'Lost' 's Emotional and Frustrating Series Finale Aired 9 Years Ago

Almost a decade before the Game of Thrones finale tore fans apart, ABC's Lost bid an equally divisive farewell

After eight seasons and countless praise from critics and viewers alike, HBO closed the curtain on Game of Thrones— and the reviews have been mixed, to say the least. Fans of the epic saga have spent the last week complaining about the divisive series finale — but the end of ABC’s beloved show Lost vexed fans almost a decade earlier. Keep reading for PEOPLE critic Tom Gliatto’s full review.

The very long finale to ABC’s Lost was deeply touching, quite ridiculous and, in its very last seconds, so infuriating I erupted like the Smoke Beast and did a few cloudy charges around the perimeter of my apartment on the island of Manhattan. Then I ate my remote and sat down to collect my roiling thoughts.

Touching and ridiculous I was expecting: Lost has always been so far out on the edge — and so courageous about it — that the final revelations of Oceanic Flight 815 would have risen either like a phoenix or a magician’s pigeon forcibly flung out over the audience. But this …

LOST - "Exodus," Part 2" finale
Mario Perez/ABC via Getty

Actually, the episode started on a terrific note, seizing on what always felt like the show’s true emotional core: the unresolved relationship between Dr. Jack Shepherd (Matthew Fox) and his dead father. At the start of the two-and-a-half hour episode, the arrival of the father’s casket back in Los Angeles and the rather jokey detail that his name was the symbolically fraught “Christian Shepherd” suggested that we were about to begin a requiem — not only old Doc Shepherd’s but the show’s, and with it all the solemn connotations of life and death and rebirth and DVD sales.

LOST - "Exodus," Part 2" finale
Mario Perez/ABC via Getty

“Well, this will be lovely,” I thought, as I waited out the island showdown between Jack and John Locke (Terry O’Quinn). This aspect of season 6 has always been total hokum, especially since Locke’s bald metaphysical awfulness made him seem more and more like an America’s Got Talent contestant impersonating Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now. By the end, I still didn’t understand what harm Locke would have done if he ever left the island. Shoplift souls in the duty-free store at LAX? And why exactly did the island NEED protection? Was there a snail darter requiring superhuman intervention?

In the end, the fate of the island depended on a large carrot-shaped stone that served as a kind of stopper in the island’s fiery Pool of Life. Removing it was apparently tantamount to sinking Atlantis by mucking around with the plumbing in the main spa. Oh. Okay.

And yet much of the episode was superb, especially the existential badminton played out between the characters’ states of consciousness on the mainland (what has come to be called the “Sideways” universe) and back on the island. Everyone on the mainland — even Jack and Locke, who became Jack’s patient in surgery — kept being illuminated by unpredictable but joyous surges of connection to their other lives.

It was as if Dorothy had woken up back in Kansas and all the farmhands said, “Shut your trap, Aunt Em. Dorothy’s right. We DID see her in Oz.”

And then, at last, we arrived at the requiem anticipated from the start of the show. I won’t spoil it for you, except to say that it was so mistily open-ended as to be pointless: It was The Sopranos with a heavenly choir instead of Journey on the jukebox. The difference is that I wouldn’t have expected The Sopranos finale to clear up my questions about a giant stone foot.

I still think, overall, the show is a classic. Viewers can argue between now and forever what the island really means. Let’s start with the fact that many if not most if not all feel shipwrecked in their own lives. Discuss! And, no, Gilligan’s Island never made me feel like that.

As to the finale, I guess the only thing to do is die and be sent to an island, resurrected, killed, possessed by an ancient entity and killed again.

I may also re-watch the episode.

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