Saturday, January 22, 2011

Happy ending or Lost opportunity?

I haven't thought much about the Lost finale recently, but then I stumbled across the following rant from Lawful Good Wonk.  While he makes a fair point about the silliness of fans who are still upset that the show didn't answer all of their questions (no matter how trivial/orthogonal to the main plot), he seems to lump all criticism of the show's final episode together with these disappointed contingent:
And THAT is what bugs me. That's why I'm writing this whole thing. It's not the fact that people didn't like the ending or don't like that this or that storyline wasn't fully resolved within the show's main broadcast. I love Lost to no end, but I'll be the first to admit it was flawed. There were characters who shouldn't have been introduced, plots that went nowhere, missed opportunities. Mistakes were made, yes, but it seems there is not a single person out there who can actually articulate their own, original thoughts about what was wrong with the show or the ending itself. It's just "They didn't answer everything." That's the only complaint.
So.  You want my original thoughts on why the finale sucked?  Challenge accepted.  And let's get this party started by tearing down your strawman.  I didn't come to Lost looking for answers.  As a writer, I've always found the questions to be far more interesting myself.  In fact, one of my greatest fears as Lost entered its final season was that its creators would listen a little too much to the fans who were demanding answers and turn the last thirteen episodes into nothing but a pedantic game of connect the dots, a glorified answer key to a show that was at its absolute best (in my humble opinion) when it peeled back a layer of mystery to reveal yet another layer.
But about that ending.  Aside from simply offering some much sought-after resolution for the show's main characters-- i.e., Sawyer finally got off that damned Island, hot damn-- the reason that Lost's final episode is so critical is that it directly impacts one's reception of all of Season Six. If you were one of the fans who was hoping that the Sideways universe would have more bearing on the actual plot and not end up constituting the show's epilogue, then yes, the finale is going to color your perception of not just that last episode but at least the last season in its entirety.
(Sidebar: I don't for a minute believe that the Sideways was always conceived of as the "Heaven's waiting room" it turned out to be in the finale. If we are to believe this is some kind of special place that the Losties created to find each other after death, why do we spend so much of our Season Six time in the Sideways watching them all be miserable towards one another?  Why is Desmond running down Locke in a wheelchair?  Is this how friends in the afterlife say hello?  And if this is Heaven's waiting room, who the Hell invited Keamy?  Are his eggs really that special?)
Unfortunately it goes deeper than that.  Hang on to your hats, because we're going to have to geek out a little here if my broader criticism is going to make any sense.  But here it is:  if the Sideways was not a parallel universe created by Jughead, then what was the point of the Losties going back to the 70's in the first place?  If nothing they did (or didn't do) had any effect whatsoever, what purpose was served by setting a sizable portion of Season Five in Dharma times?  Daniel Faraday's paradoxical theories presented a huge moral dilemma for the characters, and teased both them and us as the viewers with questions of causality and destiny.  
All of that was swept aside by the finale when we learned that the Sideways was not in fact the direct result of Jughead's explosion, with the result that the previous season is now also suspect, as well as the entire time travel subplot precipitated by the events of the Season Four finale.  Was Locke told to move the Frozen Donkey Wheel because it would move the Losties through time and eventually deposit them at the threshold of a critical juncture in the Island's history, in hopes of generating a better outcome than the one which had actually transpired?  I guess not.  But hey, wasn't it funny when Hurley was writing the script to Star Wars?  
Now I'm not one of those fans who demands that a show's creators know exactly how everything is going to turn out from the very outset, but the Sideways reveal as an aspect of the afterlife feels like a sloppy last-minute graft to me.  Team Darlton had every right to make whatever creative decision they thought best for the show, of course, but the more I think about it the more I can't shake the sense that for some reason or another they ditched their original plan for the Sideways midway through the final season in favor of an ending that was less complicated.  I'm glad this happy ending worked for others, but it just didn't for me.  
Kurt Vonnegut once said: "Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted."  I would have been able to forgive most if not all of the Lost finale's flaws, if the last episode had not also retroactively soured me on so much of what had gone before.  I was prepared to be disappointed by the end, because how can you not fall short when trying to resolve a show as ambitious as this?  What I did not expect-- indeed, the last thing I would have ever expected from Lost-- was that at the end, when all was said and done, I'd feel that my time had been wasted. 

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