I’ve read a lot of people are disappointed with the finale of Lost. It seems some were expecting either more of a sci-fi explanation of all that happened, or something tied to some mythology, or an explanation of many of the weird coincidences (white rabbits, the numbers, fertility issues and the statue of Tarawet, references to Lewis Carroll and C. S. Lewis, the name Hanso, etc.) or some deeper meaning attached to characters like Walt and Aaron. While we all had fun chasing our theories down the proverbial rabbit holes, we have to admit that we were thrown a few red herrings along the way and some of this was really just for fun. Most of the mythology was explained prior to the finale. We were more or less told to expect a character-driven ending, and that’s what we got.
So here are some answers:
What is the Island?
The Island is an island, a piece of land somewhere in the ocean, the exact location of which is unimportant, especially since we know the Island can be moved. It is also the physical location of The Light.
What is the Light?
Essentially, the Light is a MacGuffin. It could be Promethean Fire, Pandora’s Box, the location of Osiris , the Holy Grail or Ark of the Covenant, the Light of God, whatever you want. The point is, it is the reason the Island needs protecting.
What is the story about?
Science v Faith, more than Good v Evil, is the main theme. Good and evil were always somewhat blurred. The Light is the source of electromagnetic energy which causes unique physical phenomena, such as freedom from cancer, paralysis, and male infertility, not to mention time travelling and agelessness. It is something many people would want to seize, to study, to understand, to harness and to use for their own purposes. This is why it needs protection. For others, like John Locke, the Island is something to believe in.
The conflict began with Jacob and his Brother. Jacob wanted to believe, the Brother wanted to KNOW. Jacob believed what the Mother told him, even when he thought he was the less favored son and knew she had lied to them. The Brother was not satisfied. He wanted to know what the Light is, what people are like and what’s across the sea. Frustrated with his Mother’s secrecy, he went to join the shipwrecked castaways, the original Losties, to find his own answers. Jacob wanted to believe that people were basically good, that he and the Mother were basically good.
What is the Island Protector?
This is the person who keeps the Light safe from exploitation or extinction. This person is imbued with certain “powers”, including:
- Ability to live indefinitely
- Ability to pass on gift of everlasting life
- Ability to make rules governing the people on the Island
- Ability to pass the cup to chosen successor
- Ability to use the Island for whatever they want. The Mother was so fearful of people, she wanted to keep the island a secret. Jacob wanted to do more. He wanted company, so he wanted people to come, and he wanted the Island to be an opportunity for redemption. I imagine Hugo would use the Island as a place where people could find the good in themselves and others.
The Long Con
The story started with a group of shipwrecked castaways and one Other (the Mother figure). The Mother had presumably held the job of Island Protector for some time, and had two purposes for killing Claudia and raising her two sons: to choose a successor, then get herself killed. This was the only way she could give up the job. She made a rule that the brothers couldn’t kill each other, then she set things up so that one would kill her, and one would take over her job (but not in that order).
Her scheme worked, but had unintended consequences. Since the Brother couldn’t be killed by Jacob, throwing him into the Light transformed him into a mass of energy, like the physical manifestation of a dark soul. Because it was pure energy, it could not move over water, and it could be kept at bay by some kind of an electronic fence. In other words, it still had physical properties.
Now the game was on. The Brother couldn’t kill Jacob, but there was a simple loophole – get someone else to do it. Jacob would make this difficult by recruiting Others to protect him and serve him in his mission to protect the Island. His first recruit was Richard Alpert, sent to him by the Brother. Jacob could give special powers to his Others. Richard didn’t age. Dogen’s son lived and Dogen had the power to protect the Temple with his presence. Juliet’s sister was cured of cancer. Ilana was trained to protect him with her team. Jacob kept himself hidden underneath a statue, and no one, not even Richard, could enter without an invitation. For the Brother to kill Jacob, he would have to manipulate someone who could get close to Jacob, and to do this, he would have to take on a form (Locke) that his dupe (Ben) would trust.
The Dharma Initiative
Scientific exploration couldn’t be stopped, but it could be contained. The Dharma Initiative was everything the Mother feared – people delving into the unique properties of the Island, running the risk of harming or extinguishing the Light. Yet they were allowed to coexist with the Others as long as they respected a truce line that kept them from coming too close to the “Heart of the Island”. When they became too dangerous (like when they built the Swan station and almost destroyed the Island with the energy that was released), they were purged from the Island with the help of new recruit Ben Linus. Ben was essentially a Man of Faith, a follower of Jacob who believed he was one of the good guys, though he was never entirely sure why. Jacob led his people, starting with Richard, to believe that he had a grand plan for Island and its servants, but was intentionally vague about the details (much like the Mother). Ben replaced Widmore, who became corrupt – too enamored with the power of his position. When Ben fell prey to the same weakness, he would be replaced – very briefly – by John Locke.
What is the Alt-Verse?
This is the answer the finale gave us. We were told the Island is not purgatory or hell, and that was true. The Island was a real place on Earth which had many visitors over the years, including all the Oceanic survivors. The sideways flashes were a kind of limbo or purgatory or just an alternate universe that existed independently of space and time. People had lives that felt real to them, yet were somehow empty. When they realized where they were, they were not concerned with the fact that they had died in real life, they were overjoyed that they were all going to a place where they would be together forever. Only Jack died in The End. The rest of the characters died either before The End, or sometime after.
Back when Desmond turned the failsafe key and survived the impact of the electromagnetic energy, he gained immunity to such energy, as well as the power to “see” back and forth in time. In the Alt-verse, the MRI caused his “awakening”, and he began to see flashes again.
Eloise Hawking, by contrast, knew what she knew because she had lived through it all. She and Widmore lived a long journey of discovering the properties of the Island, how to find it, and what events were significant in the history of the Island. In the Alt-verse, Eloise told Desmond, “Stop what you’re doing. You’re not ready yet.” In fact, she was not ready to “let go” of this imaginary life where she could have a normal relationship with her son and not lose him as she did in real life. She knew where she was, but was not ready to leave.
Finally, it’s a testament to the complexity of Ben’s character that he was not ready to move on, even after faithfully serving as Hugo’s advisor and being forgiven by John Locke. He did all he could in the Alt-verse to redeem himself: he chose to protect Alex rather than serve his own desire for power, he became the father figure Alex really needed, and he became a true friend to John Locke. Yet he still had things to work out.
Kate helps Claire re-unite with Aaron and stays put (no more running) as she watches Aaron grow up with his real Mommy. Sawyer and his buddy Miles find something to do together (might help that Miles glommed a few diamonds from the graves of Nikki and Paolo). I have no idea what Richard Alpert finds to do in the Real World. Hurley and Ben live out their days on the Island and fulfill their purposes (Protector and Advisor).
He was willing to ask for help. He gave Ben the chance to be #2 and made it seem like Ben was doing him the favor, rather than Hurley giving Ben what he needed. Unlike Jacob, Hurley had no secrets and no agenda. He did not need to find anything, fix anything, or prove anything to anyone, not even himself. Still, he was alone, and Island Protector seems to be a one man job.
Sun didn’t want to “save the damn world”, she wanted to be with Jin. Jin and Sun preferred to die together than live alone, and the Island would have wanted to keep only one of them as Protector. Together, they didn’t need Island. Bernard and Rose didn’t want “the drama”. They had each other. Kate regained her candidacy when she relinquished her role as Aaron’s mother, yet Claire and Aaron were too important to her. The bond created between Kate and Claire when Kate delivered Aaron would remain significant for the rest of their lives – and after. Sawyer wanted freedom. Much like Jacob’s Brother, he wanted to “get off the damn rock” and make his own choices about his life.
As for Richard Alpert, when Jacob’s fire burned out (which was AFTER the smoke monster attacked him), Richard started to age. The Island could no longer give him immortality, so it was time to go find a life in the New World. Desmond’s real life’s purpose was always to be with Penny and Charlie, which is what Jack told him to do
Jack had to carry out a mission – to fix something that was wrong – with absolute conviction and courage. Killing the Brother and saving the Island was a task only Jack could see through to the end (with a little help from his friends). Kate tried to persuade him with vague promises about their love life (“Nothing is irreversible”). Even Desmond tried to tempt Jack with his visions of the Alt-verse. As usual, Jack’s resolve was unwavering. More importantly, he had to believe in what he was doing without fully understanding what he was doing. Jack’s leap of faith was a triumph of Faith.
So What Did It All Mean?
Maybe when Juliet said “it worked” she wasn’t referring to the bomb detonation, all though that certainly started an important chain of events, but the resetting of the Island after Desmond turned the light out. Just like unplugging a vending machine, then plugging it back in to get it to let go of something that was stuck. Jack’s action – and faith – allowed them all to get “unstuck” from the Alt-verse and move on. But he couldn’t have done it without all of them. That interdependence was always at the heart of the show. You don’t need to believe in aliens, specific religions, or esoteric philosophies to know that we are not alone in this world. We always have each other. This lesson was learned by everyone on the show on some level. The mythology of the island merely provided the background.