“Lost” Ends by Revealing It Jumped the Shark Sideways

The primary revelation of the final episode of Lost was that the whole “flash sideways” world was really a sort of Buddhist purgatory that all the “Lost” folks who ever died (or will die) constructed so that they could “find” each other, remember their good times together, and “let go” of all their attachments (except to their romantic interests) so that they could “move on” to “the Light.” I was left wondering, “Is that it? That’s what we were waiting for?”

Gene Veith identifies some Christian imagery in the episode. Amy Welborn focuses on a reference to Flannery O’Connor some time ago (Jacob reading, Everything that Rises Must Converge). But the Christian symbols were set alongside symbols of many other religions, most notably in the final scenes. Jack entered a side room that contained his father’s coffin. The stained glass window had symbols of Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, and Daoism. An altar likewise had Hindu and Buddhist idols alongside the Christian symbols. Such juxtaposition suggests that the producers believe that the disparate religions of the world must also “converge” as they “rise,” until, after death, they are seen as one.

As a story-telling device, I felt the purgatory world to be a stupid and pointless exercise. If I watch any of this season again, I will skip straight past these excursions, so as to watch only the scenes taking place on the island. On a metaphysical level, the combination of Christian and Buddhist themes gave us a muddled mysticism which may have led to some interesting exploration of perennial human questions, but it gave no satisfying answers.

But then again, what could we expect? The most any human philosophy can do is raise questions, and hint at the existence of something greater than ourselves. It cannot answer the questions. Only revelation can do that. And here’s where Christian faith must part company with Lost‘s tale. We aren’t saved by becoming loving, and connected to other people–we are saved through connection with Jesus Christ, the source of life (who will transform us to be like him, and in him we will be connected to others). We don’t find the light within, and protect it–we are found by the light without, and he enlightens us. We don’t repeat his sacrifice–we embrace his. We aren’t subjected to the arbitrary rules of a petty demiurge who was forced into the job–we are created free, though bound by sin. We aren’t caught in a game between black and white–but we are involved in a great controversy between good and evil, in which evil is a latecomer, a usurper, whose accusations will be proven wrong. And we will not stumble through a purgatory world trying to find folks we know, rather, every eye alive at the end will see Christ return, and those who sleep will be raised, and  “then we shall know, even as we are known.”

As for the telling of human adventure stories–I think Lost would have been better showing simply the human struggle of sacrifice and perseverence. Like Sam says to Frodo in The Two Towers:

It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something. … That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.

Jack did that, and the island was saved (along with the rest of the world). And a handful of folks (Lapidus, Myles, Sawyer, Kate, and Claire) did finally get off, while some others (Rose, Bernard, Hurley, and Ben) chose to stay. As stories go, that was enough.