Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Get Lost. Also, Fuck Off

Kevin Drum points out a small section of the Guardian's interview with JJ Abrams yesterday:
Do woebegone Losties give Abrams an earful about the finale?
"Oh my God, yes," he groans. "For years, I had people praising Lost to death, and now they say: 'I'm so pissed at you for the end of Lost.' I think a lot of people who were upset with the ending, were just upset that it ended. And I've not yet heard the pitch of what the ending should have been. I've just heard: 'That sucked.'"
 Drum's response is pretty good:
We weren't demanding that the whole series be wrapped up in a nice, neat bow, but we were hoping for at least most of the major plotlines to be resolved. We were hoping for at least most of the major mysteries to be explained. We were hoping that at least the whole thing didn't turn out to be a St. Elsewhere style fantasy world. And we were sure as hell annoyed when they pretended they had run out of time to tie this stuff up after wasting the entire first half of the final season with a brand new plotline that came out of nowhere, went nowhere, never got resolved, and had no purpose at all.
For the record, I thought the last season was poor rather than disastrous, and that there was a lot in the finale that was quite nice, or at least not actively terrible.

Still, though, there's no question in my mind that the show dropped the ball in the final year, for all the reasons Drum cites, and also because after five years of telling us thinking the show was set in Purgatory was "silly", the show finishes with fully fifty percent of its final season being set in fucking Purgatory

I despise practical jokes, as a rule, because the people who play them have no interest on their victim enjoying the joke.  And that's what the sixth year of Lost reads as to me: a joke played on a massive and faithful audience by writers who had painted themselves into a corner.

And if there's anything worse than someone who's idea of humour is to make someone else become uncomfortable, angry, upset or massively disappointed, it's that guy who then turns around and says "I don't know what your problem is, it was only a joke".

That, right there, is JJ Abrams.  I don't actually know how much input he had in the storyline of the final season, in fairness, but even if he didn't do a damn thing on it, he's still telling people that the colossal contempt his friends showed for the people who had invested enormous time (and frequently non-trivial amounts of money, given how much the DVD sets went for when they first came out) is somehow their fault.

Oh, and bonus twat points for implying that it's somehow the job of the viewer to explain to the writers how they should have done their own job better.  Does Abrams think this should be applied to other occupations?  If my defense lawyer fails to get me off charges of which I am innocent, do I have to point to the specific legal tactic they should have used to exonerate me, or can I just flat out tell him (I can say "him", because it would be my Dad) that he's a bad lawyer.  Do I get to send an undercooked steak back in a restaurant if I can't operate my own grill at home?

This isn't a way of addressing criticism, is my point.  It's a way of dismissing it [1].  The fact that Abram's argument that no-one has suggested how the final season could have been improved is transparently, laughably false, makes it all the worse.

(Oh, also: "Just upset that it ended"? There is no limit how much Abrams needs to pull his own head out of his arse, and not just so he can count his massive piles of money and cackle evilly.)

[1] If Abrams point was that no-one is able to pin down what it was they disliked, that would be different.  "It sucks and shut up!" isn't too helpful as a critical appraisal.  Again, though, I've read or skimmed dozens of online articles that pin down what people saw as the precise problems.  Abrams doesn't experience thoughtful criticism of his show entirely because he doesn't care to listen to it.


Gooder said...

The side flash storyline was a bit wasted but otherwise I was perfectly happy with the last series and the end of Lost.

For my money it was never going to explain everything out in detail and personally I liked it that way.

And reading Drum's repsonse it's still basically "that sucked" rather than clearly identifying what they didn't like about it. Which lines did he want resolution on? The majority of the major plotlines were brough to conclusion, maybe one he didn't like but they were concluded.

Leaving aside getting overly upset about an off the cuff remark from a man with many, many plates in the air, why do you think the final season was a joke? (I promise not to raise the spectre of BSG conclusion! Tho' that failed more in execution than in idea)

SpaceSquid said...

Drum's comment is deliberately written as a brief summary for people who are familiar with the situation. Boiling it down to "that sucked" because he doesn't give specfic labels strikes me as deeply silly, especially since you've decided to ignore two thirds of the man's points.

I think in remarkably few words Drum has put together a summary of his problem with Season Six - nothing of any consequence (as he sees it) happened for most of the year, and then everything got rushed at the end. Asking for a laundry list from him as to the specific storylines that dissatisfied him is ridiculous, particulary from a man who generally can't wait to tell me I'm expecting too much detail and referencing from people paid money to write op-ed pieces on the politics of the day. Presumably if Drum's article had included the word "Opinion" in his title, you wouldn't have a problem with it.

"Leaving aside getting overly upset about an off the cuff remark from a man with many, many plates in the air"

I think Abram's remark is horribly dismissive of his fans, but I wouldn't say I'm upset about it. Or at least, I'm not pissed off about it as a Lost fan, so much as someone who deeply dislikes people who'd rather impute motives to their critics than respond to the critism itself. It's a shitty, shitty thing to do, and that needs to be pointed out as often as possible.

Also, I have no idea why you're bringing up "plates in the air". The idea people can't be critised for what they say or do because they're doing a whole lot of other things is frankly baffling.

As to why I thought the final season was a "joke", I thought I'd made that clear. Maybe I didn't though, so let me give it another go. Witness the evolution of what the writers told the fans:

Year 1: "They're not in Purgatory."
Year 2: "Honest, they're not in Purgatory."
Year 3: "Purgatory is absolutely where they're not. Why do people keep asking that?"
Year 4: "Really, 'The island is Purgatory' idea is kind of silly."
Year 5: "So now you know they're not in Purgatory!"
Year 6: "SUPRISE! They're in Purgatory!"

Now, I realise they didn't demonstrate that they were in Purgatory the whole time, just in one half of one season, but they still took an idea they had dismissd as ridiculous, and stuck it in whilst pretending there was an alternative explanation for it. For anyone who had been paying attention for five years, that just reads like a deliberate tweak.

It's like the twist in Ocean's 12: "We need to steal this", "We need to steal this", "We need to steal this", "Hah! We'd stolen it before we started!" A twist is supposed to make the audience enjoy the preceeding parts in a new and different way, not realise they're completely pointless and a waste of time (in this case, a waste of about eight hours time, including ad breaks).

I don't mean the finale was "a joke" in the sense of "Call this a finale? Are you joking?" I've said before, the Lost finale didn't bother me nearly so much as the BSG one (which was not a failure in execution, but a failure in basic writing theory),and there are parts to it I really like (the final shot is simply brilliant; Hurley and Ben's endings are both exceptionally well done). But this isn't really about whether or not I liked the finale, it's about the idea that criticism is something to be dismissed or ignored, and that it's easier to pretend that critics are working from unstated motives than listen to what they're saying.

SpaceSquid said...

I apologise for the bad spelling in my above comment, by the way. Really must remember that my spell checker only works for posts...

Gooder said...

Fair enough I guess of what you thought about the end of Lost, it's all opinions after all and I kinda see what you're getting at with the purgatory thing (altough I don't agree with you stance on it)

But with JJ we don't know if he has talked in detail with people about Lost, he might well have (in fact his answer to me actually implies he has spoken to people about it). I'm not surprised he's only given a short humourous answer on the question during an interview that exists to promte Super 8 with Lost only mentioned in passing by both interviewer and the interviewed.

If he was unwilling to discuss at any length in an interview specifically about Lost with an interviewer asking specific questions, yes that would be something worth mentioning. But has is I just don't think it's worth criticising someone too hard on a breif answer like that.

SpaceSquid said...

I could sort of see an argument that maybe he was just joking, and it doesn't work on paper. I'll also concede that having heard similar views espoused by the head writers of the show, this feels like JJ reading from the same hymn book. Lastly, in hindsight I think I should have added something along the lines of "Assuming his answer wasn't truncated" to the post.

With all that said, though, I'm not at all sold on your brevity angle, because you could replace that answer with multiple alternatives that wouldn't have been any longer. "I'm still proud of it", "I think the ending is much better than a lot of people give it credit for", "I'd rather people focussed on the five years they all seemed to enjoy, rather than the one some of them clearly had a problem with". Supposing - and not unreasonably, I agree - that JJ either didn't have time or didn't want to spend time on a longer answer, his soundbyte quote still boiled down to "The people who hate it just didn't want any ending, and never explain how it should have gone". That doesn't become less insulting to a whole group of people just because he didn't have time for a longer response.

And, yes, your mileage may vary over how much this sort of thing pisses you off. I'm on record multiple times as being someone who hates those who respond to criticism by dismissing the motives of the criticisers. It's too easy to do, and it tries to invalidate the statements of other people. If it isn't actually "poisoning the well" in rhetorical terms ("Only an idiot would ever say X!") then it's pretty damn close.

Sure, this can be seen as a minor example, and if your stance is (as it seems to be) "What does it matter", I can certainly respect that. This is my bugbear, not yours. But it's a bugbear for what I think are good reasons - bad arguments are bad arguments, and every time someone in the public eye gets to say "Them guys over there; they shouldn't be listened to, they have an agenda" without anyone calling them on it, then it gets a little easier for someone to pull the same rhetorical trick in a forum where it really does matter.

SpaceSquid said...

Mind you, if someone wanted to colour an argument that suggests I've just become hyper-sensitive to massively successful genre writers dissing their fans after living under the Russell T Davies administration for five years, I'd not be wholly unsympathetic to it.

Tomsk said...

At the risk of inviting SquidScorn I have to say I thought the ending of Lost was much worse than BSG. Though that could just be because I never thought there was any chance of BSG coming up with a satisfactory resolution while with Lost there was everything to play for right up to the final episode.

I completely agree that introducing purgatory after ruling it out for so long was dastardly, but that wasn't even what annoyed me the most. What annoyed me most is that it looked like they'd set up a really neat Philip-Pullman-style exploration between parallel universes when in fact the whole storyline was a completely irrelevant waste of half a season. And worse still, as a side effect it took away all the impact from original timeline events like the death of Sun & Jin because we're led to believe they're still alive in another dimension. By the time we find out they're not, it's far too late to care.

On the other hand I think you've overreacted to JJ Abrams' remarks, provocative though they are. If he had been involved in the final season I would expect a more sound defence, but he wasn't, and he's hardly likely to take the side of angry fans against his colleagues' handling of the show, whatever his true feelings are.

SpaceSquid said...

I just noticed I've been breaking my own "five year" rule all this time. Sorry people! Hopefully the nature of the post made it obvious that Lost spoilers were inevitable. In any case, I'm about to get into BSG as well, so look away those who haven't finished it.

As regards Tomsk's post: I don't think it's hard to imagine a comment from Abrams that wouldn't involve him taking either side, but I take the point about loyalty (though none of the hypothetical quotes I offered up really blamed the writers, so much as defended the show without attacking the critics).

As to your comparison to BSG, I don't really agree (surprise!). I think, as I might have mentioned elsewhere, that the impossibility of a satisfactory resolution for Lost became clear at roughly the same point as it did with BSG, namely somwhere in the first half of the final season.

We certainly discussed this regarding BSG whilst in Cornwall: you asked how I'd have re-written the finale to improve it, and I argued you'd need to start much earlier, and at the very latest immediately after Gaeta got himself shot (sorry for making your wife cry if she reads this, by the way). The problem with BSG's last year was that there was clearly a third intelligence involved apart from humans and Cylons, and the later they left that reveal, the more difficult it would be for it not to look like a hurried cop-out (this, by the way, is why I disagreed with Gooder's stance that people's objections were about the divine nature of the new force: it was their eleventh hour appearance that caused difficulties).

Rather than just do what I thought they might, though, and reveal super-evolved "True Earth" humans (not unlike what they did in the original show) which would have quite ruined the final season, they revealed that "God" had been manipulating events from the start, thus collapsing the whole damn series.

The poor diagnosis for Lost, on the other hand, came about because as the episodes in the final year came and went, the number of unresolved issues remained far too high, and it became increasingly clear that the only two options were: a) leave significant threads dangling (and I wrote a list of them at the time, I shall see if it's still about) or b) having massive info-dumps delivered more or less straight to camera.

That latter option would be unbearable, obviously, so the potentioal for massive disappointment was clear from fairly early into the season. The show would either be intellectually unsatisfying or it would be narratively unsatisfying; those were your options.

Of course, I'm probably biased as well. I suspect part of the reason I found the Lost finale tolerable was that the whole BSG fiasco had so scarred me that I resolved never to be fooled twice.

(You're absolutely right about Sun and Jin, though; great point).