Heather Havrileski at Salon doesn't have it:
Damn you, "Lost"! We went and jumped on your bandwagon way back in the first season, got sucked into your endless jungley maze and suspenseful chords, and waited breathlessly for the next shoe to drop, over and over again. Remember when that was still fun? Remember? Henry Gale's googly-eyed provocations? Michael shooting Ana Lucia in the gut? The impenetrable, nostalgia-inducing mysteries of the Dharma Initiative? Thanks to the brilliant character studies of the first season (we ignored the dumb monsters), thanks to the genius twists and turns of the second and third seasons, we're doomed to do our penance as the whole tale unravels in a messy heap. . . .
Back then, like teenagers at a Baptist retreat, we thought the big, bad world would add up to something, that every confusing twist was laden with hidden meaning. Now we know better. Now we get up in the morning and put on our Sunday best and trudge off to church on the off-chance that the Lord Himself will appear and shine His glory on us in person. Now we watch because we were once "Lost" fans, and here it is the final season, and there are only a handful of episodes left. Even though the long-awaited answers we're looking for are offered in such blunt, unimaginative language that we feel like we're reading first drafts: "I'm a smoke monster." "You're going to have to kill the devil." "It's all meaningless if I have to force them to do anything." And if we wanted to waste six years in a Judeo-Christian allegory, we would've just followed a Jehovah's Witness home a long time ago. At least their Armageddon should be a little bit gripping and suspenseful. (5/8)
Neither does Laura Miller at Salon after watching the finale, and there are many others who felt the show was a "long con". But needless to say I disagree, and I think the difference lies in there being two fundamentally different postmodern sensibilities. Havrileski and Miller represent one, and the Lost writers represent the other. The first is one that with its arms folded and foot tapping, suspicious about everything, fears to be hoodwinked. The second is arms open with second naivete ready to embrace everything that has the slightest scent of truth. Count me in with the second group.
Lost was remarkable for its ability to be both complex and multilayered and yet to end with a theme that was simple, clear, resonant, and deeply human. It was a show that was full of ideas but was never just a head trip. In the end it was about the characters and their relationships, and it was about why those relationships matter and with meanings that might be described as having cosmic import.
There have been complaints that the cosmic-import theme wasn't original or that it was sentimental. The question for me is not whether the "idea" was original, as if inventiveness is the most important thing, but whether the story points us to something that smells or feels true. Sentimentality is emotion that feels false, that is formulaic, contrived, that smells of a kind of emotional b.s., and there's a ton of it out there in the culture. But this ending was not sentimental because it points us to something deeply true in a way that I thought was emotionally brilliant--anamnesis, remembrance. Aren't all of our deepest, most lasting relationships discovered as a kind of remembering? As a kind of revelation or surprise? As if remembering something we always knew but forgot for whatever reason? This happens even with the people we already know and love--we have these moments when we remember why. I guess people who have not had that experience cannot relate to the way the show worked with it. So later I talk about what the Sideways reality was, but whatever you think of it, it allowed the writers to give us this remembering theme in a very powerful way.
And on the ideas level the show as a whole succeeds emotionally because it isn't just clever inventiveness. It succeeds because it draws upon traditional sources--not just stuff they made up; it's an exercise in retrieval and imaginative fusion. Its themes draw from ideas about aboriginal dream time, from Persian religion, from Buddhism, from Neo-platonic and Judaeo-Christian sources ancient and contemporary (C.S. Lewis, Teilhard, Flannery O'Connor), from the Hermetic tradition, and others, I'm sure, I didn't recognize. These sources resonate because they speak to the soul from transpersonal depths that you have to be extraordinarily spiritually tone deaf not to hear. Anamnesis plays a role here as well, because the show is asking us to re-member this fragmented and and for the most part lost wisdom.
It's synthetic in its ambitions rather than analytic. It embraces an impossibly broad spectrum of human experience and thought and still manages to tell a compelling story in prime time television. I don't care what anybody says, it's a remarkable achievement. We'll see if it stands the test of time and whether people will be watching it twenty years from now or a hundred years from now, but I'm confident the people like Havrileski and Miller who are all chippy about it now will be proved wrong.
Thoughts on the sideways reality. I think there's a strong argument that the sideways reality is a kind of bardo state, and in-between place between the survivors real life in the Island timeline and whatever comes next when they move on. Christian says that it's a timeless place the survivors created so that they could meet together and move on together. And so I think there's a tendency to look at it as if were a dream state, a state in which Jack, for instance, can give himself a son who doesn't really exist, and in which Hurley is both rich and lucky, and Jin and Sun can have their baby together. The people we see in the sideways reality are more like avatars in a virtual reality than they are real people--or are they?
I think there's an argument to be made that the sideways reality is more than virtual and that the characters are more than dream images of themselves. Ben's situation underscores the point. He has decided not to move on with the survivors. He will continue to live in the virtual reality even after having remembered his "real" life in the Island reality. So is Ben's life virtual or real in the sideways reality? If he connects with Rousseau and Alex, as we are led to believe he will, is he connecting with dream people is he connecting with people who are real, who are independently voltional? So Is Jack's son real? Does he have another self in the Island timeline? Or is it possible that the sideways reality has a kind of substantive ontological status of its own?
And then what about Keamy? He dies in the Island reality and then he dies in the sideways reality. Is that just his avatar dying--or is it really him? Does he give himself another sideways reality in which things work out better for him? Is that what we all do until we finally wake up to the bitter truth that we are not who we think we are? Is that Ben's bitter realization? And are we not all more like Ben and Keamy before they remember than the others? Isn't that really a restatement of the Hindu idea about Maya or the Christian idea of Original sin?
I'm wondering if the show isn't asking us as viewers whether we're in a sideways reality and haven't awakened to our real life yet that we have lived in another dimension. Perhaps we're all living in a sideways time line of another sideways timeline of another sideways timeline, and we keep living in one until we finally have the satori moment that allows us to move on. Perhaps the Island reality is a sideways reality of yet another, but it was the one that allowed the survivors to resolve persistent issues, that once resolved allows them finally to move on.
I don't know, the more I think about it, the harder it is for me to accept that the sideways reality is just an hallucination, even though I've made the argument that it is.