Let me start out with this preface: Lost was without a doubt my favorite show on television, and was a major influence on both my life and my writing throughout its six year run. I watched it religiously, whether on TV (particularly season openers and finales) or on Hulu. Therefore, I'm a little biased in my analysis of why last night's finale was the greatest two-and-a-half hours of television I have ever watched. But, at the same time, there is a consensus that "The End" was a fine finale, and if not great, then one that would certainly be discussed for years to come.
SPOILERS BELOW!!!!!! You've been warned....
One thing that I would like to brag about was that I predicted way back after "The Substitute" that Hurley would be Jacob's successor. He was the leader who was most interested in helping others in their interests, rather than his own (as Jack and Locke often did). Plus, it was fantastic to see Hurley develop into more than just comic relief. And as Un-Locke/The Man in Black told Jack in disappointment, "You're the obvious choice." I'm also glad that Hurley chose Ben to be his right-hand man, a position that Ben had been duped into thinking he had for the likes of others for most of his life. I'm glad that he finally found redemption.
Another aspect I really enjoyed was the big reveal of the Sideways world, which was really a meeting place in the afterlife, or "purgatory," for the survivors. I want to make one thing very, very clear, according to Christian's explanation: even though he said that they were all dead, THEY DID NOT ALL DIE IN THE CRASH. As Christian said to Jack, they were all dead, "some before you, and some long after you." Everything that happened on the Island was real. They were all real. The Sideways world is a place that is beyond time, and all of them being there does not mean that they all died at the same time. When Jack finally came to his realization, they were all finally dead, and ready to "move on" together. It was a fitting, poignant ending to the show.
Which leads me to my argument for why the finale of Lost was so successful in ending the show. Over the years, especially this year as the show barreled toward its end, the discussion surrounding Lost has focused on answers: where is the Island? Why did those who survived, survive? Why did the Others take the people they took? Who were the people who were there for thousands and thousands of years? What was the significance of the statue? Why couldn't women get pregnant and carry to term on the Island? The list of questions goes on and on. And most people, I think, expected nothing but answers in the finale. This is a sci-fi mystery show, after all, and above all else the creators owed us explanations for everything that they presented us for the past six seasons. The finale didn't answer all of these questions; in fact, a lot of the big questions that people have been asking were left unexplained. And this is why I think most people are disappointed in the finale.
But here's the thing: at its heart, Lost is, and always has been, a drama about people, not answers. And that's what the finale, particularly the ending church scene, emphasized: these people were not brought to the Island to learn about the Dharma Initiative, but to learn about themselves and help each other. That's been the main theme of Lost: becoming found. The survivors were, of course, brought to the Island by Jacob as Candidates for his position as Protector of the Island, but there was another, more important reason why they were there. When these characters set foot on Oceanic Flight 815 on September 22, 2004, each one of them was trapped in a point in their life that he was unable to get out of. Landing on the Island forced them to face their issues and, through the various adventures that followed, ask for the help of others. As Kate tells Jack, "Sometimes you can't do it alone." (Cue the U2 song). And that's what a lot of the reviews and reactions seem to be missing: this isn't a show about sci-fi mysteries and action, but about characters, about humanity and what makes being human worthwhile. And thank God that the creators of Lost gave us such fully-developed, complicated, complete characters, each of which breathed of being a real person rather than a TV stereotype (even Jacob and The Man in Black were more than just "good" and "evil"). That's the sort of thing this show should be remembered for.
There was a lot of other things I enjoyed about the episode. Richard Alpert, for example, is mortal now, and heading off into a world that he has never known. Jack's death, recreating the opening shot of the pilot, was perhaps one of the show's most perfect moments. And the open-ended nature of the final scenes in Island reality were excellent. There's plenty of story left to tell: what happened to those aboard the Ajira plane as it left the Island? How will Claire deal with motherhood? What will happen to Hurley and Ben, the new protectors? Hopefully, there won't be any spinoffs or sequels or anything like that. Lost is a singular story that has now been told; we don't need anymore. In life, we never have all the answers. It only seems fitting that a masterpiece such as Lost end the same way.
PS My theory about what Sideways world means to the greater story? Hurley is advised by Ben in the finale to "find another way" to run things on the Island, starting with getting Desmond home. The Sideways world is his solution: create an afterlife world where the survivors can find each other and "move on" together.
PPS Something that should be debated but isn't: why did Ben choose not to enter the church?
PPPS Michael Giacchino's score for this show may be one of the most beautiful in television history. I can't listen to the "Life & Death Theme" without getting misty-eyed.