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The Lost finale was the decade’s most underrated ending

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Instead, it taught us an important lesson about life

Image: ABC

2019 is coming to a close and so is the decade. Prestige TV has never been better. Marvel turned on-screen superheroes into the biggest (and most profitable) trend of the era. Streaming is the new battlefield for viewer eyeballs. To close out the 20-teens, Verge staffers are breaking down their favorite moments, media, and what they believe was the most overlooked in entertainment from the last 10 years.

Lost’s series finale, “The End,” is my favorite finale of any TV show — but not because it solved all of the show’s many mysteries. It didn’t.

Lost was ABC’s smash hit about the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 and the island where they crashed. The show was great at character-driven stories and showing how the island (generally) turned them all into better people, but it did so in an exciting way by making those stories play out among the many mysteries, questions, and curiosities of the island.

Throughout six seasons of these dangling questions, I — like many other fans — was ready for answers. But by the time of the finale, it was becoming clear that we weren’t going to get the mind-melting revelations we were hoping for. The Numbers represented, among other things, candidates to replace an immortal being that ruled the island? Hmm. The smoke monster was made when that being threw his brother into a magical cave of light? Uh, okay.

And in the finale, we finally learned that the island kept its mystical energy because... a plug in a pool kept the island’s magical water from draining away. Following season after season of increasingly clever answers to increasingly clever mysteries, seeing the banal reality of a giant drain stopper was something of a letdown.

But I loved the finale anyway. Instead of checking off every box, executive producers Carlton Cuse (who has since created Bates Motel and Amazon’s Jack Ryan series) and Damon Lindelof (The Leftovers and HBO’s Watchmen) instead packed the finale with as many unforgettable character-driven moments as they could. And that, in retrospect, is what the show was actually the best at the whole time, anyway. Who can forget iconic moments like “Not Penny’s Boat,” the reveal of the show’s first flash-forward, and Desmond’s profession of love to his constant, Penny?

Ironically enough, the finale made its character moments really shine by paying off one mystery in a huge way. Season 6 played with Lost’s trope of flashbacks or flash-forwards by instead presenting flash-sideways, a weird alternate reality where Oceanic Flight 815 didn’t crash. In the flash-sideways, the characters apparently have no knowledge of their connections on the island. The audience doesn’t know what the point of the flash-sideways was — until they reach the series finale. By that time, the audience knows that the show’s characters can “wake up” from the flash-sideways and suddenly recollect their lives on the island.

These sepia-toned recollections are powerful flashes of each character’s most memorable plots throughout the entire show, usually with their one true love, and each is backed by the very best of Michael Giacchino’s amazing soundtrack. The finale gives us so many of them: Sun and Jin reliving how they rekindled their relationship and eventually died together. Charlie and Claire remembering how they fell in love. Sawyer and Juliet recalling their amazing, wonderful, best-ever relationship.

These moments of recollection in the finale were beautiful when I first watched the final episode live in May 2010. But when I recently rewatched the episode, sitting next to the person I would marry six days later, these scenes devastated me. I cried at every single one.

I’ve come to realize that the point of the finale, and perhaps all of Lost, wasn’t to get answers to the plot questions that got many of us to care about the show in the first place. (That is something I also think is true about most of the recent enduring prestige TV dramas, including Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and, yes, even Game of Thrones.) The point was to deliberately show that the real journey, and I mean this with no irony, was the friends the characters made along the way — and maybe that’s what the journeys of our real lives are, too.