Lost: I’m So Excited, I’m So Excited, I’m So…Scared

One day more. Another day, another destiny. This never-ending road to Calvary.

Group huddle, guys. We need each other now, more than ever, as the end nears. Bring it in.

I wanted Lost to be more than this. I wanted Lost to be better than this. It’s human nature to never be satisfied, to always want something, any unnamed thing, to be more than it is. I get that. And I was never under any illusion that Lost could be as intellectually satisfying as The Wire or The Sopranos. Lost has always veered closer to the fluffier side of the art/entertainment line.

But I wanted more than this. And I thought Lost was capable of more than this. I suppose I shouldn’t have expected so much from a show co-run by the creator of Nash Bridges (I like Nash Bridges. For reals. But still…). I shouldn’t have expected more than pulp fiction. For I now fear that Lost’s legacy is going to be that of an engaging serial, a show skilled at cliffhangers and riddles and making you tune in next week, but little more.

Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse frequently reference Star Wars in interviews, and the comparison may be unfortunately apt. George Lucas, in defending the prequel trilogy, said that Star Wars was never meant to be more than a trifle. It was a natural successor to children’s radio and Saturday morning TV serials, he said. If fans and true believers wanted it to be more than that, then that was their problem. George merely wanted to entertain, and show cute little kids having pod races with aliens. While I suspect Cuse and Lindelof hold somewhat more lofty ambitions, their end results are maddeningly shallow.

Lost has always flirted with the literary aspect of television, name-dropping philosophers and brazenly allowing themes and motifs to recur, drop out, then reappear at random. This flirtation has never bothered me. I enjoyed the idea of an action/adventure/sci-fi show trying to be more than it is, trying to be that mid-level band from Almost Famous, struggling with its own limitations in the harsh face of stardom. But ultimately, these intellectual dalliances are proving to be emblematic of the show’s deeper problems.

There’s no there there.

Lost throws everything it can think of up on the screen, not unlike a more thoughtful version of The O.C., and it makes for incredibly engaging television. Until the endgame, when you learn the well is dry. Or the magical glowing cave has no light, if you will. The show gave us entertaining characters, but lost track of their motivations. It gave us engaging mysteries, then left them unresolved. It gave us bewitching peeks at secret societies, then left them unexplored.

Now, this isn’t all bad. I’ve spent more time thinking about Lost then any other television show outside of The Wire. For most of six seasons, I’ve looked forward to Lost more than anything else on TV. Those are legitimate accomplishments, and want to make sure I’m giving appropriate credit. I don’t at this point believe that I will consider Lost a “great” show, however. It needed to stick the landing, and it’s nigh impossible that it’s going to stick the landing.

I didn’t hate “Across the Sea” like a lot of people did, but it certainly missed the mark in terms of providing answers and resolution.

I’ve said before that a show built so much on mysteries needs to resolve at least some of those mysteries in satisfactory ways and Lost hasn’t done that. It’s been a problem with the show since the beginning: instead of resolving a plot thread in a satisfying way, it simply distracts the audience with something new and shiny. But we all let ourselves be victim of a long con: that those vague feelings of dissatisfaction would go away when we saw the end play out, when we saw the grand plan in all its glory.

Think back even to major, major questions from earlier seasons: Who are the Others, really, and what is their objective? Why can’t babies be born on the island? Why does future Jack have to get back to the island? None of those plots were resolved as much as they petered out at the ends of seasons. With the next season came the next set of questions. All of which was a fine way to keep viewers hooked, but in the end, those same viewers will feel betrayed when they find out that beneath all the pretty layers lies a void.

A big part of the problem is that the few authoritative answers the show delivered fell flat. The whispers, the origins of the Smoke Monster, the explanation for why the candidates were chosen, even going all the way back to Ben explaining why he coerced Jack into doing his surgery — all of the above featured too much information (or not enough), delivered awkwardly. So now the show’s trapped between giving disappointing answers or none at all. It’s a no-win situation, but it’s one the writers created. Either they didn’t adequately think out the show’s mythology at any point, or they’re not talented enough to execute their ideas compellingly.

Look at “What They Died For” as a microcosm for what’s wrong with Lost. Last night’s episode was fun to watch, with a crackling pace, bouncy one-liners, a lot of Michael Emerson, and Desmond continuing to act like a cross between a charismatic bon vivant and a maniac. On the surface, the show was entertaining. The hour whizzed right by. But in the context of the series, it was deeply unsatisfying. Many potentially great moments felt rushed, which is all the more insulting when you look at how much time was wasted this season on the dry cleaners of the sideways world and Dogen’s Magic Baseball.

  • For years we’ve gotten hints and glimpses of the rivalry between Ben and Widmore, and their long-awaited reunion was crushingly anti-climactic. Just another anti-climax in a long line of them, and just another plot point that’s brushed past in favor of less crucial story.
  • In a similar vein, Widmore suffered an inconsequential death for such an important character. His death was given no more grandeur than Zoe’s. And if Richard Alpert is dead, the same goes for him. Lost has introduced too many characters and then killed them off without explaining why they mattered: Widmore, Alpert, Lapidus, Charlotte, the Tailies…
  • Jacob’s Fireside Chat could have been the core characters’ opportunity (at last!) to ask every question they’ve ever had about this damn island, and instead they were content, as they always are, with vague proclamations. These people believe everything anyone tells them, and do anything that’s asked of them. “Hey, who wants to spend the rest of their life protecting something I won’t fully explain from a force you don’t fully comprehend, with no understanding of the consequences of success or failure?” “Sure thing, boss!”
  • In the end, Jack, Hurley, Sawyer and Kate vs. Smoke Locke is just not that compelling a story for the finale of a show that’s had the epic sweep of Lost, especially when we still don’t really know what either side wants, or what happens when either side wins. And even worse, it looks like the sideways climax is going to be built around Jack’s kid’s fucking concert recital. HOW ARE WE WASTING OUR LAST FEW PRECIOUS MOMENTS OF LOST SCREEN TIME ON JACK’S BASTARD CHILD? “Just don’t be weird, Dad, OK?” How about you shut your goddamn mouth before I slap the taste out of it, you little fuckmonkey? OK?

So we’ve got 2 1/2 hours left for these guys to turn the ship around and give us a satisfying ending. Can they do it? No fucking chance. I do trust that the finale will be as entertaining, or more, than “What They Died For,” which was fun in its own right. But that’s just not enough. The worst-case scenario for season six was that its resolution would undermine the entire series, and I fear that’s what’s about to happen. It’s not just that the season has been a let-down, it’s that it’s shown the first five seasons were fallacies. Entertaining fallacies, but hollow all the same.

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Filed under Television Has AIDS, The Dilemma

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