I gave myself a day to ponder on the show as a totality, as the sum of all its parts which I’ve picked on and needled and enjoyed and appreciated and hated and dogged and questioned quite extensively for the past six weeks. Here’s my final conclusion:
It just wasn’t a good story.
It had its moments, absolutely. Stripping it down to the bone, Jack had a fully realized and ultimately satisfying character arc. He came into a situation of pure chaos at the moment when he’s weakest, is forced into a role of supreme responsibility, fights constantly against the idea that he has a greater purpose, stumbles again and again, until finally accepting his role just long enough to pass it on and give strength to another before dying with the knowledge that he finally did what he promised to do from the very beginning, accepting himself and gaining the approval he always sought, and achieving eternal peace as his reward.
I hate Jack, but I can’t take away anything from his arc. I dare say that there will be a great many papers and theses written about him in the years to come.
Similarly we have Locke, who must surely rank among the most tragic literary figures of modern times. And then there’s Ben, who will be remembered for his constant swings between shades of grey and is the catalyst for a potentially fascinating discussion about redemption (including but not limited to if he ever really got it).
Sadly this is about the point where I lose all the good things to say, because a couple of good story arcs does not a good story make. You also need things like internal logic and consistent themes and conflict resolution. We didn’t get those things. We didn’t get a hint of those things. What we got were a group of people running around for six years reacting to things that didn’t matter, doing other things that didn’t matter, to die and still do and react to things that somehow mattered even less, before being swallowed by a bright light.
When you look at the audience reaction to the end of Lost it becomes clear that there are two primary camps. The first camp is pro-character. Their burning questions were things like “who is Jack’s son’s mother”, “who was Sayid’s soulmate”, and “who did Sawyer love more, Kate or Juliet”. Then there’s the pro-mystery group who wanted answers to things like “what is the island really”, “what about Walt”, and any one of the hundreds of lingering questions about Dharma.
Your satisfaction with the finale is largely dependent upon which of these best describes you. Because the writers made a conscious decision to play to one and completely ignore the other.
I made no secret of the fact that I was in the pro-mystery camp. For me by the end there, the writers managed to make almost all the characters fall somewhere between “apathy” and “disdain” on my personal scale and I had stopped caring about most of them. (I mean, take Sun and Jin. Back in 2×05 “…And Found” I’m squeeing and declaring them my little Lost OTP. By the time they died in 6×14 “The Candidate” I couldn’t even muster up the emotion to sniffle.) It didn’t matter to me who succeeded and who failed, who lived and who died; the only thing I wanted to feel satisfied was an answer or two. To feel as though the writers did have a plan and did have an idea what they were doing, even if they couldn’t necessarily pull it all together.
The fact that they didn’t even try speaks volumes to me.
I suppose I should’ve seen it coming when those two producer guys (forget their names), in that two-hour preview/recap thing, repeatedly went on and on about how Lost was a character-driven show. Around the web, those who were very satisfied by the ending say the same thing: “It’s a character-driven show.”
You are wrong.
(If this applies to you, please note: I say that with the utmost respect for your opinions. Really the bottom line is that if you found the show fulfilling from start to finish then I am genuinely happy for you.)
(Unless you’re one of those two producer guys. You guys are douchebags and I will come to learn your names so that I can never watch anything else you are involved in ever.)
I repeat: Lost was not a character-driven show.
At least not purely, which is the problem I have with the statement. It’s being wielded like a shield, as though it’s a proclamation that can deflect any dissatisfaction. “What does it matter that we didn’t get an actual answer about the numbers? The show is character-driven!”
Lost was indeed a show that was in parts driven by character studies and actions. The frequent fragmenting of the Lostaways and the different camps and factions they would form. Their acts of selfishness and selflessness. Their frequent flashbacks (and forwards) adding layers and dimensions to their actions in the now. However I may feel about the execution of these elements as individual actions, they were absolutely present and undeniably a large part of this show.
Yes, in this way, Lost was character-driven. But to say that as though it’s all the show is, was, and ever intended to be is at best narrow-visioned and at worst deceitful (I’m looking at YOU, prodouchers). For evidence of the truth that Lost was also a plot-driven show you need look no further than the final episodes of the first season.
Let’s look at some of the key moments that arose out of the first season’s climax.
– The Black Rock. We’d listened to Rousseau go on and on about the black rock for half a season or more. Our curiosity was piqued. Then we finally learned that the black rock wasn’t a where it was a what. The Black Rock ship, littered with chained, dead bodies and unstable dynamite, miles inland on a deserted island. The interest in this ship wasn’t in what Jack, Sayid or Jin thought about it. It was what the eff is a ship doing miles inland??
– The Numbers. We only learned about them toward the end of the first season, but they were immediately captivating. What did it mean that Hurley had “opened the box” when he used them? What kind of power do they have that they appeared in dozens of ways just during Hurley’s mad dash to get to the doomed Oceanic flight? And holy crap, what are they doing on the hatch?? Sure, Hurley’s connection to the numbers was a part of their appeal, but if not secondary to then at least no greater than the overwhelming question of what the hell is up with these numbers?!
– The Hatch. Locke had obsessed over this thing for half a season. It cost Boone his life and nearly cost Locke his sanity. The hatch was absolutely pivotal to character development, that cannot be denied. But it was also a bloody hatch in the middle of the bloody jungle on a bloody deserted island. And as we descended into it and cut to black and realized we would have to come back next season, I defy anybody to tell me truthfully that the chief question on their mind was, Gee, I wonder how Sun will react to this? and not AHH! I have to wait HOW LONG to find out what’s inside?!
And it only got worse as the show went on. What are all these other Dharma stations? What’s up with that four-toed statue? Why are The Others fixated on children? What was “the incident”? Why doesn’t Richard age? Who faked the crash of 815?
Who? What? Where? Why? How?
And let’s not forget the ever-important question, brought up in the very first episode:
What the hell is that monster in the jungle?
Now obviously we got some answers, but at the moment the answers aren’t my point, the questions are. Everybody was asking these questions. Everybody wanted to know these things. They were at least – AT LEAST – as integral as the characters.
And the writers knew it. They encouraged it. Hell they practically demanded it of us. For them to now backpedal and say “Whoa, hey, those cool things we showed you were never important, it was always just about the characters, man!” is, in a word, bullshit.
What’s more, I find it frankly insulting that I’m now being made to feel as though I am somehow unreasonable or somehow missed the point by expecting some payoff for the things that interested me, for the things that the writers crafted specifically to interest me.
We’re not talking about just one or two little dangling threads here. We’re talking about literally dozens of things written and shown and hammered into our heads repeatedly as being vitally important which were then dropped without explanation or justification. I know that the issue of Walt is a great go-to point for those dissatisfied with the show’s resolution, and the reaction to that from those on the other side of the discussion usually boils down to “That was years ago, who cares about Walt?”
I care about Walt, and frankly so should everyone.
Walt perfectly encapsulates everything I found wrong with Lost. It was a fascinating premise that was built up over the course of multiple seasons, tantalizing us all with little hints here, little clues there … and then dropped. Just dropped for the next shiny thing the writers lobbed out there in the hopes that we wouldn’t notice all the previous shiny things littering the floor.
The show was really good at that. At creating ideas. There are some truly fascinating premises in Lost. The problem is that none were ever fully developed and none were ever fully concluded. At this stage I have to think it’s because the writers simply weren’t that good. I think they had a cool idea, were surprised by its success, tried to capitalize on it, lost their way, wrote themselves into corner after corner, floundered to give the whole thing coherence, and then gave up.
But the writers couldn’t give up their hefty ratings share of people still searching desperately for the magic bullet to make everything drop into place and make sense. Plus, you know, we kinda have an established formula at this point and we gotta flash to something. So here’s a new timeline/universe to keep the mystery-watchers intrigued. But in the end there is no mystery, there are no questions, and absolutely nothing that happened there actually mattered because it’s all a shared reality mind meld limbo thing. It was meaningless. It was less than meaningless, it was filler.
Yup, a whole season’s worth of flashes could’ve been condensed into one twenty minute finale sequence and we would’ve lost nothing of value.
Meanwhile, back in “our” reality, stuff sorta happened. The Lostaways pared down their cast dramatically, most of The Others died, Smokey wanted to leave the island really bad then died, Desmond pulled a rock out of a hole, Jack put a rock back into a hole, and then he died too.
Even at the end we had problems; the writers couldn’t even write their own final episode to follow some sort of internal logic. Rocks and holes. What?
The cave of light – what is it? “The source, the heart of the island.” Which, fine, but what the hell does that mean? The source of what? Souls? Goodness? Nougat? What?? And if it’s the heart of the island what does that make the island?
Desmond pulling the rock out of the hole – huh? What was the hole? What was the rock? What was the water that drained away? CJ said that “If the light goes out here it goes out everywhere” and intimated that this would be A Very Bad Thing Indeed. But the light was out, and for a good ten or twenty minutes. So … what happened during those 10 minutes? Nothing? If nothing then why did guarding the light matter? If something, then shouldn’t we get to know what since the writers turned it into the single driving force behind absolutely everything that happened on that island for thousands and thousands of years up to and including the six that we spent on this show?
Why did nobody else become a smoke monster? You could maybe explain away Desmond because of his “special properties” but what about Jack? By the time he went into the cave he was just a man again, having turned over his “protectorness” to Hurley. Then he puts the rock back, the water comes in, the light returns and he wakes up outside. Why is he not smoke? What about Smokey made him become Smokey? What about Jack protected him?
Asking these questions doesn’t mean I don’t get it or I’m being too nitpicky or needing my hand held, it means the writers laid insufficient groundwork for these answers to make any kind of sense. And no I won’t just take an answer like “it’s the source” and leave it there when this same group of writers has yet to tell me what the hell is up with Walt. I stopped giving them the benefit of the doubt about four seasons ago. It’s not up to me to fill in any blanks at this point – the onus is entirely on the writers to deliver on the coherency of their own story.
But in the end the writers chose to ignore all of this, and in doing so dismissed it as irrelevant. Perhaps they thought they were being clever in asking their audience to join Jack and Locke in becoming people of faith. To which I would be forced to reply that such a thing was pretentious bullshit and hack writing.
Instead of answers they chose the easy route and pandered to their audience’s love of the characters. It doesn’t really matter what happened when the light went out so long as Sawyer gets to ask Juliet to get a cup of coffee, right? They used tears and emotion for the quick win, to make us feel so we forget to think.
I think they forgot that being able to do both is what drew us all to the show in the first place.