The Lost Finale: What Went Wrong?

Benjamin Linus faces the smoke monster.
Ben waits for Smokey

On May 23, 2010 one of my favorite television shows ended its six year run.  For me, the airing of Lost’s finale was something akin to a religious experience.  I had spent countless hours debating theories with friends and coworkers.  I was emotionally invested in the characters.  So when the finale began, I was filled anticipation.  Finally, I would get answers.

Two and half hours later I posted the following status update:

I have VERY MIXED feelings about the Lost finale.  I found the episode to be emotionally satisfying, but otherwise frustrating. Honestly, I feel kind of cheated.

And I wasn’t alone.  Similar reactions flooded the internet.

Mixed Emotions

Looking back nearly a year later, my feelings on Lost remain mixed.   On one hand, I still love the show.  For six years it enriched my life.  It was a bright spot that I looked forward to, and a source of endless fascination.  One of my favorite aspects of the series was the characterization.  The characters and their personal journeys were fleshed out wonderfully, and ultimately made the series worthwhile.

On the other hand, the show’s creators did the unexpected.  They presented us with a puzzle, but never gave the solution.  In retrospect, I don’t think that the writers ever knew what the island was.

Delivering on Promises

When writing a novel, the author must deliver on promises implicitly made to the reader. When a reader picks up a mystery novel, they expect the author to reveal what really happened. If the author doesn’t deliver on this promise, the reader will feel betrayed.

Now artistically, the writer can choose not to provide an answer. But they do so at their own peril. More often than not, readers won’t take the risk of trusting them again.

As a show, Lost consistently operated on two levels: the first was characterization, and the second was mystery.

On the first level, the series finale delivered. It brought the characters full circle, and was deeply moving.

It was on the second level, mystery, that so many were left wanting.  Numerous questions were raised throughout the series, and many of us watched to learn what the answers were.  Between episodes we would theorize as to what was really going on.  Lost was an intricate puzzle, and we were fascinated by how everything fit together.

We did get some answers, but not the one that mattered.

Where Are We?

The series pilot ended with the following line, spoken by Charlie:

Guys.  Where are we?

This question was never truly answered.  Sure, some details were revealed, but they didn’t go deep enough.  Saying that it’s a magical place with a golden light was far from adequate. How did this island get to be so special? How can it be moved from place to place? Why can’t children be both conceived and born on the island?

None of this was properly fleshed out. You see, many of us were under the impression that Lost was in fact a puzzle.  We believed that the series finale would provide a final piece which would make sense of everything. Something so profound that we could go back and watch the entire series from the beginning and see how everything fit. But alas, this was not the case.

Final Assessment

While the part of me that watched for the characters was satisfied by the finale, the part that watched for the mystery was left woefully disappointed.

Granted, it was their artistic prerogative to not give us the answer. But honestly, I think that it was a shitty move.

The show was brilliant, and always entertained. Still, I can’t help but feel frustrated by promises that were implicitly made, and never fulfilled.

What was your reaction to the Lost finale when it first aired?  Has your opinion changed since then?

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11 years ago

 I still love Lost, it’s a great show despite all the problems with finale. I had a post about the ending and the show. I’ve just read it and I still think the same. Give it a try, I’d like to hear your opinions.

I never expected to know what the island is, how it moves and what are the numbers. Every mystery has to have a part that remains a mystery. Something’s have to be left for the audience to imagine. And I doubt there is a possible explanation for an island that moves in time and space that is not too tacky. 

But I expected to hear the rules, and to have candidates explained. 

But the biggest disappointment was the purgatory story that was supposed to explain the flash-sideways timeline. That is simply an easy way out of the great story Lost was before the finale. 

After the final episode I felt there was something happening in the production backstage that suddenly changed the course of the show mid last season. Everything was heading one way, and then, out of nothing, the show changed the direction to the ending we have seen. 

Joseph Camel
Joseph Camel
11 years ago

I do not see what this fuss was about. Maybe it was because I was lucky enough to have seen the series pretty much at all once – we went through the whole thing in about a month and a half – but I felt every question was answered pretty completely. So completely actually I was a little disappointed.

They pretty clearly, over like 3 seasons worth of reiterating, detailed what the island was. Why it was the way it was – hell, even WHERE it was on the world map. Then they went even further to involve main characters in the experimentation to AGAIN AND AGAIN reinforce what the island was and why it was being exploited. This puzzle came together 100% but it came together in season 3-4. By season 4 the conflict was about characters, first and foremost. All that crap with Jacob and Silas from Deadwood in the last season was essentially introducing the island itself as an intractable character – not to build on it’s mystery.

I have found that when people don’t like this ending it’s because the answers they got to the questions they were asking since it premiered were either not as interesting or way off base compared to the answers they came up with themselves. Which is why I said it was a luxury to plow through it – I did not have six years worth of speculation to have to overcome. I just had a month and a half’s worth of total confusion that clarified.

Antonio del Drago
Reply to  Joseph Camel
11 years ago

Hi Joseph,

Your raise an interesting point.  I would imagine that watching the entire series within a few weeks would be a very different experience than having it stretched over a period of years.


11 years ago

el final siginifica q pasara lo q pasara en esta vida en la otra o en el limbo ellos se iban a rencontrar siempre porq lo q vivieron juntos fue lo q les dio sentido a sus vidas,,,y creo q ese final es simplemente magico…no hay q buscar mas…lo q mas queres lo tenes a tu lado. al menos eso percibi yo. dulce y emotivo final…no importa q era la isla ni donde estaba,,,lo q importaba era q cada personaje entendiera su lugar en la isla….besos 

Louis G.
11 years ago

I only read the section “Where Are We?” so far, but I already notice
some issues with the article. 1. Lost DID answer why children could not
be born on the island – because of The Incident. 2. They DID answer
“where” the island is – it’s moving through space and time. It doesn’t
have to be in one place – Charlie asks that because he has no idea of
the properties of the island. 3. It wasn’t said that the island is just a
magical place with a golden light. It is explained by Mother that light
in the heart of the island, in some way, allows the rest of the world
to exist. 

Antonio del Drago
Reply to  Louis G.
11 years ago

Hi Louis,

Unfortunately, many of us had interpreted those details as being “hints,” pieces of the puzzle, so to speak, which would lead to a concrete, definite answer.  It had never occurred that those were the answers, as they seemed too vague.   

angie bianchi
11 years ago

I realize you’re coming from more of a “creative” standpoint here, but overall I find that Lost appeals to people roughly the same way religion does – some find not having answers frustrating, and some are more willing to roll with it without having to have concrete answers.  The arguments I’ve had with people who did and did not like the ending really do fall into those two generalized groups.  I find that the people who hated the ending (much like atheists) will quibble over small details and just argue for the sake of making themselves seem intellectually superior to those who felt warm fuzzies during the finale.  I think that it’s fine and dandy for everyone to feel differently about it.  But I get sick of the haters telling those of us who rolled with it that we are stupid and/or were obviously not paying attention for 6 years.  Just a general observation, not directed at anyone here in particular. 

Antonio del Drago
Reply to  angie bianchi
11 years ago

Hi Angie,

I think that your analogy with religion holds true here.  Some people want concrete answers, while others are OK with things being left mysterious and undefined.  It’s not an issue of one group being superior to the other.  They are just different.

What exasperated some folks with Lost’s ending is that we watched for six seasons believing that concrete answers would be given.  When they weren’t, that generated disappointment for those of us who thought that we were being presented with a puzzle, piece by piece, and that the answers would be revealed.

Whatever my gripes are with the ending, I wouldn’t classify myself as a hater.  I still count Lost as one of my all time favorite shows, and I found the ending to be very emotionally satisfying.

Antonio del Drago
11 years ago

I also appreciated the frequent literary references throughout Lost. It was one of the factors that made the series so great.

Nathan J. Lauffer
Nathan J. Lauffer
11 years ago

I was a little more comfortable with the open end. However, I do understand how people could be frustrated. A little more of the mythology was filled in on the internet and in the epilogue.

They could have gone back further in the origin of things. I have a feeling all of the literary references helped clue people in on things. I think that the writers dipped into other mythologies in interesting ways. The mystery about the numbers actually borrowed from Asimov’s Psychohistory. And, the final season borrowed from C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce. I wish I was better read because I’m sure I could have seen a lot more of this. I could go on, because I see Lost in everything now. It’s probably unhealthy. 🙂

My mind likes to fill in blanks…a lot. And, I like it when people give me interesting blanks to fill in. It’s a preference (as well as a curse at times).

What can I say, I even liked Twin Peaks. 🙂

David Bennett
11 years ago

Like in music, resolution is satisfying. Without resolution there is a nagging wish to impose our own resolution. For me the resolution came early: I stopped watching Lost when I got the impression they were making it up as they went along but without any inner logic as to how things should go.

Antonio del Drago
Reply to  David Bennett
11 years ago

Hi David,

When the series was running, several of my friends argued that the writers were making it up as they went along. I defended the show, repeating the claim that it was all planned out from the beginning. I believed that this position would be vindicated during the final season.

I ended up with egg on my face, so to speak.

David Bennett
Reply to  Antonio del Drago
11 years ago

Grasshopper says: He who admits to egg on face has no egg on face.

Mdnight Falling
11 years ago

In other words it’s a good thing I didn’t share my mother’s obsession huh? LOL I think I’ll stick to my anime at least most of them make sense x.x

Antonio del Drago
11 years ago

Hey Falling,

Lost was a show that required some work to follow. No one could have watched this show casually and enjoyed it. To really appreciate Lost, you had to become obsessed with it.

Unfortunately, this sort of investment is only worthwhile if there’s a payoff. In this case the payoff never came.

Mdnight Falling
11 years ago

Lost as a whole confused me somewhere in the first season so I just quit watching it. My mom, she watched the entire series and loved it. she used to tell me every week what happened and every week I looked at her dumbly since I didn’t understand the chaos that was the show… I guess they gave it a good name cause I sure was Lost trying to follow it >.<

Tom aka Dusky
Tom aka Dusky
11 years ago

Hmm. I’m not too qualified to expound on Lost and its qualities as a piece of drama. It was shown here in the UK for a time and then switched to Sky (which I don’t subscribe to). I enjoyed the episodes I saw, though, and decided to wait until it was finished before buying the DVDs. Then I spoke to people who’d seen the whole thing. Oh dear. Creativity is fine, but creativity without resolution is annoying. Needless to say, I didn’t bother buying the DVDs.

I disagree with you, Tony, in one sense – I don’t believe that it’s an artist’s perogative to leave things hanging (I do agree, however, that it was a shitty move). Whether on TV or in fiction people invest time and (in some cases) emotion in the narrative. The least that’s expected is a satisfactory conclusion. I felt the same sense of disappointment when Farscape got canned. After so many hours expended learning the various nuances of the characters and finally caring about them, a termination without proper resolution feels like a kick in the teeth.

(By the way, was the black smoke thing ever explained?)

Antonio del Drago
Reply to  Tom aka Dusky
11 years ago

Hey Tom,

You summarize the problem perfectly: “Creativity is fine, but creativity without resolution is annoying.”

What happened with Lost took this to a whole new level, as many fans expected the finale to offer real resolution. Instead, it raised new questions which would never be answered.

As for the smoke monster, it was explained… sort of. How it became a “smoke thingy” was explained in an episode. But exactly WHAT it was, as well as the ultimate source of its power, was never adequately answered.

9 years ago

I didn’t necessarily expect EVERY question to be answered, but I expected answers to the MAJOR questions: What was the Island precisely? What was its origin? How did it become imbued with its power? Was it Eden? What did the numbers mean?
I was one of those people who watched much more for the mystery than for the characters, so yes, the ending was crappy, utterly disappointing. The writers/creators used exceedingly intriguing plot lines to hook viewers, then left us hanging. As a viewer/reader, I find that unacceptable, and as a writer, I’d never do that to my readers.

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