I'll have time to post some more thoughts tomorrow morning, but for now I'll say I have mixed emotions about the finale. It was on the one hand emotionally satisfying and on the other tremendously disappointing. The Sideways reality wound up being a massive punt, skirting the Island mysteries that, despite Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof's protestations to the contrary ("All anyone ever cared about was the characters!"), had driven most of the first five seasons of the show. Season 6 will go down for me as the Ray Guy season.
More in the a.m., but meanwhile Laura Miller of Salon has a good take, as does Mike Hale of The New York Times. This post is billed as having come from someone on the show's writing or production staff. I doubt it's the genuine article, but it's interesting nonetheless. His take on DHARMA seems off to me, though, and the idea that the entire ending sequence was scripted in the first season strikes me as bogus (not only is it implausible but it contradicts previous statements from Darlton) and is the chief reason to doubt the post's authenticity.
UPDATE: Okay, so here's the thing. It's nice and touching to suggest that you get to meet up with all your loved ones in the afterlife -- it's what most of us hope for, I would imagine -- but what does that have to do with the first five seasons of "Lost"? You could do execute this premise with just about any show (whether "Grey's Anatomy" or "The Pacific"): Their lives were hard and filled with pain and suffering but in the end they met up in heaven/returned to the source.
Of course, most shows wouldn't be able to get away with depicting an unexplained parallel universe for an entire season. But "Lost" could, because it was a science fiction show, as the creators have acknowledged -- a show that was anchored by some great characters and good acting, but a genre show nonetheless. So what they did is use their science-fiction cred to pull off an ending that subverted the science-fiction aspects of the show. As Mike Hale wrote:
But when the entire island story line we had been following for six seasons turned out not to matter very much within the internal organization of the show’s narrative — to be largely disconnected from that final quasi-religious resolution of the plot — it was deflating, despite the warm feelings the finale otherwise inspired. ...
Rendered insignificant, in this scenario, were the particulars of what they had done on the island. Pushing buttons, building rafts, blowing up hatches, living, dying — all the churning action and melodrama that made “Lost” so addictive in its early seasons — none of it was directly connected to this final outcome, beyond that it constituted “the most important part” of all their lives.
This isn't even mentioning the most obvious point, which is that the they-all-met-up-heaven gambit is an extraordinary cop-out. Sure, it's satisfying as a viewer to see these characters meet up again -- "a pleasant, nostalgic wallow," as Hale puts it -- but it's taking the easy way out as writers and creators, isn't it? "Anna Karenin" wouldn't have packed such a wallop if, after the heroine threw herself under a train, she got to bask in the warm light of beyond with the handful of people who may actually have cared for her during her miserable existence.
It would have been much gutsier and more effective, albeit sad, if Jack had just died in the jungle. He still would have died in full knowledge of the importance of his sacrifice, i.e. saving the world, which is about the best kind of death a hero can ask for.
UPDATE TWO: Many diehard "Lost" fans online seem to have liked the finale, and some of them have a hard time dealing with criticism of it. There's a general feeling that people who are disappointed not to have gotten resolution to key Island stories are being dully literal-minded. Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse began criticizing the answer-seekers awhile ago, emphasizing the importance of the characters, and it seems like their point of view has taken hold.
I find myself more in tune with the critics. Here's an excerpt from Laura Miller's reaction to the finale:
But, let's face it, "Lost" was not ultimately "all about the characters," as its creators and admirers often claimed, because the characters were not interesting enough to sustain a series by themselves, either. As pleasant as it was to see the gang achieving lives of ordinary happiness in this season's flash-sideways, we care about them because we've seen them go through so many bizarre ordeals. Would you really have wanted to watch a series in which the same people got their shit together in the ordinary fashion? I didn't think so. "Lost" was not "Six Feet Under." ...
The series squandered its final season in a misguided effort to transform its trademark narrative ingenuity into a grand metaphysical statement.
The finale's premise isn't that hard to grasp, but it confused us because it executes a switcheroo: It substitutes a "big" mystery of relatively slight interest (What is the status of the flash-sideways reality?) for all the littler enigmas that we actually do care about ...
A series like "Lost" doesn't need to solve all of its riddles, but it does need to address the right ones. ...
Could it be that in resisting the geekiest, nitpickingest, most Aspergerian demands of their audience they swung too far in the opposite direction, dismissing as trivial everything but the cosmic ... and the sentimental (making sure that every character receives his or her designated soul mate or therapeutic closure of the most banal Dr. Phil variety)?
The comic-book paraphernalia and texture of the island -- its secret bunkers with their code names, Jacob's migrating cabin with its creepy paintings, the ersatz normality of the Others' compound ringed by those sonic pylons and the fantastically mechanical grinding and dragging sounds that used to accompany the appearance of the smoke monster -- were not peripheral to the heart of "Lost." They were the very essence of its appeal, what that show did better than any other. If I want to contemplate the nature of good and evil, I'll turn to Nietzsche or Hannah Arendt (or, for that matter, Joss Whedon), and if I want ruminations on love, give me Emily Brontë or John Updike (or "Big Love"). From "Lost" I wanted less profundity and more fun. And I still want to know what the deal was with those numbers.
The emphasis added above is mine; this is a crucial point. Dalrton has executed a bait-and-switch on its audience, and done so skillfully, I might add, because so many "Lost" fans have bought it. If you go back and listen to their podcasts and interviews over the past several years, you're not going to hear them coyly hinting that the next couple episodes are going to be important for Sawyer's path to redemption. They're going to be talking about the mysteries of the Island, because that's what everybody cared about.
As it stands, here is a prevailing view of how a crucial part of the "Lost" plot unspooled: Jacob brought DHARMA to the Island specifically to cause the drilling at the Swan site, because he knew the Man in Black would eventually persuade someone to move the island, which would cause the time travelling that would send the castaways back to the past to neutralize the energy pocket with a bomb and give the MiB the chance he'd been looking for for eons to kill Jacob by shipping John Locke off the Island* and hoping his carcass would be shipped back, with Jacob thereby risking the future of the universe on the chance that his candidates, Illana and Desmond would prevail.
Does this look like good storytelling? And this isn't even what viewers know. This is what they've been left to presume based on the evidence. And don't get me started on Jacob's Cabin, and how MiB came to inhabit and then escaped it, because the sequence of events there doesn't make sense.
This is why people like myself are irritated, because the creators kicked the tangled mess they'd created to the side and said, "Don't worry about it. The important thing is that they all wound up together."
*If it were so important to his plan, you'd think MiB would have specify that Locke, not Ben, had to move the Island.