Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Lost Finale (Spoilers)

Everyone has been talking about the stunning Lost finale, whose final twist has left those who love the show very satisfied, and gave those who felt the show had been spinning its wheels confidence that there is a clear plan, and a strong new direction. Spoilers ahead.

The thing about serial narrative, especially one that centers around mystery, is How do you keep the mystery interesting over a long period of time: explain too much and your mystery disappears; explain too little and people get frustrated and walk away. One device is a variation on the screenwriting principle that the end of an act must resolve one conflict, but that that resolution must introduce a new conflict: Spiderman may reject the simbiote, but it will then find a new host he will battle. Lost answers the mystery of what is in the hatch, but what is in the hatch turns just opens up more mysteries.

The Season 3 Finale does that to a certain extent, but it does something else too – the twist has more to do with format and story structure, than it does with content. This episode is like a great magic trick, proving that the creators are geniuses: you learn no secrets about the mysterious island and its properties, no secrets about the smoke monster, no secrets about Dharma or the Others, no secrets about the numbers, no secrets about Richard or Jacob or Ben or any of the characters, and yet you walk away satisfied because the creators have changed the status of the flashbacks. I have been saying for a while that the point of Lost is the stories about the characters rather than the mysteries of the island – the creators just wrangled characters into the spotlight again, by leaving the island behind and doing what stories are supposed to do: focus on characters. Just as a side-note, people have been calling the Jack “flashback” a flash-forward, but that is not what it is at all: it is that, in earlier episodes, the island was the present and the non-island scenes were past-time; the twist is that you think the Jack story is past-time but it turns out, not to be the future, but to be a new present – it is the story of the island that has become a flashback for Jack.

The show is not without flaws: Why doesn’t Charlie just lock the door behind him as it floods, since it seems he has time? People have said it is because he wants Desmond’s prediction to come true but this raises the same post hoc ergo propter hoc problem that the episode in which they discovered Naomi did: it is not clear that there is any cause and effect relationship between the detail that Charlie dies and the rescue (as there is with flipping the switch). Also it seems like much of the two hour running time was used to lengthen pauses, and Lock appears in the finale for little over two minutes total. But Sawyer killing Tom. Hurley saving the day, and Said snapping that guy’s neck with his feet, and Rousseau’s gentle caress of her long lost daughter’s hair followed immediately by the ridiculous “help me tie him up”: that’s why I watch Lost. It’s all about the characters.

Someone once said Milton could have said everything he had to say about God in a pamphlet of some two or three pages, and thus concluded that it is the poetry rather than the content that is important; Lost could release a memo detailing the mysteries of the island. It is the storytelling that is important. And the formal twist at the end of Season three could not have emphasized that more.

9 comments:

Stephen said...

Someone once said Milton could have said everything he had to say about God in a pamphlet of some two or three pages, and thus concluded that it is the poetry rather than the content that is important

If you have it handy, I'd love a cite for that remark.

scott s said...

that's a great point about how little of the mystery is revealed, and its a formal twist that makes magic. i was convinced the finale would show how far LOST has slipped into these genre traps, like twin peaks, of giving away too much or too little. it says so much about the quality of this show that a formal twist, rather than a plot one, can breathe new life into it. but new episodes in february? jesus

has any mainstream show ever played with form this much on network tv?

Ted said...

As worthwhile as the plot twist was, wouldn't it have been even better if they had planned it far enough in advance that earlier flashbacks in the season might really be "flash-forwards?"

People will look, but alas, LOST isn't THE WIRE, so they're not thinking that far ahead. Pity.

Geoff Klock said...

Stephen: no idea. I heard Stanley Fish quote it at MLA. If you find it let me know.

Scott S: it is a good question. Anyone else is welcome to answer it, while I am thinking.

Ted: I am not sure not having "flash-forwards" hidden in earlier episodes is as much as a gaff as you imply it is when you say it is a pity. The comparison of the WIRE to LOST seems a little off as well, since one nails realism, and the other is an uber-pulp show.

neilshyminsky said...

Ted: Planning earlier flashforwards would've missed the point, since these weren't actually flashforwards. Besides which, why would they want to let the cat out of the bag like that? I can see the value in foreshadowing, sure, but someone would catch it and then the whole schtick for the finale is ruined.

Geoff: Heh. Evidently we watch and are enamored with this show for nearly the exact same reasons. I'd accuse you of plagiarizing me, but I didn't see a reply to the entry on my blog and I'm guessing that you never got around to reading it. ;)

Geoff Klock said...

Neil: Actually I did read your blog and several other things about the finale. It is entirely possible that I stole from you without realizing it. Sorry about that. I But I went to your blog just now and the overlap does not seem very serious -- we were hardly the only people to note those things -- and your more original contributions remain unstolen. Everyone go to Neil's blog. He has smart things to say about Lost.

BTW: My guess for the guy in the coffin: Hurley. The misdirect is that you assume he would not fit but I bet his arc is to loose the weight starting now. He weight was a factor in the finale.

James said...

The casket looked short to me - was that only me? As such I thought it had to be a kid: Aaron (we have no time-frame), or maybe Walt if it's sooner. Or maybe someone LOSES THEIR LEGS!!!!!

Pete said...

The thing about Charlie and the door: for me, there was a moment where he closes his eyes as the water swirls around his feet and legs... I'd like to think that he was picturing Claire and Aaron getting on the helicopter, his faith in destiny or predetermination or whatever intact; (although part of me thinks he was telling himself "You turned off the blinking light. You could've locked the door from outside, you daft git. You don't have to die.") But, ignoring that paranthetical, it's what the character believes that makes the whole bit work (same thing with the previous week: I didn't think the writers were really going to kill Charlie, but I recognized that the character believed not only that he was going to die, but his death was necessary for the others (not the Others) to live.) That's why, for me, this part of Charlie's story worked as well as it did.

One little touch I haven't seen any comments (or speculation) on: Bakunin's line to the two women in the Looking Glass: "I thought you were on a mission in Canada" (or something like that)... Holy Crap! That, too me, holds enough potential to change our understanding of the show as did the statue with the 4-toed foot... on the other hand, if they never followed up on it, that'd be OK too.

neilshyminsky said...

Geoff: No worries - I was just kidding. It's amazing, though, to see the huge range of responses that the finale has garnered. What sort of forums are you checking on to gauge the responses?

On the coffin: My Michael guess is based on a bunch of factors that point to Michael. The fragments of the name in the obituary match none of them, which suggests that it's a pseudonym. (And what other Lostie would a) escape notice upon rescue and b) need one?) It also says that the deceased is from New York (I think that only Rose and Bernard are also from New York) and that he died in a 'tower' on 'Grand Avenue', which points to the as-yet-completed Grand Avenue Project. As a construction worker, it's more than possible that he was working and living in the area. (Okay, so that last one's a stretch, but I think the last is much more trustworthy.)

I'm skeptical that they'd ever actually kill Hurley, though. I think that the character's too well-loved. Besides which, they already got rid of Charlie - given that the fourth season is already looking ominous, can the producers afford to eliminate their two best sources of levity and humor?