Some people have already made up their minds about Lost: that it stinks. But a lot of us are waiting at least until around 11:30 this Sunday night, after the final image of the series has faded from our television screens, until we issue an ultimate judgment. Perhaps never in the history of television has a show’s legacy depended so powerfully upon a single episode. Nevertheless, plenty of smart writers have been chewing over the show’s legacy hitherto, giving us a lot to read and think about in the days leading up to “The End”.
First, let’s start with—duh!—me. In Wednesday’s weekly recap, I spent a little time writing about how we got to where we are:
Lately I’ve been hearing a lot of grumbling about Lost being a bad show; I’m still not sure that’s true—it’s just disappointing. (Incredibly, incredibly disappointing.) The producers have proven themselves, in fact, to be expert storytellers, which is the source of the trouble: look at how they’ve inspired such an impassioned level of emotional involvement. But they’re, in the end, piss-poor conceivers; their pay-offs are lame. They love to defer because it’s the only thing they do well. They did, after all, keep us rapt for six years.
Noel Murray at The A.V. Club had a similar notion, but he expressed it far more eloquently—so much so that I’m really writing this post just to share it with you.
[T]he disconnect between ideas and execution may be what ultimately lets a lot of people down about Lost. And not just the clunky “Do it for love, brother!” kind of moments. The parts of Lost that have been thrilling and spine-tingling—the cliffhangers, the teases, the surprise reveals—have had as much to do with viewer expectations as the basic facts of the narrative. When you think back on the details of Lost—when you toss them around in your head, as opposed to watching them on the screen—the writers have really answered most of what’s important that they answer, to tell the story they mean to tell. But when Bearded Jack gets a dramatic close-up and shouts, “We have to go back!” it’s only natural for we fans to expect there to be more to that backstory than there ultimately turned out to be. And I could come up with dozens more examples (at least), where the intensity of the tease was out of proportion with the ultimate reveal. But that’s the nature of the show Lindelof and Cuse chose to make. They wanted to make the best use of the commercial breaks and the episodic nature of television, and the result was a show that was more viscerally exciting and entertaining, but often wildly inconsistent as sustained narrative storytelling. It was a trade-off, but one I understand. (emphasis mine)
There’s also Mike Hale’s take in this morning’s Times, which is interesting for its unemotional evaluation of the show and this season. He thinks this season has had too many answers and not enough flash sidewayses. (!?!?!) But he does provide a compelling account of how Lost, arriving at the cultural moment that it did, combined forces with the Internet to “turn…fans into critics and critics, including this one, into semiprofessional fans”:
As “Lost” bogged down and its audience shrank — its ratings in recent weeks have been about two-thirds of what they were in the early seasons — an interesting thing happened: a core of viewers emerged for whom the endless complications, which were ruinous in any traditional dramatic sense, were the basis of a new sort of fandom.
In this sideways universe, making sense of the show became the responsibility, and even the privilege, of the viewers rather than the producers. The compromises and continuity lapses and narrative backing and filling that characterize all broadcast network series became fodder for a kind of populist biblical commentary, and the logical gymnastics performed to read authorial intention into every word and image and in-joke began to feel religious in nature. Every question about the show had to have one true answer, and discerning it — or asserting your version of it the loudest — wasn’t the stuff of water cooler chatter, it was blood sport.
And this new proprietary “Lost” obsession grew symbiotically with things like mainstream entertainment blogs (and their comments sections) and Twitter, until now there is a vast body of shared commentary and speculation that often seems to overshadow the show itself. Why bother writing fan fiction when you can feel as if you had a hand in the real thing?
Any other suggestions for pre-finale reading? I’ll have a recap up sometime on Monday, if everything goes according to plan, and we argue about the show then. For now, let’s quietly reflect.