Monday, May 24, 2010


Just finished watching the "Lost" series finale.  It was going to take way too long past my bedtime, so instead I got set up to get a copy of it, went to bed, and then woke up an hour earlier this morning so I could see it before coming in to work.  Ordinarily I wouldn't have bothered, but with a series event like this, the risk was just too great that I would get spoilered in the 24 hours between original airtime and when I would have seen it.

I've been a pretty faithful fan of "Lost" throughout most of its run.  I started watching it partway through the first season.  I was initially attracted to it in the ads on ABC, or, more specifically, by Dominic Monaghan's infamous line reading: "Where are we?"  "That's Merry!" I thought.  "Gee, I miss those hobbits.  That show could be good!"  After I missed the first few episodes, I figured I'd take a flyer, but I kept on hearing about how good it was, so, thanks to the miracle of the Internet, I got caught up.  Back then, getting caught up meant a weekend, not months of nightly viewing.

At the time, I thought that those first few episodes of "Lost" were some of the most compelling television I'd ever seen.  The overarching sense of mystery, the incredible tension that filled the episodes, the fact that nobody was safe and anybody could be killed at any time - those things all made Lost more than any other drama I'd seen before, elevating it to a level of quality that I tend to associate with movies. 

Of course, it turned out to not be such an outlier.  I firmly believe that the past decade has produced some amazing television, and that TV can now actually make an argument for being a legitimate art form.  There's a lot to be said for why this is so, but I think a big part of the reason comes down to technology.  Shows like "Lost" and "The Wire" and "Battlestar Galactica" are so complex, so deep, so interwoven, that even if you watch every episode it can be hard to keep up with the plot.  If you miss an episode, you're, well, lost.  In the old days that would be it; now, thanks to the Internet, and Hulu, and Netflix, it's possible to get into a show after a few seasons, or to get caught up after missing a night.  That gives writers the courage to demand more of their viewers, trusting them to keep pace, instead of needing to spoon-feed them pablum.

"Lost" started in mystery.  It moved into reversal.  From about midway through the first season through the end of the second season, pretty much everything about the show was devoted to revealing that everything was the opposite of what it had initially seemed.


Sawyer seems like a hardened criminal.  Guess what?  He's really a sweet and loyal guy.  Kate sure seems nice.  Guess what?  She's a murderer!  Wait, hold on, double-reversal: the victim deserved it!  Boy, I can't believe that the sweet Sun is stuck with that awful husband Jin!  Uh-oh... turns out that Jin is an amazing guy who sacrificed everything for Sun, and she's an unfaithful betrayer!

In case you can't tell, it was around this time that I started to lose a little faith in the series.  This was largely due to the practical reason that they were taking everything I liked about particular characters and destroying it.  Hurley was no longer a fun-loving, good-natured dude; Locke was no longer the serenely confident prophet of the island.  And, biggest of all, the series was turning from its early mysterious, frankly occult sensibility, into a boring fourth-grade science class.  "Oh, supernatural forces had nothing to do with us getting here - it's because of these gol-darn magnets!"

Fortunately, they turned it around, and how!  After the mystery phase and the reversal phase, the series eventually settled into what I like to think of as the complexity phase.  The writers embraced the mythology that they were creating, and just ran with it.  Instead of getting stuck with the choice between explaining mysteries or not explaining mysteries, they dug deeper, actually telling a story instead of stalling, but at the same time expanding their horizons and pulling more threads into the weave.  One of the most amazing things about "Lost" is how fluid its cast has been.  Early on I was impressed by how many major characters died; later, I was impressed by how many major characters were added in late acts.  Some of these, especially Desmond and Ben but also Miles, Daniel, Jacob, and Whitmore, became incredibly important.


I keep on remarking to people about how impressed I was at the show's final turn.  For a long time the distinctive narrative trick of the show was the flash-back; each episode continued the story on the island, but also included a wrapped story about a castaway's prior life.  There was an amazing shift when the show started presenting flash-forwards, presenting what happened to characters after they left the island.  After you've gone back and you've gone forward, well, you've done everything, right?

Nope!  Only if you're thinking of time as a one-dimensional axis.  The final season started to flash SIDEWAYS, into a parallel existence.

Early on, I (and probably most other people) assumed that we were seeing a parallel timeline.  The previous season's finale ended with the detonation of an atomic bomb in the 1970's, which was supposed to have undone the chain of events that led to the plane crash.  The characters remained on the island, so it seemed to have failed; but, they were also safely on the ground in the flash-sideways, so it seemed to have worked.  It seemed reasonable to think that we were seeing two diverging views of reality, depending on whether or not the bomb had worked. 

As the season progressed, though, that view became less and less clear.  We gradually learned that there were deeper changes in the characters beyond the plane crash.  Sawyer was no longer a con man; he was now a cop.  Locke was still in a wheelchair, but instead of his injury being the result of a confrontation with his awful father, it was from a plane crash with his wonderful father.  I began so suspect that something else was going on.


In the end, it turned out that we weren't seeing a parallel timeline, but a parallel existence.  In the tension between science (quantum theory) and mysticism (afterlife), I think mysticism finally won out, but there ended up being a great unity between them.  As best as I can make it, we were seeing an afterlife, a sort of purgatory after characters had died and before they moved on.  Hurley, who has become the guardian of the Island, uses his powers (which, as we know from watching Jacob, expand past the island's borders) to comfort them, reunite them, and bring them forward.

This is all delicious, because, of course, people have been speculating from the very first season that the island is a purgatory; I don't think people were expecting it to be the prelude to purgatory (at least, I wasn't).  The last episode was filled with several of these great, semi-winking references for fans.  One of my favorites was when Sawyer says to Jack, "So, you're the new Jacob?  Don't you think that's kind of the obvious choice?"  Of course, that's what people have been saying all over the Internet for the last five days; and, of course, all the writers knew that that's how people would react.

On the whole, I'm deeply satisfied with the final episode.  It was emotionally satisfying, ended on my favored mystical note, resolved a lot, and left a few things open.  Some of these we can puzzle out ourselves, others may continue to be mysteries.

The show wasn't too explicit about exactly what happened with Black Smoke, for example, but I think it's relatively straightforward to figure out.  When Desmond pulled out the stone, the Island lost its special powers.  Hence the earthquakes and storms and such.  However, Smokey got his powers from the island, and so Desmond's action also made him mortal.  It turns out that both Smokey and Jack were right: Desmond can destroy the island, and Desmond can destroy Smokey.  I love it when two seemingly contradictory positions both end up being true.  And that's really the major theme of this show, isn't it?  Both science and magic are real; they're just different perceptions of actual events.  The same act can both betray and save.  You can deny someone and love them at the same time.

My biggest bummer from the finale was not seeing Walt or Michael.  I'm especially puzzled by why Michael wasn't there, since the actor was obviously available for an earlier undead appearance on the island.  As for Walt, I'm guessing that his absence was a production decision; maybe he was unavailable or asking for too much money.  On the other hand, I have a secret thought that they may be saving him for a movie or a spin-off.  Walt was the only member of the original castaways who actually did have special powers, some sort of latent ability prior to landing on the island.  It's possible that his story might be even bigger than the island's; the island couldn't hold him, he's going to have adventures of his own.  At least, that's what I like to think.

I loved, loved, loved the final scene of the show.  I'm a big fan of unexpected symmetry.  Ending it with the same shot as where the series opened was a great grace note.  There's something vaguely Finnegan's Wake-ish about it, except that instead of a loop, it's a return; a reset to the original state.  I like that.

Random thought: boy, that sure is an interfaith church, huh? 

Favorite character:
At their most awesome moments, still Locke.  Averaged over the whole series, Ben.

Least favorite character:
Still Shannon.  So glad they killed her off early on.

Favorite season:
Tough call... probably this last one, although the third was also really good.

Best villain:

Favorite location:
Man, there sure are a lot.  I like the idea of the Temple a lot.  In practice, the Dharma stations are the coolest-looking.  Probably The Orchid station.

Favorite time:
The 70's, dude!

Favorite number:

Favorite canned Dharma food:
A1 Steak Sauce

Favorite tailie:
Mr. Eko

Favorite mainlander:
Um... I forget if we ever learn his name, but the guy who played the Lieutenant on The Wire.  Penny's also sweet.

Favorite Whitemorian:
They were a great bunch, weren't they?  Overall I'd have to say Daniel, but Miles made a really strong showing in the last season.

Favorite Other:
If I can't count Ben again, then Richard.

Favorite song:
"Catch a falling star" grew on me.  Particularly the sinister, minor-key variation that we hear during Claire's insanity.

Favorite weapon:
The atomic bomb.

Favorite vehicle:
Dharma van.

Favorite flash-back:
Locke's outback adventure.

Favorite flash-forward:
The first one was awesome for the shock value.  Otherwise, probably Sayeed's bloody quest.

Favorite flash-sideways:
Hurley the chicken king.

Favorite line:
I'm not sure, but it's gotta be one of Sawyer's.  That man has the best collection of one-liners in the history of the universe.  My favorite from the last episode was from Miles, though: "I don't believe in a lot, but I do believe in duct tape."


Good bye, Lost!  Thanks for all the great television!

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