By Jeff Jensen May 25, 2010
If I had to rank my favorite scenes of the Lost finale, Jack Shephard's Island death march — crosscut with the afterlife launch of the castaway soul cluster in the Sideways world — would be my clear number one. There was a lot of blood under his nose at one point. Did you wonder if exposure to the Source had given him the time travel brain-scramble that cooked poor Charlotte in season 5? During Jack's death rattle, do you think his mind was toggling between his Island head and his Sideways construct, yo-yoing between misery and bliss the way George Minkowski did in season 4? And didn't Jack's sacrifice in the radioactive engine room of The Island remind you of Spock's death at the end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn? If John Locke could have been given a Shatneresque eulogy for his friend and ideological foe, he would have ended it like this: ''Of all the man-of-science souls I have ever encountered in my travels, his was the most... [pause to stifle sob]... faithful.''
A number of scenes are duking it out for No. 2 on my list. I loved Jack's long-awaited confrontation and reconciliation with his father. We had been anticipating this moment since ''White Rabbit,'' when Jack went chasing after Christian's ghost and found his father's empty casket. I had always imagined a slightly angry encounter, with Jack using the opportunity to settle some old scores with his dad. Instead, it was all about Prodigal Son joy. It spoke to and for any parent and child, young or old, who hopes for an afterlife where they can see their family again, especially their parents, and especially if they parted company with too much unsaid, too much unresolved. I know that some people found the Jack/Christian moment to be ''mawkish'' and ''sentimental.'' Not me. I thought — and felt — that the moment was painfully honest. It was direct and knowing about the very real and very frightening prospect of eternal separation and loss. I felt and could relate to the pain and the anguish and the yearning of both the father and the son. And it left me energized to be a better husband, father, son, and friend. I appreciate stories that can give me that inspiration, because I need it in my life. I'm thankful for Lost for the soul boost.
We had learned from Christian that the castaways had become — or always were — bonded on a spiritual level, a ''soul cluster'' to use a phrase given to me by a reader whose name I'll credit in a later column when I can dig up the correct e-mail. This cluster was a living thing unto itself, and a thing with great power. It had the ability to create a world, the Sideways world, from which they could meet anew after death and journey together into whatever comes next. Now, up this point, I have written this recap from the perspective and, admittedly, personal bias that the castaways moved into the ''afterlife,'' which I have called ''heaven,'' although it could be called other things, and we must consider that not all of the castaways went to the same ''place.'' But upon reflection, I'm realizing this is probably not the perspective or mythology of the show. Most likely, the castaways returned to the Source, the hub of life, death, and rebirth, and their energy was recycled back into creation. Does anything of their unique person endure and survive? Now that's a conversation! Let's go dutch on coffee one day and have it!
Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own
An in-depth examination and evaluation of the Sideways world storyline, in which the author comes to this conclusion: Just as the castaways needed a soulmate to help them reach a happy ending, the Island story of Lost needed a soulmate to finish its own saga.
We begin with Benjamin Linus. I was surprised and moved to learn that the bug-eyed devil got a ticket to the castaways' afterlife rocket launch, that he was even considered a member of this spiritual clan. How very ''love thy enemy.'' Or maybe the castaways had realized that without conflict with this ultimate Other, they would have not have become the people they had become. To quote the philosopher namesake of Juliet's ex-husband Edmund Burke: ''He that wrestles with us strengthens our nerves, and sharpens our skill. Our antagonist is our helper.''
The scene between Ben and Locke was also one of my favorite sequences of the evening, and when I stop to consider that it marked the final acting duet by Terry O'Quinn and Michael Emerson, at least as these characters, I get choked up anew. I have enjoyed doubting the truthfulness of every single word that has ever come out of Ben's mouth over the years, but I completely trusted in his sincerity when he asked Locke to forgive him for the sins he committed against him. Locke gave Ben his forgiveness, along with a smile as bright as Island light. But it seemed like Locke didn't feel like Ben had anything to apologize for. He had nothing but grace for his old adversary, nothing but empathy for a fellow pilgrim on life's journey. I can see something problematic about John's ''I'm only telling you this because it might mean something to you'' sentiment; if Locke doesn't feel like he needs Ben's apology, is his extension of forgiveness meaningless? Nonetheless, I was moved by the example of both men and their movement toward reconciliation. Ben was blessed by it, too. ''It helps,'' Ben said. ''More than I can say.'' Then Ben returned the kindness by completing the circuit on Locke's self-awareness by telling him that he no longer needed his wheelchair. Locke gave him a cockeyed look. Was his old enemy pulling one last con on him? Was Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown one more time? No. And Locke knew it. He stood and sent the wheelchair away from him with a flourish, like Houdini completing a straightjacket escape. Locke: Unlocked. Locke: Liberated. This is what it looks like when we let go. Locke and Ben said good-bye, and parted company as friends. That was awesome.
Ben chose to stay in the Sideways world instead of joining the castaways in their communal upload into the Source. He said he still had some things he needed to work out for himself. I've heard that some fans didn't like the implications of Ben's decision. If souls are allowed to kick around Purgatory for eternity and figure themselves out, then doesn't the Sideways world effectively cheapen the Island story? If our redemption issues can be processed easily and painlessly in the cushy limbo of our own blue heaven, then what does it matter what manner of evil that we commit or suffering we endure in the world of matter? It's a fair point — but it misses some points, too, and besides, the criticism can't be fairly applied to Ben because it doesn't take into account facts that are in evidence. Apparently, both he and Hurley enjoyed a fruitful partnership on The Island in the post-castaway era. I like to imagine Ben did much to change during that time, and that perhaps the principled teacher that he was in the Sideways world was a fair representation of the man he became in The Island world. I think the example of Ben tells us something about how Lost's version Purgatory works for all souls. Yes, you can stay and ''figure things out,'' but this introspection doesn't change who you are. Or rather, were. You don't get to craft a flattering interpretation of yourself. You don't get to accumulate more experience to improve your chances at heavenly election. You only get one life to live, and the opportunity that the Sideways world provides is the chance to puzzle together and come to grips with the person you became while you lived it.
Still, I think Ben has other labors to execute in the Sideways world besides sitting on a bench and doing The Thinker thing. Theory! Ben will become another Desmond. He has a job: to chase after and gather his own spiritual clan and bestow upon them enlightenment. Those members could very well include all or some the following: his father, Roger Linus, Rousseau, Alex, Richard, Charles Widmore, Eloise Hawking, Daniel Faraday, Charlotte Lewis, Miles, Dr. Pierre Chang, Ethan, and of course, Annie... wherever she is.
My theory is informed by Desmond's Lost arc. Desmond wasn't an Oceanic 815 castaway. Why was he tasked with the work of their Sideways world enlightenment? Because Desmond was the person technically responsible for the defining experience of their lives: crashing on The Island. If Desmond didn't leave the Hatch to chase after Kelvin, if he hadn't given into his rage and killed that man on the rocks, he wouldn't have missed his button-pushing shift, and the plane wouldn't have crashed. The rejoinder that it was Jacob who pulled the castaways to The Island doesn't cosmically absolve Desmond of his actions. You always have a choice. And Desmond chose not to push the button. The consequence: crash. Last season, Lost cited the book The Little Prince that includes the great line ''You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.'' The word ''tame'' in this context means ''to create ties.'' Desmond created the tie that bound the castaway spiritual clan. So he became responsible for them. Forever. (Plus or a minus a few souls. Or should I say soulmates? Desmond got to bring Penelope because they were married. Sawyer wanted to marry Juliet, and I like to think they were married, even if there was never a ceremony. Clearly, the cosmic forces that regulate this soul-clustering thing dig a good love story.)
. In light of the Sideways = Purgatory revelation, many of you find yourselves confused anew about the significance of the Incident. Your questions:
Did the bomb create the Sideways world?
My Interpretation: Absolutely not.
Theory: The Sideways world is a timeless realm that actually may be part of a larger ''Purgatory'' that has always existed, or it may be a pocket universe that began to form over time as the castaway soul cluster began to connect. It may have begun growing when Jacob began touching the Oceanic 815 subset of candidates. It may have begun forming even before the castaways were born, if you believe they were always destined to be together.
Did the bomb go off?
My Interpretation: No.
Theory: The Lost producers always insisted that they were ''anti-paradox'' when it came to their time travel story. The detonation of Jughead wasn't part of the fixed ''whatever happened, happened'' timeline. When the castaways attempted to reboot history by producing paradox, Jacob or perhaps the self-regulating force of time itself (''course correction,'' to use the show's jargon) prevented the detonation from occurring and brought the quantum leaping rule-breakers back to their proper era.
So why was The Island in the Sideways world at the bottom of the ocean in the season premiere?
My Theory: The Sideways world is a manifestation of the castaway soul cluster's collective yearning. They wanted a world where they never crashed on The Island. They wanted a world where The Island had no sway over their lives. Ergo, their purgatory paradise reflects that yearning.
More Prosaically: I have also seen The Island as a symbol for a world with objective meaning. Truth is ''out there;'' it can be sought and found, even if it ultimately requires individual interpretation. The destroyed Island in Sidewaysabad is a symbol for subjective, meaning-challenged world where the only things that are truly real — the Island-world souls of the castaways — are literally submerged and lost in the murky depths of their Sideways avatars.
In part one of the recap, I asked ''What did the Sideways world mean?'' and ''Was it truly dramatically necessary to Lost?'' We've asked these questions all season, but they're even more pertinent now that we know that the parallel world was a long con. To help answer these questions, let us first consult the literary reference that Lost gave us in the opening minutes of the season premiere: Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie. We saw Desmond reading it on the plane — the Desmond that was wearing a wedding ring that went mysteriously MIA when he landed in Los Angeles. (Not a continuity error — a clue, I think, to the unreality of the Sideways world and one more example of its dynamic, creative interconnection with The Island world.) The book poses a question that goes to the heart of the Sideways conundrum: ''What's the use of stories that aren't even true?
that happens to be the source of all stories. The conflict mirrors the Jack-Desmond-Fake Locke conflict in the finale. Haroun fights a monstrous, shape-shifting Man In Black who seeks to destroy the ''sea of stories.'' The villain is a crazed, control freak man of science/political tyrant who wants to put a cork in the wellspring of meaning itself and then spike the Sea of Story with a toxin of ''anti-story,'' or meaninglessness. Haroun saves the day, and for his trouble, the administrators who manage the fantastical realm give him a happy ending. Haroun is slightly troubled by this; he feels this ''happy ending'' business is terribly contrived. Yet he accepts the gift anyway, and appreciates it more and more as the benefits roll in. Love. Hope. Forgiveness. Empowerment. Redemption. Reconciliation. Restoration. In the end (and this is just my interpretation), Haroun decides to worry less about the origin of this windfall — an inexplicable palette drop loaded with yummy, nourishing soul food — and instead decides to worry more about living a life worthy of these eternal values. The mechanism of the delivery may have been contrived, but the values themselves are truthful and real.
Like the happy ending of Haroun, the Sideways conceit of Lost does some important things for the story, even if it can't completely dodge the charge of being ''contrived.'' (In fact, I might argue that by citing Haroun, Lost might have been acknowledging and embracing the charge.) The Sideways device allowed Lost to embellish its core themes (redemption; introspection; letting go of the past), express a spiritual worldview, and forge some undeniably powerful dramatic moments. It was a means to an emotionally rich conclusion that felt true and organic to the series.
And yet, I can't say the Sideways device totally worked for me. I wanted to get lost in Lost during its last 18 hours. But the Sideways conceit often left me standing outside of it, trying to figure out what it was all about. It's kinda hard to emotionally connect with people when wondering if they're also, like, ''real.'' In the end, I think it was asking too much of us to buy into a creatively uneven season-long storyline whose purpose only revealed itself in the last moments of the finale. The Sixth Sense was awesome. The Sixth Sense stretched over 18 hours? A much tougher magic trick, and Lost didn't quite pull it off.
Can we come to some final conclusions about what it takes to become ''enlightened,'' to recover your mind, memories and/or soul in the Sideways world? ''The End'' seemed to suggest that it takes a strong, stirring reminder of the life you lived or the person you ultimately became when you were alive, facilitated by one of the closest members of your spiritual clan if not your primary soulmate. A touch from said helper is also required. It also seemed like each character needed a jarring experience that detached them from the Sideways world — and then they needed to choose to remain detached to complete their spiritual self-realization. Some of these moments were better than others. Let's go through them:
Jin and Sun
Enlightenment Moment: Seeing a sonogram of Ji Yeon.
Likely Cause: For Sun, whose resistance to awareness had been weakened through her frightful brush with Locke a few episodes ago, it was the déjà vu of seeing her daughter again for the first time with the assistance Dr. Juliet Burke. The first time they had shared the experience was the season 3 episode ''DOC.'' Something similar could be said of Jin, who also met Ji Yeon for the first time in pictures — specifically, seeing the images on Sun's camera in ''The Package.'' His physical proximity to Island activated Sun also probably helped.
Did I Cry? Three hankies out of four. I loved their respective ''Let's Look Back On Your Island Journey'' clip packages; it reminded me of their hard-fought struggle for emotional reconciliation during the first four seasons of the show. With their tragic deaths still fresh in our minds from a few episodes ago, it was thrilling to see their faces light up with ''We're alive! We made it to the other side!'' realization and hear their knowing laughter, as if being part of a wonderful inside joke.
Question: Was embryonic Ji Yeon ''real''? I say, No.
Sayid and Shannon
Enlightenment Moment: Sayid saved Shannon from an angry alley fight that had been staged by enlightened allies Hurley and Boone, who came into awareness while [FILE FOOTAGE NOT FOUND.]
Likely Cause: Hurley had just given Sayid a pep talk about getting over his bad self — about deciding his character for himself instead of allowing others to shape it for him. ''You can't let anyone tell you who you are, dude,'' said Hurley, living up this billing of being ''the one who takes care of people,'' to quote his old No. 2, Ben. (How great was the smile on his face when he knocked on Charlie's door? He could barely contain his joy over seeing his old, dead friend alive and semi-well. All hail Jorge Garcia, the embodiment of Lost and Lost fandom!) Wired for justice and always ready to prove his goodness, Sayid bounded to Shannon's rescue, and when they touched, they recalled their pasts. Then they started making out. Ugh.
Did I Cry? Zero hankies. I was never a Shannon fan. I was a huge Sayid fan — and a Sayid-Nadia 'shipper. In retrospect, I recognize and accept that Lost was trying to tell us that Sayid's pursuit of the Iraqi beauty he once tortured was a pipe dream, or worse, a bad dream, for the chase often made him vulnerable to corrupting choices in various ways. Shannon's love was a better love, because she fell in love with him on The Island despite his past — a gracious, forgiving love that Sayid transposed onto his ersatz Nadia in his corner of the Purga-Matrix. (Presuming that Sideways Nadia wasn't Island Nadia's Purgatory avatar but rather an element of Sayid's personally constructed reality. Indeed, it would be interesting to revisit each of the Sideways stories and reconsider each of them as manifestations of each character's yearning and self-image.) I'm happy for Sayid. I think I get why Lost paired him with Shannon. I still don't think I like it, because honestly, I never really liked Shannon. Sorry.
Like Sun, the redux of an intense Island experience.
Did I Cry? Two-and-a-half hankies. It was pretty remarkable how the finale could so effectively evoke long-past emotional touchstones. Or maybe it speaks of our investment in the whole Lost story and especially the intense, universal affection for season 1. Over the years, it had become easy for many, especially me, to mock Baby Aaron, a.k.a. the Creepy Little Kid — but his it takes a village/circle of life birth story in ''Do No Harm'' was Classic Old School Lost Incarnate, as potent of the show's live together, die alone idealism.
Question: Was Baby Aaron ''real?'' I don't know. Still working that one out.
An awkwardly squeezed-in thought about Claire: I thought her Island storyline was probably the weakest thread in the finale. A hasty, too-compact resolution for her character. I loved the way she was reintroduced into the series. Her Rousseau makeover was great, and the Emilie de Ravin played it well. But she got lost along the way, and if the season could have given us one more hour, I think it should have focused largely on Claire. Or maybe this hour could have been the hour that Lost gave to ''Across The Sea.'' The episode could have been a shared Claire/Man In Black flashback story — an hour about mad mothers, about how Mother's actions thousands of years earlier had forged a dark mythic legacy for The Island, about the time Claire and MIB spent together during those missing three years. I think said story could have found a way to address the baby-making problem, too.
Sawyer and Juliet
Enlightenment Moment: Dr. Burke helped Detective Ford pull a short con on a vending machine that had robbed him of a dollar.
Likely Cause? Jughead déjà vu, with assist from the memory of Jack. Juliet's quip about banging on the vending machine, and then her secret intel about how to get it to cough up a candy bar for free — if you just unplug it, the confection would fall — served as a metaphor for Jack's doomed reboot scheme that got Juliet killed. What was Jughead? It was a violation. It was a cheat. It was a shortcut to redemption. Their candy bar collusion evoked the memory of their time crime and unleashed their enlightenment. (Of course, the vending machine thing was also a metaphor for the mechanics of killing the Man In Black. Jack unplugged The Island; Fake Locke fell. Again, we see this concept of recurring story, recurring mythic motifs on The Island, dating back to Mother and perhaps even earlier.) Did I Cry?: Three hankies, blondie.
I don't think I can talk about this one yet. I am sitting here thinking of the moment when Sideways Locke was lying in his hospital bed and wiggling his toes... Déjà vu! The plane crash, and the stunning epiphany that his legs had been restored to him... Sideways Locke remembered and suddenly his soul came galloping home in a rush of images... He wanted to get out of bed... He wanted to go immediately to what ever was next... He wanted Jack to come with him, just as he had wanted him to take that leap of faith with him in the Hatch and push that button with him... He told Jack that his son wasn't real, and it felt so mean even if he was so right, and then he flashed Jack that blindingly beautiful grin and told him, ''I hope someone does for you what you just did for me,'' and it was the beginning of the great movement I had hoped to see at the end of the end of the series, the reconciliation of the Man of Faith and the Man of Science... . Anyway, so that happened, and now I can't see what the hell I'm writing through the tears in my eyes. Four hankies.
, no one clung more tightly to his Sideways life than Jack. That's because the Purgatory that Jack had created for himself offered a balm for his most painful regrets. In the past, I have characterized Jack's relationship with his son David as healthy — as an opportunity for him to work out his father issues and break the legacy of neglect that he had inherited from his old man. But I was wrong. David was a pipe dream — a wish-fulfillment fantasy designed to assuage the guilt over derailing his father's redemption.
We forget that Christian was trying to change his life before his death. He had enrolled in AA and was trying to get sober. He had come to realize he had psychically wounded his son with his crap parenting and was trying to atone for it. But Jack rejected his father's contrition and atonement. He couldn't let go of his anger and resentment; his whole damn fixer identity was glued together with his daddy bitterness. Jack busted up his father's bid to go sober after suspecting that he was having a romantic relationship with his ex-wife Sarah. Even when Jack realized he was dead wrong, he still clung to his anger. Christian, destroyed, spiraled into relapse, and then to his death in Australia. And so began Jack's journey to The Island.
Now reconsider David. When we first met him, he and Jack didn't have the greatest relationship, either. Then Jack made a bid to atone for his crap parenting, and what did David do? He forgave his father and reconciled. David became the son Jack wished he had been to his father — the son who could forgive, and move on. David was Jack's ''White Rabbit'' dream come true. Literally.
(Similarly, Sideways Jack's surprisingly healthy friendship with his ex-wife spoke to his lingering guilt for emotionally wounding his ex-wife Sarah. They never should have gotten married, and he knew it, and in driving her away, he hurt her terribly. Now, Sideways Juliet was no Jack figment made pseudo-real — she was Island Juliet's Purgatory avatar. And if you recall, Island world Juliet had a pretty bad relationship with her former husband, too — a husband, by the way, who had a pretty enmeshed, guilt-streaked relationship with his mother, not unlike Jack. Bottom line: Jack and Juliet's overlapping Sideways fantasies assuaged similar regrets.)
In ''Lighthouse,'' we were reminded that Jack was a big Alice In Wonderland fan. We also learned that his son David's favorite characters were the two kittens from Though The Looking-Glass, Snowdrop (white and good) and Kitty (black and bad). Alice's adventure in that book ends badly. She becomes convinced that her world is a dream, and a bad dream, at that, and when she shakes her nemesis, the Red Queen, the villain turns into... the black cat Kitty.
Jack's Sideways story followed that arc. It was about a guy who got lost in a fantasy-gone-bad and needed to wake up from it. David was akin to his Kitty — a dark-haired tempter that needed to be exposed as fraudulent, as an enemy to his redemption, as he kept him tethered to the Sideways world. Locke called it out: ''You don't have a son, Jack.'' Kinda cold, but it was true. Locke's words jolted Jack — but he resisted the implications. But the dam was starting to break. Next came Kate. She beckoned him to remember. ''I have missed you so much,'' she said. Another burst of total recall hit him — but Jack turned away from Kate and kept enlightenment at bay. Silly man. There's no denying Kate. Once upon a time, Kate Austen was a woman who ran away, and she was lost. But by the end, Kate had become a woman who runs after people, and she finds always them. This was lamely dramatized in the second episode of season 6, but it was well done in the finale. She got in Jack's grill and asked the man she loved to come with her. And Jack could not resist.
of Eloise Hawking's church, Our Lady of Dharma Science and Faith, the place where Benjamin Linus had told Jack the story of Doubting Thomas. Inside, Jack found a coffin. He touched it. The memory rush: crashing on The Island; risking his life to save his friends on the beach; chasing after his father; arguing with John Locke, so many times; kissing Kate on the rocks and saying goodbye before beginning the last heroic journey of his mortal existence. Jack was ready to believe. Jack was ready for enlightenment. He opened the coffin, but there was nothing inside. He sighed, and Doubting Thomas crept back in. And then he heard his father's voice. ''Hey kiddo.'' Jack looked. Jack saw. Did Jack believe? He asked his father if he was real, and they laughed at the absurdity of the question but his father said yes, he was real, very real, that his whole life had been real... but it was over, and it had been over for quite some time, and he needed to accept that. When Jack Shephard was a boy, his father, angry and drunk, told him he didn't have what it took to be a hero because he didn't know when to let go. It hurt Jack to hear that back then, and Christian never should have said it, not like that. But he was right. And the time had come for Jack to embrace that truth.
With fear and trembling, Jack stepped out of the cloakroom and into the sanctuary where his soulmates were waiting for him. Was he fully enlightened by that point? I think no. I think a few more things needed to happen, and they all did. I think he needed to be greeted by John Locke. Greeted with that smile and that handshake and be told, ''I'm glad you decided to join us.'' I think he needed to be touched by his friends. Hugged by Boone, the man he couldn't save. Hugged by Sawyer, his enemy turned ally. Hugged by Desmond, his brother in Island salvation. Bear hugged by Hurley, who takes care of everyone. Then he needed to be led by Kate to his seat, and he needed one act of love from his father, that touch that said, ''I'm proud of you.'' Christian opened the doors. Light flooded into the church. Jack smiled. It was real. It was all real. And in that moment, he was complete. Redeemed. Reconciled. Restored. He remembered his last moments on The Island. He remembered his sacrifice. He remembered he had lived a life, a hard life, a life full of mistakes and pain, but that in the end, the good in him won out, and that he died with heart in the right place. He was a hero. And he let go. The End.