This feels like coming full circle for me; I started THUD six or seven years ago, and one of the first shows I covered extensively was Lost. If you go through the archives you’ll see me as a Lost fanatic, right from the start. I had all my own theories in season one – including that Jack was gay – and I wrote a controversial-at-the-time piece saying that Lost was for the smart folks while Heroes was for the dummies. I think most people came around to my side on that one.
Now with Lost in its final hours I return to THUD and find myself so far away from the enthusiastic, fresh-faced THUD writer. I will watch every remaining moment of Lost because I’ve been on board this long, and because I felt that Battlestar Galactica, when faced with a similarly shitty final season actually pulled it off in the finale*. I’ll see it through til the end.
My problems with Lost are many, and many of those are personal – I’m the guy who kind of fell off when time travel became the centerpiece of the show in season five. I’m also the guy who can’t connect with season six because it’s a season about two godlike entities who aren’t our original characters and whose plans – and the impacts and meanings of those plans – have not been revealed to me. I think season six is one without drama; we’ve already seen Losties get off the island, so that’s not interesting anymore, and we don’t know why keeping The Man In Black on the island is a big deal, so who cares?
But no, these aren’t the reasons Lost went wrong. In fact many of you reading probably find seasons five and six to be the best yet. No, where Lost went wrong was in season three, when the show split up the main characters.
I kind of only realized this with the last new episode, when the majority of the Losties were finally reunited on the boat going to Hydra Island. All of a sudden there were characters who hadn’t shared the screen in years standing next to each other. While the end of season five sort of brought the characters together in 1977, it never made them a cohesive unit again – the DHARMA Bums were their own group and the newcomers were their own group as well. With everyone standing on that boat, all – for a moment – sharing a purpose, the group felt mostly whole.
And then they went and ruined it. But that moment was powerful for me. And it made me wonder why the hell this show has spent the last three years assiduously keeping a great ensemble cast apart? What’s the reasoning for making sure that Sawyer and Hurley – two characters who play off each other wonderfully – barely share a scene over the last three years? Why keep Sun and Jin separate for three years while also backgrounding their characters?
Interestingly this is something the show has played with from the beginning. Right at the start their was the threat of the Lostie camp breaking up into Beach and Cave factions, but the discovery of the Hatch helped keep them all together. Still, it’s almost perverse the way that the show has gone out of its way to ruin its best asset – a great ensemble that has intriguingly different chemistries between each member.
Part of that is surely convenience. The show makes sure that characters don’t share information, and the best way to make sure they don’t share information is to keep them apart. And there’s an ambition that the creators of Lost have, and the only way to make their latter season Rube Goldbergian plots work is to have the main cast as far flung as possible, spread across space and time. From a plot machinations point of view I get that, but from the point of view of a member of the viewing audience it’s irritating.
I understand that the audience shouldn’t always get what it wants. But I also understand that a show shouldn’t tie its strongest arm behind its back simply because it can. When I look back at the first two or three seasons of Lost what I see isn’t a show whose storytelling was that much better than it is today but a show whose character interactions were more interesting and varied. Giving that big cast the space in which to bounce off of one another in fun, intriguing and cool ways was what made the show work. I wish I could understand why the show runners lost sight of that.
* and I know many of you won’t agree on that, but I think history will find that the Battlestar finale was brave and unique and that it really did what few TV shows ever do – it expanded the scope of its themes to huge levels. The seeds for that finale were planted at the beginning, and complaining that the show relied on ‘God did it’ is kind of literally missing the entire point of the finale. I don’t have to believe in God to appreciate a well-told story featuring Him.