Okay, first things first: they did not die on the plane. The island was real, the people were real, and everything that happened to them was real, as Jack’s father explained at the end. The sideways universe was a purgatory type of place where they needed to remember their lives and the people they cared about before they could move on to whatever awaited them on the other side, be it heaven, nirvana, or some other type of eternal paradise. Such an afterlife journey is a common theme in many religions. As for the island, its purpose was hinted at but never really explained–it was left open to interpretation, in much the same way as the monoliths were never explained in “2001.” I’m okay with this; I don’t need everything spelled out for me.
Was the ending perfect? No, but endings rarely are. Anyone who has ever created a story knows that the ending is the hardest part to write–ask Stephen King, a great writer whose endings often come under criticism. I think Lost pulled a bit of a fast one by implying that the sideways world was an alternate reality created by the bomb explosion, especially when Juliette told Sawyer that it had worked right before she died, and there were minor loose threads that weren’t tied up and certain characters who deserved better fates (i.e. Michael, who is doomed to spend eternity as a whispering spirit on the island, but whose crimes weren’t nearly as bad as Ben’s), but these are minor quibbles in a show of such epic scope.
Lost was about many things: science vs. faith, good vs. evil, time travel, redemption, etc., but ultimately, Lost was about the characters, their journeys, and their relationships with each other. In the end, all you really want is a conclusion that does justice to the characters with whom you invested six years of your life. In this regard, the ending was perfectly satisfying and poignant on a metaphysical level. These people, who only spent a few months of their lives together, found the experience and the relationships they cultivated so profound that they chose to spend eternity together. I can’t imagine anyone who watched the show from the beginning not to have been moved by this, as well as all of the little moments leading up to it as each character in turn remembered what they had forgotten, as long lost couples and old friends reunited, Ben’s moments with Locke and Hurley and his decision stay behind because he apparently felt unworthy to join them, Jack’s conversation with his father, the show coming full circle as Jack lay down to die in the same location in which we had first met him six years ago, the joy in his eyes as he watched his friends escape on the plane, Vincent the dog lying down beside him so he didn’t have to die alone, the final closeup of his eye closing–and most importantly the performances by the stellar cast in all of these moments.
Lost was one of the most popular and critically acclaimed shows in television history for a reason–it was that good, that unique. The writing was top-notch and the acting was superb. Kudos to the show’s creators for deciding midway through its run that it would have a definite end date, so as not to overstay its welcome. Most shows have that jump-the-shark moment, a sign that its best days are behind it, that the creative well has run dry. That never happened with this show. Sure, there may have been a few scattered weak episodes, but overall it remained compelling from beginning to end. If you missed it, you missed out. If you chose not to watch it because you’re one of those people who automatically hates anything that’s popular, well that’s your loss. But it’s not too late–thanks to DVDs, you can still experience one of the greatest shows of all time. The ending may not have been to everyone’s satisfaction, but the journey is often as important (or more important) than the destination, and I, for one, am glad to have taken the ride.