Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Purgatory Lost

I had a dream the other night after watching the series finale of Lost, in which, in complete contradiction of the advertising campaign, all my questions were not, in fact, answered. Not even close.

Which came neither as a surprise nor as a letdown, really, because by the sixth season of the show the writers had introduced and then abandoned so many dangling plot lines that there was no hope that they would ever resolve anything.

Lost was interesting as a kind of hybrid between an actual dramatic television show with a discernable story arc and a crowd-sourced meta-media program that had the bulk of its presumed depth bestowed upon it by the feverish imaginings of its fandom rather than by the conscious efforts of its creators.

Whereas most writers try to communicate the content of the plot, by the second season the crew of Lost seems to have focused their efforts on obfuscation. The establishing of mysteries became vastly more significant than their resolution, with new mysteries being introduced whenever the current ideas simply ran out of gas, with no tangible effort at providing clear, consistent, or meaningful answers. 

As time passed, this lack of coherence was labeled by many as sophistication. And in some ways, I think it was. After all, real life offers few concrete answers to its greatest enigmas.

The ideas of examining the paths not taken or of reexaming familiar events from multiple perspectives are interesting literary and philosophical devices that Lost returned to again and again. However, for the most part the show dealt with these concepts in the most shallow and inconsistent of ways. Changes were introduced for the sake of shock or some basic inability to ever complete anything. Let's go back in time! Let's have a parallel universe! Let's suddenly tack on an incoherent and rather flabby, lifeless mythology in the final season!

It's as if the show's creators were absolutely terrified of making any narrative choices.

At the same time, Lost had many wonderful characters and characterizations. It was by far the strongest element of the show. The writers seemed to have recognized this, to the extent that they began introducing new characters the way they introduced new mysteries, hoping that by adding and adding to the already brimming pot they would somehow end up with stone soup.

In the end, Lost ended up being an odd hybrid for me of very poor plotting mixed with generally interesting characterization, of storytelling that could trigger emotional reactions without satisfying me intellectualy at all. I watched all six seasons of the show, though by the last three years I wasn't really hooked. Would I recommend it to anybody who hadn't seen an episode before? Probably not.

Back to that dream.

In my dream, the original plane crash survivors found themselves on an eerie island. They interacted with inhabitants who didn't seem to be quite human and who formed different groups. One of these groups was very Taoist, another very scientific, another religiously dogmatic. We got repeated flashbacks into the pasts of individual characters as they tried to understand their environment and survive encounters with the strangeness around them. They even encountered a small group of people living on the beach, with whom they had confused interactions. None of these extras became major characters on the lines of Linus or Juliet. It was a dream, and none of these interactions were all that coherent.

Eventually, after certain encounters with the things on the island, we started getting different flashbacks, in which key characters relived events we'd already seen, but making different choices and experiencing different outcomes. Some of the beings from the island appeared in these new flashbacks. No time travel to the 1970s. No flash-forwards. Sometimes it seemed that the island contained passageways to other places in the world. There was a fair amount of suffering, but nobody ever seemed to die--those that did would reappear later.

In the end, it was revealed that all the main characters on the show were dead and that the island was a kind of spiritual purgatory where their souls were tested; they had to confront their greatest hopes and fears, to relive key moments of their lives and examine their choices. Some of the beings on the island were souls unable to move on, while others were caretakers and cryptic guides of a sort.

The show ended when rescue came for the Others on the beach, who were the actual survivors of the crash and who interacted with the main characters in dreams or by seeing them as ghosts. By the time this revelation came, some of the characters were willing to move on, leaving this world behind, while others were unprepared and remained behind, and a few chose to become caretakers to help the next group of souls.

Would this version of the show have been as popular as the one with the Dharma Initiative, the numbers, Jacob and the Smoke-Monster, the Others, time-travel, the parallel universe, and so forth? Or even the original show in which the supernatural elements were actually downplayed?

Almost certainly not. But for me, at least, it would have been more coherent and I would have better understood people's involvement.

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