Jack Shephard lays on the ground with his dog
(ABC)

So You’re Still Misunderstanding the ‘Lost’ Finale…

Stop saying that one thing! You know the thing!

For whatever reason, the meaning of the series finale of Lost still eludes people. It has topped lists of best finales of the best and worst finales of all time (I place myself firmly in the former category if that was not already clear). If you’re still scratching your head after the credits rolled, we’re here to explain what happened in the Lost finale and what it means. Might I recommend a rewatch? It’s a pretty fun show to binge these days … maybe one of the best ever made… just saying.

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But first, let me say this: Lost was a supernatural show. As much as the self-proclaimed Jack “man of science” Shepard wanted a logical explanation, that was never going to happen! So, my goal is to make you comfortable with the unknown and have you lean into it. I want you to spend your time theorizing and wondering instead of complaining that you didn’t get some kind of theorem or formula. If this explainer isn’t enough to satisfy your questions, then over to Lostpedia for more information. Let’s get started!

Were they dead the whole time?

No.

What happens in the finale?

Let’s start with a “brief” plot recap.

On the island, the survivors fight the Man in Black (immortal villain) and prevent him from destroying the island.

Jack, Kate, and Hurley go on one last trek through the jungle to the “heart of the island,” while Sawyer encounters Ben and Locke–who is actually the Man in Black/Smoke Monster taking Locke’s corporeal form. Desmond says goodbye to Rose and Bernard, who have chosen to stay on the island with Vincent the dog. Miles and Richard head towards the Ajira plane on the nearby smaller island and rescue Frank Lapidus. They decide to get the plane running and get the heck off the island.

At the heart of the island, Desmond goes to a glowing pool. He’s been through a lot and is immune to the electromagnetic energy. At the bottom of a pool is a stone stopper, like the cork in a bottle metaphor described earlier in the series. He pulls it out, passes out, the pool goes dark, and the island starts to self-destruct. Put a pin in that because the survivors realize that Desmond’s actions have made the Man in Black mortal. Jack and Kate gang up on him, action-hero style, and kill him. Jack, who was stabbed in the fight, volunteers the light in the pool. Kate and Sawyer race to convene with Team Ajira and convince Claire to leave with them. They succeed! Smell ya later, island!

Back at the pool, Hurley and Ben lower Jack down. He restores the light, convinces Hurley to take over as protector of the island, and passes out. Ben suggests that he start by helping Desmond get home to Penny and offers to be his reformed second-in-command. When Jack wakes up, he stumbles through the jungle and then lays down to die with Vincent at his side.

Meanwhile, in what’s known as the “Sideways World,” Desmond gathers as many unawakened survivors as he can at a benefit concert where Daniel Faraday is playing with Drive Shaft.

At the concert, and at a hospital where many of the other survivors happen to be, they wake up and remember their real lives. Sometimes the trigger is a memory from their island days, like Claire giving birth. For Sawyer and Juliet, it’s a meet-cute. Once awakened, they are drawn or invited to a church. There, Jack’s father Dr. Christian Shepherd explains that they have all died and come to this place that they created because the most important part of their life was the time they shared. Now that they have found each other, they can move on. Two big glowing doors open and they do just that.

What was the “Sideways World”?

The first few seasons of Lost included flashbacks and flash forwards. The final season had flash sideways. In the Sideways, the survivors live out alternate versions of their lives in a world where Oceanic 815 landed safely. Sawyer and Miles become cops instead of a criminals. Locke and Ben become teachers. Kate befriends Claire while on the run. Jack is a father.

As Dr. Shepherd explains, the Sideways is a place in between life and death that their collective consciousness made for them to go when they died, whenever they died. It isn’t exactly purgatory, because them being there had nothing to do with the religious concept of sin. But since it is a place you go to before the afterlife, if it’s easier for you to think of it as a version of purgatory, I’ll allow it.

Were they dead the whole time, specifically in the Sideways?

Yes, but only there! Enough!

Does that mean that everyone died?

Yes and no. I mean, everybody dies. Even Richard became mortal at the end of the series. But, just because everyone looked young and hot in the Sideways doesn’t mean they were that age when they died. If you were creating a quasi-afterlife in your mind, wouldn’t you want to look like your best self? A lot of characters died on the show, but plenty of them–including Kate, Sawyer, Claire, Hurley, Miles, Desmond, Penny, and Frank–lived fulfilling lives after the on-island events of the finale. We don’t know when or how they died. When they did, their spirit or soul came to the Sideways along with those who died during the events of the series like Ana Lucia, Shannon, Boone, Juliet, Charlie, Locke, Jack, etc.

What was the church?

Just a nice place to gather and place a portal to the afterlife, I think, and a way to represent the various religious debates and crises of faith that the characters went through. Scenes like this have showed up in subsequent television shows like The Good Place and His Dark Materials. The former was inspired by Lost and the latter, of course, was based on a book written many years before Lost.

What was the island?

Just a weird little island with a weird little history. The glowing pool at the heart of the island contained some kind of electromagnetic energy, possibly exotic matter, that was probably linked to all those weird little things. I think the “cork” helped contain it. Did you watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Think of the supernatural energy at the heart of the island like a Hellmouth, just without the demons and bloodsuckers. Weird things are attracted to it. Weird stuff happens around it. Throughout history, people tried to study it, including the military at one point and a group of hippie scientists called the Dharma Initiative. That’s my best way of explaining it.

Was anyone left on the island?

Yes! Hurley is in charge, as I said, and former villain Benjamin Linus is his second in command. Rose and Bernard retired there. We also learned in a canon “epilogue” that Hurley recruited Walt and he returned to the island. That’s more than enough potential for a spin-off or revival series, right?

What was the deal with the polar bears?

The Dharma Initiative, a group of hippie scientists that inhabited part of the island from TK to TK brought polar bears there to run electromagnetic experiments on them. When a young Benjamin Linus betrayed the Dharma Initiative with the help of the Others and committed the mass murder that would become known as The Purge, some of the polar bears escaped their cages and lived in the jungle. This literally has nothing to do with the ending of the show, but people still bring it up when talking about the finale. People still try to tell me that it was never explained and it most certainly was!

Wasn’t there an end-credits scene?

Kind of. When the finale aired on ABC, the credits rolled over silent footage of the Oceanic 815 crash wreckage. It was meant as a tribute to the crew and the experience of making Lost for seven seasons. Unfortunately, that backfired. Some viewers interpreted that footage to mean that the passengers died in the crash and were, in fact, dead the whole time. But, it meant nothing and, unfortunately, the false claim that Lost ended with that revelation has been alive and kicking (and annoying me) ever since.

Did Jack and Kate end up together?

One of the things about Lost that fans probably miss (I do) is the ship wars. Were you a Sawyer/Kate fan? Did Juliet throw a wrench into who you wanted to end up with who? At the end of Lost, Kate admits her love for Jack and kisses him goodbye before he dies shortly after, and when we get to the afterlife, the two are sitting next to each other and smiling.

Was Charlie Pace alive the whole time?

Again, they were not all dead the entire show, so when the final moments show Charlie Pace alive and holding a baby Aaron, it is meant to represent that he is reunited with those he spent time with on the Island in the afterlife together. So, no. Charlie was not always alive, but he is back with those he loves in the afterlife.

Should I stop saying purgatory and Lost in the same sentence?

Why yes, you should. The idea that the show was always about these passengers in purgatory is just wrong and the finale of the show literally spells that out for you. But it is often misinterpreted, and then those of us who understand what the finale means are all screaming about how the island was never purgatory and was actually there.

(featured image: ABC)


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Leah Marilla Thomas
Leah Marilla Thomas (she/her) is a contributor at The Mary Sue. She has been working in digital entertainment journalism since 2013, covering primarily television as well as film and live theatre. She's been on the Marvel beat professionally since Daredevil was a Netflix series. (You might recognize her voice from the Newcomers: Marvel podcast). Outside of journalism, she is 50% Southerner, 50% New Englander, and 100% fangirl over everything from Lord of the Rings to stage lighting and comics about teenagers. She lives in New York City and can often be found in a park. She used to test toys for Hasbro. True story!
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