Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Where was Jessica Fletcher when we needed her?

The Mystery That Was The Mystery
(Or yet another Lost post)
 "So, where is that glass eyeball you wanted me to examine?"

Not sure when or if I'll stop thinking about Lost, and it just may be a very long time indeed before I stop writing about it.  Just re-watching the final 10-15 minutes last night made me far more emotional than a TV show ever should.  But while I plan on doing many more paeans to the show for many years to come (and especially over the next few weeks), let's pause for a moment before we get to my next Lost Recap, Part Two of Infinity, and let's talk about what the other side is saying.  Let's acknowledge that the finale worked not for everyone, and not at all for some.  Normally I have trouble seeing the other side of the coin in many arguments, but not here.  For those on the other side of the divide on this subject, I have much empathy.
Unless they act like dicks about it, in which case they can go screw.  But for those who are polite about their disappointment, let's talk.  (Hell, if you want to be rude, who I am kidding?  Go nuts!)

So let's talk about some of the problems people had.  I can go on and on about my love for this show and its finale, but some people had absolutely no love for it at all.  And to be fully honest here, the "story" part of the storytelling took a huge beating during this final season.  That was with a purpose, as I came to understand, but, nevertheless, part of telling a story is... well, actually telling a story.  There should be a beginning, a middle and an end to all things.  Lost nailed to the wall everything character-related, but they left behind the wreckage of an amazing mystery tale in their wake. 

For me, the characters were all I ever really cared about, and my great fear was that mythology would overtake this final season and overwhelm what I loved about the show.  That seemed to be threatening to happen at times, but it never really did, and the finale ultimately brought all the things I cared about full circle.

Or at least, it brought things full circle for me.  I realize that is not the case for everyone.

So, let's forget me for a second (yeah, I have a really hard time doing that, too). What about those people who had other valid interests; interests that were often left bleeding in a heap by the side of the road?

I can see why the people who followed the show primarily for the mystery were underwhelmed.  To begin with, there was good reason to focus primarily on the mystery, as for much of the time over the past six years the mystery was front and center, doing much of the show's heavy lifting, as the writers road the stationary bike of storytelling for part of the first three seasons (and even some of the last three seasons, as well).  Lost was a fabulously constructed tale of intrigue and back-story, and it will always be a shame that the writers did not feel they could (or had the time to) wrap up the mystery they had so painstakingly laid out over a very long time.  I understand that part of the point of the finale was to effectively make the mystery moot to a certain extent, as it did become clear to me that the story they were telling us was always and only about what effect that mystery was having on our characters, rather than being about the mystery itself.  And yet I cannot but help think that an opportunity was lost.  If they had managed to tie together all the disparate threads of the mythology they had so carefully constructed, it would have made for an epic accomplishment on the same order as that of the character story they did complete.  It would have been a metaphysical Murder, She Wrote for the ages.

So, in the end the mystery fell apart.  Its center did not hold.  Of that, there is no doubt.  And even I, a finale lover and major Lost apologist, do think there could have been time to address those more mundane parts of our six year story, especially since the show set its own agenda three years ago. 

And now, having seen the final curtain pulled away, it does make me curious as to why they ever strung out so many mysteries for the entire run of the show in the first place.  Considering the finale showed us that the mythology was never central to the story they were telling (thank God!), I sit here now confused as to why they didn't just start paying off much of it years ago.  What the whispers were; who Jacob was; how the Black Rock got there; Richard's back-story; the origin of the Smoke Monster; and the other handful of things that were addressed this season would have been better served had they come up organically throughout the run of the show, rather than searching for the odd place here or there in which to jam them into this final season (a final season which created and didn't really resolve a number of new mysteries, by the way).  And there were so many other of those type of mysteries layered into the show over the years, that they could have been paying them off in succession for all of the past three years without ever running out of them before they got to the end of the series.

Shoehorned into the final run of 18, the resolutions we did get often came off clumsy and/or dramatically inert, whereas they could have been addressed more interestingly and usefully had they been worked into the body of the show over the course of the final three seasons.  It would have spoiled nothing and harmed the dramatic tension not at all, for instance, if Richard's story had been told at any time during S4 or S5.  Ditto for Jacob's story, and for the introduction of Jacob and the MiB in the first place, for that matter, just name a few things I felt could have been paid off much earlier, and actually have improved the story in the process.

For example: Darlton have said they specifically withheld Across the Sea until the the penultimate-penultimate episode for a dramatic purpose, in order to let it inform the fireside chat we would see the next week in What They Died For.  They felt that trying to shorten and display that story in the context of another story (i.e., as flashbacks during, say, What They Died For) would have lessened its impact (with which I agree), and that to have told it much earlier would have meant that it would have not been fresh enough in viewers minds for it to have had the same impact that it did in What They Died For (and with that I completely disagree, and I think it's one of the only times Darlton ever underestimated their audience's collective intelligence).

And let's face it, the answer to things such as The Whispers or the Statue had no bearing at all on anything, and those answers could have come at any time and still provided the same impact.  In fact, I feel quite certain the answer to the Whispers would have had far more impact if we had learned what they were long, long ago.  Certainly it would have allowed the show to dramatize what The Whispers were in a far less clumsy manner than they ended up doing in S6.  If there was a nadir to this season for me, it was that scene, which meant nothing to the story at that point, and which meant nothing to me emotionally in the manner that it was dramatized.

And thus, while I care less than nothing about most of these minor mysteries, and while I even care very little anymore for some of the major mysteries which I have contemplated again and again over the years (such as the mystery of the Jacob's Cabin; or why The Others left Desmond in place and alone in The Swan, which was a place that was of paramount importance to the further existence of the island itself; or just what impact the Losties traveling back to Dharma times had on so many things, most especially on Ben himself), I can understand the disconnect many feel towards the show now.  If you were following the show for the mystery (and there was no reason you should not have been, since it was front and central so often for years), then obviously you might feel gypped.  I can empathize, even if I do not fall into your camp.

For me, if the mystery had been the be all, end all of why I watched, then I wouldn't still have been watching by this point, anyway (in fact, if all I really wanted were answers, I would have checked out during S3 right after an episode called Enter 77).  If I had followed this show as a mystery show, I would have abandoned it just as I did 24, which was a character-light (or character-non-existent) show I followed only for the enjoyable action-thriller elements of its first season.  When those elements became ridiculous (outright stupid, really) starting with the very first show in the second season, I bailed immediately.  I would go back each season to see what was happening, checking out the first few episodes, but the lack of character depth and the lazy action-thriller plotting always saw me checking out right away each and every year.

(Except for Day Itzin, which I enjoyed like a good soap opera and stayed with until its bitter end, only to check out again immediately at the beginning of the next season, which was off the charts terrible from the first hour).

But 24 never had characters like those on Lost, so I can see where a mystery-buff could have been strung along by Lost, thanks to the great character work going on around it all.  Even though it appeared that the mystery was never going to add up, there was so much more to the show that it was probably easy to suspend disbelief and hope that the show would tie it all up by the end of its run.  But in end, if that mystery was your major (or sole) interest, then, while I cannot understand why you hung in for six years in the first place, I can see how you would feel that the show really gave you pretty much nothing during this final season.

And in some ways, you got worse than nothing, because the finale made me see that the mystery was totally superfluous to the story they were telling, and so I am mightily confused as to why they ever let it become as convoluted as they did.  Even my own enjoyment of the final season was lessened every time they tried to shoehorn in another mystery-moment that it was obvious the writers cared very little about.  The Whispers, the statue, the backstories of Jacob and Richard, they were all so out of character and uninteresting thanks to the rushed nature of their presentation, and thanks to their revelation being withheld until almost the bitter end, when said revelation no longer had any major dramatic impact on the story    and in some cases barely had any impact on the plot they were supporting all these years.

So, yes, there were faults aplenty in Lost, as there have been in every great and complex work of fiction I've ever seen or read.  I find the faults to be understandable and minor, but I also think a fair number could have been avoided.  And I really cannot argue too much with people who can see nothing but those faults, as I do think Lost invited the consternation those fans feel about the way things played out in regards to the mystery.

In the end, however, I do think they crafted a final three and a half hours that put the mystery aspect of the show in its rightful place (and proved why it should never have been allowed to get so out of control in the first place), and they thankfully focused the story back on the only reason I ever became so invested in the show in the first place: the characters. 

In the end, it wasn't all perfect, but it was as close to it as any show I have ever seen.  And when it came time to fish or cut bait, I thank them for cutting the bait, as they should have, and focusing on the fish I cared about.  Time will likely bring to the surface for me more criticisms of the overall storytelling, but I hope also that time will dull those criticisms for those who are feeling them most strongly now.

I hope in some way station in the future, we all might meet in the middle.


  1. I'll see you in the great way station in the sky then, Schmoker. I enjoyed the finale, but the problems you cited in this article were a lot bigger for me than they were for you. I expected character resolution AND plot resolution, and cannot figure out why they did not give us both.

    Hey, I cried, too. I was all torn up by the finale. But I was left with a giant hole of mystery in my gut, too. As you said, had they managed to cover both sides of the story, then it would have been the greatest television drama of all time. It would have been one of the greatest works of art of all time.

    I just wish my brain had been as engaged by the final season as my heart was. But I'll take it. Faults and all, it was a hell of a show.

  2. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. If you didn't like it, if it didn't answer all your geek fueled questions about eyeballs and smoke particles and electromagnetism, then you can suck an egg. What did you watch this show for? Why did you hang in for six years if you needed to last 100 minutes to validate your existence time spent?

    You either liked the show going into the finale, or not. And if you did, then the finale cannot retroactively ruin it for unless you are mental.

    You are being too nice, Schmoker. Give 'em both barrels. Don't show empathy to the haters.

  3. I was in it for the mysteries and feel robbed, gutted; hollow. Yes, I love the show yes, it was great acting, of course! But my love came out of appreciation for genius, not out of pity, which seems to be the argument du jour for those forgiving this catastrophic ending. "The worst episode of Lost is better than the best of anything else out there" or "They did the best they could with the time they had"... bull. They set out to do something whole and, in the end, only came up with half.