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"The story of Lost makes no sense."
November 29, 2012 2:04 PM   Subscribe

'I pretty much wanted to die', an excerpt from Alan Sepinwall's The Revolution Was Televised.
posted by IvoShandor (61 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
In the vein of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (or even the pilot of Oz), they planned to pull the rug out from under the audience by killing Jack midway through the first episode,2 forcing Kate to take charge. After this sudden demise, viewers would realize no one was safe. Lindelof says Steve McPherson, then the head of the ABC studio, made a convincing counter-argument that it would teach viewers not to trust the show...

That's OK. The viewers eventually figured that out.
posted by Egg Shen at 2:07 PM on November 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


I was ready to lose Jack or Kate three seconds after the characters made eye contact. Either would have been fine.
posted by mph at 2:09 PM on November 29, 2012


I enjoyed Lost a ton and while I wish the ending had been stronger it gave me a ridiculous amount of enjoyment over a six-year period, which is worth quite a bit considering that it was free.

I was kind of hoping this article wouldn't show up here because now the thread will be full of people trying to outhate one another.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:26 PM on November 29, 2012 [17 favorites]


I was kind of hoping this article wouldn't show up here because now the thread will be full of people trying to outhate one another.

I hate that you feel that way.
posted by snottydick at 2:42 PM on November 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


If it's relevant I came on this at longform.org
posted by IvoShandor at 2:44 PM on November 29, 2012


I was kind of hoping this article wouldn't show up here because now the thread will be full of people trying to outhate one another.

I hate that you feel that way.
posted by snottydick at 2:42 PM on November 29 [+] [!]


Eponysterical.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 2:46 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Eponysterical.

I is what I am.
posted by snottydick at 2:47 PM on November 29, 2012


I was kind of hoping this article wouldn't show up here because now the thread will be full of people trying to outhate one another.

I know the unpleasantness of listening to people criticize something I like.

But I do try to assume that their negative reaction is as sincere as my positive one.
posted by Egg Shen at 2:50 PM on November 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


1 used from $999.00

Guess I'll be buying this book new then...
posted by Potomac Avenue at 3:01 PM on November 29, 2012


I think that, if disappointment in the ending of the show obviated any entertainment or enjoyment you got from watching six seasons of a thing, you may have been watching it wrong, is all. Like I said, I wish the ending had been stronger, but conversations about Lost now always wind up being only about that disappointment, how the show betrayed you, how they didn't answer questions correctly or whatever. Which, sure, is valid, but it would be interesting to have other conversations as well.
posted by shakespeherian at 3:01 PM on November 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


but conversations about Lost now always wind up being only about that disappointment

Well, okay. How about I gave up watching Lost halfway through, after being thoroughly excited by the first season and a half or so, because it became apparent they were making it up from show to show. This article kind of confirms that. If they had killed off an obvious protagonist early on, I would have been impressed and maybe stuck around longer.

..except they would have brought him back as a goddamn living radio wave or something.
posted by lumpenprole at 3:05 PM on November 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


Sepinwall is IMO one of the few TV critics worth reading on a daily (or even more often) basis. Call me a fanboy, but I bought this pretty much the day it came out and went all the way through it in 3 days. He's got a connection with showrunners that's a lot better than the usual Entertainment Tonight-esque fluff.

Random fact: The editor for this book is Sarah Bunting, aka Sars from the original TWOP.
posted by zombieflanders at 3:07 PM on November 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


This article kind of confirms that.

If I'm reading the article correctly, they structured the first season without knowing the answers to a lot of the questions, but then after the first season was over the writers sat down and 'built the iceberg for the show' before beginning the second season-- they 'constructed [the] whole mythological world.'
posted by shakespeherian at 3:17 PM on November 29, 2012


Love Sepinwall. Love LOST. Hell, I even loved the finale. But I don't to rehash THAT.

I would, however, like to know if:

"making it up from show to show."

is such a bad thing. I mean, it seems like you do not think that it worked for this show, and if it didn't it didn't. But is it just bad form, period?

I think it's kind of thrilling. It means they're allowing themselves to be surprised on a weekly basis. I liked the feeling that there weren't always answers, that I wouldn't always know what was going on. I will admit that this approach can't work without some balance, without having a general idea of where things are going. I think they knew on Lost what they wanted to do, just not how much time they'd have to do it.
posted by Tevin at 3:19 PM on November 29, 2012


I would, however, like to know if "making it up from show to show" is such a bad thing.

It is when you lie to millions of people and say that you're not.
posted by Egg Shen at 3:22 PM on November 29, 2012


It was worth watching all 6 seasons for The Constant alone.
posted by mannequito at 3:26 PM on November 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


I would, however, like to know if "making it up from show to show" is such a bad thing.

What Egg Shen said, plus the whole premise of the show was "There's an amazing secret on this island". Well, no there isn't, there's just what the writers can dangle in front of you to keep you tuning in. It's base and manipulative, even for tv.
posted by lumpenprole at 3:27 PM on November 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


"It is when you lie to millions of people and say that you're not."

Wait, did that actually happen though? I did some quick googling and didn't find any sort of promise to that effect ...
posted by Tevin at 3:28 PM on November 29, 2012


"What Egg Shen said, plus the whole premise of the show was "There's an amazing secret on this island". Well, no there isn't, there's just what the writers can dangle in front of you to keep you tuning in. It's base and manipulative, even for tv."

Right, but that's viewer expectations. It has nothing to do with the actual quality of what was produced. Do they have a responsibility to try and plan a story that will cater to the wishes of their audience rather than make one up as they go?
posted by Tevin at 3:29 PM on November 29, 2012


ANYWAY

I really enjoyed the way the pilot barely had any scifi or magic elements in it whatsoever and it very gradually became a completely insane show with time travel and alternate realities and monsters and immortality and demigods. I have no idea how you'd pitch a show like that-- something that very gradually reveals even its premise over the course of several seasons.
posted by shakespeherian at 3:31 PM on November 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


I did some quick googling and didn't find any sort of promise to that effect ...

For example:
... executive producer Carlton Cuse said at a Sunday press panel that the show’s producers are in the process of “picking an end point to the show.”

“Once we do that,” he told reporters at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, “a lot of the anxiety and a lot of these questions, like, ‘We’re not getting answers,’ a lot of those will go away. They really represent an underlying anxiety that this is not going to go well or that we don’t know what we’re doing.
I am confident that no one who was a fan of Lost in January 2007 would have been OK with the idea that the writers were just making up shit as they went along.
posted by Egg Shen at 3:35 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Where in the article do you get the impression that the writers were making shit up as they went along at any point after the first season.
posted by shakespeherian at 3:39 PM on November 29, 2012


Where in the article do you get the impression that the writers were making shit up as they went along at any point after the first season.

Needless to say, there wouldn't have been anything after the first season if viewers had known that the writers were making shit up as they went along - or, in their more tactful phrase, "making the show episode to episode".

But regardless of whatever redemptive powers one would like to attribute to subsequent brainstorming, the fact remains that even then: "Obviously, we didn't have everything plotted out."
posted by Egg Shen at 4:01 PM on November 29, 2012


I mean, you know the difference between plotting and mythology, right?
posted by shakespeherian at 4:11 PM on November 29, 2012


Pre-planned long-form storytelling is awesome, but I think Tevin's got a point. I mean...making shit up as you go along vs. making shit up in advance--fundamentally it's just making shit up either way.

Improvisation does have a long history in the performing arts--acting, storytelling, music (think jazz!). If the writers are up to it, it doesn't have to be a problem. Whether they are up to it is a different issue.
posted by Pryde at 4:39 PM on November 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Lost had some fantastic episodes, and some terrible episodes, and quite a few that were simply mediocre. But what Lost did best, perhaps better than any other show in history, was that rug-pulling reveal wherein you suddenly realize there's more here than you realized. It's a magic trick, and a damn good one – and what matters more in life than magic?

The first season's use of flashbacks to reveal depths to characters at pivotal moments to the central, ongoing plot was brilliant. Locke's wheelchair reveal, Kate's handcuffs, were these staggering moments of "something more is happening here than I realized". Then the reveal that Ethan Rom wasn't on the airline originally – there are others on the island. Then Desmond, and the hatch, and Ben Linus, and the reveal that there was an entire town here, watching them the whole time. And that's only the first two seasons and one episode.

Give my generation, which watched Lost throughout high school and college, ten years to get jobs in the entertainment industry, and I think the profoundness of Lost's impact as a show will be more obvious. That sleight-of-hand played with the reality of a show, the reveal (not once but a dozen times) that you're not seeing what you thought you were seeing, that was mastered by Lost. And Lost didn't just do it well, it did it with heart: it used those techniques to reveal emotional depths to us, to toy with our affections for its characters. Its formal experimentation wasn't masturbatory, it was the best part of the show.

Compare to current darling Community, whose genre experiments are interesting but have also reduced 2/3rds of the cast to cliche-spouting joke machines. Lost was kind of the opposite in the sense that it lost steam every time it played its hand straight, and picked up momentum every time it added a new twist – which is why its worst stretch was at the start of season 3, when they hoped one single big reveal would be enough to keep us engaged.

I simultaneously don't want to watch it again and want to force my dubious friends to watch it. Dunno how I'll pull that one off yet. Any suggestions?
posted by Rory Marinich at 4:51 PM on November 29, 2012 [10 favorites]


Lost was some of the most and, later, least enjoyable network television I've ever watched. Imagine how good it could have been if it had been planned as a single season, or maybe two...but I know that's not how the economics of these things work.

> I really enjoyed the way the pilot barely had any scifi or magic elements in it whatsoever and it very gradually became a completely insane show with time travel and alternate realities and monsters and immortality and demigods.

I really wish I'd been home the night of the series finale. I bailed about halfway through season three, I think, because I was feeling jerked around the way lumpenprole describes...but I think it might have been fun to sit down, have a couple of beers and dive headfirst into the WTF.
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:53 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Compare to current darling Community, whose genre experiments are interesting but have also reduced 2/3rds of the cast to cliche-spouting joke machines

That's an interesting comparison, because despite my memory of some standout episodes (the first look into Locke's past comes to mind), that's exactly what I felt about Lost. Except the cliche's were bad radio drama chliches. And any total nonsense was hand waved away while yelling ELECTROMAGNETISM at full voice.

Frankly, I felt the character drama in Lost was terrible. The characters tended towards ridiculous archetypal behavior not helped by the over acting. Once it became clear that the secret of the island was whatever it needed to be to get you to tune it, it lost all it's charm for me.

( I should say I don't necessarily disagree with you about community, but am far more forgiving of it because they often use the cliche intentionally for comic effect.)
posted by lumpenprole at 4:57 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Stepping back from Lost, Sepinwall's been in the middle of something that's been freaking me out a lot lately... for whatever reason, I'm really struggling with the ubiquity of episode-by-episode TV writing on the web. Like, I think television as an art form really is experiencing something of a golden age, and at its best of course it's worthwhile for critics to engage it in-depth; and so, during Mad Men or Breaking Bad season or as I belatedly (god damn you, HBO) work through the DVDs of Game of Thrones, I do really enjoy reading Sepinwall's (and a small handful of others) unpack the episode and highlight subtextual elements that I maybe only half-caught.

But I think the people doing worthwhile critical work episode-to-episode are a small minority. And (and hey, I'm probably showing my age) I think it's borderline obscene that, if you're a 25-year-old with some writing talent, one of the hottest regular writing jobs you could land would be doing recaps and writeups of some goddamned reality show or network sitcom for J. Random Website.
posted by COBRA! at 5:04 PM on November 29, 2012


Frankly, I felt the character drama in Lost was terrible. The characters tended towards ridiculous archetypal behavior not helped by the over acting.

What really killed Lost for me was the day I realized that the Jack-Kate-Swayer triangle was a 100% map to the Cyclops-Jean Grey-Wolverine triangle, to a ridiculous extent. Meaning either Lost was ripping off Claremont-era X-Men or both were drawing so shallowly from the same well to render the whole thing sort of ridiculous.
posted by COBRA! at 5:06 PM on November 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think it's borderline obscene that, if you're a 25-year-old with some writing talent, one of the hottest regular writing jobs you could land would be doing recaps and writeups of some goddamned reality show or network sitcom for J. Random Website.

Sure, it's obscene. But is it really more obscene than Ye Olden Days with movie critics doing the same general things for movies? I mean, most film critics aren't worth shit, most films reviewed are worth nearly as little, and most reviews amount to "these are the major plot points and this is the movie star who is in it".
posted by Rory Marinich at 5:16 PM on November 29, 2012


Yeah, you're right. I was just around to be offended by this iteration.
posted by COBRA! at 5:28 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sepinwall's book is a lot of fun if you're a certain kind of TV nerd (I am that kind of TV nerd).

I am confident that no one who was a fan of Lost in January 2007 would have been OK with the idea that the writers were just making up shit as they went along.

Even if they had the ending of the show figured out from when the pilot was written, if you don't know how many episodes you're going to have to fill before getting to that ending, how firmly can you plan anything? Networks don't typically care. They'll keep making whatever as long as people are watching and pull the plug the second they don't think they're getting their moneys worth, frequently without giving you a chance to write a proper ending. Say what you will about their other failings, but Lost's creators cared a lot about not repeating that cycle. The point of giving a firm end point in terms of episode count was to avoid the endless dithering about that's crippled so many other shows.

If you want to see a mythology-driven show that actually made everything up as it went along, you need to look to X-Files. Chris Carter by all accounts planned none of it in advance. Lost wasn't a perfect show by any stretch of the imagination, but it didn't commit that particular sin for any longer than it absolutely had to.

TV isn't made in a vacuum and by all the accounts I've heard/read, the Lost writers did pretty much the same thing every other half-way decently run modern writers room does it: They get X number of weeks of lead time before shooting starts. During that time, they decide what the major points of this particular season are going to be, and try to break down how to hit each of those points on an episode by episode basis. They also try to get as many of the initial episodes fully scripted in advance of filming as they can so that they have some leeway in taking their time with the rest. Then in addition to that, there's a bunch of struggling and rewriting around production difficulties, budget limitations, etc.

That the realities of TV production sometimes result in worse art is unavoidable. The constraints of the way something's produced help define every artistic medium. Such constraints also sometimes change TV/movies/music/whatever for the better too.
posted by sparkletone at 6:04 PM on November 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think that, if disappointment in the ending of the show obviated any entertainment or enjoyment you got from watching six seasons of a thing, you may have been watching it wrong, is all.

After about a season and a half, I was hate-watching the show.

I don't mind, that they wrote the first season episode by episode. I mind that when they "planned" the rest of the series they didn't actually make a plan that made sense.

I also mind that they didn't kill off Jack in the first episode because wow, I hated Jack.
posted by jeather at 6:21 PM on November 29, 2012


So I was a big fan of Lost, and remain so, I suppose. The ending took a lot of wind out of the sails, but it was pretty much bound to. I wonder how common this is, but for me at least, a lot of the disillusionment was amplified by being a fan of BSG at the same time and having that show pull basically the same shit concurrently.

Both were ballsy, audacious shows catering to a sci-fi audience (though Lost's audience was certainly much much wider than that) which used complicated (convoluted?) teased-out mythologies in order to tell the truly-much-more-interesting complex human stories they wanted to tell. Neither show was perfect. Both had clunky episodes amongst the barn-burners and both had a few leaden characters that the writers seemed way more interested in than the audience did. (hi, Kate! Hi Helo!) Both promised that they knew where they were going and both kind of fumbled in the end zone.

But with a little perspective, both shows were about their layered characters, and both created some phenomenal moments, and that's more important to me than the mythologies. I care less about how time travel worked than I do about how it allowed for "The Constant," and I'm thankful to all of those minds who brought that episode to bear.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:32 PM on November 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


That excerpt was good, I may read the whole book. Sepinwall is an astute critic and the past decade or so of television definitely deserves some good critical writing. It really does seem to be a golden age we've been in.

I loved Lost, even when I hated it. It was a bold, audacious storytelling experiment in so many ways and that means that some things will work and some things won't. I loved when it hit and I loved when it missed, because I loved the experiment so much that I appreciated what the writers were trying to do even when they fell short--and also that they (mostly) knew when to let something go or to change tactics. It really is a glorious mess of a show.

Also, Rory Marinich is right--I cannot wait until the kids who grew up watching Lost (etc.) start making their own TV.
posted by LooseFilter at 6:49 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Having read the whole book, I'd recommend it. Sepinwall is tops at what he does.

I did find it reassuring to hear that the Lost folks did at least start coming up with some kind of plan after the first season. My theory while the show was on was that some things they had planned and others were just "Hey, look, a polar bear on an island!" random things they threw in and thought they'd come up with an explanation for later. And then six years later, they still hadn't come up with an explanation. I thought the same thing about Battlestar (also covered in the book, though the "plan" isn't really). Like, nice try with the Opera House, that...sorta...worked...?
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:24 PM on November 29, 2012


The first two seasons it was on the air, I was still living in Europe, and ended up watching episodes in Spanish, which took a lot more attention than I was willing to give to a show that had an inexplicable fucking polar bear on a tropical island. If I was going to watch some bizarre telenovela shit you best believe it was going to be Un Paso Adelante.

Then when I moved back to the US I sort of halfassedly started watching again in season 4 and I was fucking hooked.

AND THEN THEY BETRAYED ME FOREVER hisssss finale hisssssssss

hisss
posted by elizardbits at 7:37 PM on November 29, 2012


art critic snake hatesssss your clumsssy jesusss allegory
posted by elizardbits at 7:38 PM on November 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


I did find it reassuring to hear that the Lost folks did at least start coming up with some kind of plan after the first season.

I like to believe that the writers had a fantastic epic yarn planned out for the entire show, and it all went to hell when they killed off Ana and Libby for being party girls.

After that, the idea that they had a plan makes the show worse somehow. Like it's forgivable if they were flying by the seat of their pants and writing an episode 10 minutes before shooting it, but actually sitting down in a room and planning the last few seasons of that show ahead of time is not really excusable. I stopped watching halfway through the season that contained the time travel hijinx. I was tired of being jerked around by mysteries that are never really solved, because the time the writers got around to giving you an answer, the question was already irrelevant.
posted by girih knot at 7:39 PM on November 29, 2012


So I've never seen Lost. I started reading this article until I could tell it was starting to get spoilery, and now I want to watch the show. Is it worth it? Should I just stop watching at some particular point and then just read plot synopses on Wikipedia from then on to "finish" it? Or should I soldier on, knowing that there won't be much payoff at the end?
posted by zsazsa at 8:20 PM on November 29, 2012


I'd say it's worth it. Even with mysteries aside, it's a fun Indiana Jones-y magicky sci-fi-adventure with guns and bad guys and stuff.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:23 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Lost is worth watching, yeah. It does more good than bad.

> I like to believe that the writers had a fantastic epic yarn planned out for the entire show, and it all went to hell when they killed off Ana and Libby for being party girls.

Not to mention that Mr. Eko quit and they basically had to dump his character arc onto someone else.
posted by flatluigi at 8:33 PM on November 29, 2012


it's a fun Indiana Jones-y magicky sci-fi-adventure with guns and bad guys and stuff

OR IS IT?!?!!!?!!!?!!!?
posted by fleacircus at 9:09 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I watched the entire series on Netflix when it was over, and I feel so, so sorry for everyone who watched it in real time. A bad episode on my watch was just a "meh, onto the next one", while real time watchers had to stew over it for a week (or longer.)

I think this is a big reason why I'm fonder of Lost than so many other people seem to be.
posted by imabanana at 9:10 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, I bought the book, FWIW.
posted by Artw at 9:49 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just went back and watched the opening to Lost and holy shit, I forgot the real reason I watched it was how tightly the visuals, performances, scripts, and music wrap around each other. Lost is a fucking production, and even the bad characters were written with such good pacing and intensity that people were willing to sit through three or four consecutive commercial breaks worth of relatively uninteresting noise.

Actually, it reminded me of The Matrix Reloaded, which I rewatched recently and fell completely in love with. TMR was frontloaded with some terrible scenes, namely the utter dullness of Zion and everything related to it, but the actual Matrix bits are even better than the original movie's: at once funny, gripping, stylish but lightheartedly so, and really damn good at using action sequences to expose deeper themes. And Lost works the same way: sometimes the writers disappear up their own asses, but other times you have truly gripping action and drama, terrific character work, handled by a team so well-versed in the language of cinema and myth that they can make you laugh in ways that somehow reinforce the reality of the world they're building.

The entire opening sequence, from running through the forest to the reveal of the pristine beach to the pan over to the screams and the wreckage, has this in spades, but my favorite detail is the way Jack's trying to give CPR to Rose and Boone's babbling about "doing the thing with the pen and the throat" and Jack's like, "What the fuck? Sure, dude, how about you go find some pens," with the scorn of a professional, and then he sees the airplane wing falling and runs to push Claire and Hurley out of its way and I think he saves a few more lives in the process... and then Boone runs up, out of breath, holding a handful of pens, and says, "Are these okay?"

It's a perfect tension-relieving laugh moment, yet it's more. Because Jack sighs, and looks at Boone with a hell of a lot of empathy, and says, "Yeah. These are perfect." Like it's not this young guy's fault that he's been thrust into such a shitfucking wreck, he's doing the best he can, he's fundamentally a good guy. Just a little confused. The same way Jack and everybody else on Lost is trying to do one thing, trying to be one kind of person, but struggling painfully with and against the very essence of who they can't help but be.
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:00 PM on November 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


Also:

I'll have to rewatch the series finale again, but I recall thinking it was a fitting end to the show inasmuch as it fits the themes perfectly. You don't get a perfect place in life. You don't get to be absorbed by light in the cathedral. You don't get sloppy makeouts with your one true love as all your friends are sloppily making out alongside you. You live a life that goes horribly wrong and you make other people's lives worse by mistake and it's all you can do to remind yourself sometimes that hey, other people matter too, and no matter how much I hate today they don't just suddenly stop being people.

Jack gives his life to save these people. Not people he knew before, but people who were strangers, not so long ago. People who had to ask him his name after he gave them commands in the wreckage of 815. He gives up his life not out of selflessness, but because he's the only person who can do a damn thing and if he doesn't do it, he's dead anyway. And he's survived by the fat comic book geek. By the nerd who should never have been here in the first place, was completely ill-equipped for survival on an island in the middle of nowhere. By the only person to accept the mantle of this good-versus-evil struggle that defined the Lost mythology from the very first appearance of the smoke monster.

And that nerd, Hurley, uses his fantasy superpower to make a world where his friends can be at peace. Where Jack's father, who Hurley knows was not exactly a good father figure, can guide Jack and his friends into a better, more peaceful place. What happens after they get there? Well, we cut to Jack, lying on the island, about to die. There's no happily ever after for him. Maybe the purgatory was just fan-fiction Hurley wrote to himself – the flash-sideways played out like fanfic from the start. (History teacher Ben Linus is hilarious AND poignant, and I still love that when the other characters move on Ben stays behind to spend years and years with his daughter.) But the imaginary happy ending doesn't have to be real, because even without it Jack died saving people who mattered to him. People who, thanks to him, got to go on living, happier than they'd have been without his being in their lives.

I have to go back and watch it again, because I only remember vaguely that I found it mostly satisfying, corniness aside. But then, I didn't read the salvation theme as literally as a lot of people did. The Christian-ness of the church setting was kind of obvious – why not on an airplane? or on an island? – but the theme was broader than mere Christianity, and the cut from the blinding, saving light to Jack dying kept things from getting entirely maudlin. In any event, that's the sort of ending I imagine Hurley would want to write for his friends, and the reveal in the finale that Hurley IS the writer justifies any campiness in that parallel universe – especially because the flash-sideways were terrific fun.
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:11 PM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


As someone who's never seen a single episode of Lost-- I'd always walk away when episodes were playing-- you guys are somehow not making me want to watch it at all. (I appreciate your attempt to make the finale sound worthwhile, Rory; but even your best attempts at persuasion is somehow leaving me cold.) But, holy Venezuela! It just sounds like a grandiose time consuming mess. Yeah there's some good bits but literally everyone I know has told me that the ending is a crashing disappointment. That kills it for me. I don't want spend months of my life watching a hand-wavy epic 'mystery' adventure thingy with zero payoff at the end. A great ending can save a mediocre story; a crappy ending can kill a good one. It sounds like this is an example of the latter.

So yeah, I'm glad it existed and all, and I like Alan Sepinwall's writing, but from what I've heard and read, Lost kind of reminds me of Prometheus x100, i.e. there are good parts but unless you are incredibly forgiving the sloppiness and the bullshit religiosity will make you want to claw your eyes out.

And God I have a hard time catching up with the dozen or shows I actually do watch NOW!
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 12:44 AM on November 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think it bears repeating that watching the show live was a hugely different experience to watching it on DVD. A lot of our collective scar tissue is from the endless months of waiting and waiting between seasons, and the insane amount of bean-plating that went on during the week between each episode. If you have the opportunity to watch the entire series at your own pace I highly recommend that you do so. You'll avoid a lot of the pain that we suffered, and while it was no Six Feet Under, the ending wasn't entirely terrible.
posted by Rhomboid at 2:34 AM on November 30, 2012


Right, but that's viewer expectations. It has nothing to do with the actual quality of what was produced.

When a show goes out of its way to manipulate viewer expectations, those expectations are directly relevant to the quality of what was produced.

Do they have a responsibility to try and plan a story that will cater to the wishes of their audience rather than make one up as they go?

They have a responsibility to make a store that caters to the audience. The argument from Egg Shen et al. is that sending audience expectations one way and the eventual revelations another way doesn't constitute catering to the audience. That it's trolling, basically.

Not being the TV-following kind of nerd, I am not sure if the show actually did something like that, or if perhaps it was trying to cater to people who enjoy being trolled, all along.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:14 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Rory, what do you mean when you say "Hurley is the writer"?
posted by samelborp at 9:27 AM on November 30, 2012


John Rogers, one of the writer/producers of Leverage, has been doing Q&A posts over at his blog after episodes, and wrote about the audience-reaction to the Lost finale in this entry, which begins with the idea that most shows fall into the category of shows about emotions versus shows about systems:
If you want to know what the creators intended a show to be "about", you can usually go back and watch the last scene of the pilot. In E.R., it's Noah Wylie sitting on the sidewalk, exhausted but changed. It's going to be a show about how people survive this tumultuous, draining situation, and how it changes them. I won't spoil the last scene of the Breaking Bad pilot, but it's stunning in its prescience right down to the final line of dialogue. (Seriously, it makes me want to kiss Vince Gilligan on the mouth.) The last scene of Leverage is Nate explaining the physics of Crime World, and how he and his crew are going to fuck up The Man. This show is about those people punching rich guys in the neck. Because they have Sinned, and Deserve It.

What's really kind of interesting is to go back and watch the Lost pilot. (Remember, the end of the pilot is the end of Ep 2*.) It ends with Charlie asking "Guys ... where ARE we?" That sets up the mystery of the show. But is that really, eventually, what the show's about?

I'd argue that's what so infuriated many people about Lost by the end of it. (Full disclosure: I really dug the show, and am show-business friends with a fair chunk of the ex-writers). Was Lost "about" the people on the island (emotion), or "about" the mystery of the island (the system)? I'd guess for the writers it was about unravelling those castaways' stories every week. And sure, for a big chunk of the audience, that's what got them emotionally invested. But mysteries demand solving, and as soon as the system of the island was set up as a mystery it became part of the contract with the audience. "Oh, there are mysteries! Puzzles! I'll pay attention over here, too!" But if you don't then satisfy the puzzle-solving part of the relationship -- God help you. Audiences are hella-smart. Even if they're not conscious puzzle-solvers, the lizard brain knows it isn't getting what it wants. That frustration feeds back into the character side, and before you know it fans are frustrated with both parts of the equation, because they're feeling that ...

... ahh ... you know the best thing I ever heard, the thing I wish someone had told me when I was 20?

"Every criticism is the tragic result of an unmet need."

I think it's important when working in television to understand we are in the emotional need business. The audience has needs, wide ranging and diverse, and ultimately impossible to satisfy universally and long-term. So, in the end, all writers can do is write the show they need to write.
I adored Alias when it started, and was bitterly disappointed by how badly it floundered through the final seasons. I watched the first season of Lost because I got sucked in by that spectacular pilot, but I was never completely onboard the fun train, and quit after the S1 finale with that damn hatch shot, because it seemed clear that I would be in for another umpteen seasons of being teased with the mysteries. So, yeah, I was firmly in the "what is the mystery of the island?" section of the audience, not the "who are all of these people and what will happen to them?" section, in part because I was burned out on show-runners killing off and/or ruining my favorite characters.
posted by oh yeah! at 6:46 PM on November 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Aww crap, I just finished a rewatch of the entire Breaking Bad series last month, but I can't remember how the pilot ended..
posted by mannequito at 6:59 PM on November 30, 2012


So... Reading the book right now, which is all fun stuff. I'm on the chapter on 24 right now, which actually manages to make hate it more.
posted by Artw at 8:31 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I finally feel oddly at peace with the end of Lost due to the last footnote in this article:

"I realized that then, as now, they were playing a very expensive game of three-card monte, with the show's secrets as a red queen that somehow never gets turned over, no matter how long you stay at the table."

The author isn't pleased by this, but actually if that was a strategy, I kind of like the idea.
posted by ChipT at 6:02 AM on December 4, 2012


Let's see if I can get to the Battlestar Galactica chapter without getting angry... We're in the relatively idyllic lands of Season 2 & 3 right now, where I probably should have stopped watching.
posted by Artw at 6:08 AM on December 4, 2012


"the ending sucked because nobody had any idea what to do for it" is a bit of a running theme in the book, BTW.
posted by Artw at 6:11 AM on December 4, 2012


Nope, reading about the ending of BSG didn't make it better.
posted by Artw at 7:58 AM on December 4, 2012


New excerpt on Slate: David Chase Doesn’t Care About the Russian
“Who gives a shit about this Russian?” David Chase says. The creator of The Sopranos has never understood his audience’s fascination with Valery, the Russian mobster who disappeared in the legendary “Pine Barrens” episode. It was a one-off story that needed no closure, Chase says now. He recalls thinking, “We did that show! I don’t know where he is! Now we’ve got to go and figure that out?!?!”
posted by Room 641-A at 9:55 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd say the book is at its best when involved partireceive their take on how something was made, and at its worst when just recounting the events of a season.

Oh, and Breaking Bad DVD watchers beware - it DOES go into season 5.
posted by Artw at 10:14 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


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