J.J. Abrams finally broke his long silence on the controversial ending of his most successful TV show, Lost. In an interview with the Guardian, he said that he hasn't heard anybody come up with their own ideas for how Lost should have ended.
We thought you'd never ask.
For years, I had people praising Lost to death, and now they say: 'I'm so pissed at you for the end of Lost.' I think a lot of people who were upset with the ending, were just upset that it ended. And I've not yet heard the pitch of what the ending should have been. I've just heard: 'That sucked.'
Seriously, we're really glad that J.J. Abrams has expressed so much eagerness to hear people's ideas for how the show that bore his name could have ended. That's really great, and perhaps some of you guys will have your own ideas to share in the comments section. We certainly have our own ideas for how Lost could have reached a stronger ending, some of which we've expounded before.
First off, though, let's all agree that most of us who had problems with the ending of Lost weren't "just upset that it ended." That's a smokescreen worthy of the Smoke Monster. So with that out of the way, here are the pitches that J.J. Abrams was waiting for...
1) Show us what happens when the Man in Black gets off the Island. At the end of season five, we learn that almost everything bad that's happened is due to this newly introduced character. He's the Smoke Monster. He impersonated Jack's dad. He's impersonating Locke. He led Ben astray and thus corrupted the Others. And now he's killed
JesusJacob. And now he wants to get off the Island — so show us what happens when he does.
We actually suggested this one a few weeks before the final episode aired, when it was already clear that Lost season six was not quite getting off the ground. As we pointed out, the final Harry Potter book shows us what happens when Voldemort wins — a Voldemort-dominated world is a terrible, ugly place. Meanwhile, Lost just tells us that if the Man in Black gets off the Island, puppies will spontaneously combust or something. I know, the show's special effects budget was not limitless — but they could afford a lot of other stuff. "Show don't tell" is an overused maxim, but there are times when it really does apply — and this is one. Which brings us to...
2) Raise the stakes. The big sudden threat in the final episode, "The End," is that the Man in Black is going to "destroy the Island." Which basically translates to, "I'm going to kill nine people." Plus Vincent, the dog. I mean, I'd be sad if Vincent died. And Bernard and Rose, who we haven't seen in about a year until they turn up in the finale.
Rewatching the finale now, it's amazing how low on incident it is. "The End" feels as though it could have come from the middle of any season of Lost: there are a lot of people walking from one end of the Island to the other, and then back, while talking about mysterious stuff that's going to happen. It's very leisurely, and at no point is there a feeling that threats are escalating in urgency, or that something is coming to a head. When people say they still want "answers" from Lost, I think they actually mean they want "clear, meaningful stakes." What happens, exactly, if the Island is destroyed? Beyond Bernard and Rose dying, which would be sad. We don't get any sense of scale, which brings us to...
3) Make it a team effort. If there's one theme that resonates through the early seasons of Lost, it's the importance of the whole community on the Island, pulling together. Unfortunately, by the time you get to the final episode, most of the cool characters are either dead, or spent. There's nothing left for Sawyer or Kate to do, although Kate does get to shoot Locke. Hurley and Ben get a bit of an epilogue where they become partners, but that's it. But the central mantra of Lost's early seasons — "Live together, die alone" — is missing here. There are some crowd scenes, but in the end defeating the Man in Black is only Jack's job, with a tiny amount of help from his friends. Which brings us to...
4) Show us what Jack's learned over six seasons. Rewatching "The End," it's even clearer than ever that Jack is supposed to be the hero of Lost. And he has a very odd sort of hero's journey. He's already a heroic figure in the show's first season — rallying the survivors, giving inspirational speeches, and generally being awesome. Then he gets tested a lot in seasons two and three, including a stint as the prisoner of the Others, and finally he's broken down and becomes Crazy-Beard Jack. The natural conclusion of this sort of arc would be to build Jack up again in the final season — but we don't see much of that. He smashes a lighthouse and acts sulky, before finally embracing his destiny.
And as I wrote a few months ago, we don't get to see Jack face some huge final test, which shows us what he's learned as a result of all this. Not a test of intelligence, but a test of wisdom. And heart. Show us Jack surmounting some huge challenge, that he wouldn't have been able to handle in season one. Forget giving us resolution on the Dharma Initiative or Walt — give us a real ending to Jack's journey.
5) Finally, go for the poetry. What amazes me, rewatching the final episode, is how prosaic it is. At least, the parts set on the Island — the final episode seems to rely on the "flash sideways" scenes to add emotion and wonder to the story, but I skipped those parts, since they didn't actually "happen." Lost was a show that wasn't afraid to get trippy — from the Egyptian hieroglyphs in the Bunker's failsafe to Room 23, to the Smoke Monster itself. And you might have expected the final episode to feature some kind of ultimate psychedelic experience — some kind of 2001: A Space Odyssey moment where Jack became a giant baby or something. Something where the show's creators said, "Fuck it — we don't have to care if people come back next week, because there is no next week. Let's go for it. Let's come out as a fantasy series, once and for all." Lost was coy about its status as a fantasy show, but became more open about it over time — but if there was ever a time to commit to full-on epic craziness, it would be the last episode. I'm not saying it had to get cheesy, or overtly psychedelic, but a bit more poetry and weirdness in the last episode would have made it feel more like an epic conclusion.
There's plenty of other stuff — like, instead of killing off Charles Widmore uselessly, give us a real reason why Ben and Widmore were fighting, and make their confrontation mirror the final resolution of the Jack/M.I.B. conflict. Also, given the show's obsession with children in earlier seasons and the supposed importance of Aaron, have Aaron turn out to be a vital figure in some way. Make Sawyer's process of getting over his grief over the death of Juliet lead to some act of courage, or generosity, on his part that helps save the day. Yadda yadda.
But anyway — J.J. Abrams apparently feels like he hasn't gotten to hear people's ideas for how the show should have ended. So we should help him out. What are yours?