October 13, 2010 by jamesessj
Time has passed, and I can now face up to a few facts regarding what I still believe is one of the best television shows ever produced: the dearly-departed Lost. After the finale in May I was much too stricken to think clearly, and besides, I was too busy bawling. I get emotional for the most meager of reasons, but an ending such as Lost‘s would have wrung tears from a stone; or at least made the stone turn its face away so you didn’t see it dab the corners of its eyes with a tissue.
So here are my thoughts, five months on:
The final season, in and of itself, made a great deal of sense — but when appearing as the sixth act of a six-act drama, it lessened and confused the first five acts. If the entire point of the island was that it had served, and continued to serve, as battleground for Jacob and the Man in Black (henceforth “Smokey”), then why did they take so very long to show their hands? What were they doing, Seasons 1-5? Yes, granted, Smokey’s plan to kill Jacob dated back to Season 4, but look at the blunt, unsubtle tactics he employed to maneuver the Losties into the sub with the bomb he’d planted in Jack’s backpack (because, supposedly, he was forbidden to kill them, but could trick them into killing one another) — why did it take him six seasons to get to this point? Why didn’t he begin on that very first night, when the survivors heard him crashing through the trees?
It all goes back to the basic question, did the producers know what they were doing, and where they were going, from the beginning? Matthew Fox has said he was told what the final shot would be — Jack’s eye closing as he dies — at the start; which only means the producers had the final shot in mind, not necessarily what would lead up to it. Based on all the presented evidence, I’d have to answer the question with a No, they did not know what they were doing from the beginning. Which is disappointing, because the producers of this show are obviously terribly bright, terribly clever people. And I have given them, I can honestly state, every benefit of the doubt…but looking back at the whole arc of the show, it simply doesn’t hold up logically, given the revelations of the final season.
To take just one instance, it was never explained whether Jacob’s visitations with the Losties during their pre-island lives occurred because he knew they would be crashing on his island however many years in the future, or whether his visitations (and physical contact with the Losties) ensured that they would come together on Flight 815 and crash on his island, or whether he visited innumerable possible replacements for himself as Island Guardian, and these just happened to be the ones who boarded 815 and subsequently crash-landed. Nor was it explained why it had to be one of this severely limited subset of humanity who served as his replacement. Why couldn’t it be Richard? Why couldn’t it be Ben? If Jacob’s purpose all along was to find a worthy successor, surely he didn’t need to put Jack, Kate, and the others through the trauma of having to return to the island, after having escaped — surely he could have molded Richard, as he molded Jack; or manipulated Ben, as he manipulated Hurley; or chosen any of the Others, or any island inhabitant. Why did it have to be one of the Losties?
Yes, I know: because they said so. I’m arguing with the very premise of the show. The Losties were special — destined to find their fates on that island. But if you’re going to set up a battle between Good and Evil (or at least Black and White) and have the stakes be the survival of humanity, then you do need to explain why Jack is special and Ben isn’t. The producers did address this question, in a backhanded way, by having Ben murder Jacob in a fit of pique as he demanded of Jacob, in essence, an answer to that very query, Why is Jack special and I’m not? But Jacob did not provide an answer, and neither did the producers; other than to intimate, by their silence, This is just the way it is.
The other Very Big Question that cried out for further explication, and exploration, was that asked by Charlie at the close of the first half of the pilot episode: “Guys…where are we?” Or, put another way, what was the island? A sentient entity? A bubble in space/time? Heaven? Hell? Purgatory? The Garden of Eden? Lost gave us evidence for each conclusion, but never really dealt with the matter head-on, except by showing us a cave with a glowing light coming out of it…a light the extermination of which would reputedly have been cataclysmic. But does that get us any closer to knowing what the island is? Why it possesses the properties it does? Why it needs a Guardian? Why it created Smokey?
Of course Lost was famous, like The X-Files, for raising questions it didn’t feel the need to answer. The producers were obviously, by the end, looking at it as an extremely personal story — Jack’s Story — and the larger mythological questions got short-shrifted. What they lost sight of was that the mythological led to the personal — the island conspired to bring 815 down, or so it was heavily hinted — and without explaining the mythological more comprehensively and convincingly, the personal was denied a sensible, logical motivation.
I love Lost. Its first is the greatest single season of television ever made. And it grew, over time, into a sprawling meditation on Big Themes the likes of which most pop culture can’t begin to approach, much less embrace. But I’m convinced the producers were winging it, and in the end it showed. The finale was a masterful piece of TV, and a masterful end to the sixth season, but as an end to the series, it lacked too much.
Still, the last ten minutes or so…when Jack confronts his father, and learns the truth…it’s almost enough to make you forget. And forgive.