Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Lost Lost

Since many other bloggers I read are taking some time to comment on the Lost finale, I figure I may as well jump on that boat. Lost bookended a very interesting time in my life - my post-college, pre-career struggles - and has been a very important show to me. I've enjoyed this show a lot, and the finale was striking.

Unlike Lost, my blog doesn't thrive on suspense, so I'm going to put you out of whatever misery you might be in and tell you right off the bat: I liked the Lost finale. I thought it was a fitting conclusion to a great series, and I'm happy to have watched.

Of course, that doesn't mean I have nothing to say about it.

If you haven't seen the Lost finale yet, now might be a good time to stop reading...

* * *

In my opinion, the finale of Lost had to do three things to be successful. Firstly, it had to resolve mysteries. Not all the mysteries, of course, but at least a few of them. Enough. A significant portion of Lost's following want to know the truth of the Island, of the sideways-world, of Jacob and Smoke Monster, and so on. Secondly, the Lost finale had to resolve plot threads. No story is complete without doors closing. Finally, the Lost finale had to bring character arcs to satisfying conclusions. We had to see the characters grow, change, and complete their growth as new and stronger people. For me, at least, this is the meat and potatoes of fiction.

For easier reading, I'm going to divide these three imperatives up and tackle them one at a time. Watch me go.

Resolution Mysteriis

If you get that, you're as big a nerd as I am.

With regards to this imperative, the Lost finale failed, though not spectacularly. While a great deal of important information was revealed in the closing moments of the series, most of the revelations were "content free." By that, I mean that the show failed to take a stand on what the most important things actually were, instead cloaking the truth in profound-sounding... well... bullshit. I don't want to hear that "the light" is "everything good." I want something a little more juicy. Is it God? A conduit to God? The fire brought to us by Prometheus? Some other legend the writers of Lost want to mine, mangle, or invent? Similarly, Smoke Monster's "absolute evil" was meaningless. Why is he absolutely evil? What is he? Is he an angry ghost? An angry god? A giant lizard?

Ok, probably not that last one.

On the other hand, the choice not to answer the series's many (many, many) ancillary questions is a fine one. I don't really need to know why Walt is special, why Dharma brought polar bears, or why Desmond is the radiation-proof man. Some mysteries can stay mysteries.

For me, the Lost finale failed to resolve its mysteries because it failed to resolve its most important mysteries satisfyingly, instead falling back on bland explanations that failed to add anything to the story.

All Good Plots...

Here, Lost did a reasonably good job. By the end of the series, all the doors that need to be closed are closed. The Island is saved, Smoke Monster is vanquished, and all is right with the world. There are a lot of things we don't ever find out - the legacy of the show's mid-series fuzziness - but they are all things I can live without knowing.

I'll also grant that the final episode threw me some curveballs that I loved. Hurley as the new Jacob, with Ben as his second? Brilliant! Killing the Island to render Smoke Monster mortal so that Kate could kill him, then putting the Island's butt-plug back in to revive it? Wonderful!

The only thing I wish the finale had give me more of was a sense of how the survivors' lives worked out in the end. How did Claire and Kate negotiate co-parenting Aaron (and did they, as the Abigail suggest, eventually... you know... get it on)? Did Desmond in fact die in bed as an ancient gentleman surrounded by a horde of radiation-proof grandchildren? How the hell did Richard integrate himself with the modern world? However, I respect the writers' choices. A story has to end some time, and that means somewhere, something has to go unsaid.

Ultimately, I don't have much to say about this imperative because there isn't much to say. The stories ended, most of them with panache. Moving on.

Ending with Character

My opinion on this imperative is longer, more complicated, and intensely spoilery, so read on at your own risk.

I actually liked the sideways-world-is-heaven's-antechamber angle because I enjoyed the opportunity to see the characters resolving their issues in a way that their lives had made impossible in the real world. Especially in the case of characters like Ben, where the character simultaneously resolved his issues in the real world - in Ben's case, actually becoming the kind of man for whom life as a benevolent schoolteacher is the resolution and absolution he needs - and in the alternate world. The way the two lives, so different, gradually intersected and melded was generally well-paced and compelling.

I am also a goober. I liked seeing Boone and Shannon again. I liked Hurley's reaction to Anna-Lucia. I liked Desmond as a hardened reality terrorist. I liked that the relationship that recalled Kate's memory was her friendship with Claire and love of Aaron. I was amused at the ecumenical yet compelling vision of the afterlife that Lost presented in its final moments.

Where's the bad? For some characters, the emotional resolution of the sideways world was working against some seriously poor decisions earlier in the series, and a two and a half hour finale can only do so much against more than one hundred hours of story. For those characters, the afterlife redemption angle fell flat. Jack, for example, has bored me for a long time, and in the final episode he rang only slightly truer. Sayid's emotional and narrative boat sailed long ago, and his awkward "Nadia is my unrequited love except wow Shannon is cute" plot, conflicting wildly with his content-free evil infection, failed to do anything but annoy me.

I will also concede, as some friends have pointed out, that the struggles and victories of the sideways world fell flat against the reality of... well... it's unreality. And, there's not much I can say to that. I liked the sideways world plot, but I do agree that giving it a touch of unreality rendered it a little cheap.

So Lost's emotional conclusions were part win and part fail. In the end, however, they were mostly win.

* * *

My theory to wrap up the Island plot? The Island is the axis mundi, the Eliadian pillar of creation, the place where divinity descends and man's prayers ascend. With the pillar broken, the world is in serious peril, because the relationship between the material and the divine will fall entirely out of whack.

Of course - and again, this is Eliade - the divine is perilous. It's dangerous to touch the light at the heart of the world. That's why the stations are all so dangerous, that's why only Desmond can survive in the heart of the Island, and that's why the Smoke Monster was born when someone who was unclean and unchosen came to the axis mundi with hate in his (unconscious) heart.

Better than the "bright light" at the heart of the Island, right?

In my version of Lost, Shannon didn't die until much later, completely eclipsing Nadia, and making Sayid's infection a lot more significant. Also in my version, Jack wasn't a wooden stand-in of an actor playing a boring character. And Hurley got the girl in real life. And there was more Vincent. As almost always, with anything I didn't write, there are things I'd do differently.

Clearly they should have hired the Abigail and I to write their show for them, but I'm digressing. In my mind, Lost's finale was a more than adequate conclusion to a show I have enjoyed, and will miss.

No comments: