Wednesday, June 16, 2010

And Yet

I've been putting off writing my review of Lost's sixth and final season. Mostly because I just haven't had the time--it'll have to be shorter than I'd prefer as it is. But there's another reason. I have to admit, for all my enjoyment, this was by far the weakest season of Lost.

I thought Season Five moved really well, and I expected it to lead to a final season where they had so many great payoffs they'd hardly have time to fit them all in. Instead, Season Six often meandered and made what seemed to be a serious miscalculation.

First, let's start with the Island story, which has always been the center of the show. There was some good stuff--new locations like the Temple, the Cave, the Lighthouse. Some good action, too, with fights and strategems. But, overall, what did happen could probably have been done in half the time, maybe less. For too much of the season there was trudging back and forth with little sense of purpose. (There's always been trudging, but usually they were going somewhere, or had a serious threat on their tail.)

We were promised a war, but we mostly got fog. For most of the season, it wasn't clear what anyone was doing: Why did the Temple folk act the way they did? What was Jacob's plan? What was MIB's plan? What was Ilana's plan? What was Widmore's plan? We saw them do things, but we had no idea why. And sometimes once we found out, it seemed pointless--half of MIB's plan was to sit tight while others came to him. Or someone would leave the action, or change sides, to charge back in for what seemed like almost no reason--this happened an awful lot, to Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Hurley, Ben, Richard, etc. While previous seasons had moments where the action seemed to slow, they always had something clear going on to move the story arc forward.

And note above who was moving the story forward--Jacob, MIB, Ilana, Dogen and Widmore. These characters have their place, but it should be the regulars taking control. It's their story, but they spent way too much time this season being led around by others.

Also, many of the best characters were taken out, or neutered. Locke was dead. I like MIB, but he's no Locke, and without Locke the show is missing its heart. Sawyer spent too much of the season not caring, trying to deal with a broken heart--maybe it was a plot point, but compare this to the lively Sawyer of Season Five, who has learned to care quite a bit, and uses his talents to get things done. Sayid, the most passionate of all, was completely sidelined as he lost his emotions. Ben, the scariest and most unpredictable, realized his whole Island experience had been a con job and could hardly do anything. Miles, Richard and Lapidus didn't have much to do. Kate--well, I had no idea why Kate was doing anything; she said she wanted to help Claire, but it seems like an awful lot of work for a very small result. Claire herself was no longer Claire, and while she seemed a bit threatening, didn't add up to much.

Then there was the weird plan to fly the plane off the island, which ran the plot for half the season. Okay, it turned out they could fly it, but if so, why wasn't that the obsession of those on the Ajira flight? The plane had crash landed. If it could fly, fly it off the next day. But they seemed to be setting up an Island life, like the original Losties.

Then there were the answers to the show's mysteries. There are two general complaints: 1) A lot of things weren't answered and 2) the answers we did get were dumb. Actually, this didn't bother me as much as a lot of other fans. I recognize there was no way to answer a lot of things, and many of them (including explaining contradictions that piled up) I'm perfectly capable of dealing with myself if they're not central to the show. I also recognize that it's very hard to make answers as exciting as questions, since a question opens up possibilities, while an answer closes them down. If an answer is too simple or obvious, it can seem dumb, but if it's too complex, it can seems silly.

Should they have answered the biggest question fully--what is the island? I don't know, but I can live with a half-answer, that there's a special force on the Island (could be scientific, could be mystical) that creates a lot of magic. Okay, I admit that leaves a lot open, but would having it all be a spaceship, or the doing of an Egyptian god (or both), be that much better?

As for the answered questions, most were a bit too obvious (though it's easy to say now). But, overall, I don't think the answers trivialized the action. Some of the twists were a bit silly, but (after filling in the many holes), I'd say that while they were playing a game created by Jacob and MIB, the Losties did make choices and those choices did matter.

Incidentally, with the wider and wider revelations of the show, we discovered that no one really knew anything. Or at least that much. The Others--Ben, Widmore, Richard, Dogen, Ilana--had partial understanding at best, and when it came to the deepest mysteries, were completely in the dark. Part of this was due to the management style of Jacob, who didn't like to explain what he was doing. But then we found out that even Jacob and MIB had only an incomplete understanding of what the Island was about. (If they knew more, they sure didn't enlighten us.) Even the biggest question about the war was unanswered--we don't know what happens if MIB gets off the island. Maybe, as MIB believed, nothing? Jacob only got his info from Allison Janney, and it's quite possible she's nuts.

While the Island story was weak, it did have a good ending. Using Desmond, Jack, Hurley and others, they were able to stop MIB (assuming that's a good thing), protect the Island, and get what was left of the Losties off. (For the first three seasons, the point had been to get as many of the Losties back home as possible. In the final three seasons, the point was to protect the Island and save the Earth.) The final image of Jack closing his eye as the Ajira plane flies away was perfect.

But this brings us to the other half of Season Six, the flash sideways. This was the miscalculation I referred to earlier. The conventional view (which I mostly accept--more on this later) is the flash sideways was a sort of purgatory, where the people who shared an important experience on the Island could meet up and work out their Earthly problems before they learned to let go and move on. While it did lead to some interesting character interaction here and there, ultimately I think it was a mistake.

I complained earlier about how the characters on the Island just weren't the same this season. Well, the characters in the flash sideways weren't the same characters at all. The people we'd grown to know and love vanished and were replaced by doppelgangers. We waited all season to find the connection between the flash sideways and the Island, and during that time, we were watching an alternate world that meant nothing. Perhaps it was interesting to see a kinder, gentler Ben (Gentle Ben), or a Locke who'd married Helen, but it wasn't real (both as it was happening, and after we found out the secret). Everything else that happened on the show was real, and mattered, but what did this matter?--it was merely playing a "what if" game. Might as well have been fan fiction.

And this was bad enough the first time around. Knowing it means nothing will make it that much harder to watch the second time. (Btw, if they're eventually going to stumble their way into letting go in this purgatory, then the actions of Desmond in helping them don't really matter either.)

But it gets worse. Knowing (according to the conventional view) that this is a purgatory where all dead Losties go makes everything that happened on the Island meaningless--or at least less meaningful. You died? So what, we all die, and then we get to meet each other. You stopped the monster from getting off the Island? That may be good, that may be bad, but it's not that big a deal, since we're all going to die and meet in purgatory anyway, and leave the Earth behind.

What the show needed, dramatically, was to make sure what happened on the Island was central to the overall plot, not a pleasant afterthought as they get ready to "let go." I believe I understand what the producers were going for--they wanted to show a spiritual side to the show. But what the purgatory turned into--after all the intentional misdirection where they tried to make us believe if was something else--was a sucker punch.

There are rules to drama. You can break the rules, but there are reasons they exist. What the show should have done (btw, I believe they decided late in the game to go for purgatory; all the Jacob v. MIB stuff and the ending on the Island had been planned from the start, but not the sideways world, I'd guess) was to merge the flash sideways and the Island story into one, making both necessary for the other, and making both matter, so the Losties could end up solving (or failing to solve) their problems. The Losties could save themselves, and the world, or die trying. The sideways world could have been created by the Incident--just as real as the regular timeline--and it could have been necessary to merge the two so the anomaly is over and the threat of MIB is dealt with. Or the sideways world could have been the false world created by the MIB overlord after he got off the Island, which the Losties had to fight to return the world to its proper state. Or maybe there's some other conventional solution. But that's not the way the producers decided to go.

(Let me use this parenthetical paragraph to note since the mechanism of the purgatory and its relation to the Island is still unclear--like most big questions on the show--there are ways to interpret things to make the Island story matter more. Indeed, I choose to believe these explanations because they could be correct and I'd rather the story be dramatically satisfying. What are some of these possibilities? Well, the purgatory could have been created by the Incident, allowing the life force of the Island to create a special place for these people. Without it, they wouldn't live on, or have a purgatory to deal with their problems, anyway. In fact, we don't even know if anyone else gets a purgatory. This may be the only purgatory there is, and it's all explained by as yet unknown scientific reasons, not mystical ones, attached to the Island's life spirit. Furthermore, if they hadn't been able to destroy MIB, all would have been lost. In addition, using Desmond as they did allowed him to be able to solve the problem of the purgatory, which otherwise they would have been stuck in forever. I could go on, but I think you get the idea. There are other related ideas, but I don't have time to go into them.)

But instead of conventional storytelling (if anything on Lost could be called conventional), the show went in its own special direction, and, well, you can see the problems I have with it.

And yet...

I can't deny, that for all the problems I had during the season, and the flaws I see after the fact, the final moments of the show moved me more than any TV show ever has. Was it worth it? I don't know. But I do know, that for all its weaknesses, the finale to Season Six was something special.

At the very least, I still see the show overall as one of the greatest things ever on TV. (Some time I'll do an overview of all the seasons.) I don't believe a weird plot twist and a weak season changes that.

7 Comments:

Blogger QueensGuy said...

I mostly agree with what you have written, but differ on one point. I think the whole flash sideways arc paid off in the last episode to the extent that it provided a satisfying tool for the various couples to flashback to the great moments of earlier seasons in an unconventional way. That unconventionality gave it the frisson of shock value that made them far more satisfying than just some simple recap. Only the series finale of Seinfeld had found a similarly enjoyable way to recap some great moments.

5:07 AM, June 16, 2010  
Anonymous Todd said...

LAGuy: It was nice to read a concluding essay about "LOST" from someone as passionate about the show as you obviously are. As a further compliment, it helped firm up some of my own opinions about the overall series.

Before the finale, I said repeatedly that "LOST" could prove to be the best TV series of all time...

...if they landed it.

After reading your essay, I think we're both somewhat ambivalent as to whether they actually did land it, and thus whether or not "LOST" deserves the ultimate accolade.

But even if it doesn't, "LOST" can easily be called one of the very best TV series ever.

The one place I disagree with you is, as QueensGuy above stated, your intense dislike of the flash sideways.

First of all, I thought it was brilliant from an overall series structure standpoint: We've flashed back, we've flashed forward (THE most brilliant plot innovation in series television), so what do we do now? We flash sideways!

And for me, it mostly worked. What's wrong with a little wish fulfillment fan fiction, especially if it's mysterious and intriging? The series, the characters, and the fans have earned it.

I also like the way the creators literally got a chance to have their cake and eat it, too, i.e., to deny that the whole show was about purgatory, yet have a form of purgatory to play with. Brilliant again.

And as to your assertion that the flash sideways helps render the island story meaningless, I think you may be carrying your dislike too far, especially when you go into the "so what, we all die" part of your argument which can render any action on earth meaningless, regardless of a purgatory.

My own personal Biggest Complaint about Season Six (and indeed the series as a whole) is that the explanation of the Island, the central question of "LOST", was "It's magic."

No matter how you parse it, that was the final explanation and, as such, was not only unsatisfying to me, but is what principally keeps me from pulling the trigger on the "Best Show Ever" accolade.

But, like you, I was emotionally moved by the finale of "LOST", moreso than at any other point in the series.

I think it was some of the best storytelling EVER on television.

And that is accolade - and reward - enough.

Todd

8:08 AM, June 16, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now that we know what Jacob does, we see he's actually a pretty creepy guy. His brother was trying to kill everyone, but he had a legitimate greivance. Jacob was a passive aggressive guy who didn't mind seeing quite a few people die just to get what he wants. He kepts everyone in the dark and they ran around doing crazy things, gassing people to death for instance, while Jacob quietly sat there. Like his mother, he figured killing people was perfectly acceptable to protect the island. I think he was even behind teaching Desmond to push the button over and over, and be there to turn the key on the failsafe, so he'd be ready to save the island when the MIB needed to be killed.

9:43 AM, June 16, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When people start comparing your finale to Seinfeld's, that's when you know you're in trouble.

9:56 AM, June 16, 2010  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

I agree with LAGuy's evaluation. I have already stated my disagreements on one specific point -- which is that I don't think that the bomb and the Incident had anything to do with the creation of this Purgatory. But I agree that this is technically an open question, and in hindsight not a very important one. Even if we suppose that the bomb did play some role, it still didn't play the role that the frantic end-of-season-five Daniel expected it to play; the altaworld is not a split timeline or anything like that. But as far as its dramatic value, I agree.

Consider two television series. One is "Lost", six seasons, as we have it. The other, "Lost-Prime", is the exact same show but with the entire altaworld story deleted. Certainly "Lost-Prime" functions as a complete story, because other than a couple cryptic statements made by Desmond, "Lost-Prime" contains no references to the Altaworld. It begins and ends with Jack's eye. It has a happy ending (Jack is satisfied knowing that his friends have escaped and Hurley will be a good caretaker) but not a syrupy one.

Question: Which of these is the better television series?

12:06 PM, June 16, 2010  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

QG wrote: I think the whole flash sideways arc paid off in the last episode to the extent that it provided a satisfying tool for the various couples to flashback to the great moments of earlier seasons in an unconventional way. That unconventionality gave it the frisson of shock value that made them far more satisfying than just some simple recap.

I agree. In fact, there were some wonderful moments in the altaworld, most of which revolved around Desmond's plot. When he surrendered to the police I wondered "huh?" and then when we saw Kate and Sayid in the jail it was awesome. The scene inside the paddy-wagon where he promises freedom to the scoffing Kate and Sayid was wonderful.

Yet for me, the power of these scenes was partially derived from the underlying urgency. I believed that Desmond had to wake up our friends in the Altaworld to prevent some horrible cataclysm. I was worried about what might happen: would alta-Locke suddenly be possessed by the MIB? if MIB escaped the Island in the real world, would that destroy the altaworld? Or maybe it was an Edith Keeler story: everyone in the altaworld would achieve happiness, but then Desmond and Jack and Kate and Sawyer in the real world would have to annihilate their happy dopplegangers to save the universe. All of these possibilities were hinted at -- deliberately, I suspect -- by statements made at various points in the show.

But in the end we find that there WAS no urgency. Suppose Desmond hadn't woken up Sayid... no big deal. The afterlife consists of two stages: a pleasant fictional life, and then a more pleasant world beyond the church door. Everyone is going to walk through the door sooner or later. Who cares when? If Jack had spent another eighty years with his imaginary son and then entered the church, the result would be the same.

Maybe they'll have a Season Seven, where all our characters are enjoying a delicious dinner in the afterlife, and Desmond is frantically running around trying to get them to finish their dinner so they can eat the equally delicious dessert.

12:24 PM, June 16, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://www.theonion.com/articles/lost-possibly-still-airing-in-parallel-dimension-d,17485/

'Lost' Possibly Still Airing In Parallel Dimension, Desperate Fans Report

NEW YORK—Desperate fans of the recently concluded television series Lost are speculating that the program is continuing on in a parallel dimension somewhere, and that alternate versions of showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse are currently writing new episodes of the series. "It's very possible that a sideways world running concurrent to our own exists, and that a facsimile of myself is happy, fulfilled, and already gearing up for the season seven premiere of Lost," said 36-year-old Kevin Molinaro, who, along with more than 20 million other hopeless fans, has recently booked multiple roundtrip tickets from Los Angeles to Australia in hopes of traveling through a vortex in the space-time continuum. "I just have to find a way to get there. We all do." According to data from Google analytics, searches for "How to build/detonate/use a hydrogen bomb to open up a multidimensional wormhole" have increased 10 millionfold since the episode aired

12:50 PM, June 16, 2010  

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