By James Poniewozik
July 1, 2015

The following article references plot points from Lost, so you may want to skip it if you haven’t watched yet. Though, come on, you’ve had five years now.

My two sons have heard my wife and I talk about Lost almost as long as they’ve been alive. It’s what we have in our house instead of religion. They knew the general premise; they had an ambient awareness of who Sawyer and Hurley are, like talked-about distant cousins they’d never met in person. But the show itself would have to wait until they were old enough.

This summer, we decided they’re old enough. We started a family binge of the show on Netflix–we’re still in season 1–and because I’m a glutton for public questioning of my parenting and aesthetic choices, I tweeted about it. Five years after it ended, mentioning Lost on social media is still like poking a stick at the smoke monster, and soon enough the (mostly good-natured) snark rolled in–more than one response along the lines of: “First five seasons only, or I’m calling Child Protective Services.”

Ha ha, and OK, I asked for it. But I’ll be honest: the thought, “But what about the ending?” did occur to me. I loved the finale, though I thought most of season 6 went, well, sideways with digressions and blind alleys. But regardless, I’m well aware that many Lost fans were, shall we say, not as pleased with the ending. (My wife was one of them; when we finally finish the series, the kids will have to choose a favorite parent once and for all.)

Was I being responsible? Wasn’t I, a professional TV-watcher who reviewed the show weekly for almost its entire run, supposed to look out for them? Despite one of the best pilots ever made, despite “Not Penny’s Boat” and the hatch and “The Constant,” was I leading them to be blindsided? Was I setting my kids up for bitterness, disappointment, betrayal?

I decided, of course, that I wanted to share Lost with them even though they might hate the ending. More to the point, I wanted to share it with them because they might hate the ending.

I’m not interested in relitigating the debate over that last scene in the chapel. (You can read my original review if you want; it more or less still reflects how I feel.) But I think there were really two arguments going on over the Lost finale. Only one was about whether it was glorious or terrible.The other was really about how art and stories work.

That argument went: Is the finale to a series its ending or its answer? Does a bad ending to a story retroactively overwrite the good? Is it possible for the end of a thing to be so terrible and heartbreaking that it would be better never to have experienced any of the joy and pleasure that led up to it?

I don’t really care how my kids come down on Lost‘s ending–but how they come down on that last question, I care about very much.

I get that finales carry a lot of weight: we have so many wishes and rooting interests hanging on them. They need to answer questions and provide closure, to move you and thrill you and ratify your view of the story and your notions of justice. They need to “stick the landing,” a phrase I sincerely wish no one had ever applied to a series finale, not just because it misrepresents art but because it misuses the metaphor. A gymnastics routine, after all, is scored on every element; a wobbly landing makes a 10 into a 9.9, not a 0.

That urge to hold up the “0” card once disappointed by a finale–screw you, Battlestar Galactica! go to hell, Sopranos!–feels like a philosophy of life, and a depressing, defensive one. It says: I will not be made a sucker. I will not be made to waste my time. I will not risk giving myself over to a story to find out, in the end, that I was “wrong.”

That’s no way to watch; it’s no way to live. Life is a succession of extended, serial experiences that start with a lot of promise but can always end badly. Marriages. Careers. A major league sports season ends with every team losing but one. Life itself is a multi-episode series that will eventually lead to a finale that you may find drawn out and unpleasant.

You can protect yourself from a lot of disappointments by not investing, but you lose a lot too. Some of my favorite shows ended on notes I found nigh-perfect (Friday Night Lights). Others, not so much (How I Met Your Mother). Plenty are in-between (I’m still sorting out my feelings about Mad Men‘s finale). But none of that negates a single thrill, laugh or wave of emotion I felt on the way there. None of that makes any of the experience that came before it any less worth having.

And Lost? Yeah, the sideways universe was a mess and the Drive Shaft / classical-piano concert in the finale is one of the goofiest things the show has ever done. But I’m putting my kids on the road to it anyway. Because I got to watch them see the show kick into mysterious gear with Locke’s healing at the end of “Walkabout.” I’ll get to share with them Desmond in the Hatch and every creepy Ben Linus-ism; “We have to go back!” and Desmond’s phone call to Penny; Hurley driving the VW microbus and Sawyer in a Dharma jumpsuit in the 1970s. They’ll get to experience every thrill and mind-twist that I did, they’ll get to pore over details and spin theories, and if they hate where it ends up–well, they’ll still have experienced it.

And if that’s so, then I hope they even learn something: the bad things in your life don’t negate the good ones. As Pixar’s Inside Out beautifully expressed, happiness is more than the avoidance of sadness. Your life is not an average of its heights and its disappointments; it is each of them, in themselves. It’s like Christian says in the finale: “All of this matters.” If they can come away with that, I don’t need them to agree with me about Lost.

Unless they end up ‘shipping Kate and Jack over Sawyer and Juliet. Then I’m writing them out of the will.

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