Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Lost Ending

I am a Lost fan. In response to that statement you probably have one of three reactions. They are:

a) Who cares?

b) You poor sap. You’ve given six years of your life to that narrative nightmare?

c) Me too! How do you think it will end?!

I am not a hard-core Lostie. I don’t post on fan sites or download podcasts, and even though I blog I’ve never mentioned it in the 130 posts I’ve written since 2007.

But still, I’ve been there from day 1. I watched the pilot on September 22, 2004 and have seen every single episode since, nearly always with Mrs. Keatang, a fellow Lostie. We swap theories afterwards, read some of the fan site stuff the next day, hit pause during the show to clarify a point or take a closer look at something (“Wait! Did that shark have a Dharma Initiative tattoo? Hit rewind.”)

Put me in a room with a fellow Lostie and we’ll begin swapping theories about the Candidates, the Numbers, The Smoke Monster and whether or not Jacob and/or Widmore are on the side of good or evil. We’ll wonder what happened to Walt, speculate about the nature of the characters’ names, and marvel at the amazing hygiene of our island-bound heroes.

In other words, even though I’m a fairly casual fan I’ve engaged with the show in a way that I never have with any other television show. My personal arc with Lost has gone something like this:

Season 1: Tremendously entertaining television –one of the genuinely great accomplishments in the history of the medium.

Season 2: Very, very intriguing…old questions are being answered as new ones are asked.

Season 3: More questions…but I’m losing interest in the answers. Is Fonzie about to jump the Dharma Initiative shark?

Season 4/5: Okay, I’m still watching but only because they announced they’ll have everything wrapped up by Season 6 and I’ve come this far. Enjoying it but doing the television equivalent of looking at my watch waiting for it to end.

Beginning of Season 6: WTF is going on?! Lost?! Damn right I’m lost! I hate this show!!!

Middle of Season 6: Hmmmm….the hook is back in. The battle of good vs. evil is heading towards some sort of conclusion. But who is good? And who is evil?

End of Season 6: Well, we’re about to find out, won’t we?

And that’s the interesting part, isn’t it? Has any fictional endeavor ever had so much at stake with its ending?

It is one of the great truths of writing fiction – and I use the term broadly to include novels, short stories, movies and television shows – that endings are the hardest part.

In some genre fiction – particularly the detective novel - the entire point of the exercise is the ending. The butler did it. And television episodes of a certain kind of show are also about the ending. The butler's DNA proves he did it.

But in television series, the ending is rarely the point. Hugely popular shows like M*A*S*H had big finales, and people cared about the ending, but the ending was never the point. Even shows with long narrative arcs aren’t designed to head toward some sort of climax, since the creators never know when it is going to end.

An interesting parallel is The Sopranos. Like Lost, The Sopranos ran for six seasons. Like Lost it had devoted fans and strong ratings (The Sopranos had fewer viewers than Lost, but its ratings were more impressive because it was on pay cable).

The Sopranos finale was a huge cultural event, and millions of Americans believed they had an emotional investment in the finale. And it’s fair to say that most were disappointed and many were enraged. A Journey song playing while the family sits in a diner? No big showdown with the New York gangsters? No answers to unresolved plot lines like the Russian in the woods? No resolution or climax to anything, at all? Even viewers who appreciated what Sopranos auteur David Chase was doing couldn’t help but feel let down.

But Lost has even more at stake. The whole point of the show has been questions and answers, mysteries and puzzles. No Lost viewer in his right mind expects resolution to every puzzle, but we want a satisfying climax, we want an epiphany, we want nothing less than a big a-ha moment that we'll talk about for years after. We want a return on our emotional investment. If we don’t get one, we’ll feel cheated out of the hours of viewing time we’ve dedicated to the show.

This is arguably an unfair proposition. The very fact that the writers have created this level of desire among millions of intelligent viewers* is a feat unto itself.

* Yes, us Losties are more intelligent than the rabble watching The Biggest Loser

But that’s the situation. I wish them luck. I really really wish them luck.

Sidebar: Desert Island Albums
Lost is not without humor, thanks mostly to Hurley and Sawyer, but it is without banter. The inhabitants of the island never just sit around shooting the shit. How great would it have been if they hired Nick Hornby to write an episode where the main characters talk about their desert island albums? It would have been funny, insightful, maybe even created some more puzzles.

With that in mind, I thought I’d share with you my desert island album list. Of course, you need rules for this sort of thing and here are mine: Greatest Hits albums, live albums, and compilations with a unifying theme (covers of an artist, for example) are acceptable, but box collections are not. If you don’t like those rules, write your own damn blog.

Also, please note that these are not my idea of "The Greatest Albums of All Time", or even my personal favorite albums, necessarily. Just the ones I'll need if my plane ever splits in half due to a seismic event over an uncharted island. They are in no particular order, and with apologies to REM, Bruce, The Rolling Stones, Elvis, Johnny Cash, and many others...

Astral Weeks, Van Morrison
Blood on the Tracks, Bob Dylan
Legend, Bob Marley
One More From the Road, Lynyrd Skynyrd
London Calling, The Clash
The Last Waltz, The Band
The Christmas Album, Nat King Cole
Making Movies, Dire Straits
Original Musiquarium, Stevie Wonder
Oil Change, Drive Shaft
August and Everything After, Counting Crows
Hard Promises, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Revolver, Beatles

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