Whoa! Stop right there if you think you're going to just skip to the end of Lost, read the review of the final season, and pick it up without any previous experience of the show. That's just not cricket. Lost may not be everybody's cup of tea, and even ardent fans may have found some of the dead-end storylines, pointless digressions and seemingly random tangential plot twists taxing on their loyalty, but you have to give the series some respect. My advice, if you're new to Lost (how on earth did you make it to this review?) and want to fast-track your way into it, is to borrow/beg/steal (or even buy) some of the previous seasons and steamroller your way through them whilst cooking the dinner. Yes, I know that will still take some time, but there's simply no way of diving into the behemoth just 17 episodes before its end, not given how much the ill-fated passengers of Oceanic Flight 815 have been through over the past 6 years. My advice, stop reading and go investigate the previous seasons first. With that out of the way...I shall assume that the remaining reviewers know what the hell Lost is about. Sure, I'm happy to recap, but just to trigger those little grey cells.
The first season basically acts as just a thin foundation for the rest of the series: the plot and character development was, at that stage, seemingly very much of the 'first draft' variety. There's a silly monster which doesn't get addressed again for some time. There are some 'Others' on the island, who kidnap one of the survivors, and the crew eventually find a strange hatch which leads into the ground. The second season sees the hatch explored and basically centres around a long, protracted storyline involving the pressing of a button a stupid number of times. Suffice to say, things go wrong when they stop pressing it. We also find more survivors, find out more about 'The Others' and learn a little about the mysterious DHARMA initiative which has various installations on the island. It's the season where viewers started to lose faith in the creators and writers, who gave no indication that they knew where they were actually going with all of this. It felt like they just got to the end of a season and said, 'let's have another bunch of survivors appear' or 'let's have another bunch of people on the island' and, when all that failed, adopted the 'let's have another island appear' (following that up with – you guessed it – ‘let’s have an island...disappear’).
The third season went totally off the rails, and was where a lot of people turned off. It's the one where Jack, Kate and Sawyer spend their time incarcerated by 'the Others' and jumping back and forth between each other like puppets in some twisted, childish love triangle (literally, one episode Kate would be in love with Sawyer, the next she'd fall for Jack and so forth ad infinitum). Ironically, it culminated with many of the survivors looking like they were finally going to make it off the island, even though we later realise that 'you can't really get off the island – the Producers won't let you until your contract is finished.'
The 4th season is split into the tale of the 6 that (temporarily) managed to make it back to the mainland, juxtaposed with the events that occurred beforehand that saw them get rescued. It's the season that was cut short (to just 14 episodes) by the writer's strike, but which works extremely well as a result: basically, there are no character-centric flashback episodes, trimming away the 'fat' of the season to make it a much smoother, more interesting ride. (And there were few of those moments where one of the characters says something mysterious like ‘I have something to tell you’ but doesn’t say what it is for another 3 episodes. They’re the world’s longest conversations – and odd for a show where very little time has elapsed) It’s a better season without all of that nonsense. Sure they twist the characters massively, but it's one of my favourite years for the show. Short and sweet.
The fifth season looks at the people who were left behind when the 6 got off the island, and what happened to them during that time (they ended up in the 70s). It also sees the rescued 6 take far too long to decide to return to the island (it was obviously going to happen right from the start). And it's the one with a stupid amount of time-travel (a gimmick that is used too much are gets boring very quickly). Finally, it's notorious for being the season with Sawyer topless throughout the first half (the producers openly admitted to using this as an attempt to 'distract' from the complete lack in plot direction). As it is, basically the time-travel stops at the end of the season, and we can assume that they all revert to the present day (hopefully). Oh, and Locke died, came back, and then turned out not to be Locke after all. Confused? Well hopefully you're about to find out all the answers...
Now, remember when I said we've had 6 years of Lost so far? Well, technically we haven't. We've actually only had a few months. The events in the first few seasons of this elaborate show actually take place in just 100 days. Now, I don't really know why I have a problem with this – as, coming from the same pedigree as the Jack 'I can save the world in 24 hours' Bauer exploits, I really should not be surprised by this. But at least the seasons of 24 take place over a number of years (in fact, the timeline there goes a bit too far, with the 8th season set in 2017!!) rather than try and fool you into believing that this very same cast – who have changed, aged etc. – and kinda had a hell of a lot happen to them – have only been on the island for 3 months. What's with that? After 3 months of being deserted on an island would you have a) built a makeshift shelter, and eaten too many coconuts, or b) split into warring factions several times, and got together with and broken up with the same girl four times?
Even the creators cottoned onto this, jumping a massive 3 years (which is a big step for Lost) in terms of what the ‘survivors’ got up to in Season 4. But then, of course, they got back to the island, jumped back into the 50s, then the 70s, where they eventually blew up an H-bomb in an attempt to stop their flight from crashing on the island in the first place. I think that took about a week. And, honestly, I'd probably be tanned, skinny and massively bearded after 100 days. Not toned, muscular, well-fed and perpetually sporting a fashionable 2-day growth of facial hair, with that and my hair done like the island is deserted but for a branch of Toni & Guy.
Somehow Lost lost me a little bit with its ambitious timeline – Locke alone had died and come back during this magical quarter, at least once! Still, putting that aside, (which is easier to do knowing those 3 years have elapsed) you’ve made it through the twists and turns of an up-and-down show – a show with writers who apparently admitted to initially having an idea of where they were going but zero idea of how they were going to get there (and who have eventually turned things around in an attempt to tie everything up) – and now you’ve come to the end of the road. Everything that has happened so far, no matter how mysterious, is due to be explained in this, the final season. That's what we want, isn't it? A satisfactory conclusion to tie up years of hard but, periodically, very rewarding labour; enduring the lows and enjoying the highs of this long-running show.
Well, rather unexpectedly – although totally in-line with the way in which the writers have evolved the show – the final season kicks off by posing even more questions, rather than offering up answers. As with previous seasons (the first three using flashbacks, the fourth using flash-forwards, and the fifth using time travel into the past) this final season uses alternating timelines to keep you wondering what the hell is going on. And it does not disappoint on the intrigue front. You’ll be confused as hell after the double-episode opening salvo, and a couple of discs in you will still be frantically puzzling over what the hell could be happening to these characters.
Did the H-bomb work? Did it prevent the flight from ever crashing on the island in the first place? Then why are there still people on the island? And what the hell happened to Locke? Is he going to be a bad guy for the whole season? And is he even a bad guy? Is this purgatory? Are we trapped in another dimension? And those are just the questions from this season – what about: why is Richard seemingly immortal? Why do they keep coming back to the island? Who the hell are Jacob and the Man in Black? Etc.
The final season is undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable entries in the Lost collection, but is it a suitably eventful and climactic answer to several years’ worth of part head-scratching and part navel-gazing? Not really. Don’t get me wrong, it tries its best to round the whole thing off satisfactorily but, honestly, was anything ever going to be a fitting conclusion to such a mammoth journey? I don’t know what the ‘right’ answer would have been to all the mysteries of the island, but I do know that this wasn’t a satisfying one. This is closer to a Battlestar Galactica ending rather than The Wire. Instead of explaining anything to any kind of degree of depth, they tie the whole series in a loop, and step back and point at it, saying ‘isn’t this pretty?!’ Well no, not really, it’s actually a bit of an anticlimax.
Still, this is a resoundingly entertaining series nonetheless, even if it is a disappointing way to close out the eventful lives of Flight Oceanic 815. On the plus side, some of the individual story arcs are quite strong (a few are very weak), and there’s plenty of tugging on the heartstrings, particularly as the extended final episode starts looming closer. The big reveal may not be to everybody’s taste, but at least it is an answer to what has come before – although the ‘reveal’ pertains more to the flash-sideways events, and the reason behind them, than to the mysterious events on the island itself. They remain just... well, mysterious. Really, there are plenty of questions hanging which you’re just going to have to answer with ‘faith’ and a fair smattering of ‘ah, that must have been some supernatural macguffin or something.’ Even the creators were not wholly satisfied with their conclusion, and filmed a brief epilogue (which can be found amidst the special features on the final disc). Unfortunately it does not offer any vital revelations – a little more information about the polar bear – but nothing of any particular substance.
At the end of the day, as Lost fans, you have to basically swallow what you’re being told. Much like the characters in the story, you have to take a blind leap and accept the whole thing just as they wrote it. It may not be how you would have imagined it, it may not even stand up to close scrutiny, but it is enough of a well thought-out solution to leave room for the gaps to be smudged over with a little of that aforementioned faith. As I stated, I’m sure I couldn’t have formulated a better conclusion – on the whole – and I can only see the flaws to bits of it, not the whole thing, so perhaps, taking all that into account, it’s not such a bad end, per se, merely not a very satisfying one.
Cast and character-wise they almost all appear to be at the absolute top of their game. Terry O’Quinn’s John Locke – arguably the most important, and well-played, character in the series as a whole – undergoes yet another drastic shift in personality. This time playing the ostensible villain of the piece, the marvellous actor gets to do a complete reversal on his previous incarnation: instead of being a mysterious good guy, who leaves you constantly wondering whether he is actually bad, this time he perfectly plays the mysterious bad guy, perpetually making you wonder whether he is actually good. Matthew Fox, originally the hero of the show as surgeon Jack Shepard, has undergone his fair share of twists as well, here much more of a broken man at the end of his tether and running out of hope. Still, things feel like they might come nicely full-circle for him, and he certainly returns to the forefront. Evangaline Lilly’s Kate has far less to do, and continues to persist with that ridiculous dithering back and forth between Jack and Sawyer (surely it’s a bit over the top now?!). Who will she end up with? Will she even end up with either of them? And do we really care? It’s Dawson/Pacey/Joey all over again.
I’ve never fully got to grips with what Josh Holloway was trying to bring to his seemingly one-dimensional Sawyer character. He’s perpetually scowling, the biggest caricature of the show, and it’s a shame because – for such an occasionally sensitive soul, he does have some very crass, unconvincing and over-the-top moments. This season is no exception, where he spends much of the first part either throwing tantrums or drowning his sorrows in a bottle (in a silly scene where he does his best trailer-park-trash-esque impersonation), and it takes a while before we see any development towards a more well-rounded character – although the flash-sideways twist helps somewhat in this respect.
Naveen Andrews’s Sayed is still the coolest character out of all of them, the tortured torturer, the kick-ass assassin, the guy haunted by the love he lost. His backdrop may be totally ludicrous (seriously, he married the girl he tortured, then she got killed in an accident?! Only in Lost!) but he is always extremely watchable. His character undergoes a fair share of twists here on his redemptive path but, unfortunately, his arc was one of the least satisfying ones – particularly towards the end.
Jorge Garcia’s (unfathomably) perpetually bloated Hugo still sees dead people, which allows for some interaction with the mysterious Jacob (Mark Pellegrino) – one of those annoying people in the show who never explains what’s going on, merely expecting others to follow him on faith: irritating when they would have much more easily gone along with his plans if they knew the truth!! The revelations about Jacob and the strange Man in Black eventually do come, although they almost offer more questions than answers.
The Jin/Sun storylines (Daniel Dae-Kim and Yunjin Kim) are of marginally less interest, and Elizabeth Mitchell’s cameo manages to ruin her tragic moment at the end of the last season. It would have been more respectful to leave things as they were. While I’m being critical I should mentioned Emilie De Ravin’s Claire, whose return as a crazed islander is the most over-the-top aspect of what is, essentially, a very over-the-top show. She’s a little too silly, and I almost expected them to reveal that she was a cannibal! (ABC’s probably a bit too conservative for that.) Similarly the newly-introduced characters do not fare so well this season – The Last Samurai’s Hiroyuki Sanada making for a very cool ‘leader’ but spending too little time not telling people what the hell was going on; and West Wing’s Allison Janney adding to the unnecessary hippie/gypsy element of the sub-plotting. And the random armed groups are basically just disposables (they might as well be wearing red shirts, like in Star Trek, to show they’re only there as cannon fodder).
Of course this is the season where basically every single character – whether previously dead or not – makes an appearance. Although the final twist explains the ‘extra’ dimension, many of the scenes for these lost Lost characters come in the form of flash-sideways sequences (the aforementioned alternate dimension thingy – if that’s really what it is...). It’s nice to see them all again – much like the fitting, respectful, ensemble end run of E.R. – although it is a shame that some of them don’t get much screen time. Alas, there’s only so much they can fit into the final 17 episodes, and they manage to do a fair amount as it is. We still get character-centric episodes for all of the main players – Locke, Jack, Hurley, Kate, Sawyer etc. – which has been the tradition for every single season so far (apart from the writers’ strike-abbreviated fourth entry), and the majority of them reach a reasonably fitting end.
At the end of the day I could not help but be a bit disappointed that this is it. This is the end of Lost and that’s all the explanation you’re going to get for what the hell has been happening on this damn strange island for the past few years of your life. Whilst this was a decent, respectful way to deal with the majority of characters themselves, I’m not sure it was a fitting way to tie up all of the events of the past 6 seasons. The many puzzles and conundrums established within the fantastical Lost universe are stripped away using simple, sometimes silly explanations, and blanket answers (answers which don’t cover individual quandaries like – what was the deal with Aaron and Walt? Why were they once so special, and now hardly mentioned?). But it had to end eventually, and this is as good an explanation as we were ever going to get considering the hard task the creators set for themselves in crafting such an elaborate mystery. Echoing Battlestar Galactica in terms of somewhat anticlimactic conclusion (which uses a similarly simple explanation to try and tie together several years of complicated plotting), this final season will definitely have a mixed response from viewers: those who love it, those who hate it, and those who feel ambivalent towards it.
Still, at least Lost is one of those (few) franchises which got the chance to run its course, and reach a natural end, rather than ending abruptly. As a show, I would not say that it is amidst the best of the best out there (Deadwood, The Wire, BSG) but it is far superior to similarly contrived long-running action-adventures like Prison Break, and almost the equal of 24 (which has similarly come to a TV end, even if they are planning a movie or two). It is compelling viewing, thoroughly engaging for the duration, and well worth watching through to its dramatic, eventful conclusion. It may not have that sparkling script, pitch-perfect powerhouse acting or socio-political commentary that goes with some of the best of the best TV dramas (if it had, there may have been more draw for me to revisit previous seasons in light of the finale’s revelations) but it is intoxicating, engaging viewing nevertheless. And it may not quite sit right with everybody, but this is the best they could come up with, and we’re all just going to have to live with that. It’s very easy to get lost on the Lost island, and, for many, it will be nice to finally get to the end of the road.
As an ending to Lost, I’d rate this lower, perhaps scraping a 7/10, but as an entertaining season of Lost it hits 8 easily.
“Every question I answer will simply lead to another question.”