How “LOST” Blew the Ending, or “A Beautiful Mess”
Over a decade ago, I sat in an Intermediate Fiction Creative Writing class at California State University of San Bernardino. My professor was critiquing one of my strongest stories I’d written to that point (at least, that’s how I felt about it). He was staring at the paper, flummoxed. I could tell he wanted to say something about it that I wouldn’t like. Finally, he lowered the boom. “You have the wrong ending here.”
Imagine my indignation. Who was this guy to tell me I’d written the wrong ending? What did he know about my story, my characters? But I swallowed my disappointment and chagrin and asked him to clarify.
“You have a character, the main source of conflict I might add, kill herself. This removes the tension and the conflict. While it resolves the story, it does so in an unsatisfying way. That is—it’s too easy. Your protagonist doesn’t have to do anything to deal with the consequences of his actions. Wouldn’t it be more interesting to have her live? You’ve created a beautiful mess, here, why not let your characters feel it? Live in it for a while? Force them to overcome.”
This may not have been his exact wordage, but it was as close as I can remember. For those keeping score, that professor is now the director of Creative Writing at a little University in Boston. It’s called Harvard. Not sure if you’ve heard of it.
I went home that night, swallowed my pride, and tried my hand at a new ending, which also failed miserably. I tried for another ten years to get it where it should be (at least, I now think it’s right). I followed his advice (and Flannery O’Connor’s, about the unexpected but inevitable act) and honed in on an ending that seemed to really resonate. By doing this, I let the beautiful mess live on, and left room for hope to blossom in the storm.
By now, if you’re a fan, you’ve seen the ending of LOST. While I was a huge fan of the series in Season One, it seemed to fall off a little bit each season subsequently. But I stuck with it, followed it through to the end. If you’re unfamiliar with the series, the rest of this blog entry will only serve to confuse you, so you may gather whatever knowledge, wisdom, or keen insight you’ve gained from the first half and stop reading now. For fans…please read on.
First of all, everyone wants to talk about the final image of Jack closing his eye, and the dog (Vincent) laying next to him (so as not to have Jack die alone). The final image, I’m okay with. Don’t get me wrong—that was the right choice. My problem has to do with the “Flash Sideways” really being the afterlife. Here’s the issue with that—it’s tantamount to saying, “And then they woke up, and they were in heaven.” Whatever this afterlife pit-stop was (call it purgatory, if you will, though one, according to Christian Sheppard, made by their own design), the fact that they were already dead undermined whatever the “Flash Sideways” had accomplished. There really was no tie-in to the reality of the Island. Who cares if Desmond beats Ben half to death? Who cares if Locke is run over or dies in surgery? They’re already dead. Sorry, I’ll have to step down from that soap box for a minute to get on a different one. I’ll blog about the “and then he woke up” ending later.
My real issue came from the epic conflict between Jack (the new protector) and the Smoke Monster. Here’s the thing—for me, the show was, in large part, about the balance between good and evil. Now, the evil is gone. The balance is still upset. There is no more conflict. LOST, if nothing else, was a Beautiful Mess. That’s why we tuned in time after time. Why not let that Beautiful Mess continue, so that fans can feel like the show lives on beyond it’s airing, just as a story that doesn’t completely resolve all the tension can live on beyond it’s pages.
Here’s my humble suggestion for an alternate ending: either the Smoke Monster lives, or someone takes his place (maybe Ben?). We end with Hurley (new new protector) and Smoke Monster (or new Smoke Monster) on the beach as a boat sails in. They repeat the exchange between Jacob and Smoke Monster from so long ago. THEN, Jack’s eye closes.
The Beautiful Mess still exists, and the story arc of the other characters is complete. Now—let the tirades begin.