May 24th, 2010
Note: LOST series and finale spoilers, as well as opinions (but no details) regarding the Battlestar Galactica finale.
Longtime visitors know that I was a huge fan of LOST, so much so that I have written several essays of the subject: The Perverse Appeal of Lost, The LOST Script Style, and a long discussion in the TMN 2008 Annual about the symbiotic relationship between LOST and spoilers.
I have often gone so far as to call LOST my favorite television show, ever. Not the best show, mind you–not in a world with The Wire and Six Feet Under and Arrested Development–but the show which has given me the most hours of enjoyment. I am predisposed to LOSTian fiction to begin with, and the exceptional quality of the writing and direction (although intermittent) put me solidly in the TV show’s camp. Watching season 1-3, I was literally unable to wait between episodes (nor did I need to, thanks to the miracle of TV-on-DVD). Watching 22 hours of the program in the space of a month, sans commercial breaks or weeklong pauses, was like going on a drug binge of the pull-down-the-window-shades-and-unplug-the-telephone variety. In the off-months, between season releases, I would occasionally devour huge swaths of Lostapedia in a single sitting.
Around the time my LOST zeal was at its zenith, I was watching another dramatic serial: Battlestar Galactic. The two shows had a lot of similarities: a mix of sci-fi and politics, large ensemble casts, perpetual questions about where loyalties lie, and so forth. Although there were some great episodes of BSG at the time, and some pisspoor episodes of LOST, I routinely declared the former to be inferior to the latter. The primary distinction between the two was clear in my mind: the writers of LOST had a plan, and the writers of BSG did not. (Nor did the Cylons, it turned out, despite weekly assurances to the contrary.)
I, like John Locke, had faith that things on the island happened for a reason. The stories on LOST (thought I) were primarily to advance the narrative toward a predestine conclusion; the stories on BSG, on the other hand, were primarily to fill an hour of airtime, with little thought toward how the events would fit into the greater arc. I enjoyed BSG, but viewed it as more an episodic show than a series. I never for a moment thought they’d be able to wrap it up satisfactorily and, after my lack of confidence proved prescient, chided those friends of mine who had believed otherwise.
Well, after last night it looks like I deserve a heaping helping of chide myself.
Even as late as yesterday afternoon I thought the writers could (but had long since given up on “would”) give us an intellectually satisfying resolution to the series, even while necessarily leaving many many many many questions unanswered. To my mind, that only required one thing: providing an explanation for the island that could have been hypothetically deduced early in the series.
Lord knows that there has been no shortage of hypothesizin’ in the six years since LOST premiered. People thought the island was purgatory, or a Matrix-style virtual reality, or the world’s biggest Skinner Box. Some thought that the unseen creature in the jungle was a dinosaur time-shunted to the present, or that the smoke monster was a collection of nanobots powered by the island’s electromagnetism. Some thought the Man in Black was a djinn, let loose from his bottle by a shipwrecked Jacob and hellbent on destroying the world. Some thought that everything took place exclusively in Hugo’s head. It would be impossible to quantify the number of words written and volume of carbon-dioxide expelled by people explaining their elaborate theories, online and over beers and to glazed-eyed acquaintances in elevators.
And it was all for naught. Because the show pulled the most grievous of mystery genre crimes: it introduced new clues at the end of the story. The Jacob/MiB relationship was explained at the end of season 5; the “light at the heart of the island” was introduced two episodes before the finale(!). This is the cinematic equivalent of whodunit in which the murderer turns out to be some hithertofore unmentioned character who appears in the last chapter only. Agatha Christie would have been de-damed if she had pulled this shit.
Now, to be fair, if the secret of the island had been any of the things mentioned above, most (i.e., non-me) fans of the show would have been enormously disappointed. The problem with a show like LOST, especially in the age of the Internet, is that every reasonable explanation for the mysteries had been formulated and disseminated far and wide, and settling on any of them would have resulted in the writers getting eviscerated for “obviousness”. In fact, the more fitting a solution, the more likely it would be the “leading theory” among fans, the more the finale would be denounced as “lame” for failing to deliver a surprise. The writers were practically forced to conjure up a brand new mystery in the last season (“hey look over here, what’s the deal with these two guys?”), provide answers to that alone, and largely ignore the five seasons of enigmas that preceded it.
I totally understand that. But it leaves me no less annoyed that the show that spoke so often of “rules” decided to flaunt the gentlemen agreements that govern the mystery genre. I wouldn’t have cared if the island turned out to be the Garden of Eden, or a big reality show, or one of Charlie’s heroine-fueled fever dreams. Anything, as long as it was figure-out-able.
I honestly liked the finale, in isolation, as a solid few hours of television. And we got emotionally satisfying resolution in spades. Heck, if I’d only seen the pilot and the recap show and the finale, I might have called the series an unmitigated success.
Instead, I invested a lot of time into a show that for years masqueraded as a “mystery”, only to reveal itself, in the final act, as a run-of-the-mill “thriller”. A twist ending to be sure, but not the one for which I had hoped.