Haroun is a self-aware fairy tale about a young hero (whose name means ''Aaron'') who has an adventure in a realm that happens to be the source of all stories. The conflict mirrors the Jack-Desmond-Fake Locke conflict in the finale. Haroun fights a monstrous, shape-shifting Man In Black who seeks to destroy the ''sea of stories.'' The villain is a crazed, control freak man of science/political tyrant who wants to put a cork in the wellspring of meaning itself and then spike the Sea of Story with a toxin of ''anti-story,'' or meaninglessness. Haroun saves the day, and for his trouble, the administrators who manage the fantastical realm give him a happy ending. Haroun is slightly troubled by this; he feels this ''happy ending'' business is terribly contrived. Yet he accepts the gift anyway, and appreciates it more and more as the benefits roll in. Love. Hope. Forgiveness. Empowerment. Redemption. Reconciliation. Restoration. In the end (and this is just my interpretation), Haroun decides to worry less about the origin of this windfall an inexplicable palette drop loaded with yummy, nourishing soul food and instead decides to worry more about living a life worthy of these eternal values. The mechanism of the delivery may have been contrived, but the values themselves are truthful and real.
Like the happy ending of Haroun, the Sideways conceit of Lost does some important things for the story, even if it can't completely dodge the charge of being ''contrived.'' (In fact, I might argue that by citing Haroun, Lost might have been acknowledging and embracing the charge.) The Sideways device allowed Lost to embellish its core themes (redemption; introspection; letting go of the past), express a spiritual worldview, and forge some undeniably powerful dramatic moments. It was a means to an emotionally rich conclusion that felt true and organic to the series.
And yet, I can't say the Sideways device totally worked for me. I wanted to get lost in Lost during its last 18 hours. But the Sideways conceit often left me standing outside of it, trying to figure out what it was all about. It's kinda hard to emotionally connect with people when wondering if they're also, like, ''real.'' In the end, I think it was asking too much of us to buy into a creatively uneven season-long storyline whose purpose only revealed itself in the last moments of the finale. The Sixth Sense was awesome. The Sixth Sense stretched over 18 hours? A much tougher magic trick, and Lost didn't quite pull it off.
NEXT: The path to enlightenment