Lost: television's final episodes
As Lost gives up its myriad mysteries, Gerard Gilbert wonders why the best TV shows find it so hard to say goodbye
Tuesday 25 May 2010
You're watching Lost live from the USA", read the caption on Sky1, swiftly followed by one that announced a "temporary fault". It was 5am on Monday morning in the UK, and a more civilised hour on Sunday evening on the West Coast of the USA, whose simulcast we were sharing in order to prevent spoilers and piracy. Actually, spoiler-packed blogs were streaming in from the eastern US states, where the episode had already aired – but then who'd be up before the birds to read those? The sort of person who'd faithfully follow Lost for six years, and 120 episodes, I suspect.
Temporary fault fixed, off we sailed as die-hard followers of JJ Abrams' air-crash fantasy got to find out whether the writers had a game plan, or whether they'd been making it up as they went along. Would they have to dig themselves out of a hole – an apt metaphor as it turned out as much of the island action took place down a well? So this is the place where I write SPOILER ALERT, because those Lost fans not wishing to begin their week with eyelids propped open with matchsticks will presumably be watching the final episode on Sky1 tonight.
So, then, the characters were all in limbo, dead people in a sort pan-religious purgatory – funnily enough, the exact same big reveal as last Friday's Ashes to Ashes. The last 150 minutes of Lost had the big music and enough meaningful eye-contact to heat a house with, but call me hard-hearted, it was all a bit neat and soupy, with more hugging and kissing than even the final episode of Friends. "There is no now, here", Jack's father told him in the climactic scene (although it didn't feel like one) inside the chapel. "This is the place you all made together, so you could find one another." I guess we were meant to feel warm inside, but I preferred the cussed British understatement of Ashes to Ashes, and I'd rather await eternity in the Railway Arms pub than the rather antiseptic chapel in the final scene of Lost.
Instant newspaper reaction in America has been mixed. "Gauzy, vaguely religious and more than a little mawkish... it felt forced and a bit of a cop-out," wrote the New York Times, while the Washington Post critic declared herself "in awe. I've been crying and laughing and basically an emotional basket-case for the last 2.5 hours." The Los Angeles Times sat somewhere in the middle with "It could have been worse".
Endings are notoriously difficult to get right – especially on a long-running TV show where so many people have invested so much for so long. The Sopranos did it brilliantly, in my book, as did The Prisoner, both serving up ambiguity instead of closure. Will they still be talking about the final episode of Lost in 40 years' time, or, as I suspect, will it have more like a 40-day afterlife in the internet chat forums? Either way, when critical opinion finally coalesces, I fully expect disappointment to be the predominant note.
It's all very well starting a TV show with a high concept; in fact, it has been almost de rigueur in recent years. But finding the exit is the really hard part – assuming the networks don't do it for you, as happened recently to FlashForward. Perhaps the moral of the final episode of Lost is that the journey is more important than the destination. But try telling that to anyone who got up at five o'clock yesterday morning to watch it.
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