There’s really something powerful to being party to a television show that sparks a low-level cultural revolution. From the dawn of the medium, we’ve been given some shows that really set the pace for the American consciousness. We got stuff like The Honeymooners, I Love Lucy, The Twilight Zone, Star Trek, The Simpsons, The X-Files, Seinfeld and with the passing of this final season of LOST, we can now add another name to the pantheon of television avatars. For six seasons, LOST brought its A-game and introduced an entirely unexplored, extremely risky proposition to a medium that has traditionally played it safe with serialized storytelling. We were introduced to a winding, labyrinthine narrative that required a certain kind of devotion that no other TV show had ever commanded. Its primary selling point was an enduring, ceaseless mystery that kept a firm iron grasp on everyone who dared to venture down the rabbit hole. Not since the cliff hanger mystery of ‘Who shot J.R.’ had we been so captivated by the mystery of who might occupy the coffin at the close of Season 4. At its peak, LOST suggested a massive plan with a certain end-game in mind and had everyone who watched it reading hardcore weirdo literature, exploring philosophies foreign and familiar and forming their own theories as to just what the hell was going on on The Island. LOST also managed to bridge the science fiction gap with a well-orchestrated series of relationship dramas and a cast of characters that mattered to the audience. Character deaths had actual dramatic weight and the on-again-off-again nature of their romances factored heavily into the proceedings. LOST, miraculously, managed to be everything to everyone — So how did it wind up dropping the ball so spectacularly in its final movement?
Like all powerful television that comes to a close, LOST is proving to cut its audience in half. The fan reaction this morning is looking a lot like the day after discussion for shows like The Sopranos and Battlestar Galactica. Its conclusion has left half the viewership satisfied, happy and in some cases even elated while the other half grumbles endlessly amongst itself about loose ends and unanswered questions. Though I went to bed last night firmly entrenched in the latter camp, some reflection and grieving has softened my approach to what I at first considered to be a tremendous failure for one of TV’s most terrific and complex achievements. Though I’m not likely to go into my autumn years pining for Kate and Sawyer like I do these days, pining for Mulder and Scully, LOST made a huge impact on my pop cultural experience by dropping some heavy sci-fi into my brain and giving me enough space to mold it into what I thought made sense. However, as the show moved into its end-game, my fascination transformed into disillusionment as it became painfully obvious that many of LOST’s incredibly dense mysteries seemed like idea fragments dropped in meetings for the writing staff and were then thrust into the scripts without giving them much forethought as to how they would tie into the overall mystery. The show’s central conceit of endlessly complicated mythology eventually became its own worst enemy.
The lid is now back on the show and it puts me in an unique position. I spent six seasons of television analyzing all the pieces and turning them until they fit into a pattern that made sense to me. Each new development, each new question that led to another question made me constantly reassess my theory of the inner workings of The Island, The Others, The DHARMA Initiative and Jacob. The ride, from the moment that John Locke found The Hatch (the precise moment that I was hooked on LOST) to the detonation of the atom bomb at the Swan Station, was the most important part of the show to me. I liked many of the characters, but when the chips are down, I was far more interested in the esoteric workings of the mythology. The various peaks and valleys of the mythology’s development kept my mind moving and introduced me to very cool ideas. With a sixth season boiling most of that away to reveal that LOST was, first and foremost, a character driven show about the struggle between good and evil, waged by perilously flawed good guys and bad guys I was left with nothing but flimsy answers to questions that I thought I had figured out many seasons ago. The show hadn’t exactly failed me, it just failed to match my own expectations that I had set, myself. The writers get off easy in this case because I set myself up to fail as it is now apparent that they never knew where they were going with any of this. Many questions were hastily answered with flimsy solutions to solid problems.
I’m not strictly a mythology fan, though. I think I have to make this clear. LOST is responsible for some of the greatest TV heroes and villains of this generation. Prior to LOST I only recognized Terry O’Quinn as The Stepfather, a late horror entry that I never liked but going forward I’ll only ever recognize him as the ultimate man of faith, John Locke, rugged and badass, whose ultimate fate at the hands of Ben Linus gave way to an interesting turn as an entirely different, albeit equally as charismatic villain. Ben Linus, thanks to Michael Emerson’s enlightening performance took a character slated for a three episode run in season 2 and turned him into the ultimate wildcard character and one of the most important components of the entire LOST experience. Locke was in it for the long haul, having been cast from day one, but without Ben Linus, LOST wouldn’t have been the same show. I also readily admit that some of The End’s schmaltziest reunions made me grin even when they didn’t jive with the rest of the series’ conventions.
See, LOST didn’t just fail me because its mythology didn’t match up to the map I was following, the series finale is loaded with dramatic loose ends related to the characters, themselves. For instance why does Penny get to move on with the 815 passengers and Desmond when she never set foot on the island but Michael and Walt are nowhere to be found. Murderer or not, Michael should be if even Ben Linus has the option. We did get closure on whose heart lies where when it came to Jack, Sawyer, Kate and Juliet but half of that complicated romance were characters I considered deeply obnoxious. What’s worse, I was with The End right up until the final reveal explaining precisely what was going on. The revelation of the flash sideways was full of warm and fuzzy sentiment but seemed to be pregamed in such a way to distract you with lots of happiness and hugging so you would forget about all of the flaws and loose ends left in its wake. The way I see it, even if you live on the opposite end of the LOST spectrum from me, the emotional relationship drama fell flat as well because of ragged, hacked plotting.
Ultimately, LOST fails in the end because its most important puzzle piece, the mystery, required the show to twist and turn endlessly, stretching the mythology without end. J.J. Abrams once gave a TED Talk about his love affair with mystery and based it entirely on a mystery box that he’d had in his possession since his childhood, still unopened. The entire premise of his talk was about how the wonder and excitement of what was inside was more important than the actual contents of the box and that opening it would demystify its contents and reveal that the endless possibility of the box’s contents were, in fact, a couple dozen green plastic army men or some Radio Shack comic books about electrical safety. Season 6 of LOST was a metaphorical opening of the mystery box and its series finale, The End, turned out to be that demystifying revelation of what was actually inside. It turns out that without the periodic consideration of LOST’s contents, the endless possibility of what may have been going on inside it, LOST hadn’t really been hiding anything all that interesting and maybe we should have left it closed to begin with. I hesitate to leave this obituary of one of my all-time favorite TV shows on a sour note, though. Season 6 notwithstanding, I’m going to miss LOST dearly. Nise and I formed a weekly ritual around it and since we weren’t with the show from the beginning, we spent a couple of weeks fused to the sofa, binging through the first two seasons of the show in order to get caught up for Season 3. We grew to love and hate characters, we formed our own differing opinions of where the show was going and the discussions we had transformed the show into a good friend of ours. With LOST now off the air, it’s like I’ve lost a friend as melodramatic as that may be. I accept it, though. I just need to find something new (*coughFRINGEcough*) that captivates my imagination in the same way.
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