Thursday, December 26, 2013

Revisiting LOST

When the TV show LOST ended in May 2010, it left many of its rabid fans (including me) more than a little disappointed. After all, we had spent six seasons and nearly 120 episodes following a plot that began as survivors-on-a-deserted-island-with-a-twist and watched it morph into an immersive experience that required research into everything from electromagnetism to Charles Dickens, with enough blind alleys, red herrings, and false starts to fill a book. That the show’s ending merely inserted a layer of “purgatory” between the after-life and the here-and-now that was not “the Island” was cold comfort when speculation almost from the show’s beginning nailed the ending. 

In the balance, the entire series felt like a cruel tease, the Dharma Initiative, the Others, Ben Linus and Charles Widmore, Jacob and the “Man in Black,” not to mention the time travel, “flash sideways” and on and on were just so much fanboy masturbation that ultimately ended in the place predicted a few episodes into the first season. Unlike Jack at the end of Season 3, I had no desire “to go back” after LOST ended. If anything, I wanted to purge my brain of the show, its silly contrivances, and storytelling that had me invested in black light maps, non-aggression treaties and the philosophy of Hume, Locke and Bentham.  

Over Thanksgiving, I had the chance to revisit the show, which now airs on “G4 Network.” I watched the end of Season 5 and a few of the early episodes of Season 6 and did not hate them, so I decided to record the last 4 or 5 episodes of the series and see if my reaction to the ending would change. I’m happy to say it did. Freed from being invested in the week-to-week analysis and discussion of what the show “meant” and with a few years distance from its ending, the tail end of the series was totally and completely satisfying largely because the mythology “trees” that made the show so maddening in real time gave way to the “forest” of  universal themes of trust, loyalty, heroism, love and fate that made me reach for a tissue every time a survivor became “aware” in the alternate timeline and more than once as they battled the Man in Black on the Island.

And it was only because I could look at many of the show’s ridiculous plot devices as just that – devices – to tell a bigger story of redemption that I truly appreciated what Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse were going for in their storytelling. You see, all of the sturm und drang that was kicked up, all the various characters that came and went and cliff hangers that kept us scratching our heads, were in service of a much more modest goal. Ultimately, it didn’t much matter what the Island was, what the numbers signified, who the original Henry Gale was, why Jacob was able to leave the Island at will, or any of a host of other unresolved mysteries, because that was all window dressing for a simpler truth – that a group of flawed and broken people needed to learn how to trust and care for one another, to reconcile their pasts, and most importantly, let go of the guilt, shame, and regret that haunted them before moving on with their eternal souls.

When viewed in this way, the emotional investment in the characters inner conflict - Jack’s daddy issues and need to fix people, Hurley’s insecurity and fear of being a jinx, Sawyer’s regret at adopting the same con as the man who killed his parents and the guilt he felt over killing an innocent victim, what Kate “did,” or Sayid’s brutal past, is paid in full. At the end of the day, each of these characters has to come to terms with their past decisions but choose not to be defined by them. In this way, all the assorted missions, schemes and fights they engage in season after season are more properly viewed as teachable moments for them to experience personal growth and enlightenment, not necessarily to outwit Ben, detonate nuclear bombs, or radio a freighter of unknown provenance.

By the time we get to the show’s denouement, this theme is fully developed. Sawyer goes from being a loner and malcontent to Johnny-on-the-spot, a roguish Han Solo who guides the Losties off the Island. Kate morphs from an untrusting fugitive to a mother figure who reunites Claire with Aaron and acknowledges her love for Jack. Sayid is no longer an emotionally conflicted former Iraqi Republican Guardsman, instead, he sacrifices himself so his friends can live. Hurley overcomes his insecurity and takes on the biggest job of all – safeguarding the Island. And Jack, well, Jack finally lets go. He gets to be the hero by killing the Man in Black, but, like another shepherd who did not make it to the promised land with his flock, is left with a final image of his comrades departing the Island as his own light is extinguished (until they meet again, of course). And it is *that* journey that each castaway goes through, not the vaunted “mythology” of the Island, that makes the show so arresting and its conclusion so fulfilling.  


There's also a great interview with Damon Lindelof discussing the show and its ending, here:

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