24 May 2010

'I hope you're happy, Jacob.'

I meant to take the month of May off from the Kommand. It has proven to be a busy and exciting month as I completed my M.Ed., saw some severe changes at work, and otherwise prepared for a long and hopefully relaxing summer. And so writing took a backseat to brain-juice refinement and creative refreshment. The start of June seemed a logical place to resume posting, and writing in general, but I felt I needed a place to post some of my initial reaction to last night's LOST finale and the subsequent naysaying that so irritates me. A private blog, even unread, is a better venue than that of a blip in a list of hundreds of comments on Jeff Jensen's site or The Transmission.

So here we go.


Suzanne Merkelson wrote a brief and honest review of The End and, I felt, provided a nice closing:


Lost is not a story about an island or a plane crash or a Smoke Monster or some hippie-dippie 70s-era research crew. It's not just a story about a doctor with a God complex and daddy issues or a well-meaning fugitive or a paraplegic with conviction or a conman with great one-liners or an obese lottery winner. It's all that, but it's a also a story about a group of flawed yet lovable people experiencing life and death, pain and suffering, healing and joy in order to experience that moment of Oneness.

I think it's a good launching-off point for any discussion on the mythology of LOST, as it sums up the core of the show around which all the mysteries orbit. It is this core that a vocal minority of gainsayers have neglected as they gallavant over it: LOST is a character story.

I can recall having a discussion about this with my wife some time during season 4, on the drive home from an episode viewing at a friend's. I cannot call up the episode in question but I remember it being more a mythological piece, involving few main characters but delving a bit into the story of the Island. I mentioned how I loved watching LOST for the fanciful or mythological aspects of it; the vague historical references left in clues on the island, the strange 'pockets' of energy, the fact that the island can disappear. I am a fantasy nerd at heart and these kinds of otherworldly notions are infinitely intriguing to me because they put my imagination in a chokehold and pressurize parts of it I did not know existed. I loved the characters but for me, in that moment, they were merely vehicles through which the story of the Island might develop.

My wife, inversely, loved watching the show more for the characters and their brilliant portrayals by the perhaps overqualified cast. For her, and many others, it is the story of these people, feigned or otherwise, and their journey together. The mysteries lie in discovering who these people are, why they are the way they are, and where they are going.

I'm not entirely sure when the shift in my thinking occurred, but I can only suspect that seeing this core of 'candidates', characters I had grown to know and care for over these many, many hours of television, reach the falling action of the story and begin to die (for real this time) put the Island into the periphery of the LOST story. I began to realize my error in viewing the show; that all the mysteries, all of the questions were really the vehicles and the characters the real development.

Perhaps it was the episode Across the Sea that might have put to rest the need to know what the Island is and where it comes from. I really liked the episode and its intentionally vague mythological context. I loved that the Man In Black had no name, that the other people on the Island were just 'those other people', that Jacob and the MIB were twins, that the Light was just the Light, and that the mother did not have and did not require an backstory. It felt very much like a story drawn straight out of European mythology and that was enough for me. Maybe knowing that those were the kinds of answers LOST provided was enough to settle my inner fantasy nerd and draw my focus back to the resolution of these character stories that had become so intense.

Sadly, though, not everyone came to feel the way I do and were sorely disappointed by the lack of closure to the story of the Island itself and all of its mysteries.

I can relate and empathize with that feeling. Part of the reason why I love Tolkien's work so much is that there seem to be answers for everything, one need only search them out. It is disappointing to not have answers to intriguing questions you have invested yourself in. One example are the Reavers in Firefly: we get an answer to their origins in Serenity, kind of, but was it a satisfying one? But not being pleased with this explanation did not detract from my enjoyment of the movie; I just let it go.

So it is irritating, and I know the irritation is my own problem, when I read or hear people say that all brilliant six seasons of LOST were a complete waste because the final season and finale did not answer all the questions that were posed. If you enjoyed watching LOST, by yourself or with friends, each week and enjoyed the characters and the intriguing Island developments, is that not enough? Is the story and its value as a piece of art (or even just entertainment) completely negated because the viewer did not get what he wanted out of it?

To begin, it seems a lot of folks misunderstood, or misinterpreted, the closure of the sideways story. It was not that our heroes were dead all along or that they all died in the final moments of the show (per the cryptic plane pieces in the end credits), it was that the sideways time represented a sort of afterlife or purgatory where all souls reunite after they've moved on. Yes, Kate, Sawyer, and the lot did appear in the church. But, as Christian said, some were already dead and some passed long after  Jack did. The point is that, in the end, they were able to join together as one, in peace, and celebrate that oneness without the care and weight of the world. Some have already said that the sideways timeline was a 'gift' from the Island for their service to it. I like this idea, as it is reflective of the Grey Havens, but I am not convinced of it. It's a nice thought, though.

So all the answers were not given, every stone not turned, but perhaps that is what has and will set LOST apart from other television programs as more art and less entertainment; they wrote a story that wove a brilliant web of myths and did not hand an interpretation or explanation to the audience on a silver platter. With that in mind, I'm reminded of Tolkien who once said that he "cordially dislike[d] allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done since [he] grew old and wary enough to detect its presence". Allegory, or really any art with a definitive meaning, is dangerous in that it provides no room for interpretation. It is a form of control, in a sense, and less like art. LOST chose to go against this almost entirely.

Maybe this is why there has been such backlash: modern audiences want everything tidied up.

Ian MacKaye once said that giving the audience what they want is doing them a disservice. The trouble with LOST is that so many people expected so many different things from it. Giving a definitive answer is probably as risky, in terms of audience satisfaction, as leaving things very open. But in the end, as I and many others have said, LOST was a character piece about people coming together and remaining connected. The rest is up in the air.




So here is to six seasons of great television; hopefully not the last of its kind.

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