I’m what might be considered an anti-populist. I prefer – out of bloody-minded arrogance no doubt- to find programmes that I can then tell my friends about, rather than going along with hype, which is precisely why I am yet to see an episode of Heroes (though maybe that one wasn’t too bad a decision in the end). It is also why up until roughly three weeks ago, I had only seen one and a half episodes of Lost: the first being from midway through Season Two (no idea why I would watch one out of sequence), and the half representing the episode I watched in French while flicking through the channels one sweaty night in Cannes this year.
There is nothing quite as surreal as watching a group of characters you vaguely recognise from other people’s conversations talk in a language you recognise about a fifth of and enact relationships you have no foundation to understand yet.
I also remember having a conversation with both Matt and Peter about how ludicrous I thought the premise of Lost was- I knew the major plot elements and the favourite themes and recurring events that had been given the highest amount of water-cooler exposure (polar bears, smoke monsters etc) and built a flimsy, though animated argument on my ignorance alone.
But then, three weeks ago I took the opportunity to watch the first season (an unopened Christmas present), realising that I could probably come up with an even better argument based upon actually watching it. And initially, that’s what I had tentatively planned as my take on the end of the Lost universe – as signified by the release of the 6th season and the Complete Boxset to Blu Ray today. But, after about another episode and a half, I realised just how wrong I was in my initial evaluation of ABC’s long-time flagship production, and decided to change tact drastically. This article would be a celebration of Lost, and a look at its potential legacy.
Read on for the reasons I’ve come up with for anyone who hasn’t yet seen JJ Abrams’ ground-breaking sci-fi series, for everyone else, think of it as the OWF mini-compendium of greatness dedicated to the series…
Reasons to get Lost…
They don’t care who they upset by not answering all the questions they pose.
A lot of the post-Lost criticism has centred on the fact that the show left a ridiculous amount of its mysteries unsolved, and fully answered only a small proportion of the questions it raised. But let’s face it, Lost was a sci-fi series, which intentionally set out to present something that challenged its viewers – and unresolved narratives are one of the sure-fire ways of achieving that. Here’s a selection of the questions it seems will remain unanswered for good…
- Why exactly did the island need protecting in the first place?
- Whatever happened to Michael and Walt?
- What was the significance of the Egyptian statue on the island?
- What about the temple?
- Why, at the beginning of this series, was the island underwater?
The skewed moral compass…
One of the most enduringly entertaining questions that Lost raises, is concerned with the presentation of good and evil, and the allegory for Christianity that appears in the depiction of Jacob’s struggle with The Man in Black. There is definitely a touch of Milton’s Paradise Lost in their respective opinions of Man, which makes it increasingly easy to see them as embodiments of God and the Devil respectively. The Man In Black/Smoke Monster whole-heartedly believes in the enduring potential for evil in humanity – and that their descent to evil is as inevitable as the passage of time, to wit he attempts to manipulate and tempt them toward that end. Conversely, Jacob believes that man must be allowed to choose by their own free will.
That reading is somewhat oversimplified however – the concepts of good and evil aren’t quite so black and white in the Lost universe. We must ask ourselves, what exactly is “right and wrong”, anyway? Is “goodness” solely defined by which side the islanders ultimately choose in the struggle between Jacob and The Man In Black? But, looking into it further, why exactly is it “good” at all to choose Team Jacob when his idea of Godliness is to build a plaything in the shape of his very own populated ant-hill, stranding his play-things on a nightmarish Island from it is incredibly difficult to escape from?
How is Jacob any better than that other deity who plays the metaphorical child with a magnifying glass playing with those ants, deceiving and or killing them once they arrive on the Island? It’s certainly the lesser of two evils, but what Jacob does can certainy not be called “good” in the conventional monochromatic sense, and despite the ever-so-slightly hokey religious imagery of the finale that flirts with the idea that jack is Jesus, Jacob is far from holy.
As I will come on to qualify, Lost is more about the Journey, not the Result; hence the lack of resolution for some of the key issues above, and the key thing for understanding the whole Jacob/MIB struggle is that it is a game of proof- Jacob’s lesser evil of stranding the survivors on the island is an attempt to prove the MIB wrong and it is quite enriching that the arc of the series is accordingly the characters’ redemption, through their own choices.
Further to that, Lost seems to draw morally complex portraits of the majority of its “villains”. Most end up being far more than they immediately appear to be – take Richard for example- and I was occasionally reminded of the way Shakespeare developed his villains (most notably Iago). The chief suspect in the villain stakes is of course Locke, by the end, which (albeit through events that conspire to make him not himself) is the natural progression for a character whose arc in the rest of the series had established that he was an incredibly complex character to read, and even harder to judge on which side of the moral divide he placed himself. He was also one of the most charismatic and watchable characters, with probably the most compelling back-story, which itself definitely wrestles with the same kind of themes that Iago’s story in Othello does: the issue primarily of whether each character is more sinned against than sinning being chief among them.
It is the greatest crime of Lost that The Man in Black wasn’t given the ending he deserved. The killing scene in fact, acted as no more than a terrible false promise – the series previously hinted towards an incredible, Earth-shattering battle between good and evil, a final showdown to end all showdowns. Instead, we got a vaguely cheesy, fudged sequence that felt like it should have included Jason Statham, and a bullet to the back – where exactly was the dignity that The Man in Black and Locke both deserved as characters.
Really the show’s skewed depiction of moral issues all converge to make the overtly religious elements far easier to stomach: I’m not a big believer, especially not in faith-filled shows that try to ram slightly unnecessarily religious messages down my throat. And there were some terribly sickly moments – the whole Jack as Jesus idea didn’t make me feel good, nor did the implication of his father’s name (Christian Shephard), and the idea of the Light being, according to Desmond “the Light in every man’s soul” just seemed a Godly step too far. And then there are images like this- apparently jocular, until you realise the Godliness isn’t really a joke…
The characters are incredibly well drawn.
Well, the main players are anyway. Lost supremo producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse have basically spent the past 120 hours of the six seasons drumming it into us that the show is about characters, not jaw-dropping answers – which is precisely why at the end of it, the answers weren’t resolved, but the characters, and their plights were.
Sadly, as in the case of Rose and Bernard most notably, “The End” occasionally sacrificed logical, suspenseful storytelling to enable some kind of character resolution, and to get all of the characters in place for the final series-concluding revelation.
But then, that is a forgiveable- if a little too contrived – narrative device, because of the ultimate resolution (and because robbing Bernard and Rose of some inclusion would have been unforgiveable in some fan circles), and also in light of the way character genesis was dealt with throughout the series as a whole. At the end of the day, we cared what happened to each and every character, and there was as much comfort, for me personally, in the realisation that the Flash Sideways was a shared version of Purgatory where the survivors were all reunited upon death. And that empathy was all a result of how well the writers fleshed out their back-stories, revealing little patches of information that enriched and enlightened the audience and making them as important to us as the mystery of the Island which was the chief star of the show.
They know how to treat the Fans
TV fans can be notoriously difficult to deal with, especially when a show isn’t exactly developing as its potential hinted at\- hence the vicious backlash that the writers of Heroes were subjected to when the second series became the highest casualty of the writers’ strike. The makers of Lost, however set out from the beginning to engage the audiences, both through good suspenseful film-making, establishing a complex mythology for the show and active engagement away from the screening slots, to encourage the fan speculation around that mythology. The key to the show’s success was the community of speculation and debate that existed around the periphery of the show: a community that often included the show’swriters and stars, who would interact with that community.
The mythology was also further encouraged when both JJ Abrams, and the production pairing of Cuse and Lindelof made public statements denying the most fervently engaged theories- Abrams specifically denied the original Purgatory theory, while Lindelof rejected speculation that aliens were involved, and that all of the events were imagined by one of the characters, and Cuse dismissed the theory that the island was a reality TV show unbeknownst to the inhabitants. Lindelof also repeatedly refuted the theory that the Smoke Monster was in fact a kind of nanobot cloud similar to the one featured in Michael Crichton’s novel “Prey”. And nothing inspires more rabid speculation than a public denial – the fans simply lapped it all up an went back to their laptops and keyboards with even more vehemence.
The bollocks CGI
Anyone else would have spent a little more time concerned with authenticating CGI, but JJ Abrams says fuck you to the need to not make pretty much every special effect look terrible. Oh wait, that’s not a plus point! The Smoke Monster in particular (and the polar bears too) is just awful, and every time the bloody thing appeared I wished that the CGI budget had been given as much attention as the character detail.
Genre? What Genre?
Exactly. Part of the enduring success of Lost across its six year run was the show’s ability to transcend traditional generic boundaries, marrying hyper-real sci-fi with any number of genres. This genre-hopping allowed for a creative freedom that other genre-bound shows simply could not compete with, and made single episodes feel hugely different in tone to others from the same series. It is also one of the chief reasons behind the shows longevity and depth; the freshness of episodes that differed hugely in tone ensuring that audiences were not afforded any chance to get bored.
It won a heap of accolades in its final year.
Right, I know nominations and awards are never a real indication of the quality of a TV show or movie, but sometimes it is incredibly difficult to resist the temptation to include a nod towards a show’s trophy cabinet when it is so laden with nominations and actual wins. Just look at the roll-call of Emmy nominations the sixth season picked up:
- Outstanding Drama Series
- Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series- Matthew Fox as Jack
- Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series- Michael Emerson as Ben & Terry O’Quinn as the Man in Black/John Locke
- Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series- Elizabeth Mitchell as Juliet “The End”
- Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series- Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse for “The End”
- Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series- Jack Bender for “The End”
- Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Drama Series- Stephen Semel, Mark J. Goldman, Christopher Nelson, Henk Van Eeghan for “The End”
- Outstanding Sound Editing for a Series- ”The End”
- Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Comedy or Drama Series (One-Hour)- ”The End”
- Outstanding Art Direction for a Single-Camera Series- ”Ab Aeterno”
- Outstanding Music Composition for a Series- Michael Giacchino for “The End”
- Outstanding Special Class Programs- ABC’s LOST Presents: Mysteries Of The Universe – The Dharma Initiative
So, quite a few of those who I spoke to about the finale professed to feeling somewhat let down by the ending: whether due to its apparent obviousness or down to the fact that it accounted to them having logged a serious amount of hours watching the show only to find themselves no better off than at the beginning. But, personally, I don’t share that sentiment, and I’m sure a significant amount of fans of the show would agree with me that Lost was about the experience of the journey. There were even several hints of the finale’s revellation as early as the first season and definitely in the final one, as if JJ Abrams and Co were suggesting that it didn’t necessarily effect the entertainment value to openly flirt with that explanation. The finale itself, was full of little self-aware winks and nudges: Kate’s humoured reaction to the name Christian Shepard and Sawyer describing Jack’s plan as a “long con”, most obviously of all.
And anyway, as I’ve stated already, Lost is about characters and their journeys and not concrete answers. At the root of it, Lost is all about a journey, both filmically and in the viewing experience it encourages. Just as Jack’s journey of self-revelation from man of science and reluctant leader to man of faith develops on screen, the audience is encouraged to develop alongside him, exploring issues of faith and their own identity…
Sorry, got a bit lost in the spirituality of it all there. Really, the final scene was all a little too ethereal and open-ended to really mean anything, and it reminded me (and others I have encountered) of the same feeling I had when The Sopranos ended with a flourish of Journey and a fucking frustrating fade to black (though I have now come to view that as bloody GENIUS). But then, The Sopranos only really had one question to ask at the end, and answering it would have added too much of a finality to the series to leave it with an enduring mythology and legacy: Lost, however, had a multitude, and we probably deserved- one hundred and twenty hours later- to be given that tangible explanation.
But I definitely took a lot out of the finale- the assertion that “everything that happened, happened”, because for a long time I was concerned that the show was going to end with a whimper: whether through the cop-out answer that everything was just Purgatory all along, or- even worse- that it was some kind of dream . In the end, we were thrown something of a curve ball: the revellation that the Flash Sideways was Purgatory and that the events of the Island really did happen was probably one of the bravest things JJ Abrams and Co could have done, in that it consciously acknowledge the presence of the Purgatory elephant in the room, but that it didn’t use it as the main explanation.
It may take multiple more viewings, but I imagine that some of those who felt let-down, will come to love the finale as strongly as they loved the rest of the show.
The Lost Legacy
Pick up any review dedicated to the show and you’ll find terms like ground-breaking bandied around for fun, and while it isn’t exactly helpful to use such terms without qualification, it’s difficult to resist the sentiment. When you consider that subsequent, high-concept sci-fi cross-over shows like Heroes and Flash Forward have fallen by the wayside since Lost first aired, that sentiment seems to ring with extra importance.
So what exactly have we been left with, now that the island has hopped through time for the last time?
After six seasons with Lost, the central band of actors are largely unrecognisable from the versions of themselves who boarded Flight 315 in terms of their profiles at least. Included below is a selection of those who can very easily be suggested as potential big players in Hollywood now that the show has ended, despite having fairly muted (or entirely different) profiles some six years ago:
Naveen Andrews- One of the break-out performances of Lost, Andrews’ had previously worked on a few series and films, but hadn’t had the opportunity to command such a key role. Aided by a wonderfully written character in Sayid, he will no doubt be knocking offers back for Hollywood films that value him as more than a swarthy bad-guy right now.
Matthew Fox- He used to be the oldest brother in Party of Five. Now, he is likely to make a real go at establishing himself as a serious Hollywood leading man. Enough said.
Josh Holloway- The actor who will probably gain the most out of the show- Holloway has bucket-loads of sex-appeal and the irking ability to command the audience’s attention and affection in equal measure. Already snapped up by Marvel, it won’t be long before he’s getting his shirt off in far more tent-pole releases. Hopefully he’ll play some more villains. Just a shame he couldn’t have been Gambit.
Evangeline Lily- Pretty much landing out of nowhere to play Kate, Lily made up one half of the emotional heart of the show, with her relationship with Jack (and also Sawyer of course) commanding as much attention as the mystery of the island itself, thanks to an invaluable ability to depict her emotions in her eyes. God help us all if Hollywood sees no greater role for her than in rom-coms, as Lily could very well be one of the better new female actioners of the next few years.
- Michael Emerson- Previously a bit-part player in a serious of underwhelming roles, Emerson’s villainous performance as Ben was one of the high-points of the show in terms of performances: it would be incredibly easy to see him playing a psychopath, with that calming streak and disarming manner which hid Ben’s animal side impeccably.
- Dominic Monaghan- Formerly best known as a hobbit, and in Hetty Wainthrop Investigates as a sort of bumbling yound side-kick, Monaghan has come out of Lost with an entirely different profile. He is hip- cool enough to star as charismatic Simon in Flash Forward, and also in an Eminem video- and he has managed to cast off the usually stifling grip of type-casting that traditionally affects cast members from film franchises like The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.
- Yunjin Kim- The South Korean actress, already fairly established on her native market, is a sure-thing to be a cross-over hit on the Western film market now that her profile has been raised in those territories thanks to Lost. Her portrayal of Sun has been a consistent highlight throughout the show’s run
The one actor who I sincerely hope comes out of Lost with a huge profile is Jorge Garcia, though it will take something seriously different to cast off the considerable shadow of Hurley. Garcia has the potential – his appearance as a drug dealer on Curb Your Enthusiasm proved to be the perfect foundation for Hurley’s comic streak and it is fairly obvious he has the comic timing and ability to play on an audience’s empathy to make a career in indie or hipster comedies. I only hope he doesn’t end up playing a parody of Hurley in some laughter-track heavy sit-com- if he can continue in the vein of Curb, I would be more than happy. Garcia’s acting ability goes beyond being a joker though- one behind the scenes featurette from Season Two shows footage of him testing for the original Sawyer character, and it has to be said he does sinister charm almost as well as Josh Holloway. So maybe a left-field villain role is what he needs to reannounce himself to the viewing world.
Just as viral marketing is becoming an increasingly important part of pre-release film-marketing, in order to engage potential fans even before they are fully aware of what the film is, fan-interaction is set to become hugely important to the generation and consistent engagement of a fanbase for TV shows going forward, thanks to the model set by Lost. TV companies will surely be encouraged to incorporate fan interaction into their marketing strategies, in order to chase the bloated dollar that comes with an appeased and passionate online community.
Well, not exactly copy-cats, but Lost definitely opened up the opportunity for more high-concept sci-fi programmes. Without the market being opened up by the ridiculous viewing figures that the show commanded, and the consequent proof that those type of numbers were willing to tune in for a fairly left-field option proved to be just the precedent show-makers needed to get their ideas optioned. There would probably have been no Flash Forward without Lost, and like it or not, that show commanded some serious viewing figures at various points in its sadly all-too-brief run, and was almost as good at weaving a complex universe and mythology for itself that Lost managed.
So what do we watch now, then? Well, the hottest players on the card so far are probably Abrams’ own Undercovers, Jimmy Smits’ Outlaw and NBC’s The Cape, which all picked up a lot of buzz earlier this year when everyone was in a panic over what we would all do now Lost is gone for good. But there isn’t really the same sci-fi feel to those shows as Lost, and it may well be that we have to wait a little longer to be treated to anything like the same experience again.
And if those ones don’t tickle your fancy, there are always a couple of shows which are already running that have picked up some serious accolades already, in the shape of impressive new(ish) cop drama Southland and the simply incredible Boardwalk Empire. And as for something from the past to fill the gap, why not give HBO’s Carnivale a go- it’s probably the best thing you’ve never watched, if you missed it first time round.
Let’s just hope that the true successor to the crown, whoever that may be, enjoys as much longevity as Lost did.
This article was first posted on September 13, 2010