NPR logo Here's Why I'm Not Approaching The 'Lost' Finale With A List Of Demands

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Here's Why I'm Not Approaching The 'Lost' Finale With A List Of Demands

Hurley (Jorge Garcia), Jacob (Mark Pellegrino), Kate (Evangeline Lilly), Jack (Matthew Fox), and Sawyer (Josh Holloway) had a few things to discuss on last week's Lost. Mario Perez/ABC hide caption

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Mario Perez/ABC

Back when I wrote about the marvelously daunting task that had been taken on by the producers of Lost — who had spun such a complex story with so many mysteries that it was literally not possible that they could resolve all of them — one of the things I was dreading was the inevitable outbreak of lists of all the things that had never been resolved. It was clear from the beginning that those who specialize in being perpetually unsatisfied with absolutely everything would find the end of Lost to be their 32-ounce porterhouse steak; it would be a feast of "Well, that was a disappointment," and "Well, there's six years of my life I'll never get back," and "Well, that certainly made sense, NOT."

That's why it's been depressing to read things like the io9 list of 50 Questions Lost Really Does Have To Answer. Now, I like io9 a lot (they are not the perpetually unsatisfied, to be clear), and I know that they come from a purer geek place (in the good way) than I do. But on this list, you will find things like:

What was with those Egyptian symbols that appeared in the Hatch when the countdown went past 108 minutes? That didn't seem like the Dharma Initiative's style.

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And:

It seems like everyone who was a passenger on Oceanic 815 has numerous connections that they don't even know about. Like Jack and Claire being half-siblings, and Sawyer's ex-girlfriend helping Kate confront her mom. What caused this excessive degree of synchronicity?

These are exactly the questions I don't care about and I don't need answers to. The Egyptian symbols? Whatever. Maybe there's a meaningful reason, but maybe there isn't.

Here's one of the things about mysteries: not everything is a clue. If you went to the headquarters of a company and you were trying to solve a murder, you would find a few things related to the murder, but you would also find lots of isolated, noteworthy things that aren't related to the murder. That's because the building exists outside the murder occurring. The building wasn't built just to house the murder.

To me, some of the trick of Lost has been that some things are important and some things aren't. Not everything they dropped in there is a key element to the ultimate solution of the mystery. And that doesn't bother me at all, because that's part of constructing a convincing universe. It would be utterly phony to portray a Dharma Initiative that managed to exist for years as a functioning business/community/conspiracy with a large population of participants, but left behind nothing that wasn't directly related to Oceanic 815 and its journey.

Does this approach allow the people who write the show a little bit of wiggle room, and allow them to get out of things that might originally have been envisioned as meaningful, but now just turn out to be blind alleys? Of course. But it also respects the fact that when you solve a real mystery, there are blind alleys. There are things that don't mean anything. Haven't you ever watched Law & Order?

And then there's the "synchronicity" question. How would that synchronicity possibly be explained in a way that would be satisfying? Isn't it clear by now that in the presence of whatever that power source on the island is, things kinda happen? Isn't that what makes it a power source? Isn't that what makes it relevant? Why would it be helpful, or enjoyable, or a better story, if you had a technical explanation of exactly how that power operates to pull people to each other?

There comes a point where you are asking for the midichlorians, is what I'm saying.

If you weren't ready for some things to be inconsistent with the world you know — if you weren't ready for the idea that synchronicity might just be — then I cannot understand how you stayed on board after they introduced a sentient monster made from smoke. Yes, they eventually explained "who" the smoke monster is, but does that qualify as an explanation? "He can turn himself into smoke that can grab things and kill people." So we're done now? That's an adequate explanation? Why isn't the next question, "Why can he transform himself into smoke?"

Does the way I'm approaching this show require the acceptance of unanswered questions? Of course. But so does every other story.

What would draw Rhett Butler to Scarlett O'Hara when she's so spoiled and insufferable?

How exactly did Jay Gatsby's psyche work?

How likely is it, really, that Ahab would have found Moby Dick?

Why was Cinderella's stepmother so mean?

Every story builds in elements that are unknowable. Every story constructs a world in which certain truths exist without explanation. Not to get too sweeping-orchestral-theme-music about it, but truly, this is the frailty of the human condition, isn't it? Do you consistently understand why your boss or your spouse or your ex or your parents behave as they do? Of course not; you can gain understanding, but at some point, your universe contains mysteries.

And that's the sense in which Lost works allegorically, for me. I'm interested in bafflement and struggle and confusion about what's the right thing to do. I'm interested in sacrifice and loss. I'm interested in devotion and loyalty and pondering other ways things might have worked out. All those elements of the storytelling work fine as a sort of grander mythology, because obstacles exist, whether or not I understand why or how those obstacles got there. As long as those obstacles are demonstrated to be there, and as long as they stand between a character I care about and an comprehensible goal, I really don't have to have the details.

To use another analogy, I get Sisyphus — I understand the point of that story — without knowing exactly how high the mountain was or exactly how heavy the rock was, and without a better explanation for his plight than "the gods made him do it." If I can posit that all-powerful gods exist as the backdrop of a story, I can posit a pool of light.

That's why the most important thing to me, by far, is the human beings who are involved in this story. My heavens, if they could have spent the last season wrapping up explanations for things like the Egyptian symbols or demonstrating how all this is affecting the people in the story, I am enormously glad they are spending so much of it on character.

I don't know exactly why drinking a cup of water would make Jack be like Jacob, but I have been watching Jack for six seasons, and his resignation to that fate — and his awe at his own transformation — was adequately affecting anyway, because it's Jack, and I get Jack.

Similarly: how, exactly, the bomb did or did not bring about changes in the timeline was far less important to me than the changes in Sawyer after Juliet died. Or "died," or half-died, or partially died, or died in one version of events, I do not care, because to Sawyer, she died, and it was a character story.

I certainly hope that people who have enjoyed this show for six seasons aren't going to retroactively decide that all their time was wasted because the finale didn't satisfy them by answering an adequate number of questions. It was interesting that Damon Lindelof happened upon the same metaphor in an interview yesterday that I once used to describe showrunners myself: they are driving the bus, and you've got to give them the benefit of the doubt and at least give them a shot at showing you where they've been going all this time.

And that's how I'm heading into Sunday's finale. I'm leaning back in my seat, I'm relaxing, and I'm assuming that I'm in good hands, because I have been so far.