SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
I almost decided not to write a column about the TV show Lost, which recently came to an end after six mind-boggling seasons (mind-boggling in both the good and bad definitions).
First, lots of people didn’t watch it. These days thousands of distractions compete for our time, including 573 television stations (574 if you include The Fireplace Channel). Whether a show is great or not (Lost was both, sometimes in the same episode), its rating were mediocre compared to when we were kids, twisting the rabbit ears to pull in The Brady Bunch.
Second, there are a lot more important things going on in the world. Who did win American Idol, anyway?
Third … I’m supposed to explain Lost? That would be like explaining why solid water floats instead of sinks, where all those matching socks go, or why we keep reelecting morons to Congress.
Never was a show more appropriately named. Early on a character said, “Guys – where are we?” We never found out.
An airplane crashes on an uncharted island, and the passengers struggle to survive. Pretty straightforward. Taken at face value, it’s the idea that’s driven shows from Survivor to Gilligan’s
Then things got complicated. Something rampages through the jungle, ripping trees up by their roots. A polar bear appears on a tropical island. A series of numbers pop up – the same numbers that one of the castaways won a lottery with. One of the survivors wasn’t on the plane at all. And the biggest mystery of all: the hugely overweight Hurley, eating nothing but fresh fruit on a tropical island and getting chased all over the place, never loses an ounce.
That was just season one.
But I’m not here to talk about beginnings; I’m here to talk about endings. Therefore, I must issue a spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen the end, and intend to do so one day, turn back now.
Also, if you intend to watch the end, you have to watch every single one of the episodes. Miss one, and you’re – wait for it – lost. (With the possible exception of the Nikki and Paulo arc, a case of questionable new characters who are so forgettable that I’m not even bothering to check and see if I got their names right.)
Lost had style, great locations and unforgettable characters (even Nikki/Paulo, who I’ve been trying desperately to forget). When it was bad, it was pretty bad; when it was good, it was awesome. Transcendent. Super-duper. It was to TV what chocolate suicide is to deserts.
I went into that two and a half hour ending wanting one thing: Answers.
Where did the island originate? Who built temples, statues, and wells all over the place? How did anyone survive a crash that split an airline in half tens of thousands of feet up?
Oh, yeah. And the numbers. Please explain the numbers 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42, which became such a part of pop culture that they appeared on the cover of a comic book and even in other TV shows. Hurley uses them to win the lottery (and comes to regret it), they’re on a mysterious hatch in the ground, on a medicine vial, and in numerous other scenes. It turns out they appear to mean … nothing, other then being coordinates to locate certain characters.
What was with the freaking flash-sideways scenes? In the early seasons we had flashbacks to what the survivors were doing before the crash, and how their lives tended to intersect. Then the flashbacks became flash-forwards, where things weren’t going so well for our heroes. Then we get a series of sideways flashes that depict what would have happened if the airplane had not crashed -- only things are different. For instance, one of the main characters who wasn’t on the original trip suddenly showed up on the plane.
I had one desire for the final episode, just one: Answer the friggin’ questions. I hate loose ends. I hate Sopranos style quasi-endings where they chicken out and don’t give you some kind of conclusion. I wanted to know what was happening, and what had happening.
So, I should be mad.
My theory, that the island was originally Atlantis, was neither confirmed nor denied. No one explained the true nature of the forces at work on the island. We don’t know how a mysterious organization of scientists managed to build facilities across the place. We don’t know why that organization’s symbol ended up on the side of a patrolling shark. I could go on and on, and I’d be in good company.
So I was upset, right? Jumping mad, screaming at the screen –
Well, no … I left the finale feeling oddly satisfied. It didn’t answer the questions for us – but it did answer the important ones for the characters. It worked for me especially at the very end, when we realize –
I did mention the spoiler alert, didn’t I?
It turns out the island was real, but the flash sideways is a kind of pocket purgatory. Eventually each sideways character remembers their entire life: Some died early in the show, while others survived the finale and lived, we can assume, to a ripe old age. So some of these people hadn’t seen loved ones for many years, and that explains those expressions of joy when they figure things out.
There’s absolution and acceptance, then they got to walk into the light, which could be a religious allegory or just a really bright exit sign.
It was – right. Yep, there were loose ends all over the place, and inconsistencies, and mysteries yet to be solved, but that’s what fanfiction is for.
In the end, Lost didn’t jump the shark (not even the one with the Dharma logo), or run out of gas. Right there, it beat many other shows that petered out over the years. If we’re left still wondering what was going on, well …
That’s right where we started.