Love it or hate it, people are still talking about Lost and the way it ended.
The ABC show, which ran for six seasons between 2004 and 2010, had a huge impact on television. It had plenty of ups ("The Constant") and quite a few downs (Nikki and Paulo), but the finale is still the thing that has viewers divided most.
Thing is, some of those viewers, even seven years after the finale aired, just flat out misunderstood what happened in those final episodes.
*Spoilers for Lost follow. Go watch the series if you haven't already.*
To put it simply: If you think the characters in Lost were "dead the whole time," you are wrong.
Many people mistakenly believe that at the very start of Lost, every character on the show, (Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Hurley, etc.) are all dead. They died in the plane crash of Oceanic Flight 815, and the Island doesn't actually exist — it's just a representation of Purgatory where all of the characters are overcoming their personal demons after death.
The Purgatory concept was a fine theory while the show was running, and there were plenty of moments where it even seemed plausible (despite the writers saying otherwise). But the show's ending explicitly closes the door on that idea. The Island was real — a physical place that humans could come and go from — and the characters of Lost really spent several years on it.
This is not a case like Inception where the ending is ambiguous. "Was Cobb awake or dreaming?" is a question that Christopher Nolan intentionally left unanswered in his movie, giving viewers something to work out on their own.
The ending of Lost was laid out pretty clearly in the series finale, "The End." There's no room for interpretation or debate with regard to the question "were they dead the whole time?"
Watch one of the climactic scenes again, the one with Jack talking to his father, Christian. This is one of the few times when Lost comes closest to an "Architect" moment from The Matrix, in which everything is explained and laid out in front of the viewer.
"I don't understand," Jack says to his father. "You died."
"Yeah. Yes I did," Christian replies.
"Then how are you here right now?"
Christian sighs and asks, "How are you here?"
Which makes Jack step back and realize, "I died too."
This is, apparently, where a lot of people just stopped paying attention. Their brains settled into the thought of, "Oh, they were all dead the whole time" and just stopped processing any information. Maybe they turned off their TVs in disgust. But that's not where the show, or even the scene, ends.
And the rest of the scene is extremely important.
After Christian assures Jack that the two of them are real, everything that's ever happened to Jack is real, and that all the people in the church (most of the other "main" characters throughout the show) are real too, Jack asks, "And they're all dead?"
Christian replies, "Everyone dies sometime, kiddo. Some of them before you, some long after you."
Think about that for half a second. If the entire cast of characters from Lost died in the plane crash before the series premiere, how could some of them die before or after Jack? That doesn't make any sort of sense from a timeline perspective. Christian explains that "there is no 'now' here," and that the place they occupy in this moment — whether you want to call it purgatory or something else —exists outside of time.
But there's more: When Jack asks "Where are we, Dad?" Christian explains.
"This is the place that you all made together so that you could find one another. The most important part of your life was the time that you spent with these people. That's why all of you are here. Nobody does it alone, Jack. You needed all of them and they needed you."
Again, let those words sink in. "The most important part of your life was the time that you spent with these people." What time are we talking about, here? The plane ride from Sydney that never landed in LA? What happened that was so important? Did they all just really bond over their affection for the Oceanic Airlines brand of peanuts?
There's a mantra repeated often in Lost: Whatever happened, happened. It's meant as a motto to say that you can't change the past (even if you can travel to it), but it's important here, too: Whatever happened on the Island happened.
But wait, Jack just said he was dead.
Yes, now. On the Island, Jack died from his wounds from battling Fake Locke/The Man In Black/the Smoke Monster and from restoring the light at the center of the Island.
He died, but instead of letting go and moving "on" (to Heaven or wherever you believe one moves on to after death), he woke up in this weird Purgatory-esque place where the Oceanic plane didn't crash, where he had a son and where none of the plane crash survivors recognize each other.
Charlie went to the same place when he died in the Looking Glass station. Locke (the real one) went there when he was strangled off-Island. Sun and Jin go there after drowning in the submarine. These are all deaths that occur at different times, during events of the show that actually happen (y'know, in the context of the fiction).
But isn't this just, like, your opinion, man?
Not really, no. If the overwhelming evidence within the show itself isn't enough to convince you, then the show's co-creator Damon Lindelof in an interview with The Verge, laid it out very plainly himself.
In the interview, posted online as a video in 2012, interviewer Joshua Topolsky himself fell into the "they're all dead" trap, explaining that his thoughts upon finishing the series was, "All the things that just happened didn't really mean anything. They kind of didn't happen."
But that's wrong. "In the last frame of the show," Lindelof says, "Matthew Fox [Jack] closes his eyes and dies. That happened ... from the moment that he closed his eye, all the other stuff that we did in the sixth season of the show, the 'flash-sideways' where nobody knows each other and the plane never crashed, that is — whatever your interpretation is, I'm not going to talk about what our intention is — that is what you would define as not having happened. ... Anything that takes place on the Island in Lost happened. Absolutely, 100 percent. The plane crashed, those people survived." (Emphasis added.)
He even goes beyond the show, explaining a bit about what happens after the final credits rolled. "Right now, at this moment in time, Hurley and Ben, with some help from Walt, are actually running things on the Island, maintaining it."
So what was Lost really about, then?
I've noticed that some (though definitely not all) people who were disappointed with how Lost ended felt cheated because they built it all up to that one moment. They were looking for one Sixth Sense-esque twist at the end, so when they thought they found it (in fact, when they thought they found the exact same twist), they dismissed the entire work of fiction.
But Lost had stopped being all about the mysteries a long while earlier. It wasn't about polar bears or weird voices or why women couldn't get pregnant on the island. It was about people. It was about spirituality. It was about the nature of man. It was about a man of science becoming a man of faith. It was about people who were lost (get it?) finding each other and themselves.
In a more tangible, pure plot sense, Lost was about good vs. evil. The Island, as its demi-god Jacob once explained, is like a cork keeping darkness at bay so it doesn't overrun the world and bring destruction to everything. Jacob brought the characters of the show to the Island so that Jack, and later Hurley, would protect the Island and kill the Smoke Monster. As Sawyer puts it, it's "a hell of a long con" on Jacob's part, playing 5D chess with the lives of innocent people, but the fate of the entire world is at stake.
What about all those other weird questions that went unanswered? All that stuff about polar bears and rabbits and supply drops?
A lot of questions were answered in a 12 minute info dump epilogue called "The New Man in Charge," which takes place after the events of Lost and shows Ben closing down leftover Dharma stations now that Hurley is in charge of the Island. If you still care about the mysteries of the show and haven't seen this epilogue yet, I highly recommend it.
That's too much fantasy for me. I wanted a show that was more grounded in science.
That's fine. I totally get that, and I understand why you would be disappointed in how Lost ended. Just be disappointed for the right reasons.
You've thought way too much about this.