Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Something About a Bright Light (L O S T)

I turn my back on the media for a moment, and so many stories worth noting have piled up. We get what detectives would call "hard evidence" that Mark Zuckerberg is an asshole; John Stossel said on TV that the free market would stop racial discrimination; and a small controversy has brewed over the fact that for a movie called Prince of Persia, Hollywood went with the white guy.

(Fun sidenote about that last bit of ethnic appropriation: I actually found a small detail in the Prince of Persia trailer kind of funny. It's been a longstanding Hollywood practice to cast any ancient civilization with actors who have British accents. Romans, Greeks—all British. So when they cast an American as a Persian, it appears that all they had him do was use a British accent, thus moving Hollywood a further degree of separation from racial/national accuracy).

But of course, the big media news has nothing to do with reality at all. ABC's Lost ended its 6-year run in a big, two-and-a-half-hour TV event that was more or less guaranteed to piss off a comfortable majority of its audience. From 2004–present, Lost was one of the most innovative and (to a cult following) one of the most loved shows on network television. Lost was an enigma, wrapped in a mystery, wrapped in a riddle, wrapped in a revolving door of romantic couplings. It was a pulp, sci-fi, character-based soap opera adventure philosophical allegory—nd lots of fun. But it was also kind of a Ponzi scheme of answers, delving deeper and deeper into cliffhangers and unexplained mysteries every time it tied up a single loose end.

The big question, plaguing Lost fans and separating them from everyone who gave up on the show, was whether or not the writers "know where they're going"—or if the Ponzi scheme would collapse. Getting near the end of the series, it was thrown increasingly into doubt: in short, there was no way in hell they could tie this all together. In the week before the final episode, I heard some comic speculation over what a good finale would be. My favorite was the shocking revelation that the entire show was a dream in the mind of Special Agent Dale Cooper.

But I, having no TV, had to wait until the next day so I could watch it on Hulu. I heard vague echoes of despair on facebook, and when I went out to breakfast the next morning, I saw a headline in the local paper that "Lost finale leaves questions unanswered" (I think it was actually under stories about how there's a budget deficit problem and conflict in the Middle East).

A lot seemed to be riding on this ending. It was as if, until this moment, the jury was out on the entire series: only after the ending could we step back and evaluate Lost as a whole. This, needless to say, put a lot of burden on the finale—the way it doesn't matter how many impressive backflips an Olympic gymnast does in midair if they don't nail the landing.

For me, Lost was one of the few shows I devotedly kept up on. Not only was it different, it was different in a way that took full advantage of the narrative possibilities of the current age. It seems fair to say that a show like Lost could not have existed (and lasted) before TiVo, Hulu, and TV on DVD. In other words, you could now do an exceedingly complicated, multi-threaded, serialized story that demanded to be seen from the beginning and watched without any holes. Lost was exhibit A for the TV potential of the past decade, and I always loved it for that.

So I sat down to watch the finale and see how they went out. 2 hours (and 12 modest commercial breaks later), I decided that I must be one of the few people who was not incredibly annoyed by it, even though they went the Full Wachowski.

Thoughts on the finale will follow, and it goes without saying that there will be incidental SPOILERS.

First off, a note on the unanswered questions. There are a lot of them. So many, in fact, that it's not even worth compiling a laundry list. Which is, I suppose, the natural consequence of spending 6 years ending every other episode with a cliffhanger. You can pick which one annoys you most (mine is that they never answered what, exactly, is up with Libby).

I definitely feel they're allowed unanswered questions. A lot of details—like, say, where the statue came from—are incidental, and the show can maintain some mystery. Leave it for fan fiction and authorized paperbacks. The bigger problem is that during the last half of this season, they did what you're not allowed to do for sci-fi: they set up a fantasy world with no clear rules, and a battle with no clear stakes.

So ultimately, with all that was left untouched, my satisfaction with the finale has less to do with the quality of the episode itself and more to do with a willingness to just go along with it. The surprise twist for the end of the finale, that [SPOILER] everyone has died, was understandably something that left people unsatisfied. And I have to admit, I cracked a smile when a character defensively said that, even though this part wasn't real, everything else had still happened. In other words, a message from the writers: "don't worry, we're not saying it's all a dream."

It's actually a very similar ending to The Chronicles of Narnia. (Viewers may recall that C.S. Lewis was referenced earlier in the series). It wouldn't surprise me if they were going for something like Lewis's The Last Battle, which also ends with the revelation that everyone died, and which also has its fantasy adventure give way to abstract spirituality about finding peace beyond the material world. If that's the way they wanted to go, it's certainly a fascinating choice. And if the "real world" on Lost has become too complicated for its own good, maybe spiritually announcing that it's all irrelevant isn't so bad of a call.

So ultimately, now that we can step back and see it as a whole, what is Lost? An overly ambitious experiment? A lesson about biting off more than you can chew? A cop-out to the Christian right? The world's longest and most complicated allegory for a man coming to grips with the death of his father?

I actually maintain that Lost is what it always was: a singular, innovative show that managed to be different and get away with it. If it no longer feels right to call it one of the best shows TV ever offered, I can at least say that I don't regret following it.

And seriously, if you want to see a frustratingly enigmatic finale, watch the old 60s show The Prisoner. The Prisoner's last episode is possibly the most ballsily abstract thing ever aired on TV, and it upset people so much that its producer and star, Patrick McGoohan, briefly went into hiding. Lost has nothing on that.

Friday, May 14, 2010


From Yahoo! searches:

Nothing to add to this, really. I just thought I'd preserve it in posterity: May 14, 2010 AD.