There are no take-backs on serialized television.
That's what I found myself thinking as I watched the final of Lost's six year epic journey last night, a finale that was emotionally satisfying but logically frustrating.
There are SO MANY unanswered questions; some big, some small, some nit-picky. At this point we're unlikely to get any additional information for months, if ever, with the head writers/producers going into a self-imposed period of radio silence. "We want the finale to speak for itself," they say. That's all well and good, but I think even the producers would agree that the finale didn't even come close to answering the many questions still left on the table. I'm sure if they had it all to do over again, they would change a number of things; plotline which went no-where, characters introduced to stretch things out, loose ends left naggling.
What the finale did very well, what I'm sure the producers goal was in going into the writing room, was to provide closure for the characters. With the odd exception of Michael and Walt (exempted for real world concerns, no doubt) every major character was given a conclusion to their journey. Some, particularly Jack's, were quite moving. As it was the characters who drove this series, this was no minor feat and the writer's should be congratulated.
So I'm not going to dwell on the characters in this post. I'm going to talk about the huge holes in the mythology.
There's enough information out there to make guesses or suppositions on some of the bigger questions, so let's touch upon some major and minor points that stick out in my (admittedly eccentric) mind.
One caveat before we dive in. With the exception of the pilot, I have seen each episode of Lost a grand total of ONCE. I watched this show in real time, and have yet to go back and rematch it. My memory may be faulty on some details, so forgive me, Losties, if I get something wrong!
Question 1) The BIG one. What is the island?
Tricky, as much of what the island is meant to be is a major plot mcguffin. In the context of the mythology of the show, it's two things; a home to this cave of light and a prison for the Man In Black AKA the Smoke Monster AKA Jacob's Brother AKA Flocke AKA Locke AKA Easu AKA Samuel AKA Insert your nick-name here. What's the cave of light? Comprised of electromagnetic energy, and something to be protected. That's really the sum total of what we got. There was some kind of key-stone to keep the energy contained (or flowing, it really wasn't clear) and when that key-stone was removed for a few hours the magic of the island broke down for a time. Beyond these minor details, I've no idea. I think we're intended to take much of what the island was on faith, a major character theme on the show. Jacob believed the island should be protected, so we do too. Does it matter what the light represented?
Question 2) Who were the Others?
All the literature just calls them "the original inhabitants of the island," but I'm going to assume they were the followers of Jacob. They worshiped him, built temples to him, tried to follow his bizarre dictates. I suspect they knew the power contained in that cave of light, and many coveted it, hoping they would eventually be granted its stewardship. But, bottom line, Jacob was tasked with defending the island, and thus so were they. Why were they barefoot? Gosh knows. Another unexplained detail. Why did they kidnap children? Because they couldn't have their own (I'll touch on that in a moment.) They seemed to know who to take from the 815 survivors and who to leave, so I must assume that they had some insight into who was a candidate and who wasn't. How they got that intelligence is very vague.
Question 3) Who was Jacob and what was he trying to do?
Jacob was the protector of the island, and had been summoning people there for centuries looking for the person to replace him. I suspect that if he hadn't died Jacob would not have passed on the job to Jack, but desperate times required him to make a choice at last. He was clearly pretty traumatized by what he'd been through, what with all the odd dictates he put on those who followed him. No mother candidates. No children born on the island. No shoes (I'm going to assume that was Jacob's doing). You can see the seeds of these psychological issues in the "Across the Sea" episode, but the effects we have to divine from the events throughout the show.
He was also the jailer for the Man In Black.
The simple symbology of the show would have us believe Jacob was "the good guy" but Jacob's actions were not those we would traditionally consider worthy of worship. He had no problems letting people die as they competed for his job. Surely there were better ways of luring people to the island than crashing planes and ships? Really, the plight of the MIB was the more sympathetic. Who wouldn't want to escape?
Question 4) What were the numbers?
These were the numbers used by Jacob to identify the candidates to replace him. Now if Jacob had been at this game for centuries, why would our new arrivals get the low digits? But that's a niggly detail. I suppose you could say that Jacob always knew they were coming, even in the early days of his quest. Time is a funny thing on this show.
The numbers were also the digits of the Hanso Equation, an equation that predicted the end of the world, but you'd only know that if you played the "Lost Experience" web game.
Question 5) Who was the Dharma Initiative?
A group of scientists dedicated to changing the values in the Hanso Equation and preventing the end of the world. Given that they were drilling straight down to the source of power on the island I can't imagine Jacob or the Others were all that happy that Dharma was there. Indeed, Ben Linus eventually defected to the Others and slaughtered the Dharma scientists, leaving their experiments behind like broken toys.
Question 6) Why was Walt important?
This is the first of the "take backs" I'm sure the producers would like to have. Sure, it seemed like a good idea to have a kid on the island in the first season, but when that kid's voice drops and he sprouts to over six feet? Kick the kid off the island before the audience notices! So the story arc for Walt remains untold. We know the Others considered him "special" and that he could apparently summon objects to the island (there's a huge hint in the pilot that HE summoned the polar bear, although later the writers went with the bear escaping from the cages of the Dharma Initiative) but that's about all we got. Walt, unfortunately, remains a mystery.
Question 7) What were "the rules" between Ben and Whidmore?
No clue. One would imagine they were modeled on the rules between Jacob and the MIB, but that's just speculation. Something to do with not killing each other directly.
Question 8) Who built the Egyptian Statue and why did it have four toes?
Just speculation here, but one would assume at one point in the Island's history a group of Egyptian "Others" who had been summoned to the island built both the statue and the temple to honor Jacob. No idea about the four toes.
Question 9) What was the Hurley Bird?
This is a private pet peeve of mine, that they would introduce this mysterious creature, and yet never do anything with it. This was the bird that we saw twice in the series, an enormous green bird with a twelve foot wing span. The bird also spoke English and called out to Hurley by name. I suspect that there was a plotline being built around this bird, a plotline made unnecessary by the series producers and ABC giving the series an end date. Sadly the Hurley Bird's story, like Walt's before it, remains untold.
Question 10) What was the sickness that took the French Woman's crew? Why are there all the Quarantine signs around the island?
This would, apparently, be the influence of the Man In Black. That's a guess. We really don't have enough information on this one. People infected could appear normal one moment, and try to kill you the next. Sayid was apparently infected after his resurrection in the water of the temple. This sickness could apparently be detected by some strange form of torture practiced by both the French Woman and the Others. One would assume that Dharma saw this infection as well, but we never saw it take anyone in that timeline.
Question 11) Who the heck were the people who asked the question "what lies in the shadow of the statue?"
I've gotta assume this was an Others splinter group, one that came from the Mainland. Sorry, it's all I got.
Question 12) How much were they making up as they went along?
We'll never know. The writers insist that they had a plan from episode one, but the details were clearly hazy. Add onto that the comings and goings of a television show (Walt and Mr. Eko both had incomplete story arcs due to actor issues) and they were clearly improvising this as they went along. Nicki and Paulo, anyone?
Sure, they planted the two bodies in the cave in season one (Adam and Eve) along with the black and white stones, but they also dropped the dialog line about the bodies not being older than 50 years or so. Now we find out that they were there 2000 years or more? Clearly something changed along the line.
I'll stop there. There are many, many, many other questions (Who shot at Sawyer and Juliet on the Outrigger? What's the deal with the Donkey Wheel? How did Desmond know so much of what needed to be done? What was Whidmore's agenda? Why did Juliet say "It worked?") that we'll never know the answers to, but I'm sure that in Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof's eyes that was not the point of Lost. The point was the characters, and the mystery was secondary. If you focus on the mystery aspect of the show it falls apart. If you focus on the characters it, mostly, works. The fact that they were able to maintain a mystery for six seasons speaks volumes about how intriguing the characters were and how inventive the writers were with the show's basic formula. Despite its (many, many) flaws Lost is still a triumph of serialized story telling and a journey I'm glad to have taken.
P.S. - Yes, it's my first post in quite awhile. Sorry!