonate with people. Every false belief system therefore borrows from Christianity. But make no mistake, this is no tale that points to the Gospel.

  16. Derek May 24, 2010 at 11:48 am #

    Matthew,
    re: redemption – I think you make a good point. The show’s creators partially addressed your objection by having Benjamin wait outside the church. The implication there was that Locke’s forgiveness of him would be one means of atonement. But he also had to come to terms with and repent for other things as well, which is why he had to go through some kind of purgatory before he could come into the church. The show’s creators were smart enough to make repentance and forgiveness part of the equation. But at the end of the day, there was also an implication that one could not enter heaven without at least partial self-atonement. This is ultimately the same message as every other counterfeit to the Gospel: forgiveness + repentance + something else = salvation.

  17. Susan May 24, 2010 at 12:07 pm #

    I just watched/read Jeff Jensen’s (Entertainment Weekly) recap. He attends my church in Long Beach 🙂

    Is he a believer? Yes. He and our pastor LOVE lost and have no-doubt been lost in many a discussion on that theme.

    Denny, you should add Jeff Jensen as a FB friend! You can grab him from my FB list. I’m Susan Stribich (the only one on FB last I checked).

  18. Josh May 24, 2010 at 12:43 pm #

    In response to your 2 predictions, I would say things didn’t pan out as clearly as they might have.

    1) I’m not sure how good and evil were sorted out. There was no promise at the end of the show that evil had been completely annihilated, only that if one wished to move on, they should not follow the way of the man in black. Taking a point from one of the above posts, the man in black did not choose to live in community and redeem himself through community. “Locke” was not inherently evil, he just made the wrong choice in the beginning. There’s also no sense that the MIB might not in the future redeem himself through his own cycle of Karma in another alternate death experience.

    Good, then, is just making the right decision to live in peace with other people you meet along the way and help each other out, collectively earning salvation for the group.

    As far as someone important having to die, this definitely was not found in the last episode. Before Jack, Locke, and Desmond descend the cave toward the light, Desmond pleads with Jack that nothing he does on the Island is of consequence, and despite Jack replacing the cork and ‘saving’ the island in the end, we get the feeling that it truly did not matter. This is confirmed by Hurley and Ben’s discussion about being the ‘Jacob’ figure. Hurley’s rules were just as good as Jack’s. So what did Jack’s death (which never occurred) have to do with anything?

    In the end, the show ended with a thud. No one will find Christ in the show except a Christian. Furthermore, it was the writers’ intention to steer people away from one Man’s sacrifice to a situation where morality and community are the way to “move on.” And we should not be surprised because this is the culture we live in.

    Also, Lost should not be said to promote inclusivism. Inclusivism involves a belief that Christ is the way. Lost definitely did not argue for this.

  19. Denny Burk May 24, 2010 at 2:55 pm #

    Josh and Mickey,

    I don’t think we are in disagreement on this. Lost coopts some Christian themes, but it is not Christian. Lost asks all kinds of universal questions, but it doesn’t provide any definitive answers. Moreover, its pluralistic emphases are positively anti-christian (e.g., the church windows with symbols signifying various religions and implying that the all of them lead to the same afterlife).

    So I’m not disagreeing with you about that.

    Thanks for the comments.

    Denny

  20. Jason May 24, 2010 at 3:17 pm #

    Lost Finale 
    Did the finale of Lost render the show among the pantheon of others clinging to the post modern view of the day where absolute Truth doesn’t actually exist?  After investing such time developing characters and relationships, the creators of Lost chose the least creative way out. Ultimately the viewer is left holding a bag of hot air being able make of Lost whatever he wants to make of it. Laced with propaganda that you have to find your own way and a conglomeration of religious symbols it was clear that the producers of the show were more interested in ratings than realities. The producers preyed upon the inner urgings of the human spirit for belonging to something epic and grander that exists outside of themselves dragging them along for the ride only to allow the viewer to continue wallowing in uncertainty upon the series conclusion. Selfishly I hoped the producers were Christians waiting until the end to make what would have been a bold and controversial choice to combine some over arching Truth to the series. I had long since determined it to be impossible to tie all of the little unanswered questions together and simply wanted to see a True big meaning revealed. I think making a statement like that ultimately would have made the show transcend above all others.  As it is, I think Lost will end up being the topic of discussion for this week, but next week it will fade into the abyss of all things that ultimately burn.  My prayer now is that Christians can look at the post modern view with their circles and point out the fallacy of that world view and point to the Truth. 

  21. Derek May 24, 2010 at 3:42 pm #

    Jason, you said:

    Selfishly I hoped the producers were Christians waiting until the end to make what would have been a bold and controversial choice to combine some over arching Truth to the series.

    Actually, there was an overarching truth, it just wasn’t what many of us were hoping for. Did you notice how the primary “Christ figure”, Jack Shepherd was frustrated and unfulfilled throughout the whole series? Until the very end, that is, when he discovered that his relentless search for meaning and big “t” Truth was pointless. When you let go and realize that you are part of a much larger community that is learning truth in a progressive way, you can surrender to the christ within and play your part in the great wheel of the universe as it churns on. Which is exactly what Jack did. After he did this, he sacrificed himself for the community.
    The lesson for us is the same. We need to let go of our pointless and very modernistic expectations that we even need a big “t” truth too. Surrender to the valuable insights you will learn from the global community and collective truths in our world and you will experience the same peace and redemption as Jack Shepherd.

  22. Scott May 24, 2010 at 3:43 pm #

    You know, it’s possible to enjoy the show without demanding that all of its “answers” are decisively Christian. And if I may continue being the resident negative Nancy, can we stop using the term “postmodern” to describe anything that we don’t like?

  23. mike May 24, 2010 at 4:10 pm #

    Denny said, “‘Lost’ highlighted the itch that only the gospel can scratch. This was the unwitting genius of the show, and it is why people will be talking about it for years to come.”

    Well said. I don’t anyone is saying that LOST is a Christian show. But it does touch on themes, issues, and questions that affect all people. As Christians, we know that only Christ answers all these questions and addresses all these issues.

    Side note: I think we have to be more careful about equating community with postmodernism. Societies and peoples were communal and corporate long before individualism and the modernism were born. Conservatives (like myself) shouldn’t just call something postmodern or liberal to win bolster an argument.

  24. Matt May 24, 2010 at 5:15 pm #

    Denny – thank you for getting it. And for articulating it so well.

  25. Mickey McBrayer May 24, 2010 at 5:38 pm #

    While pluralistic could be a better term to describe LOST, I used inclusivist because the the “church” scene seems to posit the “Christian Shepherd” (i.e., Jesus) as chief among many religions (i.e., all those represented in the glass behind him). Despite what was said above, inclusivism does not involve a conscious belief that Christ is the way, but asserts that all the ways ultimately converge in Christ, whether they realize it or not. This is the vibe I got at the end. Even still, I’ll admit a better case can be made for pluralism.

    Thanks Denny for the posts. I have found much profit in following your blog.

  26. Denny Burk May 24, 2010 at 5:47 pm #

    Mickey, Thanks for reading and for the kind words. I appreciate it!

  27. John May 24, 2010 at 5:49 pm #

    My favorite synchronisity was when Jack woke up in the same spot of the river as Jacob’s unnamed brother from long ago. When the bones of Jacob’s brother were discovered by Locke, he commented about finding “Adam (and Eve)”. Thus, in his redemptive act, Jack (the second Adam) suffered death (like the first Adam), yet lived, and in so doing reversed the curse. Very cool.

  28. Denny Burk May 24, 2010 at 5:59 pm #

    Thanks to you too, Matt!

  29. Derek May 24, 2010 at 6:02 pm #

    Denny, you said:

    the Lost story was not your run-of-the-mill postmodern critique of metanarratives. Good and evil were in a pitched battle, and the good won in the end.

    I agree in part. Postmodernism was the progeny of cynicism about 2 world wars that destroyed the optimism that associated modernism. Lost does in fact reject meta-narratives that ignore the collective wisdom of the community. Isn’t that a thoroughly postmodern perspective? It posits that there IS a meta-narrative that works, but the new meta-narrative is that you have to appreciate and embrace each of the community’s meta-narratives in order to really be free. Kind of like the man who understands that the elephant is too big for one person to truly grasp. That is a decidedly sentimental, but postmodern perspective. At the end of the day, I think Lost’s optimism is what makes it a more seductive form of postmodernism than her cynical sister.

  30. Hal (GT) May 24, 2010 at 6:22 pm #

    I’ve got to say I enjoyed the ending. I didn’t think that it was as great as you make it out to be.

    I do like that they left us with a lot of unanswered questions.

  31. Donald Johnson May 25, 2010 at 4:32 pm #

    Here is a reviewer that did call the finale Christian.

    http://watching-tv.ew.com/2010/05/24/lost-series-finale-review/

  32. Jeff Holton May 25, 2010 at 5:07 pm #

    Great summary! Thank you.

    Actually surfed over here trying to find a photo of the six-religion stained glass window using keywords. Can’t find it, but the very next link I checked said the precise opposite of you, so I want to link them together: http://www.riverwoodchurch.org/blog/2010/05/24/review-of-lost-finale-or-was-that-it/

    I lean towards your interpretation. I wouldn’t call it Christian. I’d call it deeply-spiritual, multi-theist (without being pan-theist), religious americana. That’s precisely and perfectly what I’d expect from a set of brilliant, gifted producer-writers who are accountable to American networks, investors, and culture. They did it perfectly!

  33. LCH May 25, 2010 at 5:12 pm #

    It is helpful to see many interpretations of “Lost” and a Christian hermeneutic that attempts to redeem the arts. I have a question on a different and deeper subject. Should we Christians watch shows like “Lost” that although they have entertaining and redeemable facets, are still plagued with sinful themes and scandalous images (e.g. scandlously clad women)? This is an issue with which I have wrestled, and I would love hear your comments from a biblical framework.

  34. Susan May 25, 2010 at 9:34 pm #

    LCH, I wonder about Survivor along those same lines. I find myself uncomfortable that my husband watches it with my 13 year old son, because the women are often wearing about 4inches of fabric.

  35. Matthew Staton May 26, 2010 at 12:33 am #

    LCH, it’s a good question. Not sure there is one answer for everyone. I will say that I cannot watch Survivor for exactly the reason Susan says. Pastors even have Survivor-themed series but I just can’t go there. Dancing with the Stars, same for me. Absolutely the same for Sopranos – we had rented a DVD but turned that off and took it back when we realize it had topless scenes.

    My wife and I would watch Lost together (before we fell 3 seasons behind!). As with almost all of our TV watching (which isn’t much) we Netflix the DVDs after the season is done. We can fast-forward or even skip an episode with too much junk in it. There were bikini scenes and some scenes with Kate and such, but they weren’t the centerpiece of the series; you could skip those occasional scenes and not miss the story arc. It is not possible to avoid each and every poorly-dressed person and image in our culture, so some amount of filtering on our part is necessary. Yet, if a person found Lost to be a trigger to lust, the entertainment value would not be worth it – better to “cut it off” and find something else to do.

    FWIW, when we do watch TV, presently we tend to get a lot of BBC dramas. Not all, but many are quite good with more texture and character development than our homegrown US TV.

  36. Donald Johnson May 28, 2010 at 8:16 am #

    ‘Lost’ Possibly Still Airing In Parallel Dimension, Desperate Fans Report

    http://www.theonion.com/articles/lost-possibly-still-airing-in-parallel-dimension-d,17485/

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