And so it ends. It finished where it began – with Jack lying in the jungle – and the notion of purgatory hung over proceedings just like it had from the very beginning. Yet despite such longstanding, almost predicted-to-death notions, the freshness of novel concepts and surprise revelations closed out the show. Indeed, the very familiarity of it was almost the genius of the execution: the truth had been there from the start.
Like in the beginning of the show, the actual events on the Island were relatively simple. Our heroes had a specific plan and there were some very clear problems in the way of them succeeding. For the majority trying to get off the Island was their chief mission – just like it was from the start! There was just a further complication in that there was someone else they wanted to prevent from getting off the place with them. . .
Nameless, it would seem, fundamentally did just want off the Island purely to get to that place across the sea, the place he considered home. One of the first things he did when he had assumed the body of John Locke was to stand at the beach and look out at the horizon. That purpose had been there all along – I guess we just all got so taken up with mysteries and grand ideas that distracted us from the simple purpose.
His talk of destroying the Island, of sinking it to the bottom of the ocean, was an afterthought idea that Desmond brought about (but did also serve the purpose of fooling we watching audience into concern that the Alternate Timeline was some form of consequence of his success – more on that later).
But no. Beware distractions, as someone once said. Nameless wanted to physically leave the Island. Given that Jacob’s eventual death and the cessation of power on the Island returned Nameless to a state of mortality, it has to be concluded that part of his ambition was not just to get off the Island but also to reclaim his humanity. His remarks to Ben, about how he didn’t always travel around in smoke form purely because he liked the feel of the ground at his feet, to remind him of being human, are more significant in this light.
Nameless told various other characters that he used to be a man and, really, it was this that he wanted back. Jacob, as we saw and heard he regretted, was responsible for what had happened to Nameless. And what is clear is that the only way Nameless could leave the Island would be if he was free of the place, and its power. Indeed, it may be possible to surmise that Nameless leaving the Island may have had a similar effect as what was produced when Desmond pulled the plug, or ‘uncorked’ the power.
Potentially it was the death of Jacob that returned Nameless to a state of mortality, and had nothing to do with Desmond pulling the plug. That works. Nameless only sustained an injury to display his mortality after both things had happened. Yet consider Alpert. . .
. . . who received his first grey hair on his way to Hydra Island with Miles. He was finally ageing! And the only reason that could be was because Jacob was gone, the ashes burned away completely, and the blessing of longevity that had been bestowed on Alpert died with him. The same thing could have applied to Nameless and his return to mortality and Jack could have killed him, like any man, before Desmond got anywhere near the cave of light.
Like much of the last episodes of Lost, the grand meaning behind much of what we saw was left deliberately free of detail so that the audience could ascribe their own meaning. There are religious interpretations, scientific interpretations, or more philosophical, moral-based learnings. So quite what the terrible thing that would have occurred had Nameless left the Island is left open to such interpretation. It’s like asking, What is hell? Some consider it a hot place of fire and brimstone, others consider it a state of mind, intolerable conditions, or simply other people. One concept, different meanings. Pick your most satisfying. The point was that it would have been bad had Nameless left, but luckily there was one man standing in his way.
In terms of climactic spectacle, there’s no doubt for me that the Jack versus Nameless showdown on the cliff was the highlight of the episode. Drenched in slashing rain, cliff rock tumbling into the broiling ocean and Michael Giacchino’s riotous score giving it all it was worth, Jack and Nameless’ scrap was exactly the kind of powerhouse moment we all tuned in to see. And it was, of course, the fight that would kill them both. Nameless met his end over the cliff edge thanks to Kate (who had been cited as a potential threat he had overlooked by virtue of that simple line through her name on a cave ceiling). . .
. . . whereas Jack’s wounds would take longer to finish him off. But this was where each struck the fatal blow. And now we understood why the cut on Jack’s neck appeared, and what the meaning of his scar was in the ‘Alternate Timeline’ (what it’s really called I’ll finalise, at least for myself, further on).
These cuts and scars were manifestations of the injuries he sustained in life, the ones that would see him to his death. Cleverly Jack on the Island knew his time was coming and managed to pass on the baton of Island Protector to, perhaps, the most unlikely of people (yet what a perfect fit): Hurley.
We would later learn that Hurley made for a great Island Protector, and that Ben made for a terrific “number two”. No doubt Hurley saw to it that Desmond was able to leave and be reunited with Penny, but what else he did with the place – whether the Island was filled with people partying and laughing, or was converted into a refuge for those that needed the most care – it’s all open to conjecture (until the DVD release which purportedly contains scenes showing Hurley and Ben's time on the Island). The one thing you can’t imagine, under Hurley’s watch and rules, was that the Island was ever as miserable and hostile as we had seen it.
Naturally, this line of thinking and the show itself leads us to question what the Island actually was. (I realise that for many this lack of clarity about the nature of the Island has given rise to their frustration. I believe that definite specifics about the nature of the Island would have robbed the show of some wonder.)
You can devote a whole show to selling the idea that the Island is really a spaceship from a dying alien world. You can even try to make that the most incredible story you’ve ever heard. But, for me, that level of underlining utterly destroys the magic. Besides, like Mother once said, answers only lead to more questions. Where did the alien race come from? Why were they dying? What did they use the Island for. . .?
You get the idea. You can’t be provided satisfaction with this. You have to provide your own. It's better that the fundamentals about the Island remain ambiguous. Just like Nameless was never given a name – it’s for you to decide if he really was bad, flawed or a victim with just cause for his actions. I fall down somewhere around the view that he seemed a decent man that had been dealt a very harsh hand, but that didn’t make it OK for him to kill as ruthlessly and carelessly for his own ends as he did. When Jack, with Kate, triumphed over Nameless it did feel like a victory for the ‘good’ guys, did it not?
If that’s what you felt then it’s your gut interpretation and no one can tell you you’re wrong.
As stated, the only reason Nameless could seemingly be defeated was because of Desmond – the ‘Fail Safe’ man pulling out the fail safe plug of the Island to pretty much ‘switch off’ its powers. It was actually a little bit like when Desmond was late in pushing the button on a certain September 22nd 2004.
On that day he wasn’t around when the button needed to be pushed in The Swan Station and the electromagnetic anomaly was triggered just enough to create tremors on the Island and a surging force that would rip apart Oceanic 815 from the skies and send it hurtling to the land below.
But then Desmond entered the button and the anomaly was dissipated and normality resumed. On a larger scale, the same principle was applied to the Island. Desmond unplugged it (and out came a lot of hot magma, because as we learned in Season 3 the Island sits atop a volcano plume) and for a little while the place rumbled and crumbled and would have eventually been destroyed, but then Jack returned the plug to its hole and normality was resumed. Once more the Lost creators had primed us for these grand ideas in small ways.
It is worth taking some time, whilst we’re dwelling around The Swan Station, to consider the truth about ‘the incident’.
Since the end of Season 5 and the vast majority of Season 6 we were lead to understand that ‘the incident’ had somehow created the Alternate Timeline. Juliet’s dying remarks, about how it had worked (not quite sure what she meant by that, in hindsight) and Alt-Daniel Faraday’s sense of concern about having detonated a nuclear bomb that could have triggered such a situation all fuelled that notion. It was, as proved, a great big red herring. So if ‘the incident’ didn’t create a divergent timeline then what did it do?
Answer is, not much. But that’s not exactly a depressing answer. Miles unwittingly nailed it when he raised the point to Jack that going setting Jughead off at The Swan construction site might very well turn out to create the very ‘incident’ that he was trying to avert. And it seems he was spot on correct.
It’s easiest to understand this from Dharma’s – or Pierre Chang’s – point of view. There he is in the 1970s working on this fabulous Swan Station. During this time he comes to learn that his own son, and other people from the future, have been sent back in time as a result of his own work. The disaster has to play out, however, in order to avoid a paradox – and it always would have. Radzinsky was already digging too deeply, but even if he hadn’t Jack was there with a bomb. . . The universe would have course corrected it no matter what so that ‘the incident’ always happened and The Swan would always have to be there, venting electromagnetism, and Desmond would one day fatefully fail to push the button and so would come down Oceanic 815.
As far as the Losties were concerned; Jack, Kate, Sawyer and the rest – they took their part in the 1970s history as they were always supposed to, as they always had done, and the electromagnetic jolt from Jughead and ‘the incident’ rocketed them back to their own time.
That’s all there is to it. That’s what happened. Again, like many aspects of the show, we audience had a tendency to over-think and convolute what was simple enough already. Now we know better. We know how streamlined the show was in terms of its focus on the main characters and mostly everything else can either be answered as ‘it was as we saw it’ or as an open-ended mystery we don’t really know (but neither did they).
So we don’t really know why there was a Dharma food drop in the jungle. And we don’t know if Ben deliberately got himself caught in a net. Why was Horace Goodspeed building a cabin just like Jacob’s? And who, for that matter, was the person whose eye we saw peeping at Hurley from that same cabin?
We don’t know for sure, but what we do know is this: we’ve been shown as much as we ever will so our guesses are now as good as anyone’s. No one can tell you your wrong. I reckon that Dharma preset food drops to arrive in the future from their time in the 1970s using a focused version of the Island’s wormholes through time (like what Ben and Locke travelled through to end up in the desert). That’s what I think and no one can tell me I am wrong!
If you find gaps in what you feel you need to know, find your own answer.
Nowhere, naturally, was ambivalence more prevalent than with the ending to the show. On this I do have my own fairly assured views on what it was all about, but like with all interpretations it is just that: my own interpretation. (I just happen to think mine is a pretty good one.)
Let’s just tackle directly the Alternate Timeline. We thought it was some kind of tangent world for our Losties. A world configured around how things would have been had they never remained, or been on, the Island. We saw the scene where Ben talked with his father about being taken off the Island and figured that was the case.
Only that wasn’t the case. This whole timeline, this whole world, wasn’t an Alternate Timeline at all. It was an Afterlife Timeline. Now an interpretation of this world is purgatory. As in a place between heaven and hell where lost souls work out their good and bad demons to earn the right to move on to a better place. Hard and fast, you stack that notion against what we saw Jack do then the concept of purgatory applies. He died on the Island and then was rendered in this Afterlife Timeline where he was the last to realise what had happened, the last to awaken. But slowly he came to a place where he learned to acknowledge the importance of letting go and eventually met those he could reconcile his time with and. . . no. . . not for me. It’s not that simple – the ideas here are more elegant.
The moment the episode opened with Jack looking against a skull, he was a dead man. There was a very obvious statement being made. But let me take you back to the opening of Season 6, with Jack on Oceanic 815 (that didn’t crash). Let’s be clear that this was the launch point for the ‘afterlife world’, and very tellingly we were plunged through an aeroplane window to the depths of the ocean to a sunken Island.
Funnily enough, in my first analysis for the Season 6 episode LA X I discussed the idea of the sunken Island being akin to the memory of the Island being pushed down into the subconscious of Jack, and other characters. (Don’t get me wrong, I had a great many other ideas back then that all turned out to be utter dead ends, but this was one where I hit a pulse I didn’t feel the pressure of properly.) The Alternate Timeline was fundamentally an Afterlife waiting room – one where people that mean the most to each other can reside until all are gathered to move on.
This, I believe, is a tremendous notion. It’s a comforting idea for anyone bereaved or fearing for their own mortality: there’s a place you’ll have, a place you’ll go to, where those that count will gather together. But away from interpretative ideas, in terms of Lost this concept explains every ‘ghostly’ encounter we have witnessed.
What was Charlie that visited Hurley? Nothing more than a ‘ghost’ from this Afterlife World, encouraging Hurley to go back to the Island to fulfill what needed to be done in his existence. Other ‘ghosts’ visited Hurley too, imbuing him with the same ideology. Why? Because they had learned better, but furthermore because they could not move on from their own ‘afterlife world’ until he was prompted into action that would propagate the required outcome.
It’s a big idea to grapple, really it is. The biggest idea being captured in Christian Shepherd’s throwaway line about how time had no meaning in the afterworld timeline.
This one statement explained why the ‘Alternate Timelime’ timeline didn’t quite add up. Jin and Sun arriving in LA and being captured, shot, rushed to hospital and told their baby was fine and leaving all in a matter of days, playing alongside Locke landing a job as a temporary teacher and getting friendly with the staff and students before being hit by a car and returning to work afterwards before having spinal surgery performed successfully. . . these things just don’t at all work out in reality. But this wasn’t reality. This was like a shared dream between all of the Oceanic 815 people – one they were all involved in and one they all had to collectively wake up from.
It turned out Desmond was the catalyst they needed to pop this dream bubble and make them realise: they were dead, had lived their lives, and now needed to convene with the people that had meant the most to them before progressing to the next world.
Time being an irrelevance in this place meant we could grasp that Kate and Sawyer and Claire probably went on to lead long lives, but never finding a place or people that meant as much to them as their Oceanic survivors and their time on the Island. Hurley and Ben could have watched over the Island for hundreds of years before they eventually passed away. Meanwhile Boone and Shannon and Locke and the rest were already dead, already ‘waiting’, and Jack was simply the last of them to realise what had happened. And he had some father issues he needed to work out.
Only in this afterlife could Jack get to tell his father what he felt, and vice versa. And then he could rejoin with all the people that had collectively meant the most in his life, and to each other, to move on.
For Alpert you could imagine the same scenario existed, only in a different setting. Him finding Isabella again and awakening to his own mortality for the two of them to be together. And we may have even seen a version of this ‘afterlife’ when Mr. Eko died. Remember how it flashed back to him and Yemi, as children, walking away together?
Just like Kate and Sawyer may have lived long lives, their ‘afterlife’ returned them to a younger age, a certain time in their lives that meant most. For Mr. Eko you could say he went back to when he was a boy, a happier time with his brother, and that was where he found his peace. (In reality Mr. Eko wasn’t present in this scene because the actor had demanded more money than the creators were willing to pay – so luckily that flashback to his boyhood works even better in hindsight!)
Interesting that Ben remained outside of the church, not quite ready to move on. If this ‘afterlife’ was to be likened to purgatory it was more like a self-judgemental form of purgatory. Note how Jack saw a smile of forgiveness in Boone’s eyes, and returned the smile, because we know that the death of Boone, like the deaths of many people, would have weighed on his conscience. But they had all found peace, and so could Jack. He had been enabled and was ready to “let go”.
Ben wasn’t quite ready. He had done good things and he had done bad things and all of that meant he wasn’t quite able to reconcile within himself what kind of man he was. I could almost imagine him remaining there interminably, puzzled, forever trying to grapple with his own justification. Just like all of us watching, we were never able to fully define Ben’s moral character. I particularly liked how his character was left in this manner.
Jack’s eye opening was the first image of Lost and so, how fitting, that it was his eye closing which was the last. As Jack staggered to his resting point and lay down in the bamboo Vincent bounded over, like a replay of that first scene. It was important that Vincent was present though – his purpose was to fulfil Jack’s philosophy, his saving ideology. Live together or die alone.
Jack had strived to live together and paid the biggest sacrifice and so he didn’t get to die alone. I thought that was dignified and beautiful. Just like the ending to the show itself. The church scene, with the gorgeous music accompanying smiling faces and warm embraces was a gloriously heartwarming happy ending free of sentimentality. Lost may have been an imperfect show, but The End, for the characters, provided a perfect finish.
Namaste to all. See you in another life. You will certainly be missed. . .