30 Day Television Challenge: Day Twenty-One

Favorite series finale: LOST

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Oh, LOST, where to begin?

Throughout its run, LOST was like a spruce goose; audiences were never sure whether it would splash around in the water, flailing its clumsy limbs, eventually sinking to the bottom of the ocean, dragged down by its insurmountable weight, or, would it finally fly, proving all the naysayers wrong, flapping its timber wings, soaring.

The series finale is a redemption act, both plot-wise and stylistically. For all its faults, LOST‘s final episode succeeds, redeeming all its former sins. It hits all the targets, a triumphant catharsis.

Sure, a lot of the questions were left unanswered: What was the significance of Walt and Aaron? Why couldn’t people be born on the island? The list goes on for everybody, and I’m doubtful a re-watch would knead out all the knots. Nevertheless, the ending was emotionally satisfying, and, like always, LOST gave audiences a lot to think about, which was the show’s calling call for better or worse.

Still, many fans cried foul. They claimed their beloved sci-fi/fantasy island epic had turned all *gasp* religious on ’em.

Religion?

Like, eww.

If you took issue with the finale’s religious symbolism, heavy-handed as it was, you haven’t been paying attention. Since the first season, LOST was steeped in spiritual iconography. Even Kate, in the finale episode, points out the over the top nature of the name “Christian Shepherd”.

I say spiritual because the show isn’t religious, per se. It borrows religious symbols for what they represent. That is to say, LOST is interested in religious symbols as metaphors, not literally. LOST is trying to make a metaphyiscal point.

(That being said, for all its pluralism, I would argue LOST is stilling working within the Western Christian schema, but that’s a whole other can of worms.)

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So, what is LOST‘s metaphysics? I would refer to the German Idealist tradition of Schelling, Hegel, Fichte, and Boehme. There’s an entire academic industry devoted to the Idealist tradition, but I’ll try and sum up a general position for the purposes of this post.

The universe is a structured and divided order that God formed out of the formless ground, i.e. matter. This process of ordering chaos is the way in which God comes to realize himself. There is nothing outside of God, thus the ground and the order that arises from it are both within God. This is what is meant by pantheism.

The ground is Will without understanding, however, there is an understanding latent within the ground, unconsciously. It strives to understand itself and this self-reflexive movement is how God comes to know himself. In order for Will to be raised to level of understanding, God requires free beings. How can a being be free and still be within God? They come from the same ground as God does. Therefore we are free, which is to say, according to Schelling, we have the potential for good and evil. What do these terms mean for Schelling? To be good means to participate within the whole. To be evil means to elevate your singularity to the level of the universal.

Of course, this may seem crazy to modern, secular readers. An atheist myself, I can understand why readers would balk and dismiss this all as religious nonsense. However, we can take God out of the picture. Whenever we bring up God, all kinds of subjective prejudices are immediately invoked. But, God is just a metaphor, a metaphor for the vitality of life/the universe.

For example, at the beginning of Cosmos, Carl Sagan makes a very Idealist point. He says everything in the universe is the same material; we share the same chemical building blocks as stars, trees, water, etc. Therefore, as we come to understand the laws of the universe, we are actually the universe learning about itself.

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Now, let’s transfer all this to the universe of LOST.

We can call the island the ground and the light the Will. The light comes from the island. Also, the light gives order and form to the island – when Desmond turns off the light, the island starts to come apart. Moreover, it seems like the light is the one calling the shots. Sure, you have Jacob, but Jacob seems to be acting at the behest of the light. He’s protecting it. People are coming to the island to learn about the island, to become conscious of its laws. And, because the light exists in all of us as Jacob’s “mother” explains, we are the light coming to understand itself.

So, begins to the battle between good and evil, or unity and singularity. Really, it’s a dialectic between two opposing forces, in which a balance is most optimal. Too much unity is oppressive and counter-productive – think of Benjamin Linus. Whereas too much singularity can be selfish and destructive – think of the Man in Black/Smoke Monster.

The dialectic between unity and singularity is played out most emphatically in Jack. LOST‘s central arc is the trajectory of Jack trying to negotiate between his ego and his responsibilities, until he finally recognizes his role as a leader. Jack embodies the balance between unity and singularity, between necessity and freedom.

If Jack is the embodiment of a balance between necessity and freedom, thus representing the good, then the Man in Black is the embodiment of evil, absolute freedom.

I know that sounds crazy – isn’t freedom in itself an absolute good? But think about it. What does it mean to be totally free? Am I free to steal, kill, etc? No. There are laws that curtail certain freedoms in the interest of the greater good. Sometimes, in order to uphold the greater good, we have to sacrifice certain freedoms. Jack realizes this but the Man in Black doesn’t.

As a child, the Man in Black was tapped to become the guardian of the island. However, all he dreamed of was fleeing the island. He refused to accept the responsibility that was put to him. He is very much like Satan in this regard. Satan was the brightest of the angels, God’s favorite. But, Satan refused God’s will, saying “I will not serve.”

Like Satan, the Man in Black wants absolute freedom. To do as he pleases and answer to no one. What makes him such a great character is that we sympathize with him. We see that what’s being asked of him is too much and can understand why he would want out. But it’s a job he has to take. Jack, on the other hand, embraces his fate.

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What do we make of all this?

What sort of moral lesson can we draw from the metaphysics of LOST?

The universe is unfair. We are all thrown into the world with circumstances thrust upon us, made to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. We can either fight it, kicking and screaming, or we can embrace whatever hand is dealt us and make the best of it.

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Cheers,

-B

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~ by braddunne on December 1, 2012.

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