Lost Season 6: They Went Out Like Suckers in Many Respects
By Brian Doherty. Senior Editor, Reason magazine, author of the books THIS IS BURNING MAN, RADICALS FOR CAPITALISM, and GUN CONTROL ON TRIAL, Founder and president of Cherry Smash Records (1993-2001, approx, but closets still full of singles and CDs)
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Invested in five-seasons of LOST-via-DVD, and wondering if you should bother with season 6, having heard all sorts of mysterious whispers hinting that when you get near that finale—run the other way!
What follows is for someone willing to have their viewing experience of Lost ruined by knowing “what happened” to the extent that much of anything happened—or really happened?? [[cue Giacchino scene change sound burst]]. It’s also for those willing to have their viewing experience of Lost ruined by actually watching season 6.
You’ve doubtless heard many times since Sunday night’s hydrogen bomb of a finale that Lost had two types of fans—those in it for the characters, and those in it for the plot and mystery. As that backgammon game back in season one set us up to think, the show is all about dualities of good v. evil. (That its central metaprotagonists, Jacob and Smokey, had little other than their ends distinguishing their manipulative and murdering ways, and since those ends remained obfuscated until the end of the next to last episode, made things a little confusing, yes.)
But the distinction we’re working with here is between those who wanted the show to give us enough unambiguous information to understand its plot, themes, and intent, and those willing to let people with larger stores of cultural reference, more time to think about Lost, than we do explain to us how it all did make sense, or might have made sense, or could be seen as making sense if we squint a lot, read some more books, and are as charitable and forgiving to Lost’s writers as alt-Locke was to alt-Ben.
This is the summation for those of us who wanted from season 6 resolution, wrap-up, or explanation of what we were delighted and fascinated by watching season 1-5 DVDs. But just like all our beloved characters on Lost, in the end we had to be content not with achieving our goals, but just…letting go.
What happened in Season 6? Did it live up to the expectations you had in loving seasons 1-5? It has to have a structural duality, like real time v. flashback, real time v. flashforward, island time v. Oceanic six time. This season’s is island time v. an alternate universe where Oceanic 815 never crashed. In a classic LOST move, when the reveal of the true nature of this alt (or “sideways”) world is held off for so damn long (til the last 10 minutes of the finale), it’s hard to remember if everything makes sense in light of what we now know to be the case. Some other examples of this writer-saving distant-reveal technique: does this season’s “whispers” reveal (dead folk haunting the island) really make sense of every whisper appearance? Does our later knowledge of Smokey and his motives (kill Jacob/escape the Island/sink the Island) make sense of all his appearances and actions? If the “loophole” Smokey was looking for really was as simple as “Smokey can’t kill Jacob, but someone else can,” then was the insane Rube Goldberg machine of Island-moving, time-hopping necessary? Recall that the scheme’s working required both that Ben first turn the wheel even though Locke was told to do it, so Ben’s off-island to kill Locke, and that Locke later turn it, both so all the time-hopping can stop and the show’s plot can proceed and so Locke can be off-Island for Ben to kill him, and then have Ben plus Eloise plus Widmore participate in a crazy plot to get his body back to the Island…it will take a very, very clever person on the Internet indeed to make that—and thus pretty much all of Season 5—seem anything other than a deliberately confusing bunch of irrelevances.
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Anyway, here’s what happened in that alternate timeline in season 6. (This is a brief synopsis. But I’m really not leaving much out): Jack’s still a spinal doc with a failed marriage, but with a son—and a troubled relationship that he manages to saves. He’s still obsessed with fixing people—in this case, the crippled John Locke, who has Katie Segal as his girl, bears guilt over turning his father into a vegetable in a plane crash (yes), and works as a substitute teacher with….European history teacher Benjamin Linus, who left the Island as a kid and has Machiavellian skills he ends up using for good-not-evil to help out a young Alex Rousseau.
Sawyer is a cop not a con man (and Miles is his partner, apparently minus his spooky superpower)—but still obsessed with vengeance on the original Sawyer. Kate’s a fugitive but says she’s not guilty, and I guess we’re to take her word for it. Claire’s would-be adopters flake on her, so she’s going to have to raise Aaron on her own—or with the help of newly discovered half-brother Jack and nephew David. (Except David doesn’t really exist. Don’t ask yet, it’s the cool twist at the end!) Sayid still doesn’t have Nadia (she’s married to his ne’er-do-well brother but still loves him), and still kills people stylishly when circumstances require. Desmond still straddles all space, time, and dimensions for reasons I can’t spoil because they never made enough sense for me to explain, but have something to do with huge amounts of electromagnetism. Hurley is still a lottery winner, but a respected and kind of happy one, except he’s missing love, which he eventually gets from crazy Libby, who knows secrets about this world that the sane are not privy to (because they beggar sane explanation).
Boone is…still alive. Shannon is…still alive, but not on Oceanic 815. Walt is still missing. (Wasn’t he kidnapped or something at the end of Season one? Whatever.) Charlie is alive, but a miserable junky who wants to die, and his near-death experience gave him a view of another world. A better world. A world where he survived a gruesome plane crash, was terrorized by weirdos, and drowned young at the hands of an inexplicably (still) indestructible Russian bruiser. But he saw…a very, very pretty girl. Jin and Sun are not married but are fucking around, and get involved in some suspenseful shenanigans because this was, after all, a weekly TV show and the occasional tense shit, gunfights, and pregnant women getting shot has to happen to wile away the hours. (Don’t worry, it all turned out fine, and was actually completely meaningless anyway.)
Also, lots of other ancillary characters are around in alternate form so we can be impressed with how thorough and thoughtful the writers are at raveling things together, except when doing so requires more thought than a narrative namedrop. So, if you’ve been missing Keamy, Artz, Mikhail Bakunin, or Ilana (didn’t know you had to miss her? Sorry, she dies in the Island part of the season, allowing Ben to say something mysterious and portentous that amounts to nothing), this “alt” or “sideways” world is the half of the season for you.
Oh, everyone looks in the mirror heavy-handedly in this world, which we were apparently to take for meaningful, but doesn’t really make any sense given the final revelation. Which is…that this is their collective afterlife in which for some reason they don’t remember the Island part of their lives. Why we are to posit that when you die you will somehow have forgotten hugely significant parts of your life and have to go through a TV seasons worth of mysterious goings-on to remember makes little thematic or theological sense, but does set up a pretty successful manipulative tear-jerker of a final episode of a TV show.
So, there you go. A bit of an epilogue, that half of the season. Contributes nothing whatever to the confusing but tantalizing morass of a story we spent five seasons with. But the other half of the season does, kind of.
The bomb explosion sends the Jack-Kate-Hurley-Sawyer-Miles-Jin-Sayid crew back to 2007. (Why? Hey, it’s about character, not plot! And the character lesson—the kind that can make you just tear up with its deep emotional truth—was: Do not expect setting off a hydrogen bomb to solve your problems.) We learn the apparent Locke is really the Man in Black who was talking to Jacob at end of last season, who is really Smokey, and he’s got a plan, a plan that will shape the entire drama and narrative of the season. That plan is to get off the island. (Except in the end, it isn’t really. It’s to sink the island by extinguishing its mystical electromagnetical light energy. And then leave? We never really know for sure. We are assured it will be a bad thing if he does, from a lot of very unreliable narrator types, so it’s quite possible for those who like to take this show’s subtleties seriously that not much was at stake in the entire central conflict.)
Smokey says he needs all the surviving crash survivors to do it. Juliet is dead, Sawyer is mad. The ghost of Jacob tells Hurley to take everyone to the Temple we’ve heard so much about, full of portent, mysterious characters like Temple Master Dogen and his sidekick Lennon saying weird things, but don’t worry about any of it, they all get slaughtered about 1/3 of the way in and nothing they said or did had any lasting significance. Sayid goes through a weird rebirth experience and gets “possessed,” sort of, it doesn’t matter. (We can’t say this sort of wheel-spinning isn’t a Lost tradition. The same could be said for Season 2’s tailies, and Season’s 3’s “The Others fertility problems” storylines, but alas we didn’t realize they were all no payoff, little relevance time fillers until it was all over.)
Sawyer and Kate run off and fail to bond. Ghost Jacob lures Jack and Hurley to his magic lighthouse where his magic mirrors have been magically following all the characters all their lives. To prove how they kept everything in mind scrupulously, the writers base the emotional center of that episode on us remembering from seasons ago that Jack’s dad once told him “you don’t have what it takes.”
Smokey Locke shows Sawyer the cave where Jacob scrawled the names of all the characters—who are, it turns out, candidates to replace him as guardian of the Island/jailer of Smokey—and we get an amazing one-line reveal on one of Lost’s most enduring mystery: What was the deal with those numbers, the ones being broadcast from the Island, used to quell the Hatch electromagnetism, Hurley’s lottery—fate? Magic? Coincidence? Well, all of that, I guess, kind of. You see: “Jacob had a thing about numbers.” When you hear that, you’ll think it a witty dismissal on the part of the cynical enemy leading up to a later reveal. You’ll be wrong to think that. (I hear people talk about Valenzetti equations. I’ve watched every episode of the TV series Lost and I’m pretty sure I never heard anyone mention Valenzetti equations.)
Widmore shows up and kills a bunch of people and tries to kill a bunch more but he’s really there on Jacob’s orders to bring Desmond back to the Island as a deus ex electromagnetica to stop Smokey’s plan. Widmore’s own machinations vis a vis Locke were key to Smokey’s plan working, so maybe he was on Smokey’s side all along. Maybe…What his motivations ever were, beyond finding the Island and killing everyone on it, remain completely mysterious (he even adds a classic never-followed-up Lost portentous one-liner to Sawyer about how little poor Sawyer understands about what’s going on when Sawyer gives a perfectly accurate description of who Widmore is and what he was trying to do), despite pretty much all of season 4’s freighter drama centering around them.
Widmore gets shot and killed unceremoniously by Ben. Ben goes through a lot of character drama. Being told by Ilana she will accept him makes him melt and turn him nice. Being faced with death by Smokey returns him to apparent ruthlessness…or does it? We’ll never know, because about 10 minutes after this portentous change, the plot shifts around so that his choice, whatever it might have been, never gets revealed and doesn’t matter.
Oh: We learn Jacob and Smokey are twin brothers. A few of the original characters get killed. We learn Richard has been on the Island for a long time and misses his dead wife. We learn that Smokey started building the donkey wheel centuries ago. Smokey became Smokey when Jacob killed him after Smokey killed their crazy foster mother, previous Island guardian, and threw him down the magical glowing island energy well.
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There’s also a lot of canoeing around back and forth to Hydra Island, since that’s where the Ajira Plane is that could be both the survivors and Smokey’s means off the Island. (Was there any dramatic purpose in the fact that there even was a Hydra Island except that first “o wow” moment when Ben revealed it to Sawyer back in season 3? It could easily have just been “that side of the Island” and saved us a lot of “dammit back in the canoe” moments. The show’s writers loved those sort of “o wow” or “what a fascinatingly portentous bit of dialog” moments that were clearly just for their own sake.)
And in the end—Desmond pulls a cork at the Island’s heart that makes every start to fall apart. It makes the Island start to fall apart and turns Smokey human again. Kate shoots and kills him with a painful cutesy one-liner. Hurley ends up the new Island guardian, with Ben as his assistant, and Rose and Bernard as the wacky neighbors. Jack goes and recorks the cork and dies with Vincent lying next to him, closing his eyes on the same spot he first opened them in the show’s first scene. They totally knew where they were going with this all along! How else explain this eerie parallelism?
Oh yeah, you find out who the Adam and Eve skeletons were. I won’t spoil that for you, but you won’t care. (Eve was a character who you only meet in the very episode you learn she was Eve.)
You will hear it said by devoted fans who cannot take what turns out to be the show’s central message—you gotta let go—to heart that those of us disappointed by the wrap-up somehow missed all along what the show was really about. “It was never about answers!” (Right—hey, what was in that Hatch they made such a big deal about in season one anyway?) It was about mystery. It was about confusion. It was about how life itself is full of inexplicable actions and events and forces, cranky multibillionaires trying to kill you, Island primitives with enough scratch to run bogus biotech companies in the pacific northwest, ghosts of people you never met telling you to go to weird cabins where inexplicable eyes will frighten you, inexplicable fertility problems, and wonky physicists who will bore you with their time travel theories.
There’s one thematic element that did convince me they had a planned throughline all along. Living together, dying alone, dying together, good v. evil, faith, science, redemption, Jack, Jack, Jack—it was really Sawyer’s show all along. It was really about the Long Con. Six seasons long.
What con men like Sawyer (and Lindelof and Cuse) know is lots of people are dying to be conned. They’ll keep lying to themselves about what’s going on just to keep the heated fun of the game going, until that moment when you’re confronted with the hastily scrawled note saying “sayonara, good to know ya, don’t look for your wallet or car”—or the hastily conceived conclusion where two mortal enemies decide for reasons unstated to cooperate in dropping the electromagnetic Scotsman down the well to pull a cork so a lot of arbitrary magicks can be arbitrarily reversed, and the ultimate villain (who, you know, never did anything much worse than his primary adversary, and seemed to have better motives for it to begin with) can get shot in the back.
What let them get away with the Long Con was the age Lost got launched in. It was the ultimate show for the wiki/net era: a convoluted choose-your –own-explanation book, where clever obsessives galore will explain to the doubters exactly how clever and thoughtful the creators were. (I was one of those acolytes until about halfway through next-to-last episode “What They Died For.”) Lost’s writers got to outsource the actual mental labor of making sense of their creation to commentors on the Internet. Nice work if you can get it.
The writers did not fail to give you the clues, at least as this season wrapped up. They told us the mystical rules were made up by Island guardians, were arbitrary and whimsical, and could change at any moment. (What relationship did they have to the “rules” Ben and Widmore talked about in the wonderful but ultimately insignificant bedroom scene in “Shape of Things To Come?” We’ll never know.) Thus, don’t worry your heads about whys and wherefores of phantom horses, electromagnetic pockets, weird pools that turn you into zombies, ghosts on and off island, ageless dudes, Dharmacausts, how or why the Island wouldn’t let you die or escape til it was “done with you”—there was this mystical guy, kind of a jerk, he made up some rules.
And Eloise Hawking? Guess she was the Tom Bombadil of the show. Nothing more is revealed.
Like the various women who Sawyer conned, I’m sure we all enjoyed ourselves along the way. Still, we woke up one morning to the shameful realization that that clever, rogueish conman storyteller had stolen a lot from us in end.
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