As the endless run-up to the May 23 conclusion of ABC’s Lost draws ever nigh, longtime viewers are growing increasingly restless—and with good reason.
The show’s riddle-and-served-on-a-sesame-seed-bun approach to storytelling (Flashbacks! Flash-forwards! Flash-sidewayses!) has been in the main an intriguing way of telling the stories of its fluctuating number of main characters, and how they got to The Island. But there’s been a growing suspicion for some time now amongst the Lost-ocenti that the minds behind the series—Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, the smug Mutt-and-Jeff team who pop up to coyly wonder what’s happening during ABC’s innumerable recap specials—don’t really have any answers…and that the answers they do have are disappointingly mundane.
Although they’ve typically left themselves some wiggle room, the producers have apparently decided that the whole thing should come down to an eternal struggle between a pair of demigods (known as “Jacob” and “The Man in Black”) over the issue of mankind’s free will. So, all the emotional upheavals, lost father issues, romantic relationships, and everything else the show’s given us over six seasons counted for nothing much; Jacob and the MIB have been pulling the strings all along.
There was a very real sense during Lost’s early going that the behind-the-scenes talent was simply making things up as they went along, and that was fine; with an open-ended show featuring at least seven major characters stranded on an island located who-knew-where, the possibilities were truly endless.
But once the show become a pop phenomenon, demands for answers to the show’s many mysteries began to proliferate, and the producers felt obliged to start adhering to a set of rules whose shape and size would only become apparent over time.
Again, fine. But in the face of sagging ratings, the producers and ABC both felt it necessary to name a definitive end date for the series—no repeat of the Twin Peaks fiasco, thank you—and with that the show began disappearing up its own hatch-hole.
Now as it starts killing off once-beloved characters: Terry O’Quinn’s John Locke, whose loss I didn’t even buy for several weeks until it became obvious that he was really dead; Naveen Andrews’ Sayid, who’d been a kind of evil zombie for several weeks until suddenly turning heroic again and blowing himself up abruptly; and Daniel Dae Kim and Yunjin Kim’s Jin and Sun, whose Titanic-inspired death scene last week, meant as a heartbreaker, instead came off as just another chess-piece being moved around the board. The show’s heading pretty much where everybody figured it would: Kate and either Jack or Sawyer will forever be part of the island, personifying the Adam and Eve skeletons seen in the first season, and Hurley will get off a few more still-humorous lines ending in “dude.”
In the meantime, we’ll have to endure the usual encomia from the likes of Entertainment Weekly (no fewer than 10 “collectible covers” of last week’s issue) and Jimmy Kimmel Live, whose May 23 “Aloha to Lost” special will feature dozens of cast members, none of whom will likely get to say more than two or three sentences about the experience.
If there’s one upside to all this, it’s that the show is ending at the right time. (Or, maybe, a year too late.) Did Lost change the face of television? If you judge by the failed attempts at replicating its formula (The Nine, Invasion, FlashForward, anybody?), the answer is no. Did it launch, or re-launch, any bright new careers? Well, Matthew Fox has made a few forgettable films, and Dominic Monaghan was able to get past his Lord of the Rings role of Merry, but so far nobody’s really busted out.
The one true benefit of Lost ending will be the muting of all the white noise about the show’s onion-like levels of meaning. No one’s been more guilty of this than Entertainment Weekly’s Jeff Jensen, who’s used a few courses in philosophy and his magazine’s access to the Lindelof and Cuse braintrust to spin ever-more-unwieldy theories as to what’s going on; his last weekly recap ran for 13 pages. Chuckling at his windy exegeses involving everything from string theory and Hegelianism to Trevanian and the Marvelettes used to be good sport, but now he’s just become another bore. Much like the show itself.
Nevertheless, I’ll be there on May 23 waiting to see whatever “surprises” Lost still has up its sleeve. Just as long as it doesn’t end with a Journey song and a quick cut to black.