Archive | May, 2010

On meaning and character: Some frank talk about Lost

25 May

I learned two things from the series finale of Lost:

1) It doesn’t matter. Destiny or free will, science or faith, different sides of the backgammon board—it’s all irrelevant. What matters is people. People, and love.

2) Don’t forget to set up an afterlife meeting place, like when my family goes to the mall and we all decide to meet at the pretzel stand if things don’t go well.

And, you know, I think I’m satisfied with that.

To those who are throwing up their hands: I get it. I do. If none of it mattered, if all of it were just erased, if Lost was six years of wasted viewing time, then that’s incredibly disappointing.

(To those hating on the finale because it’s fashionable, in the same way that hating on SNL is perpetually fashionable, I have no patience for you.)

But nobody—not even Desmond, in his scene with Jack—ever said that what happened on the show didn’t matter. What happened on the show, in the past, matters deeply—all that tromping through the jungle, all that shared experience, all those fish-and-mango dinners on the beach, all the sacrifice and the tears and the laughter and the Star Wars jokes, they’re redemption for those characters. So maybe the outcome of Jack and John’s personal battle doesn’t matter, per se. Maybe—and I’m not actually clear on this—the status of the Man in Black and his giant cosmic bottle of wine isn’t the most important thing. Maybe nobody was actually saved from anything with Kate’s saved bullet. But in the context of this band of people snatched from their angsted-out lives, what happened is everything. And that’s why the finale, so rooted in memory and relationship, makes sense.

Answers are satisfying up to a point—but on TV, answers are bound up with characters. After six years, we have answers: we know about Jacob and the Man in Black, and we know what the Smoke Monster is and how he came to be and what he ultimately wants. We know who the Adam and Eve skeletons are, and we know all about the four-toed statue. We know about the hatch and about the numbers, and about why Richard Alpert doesn’t age, and about the cool infinite back-and-forth of his and Locke’s shared pocket watch. But none of these things are the heart of Lost, and no single gimmick or structural point was going to provide the kind of emotional and intellectual satisfaction that we as audiences are always looking for . Better, then, to actually have Jack successfully fix something, after six years of botched heroism. Better to let Sawyer be with the woman who grew him up back in 1977. Better to let Hurley, the pure at heart, be a leader, and to let Ben finally be chosen for something—after all, it’s all he’s ever wanted. Better to let the structure of Lost be a vehicle for its characters, rather than the other way around—even if that vehicle isn’t as neat and all-inclusive as we’d like.

It wasn’t perfect. I wish I had a better grasp on the relationship between Desmond and Daniel—constants and variables and such—and their significance to…well, basically anything. I could go for a quick run-through of who belongs on the Afterlife Express and who doesn’t, and why. I’d like another run-down on numbered time-traveling bunnies. I wonder about characters like Eko, who never turned up again.

(Would I like to know how the castaways created the purgatorial Sideways for themselves? Yes and no. Yes, because that’s some business meeting. No, because the literal translation of the Lost mythology has never been the show’s strong suit—I’d rather admire the pretty light-up cave from a distance than sit through another temple debacle.)

But as a finishing statement, as an arrow pointing us towards the characters and not just towards the fascination of the universe, I think the finale—and, really, the Sideways, if we consider it as an extended portion of the finale—did its job. As the end of an arc, it allowed us to remember the highs and lows that came before, and to pinpoint the very redemption of each character by way of the characters around them. It’s the fulfillment of Jack’s ultimatum back in the first season, and the definition of living together—even for those who have already died alone. And that is the very thesis of Lost.