5/24/10

LOST Finale: The Morning After and 10 Unanswered Questions

Well, here we are. LOST is officially over. Like most fans, I'm left a little stunned by the finale. A little touched emotionally, in a good way, at having to say goodbye to some great characters and a historically significant show.

I'm also extremely frustrated.

What frustrates me the most? The fact that the writers (Lindelof and Cuse and many others that worked on the show) have prepared for my frustration. They're ready to shirk it off. For weeks they've been giving interviews and saying they wouldn't answer questions when the finale was over because they wanted the show to speak for itself.

Well, the show didn't speak for itself.

It was vague. Vagueity vague vague vaguerino. Vagueinstein. I'm sure they'll say that was the plan, to keep it open to interpretation. Let me tell you, a little of that goes a long way. I have six years worth of questions, six years worth of stakes in the story and the characters that are going to go forever unexplained. Not just because they weren't answered on the show, but because the writers are going to refuse to answer them. Probably in an effort to make people feel stupid. Maybe in an effort to save face.

Last night's finale was, "You just didn't get it." the episode. I can hear it coming now. Well writers, that's a lovely way to give the middle finger to an audience that sponsored your salary for six years, that cared about the characters you created. The very LEAST you can do is explain yourself if you can't explain the story.

But I did "get it". I got what the writers wanted me to get. Which was not much of anything except an overarching theme. I understand the character arcs, how they grew as people and why over the series. How they changed. Central themes. Relationships.

Here are some things I don't get...




1. What exactly WERE those huge world-ending stakes that everyone was facing if Locke/the man in black were to get off the island? We were only told that it would be bad, oh so very BAD, over and over again. But no reason was ever given.

I guess that was supposed to be enough. But as an audience, we've been through a lot with LOST. We deserved to have the basic motivation for at least the last season revealed. What was the feared risk? The unleashing of hell? The metaphysical clash of a spiritual being with real people? What, what, what?

2. Who were Jacob/the man in black/their mother? Why were they different than the other people on the island? What made them God-like or Gods? What exactly happened to the man in black that left him as a giant smoke cloud when he re-emerged from the light?

I understand the basic concept of it, Jacob shouldn't have killed him, people can't go into the light and come back, I get all that...but WHY?

3. What exactly was the light, for that matter? We assume hell or reality or the afterlife? We get the basic premise, but WHAT exactly was it? A glowing red light and a smoke machine are not enough to satiate viewers after six years of mystery. What did Jack uncork? Seismic pressure that would crumble the world? Satan himself? Hell?

4. What was with the four-toed statue? Was it one of the many civilizations we are supposed to assume has come and gone on the island? Was it another iteration of humanity itself? Why was Jacob living at it's base?

5. Where was Walt in the church? And for that matter, Michael shouldn't have been the only one condemned to the island. A lot of other people in that church committed far more heinous crimes than killing to keep their child alive. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Michael got a RAW DEAL.

Also, where were the tailies? Where were the others?

The rules were not set up clearly enough for the audience to understand why that specific selection of people made it, while others didn't. I guess we were supposed to be so sad and moved that we wouldn't notice. Well, I noticed.

Characters in the show were disposable, seemingly due to outside reasons that we all heard about in the press (several of the tailies misbehaving on Hawaii and then being mysteriously killed in the show, Nicki and Paolo being unpopular). That says something to me about the fact that we as viewers were set up to believe that everything was for a reason, but really, not so much.

6. The flash sideways, real or not? When did reality cease and "Oh, we're all dead and we don't know it" begin? Was there any point to the Oceanic Six making off the island "alive"? Was there any point to anything happening on the island other than for people to remember that they were dead?

What kind of a false reality/extension of purgatory has working airlines and hospitals and concerts and police stations? I'm sure smarter people will have understood a timeline here, but I haven't figured it out. So please, someone explain when the dead-ness began.

7. The numbers, the intertwining of everyone in the island pre-plane crash. Coincidence? Also something I don't understand? What are we supposed to understand was the reason that everyone seemingly knew each other ahead of time and why did the numbers that connected them/haunted Hurley matter? Are we to believe that every human being is connected as such and we're just too busy with the minutiae of our daily lives to notice?

8. The island itself...real or not real? Was the science team dead or alive? Was it an actual physical place or simply a spiritual one? Was it a real place with spiritual significance, perhaps? All six years we were lead to believe that the island was a metaphysical Jurassic Park, a place where anything could happen. A place real people could find. Yet it was also mysteriously hidden through space and time with a dangerous electromagnetic core and it was possible to move it to somewhere or somewhen, via giant wheel.

Soooo...was that just a cool premise that the writers came up with and they had no idea how to make it concrete or explain it?

Because let me tell you, one of the reasons I watched was specifically because of the mystery of the island. That was the main draw outside of the interesting characters, whether the writers will admit it or not, it was the mystery. And mysteries provide answers. Imagine Sherlock Holmes being like, "You know what? It doesn't really matter how this person died. Let's just meditate on the fact that he did and it brought Watson and I together and all religions are true, I guess."

In that case, you can probably just forget about answers. Because the writers are just too darn smart to give them to you and beside that, they don't "matter".

I know I'm mid-tantrum as is, but allow me another moment: As a viewer, I feel punished. The inference, for me, was that all of these references meant something. The character names, the books they were reading, the religious symbolism, all of it was supposed to come together to MEAN something.

We spent entire seasons pointing out Chekov's gun. Not only did it never fire, it flipping disappeared into the ether in a poof of smoke and I'm supposed to think that's all cool and nifty and stuff. BUT WHY WAS THERE A GUN?

I probably know the answer to that. Because this thing was a cash cow and they needed to keep it going. So the original narrative was probably scrapped at some point to keep the hit show on air. Someday, when I am a fancy writer, I am going to start stories, let them have a middle, and then give them an ending. It'll be trendy again, mayhaps.

If, on the other hand, ABC knew the plot wasn't going to culminate in something definitive, they should've said that in the very first season instead of sitting tight-lipped and giggling watching all of us try to "figure it out".

We were even told on numerous occasions, "It's not purgatory." Okay, then what was all that? Shmurgatory?

9. Here's a rhetorical question for you. *spirals into bitterness* Were we supposed to be happy knowing that, at the very least, all of the flash-sideways were for nothing? I thought everyone on the island would die but that it would be okay, because exploding the bomb fixed or jump-started the alternate reality and that everyone would get their happy ending there.

To discover that the entire last season, possibly more, wasn't real? But some of it had to be, that's why Eloise asked Desmond if he was going to take her son Daniel? So were they ghosts? Was there some intertwining with real reality/fake reality? The rules about physicality, time and space were essentially non-existent throughout the entire last season. Why bother creating a "he's not really there" son for Jack? I get that it's what Jack always wanted, so maybe that's why he was playing it out, but I think what we all want to know was, how did it work? Which the writers will probably say isn't important.

10. What was it all for? All the questions, all the distractions, the hatch, the electromagnetism, the bombs, the deaths, the violent others, the animals, the experiments, the hippies, Jacob and the man in black, what was it all for? What were the global stakes?

The writers created a huge and mysterious mythology, actual truths we thought we could sink our teeth into, and then dissolved it all into muddled scientific concepts, universalist allegory, and truly personal stories about characters we loved...but why?

What was their destiny on the island? Did they save mankind and life as we know it or did they simply have to wait to figure out if they were dead or worthy of "moving on", because it wouldn't be PC to call it heaven, I guess. I could forgive the bajillion tiny unanswered questions, albeit begrudgingly, if I knew that it was all for a larger purpose. To save the world. To keep hell at bay. But I would have to know why there's a drain hole to hell on this random island...and I guess that wasn't the point.

I want to say that I loved this show. The first season especially. But I feel burned. I gave six years of my life to viewing to this show and countless hours of conversation, not an easy feat in a life that's so busy.

I loved the actors the performances and the shots. The music and the humor and the adventure genre being on television again. There are some things that lazy writing can't take away from me, and I'll choose to cling to those. I'll also probably start to feel better as I look around and try to find the answers I so crave from others.

But I'm sincerely disappointed. I'm sure the writers already have a defense carved out for that. "Can't please them all," or maybe, "Answering your questions would only lead to more questions," or probably, "It's all symbolic and open to interpretation."

To which I say, then you FAILED as a writer.

Writing is not meant to be so convoluted and full of red herrings that in the end you walk away from the audience telling them that if they're not smart enough to figure it out, it's their problem. For all the truly incredible character-based writing on the show, the fact that the basic questions weren't answered makes me angry.

How many episodes did I watch that were actually marked for nothing, or to simply pass the time, or to follow an idea that somebody thought, "might be neat"? That's playing with your audience in a way that's cruel when you know how rabidly devoted to LOST the fans were. If they felt the whole questions thing was getting out of hand and they knew they wouldn't be able to answer them all, I would've forgiven them and kept watching. But they never let on, not until the show was almost over. They should've made statements every season about what was important and what wasn't, what ideas got away from them and which ones would be carried over. As a writer, it's just plain wrong to give people X as a reason to watch your show and then wrap it up with Y.

This may make me less intelligent than Cuse and Lindelof would like, but I like my stories to have a reason for being and I like to have the answers to the questions that I'm lead to as a viewer. Writing a TV show is a very purposeful and controlled thing, and as the writer you create all the set-ups, most of all audience expectations. If the ending was headed toward a very basic healy feely allegorical point, then that's what the show should've been full of instead of fascinating scientific and philosophical tidbits. As it stands for me, the show was basically one giant mis-direct after another.

Jacob brought them to the island because they were alone and flailing in reality. So did he kill them or really just bring them there? Was the point just to put them out of their misery, or was all their suffering along their quest for a reason?

I don't need it all wrapped up in a perfect little bow and I'm ALL for things being open to interpretation. But NOT THE CENTRAL PLOT. Aspiring writers are told very clearly that you don't tell a story if you can't explain why you're telling it, why it needs to be told, or even if you can't sum it up in a couple of sentences. You don't bring characters in to do patch jobs, you don't start plot lines or props that you aren't going to finish, and the list goes on and on. But I guess that really does make them geniuses, because I watched them break every rule and I kept on watching anyway, assuming that all the promos were telling the truth when they said the finale would explain it all or blow my mind or give me answers.

Maybe I'll start to feel better as time moves on, but for a geek like me who invests a lot into the films and television shows I choose to watch, this morning I just feel...bitter.

I honestly think that I could sit here for hours on end writing questions...

9 comments:

  1. I thought Christian Shephard made it pretty clear in the end that the sideways was Purgatory and everything else was real. The Purgatory realm was outside of time. So no matter when people died, they all wound up in Purgatory together. It most likely started at the beginning of this season, on the plane. Basically, after Jack dies, he is on that plane which doesn't crash, with no memory of his real life and death after that branching point. Everyone else connected with the island moved to that point. What about all the other people populating their Purgatory world? I'm not sure. They may have just been constructs instead of souls/whatever. In the end, the sideways were a not-so-clever plot device meant to trick us a little more in the final season and, from an overall plot standpoint, a huge waste of time. A needless diversion from the story that was actually important. I mean, if you want to tell us that they all "live" happily ever after in heaven, don't spend half the season telling us that.

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  2. Yes! Agree! I guess I feel cheated out of seeing how all the heroic feats on the island actually made a difference in people's real lives in the real world. What really happened to the actual survivors? (Kate, Sawyer, Claire, Miles, and Frank? Or did they crash too?) It felt like skipping to do the whole, "this is where we agreed to meet in heaven" thing.

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  3. I was left with the feeling that Kate, Sawyer, and them probably made it off the island and lived their lives and then died. But whatever lives they led, nothing was as important to them as the time they spent on the island. Hence their appearance in Purgatory. And then obviously Hurley and Ben had their run as the Island's guardians. Their little "You were a great number 2. You were a great number 1" scene was pretty bad. Am I the only one who was too immature to not giggle at that choice of words?

    Also, there is currently a fan theory out there that the Purgatory was created by Hurley during his time as a guardian. This stems from Ben telling Hurley that he could run things differently than Jacob did.

    The unanswered questions I'm most concerned with were all the initial questions such as why Claire had to raise Aaron, Walt's powers, the problems with women giving birth on the island, why the Others chose certain people to kidnap, what the sickness was, etc. So many questions that were apparently just designed to keep the audiences watching without any real thought to how they might be answered.

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  4. It demonstrates that, anymore, it is more important to be a story-TELLER than it is to tell a story. Plot that does add up? Doesn't matter because of how well I flesh out the characters. Mysteries explained? Doesn't matter because they were just meant to keep you guessing.
    Lost was one big example of people painting themselves into a corner. "let's stick a polar bear on the island! That will be weird!" "why a polar bear?" "who cares! We have plenty of time to come up with a reason"
    I used to recommend Lost to everyone. Now, after the finale, I wouldn't tell anyone to watch it.

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  5. Yeah, honestly, that's my biggest beef with J.J. Abrams. Even though he didn't have much to do with the series after season 1. Most of his stuff is a great execution of a vague idea. Cloverfield, for example, this amazingly cool premise with NO explanation whatsoever b/c it was "all about the characters". Well, you can do character driven stuff and not completely cop out on a plot or backstory. I feel like Super 8 will probably be more of the same unless Orci and Kurtzman are on board, look at this super cool thing I learned how to do watching Steven Spielberg movies, now watch as I'm too impatient to bother with the actual WRITING! It's so hollow and unsatisfying.

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  6. Question 1: I think the official answer would be that if Smokey were to leave the island, he would cause the same kind of havoc in the rest of the world as he did on the island, even though he lost his powers when Desmond pulled the plug, which was apparently a precondition for him leaving in the first place.

    4. Not just Walt and Michael, but Ana Lucia and Mr. Eko, too. Libby was a tailie, and she was there with Hurley, so it can't just be a front-section thing. Desmond and Penny were there, too, and they weren't even on 815.

    5. This was the one part I thought was explained reasonably well. The sideways existed out of time as a place they ended up after they died (there was Ben and Hurley's conversation outside the church, Christian's speech to Jack, and a comment from Boone that all suggested that); therefore, everything that happened on the island was real, in the sense that it happened in the physical world, whereas all the sideways stuff happened only in the purgatory after death thing.

    I don't know if you're into anime, but the Lost finale left me feeling about the same as the final to Neon Genesis Evangelion, a series with a rich mythology and characters that ended up being a self-image parable.

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  7. I agree that there will always be questions and that the open-endedness of some of the storytelling can be unsatisfying, but for the most part I think the show stuck to its initial premise - that the Losties were on this strange Island for a reason and that were forming strong bonds with each other. Life and death-defying bonds.

    1. I felt that religion/belief and its difficult unanswered nature was a huge influence throughout the show. So much imagery from so many mythologies - Christian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, etc. I think the Island represented the source of all religion, life/spark, whatever you want to call it, to answer your first question.

    2. My only disappointment with Jacob and MIB was that their story became specific. I was looking for the smoke monster to always have been there, been a more universal evil. Oh well.

    3. I think the light was what the Island was - life, spirit. The reason MIB turned to smoke was he was thrown into their in anger by his brother and neither wanted to protect the Island. Desmond was immune and jack wanted to do whatever it took to save the Island and the world.

    4. I think you answered your own question, Maybe fan fiction will spell it out or comic books like Joss Whedon did post-Buffy.

    5. I think Michael, like Ben and Ana Lucia weren't ready to cross over,, at least not with jack. They might be ready in a different church, at a different time.

    6. The flash sideways was a looking-glass world that the Losties had created, a heaven's waiting room. Thinking about it a bit more it could have been constructed by all of the Losties together, but also possibly by Jack. The main point was that after they died, the Losties needed to become conscious of their real lives, on the Island and together before they could transcend, move on.

    7. I think Jacob was the man behind the numbers.

    8. The island was totally real. Everything we watched that happened to them was real. The Sideways stuff was only real in the sense that it was what the dead were experiencing until they could wake up and let go.

    9. Eloise didn't want to give up Sideways because then she would have to accept what happened on the Island, reality. She wasn't ready. The whole last season was jack's journey to find his true purpose on the Island, to be the hero. The Sideways was his spiritual journey to come to terms with what happened on the Island. they just showed it all cut together, coinciding, although it wouldn't have happened that way. Sideways would have happened after Jack died.

    10. Just my opinion, all of the above, but I think like life, we search for meaning and don't always find it. jack was incredibly lucky in that he was able to find a concrete purpose for his life and especially, his death. He didn't ask to crash on the Island or be chosen by Jacob, etc., but a lot happens to us in life that we don't ask for. he let go and went for it. And he found his redemption and love and forgiveness both on the Island and Sideways and beyond.

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  8. This is where I think personality types may determine how satisfied people are with the finale. Because to me, "It is whatever you think it is," is not an answer to anything. It just seems contradictory to fill a show with so many intriguing details for six years and then say, "They didn't matter, it's all relative." It frustrates me. If stuff like that, specifics, didn't matter, then why would they have loaded the show with it? Why wouldn't Jacob have just lived in a cave instead of at the base of a four-toed statue? WHy on Earth would they bother writing that level of detail in if it didn't matter, you know?

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  9. You've given me lots of think about. You've poured your heart into this article, Audrey! Definitely worth a reread. I agree with you in that some of the choices LOST made were weak story wise, but in LOST's case, for me, I was more onboard for the way the story was told. I remember thinking months ago that the story was getting out of hand, and kind of prepared myself for a letdown at the end. I don't blame you one bit for wanting a better ending. You are right about ALLLLLL the questions left unanswered. As a story teller, it is extremely frustrating.

    Let me offer this: with some music I listen to, I am a fan of the sound more than the notes. Some artists are masterful at constructing a brand new sound, but the notes they ultimately play aren't very advanced. I see LOST like a new sound, but the notes used weren't exactly a virtuoso. Or maybe it's like a song writer that writes a great song, but can't really perform them. See Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" or Randy Newman's "When She Loved Me."

    I've never seen Abrams and Co act snotty or holier than thou in interviews, but admittedly I haven't heard them speak about their work much. Perhaps they are the artistic types that just plain suck when it comes to talking about their work. I LOVE hearing Speilberg talk about his work, I HATE hearing Lucas and Greoning talk about theirs. I tend to think that if you can talk about your work in a palettable way [to me HA], the work is more your own. If you can't, you've surrounded yourself with great people and got lucky.

    Thanks for the good read, Audrey.

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