“They teach you to predict the weather at a box company?”
(Guest post by Greg Forster)
Sorry I’m so late to the party. I just saw the finale last night.
First let me gloat that I made (I believe) only one specific, concrete prediction, and after over a year of appearing to be falsified it was at long last fulfilled in the finale. The Axiom conquers all.
(OK, OK, it was only sort of fulfilled. But we all know that “moving on” for Daniel is going to include killing bad guys and winning Charlotte. Right?)
More generally, I feel vindicated in having maintained for so long that the real key to the whole show is the question of whether Locke was right to put his faith in the fundamental goodness of “the island.” I didn’t really get it all articulated at the time, but that was the reason I was struggling near the end to figure out, in retrospect, how Smokey fit in with Locke’s story over the course of the show. I wanted to know why they had chosen to incarnate Smokey in Locke’s body. Why remove Locke from the show when he was the lynchpin holding it all together? Now I see – they did it to set up the confrontation in the end between the spiritual Locke (Jack) and the physical Locke (Smokey). Jack had to finally admit, to himself and everybody else, that Smokey wasn’t Locke because he (Jack) was Locke.
On one level, I got what I wanted out of the finale. What I wanted was 1) a knock-down, drag-out knife fight for the fate of the world on the edge of a slowly crumbling cliff, and 2) a noble death. Check and check. I’m a happy guy.
But I think the ending is satisfying on a deeper level, too. I don’t need to know anything more than I now know about Dharma, Widmore, childbirth, chosen ones, etc. (It still bugs me that Walt appeared to Locke, but I can deal.) Those were all just skins the show shed, one after the other. On a show like this, it’s foolish to expect too much from the skins. What you have to do is follow the snake. Or maybe a better image is the old cups and balls routine – the ball moves from cup to cup, but it’s the ball you need to keep your eye on.
Jay is right that the soap opera stuff can’t hold up the show by itself. You need a larger drama to give the soap opera stuff meaning. Well, the larger drama was whether the island was good or bad, and on that it delivered just fine.
I’m not saying it’s the ending I would have written myself. I happen to think that “rejoining your loved ones” and learning to “move on” from the past, simply by themselves, is a contemptible vision of heaven. Even if that’s just the prelude to whatever “comes next,” what makes the afterlife attractive on this vision is having a chance to start again – a do-over. But what makes you think you won’t just screw it all up again – especially given infinite time – and just end up in the same place? Jacob committed the same folly – he kept bringing people to the island to show Smokey that people are basically good, and the people disappointed him every single time. You aspire to an eternity of endless do-overs? That’s the Buddhist conception of hell. I happen to believe that there’s a hell even worse than that, but the Buddhists are right when they say that if the afterlife is just more of the same forever, with periodic opportunities to start over with a fresh slate, then existence is suffering and annihilation is heaven. (It’s ironic that the show had the symbols of all the world religions in the church window. The world religions don’t really all teach the same thing, but there are some things they do all agree on, and the repudiation of this show’s vision of heaven is one of them. They all, in radically different ways, claim to offer an escape from the hell that is our own broken nature.)
But none of that detracts from my enjoyment of the show, because I don’t watch shows to have my own worldview affirmed. The enjoyment of narrative lies precisely in having the opportunity to explore a universe other than the one we really live in. Achilles is a horrible monster committing barbarism motivated by egocentrism in the service of unjust aggressors, but that doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of the Illiad. (I have gotten much help on this subject from C.S. Lewis’s An Experiment in Criticism.)
And if you don’t like my analysis, here’s my wife’s, which I think may find some agreement. “I figured out the secret ending,” she said to me this morning. “It’s the subliminal messages they put in the finale that say BUY ALL THE EPISODES ON DVD AND YOU CAN FIGURE IT ALL OUT.” She suggests that they put in references to all the world’s religions “not so that they’ll be equally happy but so that they’ll all be equally frustrated.”