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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Lost Finale: Redux

I wasn't planning to write any more about the disappointing Lost series finale, but I received too many comments on my last post to ignore. I started writing a reply and, as happens so frequently, my reply grew to the size of a full blog post. So I'm posting it here.

Wednesday evenings were a time that I kept blocked off for Lost. Watching that show is what I did on those evenings and now my schedule has a gaping 1-hour hole. Looking back on the past few years of television, I don't feel the kind of fondness I should. Instead, I feel an utter disappointment and emptiness because of the way that damn series ended. 6 years of loyal TV watching is now nothing more than wasted time and bad memories. For 6 years I would tell myself "Sure things are crazy now, but there are more episodes to come and if I follow this through to the end everything else will make sense". Well, we made it to the end. I still have that feeling like the show is a crazy mishmash of weird ideas and disjointed storytelling, but there aren't any more episodes to look forward to for these things to be resolved.

I sincerely can't tell if the writers were simply being lazy and disconnected, tired of the grind for 6 years and already focused on their next big projects. I can't tell if maybe the writers are just bad at writing, not able to resolve, interpret, or make sense of the complex predicaments and scenarios they created. Every time the situation became too complex, every time the scenario became too crazy and unmanageable, they simply abandoned ship and moved on to the next mystery. Night after night, season after season they wrote themselves into holes that they either had no intentions or no capability to write themselves out of. They introduced new characters and new subplots with no explanation, no development, and no lasting effect on the overarching plot. In fact, I can't say with certainty that there was any single overarching plot to the whole show. They used throwaways to distract the audience from the real plot, and they abandoned so many story elements without so much as a passing apology.

Who would you say was the main antagonist of the show? For 5 seasons, the smoke monster was described as being a protective force, or a "security system" for the island, not it's main antagonist until the final season. Maybe you could say Widmore was the antagonist, but he had a tangential effect at best on most of the characters throughout, and later was revealed to be acting on Jacob's behalf (right before he died). Was Ben the antagonist? He certainly appeared so for about 2 seasons, though once we started seeing into his past and his actions we realize that he's a force for the good of the island, even if his means-justify-the-end modus operandi is a little questionable. And who would be the main protagonist? Jack would appear so, though for the first few seasons he butted heads against Locke and frequently was overshadowed by him. Also, his "go with the flow" attitude in the later seasons is hardly reconcilable with the notion of the series' primary hero. Maybe we could say Locke was the protagonist, but he died halfway through the series.

Let's look at some other characters too. Sawyer was one of the few people to actually escape from the island alive, though he is still the same angry, vengeful conman he was at the beginning of the series. He had some liberating moments early on when Kate learned about his backstory and when he was finally able to kill the man who caused the death of his parents. He even had some moments of heroism after his transformative time in the Dharma Initiative, though the death of Juliet appeared to drive him back to his old self in Season 6. Kate was an interesting and likable character, but we can't really say that she transformed as a character. The role she mostly appeared to play was a catalyst for Jack and Sawyer, and a suspense-building element in their weird love triangle. Sayid's character was interesting because he was constantly being pulled across the line between good and evil, torn between needing to do whatever was necessary, and needing to be a good person. Jin and Sun were basically non-participants, spending the entire show involved primarily with each other. In the beginning their characters were defined by their language barrier and weird marital problems.  As the show progressed they found true love together, but then they died leaving behind little more than an orphaned child and motivation for Kate to catalyze Jack to kill the Man in Black. Desmond was also an interesting character, though he didn't really make any appearance in Season 1, and was missing entirely in Season 5 and the first half of Season 6. In the end, Desmond was used as little more than a tool to help Jack.

It's hard to say that Lost really had any central antagonists, protagonists, or even a single overarching plot. It ended up being a mishmash of unresolved subplots which just happened to feature a common set of characters. Sometimes they seemed to do good, sometimes they seemed to do evil, but the results of their actions were never shown and in the end almost all of them simply died or were forgotten.

In the end it's really all about the audience, and nearly two weeks later the audience that I have talked to is still unhappy. It's worse than the infamous ending to the Sopranos where the screen simply cut to black. That was remarkably fulfilling for most audience members, but at least some meaning could be drawn from it: Tony Soprano was continuing his life as usual, was still an unremorseful gangster, and after everything that happened to himself and his family and his friends we was still carrying on as he had always carried on.  Any time that the series ended would have been the same, you could just as easily cut out an episode prior or an episode later with no effect. After all, we weren't seeing and weren't expecting to see the complete demise of organized crime, or even the salvation of one of it's prominent figures. The Sopranos was simply a short window into that life, nothing more and nothing less.

The Lost season finale offered no such message. You can't say that things would continue as they always had. You can't say that the troubled characters were changed for the better. You can't say that anything of importance happened at all.

That's one of my biggest problems with that show. Looking back on it, it's hard to say with certainty that anything happened. The net result, that some people crashed on an island and only a handful of people survived (though, notably, not all of the final survivors were on the original crashed plane) is a pretty boring story. Look back at some of the big subplots: Babies and expecting mothers dieing? Not addressed at all. Going back in time to change the future? Didn't happen. Lessons about "what happened, happened" and "dead is dead"? Casually dismissed without any explanation. Greater lessons about good and evil? Mired in too much ambiguity and mystery to draw any meaningful conclusions. Greater lessons about fate and free will? Absolutely ignored.

We could maybe say that the whole island was some crazy nonsense, but the important part were the characters and their development. That would be fine if the whole show was about a group of troubled people who were put in an absurd situation and learned important lessons and ultimately grew to transcend their own problems and limitations. Or maybe the show could have focused on the relativity of "good" and "evil" and show how a lot of people ended up senselessly dieing to protect ideals (especially unverified oral traditions) that ended up being false or irrelevant. That would have been extremely deep, and would have made for a satisfying conclusion, but it was not so. It might also have been nice to compare and contrast the killings of the Temple people by the Man in Black with the killings of the Dharma initiative by the followers of Jacob. Trust me, there is tons of unmined gold in this show that, instead of being polished and crafted, was ignored in favor of giving the audience a huge piece of coal.

And it really is all about the audience. My other biggest problem with this finale was the complete lack of regard and respect for the audience on the part of the writers. This is a show which thought nothing of naming characters after famous philosophers, theologians, and scientists. This is a show which was filled with obscure cultural and literary references. This is a show which used Latin writing and Egyptian hieroglyphs for the fans to painstakingly translate and interpret. This was a show that appeared to have been targeted towards an intelligent and educated audience. Why then were we treated like dogs; so easily distractable by the next shiney object, loud noise, or scrap of food from the table? Why, in the presence of so many fantastic and occasional absurd scenarios did the writers simply choose to ignore the story we were following and distract us with the next mystery, the next suspense-building cliffhanger? Were we, the audience, just the observers in the Pearl station, tasked with observing something we did not understand, not realizing that we were the experiment, and we were being observed? What is the lesson here, that if you pretend to treat your audience as if they were intelligent, that you can treat them just like every other stupid audience, make a boatload more money, and call it revolutionary TV?

The lesson I learned, ultimately, is that TV is a huge load of shit. Lost over-promised and severely under-delivered, and I've been burned by that. I do like to watch Burn Notice, when I can find it on at a reasonable time. I do like to watch NCIS too, sometimes. But, I absolutely refuse to get invested in any new show the way I invested myself into Lost.

1 comment:

  1. I have proposed rejecting the ArbCom proposal at Wikibooks. talk:Arbitration Committee


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