Monday, May 24, 2010

On The End

I watched the first season of Lost on DVD with my girlfriend. She resided in a 400-square foot apartment in the West Village; I essentially lived there with her. This is how we learned to live together; one night, when her couch had been removed and her boxes had been packed and we prepared to move in together, we watched several episodes while sitting on pillows on the floor. That's one of the hard things about the ending of a long-running television show: It marks the passage of your life from one era into the next.

Lost was the first show I remember us watching together, the first show that we both fell into all at once, mainlining five and six episodes in a night, catching up on the entire first season and the first few episodes of the second in a matter of weeks. It sounds kind of stupid and naive to admit it now, but Lost introduced me to a number of concepts I'd never really considered in depth before, including, but not limited to: Buddhism, the book (and film) Lost Horizon, C.S. Lewis*, The Stand**, Philip K. Dick, Watership Down, Mama Cass, Hume, Rousseau, B.F. Skinner, and several dozen others. Many of these were red herrings, and I knew they were red herrings, but I didn't care--the whole point of Lost, at least to me, was to lose yourself in the minutiae, to become obsessed with exploring the questions rather than presuming that the answers would unfold simply and unremarkably.

You might have heard this somewhere, but Lost ended last night. It ended without answering many key questions, and this bothered certain people, but I think it's pretty obvious at this point that those people were watching this show for the wrong reasons. I guess being a Lost apologist is a little bit like being a baseball apologist during the steroid era: You know there are things that just don't add up, and you know the game you're watching is inherently flawed, but you are there because it just feels right, because as much as you enjoy breaking down VOIP and WHIP and OPS, there is something inherently compelling about the players themselves. You do not stop watching merely because it does some silly things on occasion.

So I'm not going to apologize for apologizing for Lost, even when it stumbled (and I don't think it stumbled in the end--I think it embraced its most important elements, and earned its sentimentality, which is a rare thing). If television shows increasingly serve as touchstones for our culture, Lost may be the most important cultural artifact of the 21st century: It never compromised its underlying intelligence, and it embraced the Internet paradigm in the best possible way, and yet it never lost sight of the one lesson that every creative writing teacher since the beginning of time*** has emphasized, which is that character comes first. And if I'm being honest, I can't think of a television show that changed my very character more than this one.

*I'd read those books as a kid, but Lost made me go back and look at them again.
**See above.
***Or M.F.A. programs.

1 comment:

WarningTrack said...

I hate to be the wet blanket here, but "character comes first" is different than "character is the only thing that matters at all."

I'm okay with the finale. I didn't love it, and I didn't hate it. But I've found Damon and Carlton's PR push of "hey, it's all about the characters" to be a mite disingenuous. They are intelligent and perceptive men who have been engaged and interested in the fan reaction to their show. They are aware of -- and have often stoked -- the intriguing mysteries of the Island. In short: they know exactly what they've been doing. The shift in emphasis away from the importance of their mythology is, I think, pretty self-serving.

This is not to say that the thematic elegance of the finale isn't considerable. There are some wonderfully appropriate and symmetrical things about it that I'm very enamored with. And if I had to choose plot or character, I'd probably go with the latter. But I'm not sure a legendary show would force us to make that choice, either.

Also, there are some character-centric complaints with the finale, too. The ending undermines a lot of the drama of the past season, and a lot of things said about the importance of the Island in the first couple of seasons, as well. For all the talk of the Island as a character in and of itself, it ended up being incidental, rather than instrumental, in the end result for all these characters.