I don’t have a heart of stone: The acting in the otherwise terrible finale was so good that in several cases (the reunion of Sawyer and Juliet) it made the endless romantic pairings desperately poignant instead of numbing. (Although not with Charlotte and Daniel: Lose the skinny tie, dude.)
But when those warm feelings wore off, it was hard to ignore the unsettling message we’d received, which was that nothing in the series had actually mattered. That mysterious island? The one we’d obsessed over for six years? We should remember it, as through a happy mist, as the place where our characters learned to love one another.
As for the Sideways Universe—featuring tweaked variations on each character’s story—that was also not important, at least not in any detail. It was a mystical way station, like weak fan fiction with a therapeutic kick. Most of the Sideways stories boiled the survivors’ stories down to morals like “Love your family” and “Believe you are a good person,” and if we wanted to enjoy the show, we needed to accept these truisms as closure for story arcs rather than Oprah-tinged parodies of them.
Finally, in the last fifteen minutes, the writers—in an emotionally powerful and also mawkishly manipulative turn—gathered our characters in an interfaith church, the antechamber to heaven. There Jack’s father, now a loving guide (rather than an abusive drunk), told him, and us, to let go. No wonder it was touching: It was grief therapy directed at us as fans.
The sad thing, really, is that this wave of nostalgia, however powerful it was in the moment, sunk the show it was meant to mourn. Once upon a time, Lost faced outward, toward the world. In its early seasons, it wasn’t just dumb, feel-good fun; for all the fantasy trappings, it had resonant, adult themes, ones set in the context of a global community traumatized after a plane crash. Post-9/11, the show spoke, for a while, more thoughtfully (or at least less angrily) than 24 to the moral questions that unsettled many Americans: Why does everyone consider themselves the “good guys”? Is it ever okay to torture? How do we choose, and should we trust, our leaders?
But by the end of its run, Lost, for all its dorm-room chatter about good and evil, had become something different: It was a hit series about the difficulties of finding an ending to a hit series. Cuselof had a deadline for years, which should have allowed them to pace out their puzzle’s solutions. Instead, we got cheesy temple vamping and a bereavement Holodeck. It became a show about placating, even sedating, fans, convincing them that, in the absence of anything coherent or challenging, love was enough.
The day after the finale, Lindelof tweeted again, in the soothing cadences of a preacher: “Remember. Let go. Move on.” Hey, Lindelof: Done.