By Broadcasting Brain
The dust hasn’t fully settled yet, but the series finale for Lost seems to be polarizing its fan base between love and hate. It hasn’t been long since the series ended and it may take a little while for the finale to fully sink in. However, while the details are still fresh in our minds, it’s interesting to attempt to compare the Lost finale to another highly anticipated series finale that divided its fans. Yes, I’m going there. We’re going to compare the Lost finale to another controversial series finale: the end of Battlestar Galactica.
Warning: Obviously, there are SPOILERS for both Lost and Battlestar Galactica, so beware.
Some initial observations
On the surface, these two series may not look very similar. Battlestar Galactica focused on the crew of a gigantic starship and the other survivors of an interstellar holocaust. The Cylons’ attempt at genocide forced the survivors of the Twelve Colonies to flee from their enemies and search for a new home.
Meanwhile, Lost focused on the people who survived a plane crash stranded on a mysterious topical island: a bunch of messed up civilians who didn’t realize how bad their lives were. They discover that they aren’t alone and they’re in danger. They desperately wish to escape the terrors of their island and go home. They think that they want to return to their old lives.
However, there are many similarities between the two series. They dealt with common themes like: leadership; community; good vs. evil; the levels of ambiguity between good and evil; the power of relationships; despair; hope; destiny; and science vs. faith.
Both shows had large casts, dealt with multiple locales, were filled with mystery, and developed fervent fan bases. They also had some of the most compelling characters in television, from the strong leads to the amazing stream of secondary cast members.
The finales for both series have been controversial, pleasing some and alienating others. It’s made for great discussion fodder on the Internet.
Finally, though, we are compelled to ask a question: Which finale was better? Lost’s or BSG’s?
I believe that Lost had a better finale than Battlestar Galactica. Here’s why:
Lost’s finale stayed truer to the concept and mythology of the series than BSG’s did.
Battlestar Galactica show-runner Ronald D. Moore made a point of insisting (and publicly stating) that his remake of BSG would emphasize a more “naturalistic” approach to science fiction. There would be no ray guns, no bug-eyed aliens, no funny stuff. Yet, in the end, we are given pretty clear indications that a higher power was making things happen and manipulating events, through the presence of “angels.”
EFF Chairman Brad Templeton was pretty explicit in his opinion that BSG ultimately turned its back on Moore’s tenets of naturalistic science fiction. He felt that the show runners used a deus-ex-machina device to wrap up the series by invoking the presence and machinations of a godlike being that had manipulated events to ultimately bring the survivors of the Cylon Holocaust to Earth.
Lost certainly made its share of continuity changes, inconsistencies, and abandoning plotlines that once seemed integral to the storyline of the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815. They may have done a worse job than BSG’s show runners in this regard. However, they created a world where the unexplained would become something that, while it could surprise us, it would not shake our belief in the world of Lost.
Just think: an unseen monster, a polar bear in the jungle, and miraculous healing powers; the stage was clearly set for mysteries from day one. After having been properly prepared through events in the series, the revelations about Jacob, the Man in Black, the glowing Source, and the true nature of the “sideways universe” were not that hard to accept. Angels and a deity, on the other hand, really skewered the concept of freewill that had seemed to permeate BSG and which, up to that point, seemed to trump the mysticism and religious themes of the show.
Faith vs. science was a constant theme in Lost. In my book, they had permission to play the unseen forces card (Jacob merely being a manifestation of something unseen) because it was already part of their mythos.
Meaning and accomplishment in the series finale — redemption
In BSG’s finale, the humans and their Cylon allies defeated the remaining Cylon Hybrid forces, ending their persecution of the humans and giving them the chance to live in peace. They managed to survive this and find a new planet to settle upon, at the expense of their technology and their community. However, instead of making a peace with the Cylons, a stupid event essentially destroyed the hope for peace, led to the destruction of the Cylons.
So, yes, the humans did achieve their goals by the end of BSG and characters (e.g., Boomer and Baltar) redeemed themselves, at least somewhat.
In Lost’s finale, Jack Shephard defeated the Man in Black, prevented the Island from being destroyed, and helped his friends escape the Island according to their wishes. Then he died. It was sad, but he died accomplishing his main objective in life: to fix and save people. A bunch of people who had been lost, literally and figuratively, survived to live out their lives. Others eventually found something at the end, whether it was peace, forgiveness, or redemption.
To be honest, I think both finales are about the same in this regard, but I give Lost a slight edge here because Jack Shepard was redeemed on virtually every possible level in the final episode. The redemptions in BSG were OK, but not spectacular.
Death vs. life
Both series dealt with resurrection and life after death in different ways. In BSG, the Cylon Hybrids (including the Final Five) used resurrection as a means of continuation of the species. Resurrection was clearly supposed to be based on science. The Hybrids had endless opportunities, until the end of the series, to die and be reborn.
By the end of the series, Lost pretty clearly implied that resurrection wasn’t possible. All that we have is the time that is given to us to live our lives, to paraphrase Gandalf the Grey. We thought that John Locke had come back to life, but that turned out to be a ruse. In Lost’s universe, there are no second chances.
Life after death: Both series did play around with this idea, with mixed success. We certainly saw a lot of dead people in Lost. Some were illusions while others clearly appeared to be the spirits of dead people. The show clearly implied that people might exist as a form of ghost if they weren’t ready, or able, to move beyond our world to something else.
BSG steered clear of anything of this sort until Kara Thrace returned to the Galactica at the end of Season 3. We were never really sure what the returned Kara Thrace was, although her disappearance at the end of the series finale suggested that she might have been an angel or a spirit temporarily given physical form. Again, BSG strayed from the concept of naturalistic science fiction in bringing her character back to the show in this manner. This is even more vexing because Thrace’s ghost [angel?] allowed them to find our Earth.
Lost has the edge here because the Island’s world was given enough latitude to accommodate life after death.
Coming together vs. drifting apart
My last complaint could lead you to accuse me of being sentimental, in which case I have no defense. I was happier with what happened to the Lost characters, even if it required a bit of imagination to figure out what happened to them, than what happened to the heroes of BSG.
Here’s what happened to the main characters of BSG: they found a home, dispersed widely, lost their technology, and presumably became our ancestors. Here’s the thing, though: they died without a trace. Yes, there was that gobbledygook which tried to suggest that Hera, the Cylon/human hybrid, became the “mother” of all current humanity by being the “Mitochondrial Eve” (again, Brad Templeton shot down that theory quite well). But, quite frankly, although they may have gone on to lead more peaceful lives, they left nothing behind. Perhaps we can infer that they jump started civilizations, but they were on Earth far too early for their culture or technology to leave a lasting impact on the planet. The Twelve Colonies were destroyed and the survivors… melted into existing primitive cultures, leaving nothing of themselves behind.
Lost was definitely playing on a smaller scale. We really don’t know the details of the lives of many of the characters after they left the Island, but the final scenes, with the revelations of the true nature of the “sideways universe” did offer one import thing: closure. We know that certain people were reunited there. We saw enemies and rivals make peace with each other. We saw family and lovers reunited. Most importantly, we were left with the clear message that what had happened to the ka-tet of Oceanic Flight 815 was real and it mattered, even if only to each other. From a sentimental point of view, it worked. It was a happy ending, but it felt like they’d earned the happy ending.
Sorry Ronald D. Moore, but Lost clearly kicked BSG’s ass with this part of the finale.
Series finale vs. series story
Both series were terrific, thought provoking, and entertaining. Both series also suffered from having too many plotlines, too many characters, and too many missed opportunities. Up until the finale, I would say that BSG definitely had an edge on Lost. We pretty clearly knew what BSG was about and, for the most part, it delivered. Lost… many times it felt like neither the audience nor the show runners really understood what was happening. It was like peeling the layers of an onion.
However, Lost played the relationship and character cards much better than BSG in the finale. Lost’s finale was downright silly in places (did Jack’s act of capping the Source remind anyone else of Spock saving the Enterprise in Wrath of Khan?), but it worked because we got to find out enough about the fate of the characters to be satisfied. It worked because it focused on relationships and love. And the good guys won, too.
Call me a sucker, but that’s the kind of payoff you expect in dramas, isn’t it? Even in science fiction and fantasy?