Here’s the thing about Lost: My Lost is not your Lost is not Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse’s Lost. We all have our own ideal version of the series – our own theories, our own favorite storylines and characters, our own list of grievances. For some – maybe for the majority – the ideal iteration of Lost was the first season. How many times have we heard it over the past few months: “Didn’t this used to be a show about the survivors of a plane crash?” This drives me crazy. Taking nothing away from the first season, which was groundbreaking for network television in many ways, I personally can’t imagine that version of the show sustaining three or four seasons, let alone six. Do people really wish they were still watching Jack, Kate, Charlie, et al, living in their little huts on the beach, hunting and fishing, getting into various romantic entanglements, having ever-more obscure and irrelevant flashbacks, and plotting, always plotting their escape, building rafts and coconut phones in the desperate hope they would somehow someday get off the island? I think Lost rode that particular horse as far as it could without turning into a tropical soap opera (which is really what ABC wanted in the first place), but a lot of people disagree, and I can respect that. In the second season, Lost turned into a show about people down in a hatch pressing a button, and for all I know, there are fans for whom that was Lost at its best. I think that entire season could have been condensed into six or eight episodes, but again, my Lost is not your Lost. Countless fans view the entire series through the prism of the Jack/Kate/Sawyer love triangle. There are “Jaters” and “Skaters” and they have been engaged in paint-peeling internet flame wars for six years now and I think they’re out of their minds…but again, all of us who have invested in Lost have our reasons.
For me, the fifth season is closest to my charred little smoke monster heart. It pushed all my buttons every 108 minutes. It was the goofy ’70 sci-fi show of my youth that never actually existed, but was so much better than all the ones that did. It had time travel, a weird science hippie cult/conspiracy (ah, Dharma Initiative, we hardly knew ye), an ingenious Rubik’s cube-like structure linking multiple timelines, a romance that didn’t make me want to pull my eyes out, big mythic revelations, and cool cliffhangers, none cooler than the final Beneath the Planet of the Apes show-stopper that left any and all options on the table for the final season.
But here’s the inevitable fallout with a mystery show that’s been all things to all people: when you get to the final season and you have to start providing answers, each answer you give closes off another avenue of interpretation. Every resolved mystery threatens to take away the Lost you thought you’d been watching all along. This makes people angry. The sixth season premiere kicked off with the apparent fallout from the detonation of Jughead, which was supposed to prevent the incident that caused Oceanic 815 to crash in the first place. Lo and behold, it worked! There was Jack back aboard the plane, along with Kate, Sawyer, Hurley and the rest, but although it shook and shimmied, flight 815 landed safe and sound in Los Angeles. Except it also didn’t, because our time-traveling lostaways flashed back to the island present, where the Man in Black/Smoke Monster who had taken the form of the late John Locke began to implement his endgame for leaving the island (and causing some still nebulous apocalyptic result in the process). The two-hour season opener “LA X” was Lost at its best, audaciously introducing a new mystery – the “Sideways” universe – at the eleventh hour. Whatever else there is to say about them, Lindelof and Cuse weren’t playing it safe as the final days approached.
Of course, when you’re always swinging for the fences, you tend to strike out a lot, and after getting off to a great start, the final season soon faltered. It never really established a rhythm or any momentum – it felt oddly disjointed, every step forward leading to two steps back. The Sideways storylines sometimes worked – those involving Locke and Ben captured a little of that old Lost magic – but too many of them, notably the Kate, Sayid, and Sun and Jin episodes, played like bad flashbacks.
On island, we were finally getting answers, albeit in a herky-jerky fashion. Alliances and motivations shifted even more arbitrarily than usual, key characters disappeared for weeks at a time (not unusual in itself, but handled less elegantly than in the previous season), and several characters suffered from underdeveloped storylines (What was the deal with Sayid anyway? Was he a zombie? Possessed by the Smoke Monster? Or just really depressed?) There was good stuff along the way, too: the Smoke Monster’s rampage through the temple was a tour de force, Josh Holloway did some of his best acting of the series when a heartbroken and embittered Sawyer returned to haunt the Dharmaville ghost town, and Terry O’Quinn seemed to be having the time of his life playing Smokey.
In recent weeks, things have picked up in the Sideways world. Our characters are coming together (though I’m not sure how they all remember their flight number – who does that?) and it’s clear that there’s some connection to the island world, even if we still aren’t sure what it is. And though the pacing of the island shenanigans is still uneven – it seems we’re either vamping for time or rushing through action that could play more smoothly – it can’t be denied that things are coming to a head, particularly after the submarine bloodbath of “The Candidate” two weeks ago. Which explains why the most recent episode, “Across the Sea,” was so divisive. With three episodes to go, spending an hour in the island’s ancient history with a couple of characters who weren’t introduced until the fifth season finale didn’t sit well with many viewers. I didn’t have a problem with it, myself; for some reason I take a perverse pleasure in show-runners fucking with their audience at crucial junctures. It’s the sort of thing David Chase used to do so well, like dropping an extended Tony Soprano dream sequence late in the season when viewers were amped up for mayhem. Besides, they promised answers, right? And this episode delivered them, even if they were mostly of the “A wizard did it!” variety. Yeah, the golden glowy cave was cheesy, but I figure it’s just another manifestation of the powerful electromagnetic whatsis that’s been there the whole time. This is why Desmond is there; we’ve already seen he can survive that stuff without turning into a Smoke Monster, so that’s why they have to dig him out of the well. And for those who wonder how the Alison Janney character got there and who may have been there before her, all I can say is, it’s turtles all the way down. We really don’t need to know.
Still, I have complaints, and this is my blog, which by definition, is a repository for complaints, so here are my complaints:
1. As mentioned above, I’m more of a Dharma Initiative guy, not a mystical/spiritual/magical guy, so the fact that they’ve gone this whole Jacob route for the endgame is not my preferred outcome. One of the major conflicts of the whole series has been faith vs. science, and I guess they’ve made their choice. I’ll roll with it – I’m definitely pot-committed at this point – but I’m a little disappointed my colleague Andrew Osborne’s theory doesn’t look like what they had in mind, at least so far. On the plus side, I’m glad they made it clear that Jacob and Man in Black aren’t actual gods, but rather mortals given special abilities. And I’m especially relieved to see that Jacob is actually a kinda dumb, whiny mama’s boy rather than the embodiment of good and light and all that happy crappy. (Again, pending any further revelations.)
2. Some the major themes have emerged in “tell, don’t show” fashion this year, notably Jack’s transition from man of science to man of faith. I’m sure we all saw this coming all along, but it hasn’t really been dramatized effectively. Yeah, he let the dynamite burn out at the Black Rock and he jumped off the sailboat and he’s said “I’m not leaving the island” a half-dozen times, but I think they missed a big opportunity to show us how this change in him really happened.
3. Like most fans of Lost, I had episodes in my head that I wanted to see before the end. Shouldn’t there have been a big Charles Widmore episode, showing us his entire history on (and off) the island? Shouldn’t we have seen what happened to Claire the whole time everyone else was cavorting around in the ’70s? And when we finally got the Richard Alpert episode, I admit to being disappointed because I’d hoped it would span his whole time on the island instead of being a bodice-ripping romance novel turned ghost story. I’d like to know more about the final days of the Dharma Initiative, although I think we got a back-door answer this week regarding the purge (Jacob probably ordered it because they got too close to the magical glowing cave). Ah well, I guess all this can be filed under “leave them wanting more.”
I could go on, but good night, Irene, is this post ever going to end? Whatever my complaints, the fact remains that Lost will be over a week from now, and then what? What other show is going to leave me wanting to race to the computer to find out what everyone thinks, to find out which Easter eggs I caught and which I missed, to see how far off-base my interpretations seem to be? There are other shows I like, but frankly, I don’t care what anyone else thinks of Justified or Treme or Breaking Bad – they are what they are, but they’re not this kind of show, not like The Sopranos was or The Wire was, where every episode seems like life and death. Yeah, Lost is network TV and it’s never really been in the same league as those HBO shows, but the thing I loved most about Lost was sitting down to watch it and having no idea where it would take me, no clue where I would end up an hour later. Anything was possible. And I’m only going to have that experience two more times. So I’m setting aside all these complaints for now and just taking the ride. This is Lost Week at The Bottom Shelf; I’m planning to run down my top 10 episodes and top 10 twists and maybe even make a few ridiculous pre-finale predictions. But it doesn’t really matter how it ends; despite all the frustration, I’ve made my peace with Lost. I’m sorry to see it go. And even a complete debacle of an ending won’t change that.