It wasn't until last night, after watching The Road with DH, that I could pinpoint exactly what it was that was bothering me about how Lost ended and the questions it left unanswered. Many bloggers and commenters have been downright snide about people who didn't "get" the ending, or people who may have thought that the writers were trying to tell us that everyone died in the plane crash. Lost experts can be found constantly saying things like,"Geez...everyone must have stepped out of the room because Christian Shepherd explained everything.".....as if that should have resolved everything.
What came to me after last night's movie(which BTW....never watch a disturbing movie with post-apocalyptic cannibalism in it right before bedtime!)was the recognition that the writers of Lost undermined their trustworthiness as storytellers and the ending they worked so hard to bring to their fans. You see, at the end of The Road, one of the main characters, a young boy whose father has died, meets up with a man on the beach who asks the boy to join him and his family. Up until this point in the movie, almost every person the boy and his father had encountered had been a cannibal wanting to hunt them down and eat them, or a thief trying to steal their food, or just a person shooting arrows at them for who-knows-what reason. We hadn't been introduced to any groups of normal, good people.
The boy talks with the man on the beach about whether or not he's a "good guy". The man assures him that he is and that he doesn't eat people and that the boy should come with him. That's the end of the movie. We're supposed to think that the boy has found a safe group of people to be with.
However, even though the movie clearly implicates this, it's almost impossible to overcome the dramatic anxiety that has been ratcheted up over and over throughout the whole movie. Even as the boy is being welcomed into this new family, it's almost inconceivable to completely discount the idea that he's going to wind up on the dinner table in a few short hours.
When a writer spends so much time constantly reinforcing an idea, in this case that other people are dangerous and evil and want to eat the boy, then it becomes too difficult to suspend our disbelief a second time and discount all the information that the writer has given us up until that point in the story.
I had the same experience after reading The Giver. That book ends with the young preteen protagonist and the child he has rescued from his community finding a sled at the top of a hill that leads down to a lighted home in the distance. This happens after an arduous journey away from their repressive community with little food or resources for the two of them. Right towards the end the author portrays the protagonist as becoming fatigued and weak. He is barely able to keep going on when he finds the sled, one that is just like a sled in a memory that he has been given, and as he makes his way down the hill towards a house which is just like a house he has seen in a different memory he has been given.
That's how the end of the book is written.
In the discussion with the author in the back of the book, Lois Lowry says that it makes her sad when people think that the boy and his charge die at the end. This made me scratch my head when I read it, because it didn't make any sense to me that she couldn't understand why people would think that. She presented the protagonist as fatigued, starving and desperate and then has him going down a sled towards a house that seems to be a depiction of a communal memory that he had been given.
Thinking he died is the most straightforward way to interpret that passage. Why would readers think a sled, just like the one in his memory, would be sitting at the top of a hill leading to a house just like the one in his memory. It's too neat to be a rescue from the real world and seems more like he is losing consciousness and slipping into the memory, or a dream.
This is what has happened with Lost. The writers spent so much time whipping characters from good to bad and back again, or changing key plot points, that we never knew whether the next episode was going to have our characters reverse themselves, or whether the plot was going to take a severe turn in a completely opposite direction. The writers did this so many times over the course of the series that they made viewers skeptical of their answers. By the time "The End" came, we didn't know what to believe. First it was about the smoke monster, then the Dharma Initiative, then time travel, then Candidates, then Light...etc., etc.
The final scene of the plane crash, which came after Jack's death, could easily be construed as an indication that everybody died.....because throughout the entire series we were taught to second-guess what the writers were doing and not to trust the "straightforward" answers that they had previously provided.
The more I think about the series, the more I believe the writers failed at bringing a cohesive ending. A series which can create a mythology out of whole cloth in just a few episodes could have easily provided more answers and continuity in its narration.
When everyone complains about Walt disappearing from the show without explanation, they are told that it was simply because the young actor playing Walt just grew too fast to be incorporated back into the show. Um.....how does a show that can posit time travel, and dead people speaking from beyond the grave, and smoke monsters, not be able to find a way to have an older Walt come back in order tie up a few loose ends? He could be from the future, or he could have been referred to even if he didn't appear in the show. A line could have been drawn from Walt's existence to some other facet of the show's mythology.
I mean, any show that solves a longstanding mystery--the whispers--by having a character suddenly just know what they are with no storytelling involved in this knowing, could have done something similar, but hopefully not as lame, with Walt.
My point after all of this:
The writers of Lost created this dilemma. They trained us not to trust them or believe them. They showed us that they didn't feel it was necessary to clean up some of the mess they created.
They shouldn't be surprised if people are still not quite satisfied with what they did.