As I said in the first part of this Lost trilogy, the flaws of the Lost finale were almost all forgivable, and I was more than happy to do that in the moment. Some, however, have lingered. In a way it’s upsetting: why won’t my brain just let the nice show entertain me? My Twitter feed is mostly filled with Lostfans, but some who really loathed the finale remain, and their angry tweets pinched at me. Also, as I said before, there has been challenging debate between myself and Daisyhellcakes, debate that was not quelled by the delightful coda included on the final DVD/Blu-Ray box-sets. I’ve attempted to respond to those comments in a way that isn’t merely subjective pleading, though I’m not sure I’ve done a good job. It because there is one criticism that is very hard to counter: isn’t the Afterworld merely a loosely connected afterthought, an epilogue that could belong to just about any other show? What about a big group hug in the afterlife screams Lost?
What’s more annoying is that Cuse and Lindelof spent a long time bragging that they had a lot of things planned out in advance, and while I can see that with the very final shot of Jack’s eye closing, what about the Afterworld? Was this something they came up with between seasons five and six? A full rewatch of all six seasons could potentially unveil many hints about the afterlife that we haven’t spotted before. For instance, in the season three opener A Tale of Two Cities, when Jack is held captive in Hydra station, we hear Christian over a crackling intercom. He says “Let it go, Jack,” which, at the time, seemed to be some kind of temporal fallout from the previous flashback, which ended on those exact words. After the finale, it seems more likely this was a message from Jack’s future in the Bardo. There’s also Charlotte’s final words as she dies in Daniel’s arms, delirious from time-hopping. There’s a good chance she has become completely unmoored in time and sees the Bardo as she goes, saying, “This place is death.”
However, without those examples, are there any other connections? The most significant one is that the show has been filled with ghosts from the very beginning, but they have been taken for granted while we wait for a scientific explanation for the Whispers (I was one of those who expected it would be the Losties travelling back in time and commenting on their actions from offscreen). The show has had a relationship with death, both symbolically and actually, from the first episode, but many of the theories I’ve seen in the last few years have focused on scientific explanations, and avoiding the death aspect. Is this because most fans had a strong distaste of anything that would prove the Purgatory theory that no one wanted to be true (and I know that no one wanted that because the former fans who misunderstood the final scenes and took them to be proof that no one survived the Oceanic 815 crash are the most vocal in denigrating the show and complaining about the time they wasted)?
A religious ending is one that many fans have been dreading. There has been disapproval about the sixth season voiced on many sites, with each supernatural or religious reference treated as a slap in the face (though seriously, if you didn’t think Jacob “baptising” Richard in Ab Aeterno was perfect for the moment, then we will inevitably disagree on many things). I will admit, the Gods ‘R Us Room of Religious Symbology gave me disappointment-hives, but I appreciated that by adding as many religious symbols as they did the showrunners were making a comment about how religious belief is often born of a yearning for knowledge and solace about what happens after death, while also making sure people didn’t think it was a specifically Christian take (see also: mocking Christian Shepherd’s name).
The Afterworld has a lot in common with the Tibetan Bardo (as mentioned before), and also — in a nice little nod that I spotted on my third tear-streaked viewing of the finale — with the myth of Avalon, which is referenced within the show during the show-myth-heavy vending machine scene. Sawyer predictably picks an Apollo bar, as did Jack in the fifth season finale, but sitting next to it is an Avalon bar: another fake brand made up for the show. Avalon is, of course, an island from Arthurian myth, the place where King Arthur is taken to recover from wounds received during his battle with the traitorous Mordred: perfect for Lost, where the island is a place where characters are physically healed, as well as the Afterworld, which is a place where psychological or spiritual wounds are healed. Avalon is also a place of wonderment: Sir Geoffrey of Monmouth describes it thusly:
The island of apples which men call “The Fortunate Isle” (Insula Pomorum que Fortunata uocatur) gets its name from the fact that it produces all things of itself; the fields there have no need of the ploughs of the farmers and all cultivation is lacking except what nature provides. Of its own accord it produces grain and grapes, and apple trees grow in its woods from the close-clipped grass. The ground of its own accord produces everything instead of merely grass, and people live there a hundred years or more. There nine sisters rule by a pleasing set of laws those who come to them from our country.
I’m sure many fans have already considered the Arthurian mythology as another Rosetta Stone to decipher the meaning of the show, and I look forward to finding a deeper analysis of such, but it’s easily noted that Desmond removes the plug in the cave in much the same way that Arthur removes Excalibur/Caliburn from a stone, and Jack replaces it: i.e. casts it into a lake a la Sir Bedivere/Girflet, depending on which version of the myth you read. I’m tempted to say that the Avalon-as-healing-place fanwank is a solid enough connection between the real world and the Afterworld. Certainly I have long maintained that this show was all about conquering your inner demons as much as it was about the external act of “redemption”, as Cuse and Lindelof have repeatedly stated, and if the show is going to take that to the furthest extreme by having the characters fix their own problems in the afterlife, I’m cool with that. Sadly, that’s not gonna fly with most people.
The other heavily favoured explanation – and one I instantly loved as soon as I read it – for the Bardo is that it is generated by Hurley, who now has dominion over his friend’s lives due to a similar connection to the one Jacob had with his chosen ones (a connection that can be explained away as magic or an electromagnetic resonance “password” that every Chosen One has). I’ve not spent as much time reading other people’s theories, mostly because I want to keep my own thoughts clear, but I spotted the beginnings of a wave of support for this theory, and it makes a lot of sense. Forgive me for jumping all over other people’s ideas, but there is merit to this theory. Hurley has been a storyteller all along, and it makes sense that the Island would use that mindset as a template to provide our hero with the ability to create an alternate reality for his friends in order to get them together outside time and space, if indeed the island has the ability to alter things to that extent. (I’ll come back to that in a minute.)
We’ve seen Hurley “write” The Empire Strike Back, and get excited about crappy TV shows like Expose, and he also talks to the dead (his supernatural ability, exaggerated by his exposure to the island). As some have mentioned, the Bardo is filled with bad TV cliches: coincidental meetings, hardboiled and handsome cops, convenient happy endings, bad guys summoning prisoners to kitchens, etc. The Bardo was fun during the season, but it also seemed a little silly. Perhaps this is the ultimate fanwank, where instead of just being rough-edged TV, it’s attributable to Hurley’s excitable imagination. It cleverly mixed intricate, symbol-heavy Lostian storytelling with sub-standard generic TV storytelling: the smarts were there, but they were hidden behind some out-of-place daftness.
Of course this can be seen as a bit of a leap too far, but the sixth season gave us plenty of hints that being in charge of the island does more than bequeath the Chosen One a few nifty powers. There’s a sense that the island is an antenna for some subterranean force that is channeled through the people above, and then turned into reality, but only if the person is not conscious of this process working. Many fans complained when Ben’s comments about the Magic Box (season three’s The Man From Tallahassee) were recanted in the following episode, but subsequent events suggested that the island does have a way of manifesting the desires of those attuned to the island. As with The Third Policeman, with its subterranean chamber that contains boxes filled with transformative Omnium, the island is sitting on something that turns subconscious thought into reality: a perfect magical and narrative turn considering the show is concerned with showing how all of these characters have developed a distrusting view of the world through their hard lives, so that their expectations shape their subjective reality.
You certainly get the sense that this powers events on the island, which is why we get these satisfying concentric circles of event throughout the lives of all who are affected by the island. When guardianship of the island is passed onto Jacob, the world is shaped to follow his belief system. He has a fractious relationship with his mother, who is murderous, and never really gets a chance to grow up, get past his own psychological troubles. As a result we see the island populated by people who had terrible relationships with their parents, by those who would kill dozens of people just to gain dominion over the island. The scene of the Man in Black walking through a devastated village echoes the shot of Ben walking through post-purge New Otherton in The Man Behind The Curtain.
We see an obsession with games — with Backgammon-precursor Senet being the one distraction on the island in its early days — to the point that the war between Jacob and the Man in Black is played several moves in advance, with our heroes just pawns in that game. We see their relationship played out again and again, between Jack and Locke, Locke and Ben, and most explicitly with Ben and Widmore, who have a deeply antagonistic relationship but only ever move against each other in accordance with some peculiar, unspoken set of rules. See also the way Smokey’s actions are blocked by barriers either technological (the Sonic Fence) or mystical (guardians of the temple such as Dogen): it too has to abide by rules.
But even more than these side-effects, we see the circular trap you get into when two opposing forces fight. Nothing ever happens, or progresses. Car crashes keep happening. Betrayals keep happening. Characters keep making the same mistakes (sometimes it’s hard to watch Sawyer stumble through life, which is one of the reasons why season five’s LaFleur is one of the show’s highlights). The island is in stasis, and it’s telling that the show hints that Jacob and the Man in Black have been at war for so long that even the world is trapped in this cycle. Could it be so? We have enough proof that the lives of our heroes are damaged before they even make it to the island.
Could this mean all of the pain and suffering and lack of progress on planet Earth is caused by these two squabbling brothers beaming their distrust and hatred out across the world? The Numbers suggest this is the case. Jacob chooses six potential candidates from a numbered list, and the relevant numbers resonate throughout the world, popping up over and over again. If it is true that the guardian of the island can affect reality, what does this mean for “us” now that Hurley is in charge, with his acceptance of the formerly evil Ben replacing that antagonistic relationship? Isn’t it said that the only way you can move on from traumatic, negative, life-wrecking events is to forgive all others, and yourself? Again Lost manages to capture both the Christian notion of forgiving those who sin against you, and the psychological notion of forgiving yourself, and turn those ideas into satisfying character development and drama.
This means that using the island’s energy to change things is partially intentional (Hurley’s choice to make the island “open” so that the Ajira plane can leave) and unintentional (e.g. the endless parade of bad parents, the numbers, etc.). The unintentional aspect is the important one. Just as Walt can make things happen without realising even when he’s not on the island – the epilogue hints that he really is as important to the island as we thought, but in terms of the story this piece of information was only important as a hint to the bigger picture – so the island makes everyone’s inner turmoil or serenity flesh. At the heart of that is faith, the totem that is spoken of as a concept within the show and as a way of viewing it from outside. More than that, it’s a plot device, and a key to understanding the way the island and its supply of Omnium works. I’ll follow that thread in the next post.