Monday, May 31, 2010

LOST 000: Conclusions of Grandeur

"And what's the return on the faith I've provided? I think that I know now . . . but I haven't decided."
-Phish, "Julius"


Here is John Locke. He said that the island had shown him its heart. He said that it was beautiful. He believed that he -- that all of them -- had been called to the island for a higher purpose. A destiny. Something important. He was right. But he had been tricked into acting against that destiny. He was incapable or unwilling to investigate what his faith told him he needed to do. What he wanted seemed always out of his grasp; his reaching just pushed it further away. He believed that he had a destiny, that it wasn't all random chance. He was right. But he died thinking he was wrong. His dying thoughts were I don't understand . . .

John Locke. He knew so much. He knew nothing.



Here is Jack Shephard. He believed that there was no purpose to his arrival on the island. He thought that John Locke was a dangerous lunatic, deluded by messianic delusions of grandeur. Jack was right in ways, but in more important ways he was wrong. The price he and others paid for his enlightenment was great, but in the end, as he died, he understood his place in the universe. He truly had seen the heart of the island, and had become the island's guardian, however temporarily. He'd been given insights into the nature of reality that few would ever grasp, yet it seems clear that even from his extraordinary perspective, he made his decisions regarding the defense of the island only tentatively, using intuition, not knowledge. And, as he passed through to the next life, he stubbornly held on to the old one. He was the last to let go.

Jack Shephard. He knew so much. He knew nothing.



Here is the Enemy. He is a being of almost limitless power and malevolence. He was taught at a very young age that human beings were dangerous, worthless, corrupt beings who would destroy all they came in contact with, and very little he has seen has served to change his mind. In time, his view of human nature has caused him to view the greed and jealousy and rage of mankind as a tool, very useful because it is so very predictable. He specializes in presenting people with the chance to commit violent and destructive acts that appear to be in their self interest, and he has found that they almost never turn down such an opportunity. He knows every inch of the island. He even has seen the heart of it, and understands its power like none other, except perhaps one. His deathless life was even born there. He is infinitely clever, and has learned how to exploit the physical nature of the island's power in amazing ways. Ways he is willing to teach those who might be useful to him.

And yet . . . he is bound by a higher authority. He has never been beyond the island. He knows nothing of what is beyond the walls of his cage. It is unlikely he knows of where he is on the planet. He may only have a rudimentary understanding of a "planet." He dies with his curiosity still unquenched.

The Enemy. He knew so much more than any of us ever will know. He knew nothing.



Here is Jacob. For two thousand years he has been the island's guardian, and wielder of its power. He knows how to bind reality itself to his will. He can manipulate matter within time, creating artifacts that bend time and space. He's made a lighthouse. He's hidden his island 30 minutes in the future, secreted away, undetectable and in motion. He knows how to use the light. He knows what The Enemy is. He believes in people's ultimate goodness. He's been off the island and seen them. He calls them to his island.

But he's been lied to by his mother. He is stunted emotionally, unable or unwilling to connect or approach, unaware of the true nature of the light he protects, just as it is likely she was unaware. He has created The Enemy, and he is powerless to stop it.

Jacob. Possibly the most powerful living entity on the planet. He knows so much. He knows the answers to mysteries we'll never be told. He knows nothing.



Here is the Island. We know that sits on an immense pocket of pan-dimensional energy. We have very good reasons to believe that this energy -- which manifests itself as electromagnetism -- is a sort of a portal between various realms of consciousness. We have very good reason to believe that it is in motion, and that it is out of sync with normal space/time. We have seen for ourselves that the breach of this energy would be catastrophic for the island, and, we suspect, for the whole world, and perhaps beyond. We know that there is a cave, and in the cave a waterfall, and at the bottom of the waterfall a basin fed by streams, and in the basin a hole plugged by a stone. We know that removing that stone would be catastrophic, perhaps in a different way than the piercing of the energy, but no less catastrophic for all that. We know that it has historically had a human Guardian, to whom it gives vast powers, and, perhaps, restrictions. We know that the spirits of the dead are drawn to it.

This is all we know. This is all we will ever know.

It is so much. It is absolutely nothing.


And here we are. We are interested in all these people, and others as well. We are very interested in the island, and what it is. More generally, outside of our TV viewing, we are interested in our lives, and our place in this messy and chaotic and indecipherable world in which we find ourselves. Is there meaning? Are we called to something, and, if so, what? Is it all just random chance? What does it all mean? What do we mean? Do we matter? Across the globe, this drama plays out. And, when we come to the end, how much more will we know than we did at the beginning? What is the nature of the universe, anyway?

One thing (besides taxes) is certain. You will die. You, reading this, will die. And me. And then what? Some of us are very certain about the "then what?", though like Jack and Locke, our certainties may not match. Or may, over time, shift.

Will our dying thought match those of John Locke?

Every day, we know so much more than we knew. And what we mainly learn is this: We know practically nothing.

It's not enough. It's all there is.

About our life, the universe, and our place in it we know what we know. Is that enough for you?

Is it enough?

What if you knew more? Would that be enough?

How about a little more? What if you pushed it out just a little further? Would that be more? Or would you still have more questions?

Is it ever enough?

We'll never stop asking. We'll never stop wanting to know more.

And really, in the end, what do we know?



Guys? Where are we?


L O S T



Like it? I loved it. As I continue to reflect, it really is the ending that the story needed.

Just like that, here we are. It's done. It's the end of this fascinating, amazing, endlessly creative and infinitely frustrating television program that has captured so many of us. And yes, I loved the series, and I at least liked this extraordinarily challenging and opaque season, and I loved the finale. And yes, I am still frustrated and rather baffled at the sheer perverse audacity at the sort of series that would raise such large questions and leave them open-ended, hanging, unresolved, even as I am amazed and continually impressed at the way so many amazing stories are left there, complete and waiting for us, with only a few spare points of light to let us see them if we look hard enough.

That method of storytelling is challenging to both creator and audience. It walks a very fine line between bravery and foolhardiness, and I am not the guy to tell you that they didn't tip over onto the wrong side from time to time. I am frustrated that we didn't see more about Widmore and Ben. I am frustrated not to know where the island is. I am frustrated not to know a bit more about the nature of Jacob's powers, and a lot more about the rules. There are any number of little tidbits and assumptions and theories that I would love to see sketched in and confirmed.

The frustration and the asking, and even the not knowing? That's what this show is about.

You, not liking that? Even hating that? Even feeling that it was all a waste? That's what this show is about.

Others deciding that they love it, and thought it was brilliant, or at least satisfying? This show was about that, too.

Uncertain how you feel? Wish you knew more? Why all this mystery? Why unresolved in so many cases?

The question is the answer.

The debate is the point.

At the risk of sounding didactic, LOST revealed itself, in the end, to be a narrative that was about the human experience, presented as a mystery show, precisely because the human experience contains within its very DNA so many perplexing and frustrating mysteries. A mystery show is about the mystery, not the answer, and, even when answers are forthcoming. I think I can say with certainty after six years of twists and turns and long cons and double-blinds and mind screws that the creators of this show, whatever their strengths and weaknesses, did not have fulfilling our expectations as a priority. Quite the opposite; they seem to take immense pleasure in confounding our expectation. (Jacob is an all-knowing God! Wait, no, he's a flawed person, too. ) That is their weakness, and it is their triumph. *

*I'm going to footnote a very long discussion about answers and the lack of them to the end of this, so anybody who just wants my episode review can get to it, and just skip all the blah blah blah blah at the end.


Leaving aside that which was not answered, let's spend a couple hundred thousand words on the big things that WERE answered, and what they probably mean.

1) The Sideways World is the afterlife, or, for those of you that are disinclined toward all things afterlife, it is a dimension beyond time that our consciousnesses would understand as an afterlife. It would appear that in this afterlife, you construct for yourself a version of the life you lived, in which you play out various issues and personal conflicts that were central to your life. It would further appear that, while you have no memory of your previous life, and think of your life in this realm as being your actual life, you can be "woken up" by interaction with people who were very important to you in your previous life, or by extreme trauma, or by extreme trauma inflicted upon you by people who were important to you in a previous life. Upon waking up, you appear to move on, together with the group of people most important to you, to another, higher, level of reality/consciousness.

It is not clear if all the people in this realm are actually real, or if some are just constructs. Specific question marks in this regard would be Jack/Juliet's son, David, and Claire's infant son Aaron. However, most evidence is that all these people are actually the "real" them.

It is not clear if death can occur in this realm. Keamy appears to have died along with his goons, but then again, we see him shot a lot in the chest by Sayid, but then when Mikhail returns, Keamy is still alive, albeit groaning and not much in the mood to eat some of his good eggs. The police claim that Sayid killed them, but then again the "police" are Sawyer and Miles, playing out a delusion in which they are gay love---I mean, on the right side of the law. John Locke appears to heal in record time from what looked like a fatal hit and run. Sun heals from getting shot in the gut. Charlie survives swallowing and choking on a heroin baggy. Charlie and Desmond survive a car-meets-the-ocean scenario. I'm saying people are even more resilient here than on the Island.

It does not appear that the people that you "move on" with are necessarily the people you most loved, though you may be very fond of them. Rather, it appears to have been the people with whom you did your most important life's work, and it appears that this life's work is typically collective in nature. This would suggest that the Oceanics were basically some version of what Vonnegut referred to as a karass and Stephen King calls a ka-tet. People the universe brings together to do something.

It is not clear what happens to you upon moving on, except that you enter a light that seems to resemble the light underneath the island.

It is stated that this realm occurs in a place outside of time.

It is almost perfectly clear* that all of our friends made their way into this afterlife after their death. In Jack's case, this was shown in the closing minutes of the show, as he bled out from the enemy-inflicted stab wound and whatever the electromagnetism had done to him down in the cave before it (apparently) expelled him. In the case of most of the other deaths we've seen, this happened during the show's running time. In the case of Kate and Sawyer, Claire Miles etc., this probably occurred many decades after Ajira 316 escaped the island. In Hurley's case, and maybe Ben's, this could have happened thousands of years after the events of the series.

*I say "almost perfectly" because some people are reading the island as being something that happened only from Jack's frame of reference, and that everything -- island and sideways -- were part of Jack's redemptive arc after dying in the original Oceanic 815 crash. I don't think the story supports this very much at all, but it doesn't outright refute it, so if you want to strip all the meaning and resonance out of the series for literally every other character besides Jack, be my guest.


2) What's in the cave is a waterfall. At the bottom of the waterfall, there is a basin, fed by streams. In the middle of the basin is an opening to the light, with the rock on top of it. Taking the rock off of it does things. Bad, bad things.

It also removes Smoke Monster powers from the enemy, which was apparently information that Jack-as-island-Guardian had access to. But the other thing it does is change the light from white to red, causes earthquakes, and (eventually) sinks the island.

Restoring the rock puts things right again. That's one important rock. For my money -- and probably yours -- the idea of a cork was perhaps something that worked better as a metaphor than a physical reality. A little too pat. A little too on-the-nose. I think that's what happens when you take something that is numinous and mysterious and make it something that is mechanical and literal. See also: donkey wheel. Something to keep in mind if you were hoping to find out what exactly makes the island move or where exactly the island is (and I do want to find those things out).

So, what can we take from these two major reveals?

Well, first of all, we have an island that is sitting on an immense pocket of light. Scientifically speaking, this light reveals itself as electromagnetic power, and appears to allow the island to break rules of time/space. Metaphysically speaking, it appears to attract spirits like a moth to . . . I don't know, another moth? Moths like moths, right?

With the direct correlation between the Light that Christian leads our heroes into at the end of the Sideways interlude, and the island's Source Light, I would say that what is found in the island's Source Light is the Sideways afterlife, and/or what level of consciousness comes after it.

Think about it. The Sideways world exists outside of time. "There is no Now, here." If the island light is the afterworld light, we have a little more of an idea why such light would put the island in an unusual situation regarding time/space, to say nothing of why Desmond, exposed to copious amounts of it, might find himself observing other realities/possibilities and jumping through time. And why are there are spirits on the island? It's the gateway to the afterlife, that's why.

Shorthand? The Guardian of the island is guarding the portal to the afterlife. And, if the island goes . . . then something goes very wrong with that portal. It somewhat resembles a different place.

The island is kind of a big deal.



3) And, Jack succeeded. He let Desmond take the cork out long enough to kill the Enemy, then saved Desmond and took the electro-shock of putting the cork back in himself. Perhaps unnecessary, right? After all, Desmond is immune to electromagnetism. Well, Jack's always Mr. Big Shot Hero, so that probably explains it, but here's a brief piece of total speculation on my part.

First, I've already speculated that Mother, who destroyed an entire camp and filled in an enormous hole in the ground, was probably a smoke monster. She definitely knew to warn Jacob that to go into the light would be a "fate worse than death."

Second, I have reason to believe that smoke monsters have always been around on the island. I do get into that WAY further down in this post.

Third, we do see how at least one Smoke monster is made. After Mother is killed, Jacob pushes his brother down there and the Smoke monster, complete with his brother's consciousness comes out. Separately, his brother's dead body is expelled.

Let me speculate that Mother was both Guardian and Smoke Monster. That Guardian is a job, and that Smoke Monster is its body. That Jacob took on the role of Guardian, but did not take on the body that provides really good guardian abilities. That, when his mother passed on guardianship, the totality of her powers were returned, and the body was waiting for the new Guardian, Jacob, to take on. Which his Mother told him not to do, for she knew what it was to be a monster. And, after his Mother was murdered, Jacob sent his brother to take the fate worse than death. He sent him to take the Guardian Body.

So Jacob made an unkillable beast that wanted him dead. Luckily, he and his brother were under Source Light Fiat not to kill each other, and so the Guardian Body was unable to kill the Guardian, whom he hated. The Guardian, Jacob, was killable, but would not ever die by normal means. His reclusive nature and his Light-Given powers made him very difficult to have killed. It took a long time.

When the light that provided the Guardian Body with power was disrupted, it became human and killable.

But if that happened . . . didn't it return to its source? Wasn't Jack expelled much like Jacob's brother? Didn't he die shortly thereafter?

Who got Hurley's Guardian Body?

Did Jack save Desmond from a fate worse than death?

Anyway. This speculation leaves a lot of questions. It really doesn't have much to do with the story. There certainly isn't very much to suggest that this is true. There's just enough to suppose, that maybe, maybe . . .

Move along . . .


4) The episode itself had so many great moments.

* Jack standing on the high ground, Locke on the low. Final showdown. Chills.


* "I saved a bullet." Kate! Were you just awesome for a second? Now I don't know what to believe.


* Hurley taking the Guardian job was wonderful. Jorge Garcia played it so beautifully, and it was great to see the most fundamentally good person on the island get this important gig. It wasn't until later that it occurred to me that the island was full of the ghosts of people who couldn't move on, and the Guardian was somebody who could talk right to them. What do you think Hurley did on the island? I think he cleaned up the mess, spiritually speaking.

I don't think Michael is still stuck on the island for eternity, is what I am saying.


* Ben, meanwhile, shows us that the island isn't the only place where a soul can find itself unable to move on. I loved the exchange between Ben and Locke, and the little coda between Ben and Hurley, as they acknowledge a long and unseen partnership on the island together. The look on Michael Emmerson's face when Hurley offered him the job he'd wanted so long was heartbreaking. Nobody has ever chosen him. Now, finally, somebody has. You want a really cool piece of symbolism/parallelism/synchronicity? We've only seen a few people give other people Apollo candy bars, but each time it seems fraught with meaning. Jacob gave one to Jack, for instance, in the scene which depicts the moment, it is suggested, when Jacob drew Jack to the island.

And Hurley gave one to Ben. It was a minute-long scene that meant nothing to the plot. Just a cool (and funny) little character beat.

And I bet if you watch the series again, at that moment, you'll get a little smile on your face. Hurley choosing Ben, before even he realizes he has. Payoff.


* "I don't believe in many things, but I do believe in duct tape." Amen.


* It still bugs me that Sayid's awakening came via Shannon, when so much of his character motivation has been caught up in Nadia. Here's a pretty decent rebuttal to that way of thinking, but the fact is that they wanted to bring Maggie Grace back for some reason. I still don't like it, but then I never bought Sayid in love with Shannon. Oh, well.


* Every single moment of "awakening" drew on our awareness of the long history between these people for maximum emotional impact. I have to say, I really didn't think that Sideways world could have a resolution that made it worth spending so much of Season 6 there, but beyond all odds, they did it. I mean, look, I can understand that the ultimate ending might not work for you if you aren't inclined to believe in the afterlife, but those montages? Don't tell me you could be unmoved as Hurley just beams at his old friend Charlie, or as Jin and Sun look at Sawyer with new understanding, or when Kate told Jack, "I've missed you so much." If so, are you made of stone? "It worked," as Juliet would have said, and speaking of that, WOW. Wasn't the Sawyer/Juliet reunion the best of the bunch? Let's just say it got a little dusty in the living room, as Sports Guy would say.


* I think most people were awakened by the person that is their constant, or else a reminder of one of the most important moments of their life. This makes it all the more funny that Ben's constant is apparently a vicious beating. Some things never change.


* I get the feeling that Ben is now going to play Desmond to a bunch of "his" people from his time on the island. I gotta say, awakening Alex and Rousseau is going to be awkward for Ben. What you do in real life matters, at least in the LOST world.


* Interesting that in the sideways world, the island is finally dead. Outside of time, was it lost, or is the battle no longer necessary?


* Jack. Bamboo. The sneaker. Vincent. The eye closes. Full circle. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.


So, there you go. I loved it. But fear not, LOST-haters! It's not all love here. There's little doubt that some balls were dropped along the way. Let's face it, some of them were real hum-dingers, boy howdy! Gadfreys!

Look, LOST. If you want to devote half of your final season to an afterlife, and you want to have people totally confused about what it might mean, and you want to mis-direct so that it is heavily implied that the afterlife is actually an alternate dimension caused by the explosion of an H-bomb, that's fine. But you know what? You need to stop piling on mystery after mystery over in island world. I get why you are leaving some large questions about the nature of the island up for grabs, but we really really need to know what is at stake. We really need to know what the rules are that constrain the Enemy, and we need to know -- know, not just sort of suspect -- what exactly the Enemy would do if he got off the island. What exactly would happen to the world or the universe if the Island's quite literal cork does stay unplugged? We need to know these things so that we are invested in the story. We need to know exactly why Jack needs to succeed other than, "if you don't, things are going to get really bad." Not enough, LOST. Not enough. Mysteries left mysteries for thematic reasons? Good. Mysteries left mysteries because they dont' involve the central story? OK. Withholding data that actually cuts the tension and hurts the story, and (and here's the capper) doesn't really help the theme? Weak sauce. Especially since the only reason I can think of to keep this information away from us is to set up the big reveal with the submarine bomb, that OMG the Enemy is trying to kill them! We kind of already knew that. Knowing The Rules would have helped, not hurt.

Furthermore, introducing new mysteries at the end is OK, but they have to GO somewhere. Introducing the candidates was good, because the candidates were clearly a crucial element of the struggle between Jacob and the Enemy. Even if we didn't know exactly why they mattered, we knew THAT they mattered. On the other hand, infection? What's infection? What? It matters until it doesn't? They have good and evil scales? Actual scales? The scales, like the stone "cork" of the island, is something that takes the mysterious and makes it a little too actual, but unlike the cork, it suggests nothing other than itself. My problem isn't entirely that I don't understand the infection. It's that I have no idea why I even need to understand infection. In fact, I pretty much have to assume that it is based in the Jacobians' own misunderstanding of how the Enemy does business, and if that's all it is, we should have spent less time on it. No time would have been fine. If it's meant to indicate that the Enemy has superhuman powers of persuasion, it just wasn't shown very effectively. He was persuasive, but as far as I could tell, it was normal human persuasiveness. There were a number of these annoyingly botched operations in Season 6.

So yeah. Season 6, while containing some of my favorite LOST moments and some of the best episodes in LOST history, has to go down as one of the weaker seasons, probably around Season 2 level, though not quite as dire as the start of Season 3. That would put it in B+ territory, though, so it's all relative.

In the final analysis, though, I am just grateful. Grateful for amazing, complex, and iconic characters, and unbelievable performances from Naveen Anderews, Michael Emmerson, Dominic Monaghan, Jorge Garcia, and Josh Holloway, with particular honors for Terry O'Quinn. Grateful for a show that rarely pandered, never compromised, and was brave enough to stay crazy after all these years. Grateful for all the discussions and arguments and epiphanies and lessons in how it is story that matters in the end. Grateful that I was able to write about it in a little corner of the Internet and actually have people read it. Grateful to have taken part, in a small way, in the collective viewing experience.

Raise your cups.

To LOST. You kept us guessing the whole way, and -- son of a bitch! -- we're still guessing, and we will always be guessing.

To LOST. You doubled down on your audience's intelligence. You didn't waver.

To LOST. We won't see your like again.


And, hey? Guys? All of you? You who actually wanted to read my thoughts on all of this? Thanks for reading.

You all. Everybody.


L O S T




*Now, back to the concept of un-resolution, answers, mysteries, resolution and the lack of it.

This video has been making the rounds, and I think it makes an instructive entryway into the levels of mystery and levels of un-resolutions and perceived un-resolutions. You won't have to watch it in order to get my points, but if you haven't watched it yet, it's still kind of fun.

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I'm not presenting this video because I agree with it (though in places I do), or because I disagree with its assessments (though in many place I do) or to rebut it point-by-point (which a lot of other sites have done). Actually, I think this video is valuable precisely because it contains such a wide array of questions, some of them actually quite good, and some of them trivial in the extreme. Furthermore, some of my own very largest questions are ignored entirely.

In LOST as in life, everybody's got their own set of burning questions about the nature of reality, but some people aren't even asking very good questions, and some are either missing the point entirely, or only touching briefly upon it.


The "unresolved mysteries" seem to break down into a number of categories.


Questions That Are Actually Answered
. If you really are concerned about that horse that Kate saw? Well, we've seen Others -- particularly Charles Widmore -- riding horses on the island.

So . . . there are horses on the island. Kate saw one. That's the deal with the horse that Kate saw.


Personal Bees In The Bonnet & Random Trivialities.
These are questions like, "why does the smoke monster make mechanical sounds"? The answer is "because that's what he sounds like." I honestly don't see how on earth the story was beholden to answer this. Was anybody expecting it to? There are a bunch of these. If it is something you're wondering about and you didn't get it, it might be helpful to first ask what, if anything, the answer would bring to the story.


Acts of God.
These were developments on the "real life" side, pretty much beyond the control of the creators. Malcolm David Kelly grew two feet and the timeline just didn't support such a spurt. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje wanted off the show and just like that, Eko was gone. Apparently, in the case of the mysterious "outrigger shooters", they had a scene in mind but couldn't get the actors together to put them in that other boat. In cases like this, you pretty much just have to take your lumps and move on. However, these are clever people. I think not addressing it is not the best way to go. A few key lines, even placed years later, from Ben, or from Juliet, or Richard, among others, would go a long way.


Brain Farts.
Given that we're dealing with 120 hours of serialized television, there are going to be moments that seemed huge at the time that were just the creators messing around, and there are going to be flat-out mistakes. Example: Christian Shephard in the cabin, and then suddenly mysterious eye in the foreground? If Christian was the Enemy, then who's the other guy in the foreground? I mean I suppose that the Enemy may have been using Christian's real body in the chair and then scared Hurley in another form, or Hurley may have seen an actual ghost trying to scare him away from the influence of the Enemy, since Hurley sees ghosts like that (actually, I kind of like that one). But really? It's more likely that they just did it for effect and it slid through even though it doesn't make much sense. In these instances I think the best thing to do is what was usually done. Just put your hands in your pockets, whistle, and move on. It's an error, and it doesn't help the story, it's always going to be clunky when you rewatch it, but it was already in there. What are you going to do? What happened, happened.


Acts of Necessary Omission.
Look, you can't be upset that we don't know where Mother came from, or what happened to the real Henry Gale, or what happened to Ben's childhood friend. Or, more to the point, you can, but how far do you want this to go? Did you LIKE the Jack's tattoos episode? Does Henry Gale actually need to get an episode explaining his origin? If you get one, will you then be asking, "but who made the silk that went into Henry Gale's balloon?" What happened to Ben's childhood friend? Well, what happened to your childhood friends? I would presume that they went off and had a life and married somebody and gained 40 pounds and took up photography or something. Maybe someday Annie will get a Facebook account. The story has boundaries. No story needs to -- or should -- explain everything. Who made Charlie's guitar? Why was Eko wearing that shirt? What was Charlotte's archeological thesis on? How many Yemmis can dance on the head of a plaster Virgin Mary?


Acts of Implication. These were mysteries that were left vague, but with a heavy-to-moderate number of clues suggesting a larger picture. Much of the doings of Widmore, Ben, Dharma, and the others are of this type. In fact, most of the "unresolved" mysteries are of this type. I have to say, I think that the vast divide between people who enjoyed the show and people who either lost interest or began to slowly become embittered toward it lies in each person's willingness or interest to engage in this sort of dot-connecting.

Here's what I think happened: To an unprecedented degree in TV, the creators of LOST actually figured out and fully realized the back story far past the point of the main story and into the margins. They did this so that even the most tertiary details could feel as lived-in and important as the main thrust of the story. This served two purposes: (1) it made it harder to figure out which were the real big mysteries and which were the red herrings, which allowed even greater surprises and pleasurable confoundation for the audience, and (2) it created a more immersive world, one in which you always felt that the story was highly detailed, right into the margins, but one in which you always felt there was more to be told, and more to explore, in any direction. They created the impression of a story without boundaries. The thing is, the story does have boundaries, so not all parts of every story were ever intended to be told. However, precisely because even the periphery of the story was told with such precision, the expectation of resolution was there. The good news is, precisely because the periphery was told with such precision, the dots are still there to be connected, should you want to.

Most of the mysteries are not further questions. They are the answers.

Example? Example. Two of dozens that I could choose from that video alone.

Who built the statue? Why are the caves covered with hieroglyphs? Well, it's a statue of Taweret. Taweret is an ancient Egyptian goddess. Thus, I'd say ancient Egyptians probably built it. Egyptians also wrote in hieroglyphs. I'd say the ancient Egyptians probably are behind that, too. This is obvious, right? Am I waaaaay out there to suggest that ancient Egyptians built the ancient Egyptian god statue? Can we just say that, because we didn't see the Egyptians building Taweret, that the building is to be taken as writ, and the story of the builders is not relevant to the story? We don't see who made Rosebud in Citizen Kane, and, even though Rosebud is the central part of the mystery of Charles Foster Kane, not seeing that is not troubling, because we are interested in the mystery of Charles Foster Kane, not in the mystery of a sled. We presume that the creation of Rosebud is not really a part of Charles Foster Kane's story. Rather, it is what Rosebud comes to mean to Charles Foster Kane, and how Rosebud comments upon his character, rather than Rosebud's origin, which lends Rosebud its significance. Rosebud is the answer, not the question.

Can't we take this further and say that the very presence of the statue and hieroglyphs indicate that the history of the island stretches back into antiquity? In fact, aren't the statue and the island answers to the question: "How long has this sort of thing been happening on this island, anyway?" Oh, and by the way, since the statue is a goddess and not a god, and since Jacob chooses it as his home, can we perhaps just make the briefest logical leap between our knowledge that Mother has been on the island as Guardian and that statue exists? So, how long has Mother been on the island? It's not really a part of the story, so nobody says it. But if you really want to think for a second about it, you kind of know how long, don't you? If I say that she has been around since at least the time of the ancient Egyptians, and that she has in some way influenced their own cosmology, am I making that up? If that's not a good enough explanation for you, who cares? It's not really relevant to the Oceanics. But I find it impressive that the story remains solid all the way to the margin.

Why does the statue have four toes? Well, I'd say it's because a hippo has four toes, and Tawaret's lower body is a hippo. Not exactly complimentary to Mother. No wonder she hated people. But even this answers a more general question, which is: What was the relationship of the Guardian to the island people way back in ancient Egyptian times? And the answer is: "They thought of her as a God, and, by their hieroglyphs honoring the smoke monster, they also apparently worshiped a smoke monster."

And I could go on. Not making stuff up. Just noticing which questions have been answered.

Am I really doing the writer's work for them? Or am I just noticing the work the writers actually did?

Here's a trick, not just for LOST but for any work of fiction or nonfiction that is somewhat challenging. Stop asking, "what's the deal with ___________." Start asking "what does ________ add to what I already know, and what does that imply?"


You don't have to look at it this way. But I recommend it. It's a lot more fun.


Acts of Obtuseness.
These are really the ones that I think make people mad, and you know what? I'm with you, even as I recognize why they did it. A large part of the reason for this is that sometimes those answers really should have been forthcoming, given what we know of the characters. They are huge questions that were left unanswered and pretty much without any signposts to guide us. And, a lot of these are especially galling because there are people on the island with that information and with either no reason or no reasonable ability to withhold it. Example:

"Hey Dogan, what's in the pill?"

"It's something for your friend, but he has to take it of his own will. "

"But what is it?"

"I can't tell you that. Will you please convince him to take it?"

"OK, you know what? I'll take it. Now what, punk?"

"NOOOOO! It's poison!"

"WHY POISON?"

"He's infected. So is your sister."

After that, I think my follow up is "What do you mean by infection? And, by the way, you're going to have to be very specific with me. You're going to have to explain everything you know about everything, really."

Also: Once he's on their side, nobody has any questions for Ben? Really? None?

I think not knowing is frustrating. Not even knowing why we don't know? That's rough. And not giving a reason for not giving answers, when there are clear and obvious reasons to do so, that's rough too. I think this is a valid ding on LOST, because sometimes they just don't sell the information withheld as being true to the characters to withhold.

One thing they have done fairly well is make it clear that even the characters, such as Ben or Richard, who we thought would know everything, obviously know not much. They've been duped, too.

But I understand and (to an extent) share the frustration of everybody who really wanted the big, big questions answered. Here's a question that I almost never hear asked: WHY did the show's creators choose to leave the nature of the island unanswered? How does it shape the overall narrative?

I think I will close with another video, which shows the final moments of the show side-by-side with the opening moments of the entire series, in reverse.



This was a meticulously crafted series. I'll miss it.

Lost.

19 comments:

Mike Maloney said...

For the last time, it was aliens. Aliens built the pyramids, aliens invented hieroglyphics, aliens built the statue. And Mother? She's an alien. That is where her supernatural strength comes from.

Clearly you didn't watch the show closely enough.

Larry said...

Great post, once again.

Thanks for an awesome blog. I've enjoyed reading it and enjoyed Lost even more because of it.

I am with you. I thought the ending was awesome and I was also frustrated with some of the missing answers. But that doesn't change my love for the show or its finale.

BLAARGH! said...

Thanks Goat!

I'm waiting with bated breath for the "V" recaps.

Riggstad said...

I don't know man... I was really expecting something more a little in depth.

Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

That is a very well thought out and realistic opinion of the show in my view. It's an opinion I do not agree with in most cases but at least you are not going to deny the basic issues with the show (and the series, I guess).

Anyways the one thing your overall recap of the show kind of ignores is the numerous (and I mean, like, a hundred) blatant dropping of plot lines, and just the very obvious fact that the writers were repeatedly deciding to go one way with a particular story line, and then completely going a different way, even after having gone quite a ways down the path of the first decision. It happened wayyyyyy too much in this story to simply warrant a couple of sentences in your recap. Unfortunately in my view it amounted to a major ongoing flaw in the series, and it is one of the things I just can't not mention when discussing the show.

Another thing you did not really address but which to me is an incredible flaw in the overall series -- and ultimately I suppose in some ways this is really just an extension of the first point above -- is the way that the writers ended the show in the final few episodes more or less completely renders the plot of entire first four years of the show totally meaningless. While clearly you are right about many of the unanswered questions people are complaining about being totally unimportant (like I care ultimately why the statue has four toes or has heiroglyphs on it), but asking questions about why they focused so much on things like Dharma (who cares?), the Purge (who cares?), etc. is a very legitimate response to what they chose to do with the plot of this show in the end.

Lastly -- and this just may be an extension of my last point above as well -- I do think you give the show a bit of a pass with regard to Sideways World. As a plot device, you are being very kind to actually give the writers credit for the way they "misled" us on that one. Pretty much any writer on any show could go 99% of the way to showing you one thing to be true, and then in the series finale show you that they were actually more or less lying to you all along. I'm not saying they came out and clearly stated that Sideways World was an alternate reality created by the H-bomb. But I liken it to a soap opera showing the old lady planning a murder, buying a knife, and then showing the victim's home, a shadow that looks a lot like the old lady holding a knife, then hearing a scream, and then the shadow tiptoeing out, showing us the dead body, and then even showing us the old lady walking the streets, sweating and wiping blood off of her hands. It's not all that hard or commendable to "surprise" us with Sideways World the way that they did it. They went out of their way to make it look like one thing, even with Faraday's speech about creating some other universe with the H-bomb straight up during this season for anyone who had not quite figured that out yet already -- and then in the end they made it something else entirely, something which essentially made the whole of Sideways World (and thus mostly all of Season 6) not even "real" in the literal sense, and which also made the plot of all of the first four and a half seasons of the show all more or less meaningless. In a different context or from a different perspective I can easily see you judging that exact series of moves above quite harshly, is all I'm saying.

Nice post, like I said. Your Lost posts certainly have added to my enjoyment of the show and have been must-reads for seasons man. Thanks for that.

timpramas said...

Thank you for your hard work and the fine job you did with these posts. Thank you also for adding so much enjoyment to my Lost experience.

CJ said...

Bah...

You're way too easy on them.

Some said to me that they could understand someone being upset with Lost if they were more interested in the mythology than they were the characters.

The flaw in that is that the mythology was as big, if not bigger, of a character than anyone else.

There's a million questions left unanswered and we're just supposed to accept that because they tell us everyone dies. Really? That's it?

Perhaps my perspective is a little different because I watched the entire series over about 3 months.

For people who gave 7 years of their life (and in your case, countless blog posts), it's nearly impossible to be harshly critical of the series. You've invested much too much to admit you'd been had.

What we learned is that most of the series was meaningless. It was mere filler with plot lines that were irrelevant and characters that were just because.

The biggest question seems to be were the island experiences "real?" I think the answer to that question is what they chose to show us in the closing credits... the crash. There was no sign that anything happened after the crash.

If we're to believe the writers were showing us things for a reason, then they're telling us the crash was the end of their "real" lives and the island was merely what happened after. And probably just in Jack's path to crossing over.

So, yeah, consider me let down. They built up this mythology, decided to pretty much forget about it and expected us all to forgive them because of the touching sequences in the first hour or so and then the big reveal in the last 10 minutes.

By the way... why did Juliet tell Sawyer the bomb worked? The bomb's intent was to prevent the plane from crashing. Why would she say it worked?

Julius_Goat said...

@CJ

"There's a million questions left unanswered and we're just supposed to accept that because they tell us everyone dies. Really? That's it?"

No. It's much more than that. I tried to express it in this post. It seems that in your case, at least, I have failed. I apologize. I don't have it in me to find another way to explain it.






"Perhaps my perspective is a little different because I watched the entire series over about 3 months."

Wait, are you saying that the series actually has a shorter running time if you watch it all at once? How many hours was LOST for you?

I am pretty sure we all spent the same amount of time watching the show.

I admit I probably spent more time thinking about the show, but that was a pleasant experience.



"For people who gave 7 years of their life (and in your case, countless blog posts), it's nearly impossible to be harshly critical of the series. You've invested much too much to admit you'd been had."

I see you are unaware of how much time I spent watching and eviscerating Heroes. If I hadn't liked it, I'd say so, and I'd have had a mountain of fun saying so. I am not sure why you seem to want me to secretly not like it, even though I am very clear about why I liked it. You didn't like it. You feel like you wasted your time. Fair enough. I did like it. What I didn't like, I wrote about. What I did like, I also wrote about. I feel comfortable that I have made my points as clearly and as well as I can on that regard.




"The biggest question seems to be were the island experiences "real?" I think the answer to that question is what they chose to show us in the closing credits... the crash. There was no sign that anything happened after the crash."

Someday I'll go back and look, but this appeared to be the leftover detritus of the Oceanic crash, which obviously would have been left on the beach. I think I even saw the shelter they built and some footprints. I don't see how the wreckage remaining there without people, after all the people have left, is proof of anything.


"By the way... why did Juliet tell Sawyer the bomb worked? The bomb's intent was to prevent the plane from crashing. Why would she say it worked?"

This was misdirection, and it struck some as clever and others as a little too cute. When Juliet and Sawyer awaken each other in the aferlife, it is while they are trying to "rig" a candy machine. Juliet says "it worked." Pronouns can be misleading and made an ass out of Sawyer and me both.

Anonymous said...

One of the most unsatisfying aspects of the "sideways world = afterlife" conclusion is that not only did the producers go out of their way to show us the island underwater in SW, but they also went out of their way to show Ben & his dad discussing their time on the island with the Dharma Initiative.

So, the Losties died and their collective consciousness created an artificial reality where afterlife Ben (clearly, the real Ben and not a construct) went to the island and left for unspecified reasons and the island later sank for unspecified reasons?

It just seems a little too convenient that SW matches what an alternative timeline might have been like if, in fact, the jughead sank the island and various island people like the Linuses evacuated.

I continue to say SW is an alternate timeline and that the distinctions between life, death, reality, time, and afterlife are very blurry in the Lost mythos. The SW timeline just happens to be special because it's the one where they finally achieve some form of enlightenment and can graduate to the next plane of existence.

Everyone keeps saying, "well the producers told us point blank that SW was the afterlife," but I don't recall that ever being stated point blank. Yeah Christian tells Jack that he and everyone else died, but that's true they DID die in the regular timeline of the show. Just like we know there is another alternate timeline floating out there were Charlie dies from an arrow through the throat (albeit a timeline that us viewers observed very little of).

Christian also said
"it's a place you all built together, so you could find one another", well didn't they in fact all build that timeline together by collaborating on the jughead explosion?

I also find myself wondering why Christian is so in-the-know about how all these things work, and the only satisfying conclusion I can reach is that wasn't actually Christian and instead it was one of the ambiguous higher powers using his body/likeness as a vessel for delivering the "congratulations, you finally did it" speech.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Goat,

Thanks for the LOST posts. I enjoyed the show every week. I did not miss a single episode. I was there from night one :-). The ending... well, I was not a big fan of the ending, but I didn't get mad about it either. Lots of loose ends, unanswered questions, a lot of speculation, blah, blah, blah.

But read the comments here. Many different points of view. Exactly the differing points of view that will carry LOST into infinity and beyond. Your LOST posts will be part of that infinity and beyond part (and now my anonymous comment is part of that too...lol)

Again, thanks for the LOST posts.

CJ said...

You misunderstand me as well...

I never said I didn't like it (the series)... I was simply unsatisfied with the resolution for many of the same reasons you were... you just seem to minimize them while I believe they were too important to throw away.

This story had a beginning (the pilot) and an end (the closing scene) and everything else was made up on the fly. I truly wish they had had a purpose to the stuff in the middle because, in the end, it's clear that they didn't.

I suppose you're just trying to be obtuse by first not understanding what I meant when I said others gave more time to the show than I did and then point out exactly what I mean.

And thanks for pointing out Heroes... because it's instructive. Why do you forgive Lost for the same massive plot holes for which you eviscerated Heroes? That College Humor video seems to point out dozens.

Re: Juliet's line

Yeah, chalk me up to the "little too cute" camp. That would make it just a cheap explanation for something that seemed important at the time. Once again, it goes to my central critique. Why present all of this as important and meaningful and then just toss it aside?

To many of us, that mythology is what drove us to keep watching.

And I don't care whether or not others like it, but no one thinks their own baby is ugly. That's all. When it's part of your life for 7 years... it means something. Makes it a lot harder to look back and say, "Really, that's it?" There's naturally going to be an effort to rationalize it all.

I thoroughly enjoyed the series and was significantly let down by the finale. I don't mind the ending itself... I just feel as though about 5 seasons of the show never really needed to happen to get us from Pilot to Finale. But since those 5 seasons did happen, we deserved a little better of an explanation.

It's okay with me that you disagree.

CJ said...

One last question...

Why do you think the MiB turned into a smoke monster when he went into the cave, but neither Jack nor Desmond became smoke monsters when they went down there?

Julius_Goat said...

LOST, for all its dangling threads, presents a cohesive story that can be expressed and discussed, and characters that have consistent and observable motivations, and who change and grow in ways that are organic to who they are as people and what has happened to them in the story.

Heroes had absolutely none of this. It is instructive only as an opposite.

I wasn't purposefully misunderstanding. You suggested that I was not able to admit that it was unsatisfying because I had spent so much time watching it, and that your perspective was different for having watched it all at once. I was merely pointing out that you invested exactly as much time in it as me. (I have probably re-watched about five episodes total, so five extra hours to me, perhaps.)

I think it is valid to be unsatisfied that the bomb didn't create Sideways when the show did so much work to make you think that it did. For what it's worth, I believe that the clues were there all along that the bomb did not do this. I was saying as much before Season 6 started. So that one didn't dissatisfy me. Not knowing what on earth happened when Desmond turned the failsafe 4 years ago does dissatisfy me.

I think there are probably 3 - 5 questions of the 100 in that video that don't have answers that can be figured out from information in the story.

Juliet's line was a little too cute for me, too. But look: This is a show that has been about confounding expectations from the very beginning. You thought they'd stop doing that at the end?

RE: Smokemonsters, MiB, Jack, and Desmond. That's a hell of a good question. I actually spent 4 paragraphs suggesting that Jack did become a smoke creature, but I do have to admit that's not supported by much that the show presents to us. I'd say it was something that they should have made clearer, or maybe it was a brain fart. Desmond is easier; he's immune to the light in a very unique way. But yeah, I think given the info we're presented with, we could well assume that when we see Jack die, it's his human body dying, and his consciousness lives on for however long in the smoke monster body. Maybe that's something they can show us in the Ben/Hurley spinoff.

It is also OK with me that you disagree. Let's share beers in Vegas someday until we turn into smoke monsters.

Julius_Goat said...

Meant to add -- your explanation of the "watching all at once" as opposed to over seven years makes more sense in your second comment.

I still don't agree. If it hadn't captured me all the way to the end, I'd have stopped watching.

Duey Crim said...

The shot at the end during the credits of the wreckage on the beach is something that ABC, and not the writers, put on at the end of the show. It has been confirmed on Lostpedia.

Gnome said...

Yes, the "it worked" line turned out to be a little cutesy, but it doesn't necessarily have to refer to the idea of the nuclear blast preventing the Oceanic crash. "It worked" in at least a couple of other ways: ensuring Sawyer and Juliet's connection in death, and saving the universe by stopping the drill project.
As for Richard's belief that he saw the Oceanics die, doesn't it make sense that he thought they died in the nuclear explosion? Instead, they were transported back to the future.

Julius_Goat said...

Agree with both points, Gnome.

I will say that Richard saying "I saw all these people die" was basically LOST misdirection, as he clearly didn't SEE them die.

However, "The last time I saw these people, they were on there way to set off a nuclear bomb which went off, and thus I presume that they are all dead. You know, because of the nuclear bomb." is a clunky line and would kind of kill the suspense of the Season 5 closer.

Gunslinger said...

Just wanted to say thanks for all of the great write ups, they have definitely enhanced my enjoyment of the show.

My vote for what to write next is more of your short stories! You have serious talent, and I can't wait to read what else comes out of that creative mind of yours.

Iak said...

Really enjoyed this read and have to say I am loving watching this series de novo with knowledge of both the way it ends and the fact it will make me interested in numerous things it will not reveal.

There's something to waffles' ever so gently expressed theory on the reaction to the finale. The battle line seems to be one of resonance - the ending either harmonized with the journey (as it obviously did for you) or it didn't (Hoy and CJ).

Furthermore, as someone just embarking on 120 hours I will try to stick to 3 months as a goal to finish it and see what we can deduce from that. SFSG.