In 'Lost' Finale, A Graceful Farewell

Josh Holloway, Evangeline Lilly and Jorge Garcia in 'Lost' i

The Lost cast — including Josh Holloway, Evangeline Lilly and Jorge Garcia — put the capstone on a six-year story arc with a 2 1/2-hour finale that critic David Bianculli found satisfying on more than one level. ABC hide caption

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Josh Holloway, Evangeline Lilly and Jorge Garcia in 'Lost'

The Lost cast — including Josh Holloway, Evangeline Lilly and Jorge Garcia — put the capstone on a six-year story arc with a 2 1/2-hour finale that critic David Bianculli found satisfying on more than one level.

ABC

The smartest thing the producers of ABC's Lost did, other than generating such an interesting show and series pilot in the first place, was to decide, a few years ago, to end the series in May 2010. That simple yet bold decision allowed the writers to pace, to focus on what was important, to make the most meaningful use of the time they had left.

On the one hand, all that did was turn Lost from an ambitious weekly TV series into an even more ambitious mega-TV miniseries. On the other hand, it also turned the TV series into a metaphor for its central message, and for the journey of its Lost protagonist. For the show's writers, for us viewers, and for Jack Shephard, the lesson was the same: It's a temporary journey, so enjoy the ride — and embrace each other.

Instead of giving us one ending — if you haven't watched the finale yet, you should stop reading here — writer-producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse gave us two, one for each alternate storyline. This is where, if you weren't following the show, or even if you were, you could easily get lost with Lost. But basically, this past season had us watching two stories at once.

In one, our heroes were on the island, fighting to return home and also fighting the island's evil force, who had taken the shape of one of their own. In the other storyline, seemingly triggered by a nuclear event on the island, the ill-fated Oceanic passenger jet had never crashed on the island, and we saw what the passengers' lives would have been like without the crash, or the island. Except that their lives were different somehow, and so were the details.

Enough of that. You either buy into it or you don't. In the expanded 2 1/2-hour finale, all the people in that alternate existence eventually found one another, giving viewers the satisfaction of one mini-reunion after another. Off the island, without the island, these people touched each other — often literally — and their memories of the island came flooding back to them. So did a feeling of peace.

The last person it happened to was Jack, who got that rush of memory when he touched his father's coffin — the coffin he had transported back from Australia. Jack, played by Matthew Fox, opened the lid, and the coffin was empty. But suddenly, next to him, stood his father, played by John Terry, and the biggest question posed by Lost was answered.

And then we got those two endings, played out simultaneously.

One ending — the one back on the island, where Jack had restored the life force to the island but was losing his own — was purely visual. It echoed, in reverse, the powerful opening of the series, returning Jack to the bamboo field where he had first regained consciousness after the plane crash. Lost the series had begun with a close-up shot of Jack's eyeball opening. Its final image, last night, was of that same eye closing as Jack died, having accomplished his mission and found his purpose.

But the other ending of Lost was purely verbal, returning to one of the show's most resonant and recurrent themes — father-son issues. When Jack's dead dad emerged from that coffin, he explained that it wasn't an alternate timeline at all, but a timeless line, a limbo, a gathering place. And Jack's death in the "real" world, on the island, enabled the eventual happy reunion of everyone off the island.

Yes, it was a little Twilight Zone-y. And as series finales go, the ending of Lost was not as outrageous as that of St. Elsewhere, as defiantly open-ended as the one for The Sopranos, as aggressively complete as Six Feet Under's or as utterly perfect as Newhart's.

But its two endings, together, were very satisfying — and the final advice from Jack's dad to Jack should be remembered in the context of watching television, too:

"The most important part of your life was the time that you spent with these people," father tells son. "You needed all of them, and they needed you."

"For what?" Jack asked.

"To remember, and to let go," his father replied.

Exactly. Remember Lost, because its type is not returning to TV anytime soon, if at all. But also, as the father figure says, let go. Don't nitpick over the missing details, the forgotten Walts, the unexplained polar bears. Just say so long, and thanks for all the fish. Or maybe just thanks.

David Bianculli writes TV Worth Watching and teaches television and film at Rowan University. He's the author of the new book Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

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