It’s been a while since I posted on here, but I figured with LOST wrapping up and so many people talking about their thoughts about the show it would be good for me to put up at least a not-so-brief summary of my take on the show as a whole.
*Quick note: with one huge exception (the ending – which I will cover last so that you can skip it), this post will contain no specific plot point references, for the purposes of preserving a spoiler-free experience for anyone who wants to read this but hasn’t yet watched the show. I personally feel this is essential to the full enjoyment of the show, as is watching every episode in order from beginning to end, in the same way you wouldn’t turn to the last page / chapter of a book and read it before or instead of the whole story. However, I will gladly discuss particular details in the comments for this post, so consider that a spoiler warning / invitation.
Anyone who knows me probably knows that I have been a huge fan of the show for quite a while. While ranking TV programs is obviously a hugely subjective task (especially across genres, etc.), I’m pretty comfortable in saying that IMHO this is up there in my top 5 – possibly only topped by the Twilight Zone. I think it was ground-breaking in its story-telling approach, ranging from the creative exploitation of the concept of mystery (more on that later) to the minute details that make the show great in ways you might not even notice unless you’re paying attention. For example, the musical score was such a subtly important part, carefully crafted to guide the viewer on an emotional level through the twists and turns of the unfolding drama.
What about the unanswered questions?
There is a lot of ground to cover here, and I won’t address most of the specific points in the post, but will happily do so in the comments, for the reasons mentioned above. I think in some cases (many actually, and I have as many theories as anyone else) there are clear enough answers present; it’s just that they weren’t all spoon-fed and spelled out, in order to leave room for personal interpretation and also just to avoid dumbing things down. However, at the same time it’s undeniable that some things just flat out weren’t explained. And I’m so glad for that.
It’s the element of mystery that I would give the most credit for what made this show so great. If you haven’t already watched / read / listened to J.J. Abrams’ TED talk on the Mystery Box go do it now. The process of wondering is so much more important and enjoyable than even finally finding the “answer” ever could be. I believe that in some cases even the most creative answer can never possibly be as satisfying as the question and all that exploring the question may lead to.
A well done mystery invites the observer (reader, viewer, etc.) into the actual creative process of the work. Much in the same way that a reader of a good book collaborates with the original authors as their mind constructs the visual and aural representation of the world they are being guided through by mere text on a page, a well crafted mystery draws the observer into an investment in the story that goes beyond what any writers would be capable of delivering on their own. The theories of what could be captivate the imagination and compel one to explore all the possibilities that the narrative itself exposes in a way that is unique to (and thus uniquely enjoyable by) each observer.
As the story progressed, some mysteries were inevitably answered, but thankfully (although some would say frustratingly) they often led to yet more questions. I submit that it’s the questions, not the answers that those of us who loved the show enjoyed so much. Think about it: looking back, would you say “the others” (as a concept) were a more interesting / compelling part of the story before or after you found out more about them?
*This part will contain spoilers, so I’d urge you to not read it if you haven’t already watched the whole show.
The ending of the show is understandably at the forefront of everyone’s minds. I suspect that most people watching didn’t really have any solid idea of how it would end (which is exactly as it should be), but I also suspect that even after seeing it, some people may feel a bit unsure about how the ending connects to the rest of the show in a meaningful way, and therefore are unsure about how they feel about it.
Here’s my take on it: the whole “afterlife” angle did not come out of the blue, but rather was an integral part of the foundation of the story all along. There are probably hundreds of ways to explore this aspect, most of which I’m sure I haven’t thought of. I would offer for consideration that fact that since episode one of season one, theories about purgatory / the afterlife / atonement, etc. abounded. Of course, now we know that the exact details of the story have unfolded and connected to this concept in a way that (I suspect) no one fully saw coming, but at the same time I think it’s undeniable that the groundwork was always there in some form.
Specifically, (as an example) I always felt that the “flashbacks” weren’t only a creative story-telling technique, although they certainly were that. I think they were also showing the island (through forces that thankfully remain largely a mystery) actually bringing aspects of each character’s character (history, etc.) to the surface and “dealing” with it by presenting them with situations on the island that related to their past experiences. Through this process / journey, often involving extremely unlikely events or even supernatural “coincidences”, many of the characters were directed down a path that eventually led to closure or “redemption” in their lives. In several cases, once that had occurred (their time was done), they died. This is only one illustration of how the island was closely bound to the afterlife all along, preparing the people on it and helping them wrap up their lives in the time they had left, before passing on.
I think some of the people who may have felt left hanging a bit perhaps may have been those who were more invested in the sci-fi side of the various theories behind some aspects of the show. While I certainly count myself among those sci-fi fans, I also recognize that first and foremost, this was always a story about the characters on the show, not necessarily (primarily) the intriguing backdrop that their stories play out on. The whole show constantly referenced the intricate connections that bind people together in life. These connections are so fundamental that life itself cannot be extracted or separated from those bonds, because they are actually part of what composes life (and whatever lies beyond). I think in light of that, the ending of the show couldn’t have been more fitting.