Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Nothing Left

While we're at it, let's say goodbye to The Leftovers, a beautiful, poetic show that ended its HBO run on Sunday after three seasons and 28 episodes.  It was Damon Lindelof's first major TV show since Lost, and it ended well.  There was an explanation for what happened, but it was ambiguous enough that we don't know if we should believe it. In fact, aside from the Departure that started the show, we're not sure if we should believe in any of the unusual things going on, though we know in this world perhaps there's something to them.  More important, it was an essentially happy ending (spoiler coming), with the two central characters coming together. Actually, each season of The Leftovers has had a similar sort of ending since they were never sure if they'd be picked up.

Lost had all sorts of problems with its ending.  But then, that show was bigger and so much more had been promised. (The Leftovers made sure to promise almost nothing.)

An article on The Leftovers in Vanity Fair makes this point:

Lindelof learned the most crucial lesson he could have from the (disproportionately) negative reaction to the Lost finale. No answer to a mystery of that magnitude was ever going to satisfy viewers, so why not put the focus somewhere else entirely.

As much as I loved Lost, and enjoyed The Leftovers, this lets Lindelof too easily of the hook.  Yes, making sure the concentration was on just letting the characters be happy (for a change) was maybe enough to Leftovers fans.  But saying the negative reaction to Lost was disproportionate is wrong. They screwed up, and big.

Of course, no answer would be perfectly satisfactory to everybody.  Of course, some liked the Lost ending, and even those who didn't like it disagree on why it didn't work. But they were so far away from a satisfactory ending, and, for that matter, left so much unanswered, that they deserved the reaction.  In fact, Lindelof (and partner Carlton Cuse) made sure the audience got a happy ending on the personal side just like The Leftovers, but it wasn't, and couldn't have been enough.  Not if the show in the entire final season was constantly moving in the wrong direction, and landed in the wrong spot.

Now there were some nice moments, and smart ideas in season six. But overall, I bet they could have come up with something that would have pleased a large majority of viewers. What would it be?  Don't ask me.  They were the ones getting paid to write the show.


Anonymous Lawrence King said...

You're too modest. I don't know if you could write a Season Six that would equal what Cuse, Lindelof & Co. could have written if they had focused on what they should have. But I'm quite certain you could write a Season Six that would be much better than the one they did write.

We've talked about Lost S6 several times, so let me add just one more point: In interviews, Lindelof has routinely dismissed criticism of the ending as misinformed, pointing to critics who dissed the ending and said "So they were dead all along, and the whole show was the afterlife? Stupid!" His argument seems to be "they misunderstood the show, so their criticisms hold no weight."

This is utterly wrong, for two reasons:

(1) Many loyal viewers, including us, comprehended the show quite well -- we know that nothing was "afterlife" except for the whisperers on the Island (trapped in this world) and the alta-world of Season Six (living "in a world they created to find each other", each after their death -- which in some cases would be their deaths many years after the show ends). And fully understanding it, we were still quite displeased.

(2) Yes, it's true that some folks -- including published professional critics -- didn't understand the show. Maybe that's their fault for not paying attention; maybe it's the writers' fault. But that doesn't matter. What matters is that Lindelof's rejection of their criticism clearly reveals that he believes that viewers ought to pay careful attention to the show and figure out what's going on. He is saying that viewers who paid little attention, and even those who paid only moderate attention (and thus didn't understand what the alta-world was), weren't doing what they were supposed to do: he wanted viewers who carefully put the pieces together. Great! But in that case, why did he deliberately fail to follow through for such viewers?

Agatha Christie's detective stories provide subtle, consistent clues that the reader is supposed to assemble into a coherent answer. Raymond Chandler's detective stories are all about atmosphere and characterization (when readers puzzled over who removed Geiger's body in The Big Sleep, Chandler himself admitted he had no idea). Each can be great art in its own way. But Lindelof shouldn't reject Lost's casual viewers for not paying careful attention, and yet also reject its attentive viewers for caring about minutiae instead of the characters.

11:54 PM, June 07, 2017  
Blogger New England Guy said...

I enjoyed the Leftovers and the finale wasn't bad but I wanted more. Not so much about the big disappearance- I thought regular people dealing with crazy circumstances was what made the show work. I think the finale didn't come through on the basic emotional parts. SPOILER- why did Nora go hide in Australia after coming back? Why did Kevin search forever and then do the stupid pretending about their past. Their spoken explanations I found to be unsatisfying -n fact I barely remember them. Seemed like pointless misdirection.

I did like the sexy nun though.

4:38 AM, June 08, 2017  
Blogger LAGuy said...

They decided to end the show dealing with the central relationship, but also, through the season, dealt with where every major character ended up. While it was intentionally small, it did give them, and the audience, what they wanted, I would think.

I think there are pretty clear reasons (no matter whether Nora went to the other side) for why the characters did what they did. Both Nora and Kevin had gone too far and needed a way to get back together, but it wasn't easy, due to the basic character of each. (And yes, there was also a little misdirection, but that wasn't the main point.)

9:24 AM, June 08, 2017  

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