Monday, May 24, 2010
WARNING: Spoilers below.
In August of 2004, I sat on a stoop outside my university, watching a bus drive by with a poster for the new show LOST on the side. It was premiering on September 22nd. I smiled. That was a day after my birthday. As an avid Lord of the Rings fan, I was excited to see Dominic Monaghan in his new role as a castaway, and claimed that the premiere was my birthday present. Little did I know what the show would turn into.
A narrative adventure unlike any ever seen before.
I have a lot of respect and admiration for this show. It broke new ground in countless ways, and the series finale last night was emotionally fulfilling. No, all the loose ends weren't tied up in a neat bow, all the questions weren't answered, but there's a reason for that. Let me explain.
I am not a die-hard LOST fan by any means. In fact, somewhere in season 2 or 3 (you know, when most people got frustrated and stopped watching), the only reason I kept watching was for laughs. Then Linus and Locke visited Jacob's cabin, and shit started moving on its own. That scared the crap out of me and was so unexpected that I was hooked again. Thank goodness I kept watching.
I have never kept track of all the little tidbits and throwbacks I know the writers have thrown in over the years, weaving their own mythology, and I have missed an episode here or there, and there are questions I don't care about because I've forgotten them. To be honest, half the time the episode would be in and out: I'd watch it, have fun for an hour, then forget about it. That changed this season when the stakes were raised, and I found myself not only wondering about what I'd seen in each new episode, but looking forward to Tuesday nights when it would be on again. The episode dedicated to Richard Alpert's story was particularly gripping.
Last night's episode was poetic, poignant, and left me at peace with the characters. From reactions on Facebook, it's obvious that everyone wasn't so pleased. My thought would be that those are the people who were waiting for one final gimmick, one last big twist to blow them away. In other words, they were hoping for something cheap and plot-driven. Instead, LOST remained true to what has powered it all these years: character.
When it was revealed that the flash-sideways have been the characters' journeys to realizing that they're dead, I was touched. The memories they would have of the Island after being reunited with each other were their memories of their real lives. Their flash sideways lives (post mortem, apparently), I interpret to be what they imagine their life would be if they hadn't crashed. Sayid could keep Nadia out of harm's way. Sawyer could deliver justice on the right side of the law. Claire could have the family she never knew. Kate could prove that she's a good person. And Jack... Jack could save every one.
They all died at different times in their lives, but they each had to go through a mental/emotional journey in their symbolic "after death lives" to reach the understanding that, like Jack's father said, their time together was the most important period of their lives, which is why they all waited for each other before moving on. The end message was one of love. There were countless reunions and tears, and it was clear that love was the binding force of their universe, and ours.
I won't get into the plot of the show other than to say that, as a screenwriter currently in the process of pitching her own TV series, I am very grateful to LOST. It proved that unconventional narratives with a diverse cast, flashbacks, flash forwards, flash sideways, time travel, myth, and the supernatural can all exist in a compelling story told one hour every week. Before LOST, nearly everything on that list was considered impossible on TV.
Maybe people who aren't in the industry don't realize just how restrictive writing for TV and film is. Not only must the budget be considered, but precedent. If a genre or style or story has not been proven to make money in the past, then it is considered a huge risk that is usually never funded. That's why you see so many cop and lawyer and doctor and ghost shows (oh, and remakes). They're safe bets. LOST sure as hell wasn't a safe bet, and I am thankful that the people behind the scenes were brazen enough to gamble on the show.
But the chances the writers took lost a lot of viewers. The impatient slipped away, claiming that the writers "have no idea what they're doing." Sure, there was a lot of creative playfulness in the show, and there were times that I also thought "they're just making this up as they go along," but the more experience and education I gained as a writer myself, the more I realized that they certainly did know what they were doing, and I gained faith in them.
This will piss people off, but those who gave up on LOST, I'm willing to bet, are not necessarily creative people or artists, and more than likely are not writers or big readers. Why? Because ultimately, LOST is a show for writers and avid readers. Just like anyone who has written enough scripts or read enough books, I can predict the end of most TV shows and films. It's my job to recognize and mimic the story patterns, after all. Unfortunately, this means that the stories told on most TV shows (like Grey's Anatomy) often bore me. LOST, however, was like metafiction: it is narrative that talks to its own devices. It blew convention and rules out of the water, which made it highly enjoyable for those of us who were used to predictability. It made the show both a game and a challenge for the writing mind.
Like the best self-informed works of literature (The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien comes to mind) the series and finale were a perfect blend of form and content echoing theme. For those of you who no longer watch, the main theme of LOST has long been reason vs. faith. Does it get much more Romantic than that? And I don't mean faith as in religion. In fact, the church Jack enters at the end of the finale made a point of representing icons of nearly every religion that it could fit into the scene. This is Enlightenment vs. Romanticism -- rationality vs. sublime.
I had no problem shifting my view of John Locke from good guy to bad guy when he became the Man in Black, because he was always the bad guy to me. I never liked him and he scared me. It wasn't just his appearance, but his blind faith that I immediately recognize as dangerous. And it was dangerous. His blind faith led to naivete and his demise. Jack, on the other hand, learned from Locke's example and ultimately found a balance.
Thankfully, LOST did not confuse reason with science and faith with religion, unlike many other stories. Jack was a doctor, a man of science, but instead of the false dichotomy of science and religion at war, he represented the journey of the rational, modern man (a sort of everyman given that his name, "Jack," has been so common for centuries) confronting that which reason couldn't explain, thus gaining the faith to trust that there are forces at work in our world that we can neither explain nor understand. It's John Keats' theory of Negative Capability and a very Buddhist idea: the belief of accepting and embracing not knowing.
This is why the final episode's content matched its theme. Everything was not explained, and in the end, all that was important was the love shared among the characters. Love is intangible and beyond reason, nearly as beyond reason as possible, and yet even the most rational of us put our faith in it every day. Jack had the biggest transformation of all the characters. He learned what Hurley always knew: that love is enough.
I have never been a fan of Kate, and as one of my friends pointed out, my dislike of her stems from the fact that (at least for the majority of the show) she wasn't a character, she was a device. The whole Kate/Sawyer/Jack love triangle was stupid and boring and unbelievable. But her character finally started to evolve beyond the role of the manipulative vixen, and the more I began to care about Jack, the more I began to care about Kate. The scene in the finale when Kate saves Jack by shooting Smokey made my heart speed up, and the moment in the flash-sideways death world where she greeted Jack after the concert and said, "I've missed you so much," tugged on the heartstrings. I used to despise Kate, and through the journey of the characters, the writers (and actors) have managed to make me not only change my mind about her, but become a Jack/Kate fan. Yes, I'm a Jate shipper. That's a big deal.
The show also had the most poetic ending one could ask for. The series began with Jack opening his eye after the plane crash, and ended with him closing it as he died, lying next to Vincent, knowing that the woman he loved and the others he fought for had escaped. They valued Jack and knew what he had sacrificed for them, but Jack had yet to accept the good within himself. His flash-sideways death world journey was about him learning just how much his sacrifice on the Island was worth, gaining true faith in his self-love (as evidenced by his father, who made him feel that he wasn't good enough in life, welcoming him to the afterlife) so that he could gain the peace to move on.
And the scenes of the plane wreckage during the credits? I could be wrong since it's been ages since I've watched an episode set on the beach of the original crash site, but my take was that that's what the beach looks like in the current timeline: The Island is alive and well but utterly abandoned.
It has been an emotional journey and I will miss LOST. It's certainly not a show for the casual viewer who just wants a quick dose of fulfilling entertainment with no loyalty attached, and I'm thankful for that. We have too much of that non-transgressive fodder as it is. LOST is a show for the philosophically-curious, for those tired of the same old boundaries, and for those who are perfectly willing to admit what they don't know in life, and embrace the mystery of not knowing.