Sunday, 10 January 2010

Lost Logic

I note that Damon Lindelof has surfaced online to drop hints about the final season of Lost. Normally I would steer clear of such articles, for fear of learning more than I wish to, but this particular article had a title intriguing and vague enough for me to feel comfortable checking out. For the truly, massively spoiler-phobic, though, to the point where you don't even want to hear about the most vague intentions of the writers, I'd clear off now.




So, on to the article. Essentially, the piece serves as Lindelof confessing that the last season of Lost will not, in fact, come complete with all the answers. This, of course, is roughly as surprising as discovering that your subscription to Weightwatchers will not, in fact, come complete with a year's supply of deep-fried cheeseburgers. One does not need to be surprised to be irritated, though, and frankly far more annoying than the admission that things are going to get dropped is the bone-headed argument Lindelof uses to justify it:

There are certain questions I'm very befuddled by, like, 'What is the Island?' or 'What do the numbers mean?' We're going to be explaining significantly more about the numbers, but what is a potential answer to, 'What do the numbers mean?' I feel like you have to be very careful about entering into midi-chlorian territory. I grew up on Star Wars, I've seen the Star Wars movies hundreds of times, I can recite them chapter and verse, and never once did it occur to me to ask, 'What is the Force, exactly?'
Um, no. No. This won't do at all. Lindelof is obviously a smart bloke; my frustrations with Lost aside it's clearly not a show written by idiots. Given it frequently seems to be a show written about smart people who act like idiots, though, maybe it's oddly fitting that Lindelof has apparently decided to employ arguments that even Locke at his most boringly obtuse could pick apart immediately.

Lindelof didn't think to ask about the way the Force worked, and I can't believe he doesn't realise this, for a very simple reason: the story never suggested that the mechanisms behind the Force were important. It was important to grasp the basic rules of it, but that was all. With that done, Lucas could go off and play, and we could follow.

That isn't how Lost has done business. It didn't introduce a list of six numbers and imply the specifics behind their power was irrelevant. The show presented it as a deep and vital mystery, a mystery which it allowed to stretch on and on, whilst feeding us tit-bits to keep us interested, and constantly promising at least partial answers only to whisk the rug away at the last second.

Lindelof is suggesting it was his subconscious choice as a viewer to not care about how the Force worked, and implying that those of us watching Lost should be making that choice as well. But it is blatantly obvious to anyone who has seen just a few episodes of Lost, to say nothing of written them, that the show was telling us, again and again, that the mystery of the numbers is something we should buy into. We didn't decide the explanation was important. They did. They told us it was important to their story, and if they then choose to toss it all aside (or find that they have no other choice), that is their failure, and it can't be brushed away by pointing out that it is not the case that literally everything in fiction requires an explanation.

I'm also pretty unimpressed by the idea that you can demonstrate explanations are a waste of time by pointing to what is generally regarded as one of the worst bursts of pointless exposition ever committed to celluloid. I mean, I get that Lindelof is trying to make a point, but the sheer never-seen-before-or-since incandescent hideousness of his example makes his argument meaningless. He could just as well argue that the teeth-shatteringly abominable sex scene in Watchmen is proof that there's no point in showing whether or not Jack and Kate get together. Only his actual argument is worse, because he's invoking the Unholiest of Unholies, the TPM itself, which despite Gooder's tireless efforts to rehabilitate it remains such an all-engulfing black hole of anti-accomplishment that comparing an idea to something attempted with that particular festering pus flood should be considered some kind of storytelling corollary to Godwin's Law. The longer a particular storytelling technique is discussed, the greater the probability someone will be able to argue it is worthless because Lucas used it in that film, or at least slapped together some bloated Frankenstein's monster that approximated it and then demanded his CGI crew compelled its digital model to step in shit.

I confess that the actual specific mystery behind the numbers doesn't particularly interest me all that much. I'm also aware that I might be reading too much into Lindelof's confession, and he might genuinely simply be arguing that he doesn't intend to explain the science behind what's going on (though he's picked an odd example with the numbers if that's true). And it's certainly true that my remorseless quest for answers doesn't prevent me from realising that tying the main story up in a satisfying manner is tremendously important, more so than filling in the gaps, however wide they might be and however much their lack of resolution might harm repeat viewings (if this is all starting to sound a bit familiar, believe me you're not alone in that). I guess we'll see pretty soon exactly why and how far Lindelof was attempting to lower expectations.


Gooder said...

He doesn't seem to suggest he isn't going to explain the numbers in the part you've quoted, rather that he's wary of over explaining it.

The difference between saying "it's a force that bind sus together" and "it's lots of little cells in your blood stream" for example.

Still I've no doubt that the end of Lost will enrage as many as it pleases but I think it's going to be better than BSG in terms of execution at least

SpaceSquid said...

That wasn't the way I took it, but I agree that it can be read that way.

As to whether it beats BSG in execution, I guess we'll see. Maybe so. Lost got genuinely very good at the exact same moment in it's lifespan (about a third of the way into Season 3) at the exact same time BSG decided to not really try anymore. So there's that.