OK, so I’m a little behind the times on this, so sue me. I just finished skimming the finale of the TV show “Lost” and I have to say I’m disappointed. This was supposed to be the season that provided more answers instead of questions, yet I find that the answers are really quite unsatisfactory or just simply missing. What originally attracted me to this show were the sci-fi elements that appeared in the first couple of seasons. (I’ll also confess that the appearance of vintage computer equipment in the “hatch” didn’t hurt. A couple racks of the SAGE and an Apple ][ make an appearance.)
Unfortunately, what happened to Lost is what happens to most sci-fi shows on television: they become soap operas. I’m all for drama and human characters in my sci-fi — Babylon 5’s Sheriden/Delenn character evolution is probably the greatest love story ever set in a science-fiction context — but what tends to happen in US television is that the drama gets added and the sci-fi gets removed. That would be a good synopsis of Lost’s final season. As I watched the episodes throughout the season I found myself becoming increasingly impatient with the spliced in soap opera drama of the characters in their “other life”. This continued to increase to the point that when I watched the finale, I actually skipped all the alternate life scenes and just stuck with the island scenes. If these alternate life scenes really were pivotal to the drama, you’d think I would have been left confused while watching the island scenes, but their redundancy was made blatantly obvious by the lack of a feeling of confusion.
It feels like the creators of Lost managed to paint themselves into the same corner as the creators of the X Files. They created so many loose ends in the beginning that it feels like they never had a plan for how it would all work out in the end. So they just made something up and emphasized the soap opera aspects in order to distract people from the lack of explanations. Did the polar bear ever get explained? Did it ever get explained why the big statue has only three toes? The yellow glow of the light from the cave wasn’t explained any more than the yellow glow from the briefcase was explained in “Pulp Fiction”. I’m sure lots of people have explanations for these things among themselves, but as someone who watched the show I can’t say that I found those things explained in the television that I watched.
The key difference between the way Lost and X-Files evolved vs. Babylon 5 is that J. Michael Straczynski had created a consistent story universe, complete with a rough historical outline spanning time before and after the five year story he wanted to tell. For Lost, it feels like they had some of it worked out but still didn’t know the endgame when they started, while with X Files it feels like they never had a plan beyond the first 5 episodes of the first season. For X Files, this isn’t surprising considering Fox picked up the show and they have a history of cancelling sci-fi shows midway through the first season and the show’s inspiration is Kolchak: The Night Stalker which only ran for one season.
However, Lost was picked up by ABC which is still considered a major network. Even a major network can cancel a show and while most TV shows follow the formula of “resetting the universe to zero” at the end of each episode, Lost would have been pitched as an evolving storyline instead of the usual formula. So you’d think that the pitch would have included a comprehensive outline of the whole story arc. Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t; I haven’t been interested enough to research the particulars. As a viewer, it feels like it came to a rambling conclusion like a grade school horror story that ends with “and then I woke up and it was all a dream.”