Monday, May 24, 2010

"Lost" and Trust in Storytelling

I can hear the chorus: "All right, enough already!"

But here's yet another commentary on the series finale of that crazy, mind-bending television series, "Lost".

If you've never followed the series, nothing I can outline here can clarify the storyline in a succinct fashion. If you're already a fan, there's no need to rehash the series.

Shortly after "Lost" first hit the airwaves, I was at a writers conference and overheard a clutch of writers debating the series. They were gathered in an alcove, but the conversation was loud enough that most of us standing in the noisy hotel lobby could follow the debate with ease. One woman repeated, "They're gonna write themselves into a corner! I tell you, there's no way they can untangle it!"

I laughed to myself, and figured I was hearing the voice of someone who had never read fantasy or science fiction, or she just couldn't let a story unfold without knowing all the answers up front.

Turns out, I was the naive one and she the sage.

For the first couple of seasons, I was an avid viewer then lost interest for the next two seasons, only catching an episode here or there, but returning at the end of Season 4 and hanging around until the end. I was re-hooked, you might say, but was waiting for the finale before deciding whether or not to add the series to my DVD library. After all, an excellent last chapter can mend a lot of ills in the preceding story.

The end matters. But the writers and producers didn't bring it home. They didn't fulfill the promises made by all the plot threads and secrets, and therefore they "lost" my trust as storytellers.

And then there were the last scenes, where they presented a mishmash of religious symbols -- for intance, that ridiculous stained-glass window that someone, I'm sure, will applaud as being ecumenical. That amalgam of religions was weak, even offensive. The creative team should have stuck with a more science-related ending.

Until the final season, the story seemed pointed toward the genre of "hard science fiction" with a leavening addition of a little fantasy, but the final season tipped completely over into fantasy. Remember how a clanking chain sound or growling would signal the imminent arrival of the black smoke? There was a definite machine-like sound. Then a couple of characters confronted the smoke, and it reacted with a seeming intelligence of its own. Were we misled from the beginning, or was the smoke's "intelligence" an accident of storytelling that was later used in the mythology presented in the final season?

Whatever the answer, I can't help but think that the creative team should have steered clear of the soft, faux spirituality, and done the difficult work of writing an ending that was hard science fiction and truer to most of the extant material. By closing the story as they did, they essentially negated all the story that came before.

They made all the audience's investment in the story pointless. In essence, they didn't keep their promise(s). They didn't play fair.

It's probably needless to say, but I will not be adding "Lost" to my ever-growing DVD library.


Anonymous said...

Good points. Season Four kinda disappointed me, it seemed different than the others. I liked this season, but as you said, somewhere along the line there was a change. I think the ending was kind of a tribute to the fans' ideas. A lot of what happened seemed like what I'd already read online.

Keanan Brand said...

Just goes to prove the old adage, "You can't please everybody!" If you try, you end up losing even your friends. Or fans, as the case may be.

Thomas Clayton Booher said...

Keanan, I have never really been attracted to the TV series "Lost." My tastes are probably weirder, such as "Fringe." However, your points sound valid and I was thinking how apropos they are when it comes to story-writing. I've published the first book of a trilogy (The Whole Creation Groans) entitled, The Oerken Leaves. It's a Christian fantasy for young teens and adults. I'm working on book two and am at the point where I've got to ensure that it leads to a satisfying (though intermediate) conclusion. Not all loose ends will be tied up, obviously, but there has to be a bit of climax which is appropriate to what precedes. Though you didn't intend to apply your comments to story writing, they were helpful and good reminders.
BTW, you can read the prologue and first three chapters of The Oerken Leaves via my Website ChristianFiction

Keanan Brand said...

Thomas -- The post was a lot shorter than I intended, because I edited my rant down to only certain points. However, I'm glad you found it useful!

I am always concerned about keeping my promises to the reader, but sometimes I don't follow through with those promises as well as I would like. A lot of fans of "Lost" were pleased by the ending, but some were left feeling flat or disappointed. I certainly don't want that to be the audience reaction to my work!

By the way, I'm a "Fringe" viewer, as well, but am concerned it might wander down some of "Lost's" paths. However, it did follow through this season with threads that were hinted at or shown earlier in the series. It's getting stranger, but then it did start in murky territory, so I'm willing to see where it goes from here.

"Brown Betty" -- a humdinger of an episode.

Keanan Brand said...

Also, Thomas, I tried the link to your website, but there must be a break in the chain -- it didn't take me anywhere. If you'd like, you can post the link here again, or e-mail me.