2010-04-29

Lost on "Lost"

First, a meditation:

What is the sound of one hand clapping?

If a tree falls in the woods and there is no one to hear it, does it make a sound?

What happens to a show that becomes so confusing that it confuses itself?

The first two questions are intentionally unanswerable; both designed by ancient Buddhist thinkers to help clear the average, cluttered mind of rattling debris. I hope you have experienced a lightening of your mental load, a clarity, a feeling of Zen. You’ll need the extra mental mojo to tackle question number three when the much talked about ABC series Lost airs its final episodes next month.

I’ll admit it: I’m one of the geeks. Ever since they blew open the mysterious Hatch in season one, I have been obsessively pouring over viral video clips, spoilers, online games and tie-ins like a junkie. Allow me to channel my inner Comic Book Guy for a moment, because I can’t be the only person who feels that the show’s final run is not living up to the hype.

Granted, I’m not one to go in for any hype surrounding a show on ABC. This is the network that destroyed the brilliant and imaginative ‘Twin Peaks’ by forcing resolution of the central mystery in the middle of season two. Anyone old enough to read knows that you don’t end a story in the middle. Even an eight-month-old baby would be downright flummoxed if you suddenly skipped to the last page of Good Night Moon in between bidding good night to the dog and the cat.

Yet I was duped as easily as that unassuming tyke. Despite my skepticism, they had me at hello with the plucky, clever mash-up of sci-fi and supernatural lore that ‘Lost’ offered up. If the show would have stayed its course, I still think it could have been one of the greatest series in the history of TV.

So, what went wrong?

Mistake #1: Setting an End Date
The first real downturn was at the start of season three, when the plot was intentionally stalled as a tactic to negotiate an end date for the series. It is a remarkable victory for the creative team to win that battle with a network. Unfortunately, the troops never quite made it back home. Leaked by way of Damon Lindelof’s verbal diarrhea in the absence of his handlers Abrams and Cuse, this tidbit was offered up as a kind of boastful apology for tanking the plot. The show suffers from a pacing problem that has been circling like an albatross for the last two seasons, and now in the show’s final moments the noose is tightening around that mariner’s neck fast.

Mistake #2: Not Using the End Date
Lost has a lot of balls in the air, and they appear to be falling into orbit around an invisible body, but the pull of gravity is suspiciously slow. So slow as to allow the show to end just as they snap into place, but before we see just who or what is drawing them in to begin with.

If it wasn’t so painfully obvious that J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof have at least a dozen really fantastic explanations for what could fill that empty space already cooked up, the situation wouldn’t be nearly as frustrating. Before even going to pitch the idea, these two are rumored to have masterminded a complex mythology known as the ‘Lost Bible’, a Joseph Campbell inspired back story pulling on modern influences like Stephen King and Alan Moore. Given the exceptional quality of the storytelling during peak moments, I believe this rumor. Seasons one and two exuded a swaggering confidence that just dared you to question if they could possibly steer the show to a point of convergence for a rapidly growing list of opposing concepts and factions.

Then, at some point, a decision was made to intentionally leave out any explanation as to what has been unifying the disparate elements of the show all this time. Why? To let the empty space fill with an endless stream of fan theory, academic texts, exclusive director’s cuts, film rumors, and any other supplementary material that can be shoved down the gullet of a hungry fan base starved for answers. What is my evidence that all we'll be left with is a big pink question mark? Dozens of books that theorize the unexplained mysteries of Lost’ are already in stores. And every nerdy bastard who had one picked up is broadcasting it all over the blogosphere.

Think about that for a minute. Books that propose a theory about ‘Lost’ are already on shelves. The planned release date of fan theory books falls within weeks of the end of the show. Why would they do that, unless......oh snap. At the end of the final episode of the final season, we’re getting served up a lame cliff-hanger in place of catharsis. In the end, team Darlton sold out the story to give a longer shelf life to their cryogenically frozen cash cow.

The original sin of drama is about to be committed: Deus ex Machina. Only this time we won’t even get to see the Deus, just more Machina. Sorry, fellas, but self-consciously titled episodes can’t make the oldest cheat in literature palatable. If we don't learn who built or at least originally discovered that big wheel with an island sitting on its fulcrum, then at least don't have the last character standing be Matthew Fox. He's more confused by season six than the aforementioned baby during that batched reading of Good Night Moon.

1 comment:

  1. The comparison to "Twin Peaks" is dead on accurate. And after buying in to the "Twin Peaks" hub bub, I have made it a point to never begin watching serialized shows with a seemingly endless plot and a projected resolution.

    I heard a discussion on NPR's "Fresh Air" a couple weeks ago with the writers of "Twin Peaks". Their conclusion..after 20 years of hindsight was..."We blew it."

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