Hopelessly LOST

Hopelessly LOST

Since we were old enough to operate one, T.V. has been more than just entertainment to the children of the 1970’s. For us television isn’t accidental, it’s intentional. People are in charge of the programming, and those people are broadcasting the fabric and fibre of humanity to anyone who will watch. For over 30 years television has been the messenger through which we’ve received, processed, and evaluated man’s most enduring questions and haunting desires.  The flickering screen reveals our achievements and our disappointments.

Living with disappointment is a learned skill, developed over time the same way knife throwing or torturing is. It doesn’t come to us naturally like say, the ability to hear dead voices or predicting rainstorms. If you’ve been alive for any period of time, you’ve learned to live with disappointment. This ability is beneficial because it gives you resilience but it is also detrimental in that once you develop it, it never leaves you.

We’ve spent years developing television resilience.

We developed this resilience because T.V. programming, in most forms, is thoroughly disappointing. Being an essentially commercial enterprise, the medium of T.V. deals in whatever turns a quick profit. People interested in quick money generally spend very little time considering the end result of their ventures. In contrast, they spend their time up front hoping to hook you as quickly as possible. Television programs usually start like lions and go out like lambs… Alias.

On Sunday night LOST’s epic postmodern tale came to its end and most of us spent it’s six year run wondering if that ending would strengthen or relieve our hard worn resiliency. I suspect that how you feel about it the morning after greatly depends on how strongly you felt about the ending YOU wanted for the series.

Because disappointment is a product of not getting what you want.

For the most part television’s history is an alternating checkerboard of “Bait & Switch” and “Selling Out”. This happens with shows that begin with no idea of how to finish. Would anyone have started watching “Happy Days” without Ron Howard? Because no one watched it after he left. “The X-Files” without Mulder and Scully was as bad as “The Outer Limits”. I’m certain that if Laura Ingalls Wilder’s family had been told that the producers of “Little House On The Prairie” planned on dynamiting Walnut Grove for a finale they would have never sold the rights to her beloved books.

LOST was rare in that it was a program that began with it’s own mortality in mind. Because of this there was a high probability that most of us wouldn’t get the ending that we were looking for… Like it or not we were going to get the one they dialed up for us.

They didn’t give me what I was looking for.

You see I’m used to the “Sell Out” where Jack and Kate Live happily ever after on the Island of Mystery while Ben redeems himself through sacrificing himself in battle with the Smoke Monster. Hurley leads the survivors home and Sawyer takes the Black Shirted Man’s place as Jacks’ nemesis.

I’m also well versed in the “Bait & Switch” where the people living in 2004 all meet up at a concert where they realize that they are meant to get on a plane and fly to an Island of Destiny where they get a chance to do it all over the “right way” and let’s not forget about the “Who Shot Jr.?” where everything that happened was merely a dream.

What I got was better than I imagined it would be.

Before I go on we must admit that the producers of this show are crafty and duplicitous manipulators. These two men spent years doubling back and throwing mud in the water like a criminal covering his tracks before a great diamond heist. Their Clinton-esque ability to misdirect and mislead took us a great distance away from actuality all while giving them the ability to say, “We never lied to you”.

We’re probably going to have to come up with a new term for the “Flash Sideways” because it certainly wasn’t. The producers never named it (the fans did) an “alternate reality” or “sideways” but they did use those terms for our sake… to keep us off of the trail of what it really was. They spent years telling us that the Island wasn’t purgatory, when in fact the so called “sideways” was a very reasonable facsimile for the non- Catholic viewer. They directly stated that “the mystery” wasn’t time travel, but in the end time travel played a major part in the story telling.

Like one of David Copperfield’s scantily clad assistants, these plausible denials kept the majority of us focused on the incidentals while they prepared to finally give us the meaty and completely unforeseeable end results… something I haven’t experienced since Col. Steve Austin unmasked Bigfoot to reveal that it was an alien robot on the “6 Million Dollar Man”.

Don’t lie; you couldn’t have seen this coming.

But it all makes sense: ever since Jacob told the candidates that they “weren’t really living before they came to the island” the show originally built around the pre-lives of the participants had to eventually become about their afterlives. Since the pilot episode this story’s seams were as snugly in place as the strands in Jacob’s tapestry. Each movement of the final episode felt right because whether or not you liked or understood what was happening, the character’s actions were uniformly honest representations of who they’ve been since episode one.

Ever since he started serving up the leftover in-flight meals Hurley has been the person looking after group emotionally. It made sense that he would eventually become the real “Shepard”. Since day one of the crash Jack and Kate have been connected emotionally yet separated physically. Their eternity had to begin with them fully united. As much as we couldn’t have imagined that the “sideways” was telling the story of their eternal reuinion, I have to admit that it makes sense in a way that nothing else really could.
In a show filled with so much grief and loss this ending was the only way to give the story a satisfying finale without breaking “the rules” by undoing everything that had been done (what happened happened) or bringing everyone back to life (dead is dead).

Why shouldn’t we be disappointed?

By wearing the true faces and memories of the characters, the tale honored its participants in a way seldom seen on screen. In a culture where the bottom dollar is the bottom line we are used to seeing our storytellers trading in what they’ve accomplished for one last, unsatisfying shot at fortune and glory (yes I am calling Lucas and Spielberg out for Indy 4). Letting Jack be Jack until the minute of his death is merciful in a way that the characters on “The Office” will never know.

Even though it was a construct of their consciousness, the “sideways world” was the place that each eventually processed and released all that they had experienced during the trauma of Jacob’s island game. True to his nature as a man of action Jack was again the last person to understand anything. He ended the journey the same way he began it, unaware that his quest to put his father to rest was actually the search for his own peace.

In the end it doesn’t matter that everyone eventually died, it matters that in death they found one another again.

With no God character (only goodness), eternity becomes an entirely humanistic endeavor with man as his own savior. In the sideways world (beyond the grave), each character retained or regained their humanity by rescuing another. Sayid saved Shannon, Jack saved Locke, Kate saved Jack, Juliet and Sawyer saved one another. This was made possible with the help of Desmond, the man straddling both worlds and Hurley the selfless. Benjamin Linus was the anti-Hurley, a man whose selfishness became the show’s definition of darkness. The pairing of these two as the Island’s new Jacob and Richard must be what brought Ben to door of the chapel, but not yet inside. You can’t help but wonder if and when “Henry Gale” gets to enter the light.

There were things that I didn’t like.

It galls me that someone as simple and vapid as Shannon can win Sayid’s heart for all of eternity. That he loves her cheapens his nobility and makes me like him less. I guess that Nadia wasn’t Sayid’s true love after all.

Emilie De Ravin hasn’t “acted” in an episode of LOST for nearly 5 years. Aside from yelling out “moy bay bay” 15 times per episode in season 1, Claire and Aaron’s storyline went virtually nowhere after the writers abandoned the “death by pregnancy” subplot in season 4. Wandering around the jungle filthy isn’t my definition of insanity. The creepy faux baby was a nice touch but she never sold “crazy” to me. In fact I’m not going to complain that an “insane” Claire was able to diagnose her own insanity and then use it as an excuse to stay on the island because if they hadn’t tied all of that up in a 22 second conversation I’d have had to watch another episode dedicated to “saving Claire”. It would have been better to give us an episode explaining why Aaron had to go into eternity as a baby.

Did Kate fly back to America and get thrown into jail for violating her parole? Because that’s what normally happens when someone jumps on an international flight when they are supposed to be wearing an ankle monitor. I’ll just assume the Ajira plane didn’t fly back to the States. While I’m at it, I’ll assume that Richard told Frank the bearing needed to take a flight off of the island… because we all remember that without the right coordinates people die of nosebleeds. That metal door must have slammed Frank right into a pile of lifejackets.

There were things I loved.

Because of Vincent, Jack didn’t have to “die alone”. Daniel and Charlotte are still “living” blissfully unaware of their death. Richard didn’t go out like a punk, the Smoke Monster did. Best line of the night, “You wear his face but you dishonor his memory.” Second best line of the night, “I saved a bullet for you.” Third? “I don’t believe in a lot, but I do believe in duct tape.” Best action scene: Jack’s Lion-O thunder punch on Smokey. I could go on and on.

But I’ll always wonder:

Who first cracked the surface of the Island to reveal the light? Someone was building something down there and had to plug up that hole. Did Rose and Bernard die in the quakes? Where are Cyndi and all of the children that the Others collected? Did Hurley ever get Desmond off the Island? Why do they call him Hurley when his name is Hugo? Was Walt special at all? Why did pregnant women die on the Island? Who kept air-dropping the food?

In the end our television resilience was rewarded.

Years of awkward ending and unraveling led us here. “Here” exists because of the death of so many once noble television programs. If you ever loved a show and watched it die a horrible death, then this Monday is a special place. It’s a special place that exists because LOST rose like a blazing Phoenix out of the ashes of nearly every serialized, mythologically enhanced drama before it.

LOST broadcasted the fabric and fibre of humanity to anyone who would watch. It was a messenger through which we received, processed, and evaluated man’s enduring questions and haunting desires while restoring faith that Television could serve a greater purpose.

It was like a mythic Island where the things that happened, happened for a reason.

Wow. It's Quiet Here...

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