Full disclosure: Lost is my favorite tv show of all time. I don’t think it is the best show, the best written show, the best visual show or even the best show featuring flashbacks. But it remains to be my favorite. The heart wants what the heart wants. It its the show that got me to think critically about what they were doing, trying to do, and planning on doing in the future. And I, along with a huge section of the shows audience decided it was up to us to figure the show out.
And that is why, when it ended, it caused such a commotion. Because while we as an audience were trying to solve the mysteries, the writers of the show were just trying to tell an interesting story about this group of people stuck in a situation where crazy shit happens around them all the time. The show was never about the mysteries. It was about the characters ( and yes, I do know how cheesy that sounds.)
So when the show went into it’s final season, Lindelof, Cuse and company decided to do something crazy. They were going to spend a good portion of the time they had left on “flash-sideways.”
The show had been known for using flashbacks (to fill in the backstories of the main characters) and had briefly used flashforwards (to show the time some of the characters spent of the island without the show ever having to leave the island.) But these were different.They seemed to not really connect with the island story in any way, plot wise.
The flashbacks made us look at the characters differently and the flashforwards made us look at the characters decisions differently, trying to connect the dots. But no one knew how to look at the flash-sideways.
They were showing what originally seemed like an alternate timeline where none of the main characters ever stepped foot on the island. Some things were the same (Kate was still arrested, Clare was still pregnant) and others were the complete opposite (Sawyer was a cop, Whitmore loved Desmond.) The questions on everyone’s mind were “What does this mean?” and “How does it fit with the island storyline.”
The answers were “Not much to the plot” and “After they all die, they created a world together so that they could all ‘move on’ together.” Let’s just say not everyone was pleased. From a plot perspective, it added basically nothing except provide a very confusing and spiritual epilogue to the show.
And so we are at the point where I tell you of my experiment. I decided to watch every flash-sideways in order without any of the other parts of the episodes over the course of two days. Now it practice, I did end up watching a few of the island scenes (including a scene toward the end of
Mr. Dr. Linus where Ben breaks down about Alex) and I did accidentally watch some of the scenes out of order (I missed the Sayid/Shannon scene in the finale originally and had to go back to find it.) But I found the “experiment” really interesting.
First, it took me back to the show instantly. When I was watching LAX and they were all on that plane, it felt like I had been watching the show week-to-week just a few months ago. It was almost like I never left. I wouldn’t recommend starting a rewatch in the sixth season of a show (and I’m sure if I had watched more of the plot-heavy island scenes, I would have been more confused,) but in this case it really worked.
What worked, I think, was that the Flash-sideways were almost void of all plot. Now of course this is Lost, so there is some plot involving Desmond getting everyone to remember, but it is so extraneous to the point of the flash-sideways. They seemed to be a way to get everyone closure.
What made Lost interesting to watch was that as soon as someone hit a life-altering moment in his/her life they seemed to die. So this was the way that the show was able to give everyone a bit of closure, in at least the afterlife.
Watching it knowing that it is all an afterlife really changes the way you see it. For one, Jack’s fake son seems weird, but it works to show Jack (finally) getting over his daddy issues. Jin and Sun get to make the decision to run away together, Locke gets to both come to terms with his father, Sayid is able to get past his relationship with Nadia, and Charlie and Claire actually getting to be together (I just started tearing up.)
But the most impactful part of this was the sideways journey of Ben Linus. He originally seemed very different in the flash-sideways as a history teacher who was one of the most moral people at the school. But through the course of the episode “Dr. Linus,” he slowly becomes the power-hungry man we all love to hate. But then there is Alex. And Ben gives up his power for her in a way he never could in real life (full on crying mode activated.)
I hadn’t watched his character in years, but that decision affected me so much. It was the episode in my rewatch that I got why the show decided to do this crazy experiment. It got us to care for these characters one last time before the end. It showed why the show worked so well for so many people. We loved these characters. Not all of them, but enough of them to keep us coming back every week. And when these characters were able to be happy, even if it was only in their minds, we were able to find some closure at the end of this show.
So what if the island ended up being a MacGuffin and no one knows who was on the other outrigger. We got character closure over plot closure, and personally I can deal with that. The sideways felt like another question to be answered the first round, but now seems like the perfect encapsulation of what the show always did right.
Plus more time with Charlie, which is never a bad thing.