Posted by: Ticktock | May 24, 2010

Having Faith in LOST

*It’s the day after the season finale – you know there’s spoilers here. Move on, LOST virgins*

Those of us fanatics of the LOST cult probably feel like we overspent our resources (time, intelligence, and emotions) on an epic mystery that never provided fundamental resolutions to the questions that it raised. The followers all waited at the appointed hour for the answers to be revealed, to be justified, to give us completion before we set ourselves ablaze and moved on to the next adventure.

LOST was like the bible, in that it told hundreds of irrelevant tangents that independently seemed purposeful, but those details end up being completely ignored in favor of over-arching thematic choices, character narratives, and nonsensical magic.

Here’s a random sample from the bible on the page that I opened:

Joab, the son of Zeruiah, was commander over the army. Jehoshophat, the son of Ahilud, kept the records. Zadok, the son of Ahitub, was a priest.

Seems like the bible might need an editor, right? Try opening any random page in a bible, and you’ll get a mess of red herrings that are complete drivel. The message that Christ died for the sins of the world is a drop in a sea of stories that serve no purpose and answer no questions. LOST has the same problem. I can pick any random script and find plot worm holes that lead nowhere:

MILES: The people who hired me told me his name’s Benjamin Linus, they gave me this picture, and that’s all they told me. They said “find him” and for what they’re paying me I don’t need to know anything else, do you?

OK. Sure. Anything taken out of context will seem strange, especially a small selection pulled from one episode of six mysterious seasons, but a fundamental rule of telling a mystery is that the mysteries must lead somewhere, must be justified by a logical story, and must be answered. In the line of dialogue I randomly quoted, we find a psychic detective named Miles has been paid a large sum of money to go to an island by a sinister millionaire who wants to kill his arch-nemesis from the island where he once lived with a team of soldiers who were burying an atomic bomb. Got it?

Now, you would think that, by the end, we would have some inkling why this millionaire cared so much about returning to the island and killing Benjamin Linus. Why was he burying an atomic bomb? Why would he hire a psychic detective to find a living person?

I’m sure if I read the entire bible I would also be confused why the authors felt the need to tell me that Jehosophat “kept the records”.

At least with LOST, I felt like the journey was worth it, that it was well performed and amazingly produced, that I was given a chance to think, discuss, and imagine. At the least, as I sat at the pearly gates of the series finale, figuratively and fictionally, I had the chance to walk away and think, “Hmm… that was an interesting, complex, and emotionally draining ending that failed to answer any of my fundamental questions”.

I spent quite a bit of effort trying to solve what, ultimately, were mythological questions that had no answers. The show runners, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, wrote a passionate character-based series that was full of drama and mysteries, but as those mysteries mounted, they were unable to answer them. By including so many mysteries that went unanswered, they violated the trust of their audience.

Perhaps, ex-fundamentalists approach their deconversions in the same way. Maybe they see that the bible had so many holes in logic and storytelling that they had ignored in favor of the themes and characters. I wonder if those former christians look back at their time worshiping an illogical god, and appreciate the journey for being full of interesting stories and mythologies. Or do they feel cheated because of the investment they placed in discovering the ultimate answers.

At least with LOST, whether fans appreciated the end or not, we were able to know that these stories were fiction, that they were written by fallible humans, and that life would go on once the series ended. Some of the faithful LOST fans are willing to ignore the unanswered mysteries and appreciate the series for it’s craft and beauty. I think those people, including me to some extent, are blinding themselves to justify their emotional involvement in empty promises.

I know many people who proudly claim that they’ve never seen an episode, that they find the zealous nature of LOST fans amusing, and that they never intend to watch the series. I was disappointed by the ending and it’s multiple storytelling violations. I’m also embarrassed by the thirst that I felt for the answers, but I stand by the quality of this series. It deserves to be ranked as one of the best shows on television.

But I understand why LOST haters don’t get what all the fuss is about. I’m the same way with the bible. I bet there are some brilliant stories within it that have clearly stood the test of time. But since I’ve heard the spoilers (from Dawkins and Hitchens),  read both the completely irrational beginning and the bizarre apocalyptic ending, I have no interest in the journey in-between.That’s one season finale that I would truly regret for disappointing me, if you know what I mean.

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Responses

  1. I feel exactly as you do. I was aleays sure it could never be resolved because there is not enough time to do it.
    Some have told me they were always dead and living their heaven and hell. Of course you would have to believe in heaven and hell to accept that.

  2. I got sick of LOST after season 3. Any TV show that you need a whiteboard to keep track of is getting too complicated. I did continue to keep track of the plot via the web, and I have to say, I’m disappointed.

    J.J. Abrahms, I am very, very disappointed. I expected better.

    Maybe there’ll be some sort of follow-up book or novel (like with Aeon Flux and Halo) that might clear some things up.

  3. “By including so many mysteries that went unanswered, they violated the trust of their audience.”
    I think this is the fundamental flaw in not only Lost, but Battlestar Galactica as well. Both shows got off to rocking starts and faded at the finish because of the writers unwillingness to finish any of the subplots. Compare both shows to what I consider their precursor, Babylon 5. In B5, we were also presented with some big mysteries, compelling characters, and cool special effects. But JMS always had his eyes on the prize and never let the little mysteries get in the way of revealing his story. So even though the style is a bit dated (compared to BSG’s grittiness and cursing and Lost’s high school romance on steroids, B5 is almost antiseptic and not a little quaint), Babylon 5 is easily rewatchable because the story is so good.

  4. A mystery is only entertaining if it is understood that there is an answer that underlies it. The mystery’s answer should be cogent with the underlying mythology of the story, even if it is not all that important to the conclusion.

    We loyal watchers assumed that the writers knew the answers to the mysteries. Even if they did not really answer them in black and white, it would be fine if we got the sense that there was a cohesive answer to a given mystery. It seems, now, that the writers really didn’t have a cohesive answer to the mysteries that they put forth. This leaves us with the feeling of, “what’s the point?”.

    Some of the mysteries were fairly big, like “did Jughead actually explode?” and “why did Man in Black turn into smoke?”. I can understand leaving these to the imagination. But I was hoping that the writers themselves knew. I don’t think that they do, or care.

    The mysteries that really bother me are the simple, but important plot points that were dropped in and just left. They were not myths to be interpreted, but simple factual plot points who’s explanations could have at least been mentioned in passing. For instance: Who were the people on the other out-rigger that were shooting at Sawyer and co? What were the Dharma vaccinations for? Why was there a fertility problem? Why were the others drawing blood on the Losties?

    Picky, picky, picky, I know…But still!


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