It’s two years to the day since the finale of Lost aired (near) simultaneously around the world, and still the controversy rumbles on. But as showrunner Damon Lindelof says in this interview, at least you remember it; can you actually remember what happened in the last episode of The X-Files.
It’s fascinating to watch Lindelof engage so fully with a journalist brave enough to raise his concerns over the finale, and Lindelof has some very interesting points to make. We can kinda sympathise with what he was trying to do, while still having issues with it. Frustratingly, though, the questioner, who kicks off on an admirably hard line, blows his credibility by clearly not having understood the finale at all.
Our problem with the finale was never about the lack of answers; it was that the answers we did get were a bit rubbish.
Oh, rather than explain it all again, here’s the “Letter to Lost” that Dave Golder wrote for SFX at the time. It says it all…
There’s one question that keeps bugging me: is it better to have lost love with Lost than never to have loved Lost at all?
I’m sitting here, a month or so on from your final episode, with a features editor breathing down my neck, desperate for copy. He doesn’t understand why I’m so late with this feature. He doesn’t know how painful the betrayal felt.
You don’t care. You’ve finished with me. You upped and ended it. You’ve vanished into the sunset. I’m still left wondering if everything I invested into this relationship with you – the relationship between fan and show – was worth all the pain and perseverance?
Oh God, I’m being melodramatic. But who wouldn’t be at the end of a six-year affair as passionate and tumultuous as the one we’ve had?
The brief for this feature seemed simple enough at the time. But I agreed to write it before you delivered that cruel final blow; when I still loved you, Lost.
“Dave,” said features editor Nick a few months back, “you’ve often told me you thought that your love of Lost was a bit like having an affair.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “That’s true. The ups, the downs, the splits, the make-up sex…”
“Er, yeah, well, without taking the metaphor too far (I think we can avoid the make-up sex, let’s call those times ‘reconciliations’, yeah?) do you think you could write a feature about that when the show ends?”
But it did seem an easy task at the time. It’s an analogy that has crossed my mind on a number of occasions over the years we’ve known each other, from that first flush of infatuation. Do you remember? You arrived on the scene all big and flash and glamorous. I was editing SFX at the time, and it was a case of love at first sight.
Many accused me of letting love blind me and affect my editorial decisions. “Come on, Lost isn’t even SF!” some readers demanded. “It’s just a bunch of people having flashbacks on a desert island. The stuff about sudden rainfall, rustling leaves and polar bears will all have some naturalistic explanation, you’ll see. You’re just infatuated by the big budget and great acting. But you’re not really compatible.”
Six years of time travel, vanishing islands, magic caves and smoke monsters later would seem to prove my first instincts right. SFX and Lost had a great deal in common. Compatibility was not the problem ultimately. It was the continual lies that finally destroyed our relationship.
So what did I love about you in those early years? Possibly some of it was pure gut reaction and some of it was commercial sensibilities, to be brutally honest. Hey, I don’t want to make out I was the whiter than white one in this partnership. So, yeah, I adored your quirky characters (Charlie and Hurley were favourites from the word go – that may have been geek empathy), the touching character moments (I still get a warm glow thinking about Locke carving that dog whistle in the third episode) and the central mystery (hey, I always had faith that those shaking leaves were going to be something truly supernatural).
I also adored the dramatic conceit of your flashbacks… well, when they were brilliant, shocking, game-changing ones like Sayid’s (he’s a torturer!) or Hurley’s (he’s a millionaire!) or Kate’s (she’s a murderer!) rather than any of Jack’s, which always seemed to be the dullest (who cares how he got his tattoos?).
But there was also some commercial sensitivity informing my love as well – like finding a girlfriend who’s loaded. Sorry, just being honest. Not that that was the be-all and end-all, but it certainly helped sweeten our relationship. Because you were not only SF, you were also a popular drama. A very popular drama. The kind of drama that creates column inches in the tabloids and broadsheets; the kind of drama that sells magazines. And I was in the business of selling magazines. So there was no harm in SFX being seen out on the town with you on its arm.
If love is blind, however, then perhaps the fact that I couldn’t turn a blind eye to some of the things that irritated me about you proves that this wasn’t true love, just an infatuation. After the initial first rush of excitement, I started to have some doubts. Jack began to annoy me; The Others – built up so well in season one – turned out to be a major disappointment (just a bunch of beardy weirdies); the revelation of what was behind the hatch was distinctly underwhelming; you started hanging out with new friends – those tail-enders – who I didn’t like (especially that Ana Lucia woman). Worst of all, you kept secrets.
Now, secrets can be intriguing and add some spice to a relationship, but your secrets began to become tiresome, mainly because none of your characters ever seemed to ask the questions I was screaming at the screen. A few judicial uses of the word, “Why?” would have moved things along, but instead, major events would happen and none of the characters would discuss them for episodes on end.
So, we parted for a while. A trial separation. It was a shame, because I was coming to really like a couple of your new friends – Ben and Desmond, for example. But our relationship was going nowhere. You seemed to be treading water. Everything had become a little listless.
I couldn’t survive without you for long.
A mere few episodes at most.
There were too many good memories for me to give up on you. Luckily, when we got back together for your fourth season, you were meaner, and leaner and more exciting than ever before. You were answering questions. You had an interesting new social circle (Daniel, Miles, Lapidus, Charlotte). Best of all, you were willing to experiment – those flashforwards were simply genius, and getting six characters off of the Island and back in the real world was a bold and unexpected move. I was in love all over again, and totally disproving that old adage, “Never as good as the first time.” Despite Charlie having been killed off (I did miss him, though). By season five, as you indulged in your bizarre time-travel fantasies, I found myself more in love with you than ever just as (perhaps not coincidentally) mainstream audiences were finally giving up on you. Okay, your ratings were always solid, but you were no longer the event television you once were. But I adored you for that. Instead of chasing audience numbers you were rewarding people like me, the ones who had stuck with you, with stories full of revelations, and incidental details, and intriguing clues that would only make any sense to those of us who knew you inside out. You were brave and uncompromising television storytelling that demanded a two-way interaction from your most loyal fans. It was glorious. It was silly. It was special.
Then the lies began again.
It wasn’t until the very end, in your last five or ten minutes, that I realised they were lies. Or maybe I was in denial. Maybe I just couldn’t accept what was staring me in the face.
It was all to do with those flashsideways. After the flashforwards of season four and the time travel of season five, I could be forgiven, surely, for assuming that the flashsideways of season six were some sort of alternate universe, which had some kind of impact on the “real world” events on the Island? After all this was an SF show. Your alternate world storyline, set in a world where Oceanic Flight 815 never crashed, with its ingenious dovetailing storylines, which linked together all the main characters, seemed to be building to some kind of clever crossover with the “current” events – especially as the implication was that it had been created by the nuclear explosion at the end of season five, and because Desmond seemed to be aware of both worlds.
Turns out this was all an enormous red herring.
Turns out all your alternate world was was a waiting room for Heaven.
Turns out all the flashsideways sequences could be edited out of season six with no effect on the Island plotline at all.
Turns out the flashsideways were just a soppy way of giving us a happy ending for characters who’d copped it; an artificial feel-good epilogue in which we’re supposed to believe that the Island has made better people out of the characters. A nice idea, but hardly the most subtle or convincing way of getting the point across. Just because boring old Jack found himself (ah, the double-meaning in the title all makes sense now) on the Island doesn’t mean that Boone, or Claire would really think of their time on the Island as wonderfully beneficial and life-affirming. That’s all so much woolly, Californian hippy philosophy.
And, anyway, why create an afterlife where you’ve forgotten everything and have to “reawaken” your memories (which, basically, is what the whole flashsideways is about?). Pointless, nonsensical and cynically manufactured drama.
I felt betrayed, frankly. I felt angry. I felt like all the love I had invested in you had been thrown back in my face. I felt like calling the whole thing off, except you had already left the building.
Maybe this says more about me than you. After all, I know many people who loved your final episode. Who felt totally fulfilled by it. Maybe, in the final analysis I always wanted something more from you than you were ever going to give. Or ever meant to give. I always thought of you as a mystery, but you always thought of yourself as a relationship drama. I feel like I’ve been reading a Miss Marple novel full of red herrings, in which in the final chapter Miss Marple never bothers solving the crime but cops off with the butler and they live happily ever after.
In other words, somewhere along the line, I misread the signals. Sorry.
No, actually, I’m not sorry. I’m happy to accept that you were never going to answer all the questions. Hell, I love The Prisoner – final episodes that don’t answer questions are fine by me. My issue is that the questions you did answer were all a tad dull. From magic caves, to mystical island guardians to giant sink plugs to heavenly waiting rooms, nothing seemed clever enough or surprising enough. And for a show that had a constant theme of faith versus science, there seemed to be little in the way you resolved everything that reflected those themes – unLocke and Jack just have an almighty punch up.
But that punch up was fun, to be fair. And I’m glad some people made it off the Island alive – that was a surprise. And I did like Hurley becoming the new Island guardian, and asking Ben to be second-in-command – that was cool. And I loved the final shot mirroring the first ever shot in the first episode – that was a lovely moment. And it was great seeing Shannon again.
Yeah, it’s a month down the line now, and the pain of the messy break-up is over now. And you know what? Lost, you still had the last laugh. When we first parted, I was all like, “I’ve just invested six years of my life on that?! That’s six years I’m never going to get back. What an utter and total waste of time that was.”
The memories of the good times are coming back. And there were many of them. Even the bad times (“Not Penny’s boat”) have a bittersweet ring of nostalgia to them. And maybe, more than anything else, the fact that any show’s final episode managed to get such a reaction out of me – either positive or negative – is a testament to that show’s power to have an effect. You had me hook line and sinker.
There’s a thin line between love and hate. Lost, you certainly walked it.