‘Lost’ One Year Later: Why The Series Finale Didn’t Work

Over the past year, I have had no less than a dozen conversations with folks about the finale of “Lost” … the cyclical beauty of that final shot, the poignant symbolism of the stained glass window (it’s all about the bardo, dude), the high-minded concepts like sacrifice and interconnectedness and destiny that it espoused. I have nodded and sipped my drink politely, listened intently, perhaps even interjected occasionally. But at the end of each and every one of those conversations, I found myself more confused than I was when it began, mostly because I couldn’t believe anyone actually liked the way the show ended.

So, at the risk of upsetting Damon Lindelof (something that is surprisingly easy to do), I would like to go on record as saying that the finale of “Lost” was absolutely terrible. I hated it when it first aired and now, exactly one year later, I think I hate it even more.

Why? Well, there are several reasons…

From the very beginning of the show, I didn’t care about the characters. I didn’t care about their pre-crash lives, or the chance encounters they may have had with one another before they boarded Oceanic 815. I only cared about solving what — I assumed — was “Lost’s” central mystery: What is this marvelous Island? I realize this practically pre-destined me to despise the finale, and it probably explained why I spent the last three seasons of the show willing myself to keep watching, since it was becoming abundantly clear that “Lost” was shifting away from that mystery and becoming, instead, a character-driven show. But still, this is the finale. Answers are supposed to be provided … especially on a show like this, where seemingly every minute detail was important. Or, at least the producers made it seem that way … why else would they include all those lovingly languorous scenes of people reading books? Or spend so much time hyping up the nefarious power of those numbers? Or tout the magic the Island seemed to possess: up facts like women were unable to conceive on it, or that that it was able to resurrect the dead (except for Paolo and Nikki, or course), or that it was the centerpiece of a centuries-old battle between good and evil? These all seemed to be key clues. In the end, they weren’t.

In fact, one year later, I’m still not sure what the Island was at all, except to say that it was home to a glowing wellspring that did, uh, something. Why was it able to skip through time? Why did Charles Widmore covet it so? Why was the Dharma Initiative even there in the first place? Why did only one set of co-ordinates get you off of it? Why were there hieroglyphics involved? What was the mysterious infection? And what was the deal with that eye-patch guy? I could go on and on, only I won’t, mostly because someone already did. These threads were part of the reason I spent six seasons watching this show, and at the end, they were left frayed and flapping in the breeze.

Instead of answers, the finale gave us two-and-a-half hours of metaphysical mumbo-jumbo, and then wrapped things up all warm-and-fuzzy like (Aw, Sawyer and Juliet finally got that cup of coffee!). It was a decidedly un-“Lost” way to end things. When I watched it live, I remember getting angry — “Wait, what?!?” — a reaction I also had during the final moments of “The Sopranos,” when the tension was building and Meadow was parallel parking and the Journey was blaring and then all of a sudden the screen went black and I thought my TiVo had accidentally shut off. Only it hadn’t. That’s the way the show ended.

And really, perhaps the reason I still dislike the finale of “Lost” has a lot to do with the same reasons I love the finale of “The Sopranos” so … namely, because its creator, David Chase, had the guts to go with the obtuse, un-satisfying conclusion. That show was widely lauded as one of the finest American television had ever produced, and, when it all mattered, Chase decided to give us the most delightfully Un-American ending possible: No dramatic, sweeping final shot. No swelling strings. Just a diner and a Journey song and a jarring cut to black. Did Tony die? It’s up to you, really. The end.

“Lost” was another show that, for a while at least, seemed to be cut from the same grandiose cloth. It was a twisting, complex, decided Un-American thing, a rapidly escalating collection of ethereal concepts and dream-like mysteries; it was smart TV, the kind of program that we see maybe once a generation. Only, when it came time to wrap the whole thing up, its creators chickened out, gave us the American (read: dumb) ending … the gratifying, satisfying conclusion that millions were clamoring for. It ended exactly the same way thousands of lesser TV dramas have ended over the decades: easily, with a somewhat logical, misty-eyed culmination.

And yes, I realize I’ve just spent the better part of 800 words bitching about how the “Lost” finale was terrible because it didn’t provide enough answers, but over the past 365 days, I’ve realized that the answers weren’t important. In the end, I just wish the folks behind the show had the courage to give us the obtuse conclusion a show this big truly deserved. Rather than force-feed us the mawkish finish they did, it would’ve been much more satisfying if they left the ending to us. The Island was whatever you wanted it to be: heaven, hell, purgatory, something else entirely. It would’ve been a fitting send-off to a show that delighted in tweaking the television norms, and, sure, people would’ve been pissed, but that’s sort of the point, really. “Lost” was a difficult show to watch, and compellingly so. Its finale should’ve been equally difficult. If six seasons proved anything, it’s that the Island was a hard place … one where happy endings seldom, if ever, occurred. The show deserved a similar send off. Sadly, it didn’t get one.

James Montgomery writes for MTV News and doesn’t care for the “Lost” finale, as you’re already well aware. Do you agree or disagree with James’ perspective on how “Lost” ended? Tell us in the comments section and on Twitter!