Did Lost “Lose” the Jews?

by Brian on June 2, 2010

in Jewish Holidays and Culture,Reviews

SPOILER ALERT: if you have not seen the last episode of Lost, do not read further.

It’s been just over a week since the two and a half hour series finale of Lost aired, but the blogosphere continues to dissect every nuance of the show’s final big reveal. I’ll readily admit I’ve been a Lost fan from the beginning – although “fan” would be a gross understatement. I’ve been positively possessed. That’s why I was so disappointed by the way the show ended.

The first season of the show was interesting, with its mysterious polar bears and black smoke. But as the seasons progressed, the mythology and character back stories (and future and sideway stories) were piled on so high that fans were irrevocably hooked and, by the time the program reached its penultimate conclusion, the stakes were nerve wrackingly high.

As dedicated viewers know, the sixth season of Lost has alternated between “on island” action – represented by an epic battle between good and evil – and character-driven stories in some sort of alternate universe back in Los Angeles where Oceanic flight 815 appeared not to have crashed.

It’s the LA story that has gotten fans in a tizzy. In the last 11 minutes of the show, lead character Jack sees a vision of his dead father at the church where Dad’s funeral is supposed to take place. His now seemingly very real father (with the not particularly subtle name “Christian Shephard”) explains to Jack that the entire alternate reality (some 8 hours of viewing time) was all a form of purgatory – a fantasy world created by the survivors to find closure before moving on into a white light that – heaven, I presume, although it may have some connection with the mysterious source at the center of the island.

And that’s where Lost “lost” it for the Jews, or at least this one. Mind you, I was fine with the show ending with a swarm unanswered questions. And there were plenty – as seen in this hilarious video from College Humor (who did build the four-toed statue and what happened to Cindy the stewardess?)

But by choosing the concept of purgatory as the closing metaphor for the series the writers don’t provide a satisfying explanation. It’s not just that Jews in general don’t believe in a purgatory – you either get to heaven or you don’t (and the Talmud says there are very few who don’t).

The writers also tried their hardest to make the church scene non-denominational – the stained glass windows in the background sported a Jewish star, Christian cross, Islamic crescent, Buddhist ying/yang (read: Dharma Institute) symbol, and a frozen donkey wheel.

Rather, it’s the fact that Lost has, over the course of 120 shows, tried to convince us that there is some sort of a scientific explanation for all the magic on the island. Yes, there’s a light that keeps the island (and maybe the whole world) going (big time magic), but it’s also inherently electromagnetic.

Ditto with pushing the button every 108 minutes – something “real” (we’re never sure what, but no matter) happens that brings down a plane and turns the sky purple. Where was the underlying scientific reasoning for which I waited all these years?

Purgatory, then, feels like a cop out: a construct designed to give the characters – and the audience – a feel good ending, but that leaves those, like the Jews, who don’t buy into that particular flavor of religious experience (or who didn’t want any kind of a religious explanation behind it all) with a sense of being left out of the game. It was as bad as Starbuck being passed off as an “angel” at the end of Battlestar Galactica.

Mind you, I’m not saying I didn’t like the episode – indeed, in terms of emotional resonance, it was one of the best finales in TV history. I cried repeatedly as characters I’d been obsessively following for six years re-united and found the loves of their respective lives.

But why couldn’t the writers have found an explanation that fits in better with the show’s mythology? Here’s one that’s been proposed by a number of fans: it’s not “purgatory” but an entire alt-universe created by Hurley. After all, his role was to take care of people and make them happy. As the new Jacob, he can pretty much do whatever he wants. What better way to provide closure than to give the characters the lives they never had.

There are too many holes in this re-framing to truly justify it – why is Hurley not aware of the world he’s built until mid-season, for example? But the DVD boxed set to be released at the end of August is rumored to have additional footage on what happens to Hurley and Ben on the island after everyone else has left.

So maybe there will still be a few answers to my liking left to tell (along with, I’m sure, new questions).

For one of the best analysis pieces on the series finale, visit Myles McNutt’s Cultural Learnings blog.

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