Monday, May 24, 2010

The Lost Series Finale - Sideways Payoff

(Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS below, if you haven't seen the Lost Series Finale)

Lost is over. After six crazy years of crashes, hatches, polar bears, death, and yes, a whole lotta love, the story has finally come to an end. Watching it with some friends last night, the finale drew some very mixed reactions - if I had to describe the feeling in the room once the credits rolled, it was "meh." My initial reaction was along those same lines, though I couldn't quite put my finger on why at first. The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced it was actually a solid episode that handily concluded two separate storylines - the ending of the main island, where the characters all landed some 3 1/2 years ago (if my island chronology serves me right) and some stayed, while others escaped, and the alternative timeline, which was revealed to be a sort of purgatory every single person who was on the island went once they died, to all come together one last time, before moving on. So wasn't I standing up and cheering with tears in my eyes?

While the end of the show was emotionally satisfying (it was great to see all the characters - no matter when they died - all meet on 'the other side', and remember their past lives together one last time), there was definitely a void that I felt when the show ended.  Upon giving it some thought, I think the conclusion I came to is that I have to come to terms with my own expectations about the show, and the fact that even though I, as an audience member, may have spent many hours debating the purpose of the numbers, the nature of electromagnetism on the island, the Dharma Initiaive, the rules of time travel, and what the heck the deal was with Walt, the writers of the show only put as much into answering these lingering questions as they felt was required by the story, and were more than happy to leave a lot of show's mysteries up in the air.

Lost is the story of the survivors of a plane crash on a mysterious island. Now, if you had never heard of the show, and I had described that to you without the word 'mysterious', you'd probably say "oh, so it's like what, Survivor? Castaway? Gilligan's Island?" A lot of what initially separated Lost from other stories like it was the fact that some crazy stuff was going on while these people debated who was going to be the leader and how the heck to get off the island. And I think that a lot of people, myself included, dismissed what was going on with the people because we sort of knew/were used to that story already. People were going to fight, they were going to fall in love. Some were going to die, others were going to survive. Rah bah bah. But the mysteries surrounding the island - the SMOKE MONSTER, the HATCH, the NUMBERS, the OTHERS - these elements were fresh and new, and were obviously a very big draw. So we latched onto them, and even though week after week the show it made it very clear it was giving more screen time to Jack, Kate, Sawyer and Juliet's 'love quadrangle' than it was to things like the future timeline outrigger chase, guess which topic I brought up more often?

So inevitably many of the conversations had about Lost over the past 6 years were variations of "so what do you think THIS THING is about?" and led to countless debates about THIS THING, only to have the answer about THIS THING by the show either left unanswered or answered in an incomplete or unsatisfying (based on what we were able to come up with!) way. That's at the heart of the lingering frustration I feel right now. My imagination went wild, and ultimately I was expecting (there's that word again) all sorts of payoff from the show to tie up all those debates I had with a nice little bow.

But here's the cool thing about that, that I can choose to do right now, and any and all of you who feel the same way can do as well - those conversations can continue. Anything not explicitly explained by the creators is ostensibly up for debate. Would it have been nice if they answered every single question over the course of this episode/season/series? Most certainly. In fact, I imagine right now Kate and Sawyer are having a pow-wow in that plane ride home, about all the crazy things that happened to them that they never got to take a moment to really think about and discuss during all that time (also, I'm sure they were debating just how long before they leave Claire alone with Aaron, one of many spinoff shows the series could potentially spawn).

Looking back, objectively they did answer a ton of questions in a satisfactory way, and at a certain point there is no need to continue questioning. "Every question will only lead to more questions" as they said in a very meta, not-at-all-subtle wink to the audience a few weeks back (or, as my friend Ro pointed out to me earlier, inevitably at some point the answer to everything becomes "because it's a fantasy world").


One thing that cannot be argued is that the show kept me glued to my seat for 6 years, with over 100 hours of fantastic storytelling (each season with a different format, and an interesting twist on their formula), themes, and a compelling cast of characters. The story of those characters most certainly came full circle, and while every single detail and plot point wasn't entirely perfect (and hey, sometimes it just comes down to straight up douchery), a finale that tried to tie up some 20-odd character storylines, along with the story of a thousand year old conflict between two brothers, themes of fate versus destiny, science versus faith, and a message of hope and love was a bold move that unquestionably deserves a tip of my hat.

My two cents.

-Matt

Update: Great related quote from the A/V Club guys's review, who I've been enjoying and following for some time:

"Of course not everything has been explained. Some plotholes loom fairly large, like the whole business with the Jacob’s cabin and the rings of ash. And some are just mildly annoying, like the question of why The Others grabbed who they grabbed when 815 went down. I wrote about this last week, so I won’t reiterate it in full, but a lot of the questions Lost has raised over the years loom large in our minds only because the Lost team was so good at using them as the source of teases and cliffhangers. Divorced from their original context, they’re really not that big a deal. The problem with seeing Lost strictly as a puzzle is that unambiguous solutions diminish replay value. But if you look at the mysteries merely as plot-drivers and mood-setters, the show is easier to enjoy. When all is said and done, Lost is a show that looks fantastic, features performances that are often very strong, and builds and releases tension well. Just as a weekly adventure show—not as an epic story—Lost works fine."

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