Monday, May 24, 2010

So, that was "Lost"

Editor's note: It's late. I came back from a weekend excursion to Galveston and have literally done nothing but watch "Lost" and think about "Lost" since our arrival. I am very tired. This thing is riddled with spoilers.

I started writing this before ever seeing the finale. If I have to come down on a "yay" or "nay" vote, I'll vote "yay". Read at your own peril.


So. That was a whole lot of time to wind up sitting on the sofa. (spoiler: you can probably skip the Jimmy Kimmel thing if its sitting on your DVR. It was confusing filler.)

I recently said to Steanso "I'm watching the last season of Lost with the same interest I watch a baseball game when the Cubs or Astros aren't playing. Its kind of interesting, and I want to see what happens, but I don't feel invested, and its kind of dragging." The endless sea of commercials aside, at least the finale kept moving.

At some point in any story, I suppose I want for them to cut to the chase. Once we knew the show would finish, I suppose I became a bit impatient. At least the time-bomb of "here's my theory" I planted with Steanso a few months ago was way off, so the show kept me guessing right up until the conclusion (at best, I was ten minutes ahead of revealed plot points).

There's a certain charm to knowing that the metaphysical beings in your story aren't going to ever really explain things down to the midichlorian level, but in the final episodes of the final season of "Lost", we came darn close. But it almost seemed like because the "answers" weren't a jack-in-the-box single, unifying answer that rewarded some a priori knowledge one might have coming to the show (ie: oh, this was always just an allegory for "Paradise Lost", etc...), the answers at the end of the show were going to feel a bit off to some part of the audience.

I read a LOT of fiction with made-from-whole-cloth mythologies that reflect real mythologies or allude to real events or Bibilical stories, but are their own thing. I haven't really known what people meant by "they won't answer everything" since the episode when they did Richard Alpert's back story and pretty much explained exactly what was going on.

Of one thing I am certain: we can look forward to a day or two on Facebook of our friends loudly decrying the ending of "Lost". They will have painted an emotional beat in their head that the show should hit, and as the ending will not have been that ending, prepare for griping. But short of the ending of "Newhart", has anyone been happy with how any series ended? This is why networks would rather run a series into the ground than give it a conclusion. As an audience, I wonder if we're trained to accept the ending of serial narratives.

The closest I've seen is in comics, of course. Series like Neil Gaiman's Sandman also ended on an interpretive note, with some storylines and characters left to dangle, and with an oddly off key tone. Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's Preacher ends tidily, but its tough to paint it as a happy ending for all involved. Or Alan Moore and JH Williams III's Promethea, like Sandman, hits a somewhat abstract note as the series wraps, knowing that we're not just ending a character arc or a particular event in a hero's life, but a world is having to be shut down, a world in which not just the audience has a stake, but most certainly where the creators have a stake, and need to mourn the death of the world they'd created.

DC Comics has said good-bye to its two flagship characters in Superman and Batman, while managing to still not say good bye in odd, requiem-like stories in "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" and "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?". Both stories are almost painful to read as the reader is asked to say good-bye to characters who most of us cannot recall a time when we didn't know the names of the characters. Just as the original "Crisis on Infinite Earths" shut the doors on the DCU that many knew and loved... it takes about ten issues before you hit the emotional beats, but its there as well as Marv Wolfman and Perez set the stage and are given the heavy task of writing the death scene for a world. You can skip most of "COIE", but those last couple of chapters are a bit heartbreaking.

Perhaps in these larger serial works, there's simply too many characters, each who found their own voice. There are too many plots, some explored and with the arcs known and done, but not all. There's too many characters who have moved in and out, too many locations seen, too much of a world that's been made to possibly put a bow on things the same way you'd do at the end of a novel that arrived in one piece rather than in exploratory episodic storytelling bits. And doesn't a movie have the advantage when its 2 hours in and out, and if you didn't like it, what did you really invest?

But the world ending... it just seems much harder. And if it were difficult for the cast, crew and audience of "Lost", imagine these soaps that have run for 70 years that are just now closing the curtain.

So if the ending of Lost sought to put the characters in a better place, then I can't help but forgive the producers. And if the audience couldn't make that last leap of faith with the writers and producers and see how this whole ball of wax tied together? Well, the show was imperfect, but so are expectations. I think its safe to say the show stayed on course and remained true to what it was from the first season (even if I wanted for the show to remain a show about ghostly radio signals and science gone awry). If the producers always knew what they wanted to do for a finale, and wrote towards it (and all indications are that they did know), then what can you say?

In my opinion, the producers made some serious mistakes.

1) They should have revealed all this Jacob back story in Season 4. This also would have meant that the audience would have quit building up how terrific the "answers" were going to be, and worry more about what the characters, because that's certainly what the producers were worried about at this point.

2) I kind of think the scale of the whole thing seemed to actually get smaller and smaller as the show went along instead of bigger and bigger as the show focused on a few key characters, dismissed key problems like life and death, where to get food, etc... that made the show kind of interesting to begin with. But the show seems to have sort of turned into a domestic drama in its final season, which could be perceived as an odd way to end a show which used to have haunting numeric frequencies, exploding hatches, donkey wheels moving islands in time and space, etc... At some point, the characters became so well loved that the scale of things got... lost.

During the 2-hour build up, they kept insisting the show was "character driven", which I wasn't sure I agreed with. I've always felt it was fairly plot driven. Aside from Jack, it seemed all of the characters were fungible bits to the A Plot. That isn't to say that good actinga nd clever writing didn't provide great moments and neat ideas, but...

3) They gave up Elizabeth Mitchell to "V". While I am pleased to know that Elizabeth Mitchell is lighting cigars with $100 bills on her TV star salary, I have to say the promise of Juliet in an episode got me through some pretty hacky storylines.

4) They should have kept the show about an island that had been a sort of haunted house where a science experiment went seriously wrong. Once the show went magical... well, its hard to complain about magical glowing golden lights when your answer can always be "unicorns" or "Doug Henning".

It does seem that my detachment from most any drama series keeps me from having any particular emotional reaction to failed expectations. "X-Files" sort of ruined me for series television (although Season 4 of "Friday Night Lights" is on track, and "Treme" is bringing me back around).

In the end, I suspected a tear-jerker ending for the series. For being a fantasy/ sci-fi show, they did find the right beats from Charlie's death to the birth of Claire's baby, and they knew they could pull it off. I just wasn't sure how, or what they'd choose to do.

I suspect that those expecting an ending with the main cast landing in LA and finding love and life will be sadly disappointed. For those expecting something else (I'm not sure what? A lightsaber duel between Smokey and Jacob?), the pseudo-spiritual ending to the thing, and the explanation of the side-ways shifts will be less than what they wanted. But given the closing delta of the show's scope and its propensity for softly lit, romantically scored scenes, and the absolute need for an all-hands closing shot (come on... think of all those lingering shots of the cast at the end of those early episodes), this was about what I was expecting.

But, as I said here at the beginning, I've been watching with detached interest since walking away from the show around Season 2 and coming back around mid-way through Season 3.

The question now must be: what next for television? And what next for audiences?

Since Lost's premier drew in viewers in the 10's of millions, TV has tried to inject mythologies into shows from the first episode. Almost all of those shows have failed that didn't rely on camp or soap opera. And if fan reaction is overwhelmingly negative, killing reruns and DVD sales, will execs decide it just isn't worth it and add on another hour of dating or dancing reality shows?


Fantomenos said...

I liked it, I felt like it was an earned ending, and I'm a huge Ben fan, so it hit those notes right for me.

I think you're COIE comparison is apt, esp the moment where Earth-2 Clark and Lois get/have to walk into the light.

I did think the slide from sci-fi in season 4 to just total fantasy was awkward.

Ransom said...

For the most part, I was pleasantly surprised by it, although I have a few quibbles. I suppose the true test, though, is how I felt when watching it for the first time, and if that is the standard, then it succeeded.