Tuesday, May 25, 2010

More on "The End" of LOST

I did not anticipate that I'd spend as much time unpacking my reactions to "The End", the finale of LOST, as I've been doing the past day, considering I was not a devoted follower and had no business having any feelings at all about it.

But now that I've had a day to reflect beyond my non-reaction reaction yesterday, here are my thoughts.

(My rambling reaction, with content not suitable for the unspoiled, plus how it relates to The X-Files and other general TV theory, below).

It has taken me a day to have some thoughts coalesce. I spent some time wondering why I was so unsettled after the ending of Lost. After all, I wasn't a devoted fan, and I went into it with no expectations or requirements. But, nevertheless, when it ended, something just didn't feel right to me.

I was having a very basic discussion about it with Shanna, who is absolutely a devoted fan of the show, and I was glad that she was happy and satisfied with how it all turned out. I think your satisfaction level at the end depends entirely on what you needed to get out of it. This also goes into a topic I swear I always mean to write about, but haven't formed into something readable yet, and that is that there are two general typologies of TV viewers with different narrative priorities capturing their attention and driving their devotion to various shows: The Plot and The Characters. If you are a Plot Person, you wanted more answers from LOST by the end of the evening. You were driven to watch to unravel the mysteries and wanted to know how every puzzle piece fit, how each pixel lined up. If you are a Character Person, you wanted to have some kind of emotional resolution for the characters you've grown to love. Each puzzle piece didn't matter, there could be unclear or missing artifacts at detail level as long as there was a pleasing picture to see when you stood back. If you were strongly the former, you were probably the most disappointed. If you were the latter, you were probably very happy with how it all turned out. Of course, there are degrees in between.

I also believe it is true, as I said earlier, that this finale was not, and should not have been, designed for the non-devoted follower. Shanna always said LOST was not for the casual viewer, and I think that is very true. In order to fully enjoy it, you had to be willing to engage in discussion and long contemplation with fellow fans. You had to speculate and come up with satisfying theories to sustain you, which may have been validated or subverted by the finale, but if (as was largely the case with the evolution of the end of the series) you did not get definitive answers to those questions one way or another, you already had your own answers to fill in those gaps.

Perhaps the loss in viewers the show experienced in its midsection can be attributed to this. Not everyone who watches TV also engages in in-depth discussion about it. A lot of people, like one of my aunts, were intrigued by the show for the first couple of seasons, but could not sustain interest because they were not the type to hash it all out online. LOST was a communal experience, and much like one of the metaphors of the series, was not really an endeavor for those going it alone.

So, why was I uneasy with the ending? I can live in a universe where there are smoke monsters and moveable islands and glowing caves into the heart of the earth/humanity. I like the mystery, and I like answers, but I can live with the revelation that those really weren't the answers to be found in that universe. After all, I lived through X-Files fandom, where there were bees spreading alien conspiracy viruses and even when they "solved" some of the cases, it was often with a wink to the audience (ie "So, this isn't an alien or a miracle, it is a highly improbable yet technically possible scientific anomaly.... or is it?!?! [wink]). I can accept that Sunnydale and Bon Temps look much like the universe we live in but have vampires and whatnot.

For me, I think there is just something that didn't sit right with me about the nature of the not-on-the-island, not-exactly-purgatory Sidewaysverse. If this is some kind of mental/spiritual construct we see from Jack's point of view, with the exception of creating pseudo-resolution reunions for all the rest of the characters for the VIEWER, why did all the other reunion-awareness moments take place in Jack's Sideways Los Angeles when he was not involved in them? Why follow them away from Jack's awareness of them? Was it so HE had is own subconscious, third-person omniscient creation of happy endings for those particular people as well (filling in gaps and re-writing their endings to get to where he needed to be)? Was it always a shared construct, so that all of their spirits were participating in his version of the Sideways LA, and he in theirs? Did they all experience it as LA, or in, say, Jin or Sun's version, do they experience it as Korea, but with all the spirits/consciousnesses of all the others populating it the same way they did in Jack's version? Can they all simultaneously populate these multiple quasi-purgatories outside of time without that awareness moment?

(Oh, Lost. You've done to me what you did to your followers all along: given me more questions.)

But, when I think about it, this is the problem I've always had with metaphysical concepts. If we have souls, what is their nature apart from our bodies? If God exists, who created God? What is beyond the universe? What happens when we die?

It isn't a storytelling problem (although some could see it that way), it is my individual problem related to my relationship with matters of faith.

I can't know these things, and a long time ago I decided that those answers didn't matter and had no effect on how I live my daily life. Once I accepted that, I was able to let go of the anxiety I felt over spiritual matters and felt a little bit more at peace.

"The End" of LOST resurrected in me that feeling of unease with the unknowable, (and to be honest, I was feeling some resentment surrounding it, too) but now I can, to paraphrase Christian Shephard, let go and move on.


Another discussion about LOST I'd been following all season, to help me deconstruct a lot of stuff I was ill equipped to process and keep up with the season-long revelations, was the ongoing conversation over at the Slate Lost TV Club. The three writers are an interesting mix of those whose devotion was still strong going into the season and a little bit of disillusionment, with varying degrees of expectations, and a lot of insightful background knowledge.

As always, I have to point in the direction of Television Without Pity. Not the source I relied on for catching up on full recaps for LOST (though it is always high on my list for keeping up with many shows), but the recaplet for The End seemed like a good example of the kind of info-emotion-dump that most fans were going through in the wee hours after the series concluded.

ETA2: (also via Shanna) Jezebel has a great, satisfying wrap up (yes, with spoilers). I particularly like that it gets into specific, spiritual parallels of the non-Christian variety.


Other notes:
Clearly, the masterminds behind LOST learned from shows like The X-Files. Of course, there is the similarly long-arc, internal mythology-heavy, supernatural-mystery storytelling, but importantly The X-Files was a study in early internet-era fan response. The now ubiquitous term "shipper" referring to fans who want characters on a show to get together originated from X-Philes wishing for a Scully/Mulder union. At the time, shows foundered with how to tell their stories while receiving instant substantive feedback from their fans and critics. Shows are now very carefully navigating that tension between their professional storytelling knowledge, their creative instincts, and fan reaction.

Also, I'm guessing they learned how to END a story like this from the poorly handled ending of The X-Files, which foundered when there was not an agreed upon end point before they lost focus and alienated a lot of fans. It was frustrating and heartbreaking. Even though there is no way to please all fans, sometimes not even most of them, I think LOST made some choices and stuck with them, and that matters.


  1. "LOST was a communal experience, and much like one of the metaphors of the series, was not really an endeavor for those going it alone."


    I think that while the writers/producers figured you could get by just watching week to week without lots of intense discussion/picking apart of various things, they didn't write the ending with those people in mind. This show had kind of an amazing online following; I know that other shows have online followings too, of course, but this one was so huge that they even had between-season online games and whatnot. It was huge enough that maybe the felt they could get away with ending the show without a steady stream of "answers", because they knew (as you mentioned, and I mentioned) that a lot of the viewers had already come up with valid possibilities for the answers to many questions and had hashed out the information for so long that we already believed a lot of it to be true (even without it being said explicitly on the show).

    For people who didn't participate in that, I can totally see how the show left them hanging with a lot of complex story lines totally abandoned.

    I am more frustrated with the people who are completely misunderstanding the ending (OMG THEY WERE DEAD ALL ALONG I WASTED 6 YEARS OF MY LIFE ON PURGATORY) rather than the people who just didn't particularly LIKE the ending. They were not dead all along and maybe if you paid attention you would realize that. If you can't even pay attention when they spell out what was real and what was in the "limbo state" or whatever then it is no wonder you were so confused every week watching the show! (This is not referring to you, of course.) And if you only watch the show for the endgame, well, that is kind of depressing. I mean, I get wanting to find out how everything turns out, but can you really say that it was a complete waste of time because it didn't end the way you predicted it would? Boooo on you, people.

  2. Booo on them, indeed!

    (I know I just said this to you outside of comments, but I'm repeating it anyway!)

    To extend my beloved TV=relationship metaphor, people who get so angry and regret their whole viewing history of a show are like people who go through a bad break-up. They feel betrayed. They have hard feelings which feel like they negate all of the good things the kept the relationship going all that time until the end, so it was all a waste of time. People who are more accepting of the ending are more like people who realize a relationship has just run its course, and will remember the good times they were fortunate to share, but it is time to part ways, hopefully the better for it.

  3. 無一事而不學,無一時而不學,無一處而不學。........................................

  4. 生存乃是不斷地在內心與靈魂交戰;寫作是坐著審判自己。....................................................................

  5. 與人相處不妨多用眼睛說話,多用嘴巴思考.................................................................

  6. 每次看完你的文章,總是回味許久,要經常發表喔。..................................................................

  7. 開心不開心都是一天,祝您能夠笑著面對一切!............................................................

  8. 你不能決定生命的長度,但你可以控制它的寬度............................................................

  9. 永遠不要躊躇伸出你的手。也永遠不要躊躇接受別人伸出的手。.................................................................

  10. 哦~~好地方!希望下次能看到更好的內容和更新喲!............................................................

  11. 這個時代,不缺乏感傷,但缺乏反思~~希望能多看到值得思考的文章!............................................................