Lost and Never Found Again

I thought the first season of Lost was fantastic. The skillful interweaving of flashback and present to explain characters was mesmerizing. Leaving behind that unhappy past that only the viewer was privy to provided redemption for characters whose “real” lives were wrecks. Those characters — those actors, really — fascinated me and I cared about them. The touches of fantasy and magic started out as a spice that came to overwhelm the series. (JJ Abrams, the creator, has an obsession with Indiana Jones-style ancient technology and magical pseudoscience – and the number 47. I think his obsession worked better in Alias.) Suddenly, other tribes appeared and, with them, senseless violence and ancient conspiracies. I left the island sometime during or after the 3rd season when the story congealed around obsessive-compulsive fanaticism, on screen and, perhaps, in the audience. Too many characters were intentionally cruel and vicious and cryptic. The mysteries seemed to pile up solely to hold the audience’s attention one more week: time travel / parallel universes. By then, I couldn’t bear the music used to inform us of the mood: the pensive piano tickling versus the harsh brass. Gag.

Once Lost reached status as a Phenomenon, the writers became more self-indulgent, with “reprise” episodes featuring running notes on screen and simul-tweets. True fans gobbled it up. Specials explained “the story so far” and featured the earnest writers explaining what they no longer seemed able to explain in the context of the show itself. There were longer gaps between new episodes and between seasons.

I repeat: that first season or two struck me as the very best television. (A friend who tried the series for the first time recently didn’t find it so fascinating. Perhaps the show’s time had already passed.) When it was clear that Season Six would be the last, I started watching again. There was good and bad in the final season. I enjoyed Ab Aeterno (Season 6, Episode 9) and Across the Sea (Episode 15) – both show how well the writers constructed a foreign past. Other episodes overdid the strong-man-bullheaded shit: I must possess/destroy/save the Island.

Because we travelled in May, I made sure the DVR would record an hour before and an hour beyond the night of the last episode, so that if some “special” shifted the show, I’d still have it when we got home. Ironically, I did not know that the biggest finale in years was itself so special that the show would shift from Tuesday to Sunday. (WTF?!) So, I didn’t see the last episode. Until today (on Roku).

Now, these finales have a lot of bases to touch, to please the audience, the writers, even the actors. Mary Tyler Moore pulled it off; Mash, not so much. Every important character – and there were many on Lost – needs his or her moment of applause, some flashbacks, and a last bow. (Michael and Walt were noteworthy exceptions. And Mr Eko. Hmmm, all black males. Probably too busy to return.) And, although the Secret of the Island was really just a maguffin for most of the series, the writers felt the need to explain, well, the unexplainable, even if it didn’t really make more sense than any of the mystery to date.

I did enjoy the symmetry with the first episode of Jack lying in the bamboo with Vincent the Dog, which gave rise to the Simpson’s excellent note on the blackboard: It was all the dog’s dream. And that final shutting eye versus the opening eye of the first episode. But everything else was shit designed to bring back everyone for one last bow. At one time, it seemed the Parallel Universe spun off from the event of NOT crashing, while the series until then had been the other Universe where the crash occurred. But then Christian Sheppard explains that this Parallel Universe is a place all the characters created so they could find each other again *after Death*. But, wait – Jack imagined a son in the Afterlife? And everyone got together before Jack died on screen? And how much time passed with Hurley as Number One, following Jack’s death, which is the last scene, but preceding the Reunion? (Jacob, Hurley’s predecessor, had the job for centuries; Jack had it for one fateful day.) So, Heaven – or the Waiting Room after death – is merely a better life than your real life was, but only somewhat? It still has all the same characters in it, each of whom is living a better life. Well, not so for Sayid. (Hmmm, another dark male.) At one time, it seemed Desmond (the actor played Jesus in a movie once – same beard and flowing hair, different accent) had to get everyone together to go back to the Island (an echo of Season 4/5?), but in the end, he seemed to be forcing them to remember the other life before they could … ahem, “move on.”

“Now, you are like me.” (Assuming you are disappointed.)

Tip: If you haven’t seen Lost, I recommend one episode: Exposé (Season 3, Episode 14, streaming or on disc #4). It is self-contained and concentrates on two minor characters to great effect. As you see flashback and present time converge, you’ll get a good sense of how well this worked on Lost. Many of the best episodes were like this, although none other worked quite this way. It has always stood out to me as a odd episode that captures the feel of the first two seasons. (Ironically, I’ve read that Nikki and Paulo were despised by fans.)

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