Damon Lindelof on the Lost finale: A fan's response

Feature James Hunt 1 Jun 2012 - 08:13

A week ago, Damon Lindelof gave us his long-awaited take on the controversial Lost finale, and here's what one fan has to say in response...

It's now been over two years since Lost aired its final episode, and it's safe to say that whether you loved it, hated it or thought it was pretty mediocre, you've had enough time to come to terms with it. As someone who found the eventual conclusion quite a weak one, I was happy to just consign Lost to the pile of topics that I try not to discuss for health reasons, alongside The Matrix sequels and any posthumous adaptation of Douglas Adams' writing.

It was with some measure of trepidation, then, that I watched the 30-minute interview where Damon Lindelof finally gave his extensive, authoritative take on Lost's final moments. This was, in many ways, the holy grail of the disaffected Lost fan: Someone with authorial insight giving an explanation of exactly what the show's ending was supposed to be about. No ambiguity, no guesswork, just Lindelof's undiluted ideas about what, in a nutshell, Lost was about.

And after watching the video, the only question I've got left to ask is whether Damon Lindelof was actually watching his own show.

For those who haven't sat through the interview, the explanation Lindelof gives is that the central purpose of the show, over its six year period, was to take a group characters who were "lost" (in a spiritual/metaphorical sense) and get them to a point where they could forgive themselves and move on. Fair enough. The subtext of the show's title was not lost on us.

But if that was supposed to be the point of the series, a disparity arises when you look at the difference between Lindelof's description of the show's subject matter ("Lost was about the characters") and the show's presentation of its subject matter. Lost, quite famously, trained its audience to spot the tiny details. It encouraged, even rewarded them for caring about the show's internal mythology. It inspired wikis and articles and frame-by-frame analyses the likes of which David Lynch could've only dreamt about getting for Twin Peaks. Somewhere in my house, I still have an Apollo chocolate bar that I got for free as part of a Lost AR game. Nowhere on that chocolate bar does it invite me to consider Jack Shephard's role in all this.

It's no surprise, then, that we viewers felt led to believe that these lost characters would "find" themselves not in some nebulous concept of personal forgiveness (as Lindelof asserts) but by discovering their place in island's grander scheme. And we felt that like them, we would one day discover what that was, and that it would be a carefully constructed mystery that built on the past while revealing the answers to the biggest secrets.

Clearly, we were wrong. Lindelof is quite clear about his feelings on the matter, saying: "It’s not that I didn’t care about the mythology of the show, [but] there is no worse scene in the history of genre than the Architect explaining to Neo everything that happened in The Matrix, and I wasn’t going to fucking touch that with a ten foot pole."

Now, without wanting to combine two of the subjects that get me worked up, I feel it necessary to point out that the problem with The Architect's scene in The Matrix Reloaded wasn't the fact that we were being handed the answers on a platter. It was that it wasn't done in an interesting and emotionally engaging way. The dialogue was excruciating, the scene lasted too long, and it was delivered by a character that reminded us too much of Colonel Sanders.

The big idea delivered in that scene – that Zion is a part of the Matrix system intentionally created to hold people who reject the computer reality, thus invisibly maintaining the machine's control over humanity even when they think they've escaped – is actually a good one. It turned the Matrix concept on its head in an interesting and complicated way. Had they been properly delivered, the revelations could easily have been successful.

And for better or worse, Lost needed a moment like that. Something that made us re-think what we'd seen. Something that gave its characters a narrative resolution to coincide with their thematic closure. It didn't even have to be great. Tell us that the island was a time-loop designed to keep the species alive forever. That it was built as a petting zoo by aliens. Tell us that it was an elaborate reality TV show. As long as it mostly fit with what we had seen, it could have been anything. Anything other than nothing. Battlestar Galactica may have had a terrible ending, but at least it was one that (mostly) answered the questions the series raised.

Because when you watch Lost, the questions you're left with aren't about the characters, but the mysteries that engaged you in the first place: What was the island? What was DHARMA trying to do there? Why did Jacob need a new steward? Those in charge can point at interviews from back then and reiterate that "we never said we'd give you the answers" - but the show's yearly progression flatly contradicts this position.

Lost, at least as we saw it, was driven by questions, and the answers to those questions. What's in the hatch? What happens if you don't push the button? How did the Oceanic Six escape? As it is, we don't even know why, in the most basic material sense, it would have been bad for the Man in Black to have left the island. That's not a small matter, either – keeping him from leaving is, as far as we got an explanation, the purpose of for every event in the entire series! To end the show without giving us the biggest answers wasn't just a bad idea, it was out of step with everything we'd been watching.

It doesn't help that in his interview, Lindelof calls Across the Sea (the origin story of Jacob and the Man in Black) "one of the most unsuccessful episodes" negatively assessing it as "rife with fundamental explanations" and "as close to the Architect scene as we got." Now, I recognise that I may be in the minority here, but that episode, in my opinion, was one of the best of the series.  Lindelof wanted ambiguity. He wanted things left to interpretation. We wanted answers. In that episode, Lost came closer than ever to getting it right. We saw the apparent origins of so much of the show, tacked onto a story that put character first - and yet the episodes that followed managed to simultaneously undermine it, ignore it and hand wave away what major questions it introduced so close to the end of the series.

Now, in fairness, there are parts of Lindelof's explanation that make a lot of sense. At one point in the interview, he says "At the very least, no matter what your interpretation is, you do know that everyone that you ever cared about died, and that you got treated to some version of an epilogue." Which is true. And it's probably one of the better things about Lost's ending: the fate of the characters was never in dispute. The thing that upset people is that the fate of the island didn't get the same resolution.

Of course, perhaps the only way we can really come to terms with the ending of Lost isn't by learning the answers, but by submitting to Lindelof's ultimate explanation: "What did these people get out of this plane crash? The answer, as corny as it sounds, is each other. That’s what they got. They were all fucked up, sad individuals who were lost in their own lives and hated themselves, and somehow they found some fundamental community with each other." As someone who has found fundamental community with hordes of other disappointed Lost fans, maybe Lindelof's explanation of the ending is more insightful than even he realises. And maybe next time a show built on mysteries and mythology captures the public imagination, we'll at least know to wait until the complete DVD box set comes out before deciding whether to watch it.

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