Coming to terms with Lost

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Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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  1. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    My grand Lost moment of insight came when I looked at the numbers and added 4 and 23 and 42.Report

  2. I was having trouble interpreting the ending until I kept remembering the remarks between Hurley and Ben implying the time they had together after Jack died and also when Kate told Jack (paraphrasing), “I’ve missed you for so long.” that indicated Kate lived quite some time after Jack dies as well. Once I realized the way the whole purgatory thing worked i was pretty satisfied with the rest. All the little sci-fi bits seem to be things I enjoy much more speculating about.

    One change I would have made was not showing the light source. I thought it was a great plot device like the briefcase in Pulp Fictin . The imagining was much better than the reality which looked like it was taken directly from the set of The Goonies.Report

  3. Avatar Ryan Davidson
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    says:

    My objection isn’t so much to what the writers did as to what they didn’t do. Sure, some sort of tearful reunion was appropriate. And the nod to the afterlife didn’t bother me as such.

    But for crying out loud. Starting a show which is premised upon intricate plotting and then completely abandoning it is just inexcusable. It doesn’t do the characters justice and it doesn’t respect the audience.

    “Yes, we know that we’ve teased you with what appears to be a well-developed back-story. But look! Soft-focus, emotionally-charged make-outs! Pay no attention to the gaping logic holes, the solutions to which were why you all started watching the show in the first place!”

    Lindelof, Abrams, and Cuse can DIAF.Report

    • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Ryan Davidson
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      says:

      @Ryan Davidson, see, I just don’t see it that way at all. Most of the questions on the video do not strike me as particularly difficult to answer. A couple are things I point to specifically because the revelations at the end of the series go a good way to explaining what happened earlier in the series. There are more of those than questions that can’t relatively easily be answered.

      There are a couple that I do struggle to answer, though. I would really like to know how Christian Shepherd made an appearance at Jack’s hospital and Walt’s communication through the computer is another one.

      But others, like Smokey’s treatment of Eko, make it easier for me to believe that they had a master plan since the beginning. Loose threads, but loose threads of a cloth.

      Maybe the show benefits from low expectations. I never actually thought I’d even find out what the Smoke Monster is.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Ryan Davidson
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      says:

      @Ryan Davidson, I’m sympathetic. Because I always was, or at least from a certain point, interested in the show for the characters as well as the mystery and fateful “coincidences,” I’m okay with how this went. Franky, it was powerful for me. But I do completely understnad this perspective.

      I think ultimately though I can understand where the writers took a look at it and just said, look, we can try to take this home on both the plot and character fronts equally and try to satisfy everyone, and we could succeed or end up with a totally incomprehensible, breathless hash. And we know most of the stuff we presented as mysteries were just that – presentations, not fully formed conspiracy-worlds or what have you. So we know even if we really give the mythology side our full attention, we’ll leave many unsatisfied. So they chose to focus in on what was most important to them. I really don;t think we can begrudge them that choice, especially as what they came up with was ultimately powerful. (And I say that as someone inclided to be quite unreceptive to the particular place they took it. It still, after some reflection, really affected me.)

      That said, I do think that if they had just picked maybe one or at most two strands of the biggest outstanding questions and really did some good work, they could have satisfied a lot of people. As great as Ab Aeterno was, I think they allowed themselves to be guided too much by fan love for Richard Alpert in spending a whole episode on him rather than other questions. Richards’ dtory could have been told in the course of closing those couple major plot lines. And don’t get me started on Across the Sea. If Jacob and the original Man in Black weren’t as clear cases of representative characters standing in for the sides of human nature, not in need of explicit background and charaterization, I don’t know what would be. That was, in my view, an egregiously wasted hour, given that I agree with E.D. that even just a couple more episodes might have done a lot to help work unresolved issues out and resolve character arcs more fully.Report

      • Avatar Ryan Davidson in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        @Michael Drew, I recognize that the writers were in an impossible spot, and I may eventually grudgingly concede that they made the best of a bad situation (but not yet!)…

        …but it was a situation of their own making, which they had the power to avoid while still making a good show. The fact that they chose not to is a mark against them. I don’t think they had any intention of answering most of the questions in that video–which, contra Trumwill, are not mostly easy to answer, and do touch on a number of quite significant plot points. No, they realized that the big attraction to their show was the promise that all of these seemingly disconnected events were connected somehow.

        So, when we get to the end only to find out that a whole bunch of what’s going on isn’t connected–or at least isn’t explained–in any meaningful way, the show transforms from a sci-fi-type mystery show into some sort of bizarre, surrealistic thing.

        There’s nothing wrong with that as such, but it isn’t what we were promised going into this.Report

      • Avatar Ryan Davidson in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        Oops, hit “Submit” too soon.

        I mean, take a look at Spirited Away. I love that movie. It doesn’t explain more than a fraction of what’s going on. It doesn’t have to: it’s a fairy tale. Why does Chihiro have to hold her breath to remain invisible when crossing the bridge? Doesn’t matter in the slightest. Miyazaki promised a magical, confusing world which nonetheless had discernable rules, even if the “Why” of those rules is obscure or arbitrary. And that’s what we got.

        But the Lost creators on the other hand implicitly promised real, understandable explanations for why things are they way they are. Saying that trying to give those explanations would have rendered the finale an incoherent hash may be true, but that doesn’t say good things about the show’s creators. They bit off more than they could chew, and I don’t see anything wrong with saying so.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew
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        says:

        @Ryan Davidson, As I said, I too wish they done somewhat more of what you’re saying. But I think it’s a little silly to be indignant about it. They promised “answers,” not “all the answers.” You distinction here: “a whole bunch of what’s going on isn’t connected–or at least isn’t explained” — is signal. IN the early seasons, I recognized that a big part of what I loved about the shocking revelations and connections was, first of all the tone of the presentation, but also, and complementarily, that they were incomplete and mysterious, leaving the *impression* of a web of connections among the events and people, but leaving uncertainty about their nature by not spelling it out. I believe this was key to the appeal. Now, I’d have been fine if we’d gotten answers, but only if it could have been done in a compelling way. I had no inherent need for answers, even though the same mysteries are exactly what got both of us hooked on the show. To me, nothing can ever be changed about the success of those early half-reveals/suggestions of something more going on. They were masterful TV period, forever, regardless of having them explained or not. I’d only have wanted them eplained in a way that preserved that initial sense of awe at the mystery. And that’s an extremely high bar, if not an inherent impossibility, which is why I say I’d have wanted one or two really good explanations/fleshings-out at most (Charles Widmore top among them). Otherwise it turns in to a truly boring, rote checklist. I’m 100% with the writers on that (even though I don’t even argue they made the “best” choices possible). But the idea that because this isn’t a “fairy tale,” they writers incur an obligation to scrupulously address all the material they’d used to foster the sense of mystery that drew us in in the first place — and one that trumps the imperative of good storytelling no less? Boo! I say Boo(!) to that. And by no means do I wish they’d bit less off if they weren’t sure they could satisfactorily explain it: My god, man, then we’d just have had less exciting, evocative early seasons, which is most of why we’re into the thing to start! A lot of fun was watching as the writers progressively bit off more and more, and wondering, Well how are they going to work with this now? And they worked with an explained a ton. They didn’t get to everything, and made some questionable decisions about what to leave out. So freaking what, dude? Did you or did you not enjoy the process, that’s all that matters? Because, as your distinction shows, all the potential connections are still there – just because they weren’t ever spelled out doesn’t mean they still don’t exist in the story. They’re there for us to work out in perpetuity (if we’re that kind of people). The more I think about it, the more glad I am that there were as few answers as there were. Now I can re-watch and the mysteries will remain mysterious.Report

        • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Michael Drew
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          says:

          @Michael Drew, there’s an anime series called Key The Metal Idol in which a young robot girl named Key must make 30,000 friends in order to become human. As to why this was the case, that was really the only mystery of the series, but it was a pretty big one.

          The series was cut short after 13 episodes, but they had two movies afterwards to conclude the storyline. That was when they explained how exactly a robot making 30,000 friends becomes human. They explained it by having one character explain it to another. Just sitting around talking, because that’s what all they really had time to do.

          I’m glad that the makers of Key did it, but I can only imagine what Lost would have had to do to answer a lot of the questions asked. Half of a season would have been devoted to characters sitting around talking about things.

          This is really the sort of thing that lends itself to a novel. That’s where it become easy to go explain stuff within the narrative of a larger story. I wouldn’t object to a book about the Dharma Initiative. But I’m glad they didn’t spend too much screen time on some of it. Even some of the stuff I would like answers on.

          I find that Widmore is at the top of your list to be interesting. I figure, more-or-less, that his interest in (and desire to get back to) the island was based largely on his time there. Nothing to do with his business interests. Mostly to do with resentment for getting kicked off the island.

          The Dharma Initiative is what I would really like more information on. One of the reasons I was excited about the LeFleur time-travel thing is that I thought we would get more insights than we ultimately got. I want my Dharma Initiative novel.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Trumwill
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            says:

            @Trumwill, “I want my Dharma novel!” Agreed. And make it not suck, please.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Trumwill
            Ignored
            says:

            @Trumwill, And yeah, the Dharma Initiative is a close second on my list (though I think it was in fact largely demystified, at least at the surface, wait does that make ant sense?), followed agian closely by the Hanso connection. Really, what I’d like is aPynchon-esque drawing out of that holy trinity, as I think all those things are connected, and constitute the real-world side (as opposed to the Others/Light/Smokey spiritual side) of the Lost-world’s implied conspiracy-verse. Though the Others are deeply enmeshed in that side as well. They’re kind of the uber-beings, at home in the spiritual realm, but involved in the worldly affairs of shadowy businessmen like Charles Widmore. What I find so interesting about Widmore (and Hanso) is the murky suggestion about the way (perhaps dark) financial interests inluence and corrupt cutting-edge scientific research. And the Hanso connection to me brings in interesting ideas about that way that might relate to the beginnings of modern international commerce and finance regimes in Northern Europe, and in turn their relationships to the flowering of modern scientific inquiry as the Northern renaissance gave way to the Enlightenment in the same period. So yeah…Report

  4. Avatar Michael Drew
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    says:

    @Trumwill, I’ve been thinking about novels on this. I like to think about what a really good novelist (or more probably just a decent one, but above all an interesting one) could do with this story, especially the atmospheric details/mysteries that were left open-ended.

    In that vein, here is some of the most interesting writing on the show i’ve come across (and also not on the show, as well): http://www.alan-shapiro.com/lost-the-crash-out-of-globalization-and-into-the-world/.

    I’d be very grateful for any more cultural analysis about the show and our times and world etc. that anyone else has found at all worthwhile.

    I’d also be very interested in any of the more religiously-oriented folks’ around here take on the show’s treatment (utilization, encroachment, usurpation, corruption) of specific faith(s), if any of them happen to be even casual viewers. Do you appreciate/not when pop culture makes use of spiritual messages originating in your own faith in loose, un(natch)faithful ways that recombine the ideas for their own purposes? Is it just too common to even remark on at this point? Or is it perhaps even in some ways consistent with the history of the evolution and spread of religious message?

    Hmm, I seem to be outing myself as a serious Lost freak here. Oh well.Report

  5. Avatar Pinky
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    says:

    I like the fact that there were open ends in the Lost universe. Let’s face it, if you watched the show, you’re someone who can handle a bit of mystery. And given how many story lines were started, they did a wonderful job of resolving (or at least clarifying) most of them.

    The Others, for example. I never knew exactly what Charles Widmore or his wife were up to. But I don’t feel like I have to. We know that the island gives wisdom and abilities, but also corrupts, and that explains more about the Others than a specific set of facts ever could.

    The Egyptian stuff? Again, not really explained. But we know that the island can move, and it’s been around for a long time, and it (or its guardian) calls people. We can fill in the blanks.

    I would have liked to see Ben get killed. I felt like he was past redemption. But I can accept his mostly off-camera redemption because I love the thought of him and the most naive, good-natured person on the island working as a team.

    I remember Babylon 5. It may have been the first show ever to have an arc. It had all kinds of mysteries, and as the series went on, they explained them all. Every last one. You were left with complete certainty, which isn’t very fun. I like the idea that the last shot of Lost could be interpreted to mean that it was all a figment of Jack’s imagination (although I don’t believe that’s the case). You could go back and argue the theory that it’s all Hurley’s hallucination, or Walt’s psychic creation, or whatever. Personally, I like the idea that the LA reality was real, and I’m probably going to stick with that. It doesn’t matter. It was a fun ride.Report

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