Resolved. Lost Succeeded to Its Purpose.
After it was over I became aware that the final series episode of Lost was almost universally reviled. The reactions especially from the set of commentators I had been following, seemed overly harsh --
Lost, Season 6 - By Chadwick Matlin, Jack Shafer, and Seth Stevenson - Slate Magazine. The people involved running that show had two choices for the series: bring it in wheels down, or crater it. I don't think they cratered it although I will allow it may not have been the ended some were expecting. The final episode was complicated and a lot of things were moving around. You had to stop and consider all that was shown
Lost, Loster, Lostest, Lost Squared, Lost Cubed, Lostercalifragilisticexpialidocious | MetaFilter. I suspect that it was that the last episode was the thief of Lost that made many not like it. It was what came and took Lost away. I watched it from the first episode. I liked it. I liked the casting. I liked the plucky adventure. I had also read Jules Verne's "Mysterious Island" as a kid, and the "Long Vacation" (more islands) so I was pre-sold on the premise. A better way forward than hating on the finale is to ask whether Lost succeeded to its purpose, and what that may have been. First I would ask what kind of experience did we think we were viewing? What kind of experience did they think they were providing? Abrams, Lieber, Lindelof, Cuse et-al were making a broadcast TV show, this ought to be established ot the outset. Further being merely broadcast it could not be about truth and the meaning of life as these (as discussion has established) are the special proprietary concern of cable television and especially the show the Wire.
As an ensemble cast story-arced production, established practice would have this show be character driven. The mystery / myth(os) aspect does not have to be more than a hook, a MacGuffin essentially. This ain't Lovecraft.
|Possiblities of an Island |
| Character, relation |
Event or action
| Survivers deal with themselves, other groups. Faced with adversity their charactors bond mature and develop. They organize overcome problems, and leave the island || Character and dynamics driven plot with survivers pitted against dangerous puzzling others and more, in the ruins of the mysteriously vanished Dharma initiative. Increasingly Island itself becomes a presence and is seen as possessing a secret |
| Conflict driven plot with antagonists intrigues, and with continuous rescue impeding phenomenon || All questions answered, mysteries revealed, veil drawn back. Time ends, Mondays become federal holidays |
|<-- MacGuffin | Natural - - - - - - - - - Mythos | Extra-Natural --> |
Once I was committed to watching the overlying implications of such a stark man against man, against self, nature, and beyond were always intriguing. Also just regarding the character Terry O'Quinn was playing, seeing it as post-millennial vs a millennial zeitgeist with post 9/11 vibe. The show was tough terrain I like that.
Previously on Lost
Jumping into the pool of particulars. The show left a host of unresolved elements, up to and including the nature of several of the series Ur characters. The concept of specialness was one. Does the idea of special times, special relationships hold? The network of coincidences that brought the characters all together originally hold in light of in Flash Sideways post-life Framework? The formula would be the significant relation, during this the most significant passage of these persons lives. It ought not preclude that these people had other significant periods of their lives and even other people as their soul mates. It is just that these were their catalyst relations when in the crucible of the island they overcame (transformed beyond) their older selfish natures for greater more selfless ones. The relationships that are most right are not the ones that allow to to continue to be who you are, but the ones that allow you to become more. I questioned why Christian Shepard was there (having died before the story began)? Aside from the obvious metaphoric value of his name, and strengthening the unity of the series being essentially Jack's story and Jack's relationship with his father drove how he dealt with the world. And why the white light. Aside from the heavy-handed all-thumbs metaphor for passage and ascension.
The special relationship of children to the island is another centering on Michael's son Walt. This was an early series mystery with only partially rationalized grab bag of possible answers. Initially it seemed that children are especially sympathetic to the forces of the island making them unpredictable and dangerous. Latter speculation tied it to Jacob's decision not to allow children to grow up on the island perhaps in light of his own childhood. The moratorium seems to have gone into effect after the time of Daniel, Miles, and Ben. Retrofitted exceptions that prove the first point. More likely the actor that played Walt grew up too fast to get that story arc up and running. This brings up the possibility that the availability, or ability, of various actors/actresses affected the plot. Michelle Rodriguezes' DUI, Malcolm David Kelly's becoming a teenager, Michael Emerson's magnificent malevolence, Alan Dale evincing a too human venality to play the "Big Bad", and Adewale Akinnuoye Agbaje (Mr. Eko) writing himself out the final by asking too much money.
Beyond that did every character have a "purpose" when it was all over? Whether they were special or ordinary, candidate or catalyst (or both). Or were some essentially just red-shirt extras. I feel that if you've given a character as much as a half dozen lines, their lives and deaths ought to have some meaning. I was taken aback by the casual dispatch of such characters as Dogen (who at least got a fight scene and Rosebud moment with a baseball out of it. Lennon who seemed doomed from the outset, the same with Zoe. There was Ilana who selflessly exploded for the sake of narrative focus. And most puzzling the non-event death of Charles Widmore previously set up as a character rarely out of his considerable depth. This can be rationalized as demonstrating once the Smoke Monster was on the move no machination of men could stop it, but it betrays that the plot was being hurried along and shedding pieces as it went.
Ur Entities of the the shows myth were also left unexplained. Or were left as an all night connect the dots project on LostPedia . The heart of the mysteries at end is revealed to be a Glowy Pool. The pool flows down a cave waterfall to a built basin, with a giant stone stopper, which when removed drains the glowy water and emits an angry red light. This causes the island to start falling apart. Does that make sense in terms of the place being understood as the ommphalus of life? Who built that pool? What is the age of the island? The island itself is unexplained, a thread of conjecture might allow that the light created the island around itself, that the basin and stopper are part of men's attempts to channel and control the light. Following this they erected the Tarowet statute, protector from chaos, restrainer of Seth etc, built the temple, and so on.
Who was the mother character of Jacob and his brother, often called Esau (which makes sense) in commentary? Perhaps not unrelated to this "what was the smoke monster?" Was the Mother like her adopted children once human. She was more than that by the Roman times of the episode "Across the sea". She indicated to both Jacob and Esau at different times that they were like her. They: protector and attractor, seeker and nemesis. She knew that going into the Glowy Pool cave risked a state "worse than death" and she appeared to have later laid waste the Roman castaways village in a remarkably efficient and scorched earth manner. The inference that she went into the glowy pool cave and was a wraith entity herself is urged upon us.
A strong suspicion I have is that the show ended a season or two early leaving carefully prepared drama points unused. After the writer's strike and the interrupted season ABC may have gotten hold of some market research saying that people didn't like how slowly the show moved and "wanted answers" The show had also lost an average of around 3 million viewers from the first two seasons Lost (TV series) - Wikipedia. This was the point where JJ Abrams announced that the show would come to a conclusion in three more seasons by which time they would have shot enough episodes to make the show attractive to syndicators. The writers and producers by then had sketched out a show that could run on for many seasons beyond, with a variety of pacing. They put a lot balls up in the air by various means and now had the task of snatching them back down. It's possible balls were left in the air in that process. I get the feeling the producers chose to wrap up some hanging plot points on the fly or by inference in the last two seasons, but always driven by occasion rather than design.
Another source for the "numbers" critical to the first season mystery was the Valenzetti equation. An equation that can name the point the human race drives itself to destruction. This according to the exceptionally involved online egg hunt game that bridged season one and two. Chasing this Valenzetti across the world for his formula was supposedly one of the preoccupations of the Hanso foundation. The early seasons were full of this narra-marketing and ancillary story telling: video games, books, magazines. I never paid much attention to these, though I was aware of them. I'm just too old school in my reception of pop-culture. The word from the producers was that while events in these mattered only to them, much of the background information provided was "canon" to the shows ordering myth. People seemed to think some of this was going to make a comeback at the end. These were all the "plot" considerations regarding the organizations seen as manipulating affairs. The relation of Hanso to Dharma, and later of Jacob to either. We know MIB (Esau as an adult) used Ben Linus to unpurpose the others -- Richard's group and separate them from Jacob. By the last season we see the others existing in two fairly different groups. Those at the temple and those at the Dharma barracks. The degree of connection is unclear and it is a curious point how Ben's others, living like them being like them in a manne, have become an analogue of the Dharma group through some dialectic process.
It is left an open question what forces drove groups like the Hanso/Dharma folk to the island and what they really knew and were after. Some groups like the Romans and Egyptians predate Jacob. The island itself seems to draw people to it, however much it hides. The show may have abandoned a earlier line where the fate of the world lies with the energy of the Island and secret societies are trying to find it. This for one where there is a struggle for control of the Island between the Ben Linus and Charles Widmore. Which is subsumed by another greater struggle between the Man-in-Black and Jacob for which the former was only a partial proxy. Likely there was a model worked out for presenting this story line more elegantly that never got written. Putting pieces together ourselves we know that the corrupting influence of the Island has affected Ben since childhood, that exiling Widmore was probably done under that corrupting influence. That Widmore has spend 15 years trying get back to the island, by any means, including apparently buying the Hanso company to gain information on the Dharma group they had sponsored. Perhaps learning a great deal in that bargain. In to the middle of all this Flight 816 crashes with Jacob's last desperate group of unwitting candidates on it. Its odd that Herge, of the Tintin graphic novels, once put a plane on a jungle island full of strange temples and mysterious avaricious megalomaniac adversaries:
Flight 714 - Wikipedia. Coincidence I'm sure.
For all that the only question at end is does the show get a Pass or Fail as TV and story telling. Six Seasons on the air and brisk DVD sales though it's still questionable that the show will work in syndication say: Yes. The show made money, filled a hole in ABC's schedule and worked as loss leader television through any lean years. JJ Abrams is probably writing the script for Cloverfield II at this moment. At the same time this type and level of story telling may not be tried on broadcast television (or basic) cable for many many years. This is both good and bad. Bad in that television is a marvelous cultural resource for story-telling and most television is utter unambitious garbage. Good in that I think there are lessons to be learned from this. Too much was brought into play initially and then had to be cut back leading to dissatisfaction. The story telling was often murky for this, making it hard to discern the point or identify what ought to be thought of certain things. This happened because the show was presented as a normal open ended American TV show, where a fixed run may have been more appropriate to the story if not the enterprise. A monographic set rather than a serial or monographic series as library-cataloging people like myself look at the world. Such a thing could be presented in single year or multi-year formats, with some adjustment. In either, much of the thinking needs to be done before shooting, and the shooting done in compact blocks rather than the traditional manner of season television.
Still I give the show props for its ambition on taking on big subjects. What is fully realized justified human life? Is it able to be discerned through reason, the natural world and human nature? Knowing when to embrace our nature, when to fight it? Or does it require a sense of the supernatural? At least revelation to the leadership or the sense of it. As figures like Al Farabi and Maimonides conjecture the role of virtuous first ruler for a culture. Themes of fate against free will. The show took pains to demonstrate that however deterministic the world's workings are (and they are mighty deterministic) there is always choice, not at all points and times, but choice. There is always the possibility, the necessity, of overcoming our first lesser natures.
In the literary philosophical realm: whether good and evil are actual things (manifest or conceptural), they are capable of being represented as objects(persons) as metaphor. Phenomenon require this sense of malevolent agency to be considered evil. In the end the show seemed to be saying some very specific things, thought not unheard of, about the nature of evil. That it is periodic and disruptive in nature. Whereas good is abiding and is what suffers the violent. An artifice of the show, perhaps but while the potential for corruption always existed -- stated as men desiring more of (glowy) light than what is alloted to them, and every living thing gets some. It was not until the man-in-black acted by killing the mother character and Jacob reacted, that a chaotic presence, a force of evil was created. Which still acted as being of absolute and skeptical judgement, and functioned (against its will) as a guardian to the Island. There is a sense that the smoke monster was not only contained on the island, but initially chained to it, limited within it, in some way.
I like the sense of incompleteness. That no group or character had more than partial knowledge of what was going on. Not Jacob whose response to the Man-in-Black's threats was simply to layer in redundant contingencies. MiB/Locke who seemed genuinely surprised after sabotaging the fountain pool to be mortal again. Not Widmore or Ben Linus who never noticed that Jacob had a nemesis, never attaching much meaning or ascribing a will to the Cerberus smoke-monster until it was too late for them to do much. Not the Dharma folk, the French team, Faraday or any of our castaways. Even the Eloise Hawkins character as she trys to sort out the time lines, ends up at point where she admits she no longer knows what is going to happen.
Then there was the summer's reading list of name-checked literature, throughout the series. That's a value added service right there. It was like "Reading Rainbow." I kept looking for LeVar Burton to show up at the end of some episodes with a stack of books in his hands. Maybe for the DVD's they'll do that.
There were those that felt mightily cheated because the story changed its spots. That it was a Bait and Switch, changing from being a Sci Fi story to one with a New Age ending and resolution. I like science fiction a lot when I was younger, moving away from it without developing any particular antipathy towards it (I even got around to reading Gibson's Neuromancer last year). At the same time genre partisans strike me the same as those who only get their information from Fox News. I have only little sympathy for them.
The denouement of the Flash Sideways Time was a daring gambit all things considered. I liked what it rendered moot, all the conflict and strife of the previous seasons and that it changed the dramatic thrust to their personal journeys, and understandings. While some fans seemed to take pains not to get it, This alternate reality of the Flash sideways can be understood on its own terms and explanation given.
It is off this mortal coil, a limbo a purgatory of sorts. A half-life remembered. I saw it referred to earlier on in commentary as a Bardo [Bardo - Wikipedia] one of several spiritual realms (there is a bardo of dreams) having the form of the former material world. A place of peril of reckoning without which no value is gained for the life lived. The idea was that they collectively (unconsciously perhaps mediated) created this afterlife as a gift, a service to themselves to celebrate the time they saved the world. Saved all living things, the oomphalus of the living realm from formless and angry evil. What some saw as wish fulfillment episodes interrupted by the repeated meme of waking up, looking through mirrors, and being asked to "let go" was something analogous to the dream function of matching outcomes to desires and settling permanent memories. This Bardo was a purposeful existence. Necessary for owning the errors of ones life, imagining the alternate ways. Letting go (not letting go often our greatest error, our soul's misshaper. Becoming cognizant of this. What can be inferred from it: there were those who were ready and could be "awoken" or broken out of the post-world. For some the remainder of their lives did not completely bring them to terms with who they were and decisions they had made. The writers portrayed Kate as unhesitant always, but almost never making a decision that really worked for her. Including chasing Sawyer one more time in the last season, until she caught up with him and realized he had changed and could no longer help her be the old Kate. For others the Bardo existence allowed a moment of sharing there was never a chance for in life.
Still there were some who saw this as no real ending and posit this as a structural complaint. That it was an ending substituted or tossed into the breach. That the systematic abandonment of previous detail signaled abandonment of initial purpose. That the finale in this view was in essence a re-purposing of the entire show. I don't think the end was necessarily different from was originally envisioned. The set piece of Jack opening his eyes in the first scene and closing them in the vey last speak to this. It certainly seemed; though, to turn the first four seasons into so much plot chaff and thematic detritus. And it seemed to violate principles for unitary narrative in the process. Even within the realm of television. Maybe the rules for story arcs are like the rules for episodic TV. The issues and people disappear on conflict resolution with no residual responsibility. Going into it the way they did there was no way they were not going to be knocked off their line at some or even many points. The best laid plans aft gang agley. What the network would demand when ratings began to fall, events like the writers strike were going to change what was possible. The assemblage of people who ran this kept it as coherent as manageable, and came down on the side of telling the best story they could, rather than assembling a perfect crystalline curiosity of completeness.
I think the show succeeded but I will continue to pay attention to all the different viewpoints that don't think so. There is a logic of popular story telling telling in any society, a trap really. It asks that you flatter your audience. If it's a general audience speak to a cultures enlightened sense of itself. If a subculture tell them they are better than the dominate culture. When you are part of the intended audience you'll never see this, you only ever feel it when you're not.
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