Thursday, May 26, 2011

Last Lost Post Lest I Get A Lust For Another Lost List

Let me respond to Lawrence King's comment to my first Lost post this week. I won't go over the same arguments I've made before as to why Lost's final season was disapponting, but let me talk a bit about how comparatively hard it was to finish it in a satisfactory manner.

Babylon 5 was imagined and written as a single piece, so it makes sense it all fits together. (And even then it's seriously hurt because the creator thought it would finish after season four, which makes the final season almost superfluous. It also has the problem of cast members leaving or being replaced (which, I believe, took away the original ending and moved it to the middle), and a structural problem of the biggest crisis being solved before the smaller crisis.)

Then there's Battlestar Galactica, which was created with no clear end (I believe--in fact, it's an inescapable conclusion based on the show itself) but was nevertheless going in a certain direction--humans searching for Earth, Cylons with a "plan."  Overall, even if they made it up one the fly, it was small enough (in characters, episodes and situations) that they could end with something that tied it all together, even if they didn't do it that well.

(Sorry, didn't watch Buffy or Firefly.)

But Lost was different.  It's a good point that you can't ignore the ending of any show that promises big mysteries will be solved, but Lost still had certain inherent problems in its approach that would always have caused trouble.  The show was big.  It was an expensive show with a huge cast.  And while the main action was on the Island, it really took place all over the world. It also took place all over time and even the Island story kept getting bigger.

More important, it started as an open-ended show.  If ABC had decided to keep it running, it'd still be on.  No one (at first) knew how long the show would run, no one knew who'd survive, no one could be sure who the new characters might be.   It's tough enough just to get a show on the air, especially, given Lost's odd genesis, a show that was created very quickly at the last second. With so much improvising necessary, it's hard to make it all fit.  (Some classic novels first published in serial form had to be rewritten when finally published as a single book.)

Yes, Lost did have an ending in mind when they started.  (The producers claim they did and the evidence supports them.)  But it was only a vague outline for an ending, and even that could change as the show advanced.  It certainly was general enough to allow for much improvising.

My guess, based on the first season and the final season, was that the creators knew there were two forces (probably brothers, almost certainly good and evil) who fought for control of the Island. They (one or both) brought the castaways to the island, who would eventually fight the final battle there, and, at the end, they'd defeat evil (represented by the smoke monster).  Then, Jack, the hero, in his final moments, would see those still alive escape. That's a story that makes sense and even gives a satisfying sense of completeness.

But how do you make that go for over 100 hours? You fill it up with characters, ever more. Some fall by the wayside (because fans don't like them) and some continue and grow. But sometimes their growth stalls because you've either done all you can with them (and their backstory) and either are just doing variations or need them to serve the overall plot.

So there are numerous ways you move forward, many of which either don't go anywhere or really can't be fitted into the piece overall. (And many of which are retrofitted. I believe they knew where they were going, but even something as first-season as Adam and Eve I'm not entirely sure they knew about.)

But even with all this, even when it's not possible to tie everything together because they entered too many things blind and went into too many dead ends, the ending is still disappointing. They knew, three years out, when the show would end.  So they had some great twists and turns (the biggest being the Oceanic 8 get home, followed by the Freighter Folk and the time shifts) but also had to come up with an ending (or, in this case, half the ending, anyway) which they thought was smart.  They decided on the sideways world.  At first blush a great idea.  They've had flashbacks and flashforwards, so a flash sideways is something new.  It also allowed them to have fun with characters, and bring back dead ones for encores.

Ultimately, though, the idea was horrible because they tried to outsmart the audience and outsmarted themselves.  It turns out the altaworld is actually the afterlife (which is the mainstream intrepretation, though I fight against it because I hate it so much) where all the Losties get together and work out their problems and then move on together.  This has two advantages which I guess the producer thought were so great they could ignore everything else.

One, it gave them another startling moment, in a show that is famous for them.  And this was the final shock, and it's a big one.  Yes, Jack and the rest are all dead.  Second, it gave them a chance for a big sentimental scene, where all the characters could say goodbye (and hello) which certainly gives a sense of completeness.  But even if you like these things, it sells out everything else.  Nothing in this world really mattered--not Desmonds urge to wake everyone up, not even their working out their problems.  What seemed to be an ingenious problem--where they characters had to figure out how to combine the two worlds--turned out to be a separate PS which said little or nothing about the main mystery on the Island.  And the producer can talk about characters all they want; we may have loved the characters, but the main interest was how those characters figured into a larger story about the Island.

I've also criticized how relatively weak the Island half of the final season was, and how unsatisfactory many of the answers and much of the action was.  But at least it stuck to what we cared about.  If only it could have been tied in better to the sideways world, we could have had an ending that was not only satisfying, but stirring and exciting as well.


Blogger QueensGuy said...

Please allow me to recommend Firefly. I did so only last month because I was staying in a hotel, there was nothing on tv, I had finished my book and I wanted to test Netflix streaming on demand over my laptop. I was hooked in the first 15 minutes and watched the rest of the series over the next week. It's that good.

8:24 AM, May 26, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, yeah, Firefly is great. Even the movie was pretty good. The series was so great that I'm glad Filion has a hit with the despicable Castle.

But I suspect LAGuy is not a fan of Whedon's, so it may be a lost cause.

Hey, maybe he'll blog about that . . .

1:00 PM, May 26, 2011  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

The first episode of Firefly has two flaws: It is is double-length (two hours minus commercials) and this causes its overall pacing to be a bit erratic. And it attempts to introduce all nine characters, which in hindsight might have been done better over two or three episodes. As a result, Firefly is actually better when you watch it the second time, because you now understand the personalities of all the characters and can better appreciate the early stuff.

But that doesn't detract from it being incredibly great. Certainly in my top three shows ever, and sometimes I think it's my number one. I found the movie (which comes after the series, of course) a bit disappointing, but still good.

For some reason, many hardcore science fiction fans didn't like it. My guess is that they disliked the Western theme. Yet this idea actually has been used in serious hard sf: If we found an inhabitable planet with edible vegetation and drinkable water, should we bring cars and motorcycles there? No, because motorized vehicles can't be fueled, maintained, and repaired without a massive industrial base. But we could bring horses there, because horses can eat vegetation and breed on their own. So it actually makes sense that the less important planets end up with horses, cows, chickens, and the like, while the important planets look "futuristic".

7:30 PM, May 26, 2011  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

Regarding Lost season six, something just hit me. I know multiple people who reacted badly the moment that Lennon and Dogen appeared.


Here's my theory. In a novel, there's a general rule that you should not introduce a major character past the halfway mark. Now, a multi-year heavy-arc show isn't paced exactly like a novel, but it seems that an analogous principle should be at work. We are starting season six, we know the end of the show is only sixteen episodes away. We know that each episode focuses on a single character, but there are now more characters whom we care deeply about than there are episodes left! So we want to know about the people we care about. We don't need new variety.

As you wrote, "a flash sideways is something new." An episodic series can do something new in its sixth season. But a novel cannot do something new 5/6 of the way through the book, any more than a symphony can introduce a brand new melody 5/6 of the way through one of its movements.

B5 mostly obeyed this rule. The mysteries of season four (what's wrong with Mr. Garibaldi?) were given answers consistent with what we had already learned. The big problem was introducing a new major character (Lochley) in season five, because the actress who played Ivanova left. But in my view, JMS should have just stretched the remaining actors a bit more (or decided to make season five shorter) instead of doing that.

7:41 PM, May 26, 2011  
Blogger LAGuy said...

Maybe some day I'll get around to Firefly, but there's a long list of stuff in front of it.

Every season of Lost introduced new characters, but it's fairly normal for shows to do that. Perhaps the classic example is The Wire, which kept pulling further back each season to show more of the world of Baltimore. Perhaps a serial coming to an end has to watch out for too much new stuff in the wrap-up season, but I'd compare it more to a play where you introduce a new character in the third act just to keep things lively.

I think the real problem with Dogen (I'm not even gonna bring up Lennon, who was a big nothing) was his character was fairly lame (and maybe inconsistent with what had gone on, particularly his backstory). The Temple had a long set up, and there was less to it than we may have been expecting. This was, of course, a problem with the final season in general--it was the time for payoffs, and it's pretty hard for them to match what we've built up in our minds.

I'd also like to know just what place the Temple held in the Others' world. The spa was nice for its healing power, but did they really need it to worship Jacob, who actually lived on the other side of the Island? Also, the barracks (taken over from the DI, admittedly) were like a nice little suburb, so the rawer religious feeling at the Temple clashed a bit. Also, where was Dogen in the hierarchy. Did he do what Ben told him to do? Was he appointed by Ben, or did Jacob put him there and it was like the Church against the Crown, eyeing each other suspiciously.

10:41 PM, May 26, 2011  
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