LOST Will Be Fine - Macleans.ca

LOST Will Be Fine


After Lost devoted its antepenultimate episode to an hour of beginning-of-time mysticism and Biblical allusions, there was a lot of fear that they’re heading for a finale that will annoy everyone, and perhaps even drag down the reputation of the entire show with it. (Look at The Sopranos. There were, and are, a lot of people who liked the finale — but the cultural backlash against the show probably has a lot to do with the sense many people had that they were let down by the finale, that the whole show was revealed as not having a point.) The idea being that at a time when the show needs to provide satisfying answers, its answers are becoming even more confusing than the questions, and there’s no way they can wrap it up in only one full-length and one double-length episode. When it comes to “Across the Sea” as an episode, it’s not a problem for me; unlike Buffy trying to introduce those awful “evil men and wise women from ancient times” segments in its last months, this kind of mystical wackiness has always been an organic part of Lost, and it pretty much had to get its own episode before the series ended. But in any case, I don’t think the finale of Lost is going to disappoint that many people, and here’s why:

Lost has a fixed conclusion. If they take it, that gives the audience closure. And if we get closure, many of us accept any number of loose ends.

By “fixed conclusion” I don’t actually mean that it can only end one way. But there is a way to end the show that would give it a sense of finality: everybody (who’s left alive and/or has come back from the dead) gets off the island. Forever. Whether they want to leave or not. It’s the same fixed conclusion that Gilligan’s Island had, except that show was canceled before they could get off. Lost is much more than a story of people stranded on an island, but… it’s still a story of people stranded on an island. I don’t know how the finale will play out, but I’m definitely guessing that it will bring that story to an end in some way or another. They were Lost. Now, at least in the literal, non-mystical sense, they’re no longer Lost. It’s like the bus was no longer Speeding at the end of Speed. Not all shows have obvious endings, because not all shows are about extreme circumstances. (There is no obvious ending to a show about a family or a workplace, though there are several options the writers can choose from to create closure.) But some shows can really only end one way. Take M*A*S*H. We knew from the very first moment that the show was over when the war ended. The war ended, the M*A*S*H unit was disbanded, and the world was happy. Getting off the Island is Lost‘s equivalent of ending the Korean War, and it can cover up a multitude of sins, even if they spend the last two hours with a character crying about a chicken and a baby.

The finales that anger people the most are often the ones that provide no closure whatsoever, and the angriest reactions of all are to the shows that set up an ending with the very first episode, and then don’t provide that ending. Remember Quantum Leap? We were told every week that Sam’s goal was to stop leaping and get home. When that happened, the show was over. And then the final episode informed us that “Dr. Sam Becket never returned home.” (Tacked on to a show that wasn’t really supposed to be a finale, but nonetheless, “Sam Becket eventually returned home” might have been a better way to go. Or “Sam Becket died after returning to his home planet.”) And those words have been inspiring fits of rage ever since.

This is why I don’t think Lost will leave the majority of viewers unsatisfied unless they pull a Quantum Leap and don’t give us the ending we were promised. Most people who watch a show, even who watch it every week, are not ferociously committed to one view of what the show should be; that’s for very passionate fans of the show (often those who post about it online). So the show has a lot of leeway in the answers it chooses to give or withhold, or what side of itself (sci-fi, survivalist adventure, character drama) it chooses to emphasize. But one thing the majority of viewers won’t accept is the feeling that an implied promise has been made, and then broken. Seinfeld made people angry because it broke an implied covenant with the viewers: for years, we had followed and liked these people in spite of their flaws, and then the show turned around and told us we should never have liked them, that they’re horrible people. The covenant Lost has made with its viewers is that it will follow the story of people on a mysterious island where nothing makes sense, and we will watch them until they’re permanently off the island and can’t ever come back.

Now, that doesn’t mean that there’s no way a show can screw up a fixed ending. Battlestar Galactica (2004 division) had a fixed ending and managed to blow it anyway, at least in the eyes of many of its fans. Who knows what kind of bizarre ending Lost might come up with, or how they might manage to make “getting off the island” seem like it’s not really an ending at all? But since the creators of Lost are not idiots (which is why they’re still standing and all their imitators have crashed and burned) I’m still willing to predict that they will know enough to provide that basic sense of closure: what we have seen for the last six years cannot continue, at least not in its original form.

And then, on the other hand, they might just put up a caption that says “And nobody ever got off the Island.” But if they do, then you’ll see some real anger.

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LOST Will Be Fine

  1. "…for years, we had followed and liked these people in spite of their flaws."

    I was supposed to like them?

    The Seinfeld ending was probably the best episode of all.

    • Oooh, I don't know about that one. I was definitely disappointed, as were most people I know. A hour and a half, if I remember correctly, of having former guests come on to testify as to what a bunch of degenerates the starring characters were. Hmm. Long, boring, and somewhat of a sidetracked social commentary on the show rather than a celebration of it, if you ask me.

      Now that I think of it, I think last shows generally tend to be a disappointment. Cheers. Everybody Loves Raymond. Etc, etc.

      Maybe they should rethink the format. Instead of having a last show that serves as some sort of concluding goodbye, how about just trying to make it a good episode? Nothing more, nothing less.

      In fact, don't even announce it as such. Announce the ending after the season. Something like that.

      • That's the way shows used to do it. The concept of the "series finale" was pretty rare until the '80s. Before that, the only examples I can think of are The Fugitive (1967: Kimball, of course, catches the one-armed man) The Odd Couple (1975: Felix remarries his ex-wife), and The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1977: The whole gang – save Ted – gets fired). There are probably others, but there are many, many more shows that just ended. And I don't think that's the worst thing in the world.

    • I was disappointed with the Seinfeld finale, but mostly because I didn't think it was particularly funny. I was fine with the idea behind it.

  2. I agree, but with a caveat: leaving the Island will only bring closure if the audience gets a sense that the Island is done with the characters. The show has made such a big deal out of whether or not the characters were supposed to leave or stay or go back, and what their destiny is, etc., that I don't think a simple "and then everybody left" is quite going to cut it if we don't also feel that it's what they are supposed to do (regardless of whether it's what they think they want at the time).

    • Indeed, the island is as much a character in the show as any of the people. I've been assuming for the past several weeks that the end of the story is that everybody leaves except the one person who will be the new guardian (probably Jack).

    • I agree. I actually see the Island as the main character in the show. No matter what period of time the show is operating in, the Island is the one constant. I'm not so concerned about what happens to the human characters, as I am in finding out what the Island's motives are for bringing them there (or was it Jacob who was bringing them?), and what it's purpose in the world is, and why does Whitmore want the island to himself.

  3. For such an epic series, Lost has managed to keep so much suspense over 6 years. In addition to the obvious mysteries and storylines, it's also done an incredible job at throwing small clues and hints at its viewers to pick up on. Many of these have gone missed, and many have been spotted. I think that a big part of the show is putting the pieces together like a puzzle – the answers aren't going to be explicitly stated ever on the show. It's wrong to expect that. For a show that's kept us guessing so long, who wants a simple answer. Here's what I'm talking about regarding the hidden clues/hints along the past 6 seasons:http://thesmogger.com/2010/05/13/looking-at-lost-

  4. Lots of interesting stuff here.

    First, although I was a big fan of Quantum Leap for a while, never kept up until the end. That was the first time I saw the ending, and I would have to agree that it does seem like a big cop-out/disappointment. Thanks for posting it.

    Regarding Lost, although intrigued by the series for years, only started to watch it steadily within the last few months. It's an intriguing series, but I don't think it's the best written show I've ever come across. It basically consists of a never-ending series of mini suspense dramas. A scene or two will take you down a certain path. Weird music starts to play, then the twist takes you to the next path, and on we go.

    Regarding series finales in general, isn't The Fugitive an example of an ending with all the closure you want — he finally catches the one-arm man — yet it's been generally criticized for perhaps not leaving something to the imagination? For example, who wants to watch reruns if they know that he gets his man in one show at the end?

  5. I always thought that was the planned finale of Quantum Leap. It feels like a series finale to me.

    • If I remember correctly (though I might be making this up out of whole cloth), it was filmed so it could be either the season or the series finale, but they hoped the show would be renewed (hence the lack of a definitive ending). It sort of works – Sam really did like helping people, so you could see how he would decide to keep doing it, esp. since he never could remember the life he had before – but it still felt odd in so many ways. How was he going to help anyone without Al and Ziggy? Did someone else come through to help him out and tell him all the vital info? And was he stuck leaping in time forever, or did he eventually grow old and die?

      The real flaw in the finale is that it didn't include a throwaway scene at the end where a 70 year old Sam finally leaps home because he can't keep helping people out with a broken hip and Alzheimers. I think the audience can accept that Sam chose to keep leaping, but at some point the guy has to get to retire.

  6. Count me as one of the BSG fans that loved the way ended.

  7. On the topic of Buffy, this is why the fifth season finale would have worked much better as a series finale than the actual series finale. We were beaten over the head for years that the slayer lives briefly to fight the vampires, dies, and is replaced by another. Ending the show with her still alive is kind of cheating. She's the slayer – she is supposed to die. That said, I don't hate on the series finale (or the seventh season in general) as a lot of people do. It's not season 3 good, but it's still better than most of the dreck on television.

  8. I've never seen this show but what is an antepenultimate episode?

  9. I agree that in a series such as Lost there ought to be some sort of closure (a comedy like Seinfeld or Everyone Loves Raymond is a different sort of animal).. I am not convinced, however, that producers & writers always grasp this fact. For example, The Pretender series needed some sort of conclusion–but in spite of being given at least two movie-length opportunities to do so after the series was cancelled, the powers that be actually introduced more questions and gave no resolutions, and compounded the frustration felt by many fans. At the same time, they kept assuring people that given one more opportunity they would be able to tie everything together–an opportunity that they have not been given.

    For the fans sake, I hope the producers of Lost do better by their fans.