My wife and I started watching Lost (and, if you don’t know what Lost is, you might as well skip this post, because it’ll put you right to sleep) on DVD not long after the first season ended—another great recommendation from our son, Cody, who rarely steers us wrong—and we were instantly addicted. We’ve been loyal, enthusiastic viewers ever since. Okay, so the third season—which rambled, wandered, stumbled and fell with alarming frequency—seriously tested that loyalty (all together class: Nikki and Paulo): I was pretty much ready to wash my hands of the show until the season-closing flash forward blew my mind apart and made me a born-again Lostie. (I’m not sure if my wife would say the same, but she’s still right there with me every week, mainlining the latest episode.) And now, as Jacob said to Hurley in last night’s episode, “We’re very close to the end.”
I waited, with no small measure of excitement, for this final season of Lost to begin, anticipating an epic finale that would solidify the show’s reputation as one of the most memorable and daring one hour dramas in television history—but so far I’ve found this final chapter hugely frustrating. Don’t get me wrong: with the exception of last week’s Jacob/Man-in-Black origin story (which may have been the worst hour of Lost since the aforementioned Nikki and Paulo: it came perilously close to totally jumping the shark), I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every episode. The writing, the directing, the performances—especially Terry O’Quinn and Michael Emerson, whose Ben-centric episode earlier in the season was a series highlight—have been superb. So why—with the two and a half hour finale just days away—do I feel like I’m headed for a massive disappointment?
The answer isn’t in the individual components of the show—which, as noted, have been uniformly excellent—but in the overall direction of the story. For years now I thought I was watching a series part soap opera/part Rod Serling/part Philip K. Dick. A mind-bending, heart-wrenching journey into strange metaphysical, and metaphorical, territory. An exploration of the nature of reality, and humanity, with a group of memorable, multi-dimensional characters as our guides. I still care about those characters—perhaps more deeply than one should care about fictional people—but what I haven’t cared for is watching the show go from PKD to Stephen King, from Twilight Zone to Star Wars. (Fans of King and Lucas, please don’t storm the cyber-castle. I’m not knocking either of these creative titans, just noting that they seem wildly out of place on the Island.) How did a show that spent a good part of its run exploring psychic, spiritual and psychological subtleties—in a broad, bold pulp-culture context—get boiled down to “We’ve got to kill the Big Bad Smoke Monster before he destroys the world”? Haven’t we seen this kind of bombastic Battle Against Ancient Evil a thousand times before? (As my son pointed out to me, the Man-in-Black—who wasn’t even introduced until the end of last season—is now the show’s central character. Think about it: If MIB was being played by anyone but O'Quinn—if Smokey wasn’t inhabiting the body of one of the show’s most beloved characters—would you even care?)
One thing that I’ve absolutely loved this season, the element that’s kept me consistently intrigued and excited, is the so-called Sideways World, the parallel universe where our characters are playing out their lives in unexpected—and often deeply-moving—ways. The Sideways saga of Desmond, the Bodhisattva, urging his illusion-bound friends to awaken from the dream they take to be reality, is firmly anchored in the show’s metaphysical traditions; it’s also a story guaranteed to delight the acolytes of Dick and Serling. (I suspect Meher Baba would have gotten a kick out of it, too.) I’m hoping that, when the Sideways World and the Island collide this Sunday, as they inevitably will, Lost’s enormously-talented writer-producers, Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof, will pull the rug out from under the audience, stuff several dozen sticks of dynamite in our heads and blow our minds all over gain. Most of all, I’m hoping for a finale that will leave me feeling emotionally and intellectually satisfied. No, they don’t have to answer every question—in fact, they shouldn’t—but I want to be moved and exhilarated, left with the same sense of awe and jaw-dropped wonder that the series began with. (Is that asking too much? Probably. But Lost has always demanded much of its audience; it’s only fair that we demand as much from Lost.)
Even if Cuse and Lindelof fail miserably, it won’t change the fact that this oddball story about a plane crash on a mysterious island has brought me inordinate amounts of joy for six years (joy and, yes, head-scratching, too; but a little head-scratching is good for the soul): It really is a ground-breaking classic. The proof for me lies in the fact that every week, after we’ve digested the show, Cody and I—like two well-practiced surgeons—slice and dice the patient: trading theories, pondering the turns of character, analyzing the broader Meaning Of It All. Just this morning I was talking to a friend and we must have spent forty minutes dissecting the series, speculating on how the ending will play out.
Not a lot of television can stimulate the mind like that, let alone inspire that level of passion.
© copyright 2010 J.M. DeMatteis