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“Lost” and Trust in Storytelling

24 Apr

Below is a re-post of something I wrote in May 2010, after the television series “Lost” completed its run. I decided to pull it out of the archives after reading a fellow writer’s comments on Facebook regarding flaws in the story. This post isn’t lengthy or particularly erudite, but springs from a writer’s frustration and a viewer’s disappointment.

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MV5BMjA3NzMyMzU1MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjc1ODUwMg@@._V1_SY317_CR17,0,214,317_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.

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The whole post could be summed up in this bit of simple writing advice: Endings Matter.

So do promises. If you write the promise, deliver on it.

I wish the “Lost” team had remembered that.

(Now, I gotta take my own advice, and go rewrite a short story.)

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3 responses to ““Lost” and Trust in Storytelling

  1. C.B. McCullough

    April 24, 2013 at 6:35 pm

    Ah, nostalgia… I haven’t complained about LOST in years!
    The final season seemed to be like confirmation that the writers never had the answers to begin with. Never really thought about the conflict of science through most of the series and fantasy in the end. Good point.
    Cool post!

     
    • Keanan

      April 24, 2013 at 7:19 pm

      (laughing) Yeah, nothing better for writers sometimes than to gather ’round and talk about everyone else’s bad storytelling. (Actually, those discussions can be learning opportunities, not just bashing; some of my best lessons were learned listening to other writers compare and contrast other authors’ work.)

      I am a person of faith, so religious symbolism doesn’t bother me, but this story wasn’t set up that way, and when religion did find its way into the story, it was misapplied. For me, a much better story–and far more interesting–would have been a hard science reason behind most of the events, and not just the weird spiritual stuff that never quite made sense. But maybe the writers had neither the time nor the inclination to do research or come up with fictional science to deal with the mysteries. (shrug) It’s over, but it still rankles.

       

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