We sure as shellac knew what the polar bear was doing on the island
March 24, 2015 1:15 PM   Subscribe

Javier Grillo-Marxuach [prev: 1 2 3], a writer on the first two seasons of Lost [prev: 1 2 3 4], attempts to answer the question “Did we know what we were doing, or were we just making it up as we went along?” Much like the TV series itself, the answer turns out to be much more complicated than it seems. [A 17,000-word memoir].
posted by 1970s Antihero (94 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
Interestingly they had an answer other than "because psychic kid", psychic kids being simultaneously the worst and most common cause of an unusual phenomena in quasi-genre network TV.

SPOILERS
It was a psychic kid in the end, of course.
posted by Artw at 1:21 PM on March 24, 2015


It takes a special kind of self-aggrandizement to claim they knew what they were doing, when we know Michael Emerson was initially signed for only three episodes.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:22 PM on March 24, 2015 [6 favorites]


> Even though I quit the show after its second season -- never to watch it again until the series finale --

Wait a minute. Is...is this guy......ME?

*ominous music*
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:23 PM on March 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


It takes a special kind of self-aggrandizement to claim they knew what they were doing, when we know Michael Emerson was initially signed for only three episodes.

Read the fucking article, Cool.
posted by incessant at 1:32 PM on March 24, 2015 [8 favorites]


Wow, some of the racial stuff in here is interesting.
What I really said was "You can't kill the white guy."

As cool a piece of showmanship as killing Jack in the first act would have been, I had serious doubts as to whether American network television would welcome a show anchored by a warped, frustrated middle-aged guy with delusions of grandeur, or an overweight Mexican, or a reformed Iraqi torturer, or a souther-fried con artist whose skills would have been essentially useless in the wild, or a non-anglophone Asian couple, or a character who was likely to be played by an actress whose most salient speaking role up until then had been in a commercial for a late-night chat phone line in Vancouver.
posted by corb at 1:39 PM on March 24, 2015


It takes a special kind of self-aggrandizement to claim they knew what they were doing, when we know Michael Emerson was initially signed for only three episodes.

From TFA ...
Also, when I finally revisited the show after four years away, my initial response to the plot of the series finale was “why's Henry Gale still on this show and how did he become the most important man in the universe?"
posted by cnelson at 1:58 PM on March 24, 2015


I never got into Lost, I quit halfway during season 1, and after reading the fan reactions to the finale, I think I dodged a bullet.
posted by Pendragon at 2:00 PM on March 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


Damon was obsessed with the number 23 and the way it keeps popping up in the world.

Fnord.
posted by rmd1023 at 2:07 PM on March 24, 2015 [7 favorites]


The fact that a Hollywood group called The Millenium made a song called "The Island" that bears some resemblance to the Lost cannot be a coincidence.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 2:10 PM on March 24, 2015


I never got into Lost, I quit halfway during season 1, and after reading the fan reactions to the finale, I think I dodged a bullet.

I didn't like the finale, but I had a lot of fun evenings watching episodes and discussing them with my wife. One bad finale doesn't take all that away.
posted by Area Man at 2:16 PM on March 24, 2015 [13 favorites]


I bailed after Season 1. Enjoyed it, felt no reason to go back, and was damn sure all the mysteries were an excercise in chain-yanking, more so than regular long-arc serial television.

I wonder, is it like BSG where there's a clear cut off point where you have some clear cut off points where you can just stop watching and avoid the worst - just after New Caprica would be mine - or is the whole thing retroactively tainted by having no real answers/answers that are dumb?
posted by Artw at 2:16 PM on March 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


Can we talk about "sure as shellac" for a moment?

Because:

what
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 2:33 PM on March 24, 2015 [7 favorites]


Too soon, Artw.

Too soon.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:36 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Hey, I watched that fucker till the bitter end.
posted by Artw at 2:37 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


I just used shellac to refinish a minor woodworking project of mine, and it certainly did turn out pretty sure, so there's at least that.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 2:45 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Huh. Much like Lost, this article is meandering, fails to get to the point, doesn't know where it's going, is in need of a stern editor with a strong red pen, and I gave up after a while.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:50 PM on March 24, 2015 [30 favorites]


Huh. Much like Lost, this article is meandering, fails to get to the point, doesn't know where it's going, is in need of a stern editor with a strong red pen, and I gave up after a while.


I'm sure the last few paragraphs will bring all the meandering threads together.

*reads the article*

DANG IT stick to the bloody Middleman in the future
posted by The River Ivel at 2:54 PM on March 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


Well... I read the whole thing. and while interesting, it didn't change my opinion of the writing and mysteries one bit.

They had a solid mythology in place, but YES they were making it up as they went along. There was no definitive truth about the island, and all of the writing staff changes pulled the story arc in weird directions.
posted by Benway at 2:57 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


So the answer seems to me that they both knew what they were doing, and also they were making up as they went along. For example:
...even though JJ and Damon had sold a show about a mysterious tropical island full of polar bears and patrolled by a free-roaming cloud of sentient smoke, we had to continually promise during the show's development, the filming of the pilot, and even well into the first and second season, that -- at most -- our sci-fi would be of a grounded, believable, Michael Crichton-esque stripe that could be proven plausible through extrapolation from hard science.

Of course, that was a blatant and shameless lie told to network and studio executives in the hopes that either blazing success or crashing failure would eventually exonerate us from the responsibility of explaining the scientifically accurate manner in which the man-eating cloud of sentient smoke actually operated.
So they knew some of their concepts and ideas weren't explainable, but kept selling the notion of it being explainable (I mean, the smoke monster has a meta-physical explanation, but they were selling this as Cricthton-esque). So they wrote themselves into a bit of a corner, and just hoped it would go away.

Other bits, like the fact that using the elaborate character backstories as flashbacks and means of demonstrating the thematic beats of the show it sounds like they just kinda stumbled into. And the mantra of "this is the explanation until someone beats it" just sounds to me like a recipe for baking inconsistency in.

Anyways, an interesting piece about the history of Lost, and while I have many many problems with the show in general, it remains a fascinating piece of TV history and (I think, anyways) it has had a big impact on TV today.
posted by nubs at 2:57 PM on March 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


Agreed. Can't imagine reading all of that. The gist I got, though, was "Of course we were making it up as we went along."

Enjoyed watching the show. Would never recommend it to anyone. The last season, not just the finale, was crap.
posted by booooooze at 2:58 PM on March 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


Heh.
  • Pace ourselves, milk stories.
posted by Artw at 3:00 PM on March 24, 2015


This bit just explains it all, really:
JJ was more than happy to punt the decision as to what would actually be inside the hatch to the writers' room because of his deeply felt conviction that the mystery was as good a journey as the reveal and would be so tantalizing it would keep the audience clamoring -- even if the subject to be eventually revealed was not forethought. It was at that point that I first heard Damon articulate -- wisely, and for reasons of self-preservation and sanity -- the one hard and fast rule that he lived by for the entire first season. He would not put anything on screen that he didn’t feel confident he could explain beforehand...

...Damon rushed into the writers room one day with an uncharacteristic bounce in his step and declared that “inside the hatch there’s a room with a guy in it and if he doesn’t press a button every 108 minutes, the world will end.”

It was a brilliant idea that he felt had legs and could be exploited for story mileage... of course, when we asked why this byzantine mechanism was necessary, the explanation was a lot more diffuse..."
It's mystery boxes all the way down! They just kept stuffing each mystery box with more mystery boxes!
posted by nubs at 3:06 PM on March 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


"I didn't like the finale, but I had a lot of fun evenings watching episodes and discussing them with my wife. One bad finale doesn't take all that away."

Yeah. I loved the show, even though I became increasingly frustrated with it each year. But there were a lot of moments and characters and storylines that are among my favorite television.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:10 PM on March 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


Lost is exactly where I ended up after watching the series so I just assumed that was the point.
posted by srboisvert at 3:12 PM on March 24, 2015


Ain't nobody got time for that article. I'd rather spend it on finishing Middlemarch or curing cancer.

LOST was about 75% a great show and at least 25% frustrating. So so so many mysteries and subplots and characters were ignored, implausibly written off, or simply never seen again. Walt is a pretty perfect example: spooky kid with psychic and perhaps telekinetic powers...but they took so long dragging out other plot elements that the actor playing Walt hit puberty and grew about ten feet tall, so they just wrote him out of the show. Tell me about Walt and his powers, dammit!

People complained about the finale...I didn't mind the finale per se; it was that whole final season that was lame, in which fully half of each episode's runtime was set in the "limbo world" or whatever. So half a season was set in a place that had zero effect on the plot of the show. The writers could've spent that half of the season, oh I don't know, actually giving some answers to the mysteries they set up. But I guess that would've been too hard. They would've had to write.

People complained about the unanswered mysteries and I read someone--maybe Damon Lindeloff--saying something like "well, we think that's better to not answer all the mysteries and leave it ambiguous for the viewer." There is a way to do that and a way not to do that, and the LOST producers and writers mostly chose the latter.
posted by zardoz at 3:14 PM on March 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


Pendragon: “I never got into Lost, I quit halfway during season 1, and after reading the fan reactions to the finale, I think I dodged a bullet.”
I got that beat. I quit during the pilot when they left the cockpit without the crash axe. True story.
posted by ob1quixote at 3:17 PM on March 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


I think I watched like 3 or 4 episodes back when everyone was raving about it, and then I quit, because I felt it was unfocused bullshit. But anyway, this:
As I described before, there was definitely a sort of "operational theory" for what the island would be -- it was liked by some and loathed by others -- and since Damon and Carlton chose not to say it out loud in the series finale, I won't presume to do it for them. Suffice it to say there was a concrete reason that we openly discussed on several occasions about why the island had an exotic source of power in its core that was able to wreak such miracles as time travel, the motion of the island, and somehow connect with selected people on a psychic level.
Is just playing coy, and he can fuck off.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 3:21 PM on March 24, 2015 [6 favorites]


Wow. You guys are still so unbelievably angry about this show.
posted by incessant at 3:30 PM on March 24, 2015 [11 favorites]


TL;DR: "And then we made it all up as we went."

Oh god that show infuriated me. Part of it was the public assurances that they weren't making it up as they went.
posted by Mcable at 3:32 PM on March 24, 2015 [10 favorites]


Ain't nobody got time for that article. I'd rather spend it on finishing Middlemarch or curing cancer.

Yep. I'm not usually a TL;DR person but Lost has taken enough time I'll never get back already. It's not getting another 20 minutes.

As I described before, there was definitely a sort of "operational theory" for what the island would be -- it was liked by some and loathed by others -- and since Damon and Carlton chose not to say it out loud in the series finale, I won't presume to do it for them.

Yeah yeah. The island was the afterlife. We got the symbolism and it was obvious, even though the show would never commit to it.

Wow. You guys are still so unbelievably angry about this show.

Yes we are. It's not just that it was a show with great potential that went bad -- it was a show with the potential to change television itself. The unique storytelling and time warping of this show would have influenced TV writing forever if the final season hadn't erased every last ounce of goodwill the show ever had, and TV is worse for it.
posted by mmoncur at 3:35 PM on March 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


Wow. You guys are still so unbelievably angry about this show.

It's what powers the smoke monster.
posted by nubs at 3:36 PM on March 24, 2015 [27 favorites]


Oh god that show infuriated me. Part of it was the public assurances that they weren't making it up as they went.

YES. I wouldn't have found it anywhere near as table-flippingly frustrating if they hadn't kept saying it was all plotted out and everything would be explained and it was "hard sci-fi." Lindelof, I do not think that means that you think it means.
posted by skycrashesdown at 3:36 PM on March 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


I love the glorious, sprawling mess that is Lost. It was great, terrible, mediocre, and just about everything in between during its run, but I love it for trying and I occasionally revisit episodes where it succeeded and just let the ones that failed float on downstream.

it was a show with the potential to change television itself.

I'm not sure any single creative work, in any medium, can really do that, but as far as influence, I think Lost has been huge: a long, interconnected and complex narrative with a giant cast of characters (I think, by the last season, viewers had to know somewhere around 50 characters by name for it all to make sense?) that experimented hugely with form, temporality, genre. It wasn't necessarily new in what it did, but it did it all together in a really charismatic way that got large audiences watching. So maybe it didn't break ground, or end up as a great work of art per se, but it did clear a whole lot of ground for what's come after, and I really love it for that.

And some episodes still really hit me in the feels, and I appreciate that too.
posted by LooseFilter at 3:42 PM on March 24, 2015 [12 favorites]


"It's not purgatory, this is real, we're not going to Sixth Sense you."

These are interesting ideas, and I got hooked as well, but in the end it's a Ponzi scheme. You need to jump out before it all falls apart.

(And they didn't Sixth Sense us; they The Village'd us. Or you might even say they The Happening'd us.)
posted by kurumi at 3:47 PM on March 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


I haven't read it yet, but my guess is after 1700 words I'll end up annoyed that he didn't answer what he set out to.
posted by lumpenprole at 3:47 PM on March 24, 2015 [8 favorites]


Wow. You guys are still so unbelievably angry about this show.

Well, yeah, that's sort of the ultimate result of the mystery box paradigm of making promises and not kipping them - it betrays the trust of your audience and leaves them pissed off, no matter how well crafted your unresolvable mystery was when you were building it up.
posted by Artw at 4:16 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


I also enjoyed Lost in the first couple seasons. But it was one of those shows that felt like if you missed an episode you had no idea what was going on the next week. And of course I missed an episode and then it was just impossible to follow and I gave up, frustrated, at some point early in season 3. Also the lack of any hint of an answer to what is going on for 2 seasons did not help.
posted by Hoopo at 4:16 PM on March 24, 2015


Realistically the conspiracy stuff in The X-Files was the same damn thing, but they managed not to make it the whole show.

I guess Fringe was the same thing but with a little more planning but actually sticking the landing.
posted by Artw at 4:23 PM on March 24, 2015


Artw: "I guess Fringe was the same thing but with a little more planning but actually sticking the landing."

Fringe at least felt quite planned, are there any word of god quote on how planned it actually was from the beginning?
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 4:34 PM on March 24, 2015


"hard sci-fi." Lindelof, I do not think that means that you think it means.

It seems like most people don't. I have a very smart, science fiction-fan friend who describes District 9 as hard SF. Which... no.

I watched the first season of Lost when it originally aired and found it entertaining. The premiere was fucking great but I didn't make it past the finale. I feel like a season finale of a show like Lost should provide some answers while creating even more interesting questions and that episode did neither for me. I had an inkling that this was going to go the seat of the pants X-Files route and I guess I was right.
posted by brundlefly at 4:39 PM on March 24, 2015


Err... District 9 is probably hardish compared with mystical mythical chosen one stuff, big on the other hand has magic space juice that can turn you into a bug/makes space computers work/add as plot requires, so yeah.
posted by Artw at 4:49 PM on March 24, 2015


They're very proud, rightfully I'd say, of interleaving the character stuff in Season 1, but that's like being proud of your table that falls over because the two legs that aren't missing are well crafted.
posted by Artw at 4:51 PM on March 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think my friend was interpreting "hard" as "serious" or something.
posted by brundlefly at 4:56 PM on March 24, 2015


Both X-Files and Lost suffered from unsatisfying endings, but I enjoyed Lost more consistently. I think this is X-Files's "fault" though, in that I never expected a "lets explain what happened!" ending from Lost. I pretty much assumed it would end like X-Files, and it did. (Both shows are among my favorites despite this common failing)
posted by thefoxgod at 5:09 PM on March 24, 2015


Nothing ever really makes sense -- I've never read or viewed an extended series anywhere that actually was internally coherent or lacked serious plot holes. Heck, even most dominant, beautiful, well-validated theories in the hard sciences have loose ends -- you should see how many tuning parameters there are in the Standard Model. Everyone, from Dickens to David Mitchell, is making it up along the way -- even if that process sometimes happens in the outlining stage before they actually put pen to paper or light to film. Anyone who thought this show was going to wrap up neatly with a 300-minute blast of exposition that brought 100 hours of loose ends together into some perfect whole was deluding themselves, and cheating themselves of a great ride. It was a ride like X-Files or Twin Peaks or any other strange serial -- a crazy balancing act of suspended disbelief and self-deceiving optimism, plus dozens of genuinely cool reveals, plot twists, world-buildings, and character developments. I personally abandon most TV shows after a few seasons, not because they wander, contradict, and tangle, but because the creative excitement of those early seasons is almost always impossible to maintain. And Lost failed to maintain it too -- but damn, it lasted a long time before finally running aground. The desire to judge a movie or book as a perfected artwork rather than via the experience it first grants you leads to a huge number of perfect three-act movies with almost no risk-taking or genuine narrative weirdness (and this goes even for supposed experimentalists like Kaufman, whose movies are almost always "perfect" in underlying structure). We're living in the heyday of serialized television -- something that is genuinely different and new compared to the previous heydays of film -- and Lost was I think one of the most interesting and gripping instances to come out of the staid world of network TV. I expect it to be one of the few network examples that will make it into the future histories of this era -- flawed, but historic.
posted by chortly at 5:23 PM on March 24, 2015 [6 favorites]


The River Ivel: "Huh. Much like Lost, this article is meandering, fails to get to the point, doesn't know where it's going, is in need of a stern editor with a strong red pen, and I gave up after a while.


I'm sure the last few paragraphs will bring all the meandering threads together.

*reads the article*

DANG IT stick to the bloody Middleman in the future
"

Beaten. I came here to say they should have left him on the Middleman.

Also, I stopped watching Lost after the first season, because it seemed to be Random Monkey Cheese: The Series.
posted by Samizdata at 6:01 PM on March 24, 2015


Anyone who toyed with the occult knows what was going on with that show. There were all these little amazing symbolic events, all this hints of meaning and of mystery, and a sense that if you just could piece it together there was a greater logic beneath it, a logic that explained hidden things. But the more you dig, the more convoluted it got, and the more the internal logic started breaking down, and the more it started to seem like maybe there wasn't anything hidden beneath the surface, maybe there wasn't a unifying secret, maybe is was fun bullshit on top of silly bullshit on top of more bullshit, and underneath it were just true believers frantically making stuff up to cover for the fact that there will never be an answer, never a greater truth.

It's Cabala, it's Golden Dawn, it's every mystery religion, it's Satanism, and, in the end, it's religion. I preferred that it was crap. That made it somehow authentically occult to me.
posted by maxsparber at 6:02 PM on March 24, 2015 [8 favorites]


It's wanking over a doodle!
posted by Artw at 6:05 PM on March 24, 2015


I really did not like the reveal at the end of the series and what it meant for at least half of each episode going back a season, but it was an unusual creative decision and I respect it.

What I can't stand is how interested I was in The Others (and their motivation for damn near anything they did in the first season). Were they an ancient civilization, a collection of list and abandoned souls following the guidance of an ancient civilization, tribalists, a bunch of civilized people playing Boo! Scooby Doo! in tribal drag to scare the survivors, or a bunch of suburban squatters? Yeah, sure. Kinda sorta but mostly the latter. They're totally civilized and advanced but they kidnap and murder people for no discernible or explained reason. And the ones guarding the temple are full time ninja warriors.

I woulda have been happy with I think any conclusion if they'd stuck with it. U still mad bro? Ya, me mad.
posted by elr at 6:06 PM on March 24, 2015


The thing about Lost for me is, it honestly never bothered me that they were so clearly making it up as they went along. No, what bothered me was that they got greedy, and they couldn't figure out when to actually start wrapping it up.

Season 1 was pretty amazing, going in cold (as it aired). Season 2 built from that, and brought it to a point where it strained but did not quite break suspension of disbelief. I think that if the end of Season 2 had been the apex of the unknowable, they could have done amazing things revealing mysteries through Season 3, and finished with a Season 4 finale. If they had done this, it could have gone down as one of the most impressive long-form stories ever told on film/video.

Instead, season after season, they just couldn't fucking stop dropping new mystery boxes into view. By the time they even remotely considered trying to wrap it all up, they were so far afield that there was no way it was going to end satisfactorily.

I debated even watching the last season, but felt like I'd invested enough time into it that I probably should. Oh, sunk cost fallacy, you never fail to get me...
posted by tocts at 6:11 PM on March 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


Did Lost invent the thing where each episode showcased a different member of the cast through flashbacks? I love how Orange Is The New Black has used that structure, especially because there's no character I dread on that show as much as Jack or Kate.
posted by elr at 6:13 PM on March 24, 2015


The first season of Lost, I was convinced they stole the premise of the island from Gene Wolfe's wonderful short story, The Death of Dr. Island -- an island that reflects back the emotional state of the inhabitants as a kind of environmental therapy; if you're angry, a storm blows in, if you're sad, it's overcast and gloomy. Lost took that another step, with things imagined becoming real. It was pretty cool, and I thought they were headed somewhere interesting, but when they introduced the Others, it was pretty much over for me. So obviously a plot device.

But that's just the nature of the beast, innit? if the show gets renewed, let's throw a bunch more 3 x 5 cards up on the wall, see what sticks.
posted by Bron at 6:17 PM on March 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


I guess Fringe was the same thing but with a little more planning but actually sticking the landing.

During the pre-premiere hype for Fringe, the creators said that the show would have a core mystery, but that (a) they kept The Great Mystery limited so it could be answered in a single episode if need be and (b) they knew what it was. I didn't watch the show, but I gather from the lack of grumpiness across the internet about Fringe that the approach basically worked.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 6:19 PM on March 24, 2015


"Did Lost invent the thing where each episode showcased a different member of the cast through flashbacks?"

I don't know, but it's a great device and I really enjoyed it on Lost and enjoy it on OstNB.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:20 PM on March 24, 2015


The thing about Lost for me is, it honestly never bothered me that they were so clearly making it up as they went along. No, what bothered me was that they got greedy, and they couldn't figure out when to actually start wrapping it up.

This, 100%. So many shows are riding the tiger and have no idea how to get off it - they're just hoping they tame the thing (or get cancelled) before it turns on them.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:32 PM on March 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


The creators of Lost said three things that annoyed the shit out of me, and still do.

The first is the one the FPP talks about: they claimed it was planned despite all evidence to the contrary. That one's not so bad.

The second is that they claimed that they had answers to all of the mysteries they created. They should have, but man, they really didn't. That was also a blatant lie. The guy who created "the numbers" admitted that they had no idea what they meant, that the "voices in the woods" were originally The Others, and the polar bear was originally going to be the fruit of Walt's mysterious powers. That one's annoying as shit, but hey. I don't really mind that they didn't plan ahead, but it's still irritating that they'd lie about it. I get why they did, but that doesn't make it any less irritating.

The third is the one that hacks me off. When it was over, the producers all went on about "What? The mysteries? But it was all about the characters and their journeys! That's what people cared about?" Now that's a steaming load. The characters only had single traits, based on a single need or desire. That worked okay in the short run, but it wasn't enough to sustain a long show. Everyone -- and I mean everyone -- knew that the real driver of the show was the stack of mysteries. At the last second to pretend that the mysteries were a sideshow and the core of the story was the "journey of the characters" was not only to lie, but to pretend that the grumpiness over the show's conclusion was because we, the silly-ass viewers, were watching it wrong. Holy shit, motherfuckers, how fucking stupid do you think we are? That is a straight-up dick move.

And for that dick move, ladies and gentlemen, the producers of Lost earn The Finger.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 6:37 PM on March 24, 2015 [26 favorites]


Excellent comment Harvey.

The writers of LOST failed to understand the basic contract of storytelling: laying out amazing, interesting, intriguing storylines is only impressive if you can roll them up again, THAT is the part that makes them amazing, interesting and intriguing. Any idiot can make up a bunch of crazy shit if they have no method or plan to tie them up again.

It's stunning really.
posted by Cosine at 6:50 PM on March 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


This is actually a subtle, illuminating, complex piece, and the kicker being pulled out as a TL;DR with no recognition of the irony with which it's deployed is, as you know if you read it, somewhere between wildly unfair and darkly comedic.

It's a really good piece. It's worth your time. He's not saying they did everything right. Or wrong. He's saying this idea that either they were spitballing entirely or they knew how every single clue would pay off is a false choice.

He only worked on the show for two seasons. He's got plenty of beefs. He wound up quitting, after all. He's just saying it's not as simple as it's been made out to be. There are egos, there's a network, there's an uncertain length of time to work with. There are also really smart people who badly want to do something great and interesting and satisfying. The idea that they were gleefully yanking everybody's chain, laughing at you for caring and dreaming of the day they'd pull the rug out from under you and run away, is not this story.

Yeah, it's long, but it's talking about creativity and commerce and dynamics when people work together. It's stuff people here care about.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 7:04 PM on March 24, 2015 [24 favorites]


Any episode with a Hurley focus was great, regardless of season.
posted by Brocktoon at 7:17 PM on March 24, 2015 [5 favorites]




or is the whole thing retroactively tainted by having no real answers/answers that are dumb?

It might just be how my brain works, but every show i've liked that slow motion trainwrecked like this and just flatulated louder and louder as it went on is unwatchable in retrospect for me.

I can never just stop watching because i want an ending and know there's more out there. That isn't really a solvable problem.

It's one thing when a show just up and ends, and was good but you just never get more. I show some of that stuff excitedly to friends who haven't seen it and am happy to sit through it again. It's another thing when you have to preface showing it to anyone with "yea, but after this one part just turn it off it's terrible".

Kind of reminds me of why i wasn't particularly happy with the machete order of the star wars movies. Episode I still exists, and while you don't miss too much story skipping it you can't erase how fucking disappointing it was from your brain ever, especially if you excitedly lined up for a ton of hours outside the theater the day it came out.

Shows that fuck up lost/BSG levels of hard are like a crappy text message breakup to what had seemed like a healthy relationship with some minor issues you were discussing and figured would be worked out. You can't ever revisit the good parts or go hang out with that person again even years later and just forget that happened. Yea, sometimes you come to terms or even become friends again... but that elephant never totally dies or leaves if it was a big enough slap in the face.
posted by emptythought at 7:37 PM on March 24, 2015 [6 favorites]


What? The mysteries? But it was all about the characters and their journeys! That's what people cared about?
I went home and had an epiphany in the shower and said, "It's the characters, stupid!" And it really always has been, and I went back the next day and said, "Let's forget about the plot for a moment and just trust that it will work itself out, because it always does. What do we want the characters to deal with; let's talk about the individual stories and resolutions."
-Ron Moore on the BSG ending
posted by Sparx at 7:40 PM on March 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yeah, fuck that noise. Story doesn't exist on some seperate plane from character, the two work together or you've got nothing.
posted by Artw at 7:45 PM on March 24, 2015 [10 favorites]


Fandom has created some very very strange people who feel entitled to perfect narrative that pleases exactly everything they want, and if that comic or TV show or movie or album or whatever doesn't adhere to what they perceive to be some kind of perfect whatever, they get vitriolic, bitter, and caustic, and generally come off as spoiled brats. This thread is doing a very good job of becoming a prime example of exactly that phenomenon.
posted by incessant at 8:09 PM on March 24, 2015 [4 favorites]


I like Javier Grillo-Marxuach so I read quite a bit of this piece, even though I never made it past the 8th episode of the first season of Lost.

I will thank Lost for illuminating two things for me - I hate shows that are about mystery boxes and I cannot stand a narrative structure that depends on weekly flashbacks. I already kinda knew about the first, since I was always more of a MOTW person than a conspiracy episode person, but the second realization was new to me.

I'm kinda crabby that genre TV since Lost has mostly replaced genuine season-long story arcs with cascading (unsatisfying) mystery boxes, but alas, that trend is not likely to reverse.
posted by Squeak Attack at 8:11 PM on March 24, 2015


It makes me at once happy and fearful for humanity that anyone, even at the most pleasing moments of "Lost," didn't know that the writers or network would, ultimately, fail to wind it up.

The way they added to the story was at once so accomplished but also so obviously creating an np hard story knot. But, seriously -- what show has been able for four or five straight seasons to keep giving such great new memorable characters and situations? Worth a little disappointment.
posted by MattD at 8:19 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


Any episode with a Hurley focus was great, regardless of season.

Confession. When I was writing freelance 'media stuff' for NBCInteractive, about a month before the series finale, they put out a call for "Lost" features. I pitched a piece about how Hurley/Hugo was the show's best character, its "heart and soul" and I was told "write it". The problem: I hadn't seen a single episode and had gotten everything I knew about the show second-hand. So, I set out to do a little 'selective binge-watching', emphasizing the "Hurley focused" episodes and Googling everything anybody had written about "Lost's Hurley", but determined that I was going to come to my own conclusions. While looking over my shoulder in fear that my article's subject would be killed off/written out in the last 3 weeks, I spent more time on that piece than anything of that length I had ever written - I calculated that I made about $2/hour on that assignment. And after I turned it in, my editor, who HAD watched it all, had some last minute changes for me - a couple more specific examples backing up my premise. So, back to the tapes for one last re-binge and getting this web-published and featured 5 days before the finale. Of course, some of it was undermined by the ending; thankfully I was not asked to do a re-write based on 'what we know now'. (And they kept it online, even after moving all the 'media stuff' from MSNBC.com to Today.com) But I swore never again to volunteer to write about a TV show I do not watch regularly... which is why I'm not doing any TV writing anymore.

But as far as making a judgment about the show... I still don't know, but I still like Hurley.
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:03 PM on March 24, 2015 [5 favorites]


...I gather from the lack of grumpiness across the internet about Fringe that the approach basically worked.

Eh...Fringe was much tighter than LOST, but that's a fairly low bar. I watched the entirety of Fringe, and there were plenty of episodes that copied the X-Files' "monster-of-the-week" formula, episodes that had no connection whatsoever to the overall story arc. Especially in the first few seasons. But when you go back, even at the beginning of the first season, you can see the groundwork being laid for the (SPOILER ALERT) parallel universes, the Fedora-wearing future baddies, etc. But honestly, Fringe had a lot of chaff as well, and at least a dozen or so episodes could've been cut and it would've made no difference by the last two seasons.
posted by zardoz at 9:24 PM on March 24, 2015


If the show found a way to make the Dharma Initiative live up to the first glimpses of it, it would have been incredible. That 1970's post-hippie unethical science with a dash of the occult aesthetic was so perfect, and fell so flat the more the Initiative was revealed. That ARG they did between seasons 2 and 3 was maybe the peak of my excitement for the whole Dharma Initiative backstory and then it just kind of tapered off from there when it became clear that the writers weren't as into the thing they built as I was. Then, the first glimpse of Jacob's cabin in season 3 brought my interest back in a big way, only for all things Jacob to fall flat even harder than Dharma did.

It was frustrating to see them build the show to these points where it had such amazing potential to go in some very cool directions, and then completely take a wrong turn. I stuck it out though, and there was still enough there in the characters and still enough bits and pieces of what I really liked to keep me watching until the end (Daniel Faraday seems like a character that would have worked out amazingly in the show I thought they were going to do, and I liked a lot of the stuff with him), but man, the show that might have been. The Southern Reach books really nailed something similar, and somewhere near the halfway point between those books and Lost is the thing that I hoped Lost was going to be when I was watching it.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:38 PM on March 24, 2015 [6 favorites]


Fandom has created some very very strange people who feel entitled to perfect narrative that pleases exactly everything they want, and if that comic or TV show or movie or album or whatever doesn't adhere to what they perceive to be some kind of perfect whatever, they get vitriolic, bitter, and caustic, and generally come off as spoiled brats. This thread is doing a very good job of becoming a prime example of exactly that phenomenon.

I know right. How dare people have and voice a negative opinion towards something that ended in an unsatisfactory manner after they invested many evenings watching it. /sarcasm

There was so much potential in Lost. It really rubbed me the wrong way to see it end the way it did. Still, I think it had a positive impact on television in general, so it's not all bad.
posted by dazed_one at 9:42 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


jason_steakums - sounds like this guy provided a lot of that flavour.
posted by Artw at 9:49 PM on March 24, 2015


LOST was obviously X-Files with more continuity and characters from the get go, with no intent of explaining anything. I didn't bother after the pilot. I guess exposure to enough comic books soured me on endless serial entertainment with a new weird mystery/villain every issue and no character development.

Under The Skin is the polar (bear?) opposite of LOST, it has a plot where no answers are given yet the journey is fascinating, and you end up caring about a character who is a complete cipher.
posted by benzenedream at 11:15 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]


So I know lots of people were waiting for the Scientific Explanation for How That Cloud Worked.

I was waiting for the more literary explanation for why it used the sound effects from Forbidden Planet. Monsters from the id? A more generic Tempest reference? Or was it just intended as a sort of Wilhelm scream for the 2000s?

I don't really care how the monster or the time travel worked.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 12:13 AM on March 25, 2015


The point I checked out of Lost was when, late in the third season, two female characters wake up handcuffed to each other, run through the forest, fall into a mud pit and wrestle. Then it turns out one of the characters had the key to the cuffs all along. As a viewer, I've rarely felt my intelligence so thoroughly insulted.
posted by Kattullus at 3:20 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I thought the article was good. It explains why "were they just making it up?" is a silly question about a 24-eps/year network show written by dozens of people and relying on thousands more to get made. It's a good question to ask of a novel, or maybe even a film. But on network TV, there is no way we could have gotten any of the good parts without them making things up to deal with the constraints they were working with. Making things up is the name of the game. Making things up is why Locke started out as a fascinating character, as well as why his story fizzled to an end. If it's on TV, it must by definition be made up as it goes along, whether we like the end result or not.

I loved the first few seasons of Lost, and watched to the bitter end because I'm a completist. I regret nothing, but I also know I never want to get that emotionally involved with a serialised story ever again. Lost made me wary of Breaking Bad, but the short seasons won me over because at least a season can be planned out ahead of time that way. Luckily for George RR Martin and HBO I started A Song Of Ice And Fire *before* Lost taught me that lesson. But no more after that, ok?
posted by harriet vane at 6:57 AM on March 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


"As questions of mythology and backstory came up during the development of Lost, Damon and the staff -- first in the think tank and later in the writers' room for the series -- would come up with explanations. The ones Damon liked just enough to not dismiss outright would be discussed at greater length and eventually, something would become a kind of operating theory. Damon would eventually declare “it’s going to be that unless someone can beat it.” When we finally refined these ideas to the point where Damon was OK putting them on screen -- committing to them as canon -- then we would incorporate them into the show."
I'm totally going to defend this piece, because I read this bit and thought, "Yeah, that makes sense."

TV writing is hard. You never know if one of your actors is going to decide he hates Hawaii or do some drunk driving, and most of the time you don't have control over how long your show lasts. This is a rare show where the showrunners were disgusted with themselves for writing an episode about Jack's fugly tattoos (seriously, Matthew Fox?) and went to the network and said, "We need to start winding it down, PLEASE, we can't spin wheels forever." Much as I don't agree with the "it's not purgatory!" "oh, wait, I guess it is" and "it's all about the characters!" stuff at the end either, they were probably doing the best they could under the circumstances, especially on the last season where poor Damon was probably losing his shit. I admire the hell out of J. Michael Straczynski for plotting out Babylon 5 in the way that he did, in a way that probably nobody else ever has done or could do again, but even he had to deal with network pressures and winding up his story 3.5 seasons in and then having a surprise fifth season, people bitching that season five sucked, no Ivanova, etc.

Which is to say, I am reassured that for all the weird shit the Lost writers threw in, they were actually at least thinking of explanations for polar bears and the like as they went along instead of making up random crap (like say, the Opera House on Battlestar, because I strongly suspect they didn't think that out so much before throwing it in) and then leaving it to Future Ted and Future Marshall to figure out years later. This calms me some bit.

Javi, I totally appreciate that you wrote this piece (assuming he ever sees this). Your TV essays are just amazing.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:26 AM on March 25, 2015 [5 favorites]


It explains why "were they just making it up?" is a silly question about a 24-eps/year network show written by dozens of people and relying on thousands more to get made.

As jenfullmoon mentioned, JMS proved that notion utterly wrong with Babylon 5. The entire story--not the individual words--was written before a single camera was turned on. Yeah, he got screwed by having to compress S4 and S5 into one season and then expand them out again after the network (I can't remember which one it was by that point) went "owait moar plox," and so it's not really worth watching the fifth.

Lost could have done that if they had bothered taking the time instead of going "hey great outline" (FFS) go film it six weeks from now.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:59 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, looking back on the show, while I have lots of minor gripes and eye-rolls about how things went, the show itself is a hell of an achievement and I remember it warmly. The ending was going to be a trainwreck and we all knew it, so hey, may as well go with it.

(My favorite part of the final season was a throwaway moment where "Jacob" dunked "Richard" in the ocean to get his attention or some such. This is because the actor who played Jacob also played the mook in the beginning of The Big Lebowski, the guy who dunked The Dude's head in the toilet at the movie's start while yelling "WHERE'S THE MONEY, LEBOWSKI?" Having that actor dunk another guy's head into water is a tasty little joke. If only "Richard" had put on shades and complained about a rug...)

The truth is, If I'd never read the producers' comments about the show, I wouldn't grouse today.

Stupid internet, making me aware of things I shouldn't know.

Ooh, a video of a dog trying to catch a taco...
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 8:03 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


This thread is doing a very good job of becoming a prime example of exactly that phenomenon.

If you want a better example, head over to Fanfare to check out the Last Man on Earth threads.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:51 AM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


...two female characters wake up handcuffed to each other, run through the forest, fall into a mud pit and wrestle.

...as one does.
posted by The Tensor at 10:16 AM on March 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


On a related note: Damon Lindelof interviews.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:43 AM on March 25, 2015


Under The Skin is the polar (bear?) opposite of LOST, it has a plot where no answers are given yet the journey is fascinating, and you end up caring about a character who is a complete cipher.

From reading about the book It sounds a lot less abstract and more explicable, and they kept pretty close to it's outline, so even if they weren't always explaining what was going on they knew what was going on, which makes a difference.
posted by Artw at 11:21 AM on March 25, 2015


Funny to mention JMS as a way of doing it right, since his Babylon 5 followup Crusade literally revolved around a mystery box that moved the plot forward every week.
posted by WhackyparseThis at 2:15 PM on March 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


sssh we don't talk about that wretched pile of stupid
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:21 PM on March 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


Babylon 5 also has an extra season of random junk because he didn't know he was going to get to do one and wrapped too much up.

Still, he had a plan.
posted by Artw at 3:28 PM on March 25, 2015


I had no way to watch Lost in the beginning and when I could stream it I was pretty much aware of the toss/splat/stick approach which kept me from starting it even though I could plausibly have been a perfect audience member, loyal to the last.

I do fully understand the collaborative and uncertain nature of television production, as much as a lifelong viewer of the beast can, and I still think it's valid to be frustrated, annoyed, or even angry that this style of storytelling fails to end satisfactorily. I think that's more an indictment of the mystery box approach than it is the creators themselves, though. Right now I'm going through this with S2 of Orphan Black, which was very fun from the gate but now apparently feels like it has to maintain a breakneck pace of confusion, revelation, and rug-pulling to keep you drawn in, and that's just exhausting for what is ultimately just above-average genre storytelling.

When you look at how Breaking Bad made everything work, from the acting to the production values to the devastating character arcs and narrative mind-fucks, you see that it is possible to do this right -- even to surpass an achievement like The Sopranos. (I don't want to get into a real argument about The Bestest TeeVee Show Evar, but these are candidates.) You can debate about whether the right choices were made for BB's characters, but at least they made choices, often irrevocable ones. It pooled out, like mercury, into an unreality, but also like mercury it held together and remained (internally) consistent. To me, though, a show like Lost is just shaking the snow globe week after week and letting the flakes fall as they may. Is it entertaining? Yes, I imagine it can, it was, and it will be again for the next time. Is it ultimately more than a carnival game or a tchotchke? I'm not really sure there.
posted by dhartung at 4:19 PM on March 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


Fandom has created some very very strange people who feel entitled to perfect narrative that pleases exactly everything they want, and if that comic or TV show or movie or album or whatever doesn't adhere to what they perceive to be some kind of perfect whatever, they get vitriolic, bitter, and caustic, and generally come off as spoiled brats. This thread is doing a very good job of becoming a prime example of exactly that phenomenon.

You know, i generally rally against this sort of thing. I think it's what actually made the "perfect" ending of breaking bad disappointing. You don't need to tie up every little thing! Some stuff can be left to mystery!

But, some things, like the BSG "and they have a plan" and half the plot elements introduced in lost are giant structural problems. It's one thing to introduce and drop stuff in a very episodic show, but in shows with a large arc when you introduce huge plot elements central to the entire thing and then just do nothing and flounder it's really disappointing and pathetic.

It's not as much about entitlement as it is at being disappointed that you wasted your time. I think the "perfect everything ending!" is an entitlement thing, but the "at least do SOMETHING with the overarching plot that played out over the space of years" ask isn't some whiny brat thing.

There's a difference between wanting something completely perfect that ties up every possible loose end, which i myself have found completely unsatisfying several times, and just wanting some damn kind of closure that doesn't feel completely hollow, rushed, and uninspired.

It's easy to paint that as entitled and bratty though if you really want to lean on it though, so go ahead if you really want to.
posted by emptythought at 4:58 PM on March 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


If you want a better example, head over to Fanfare to check out the Last Man on Earth threads.

To be totally fair, that show has rocketed past even under the dome levels of gross gender stuff and just wideband cringe and awfulness so fast after starting potentially strong. I think it deserves the poopsling it's getting over there.

Seriously, how did they manage to fly straight at the ground, engines full power, so quickly?
posted by emptythought at 5:29 PM on March 25, 2015


Whew, that was a pretty self-indulgent post by a guy who thinks a lot of himself. Still, there were some interesting points. The bit about not being able to kill Jack because he's the white guy protagonist...that's terribly disappointing. I love when a story is able to take risks like that, because it heightens the suspense for future threats. Obviously, a big part of what got people hooked on GoT/ASoIaF from the first season/novel was [censored].

Still, he's right that none of the other characters was designed to be the main character. That leads into an interesting point about the demands of the network: a lot of things they wanted were ultimately good for the show. It sounds like the writers and showrunners wanted to go heavy sci-fi from the jump, and it was mainly the network that forced them to keep it more "realistic."

Can anyone argue that this was a bad thing? Furthermore, the network forced the writers to dole out the mystery slowly, which certainly prolonged the show's lifespan. I get the impression, from this article, that the best creative elements of the show manifested in a chaotic flurry of the earliest days, so keeping those parts going as long as possible was greatly beneficial.

Of course, that would be the natural perspective of a somewhat pompous writer who left the show after the second season. Speaking of which, I'd be curious to know why that was (was it buried in there somewhere?). And I can't deny that the show got weaker over time, although...

Enjoyed watching the show. Would never recommend it to anyone. The last season, not just the finale, was crap.

...this is especially true. I would contend that the show was at least good until the entire final season. The discontinuity is striking.
posted by Edgewise at 6:07 PM on March 25, 2015


He mentioned why he left in the essay. Every single other writer BUT him was replaced in the second season, and he eventually just wasn't quite fitting in stylistically with the new class, standing out like a sore thumb, and it was kind of mutually "for the best" that he quit if things were going that way.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:34 PM on March 25, 2015


It's not as much about entitlement as it is at being disappointed that you wasted your time. I think the "perfect everything ending!" is an entitlement thing, but the "at least do SOMETHING with the overarching plot that played out over the space of years" ask isn't some whiny brat thing.

Yeah, there's a difference between fanboy consumer entitlement and simply being dissatisfied and disappointed by how a creative work was executed.
posted by brundlefly at 9:13 PM on March 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


Lost paved the way for the narrative coherence of Axe Cop.
posted by whuppy at 2:43 AM on March 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


The unique storytelling and time warping of this show would have influenced TV writing forever if the final season hadn't erased every last ounce of goodwill the show ever had, and TV is worse for it.

STOP TALKING ABOUT BATTLESTAR
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:48 PM on March 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


But, seriously -- what show has been able for four or five straight seasons to keep giving such great new memorable characters and situations?

Buffy.
posted by eamondaly at 9:37 AM on March 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


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