What is the Sideways World?
The Sideways world exists as a communally-created realm of consciousness, an outpost for displaced souls awaiting eternal upload.
At least, that’s my guesswork definition of the Sideways world. It seems fairly open to interpretation.
At the start of Season 6, I was fairly critical of the Sideways world. And not without cause; it seemed — to be honest — a colossal waste of time. The producers made it seem that they couldn’t decide where to go at the end of Season 5. Did Jughead explode and create an entirely new timeline / future for our characters? Or did the “whatever happened, happened” maxim prove true and the only thing Jughead really did was blast our characters back to the Island-present, circa 2007? It seemed that with the Sideways story, Season 6 was going to try and answer both of these questions in the affirmative. And that would’ve been uber-weird, even for a show like LOST. Thus, I voiced my initial disappointment with the Sideways story.
Of course, now that the story is complete, it’s easy to see the Sideways world as the indispensable final chapter of the LOST story. The Sideways world reinforces the myriad connections that were made between these characters in the first few seasons. It honors those connections as more than mere coincidence; in fact, the show has always been interpreted this way. But the Sideways world ups the ante on the whole discussion. Sure, these castaways were connected in ways they never understood in their pre-Island lives; but the show’s final stanza demonstrated the powerful connections these same individuals shared in the post-Island eschaton.
Season 5’s Jughead plotline was about rebooting history. “All the misery we’ve been through…we’d just wipe it clean. Never happened.” Jack assumed this was his Island destiny, the reason for which he returned to the Isle of Smokey anyway. Turns out he was wrong. In the end, LOST isn’t about cosmic do-overs and wiping the slate clean. If the Sideways world was about anything, it was about remembering that we might move on. I’m back to what I believe to be one of the show’s more important pieces of dialogue, spoken by John Locke to Sawyer in Season 5: “I needed that pain to get where I am now.” The Sideways characters individually needed to recognize their former lives — and the pain and joys that were a part of those lives — before they could move on. Enlightenment, at least in the LOST universe, is about remembering the past, not obliterating it with a hydrogen bomb.
But Season 6 also introduced us to another LOST mantra: Nothing is irreversible. First spoken by Jack to John Locke upon their initial Sideways encounter, it birthed a context of hope for how we might interpret the Sideways world. We thought, “Maybe Jack will operate on John and ‘fix’ him. Maybe John’s advice will put Jack on a trajectory to find his resurrected father, Christian.” We hoped these things would come true because they never materialized in the Island world. On the Island, Jack and Locke became adversaries, a man of science and a man of faith pitted against one another in a ideological war over the nature of the Island. But this exchange offered hope that these two might finally see how they compliment one another, how they need one another, and in so doing fulfill some kind of shared destiny together.
But the finale posed the thought again, only this time Jack was on the receiving end. Asked by Kate why he accepted Jacob’s invitation to become the Island’s newest guardian, Jack responds by saying, “I took it because the Island is all I’ve got left. It’s the only thing in my life I haven’t managed to ruin.” Kate tells him, “You haven’t ruined anything. Nothing is irreversible.” As she looks at Jack, you realize that she’s talking about their relationship. In his pre-detonation convo with Sawyer in Season 5’s finale, Jack admits that his strained relationship with Kate is part of the reason he wants to detonate Jughead. When Sawyer encourages him to go and make things right with her, Jack says, “No, it’s too late for that now.” Jack has always carried the burdens of his failures with him; call it living into Christian’s rebuke that Jack just didn’t have “what it takes” to be a great man. Nowhere does Jack believe this more than in his relationship with Kate.
And that is where the Sideways world is the beautiful affirmation of Season 6’s theme. Nothing IS irreversible in the Sideways world. Sun and Jin’s watery separation? Reversed. Jack’s dead father? Alive and well. Sayid’s unrequited love for Shannon? Fully “quited” (although still creepy in my book). And on and on…
So I think it’s proper to understand the Sideways world as the Island’s complimentary space — a yin to the Island’s yang — helping to bring these characters’ destinies full circle. I would even argue that the Island’s “purpose” is incomplete and unknowable without the Sideways world.