At The Picture Show
LOST: Full circle
Breaking down the pending conclusion of the best show on television, and what it has been
building toward all along
The first image we ever see is the word itself - LOST - well out of focus in the center of the
screen. It inches closer, twisting in a different direction before finally - finally! - moving into
focus, but only for a blink, before it flies past our line of sight.
Perhaps we should have suspected, even then, that for the next six years, the clarity we so
eagerly awaited would remain elusive. But so it has been with LOST, which this season has once
again answered its own answers with another set of questions, mysteries and paradoxes - mostly
related with the inner workings of the show itself.
But now, the time has finally come, and we have to say goodbye to the greatest network TV
drama of all-time (as of this writing, at least - a spectacularly disappointing finale will, of
course, force me to re-think that designation). I don't hesitate to say that it may get a little misty
in the Bellamy domicile come Sunday night. For six years of obsessive LOST fandom, I finally
discovered what it must feel like to be a Trekkie. Only way cooler, and for a much better show.
For better or worse, LOST will be judged by its ending probably more than any other show in
history. For some, any continued obfuscation in the series finale will be unacceptable. Answers
will all have to be spelled out, and the "right" people will have to wind up together, or they'll
storm away angry. Ambiguity, for some, will be out of the question. They need solid ground. (I
can't help but be reminded of a paranoid Jake LaMotta interrogating his brother in Raging Bull -
"You give me all these answers, but you ain't givin' me the right answer.")
That kind of response ignores one of LOST's greatest strengths - its ability to pique our
emotional and intellectual curiosity by the very nature of its uncertainties. Here is a show that
has routinely confounded our expectations and re-contextualized what we knew or thought we
knew. At great risk of sounding like a Hallmark card (forgive me!), it's been more about the
journey than the destination. Showrunners Damon Lindelof and Calton Cuse and their team of
writers have created such a rich tapestry of ideas, images, hints and details of their grand design
that an examination of those elements is reward enough. It's more meaningful not to know all
the answers. Questions are inherently more interesting than answers - and answers, to be
interesting at all, must be earned.
That very fact exemplifies why LOST has worked so brilliantly, while "high concept" successors
like FlashForward and V have failed so miserably. Those shows - at least up to the point that I
stopped watching, which was only a few episodes - were so heavy on clunky, unjustified
exposition and reveals that nothing felt like it mattered, and nothing was even given any space to
generate palpable suspense or intellectual response. LOST is made up of mysteries built upon
greater mysteries, virtually all of which have been brought along meticulously and carefully.
But now the exploration of those mysteries is set to come to an end; looking back to Season 1 -
including the pilot - you can see some of what the show has been building toward from the very
beginning. Before we proceed, I should warn anybody who isn't completely caught up on
Season 6 to stop reading right now.
Now where were we? Or, rather, when were we? And, most
importantly, why and how? Here's what we know:
1) Jack is the new Jacob.
2) Somehow, though it's not clear how, or even if anyone knows how, it is possible to kill the
Man in Black. That revelation near the end of "What They Died For" pretty much obliterated
my half-baked theory that all the Man in Black wanted was, simply, to die, and that therefore he
had to be kept alive in order to protect the Island and its two-headed balance of power.
3) In the flash-sideways timeline, Desmond is rounding up as many of his Oceanic Flight 815
compatriots as are "ready" to go to a concert. Desmond, Hurley, Charlie, Libby and Ben have all
had a conscious breakthrough between the timelines, to one degree or another.
4) The Man in Black has declared his intention to destroy the Island (with Desmond's help),
despite his promise a few minutes earlier to hand it over to Ben.
That's the abridged version, at least. Certain mysteries have been revealed over the course of the
season - namely the source of the whispers and the genesis of the Jacob/Man in Black rivalry.
Much attention has been paid to the "light" at the center of the Island, but that essentially seems
to be the show's MacGuffin. Its appearance in "Across the Sea" merely provided us with a
visual (and still ambiguous) representation of the power we already knew the Island had all
Mother informs us that it is the source of "life, death, rebirth," among other things - and indeed
the show has revolved around rebirth from the start, both figurative and (at least potentially)
literal. The very first moment of the series - a close-up of Jack's eye as he wakes up in delirium
- is a giant rebirth of sorts, a reawakening. A new life.
"YOU WILL FIND ME IN THE NEXT LIFE, IF NOT IN THIS
- Nadia, "Solitary"
The line written on the back of Sayid's photograph, repeating a theme that has continued for the
length of the series, took on a literal connotation this season. LOST has constantly reinvented
itself since its inception, so it should have come as no surprise that it did so once again this
season - answering the question of whether the Losties would remain on the Island or revert
back to their old lives circa 2004 with a simple, "Well, neither."
Eschewing a simple explanation for the flash-sideways device, the show has used it to toy with
the same forces and intangibles that plagued its characters in Season 1. The body of Jack's father
is missing in both timelines. Locke remains crippled, only now he's crippled his father, too.
Sawyer's looking for the same man. Kate's still on the run. Hurley's still rich, although the
money's no longer cursed. Desmond finally got Charles Widmore's approval, but not Penny.
And Sayid did find Nadia again, but only as a sister-in-law.
The Man in Black has made a point this season of promising his recruits the one thing they want
most in the world. Indeed, the flash-sideways has offered just that to some of the Losties, though
almost always with a vicious caveat.
Is this progress? Is this what Jacob meant - "It only ends once. The rest is just progress." - in
last year's season finale?
The concept of "another life" - starting over, second chances, new beginnings, reincarnation,
perhaps even an alternate reality - has been ingrained in the show from the beginning. The
phrase has been repeated throughout the series, most famously by Desmond in the Season 2
premiere. Apparently, he meant it literally. Actually, the circular nature of the show's narrative
has given the characters a fresh start, over and over again - on the Island after the crash, off the
Island in the flash-forwards, in the '70s with the Dharma Initiative, and now in the flash-sideways. We've constantly been forced to see these characters in new perspectives, with their
experiences in one "life" mirroring those in the next.
Mirrors have been one of the show's key visual components, and never has that been more
obvious than in Season 6 (as illustrated in this collection of shots from this season). LOST has
had a number of recurring visual rhymes over the last six years, but this one seems to be
especially telling. Through the looking-glass indeed.
"SOMEONE HAS CLEARLY AFFECTED THE WAY YOU SEE
THINGS. THIS IS A SERIOUS PROBLEM. IT IS, IN FACT, A
- Eloise, "Happily Ever After"
I use this quote because A) I have no idea what it actually means; and B) It seems tremendously
significant nonetheless. One of the show's most pivotal characters, despite appearing only
intermittently, is Eloise - mostly because she seems to be the only person who knows what the
hell is going on. We certainly don't. But even in the flash-sideways, she does. It was clear right
from the moment she set eyes on Desmond in "Happily Ever After." "Whatever it is you're
looking for," she said, "you need to stop looking for it." She tells him he's not "ready yet" and
that he already got what he wanted most in the world, Charles Widmore's approval. But what
does she mean by "violation"?
This Desmond/Eloise scene calls to mind, of course, their first meeting (in the antique shop) in
the Season 3 masterpiece, "Flashes Before Your Eyes," when the idea of a temporal shift was
first directly broached. "This is wrong. You don't buy the ring. You have second thoughts; you
walk right out that door." (There's also a delightful hint right when he walks into the scene, as
she casually asks, "Never done this before, have you?")
But while Eloise may have won that battle - after all, the chain of events that she outlined as his
predestined path was fulfilled - but her protests in the flash-sideways may have fallen on deaf
ears this time.
Given the show's history of experiments with temporal paradoxes, I assumed from the start of
this season that the two timelines would, and must, collide - at least in a metaphysical sense, if
not a physical one. Characters meeting versions of one another or themselves face-to-face did
not seem out of the realm of possibility (and still doesn't). The collision seemed to officially
begin in "Happily Ever After," first with Charlie "showing" Desmond a vision of the original
timeline, then with Desmond meeting Penny and getting his hands on the flight manifest, surely
leading up to the events of this weekend's finale.
But we had perhaps an even more prominent hint the week
before in "The Package." One of the great subtle gestures the show has employed in relation to
the two timelines is blood (a symbolic icon if there ever was one). A nick here, a bump there, a
punch in the face here, an unexplained cut on the neck there - too many seemingly innocuous
instances to be insignificant or coincidental. As these instances have piled up, whatever fabric is
holding these timelines in place has seemingly gotten more fragile. The timelines are bleeding
into each other.
Consider the sequence in "The Package" when Sun is gardening. She cuts herself on the finger;
the Man in Black accosts her and asks her to come with him; she runs away, finally getting
knocked unconscious on a tree. The next shot is of her waking up in the flash-sideways. And
remember, in the flash-sideways, she doesn't speak English. Some time later, we flash back to
the Island, and Sun has lost her ability to speak. Has part of her flash-sideways subconscious
shifted into her original timeline self? I certainly can't claim to have that answer, but the
implications of that sequence of events cannot be coincidental.
Sun's reunion with Jin on the beach is also telling. Pay close attention to the way the two are
framed - it's a wide shot, each character on one side of the pylon fence as they run toward her.
Only when Sun crosses over does she finally regain her ability to speak.
And then let's not forget Sun's flash-sideways reaction to seeing Locke on the gurney at the
opening of "The Last Recruit" - that look of abject horror, screaming, "It's him! It's him!"
"IT'S ABOUT TIME."
- Eloise, "Happily Ever After"
Indeed it is, and always has been. This may seem obvious now, what with all the time travel
we've seen over the last four seasons. But I wanted to draw attention to the way the show has
emphasized "time" as a key motif from the start. It has been treated with a sense of symbolic
Looking back at the series from Season 1 on, the use of watches and clocks as important visual
metaphors becomes obvious. Time has been a gift, a bargaining chip, a curse. And when all is
said and done, depending on how our two timelines are reconciled, it could have an entirely new
But in its examination of guilt and redemption, fate and choice, time has been a running
undercurrent. If there are (as I would expect there to be) any game-changing twists in the series
finale, I would expect them to be time-centric.
One of the great things LOST has done is engage audience response - the way it references the
theories and ideas floating around about the secrets of the Island. Juliet makes a joking reference
to creating a runway "for the aliens" in Season 4. Hurley asks Sayid if he's a zombie, which he
steadfastly denies. Richard Alpert insists that everyone is dead, and that they're all in hell.
Someone refers to the Island as a "snowglobe," a reference to the disastrous St. Elsewhere
ending and an unspoken denial that any of LOST is taking place within somebody's head.
Or my favorite example of all, the conversations between Hurley and Miles in Season 5
regarding time-travel paradoxes - which were essentially the same conversations that viewers
were having amongst themselves.
"DON'T MISTAKE COINCIDENCE FOR FATE."
- Mr. Eko, "What Kate Did"
There, in that simple quote, lies the essence of probably the driving force behind LOST - the
simple ongoing argument between destiny and chance. The central rivalry of the first several
seasons was Jack vs. Locke - the man who felt he could control everything vs. the man who felt
it was all out of his control.
The power struggle was a fascinating one, but one of the most interesting things that the show
has done in recent seasons - gradually, since the Season 3 finale - is transforming Jack's
worldview into something much more reminiscent of Locke, and by default shifting the character
dynamics of the show. Season 1's Locke has become Season 6's Jack; Season 1's Jack has
become Season 6's Sawyer.
On the one hand, predestination seems to have been quite a powerful force all along - the degree
of coincidence has been too great. So great, in fact, that even the "rational" Jack Shephard
eventually had to put up his hands and give in to destiny. The events in the flash-sideways
timeline, and their similarities to the original timeline, only seem to underscore the power of fate.
Having said that, both the Man in Black and Jacob seem to have turned that idea on its head. It
was the Man in Black who said that Locke - the very embodiment of blind faith when it came to
the Island - was weak because of the very idea of destiny that he believed in so deeply, and thus
was easily manipulated en route to his death. And Jacob, while something of a fate puppeteer,
even admitted in this week's episode that, even though Kate's name had been marked off the list
of Candidates, she could still take his place if she chose to.
And let's not forget Locke himself, that great believer in fate, who nonetheless spat in the face of
destiny - initially as a young boy, "incorrectly" choosing the knife when Richard Alpert visited
his home, and again as a teenager, and again as a man, living a life that he wasn't "supposed" to
live. Or so he was told. Perhaps predestination was just a trap all along.
"TWO PLAYERS. TWO SIDES. ONE IS LIGHT; ONE IS DARK."
- John Locke, "Pilot"
And this is LOST in its most elementary terms - the age-old conflict. Call them Good and Evil.
Jacob and The Man in Black. Light and Dark. Kitty and Snowdrop. With an almost beautifully
simple backgammon analogy, John Locke set the table for the entire show in the pilot. From
then till now, LOST has turned that battle into Biblical poetry.
The visual motif of black and white has been the show's calling card. The deliberate use of light
and shadow, the wardrobe choices, even the furniture in an office or library.
The balance between good and evil may only really exist within an individual (as Dogen
confirmed in "Sundown"), but we were given a literal representation in the Season 5 finale, "The
Incident." Jacob and The Man in Black serve as fairly simple facsimiles for good and evil, but
what's most fascinating is how we can, in retrospect, examine and even track the presences of
both characters - both forces - from the day Oceanic 815 first crashed on the island.
I actually remember being a bit amused a few episodes ago when The Man in Black confirmed,
at Jack's urging, that he had appeared as Jack's father way back in Season 1 - amused because
that had already become so clear for those who had followed the show closely. Recall also Mr.
Eko's vision of Yemi in "The Cost of Living," immediately followed by a swift death courtesy
of the Smoke Monster.
The truth is I have no overriding theories as to what will or might happen in Sunday night's
series finale. LOST has surprised me too many times for any hard prediction to be of any use.
Here's what I can reasonably expect: That Walt's "special" gift and connection to the Island will
become more clear, at least in retrospect. That the oft-repeated, urgent declaration that no one
but Claire was supposed to raise Aaron will be paid off somehow. And that Desmond, for all the
importance of what he is and represents, will ultimately be the key figure. Then again, I would
be disappointed if LOST didn't violate my expectations once again.
Read more by Chris Bellamy