TV EYE: Lost – The Final Episode

It’s done. The finale of Lost has arrived – and while I didn’t adore it, I also didn’t feel the urgent need to track down the Exec Producers and give them a damn good slap (I’m looking at you, Battlestar Galactica). There follows my rambling thoughts – and, as you’d expect, fear the spoilers…

Well, it’s over. Lost, the exception that proved the rule, the explosion of pulp mythology that baffled and bewildered audiences for the last six years is done. And while the final episode will have been loved by some and loathed by others, it’s left me with a whole series of complicated feelings. In certain ways, it was a satisfying ending. In others, it’s deeply, maddeningly frustrating. On one hand, I’m annoyed at the way certain decisions have been made, and certainly at the way the plot seemed to wander off during the final season. And yet on the other, I take my hat off to the Execs for sticking to their guns, for not turning the show into a gargantuan ‘let’s explain every single bit of the mythology’ round of exposition; for making the show they wanted to make, and producing a show that stands alongside something like The Prisoner (the Sixties version, of course) in terms of ludicrous experimentation and ambition. I can massively respect Lost for going into that good night much the way it came in, leaving a whole collection of people scratching their heads in confusion. While the reveals were often thrilling, it was all about the journey, rather than the destination, and while some sections of ‘The End’ were creaky in the extreme (I honestly feel that some parts of the finale featured the weakest writing of the entire series), the bits that did work (the actual character moments, rather than the action) were sensational, and the simple act of ending the show as it began, with Jack lying down to die in the exact same place he woke up in the pilot episode, was a gorgeous bit of storytelling.

To be honest, one of the reasons I didn’t blog about Season 6 is that I was rather ambivalent about the whole thing. After a very strong opening, the show drifted back towards the slightly dawdling storytelling that were hallmarks of season 2 (and parts of season 4), a frustrating lack of momentum right at the point where the show desperately needed it. It didn’t help that it came on the wake of the sheer brilliance of Season 5, which was pretty much the creative peak of the show, and which overloaded us every week with some of the craziest sci-fi storytelling I’ve ever seen. Season 5 was packed with stuff, and massively satisfying, and while I could understand the need to shift tones, I couldn’t help feeling that Damon Lindeldof and Carlton Cuse weren’t necessarily being wise in saying “Yes, we’re going back to a more character-based, Season 1-style of storytelling”. It was always going to be a bit of a shift, and the climax of Season 5 certainly pushed the story in a far more mythic direction than ever before. And yet… I’m not certain that Lost worked as well as a pure fantasy show, mainly because the ambiguity went into overdrive. I’m not against ambiguity (hell, I like David Lynch films), but it was rather bizarre to go for what’s essentially a primal Good vs Evil battle, and play it ambiguously for almost the entire season (We didn’t find out that Widmore really was a good guy until five minutes before he died in the penultimate episode). I think the way I feel about Lost Season 6 is the same way I feel about Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 6 – it features some great ideas, but it’s simply a bit too long, and somewhere along the way it stops being quite as much fun.

I also feel like they never quite found a way to make the Man in Black version of Locke work dramatically. Initially, in the first few episodes, he’s terrifying – but a completely unstoppable character who can basically kill anyone he wants can get dull rather quickly (just look at Sylar in Heroes). It also doesn’t help that while certain sections of the plot are very dependant on ‘the rules’ (The Man in Black cannot kill anyone who’s a Candidate), others are completely lacking in rules (You can stop the smoke monster with ash! Unless… you kill the mysterious Japanese man. And Fake Locke can’t change his shape anymore! Except… for that time last season when he changed his shape and talked to Sun and Lapidus…). And when there aren’t any rules, everything suddenly starts feeling arbitrary. You get episodes where fate plays a hand, and suddenly the action is feeling very random (especially when Ilana, a fairly intriguing character with a still-unknown backstory blows herself up) – there isn’t the organic sense of interconnectedness that I got from Season 5.

Ultimately, I think I can forgive Lost for a slightly disappointing final season, in a way that I couldn’t with Battlestar Galactica (whose finale reached greater heights of action and emotion, but also pissed me off far, far, far more), simply because Lost has always been up and down. I wasn’t expecting the final season to answer all my questions (To be honest, the only thing that I’m actually frustrated about is that they never actually clarified what in God’s name was going on with the Cabin of Mystery, or acknowledged that Claire was conned into staying on the Island by the Man in Black (I couldn’t quite believe that nobody said to her “Yes, but you left Aaron behind”.)) – and some of the answers they gave weren’t always effective (like the slightly underwhelming Cave of Light). It’s not so much the lack of certain answers, more the fact that the stuff we got didn’t always make up for the lack of answers – I can applaud the desire to do more experimental episodes like Ab Aeterno and Across the Sea, but they felt rather more effective in theory than practice, falling into the ‘filling in the blanks’ storytelling that was prevalent back in Season 2, rather than, say, just telling us.

But again, while it’s frustrating, it’s also kind of brilliant in a ludicrous, insane way. Nobody’s going to get the chance to do storytelling like this again for a very, very long time (certainly not on any of the US Networks). The questions still lurking, the ambition that was there, the bizarre dead ends, red herrings and flailing plot threads… there’s so much left in Lost that people are going to be talking about it for ages. I may not like the ambiguity, but it’s not like it happened by accident – it’s a deliberate choice. They’ve gone for the ending that they want, and while there are massive problems with ‘The End’ (from the strangely low-key near-destruction of the Island to some clunkily directed action), it’s also hard not to think that whatever they did would have felt slightly underwhelming after six years of build-up.

It’s been an extravagantly variable ride, and when Lost has been brilliant, it has been truly brilliant. The ending was short of being brilliant – and yet, even despite its problems, I really can’t see how they could have ended it any other way. And it doesn’t spoil the show for me. I still have mixed feelings about a lot of it – especially the reveal of the true nature of the Sideways world, which takes away the brilliant ‘Quantum parallel’ aspect that I liked so much at the beginning of the season, the excessive amounts of hugging, and the happy-ending pairing off of Sayid and Shannon (a pairing that never really made sense back in S1, and does kind of stick two fingers up at the far-more-important plotline of Sayid and Nadia). But even a slightly weak ending isn’t going to take away that Lost has given me a tremendous amount of fun over the last six years, and I can forgive the storytelling experiments that didn’t work for the ones that left me with my jaw on the floor.

For better or worse, love it or hate it, Lost is over. And the TV schedule feels that little bit emptier, and that little bit less exciting than before…

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