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Lost was never an intellectual show

Last week I wrote that the finale of Lost could do nothing but disappoint. No matter how much fans gave it a fair shake, they would end up slightly disappointed after investing six years and not getting an ending that would satiate every nuanced desire. Having read several responses since the airing, I stand by that assertion. Even the most positive responses come with a bagful of caveats.

What did I make of it? I was disappointed, but perhaps not for the reasons many might expect. I liked that we were finally given our climatic showdown between good and evil with mock-Locke and Jack on the cliff. I liked that it was Kate who rose up to defeat Smokey. There have been criticisms of the show over the years that the female roles were weak and always in need of rescuing by the males. In the end, Kate rescued Jack and everyone else. She saved the world.

I liked Hurley overseeing the island, and Ben serving as his new Richard. I liked Richard finding mortality again in his hair turning grey. I liked old Jack’s resistance to something which required faith (seeing the island), and fighting for some sort of rational explanation. I liked Sun and Jin’s moment of enlightenment, and then the humor they found at the expense of Sawyer’s continued obliqueness. I liked Kate’s moment of calling out the heavy handedness of a character named “Christian Sheppard.” I liked–a lot of things.

But as you’ve already guessed, by beginning with a list of things I liked, there must be a list of things I didn’t like. Let’s go back for a moment to the piece I wrote last week where I discussed how most finales fail. There’s no way to pay off the years of buildup with one final story, and so most shows flounder in their last shining moment. I mentioned the finale for Little House on the Prairie, but let me talk about a few more (spoilers ahead). In Newhart the lead character wakes up to realize the entire show has been one long dream of his character from The Bob Newhart Show. In Mad About You the finale deals with family death, miscarriages, and even separation for our beloved heroes. In Angel, David Boreanaz and crew find themselves at their lowest point and in their darkest hour just before the camera cuts to black. Even The Sopranos gave us the whiff of an impending tragedy before a quick cut to black.

What do all of these finales have in common? Chutzpa, as I noted in the previous piece. All of them are bold, daring endings. All of them take great risk of possibly leaving a sour taste in the mouths of fans. Lost, on the other hand, took no risk with its ending. In fact, it did the exact opposite of making sure there was no possibility of disappointment.

Many critics and fans have commented that they felt the ending was emotionally satisfying, if not so much intellectually. I’d agree, but how could it ever be intellectually satisfying? Lost has never been a show for intellectuals. That may anger some, but hear me out. From fairly early on it has been apparent that Lost would never be able to satisfactorily explain away all its mysteries. Blog posts and videos have documented the lengthy number left unexplained, but the point is that short of a last minute M. Night Shyamalan style twist that threw out most of the show’s events, there was no chance of it ever making sense. The producers simply cheated.

Lost, contrary to what many thought (including myself at times), was never about trying to be smarter than its audience. It was the high school poet of drama series. With Wikipedia and thesaurus firmly in hand (well, the thesaurus at least), the writers went about throwing in random references and dropping in plot twists whenever they needed a cliffhanger for next week. It was about appearing intellectual, without the inconvenience of being so.

Having said that, Lost was a wonderfully emotional show, instead. The mysteries of the island were always a poor pretense for telling the back stories, forward stories, and side stories of the main characters. Locke was not emotionally riveting as a character because he could suddenly walk, but because of how he did lose his mobility and yet retained his faith. Charlie was not interesting because of his drowning death in a weird research station, but because he was the prototypical VH1 Behind the Music storyline.

The finale paid dividends to this emotion, even if it wildly cheated the intellect of its audience. Sure, things didn’t work out entirely how you wanted on the island, but it doesn’t matter! In the end, all Losties go to Heaven! Sure, mock-Locke was defeated ridiculously easy, but so what? Real Locke was given the ability to walk in the real world…er, make that Purgatory, or something. Sun and Jin drowned together, but not in the sideways world. And even if they did, isn’t it reassuring to know they’ll spend eternity in Heaven together? Well, isn’t it?

Yes and no. I, too, found the final episode emotionally satisfying, but once I allowed my brain to consider it at all I suddenly felt a deep sadness and loss. Why not be dramatically daring and not include six major world religions on the church windows? Why redeem the souls of Claire and Sayid at the last moment? Why not allow Sun and Jin’s deaths to mean something? Why not allow Smokey to finish off Rose and Bernard instead of allowing them to be the pacifists of the show? Isn’t Smokey the root of all evil?

Lost will never be remember by me as one of the best television shows. Shows such as MASH, The Twilight Zone, Seinfeld, and The X-Files were simply more intellectually honest shows. That may sound funny considering the subjects of those shows, and even the finales (Seinfeld’s was notoriously panned), but other than minor incidents here and there, ask yourself if any of those shows left you completely befuddled at the end not only about the ending, but the show itself?

In the end, I found Lost far more similar to cotton candy and Knight Rider than steak and Sports Night. Instead of striving to create a solid mythology of its own (a la The X-Files), it liberally borrowed from wildly divergent sources creating a potpourri of pseudo-intellectual references, much like The Matrix. It was entertaining while it lasted, but it left me with an empty, if not completely unsatisfied, feeling. That doesn’t make it a bad show, but I can’t say I wasn’t disappointed.

  • Dave

    You didn’t think the ending of Lost was bold? Boy, you just didn’t get it then…

  • Dave

    You didn’t think the ending of Lost was bold? Boy, you just didn’t get it then…

  • Please enlighten me. I think I “got it” fairly well, but maybe you can explain an aspect I didn’t. But if the ending basically amounted to “eventually they all died and went to Heaven,” then no, I did not find that particularly bold.

  • Please enlighten me. I think I “got it” fairly well, but maybe you can explain an aspect I didn’t. But if the ending basically amounted to “eventually they all died and went to Heaven,” then no, I did not find that particularly bold.