31 May 2010

/Lost/

I finally got around to watching the end of Lost.

Question: Is it still disappointment if you expect to be disappointed?

Mrs. SB7 said that the one thing she did not want was to finish the series and have to turn to me and say "okay, now we need to go to the internet to figure out what that meant."  And that's exactly what we had to do.

I don't have a enough blogojuice to bother organizing my thoughts, so here's a smattering of points and other people's comments and whatnot in no particular order

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Gothamist | Jen Carlson | So That Happened: LOST Ended

Cuse did tell Diane Sawyer, however, that they "tried to make an ending to the show that was kind of spiritual." Did they succeed, or did it feel more like... if you are in love you go to a couples dance in heaven? While the many unanswered questions will assure this show has a long afterlife of its own (and will we see a feature film?), the basics were essentially explained. To sum up (and here's a full set of reviews): "Sideways World was, it seems, a sort of afterlife holding room, where you hang out until all the most important people in your life are dead together"
But that doesn't even succeed on it's own terms. These aren't people who are important to each other, they're people who are important to viewers of the show. How is Boone important to Bernard? Best I can recall the two of them never even met. The driving force for the entirety of Sayid's life, except a couple of weeks on the island, was Nadia. So he spends eternity with Shannon, a chick he barely knew instead.

"The basics" were not adequately explained. As Ross Douthat said:
“Guys, where are we?” Dominic Monaghan’s Charlie famously asked his fellow plane crash survivors in the pilot episode. To be judged a success on its own terms, “Lost” needed to answer that question much, much more completely than it did. Across six seasons, it’s true, we learned endless facts about the island — about its geography, its inhabitants, and what had happened on it across decades and centuries. But we never learned the whys behind the facts. And with the final season in the books, there’s good reason to think that we never learned them because the show’s creators never had a well-thought-out “why” for their story in the first place. The island wasn’t a real mystery — it was just a MacGuffin.
"Where are we" is the only question that needed to be addressed. The sixth season just kept packing on more "WTF is this place?" More magic powers, more special rules, more questions about how it came to be and why it is important and what it's for and who started it and why it needs to be protected and from who.
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The only answers we ever got in the entire series were of one of two types: they were to questions we didn't even know existed several episodes before, or they were banal and straight forward.  "Wait, is that guy a psychic or something?"  "Yes.  Yes he is."  "Where did those polar bears from from?" "From the polar bear cages." "What is that deal with that guy? Is he immortal?"  "Yup." "How did he get to be immortal?" "Because he asked to be."

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I've heard a lot of Lost defenders, including some of its writers say,  "Oh, it's about the characters, not the island."

Bullshit.  Look, there are a lot of shows about "the characters."  I like them. They don't muddy everything up with magic smoke and magic lighthouses and magic streams and magic magnets. You can't throw all that stuff in and then say, "hey hey don't look at the time travel and ghosts and psychics just look at the characters." That's not how narrative works.

Lost is not "survivors of plane crash marooned on island" or even "survivors of plane crash marooned on island to which there is more than meets the eye." It is "survivors of plane crash marooned on island which is unique and different from every other island in the world because VERY WEIRD SHIT HAPPENS THERE."  From the very beginning we have been told there is something weird and different about this island. Arguably from the shot in which John Locke can walk in the pilot episode.  You don't get to say "nah, it's only about the characters."

Turn this around for a second and imagine I was writing a show and insisting it's not about the characters, it's really an investigation of the setting. It's about some people surviving a ship wreck on a totally normal island, and the survivors are Zombie Isaac Newton, Rasputin, Jesus, Superman and a sentient, time-traveling robot. Could I claim with a straight face that all the bizarre characters are ancillary to this show about the totally run-of-the-mill island? Of course not. So how come a show about a bunch of normal people on bizarro island can ignore the bizarre and unusual and focus on the pedestrian? It's a cop out.

If you're claiming all the other, non-character stuff is ancillary then you're no better than the third grader that inserts ninjas riding on dinosaurs fighting robots into every story he tells.  You've larded up the story with a bunch of extraneous shit.  In fact I was listening to Preston & Steve's show the Monday after the finale aired and a caller said that his son finished every story with "And then everyone died and went to Heaven."  Give that kid a pilot on ABC, because he's doing about as well as Lindelof, Cuse and Abrams

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The American Scene | Peter Suderman | LOST

Even as a longtime skeptic, I was shocked by the degree to which the writers shrugged off the mythological elements they’d introduced in previous seasons. I was expecting minimal, vague, and unsatisfying answers to questions about the island’s origin, nature, and properties; about the Dharma Initiative and its goals, experiments, and technology; about time travel, the nature of the smoke monster, the various characters with supernatural abilities, or any of the many, many other mysteries. What I wasn’t expecting was that the writers would more or less decline to answer these questions entirely.

But in the end, it turns out Lost's writers had exactly one shtick: pile up the big mysteries to keep people hooked, but only ever resolve the banal, domestic conflicts. The series wasn’t a story. It was a gimmick, repeated over and over for six increasingly frustrating years.
Suderman also points out that moment-to-monet, scene-to-scene, the writing was textbook perfect: tightly focused, well motivated series of clear conflicts for the characters to tackle. I agree completely. But string it all together and it just doesn't add up.

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As other people have pointed out nothing the main characters did mattered: they all ended up walking into the sunshine with all the people they happened to have crashed with (plus Desmond and Penny). Die a hero, save peoples lives, fight for whatever: doesn't matter. You still end up sitting in a church pew with your soul mate. It makes your life pointless. Why sacrifice yourself? What does it accomplish? Eventually everyone dies and then they go to heaven.

In fact none of their actions in the purgatory-timeline matter either, because no matter what they do Desmond is going to maneuver everyone into having some cathartic vision and from there into a magic church nave. Why get into gun fights and high-speed chaes and take risks with surgeries and blackmail and mental institutions if a crazy Scotsman is pulling all the strings anyway?

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So the whole alternate timeline is just a holding pattern until you get to go to heaven. Why? The only reason that you need the "Touched by an Angel a Desmond" reunion before everyone disappears into the cornfield is if you can't have reunions in heaven itself. What kind of paradise is that?  Why get everyone together in one room to proceed to the afterlife if you could just go to heaven when you died and then meet up with people there?

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A lot of the positive reviews of the finale I've heard have focused on it being a nice emotional, feel-good way to end things. (1) That's true. It was fairly moving. (2) That's also kind of cheap. Dying and meeting up with your soulmate in the hereafter is easy pablum. "And then they died and went to heaven," is not the stuff of good drama, it's the stuff of fairy tales. (3) I never really doubted that Sun and Jin or Charlie and Claire would be re-united in paradise. This was telling me something I had no reason to expect wouldn't occur. (4) This undermines everything the characters did in their lives in a way. Why should Sun and Jin or Rose and Bernard fight so hard to be re-united in reality if they were going to get re-united in collective fantasy land anyway? It was sweet to see Charlie again, but I had come to peace with the fact that he heroically sacrificed himself to save others. When people die in a drama, especially in a manner like that, they need to stay dead. To bring them back later for a group hug undermines the worth of their life and death. (Are you listening, comic book writers?)

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Lots of people are saying it's too hard to wrap up the whole sprawling story, but that's a total cop out.  And even if it isn't, it's just a polite way of saying the writers wrote themselves into a corner and weren't good enough to get back out.  Since when it over-promising and under-delivering a defense?

And besides there are plenty of good ideas for how it could have been wrapped up a lot more satisfactorily than it was.  Here, for instance, are Jeff Holland's thoughts on how it could have been done.  Here are a couple of posts of ideas from his co-blogger Braak: one, two.

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Threat Quality Press | Jeff Holland | Eight More Thoughts On the ‘Lost’ Finale

Because Lost has a habit of making nontraditional choices, it stared at those lingering questions that they could have built a sound season/concluding story-arc around, and went, “NO, FUCK IT, H-BOMB SOLVED ALL THAT. Now let’s talk about magical lighthouses and glowing caves and immortals.”
But you know what, they didn't even talk about magical lighthouses and glowing caves and immortals. They showed that those things existed AND THEN DIDN'T TALK ABOUT THEM.
That was a long way to go for a “They were all dead” joke
That is tragically true.
So when Jacob said “cork”…
That was not a metaphor.

Huh.
[snort.]

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Also check out Braak's thoughts from the end of last season about what should be addressed in the final season. Fascintating to go back in time. This stands out:
Threat Quality Press | Braak | I Have Now Seen Lost Season 5

Did [Jacob and Smokey/MiB/Esau] make the deal with each other? Or are they abiding by rules set down by someone else? It seems a little late in the game to introduce an even higher authority.
They didn't just do that in the sixth season, they did it in the final couple of episodes.
And what Jacob and Esau are up to seems like more than just a game with an arbitrarily-defined set of outcomes. That little scene the two of them had when they saw the Black Rock bespoke of a fundamental difference of viewpoint, similar to the way that Goethe describes the Argument in Faust.
Their difference of viewpoint seems to consist entirely of Esau wanting to leave the island to hang out with the rest of humanity and Jacob ... not wanting to. That's it.

All in all I think I would have vastly preferred to see the fellas at TQP running the show for the sixth season.

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One other small moment that really bugged me was Jack volunteering to take over for Jacob. We've gone this whole time hearing about destiny and special people and "candidates."  Then Jacob sits some people around a camp fire, asks them who wants his job, and Jack just raises his hand and that's the end of it. That may have been the single simplest, least conflicted decision in the entire show. Everything else has been a showdown: do we go find fresh water or stay near the beach? Do we trust this guy or that guy? Use the radio to call for help or destroy it and hide? Everything has had factions and arguments and usually fisticuffs and gun fights, but the single most important choice of the show's mythology is just a guy raising his hand after zero seconds of contemplation and no idea what he's getting into.

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Some of the more small-scale questions:
io9 | Charlie Jane Anders | 50 questions Lost needed to answer: a report card!
I didn't actually expect answers to a vast majority of that list, but it is useful to remind ourselves just how many loose threads were created.

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Marginal Revolution | Tyler Cowen | *Lost*: commentary on the final episode

Overall I thought it was the best final episode of a series I have seen, with close competition from The Sopranos.
Tyler Cowen is approaching the point at which he is always being contrary. At that limit he ceases to be interesting, because you can always tell what he is going to say, just like the boring person who always agrees with the conventional wisdom.

He has a theory about multiple worlds and Leibniz. Will Wilkinson responds here. I liked his conclusion:
The finale of Lost pretended to be about the ultimacy and redemptive power of love, or something like that, but it exemplified instead the incoherent ruinous mess of our needy scattershot attachments, our whorish readiness to be doped by the dull, warm, indeterminate golden light. Speak not to me of love, Lost, if you know not love.
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(via io9 | Marc Bernardin)

I don't hold the "we promise it's not Purgatory -- oh wait just kidding it's Purgatory" thing against the writers. The fan theory was that the Island was Purgatory, and it turns out the other time-line was. That time line didn't even exist in the show when the Purgatory theories were making the rounds, so I don't feel like the writers lied or anything.

One of the things I give Lost a lot of credit for is the way it inspired interpretation. Not many shows have got people so involved in deciphering and analyzing and theorizing and thinking. Well done for that.

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