Somewhere along the line, “Must-See TV” turned into “No, Really, You Must See Every Single Episode of This Series or You’ll Be Completely Left Behind.” Hit dramas like “24,” “Alias,” “The Wire,” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” to name just a few, were constructed with the notion that if your TiVo ate just one episode, you’d have to scramble to catch up on all that plot you missed.
And so, because I’m already juggling way too much media in my life, I generally avoid shows that demand unwavering fealty — the ultimate example of which was ABC’s “Lost,” a series that piled on more oblique mythos than even David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks.” I’d never watched a single second of it, never read an online recap, didn’t take in any of the catch-up episodes. But I watched the series finale to see if I could make heads or tails of the damn thing.
Series finales have always appealed to me — so much of pop culture, especially TV and comic books, relies on an ongoing narrative that can be stretched out as long as there are viewers/readers willing to keep coming back for more. But a last episode or last issue delivers that rare sense of catharsis; there is no Continued Next Week this time. You are seeing the omega, the climax, the other end of the whole enchilada.
That sense of summing-up is so attractive that I’ve often watched series finales of shows I didn’t previously follow. There’s clearly something universally satisfying about this final-chapter business — not for nothing did the closing episodes of “The Fugitive” and “MASH” rank among the most-watched programs ever.
And so I took in the final chapter of the most labyrinthine story prime time currently has to offer, eager to see if, at the end of two and a half hours, I could piece anything together.
9:00: “Previously on ‘Lost’: Matthew Fox drinks something. Terry O’Quinn tosses some people in a well. Prison — but isn’t this set on an island?
9:01: The plane! I know they flew to the island, is this a flashback? Surely Oceanic went out of business with the whole oops-we-lost-a-flight thing. Lots of significant shots of things like wheelchairs and bullets interspersed with luggage. It’s like the worst United Airlines commercial ever.
9:04: You can send coffins via cargo plane? What if they land in the wrong city? Kate asks, “Christian Shepherd? Seriously?” Honey, you took the words right out of my mouth.
9:06: A guy with an unconvincing Southern accent calls Fox “the new Jacob” and asks what the voice on the mountain told him. Has this guy always sounded like Boomhauer from “King of the Hill”? Kate and Fox and Big Guy have to find the heart of the island while Boomhauer fishes Desmond out of that well. Big Guy says, “I got a bad feeling about this.” I will give the show credit enough to assume that this hoary line is being delivered ironically.
9:09: Ads. If the effects in the “Prince of Persia” movie are as daggy as they look in the TV spot, we’re in for a long sit.
9:10: Yellow Hummer pulls up to motel. Jeremy Davies is on this show? Cool. Big Guy tries giving a gun to Naveen Andrews, the hot Indian fellow from “The English Patient.” Big Guy knocks on a door that’s answered by a Hobbit with makeup. My tiny amount of “Lost” knowledge includes the information that Dominic Monaghan is no longer on the show. So… the characters have traveled back in time to keep the series’ pilot from happening? Is no one getting on the plane now? Isn’t this how “Final Destination” starts?
9:15: The British-Australian-whatever guy who received the casket is now back on the island with an African-American lady and an older dude wearing fake-looking whiskers. Oh, he‘s Desmond! Gotcha. Let me take this moment to mention how glad I am that Terry O’Quinn finally found a star-making gig — I’ve been a big fan of his ever since the original “The Stepfather.”
9:17: O’Quinn and Emerson show up, brandishing a knife, to force Desmond to go with them. If you haven’t seen Emerson’s role as a friendly gay neighbor in the indie “Ready? OK!,” you totally should.
9:21: Desmond and the creepy duo trek through the jungle. Meanwhile, an Asian guy has Nestor Carbonell — who will always be Batmanuel from “The Tick” to me — in the grass. Batmanuel wants to go blow up a plane on the other island. There are two islands? Give me a break!
9:22: Asian guy is in civilization, calling Boomhauer, having seen Big Guy and Naveen Andrews in the Hummer. The Korean couple is in the hospital because the wife got shot. Not to tell tales out of school or anything, but scuttlebutt among actors I know suggests that the lady who plays the Korean wife might not be the nicest person on earth. Blonde doctor enters — I can tell by the camera angles and swelling music that she’s an important character. I’m assuming anyone who’s ever been on the show in a major capacity is going to be trotting on for a few minutes. Korean lady has flash-forwards that include running, hugging, baby-ing, and a boat exploding. The Koreans speak English and know the gender of their baby. Which is a big deal, maybe? The music is telling me that it is.
9:27: Speaking of baffling, “Inception” commercial. Can’t wait.
9:28: I was about to type, “Did Christo direct this AT&T commercial?” for this ad with all the unfurling fabric, but they’re way ahead of me. The fine print at the end reads, “The artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude have no direct or indirect affiliation or involvement with AT&T.” In other words, the phone company stole the artists’ shtick, but can get away with it as long as they include a disclaimer.
9:30: Boomhauer is running through the jungle with the gun and reunites with his three pals. Fox says they’re all going to the same place, with or without Desmond. “And then it ends.” He fails to add, “My agent is already sending me out for pilots.” Now Fox is in the hospital, about to operate on O’Quinn. So, basically, there are only about 20 people in the universe of this show, and then they all wound up on the same island? Oh, “Christian Shepherd” is Fox’s dad. Again, giving them credit that there’s some irony at play with these heavy-handed signifiers.
9:32: Asian Guy Who Is Not the Korean Husband yanks a gray hair from Batmanuel’s head. Hey, we’ve all been there. (And if you haven’t, you will be soon enough, you young bastards.) While rowing out to sea, they find a dead body and a bunch of floating debris — so… the plane just crashed? They pull pilot Jeff Fahey into their raft, and apparently they have to blow up the plane so that some “thing” doesn’t leave in it.
9:34: True to his prediction, Fox and friends wind up in the same location as O’Quinn and company. Kate starts shooting at O’Quinn, but he tells her to save her bullets. He also notes that Fox was the obvious choice for this “new Jacob” business. Fox and O’Quinn get up in each other’s faces, with Fox vowing to kill O’Quinn. How will he do that? “It’s a surprise.” Sure, we’ve still got two hours to go.
9:36: Oh, Peter Coyote, not even you can convince me to buy an iPad. A first-generation one, anyway.
9:40: The islanders troop ahead. Fox and Boomhauer talk about whether Locke has been brought back to destroy the island or for some other reason. So… everyone left and is back a second time? So much mythology! O’Quinn says only he and Fox and Desmond should go on. Big Guy tells Fox, “I believe in you, dude.” Clouds rumble.
9:44: Target ad implies that their smoke detector prevents smoke monsters. (I’ve never watched “Lost,” but there’s no avoiding the phrase “smoke monster” online.)
9:47: We’re back in the Hummer with Naveen and Big Guy. Big Guy tells Naveen he’s a better person than he thinks he is, clearly based on some heavy shit, man, that has gone down between them. Naveen breaks up a bar fight and rescues another blonde woman whom, if the flash-forwards (or backs?) are to be believed, he loved on the island. She recognizes him, and he her. Bleeding from the nose, and touching base with Big Guy, is Ian Somerhalder, who got canned from this show years ago, thus freeing him for the artistic opportunities of “Vampire Diaries.”
9:50:9:51: They’re lowering Desmond down a waterfall. Desmond knows what he has to do, which is more than I can say for myself, but it involves going into the bright light. I’m missing Zelda Rubenstein. Fox tells O’Quinn that he’s not really Locke but is just wearing his face. O’Quinn says Locke was wrong about everything and that Fox will understand that when he and the island sink into the ocean. I’m reminded of the Kooey Kooey Kooey storyline from Justice League International in the ’80s.
9:58: A concert. Hobbit wakes up backstage, having had a sign reading “BASS PLAYER WAKE ME UP FOR SHOW” put on him. And there’s Jeremy Davies! He’s flabbergasted to meet Charlotte backstage, so they’ve obviously got tons of shared backstories. All these meetings remind me of the liner notes where Alan Silvestri talked about the challenges of writing the score to the remake of “The Parent Trap,” which features one heart-tugging reunion after another.
10:01: Pianist Davies takes the stage with the Hobbit’s band. Hobbit sees Claire; violins swell. Claire dashes off, Kate follows.
10:02: Desmond arrives at the bottom of the waterfall. Skeletons, bubbling water and, as promised, a bright light. It’s looking very “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” Soon, we’ll learn that knowledge was the treasure.
10:03: Light goes crazy, rumbling noises. Desmond moves a rock that’s in the middle of a bright green pool. Then he collapses and the light goes out. He… set off a volcano? O’Quinn gets excited that things are going as planned. Then there’s an earthquake. Then Fox jumps him and punches him in the mouth. O’Quinn is shocked that he can bleed, then he picks up a rock and smashes Fox in the face. As Fox passes out, we cut to yet another commercial.
10:09: Claire starts giving birth backstage at the concert. Fionnula Flanagan sweeps into her chair and tells Desmond he was supposed to stop “this.” He says he ignored her. “And once they know, what then?” she asks. “We’re leaving,” replies Desmond. Jeremy Davies is apparently her son. Yes?
10:11: Kate tries to help Claire through labor. Hobbit is sent out for water and blankets. Lots of “1, 2, 3, push!” We get a flash that suggests this already happened on the island. So basically, everything’s happening again in a different context, everyone who liked or loved each other on the island is meeting again for the first time, and everything is the same, except that it’s different. Right? Claire gives birth to a ginormous baby after about two minutes of labor. Hobbit shows up with a blanket, and everyone grins at each other. Is it his baby? Or were he and Claire just chummy? More flashbacks suggest the latter. Monaghan looks way better without guyliner on. They realize they know each other from the island. So… they all remember what already happened, but Desmond is stopping it from happening? “Do you understand?” Desmond asks Kate. “NO!” I yell at my screen.
10:15: Back on the island, the earthquake has Kate and everyone else else rolling around ass over teakettle. Michael Emerson pushes Big Guy out of the way of a falling tree and gets crushed himself for his efforts.
10:22: Back to the running-at-each-other. Fox and Locke struggle for the knife, while most of the cliff falls into the ocean. Locke stabs Fox in the ribs. Fox grabs his hand before he can stab him in the neck. “I want you to know, Jack, that you died for nothing,” gloats Locke. But then Kate shoots him. “I saved my bullets,” she sneers. “You’re too late,” says Locke. Then Fox kicks him off the cliff. So they’ve killed one major bad guy and threw a tree on another one.
10:25: Back in the hospital, Fox wheels O’Quinn out of surgery. Fox’s neck is bleeding where Locke cut his neck with the knife on the island. O’Quinn suddenly wakes up from surgery. “It worked,” says O’Quinn — he can already move his legs. (Fox reveals O’Quinn’s bare feet; dude needs a pedi.) Now O’Quinn has his Island Moments flash. “You don’t remember?” he asks Fox. O’Quinn tries to get Fox to leave with him; Fox says he has to go see his son, but O’Quinn tells him he doesn’t have one. I’m assuming this is part of the on-the-island/not-on-the-island paradox. But seriously, don’t explain it to me. I don’t really want to know.
10:32: Boomhauer walks in on the Koreans. They grin like idiots, so there’s clearly another moment of recognition. He shows them a mugshot of Naveen Andrews, but they tell him not to worry about it. More grinning. “We’ll see you there,” Korean husband says to Boomhauer. “See me where?” he asks. Hell if I know.
10:34: Capt. Fahey tries to get the plane started again. Emerson seems to have gotten out from under the tree. Kate can’t figure out why Locke’s death isn’t stopping the earthquake; Fox says he has to turn on whatever Desmond turns off, even though it means he won’t be getting on the plane with the rest of them. Fox shakes hands with Boomhauer even though it’s all covered in blood. Nice.
10:36: Fox tells Kate she’s got to get Claire on the plane. With one perfect tear, she says, “Tell me I’m going to see you again.” He doesn’t respond, but given how this episode has rolled so far, odds seem to be good. His silence implies otherwise, however, so they kiss and tell each other “I love you.”
10:43: At the hospital, Boomhauer’s candy bar gets stuck in the vending machine. When he sticks his arm in to grab him, blonde doctor lady encounters him. She tells him to unplug the vending machine, and when their hands touch on the candy bar, they both get flashy. She asks him out. More flashes — they apparently had lots of sex and then she fell down a hole despite his best efforts. He knows her name. So, again, the island stuff happened but now it didn’t happen? Where are Zuzu’s petals?
10:51: Fox gets to the concert, but it’s over. Kate, whom he doesn’t know, chats him up. She looks vaguely familiar to him. Kate holds his face in her hands, and he finally gets some island memories. It’s more than he can handle. She tells him to come with her and he’ll understand. Which is more than is happening for me at this point.
10:53: Big Guy and Emerson are helping Fox to the cave. Big Guy finally gets that Fox isn’t going to survive this. “You’re not supposed to die! The island needs you!” he says. Fox says that no, the island really needs Big Guy. So…he has to stay behind? Bummer for him. Except that we’ve seen him off the island so… Head hurts now.
10:55: Fox needs something to drink out of. Emerson gives him a plastic Oceanic water bottle. (Way to recycle, reduce, reuse.) Fox fills the bottle and gives it to Big Guy to drink. Is this some sort of baptism thing? “Is that it?” asks Big Guy. “Now you’re like me,” says Fox. What, bleeding from the side? Oh wait — stabbed in the side! He’s Jesus, the Christian Shepherd!
10:57: Big Guy and Emerson drop Fox into the cave, where he goes back to the magic rock that Desmond moved out of the plug. Desmond is still down there, saying that he put out the light but it didn’t work. Fox helps him to his feet and takes him to the rope. Desmond says he should stay and do it, but Fox tells him to go home to his wife and son, and he’ll see him “in another life.” So that’s the deal here?
10:59: Boomhauer and Kate wash ashore and try to get Claire to come with them. They see the plane begin to taxi. Claire says she won’t go because the island has made her crazy, and she’s not fit to be a mother. Kate tells her she’ll help. They run to catch the flight.
11:01: Back in the cave, Fox staggers to the big fiery drain and struggles to put the big rock back in the hole. He manages, then collapses. The water starts flowing again, and the big stone penis in the center of the whole starts glowing anew. Big Guy and Emerson pull up the rope, only to find Desmond on the other end, since Fox is in the pit laughing/crying/dying.
11:02: Batmanuel and Asian Guy lower a net and help Boomhauer, Kate, and Claire into the plane. Fahey opens up the engine and the plane heads aloft as the ground of the island cracks up beneath it. They’re safe! Except they’re already safe in the alternate reality, right? Or are they going to lap themselves?
11:10: O’Quinn gets out of a cab and into a wheelchair, all smiles. And there’s Emerson. Oh, Scarecrow, I’m going to miss you most of all! Emerson says “most of them” are inside the church, and then apologizes for what he did. O’Quinn forgives him. Again, the swelling of the score is telling me that this moment is a big deal. I’ll take the orchestra’s word for it.
11:13: Back on the island, Emerson tends to Desmond while Big Guy looks pensive. Big Guy is bummed about Fox’s sacrifice. Emerson gives him a pep talk. “But people can’t leave the island!” says Big Guy. “That’s how Jacob ran things,” counters Emerson. “Maybe there’s another way.” So it’s the fault of this Jacob guy that they were stuck? Big Guy asks for Emerson’s help; Emerson is touched.
11:15: Back at the church, Big Guy tells Emerson to come in. Emerson says he’ll pass; they compliment each other’s work in running the island post-Fox. Speaking of which, Fox pulls up at the church with Kate. He was going to have his father’s funeral there. She tells him to go around back, and she’ll be inside waiting for him when he’s ready. Is there some deep reason he’s the only one not immediately responding to jungle flashbacks?
11:18: Fox is still alive! The cave obviously spit him out or something, although he’s still bleeding. At the church, Fox enters and goes into the rectory. There’s the coffin with dad’s body in it. When he touches the coffin, he has lots more island moments, some of which appear to go all the way back to the pilot. Wow, Matthew Fox totally transitioned to middle age over the course of this show, didn’t he? He opens the coffin — it’s empty. He turns around, and there’s dad. They ask each other “How are you here?” Fox realizes he died too. They both cry. Dad explains that everyone is dead. Ah… so that’s the big twist. The entire cast is meeting in the afterlife. And Bobby Ewing was in the shower all along. And apparently Michelle Rodriguez went to hell, or was just too much of a pain to bring back for this episode. Dad explains, “This is a place that you all made together so you could find one another. The most important part of your life is the time that you spent with these people. That’s why you’re all here.” I’d like to think the most important part of my life would be before I wound up stuck on a deserted island, but then I’m not being written for television.
11:24: Fox enters the church and it’s hugs galore. Island-Fox staggers through the jungle, bleeding. Granted, I’m not invested in this show in the slightest, but this kind of smacks of the phony “jazz heaven” that the studio execs tried imposing on the movie-within-the-movie of Woody Allen’s “Stardust Memories.” More hugging, more staggering. Dead-Fox holds hands with Dead-Kate as Island-Fox falls down and breathes his last, but not before a dog comes running up beside him.
11:28: Dad exits the church, and light fills the room as he opens the door. And Island-Fox apparently sees all this in his final moments. And the plane flies overhead. And his eye closes. But if Boomhauer and Kate and Claire and Batmanuel are in heaven, does that mean the plane crashed?
11:29: Credits roll under shots of debris from the Oceanic crash that started it all.
So yeah, that all kind of made sense.
I’m not going to rush back and watch the old episodes, but for a show that was famous for dangling plot threads and raising more questions than it answered, the final “Lost” wasn’t impossible for a newbie like me to follow.
Now can somebody tell me what’s been happening on “Treme”?
[Photos: “Lost,” ABC, 2010]