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TV 101: Why 'Lost' Decided to End on a Note of Gobbledygook

by Jay Black, posted May 26th 2010 11:06AM
Yeah, this really happened.Spoiler Alert! The 'Lost' finale engages in mumbo-jumbo. Also: hocus-pocus, rigmarole, chicanery and (perhaps worst of all) gobbledygook.

Last Sunday's 'Lost' contained the most shocking revelation in the show's history: that after we die, we meet our loved ones and then walk into a big, bright light. Yes! Shocking! Did you just have your mind blown?! Er...

Fact is, Sunday saw the moment when one of America's greatest science fiction shows decided to end its run with fifteen minutes of uncomplicated non-denominational spiritualism that wouldn't be out of place on a mid-season episode of 'The Ghost Whisperer.'

As a science fiction fan, I'm offended by this ending, the same way I was offended by the last episode of 'Battlestar Galactica.' It's not because I'm opposed to gobbledygook (I am, after all, a Catholic), it's because both shows used their finale episodes to pretend that they weren't really science fiction, but something more.

And I call BS.

If you haven't seen the finale of 'Lost' yet, here's your spoiler warning. If you have seen the show (or if you're a sane person who doesn't spend their time criticizing the Internet for having information on it) then you already know what the gobbledygook I'm referring to is ...

The sideways universe isn't another reality, it's actually purgatory. Apparently, in purgatory, you don't actually realize you're dead until you touch the hand of the most important person in your life (or, in Sayid's case, some chick he knew for like a month). Once you figure it out, though, you get to congregate with the people who meant the most to you and then walk into a giant block of light. What's on the other side? Here's the thing, man, you're going to have to figure that out for yourself. Deeeeeeeeeeeeeep.

The sound you heard at 11:29PM EST Sunday night was 15 million people screaming the "F" word at the same time.

People are pissed at the finale and they should be. The media has assumed that the anger has come from the lack of any real answers to the show's several mysteries, but they're wrong. While we all would have loved a more solid set of answers, most fans made peace a long time ago that 'Lost' was essentially Billy Bob Thornton-era Angelina Jolie: completely insane and confusing, but so beautiful and fun that it really didn't matter.

No, it wasn't the fact that 'Lost' sold us out on the answers that made fans mad, it was the fact that 'Lost' sold out its basic premise. 'Lost' was a science fiction show and we expected it to remain a science fiction show right up until the end. We fans were promised 'Slaughterhouse Five' -- a funny human drama that also happened to have science fiction elements. What we got in those final fifteen minutes was 'The Five People You Meet in Heaven' -- the worst kind of sentimental hokum.

All through its run, 'Lost' has been fertile ground for theorizing, so here's one more theory as to why the show went off the rails like that:

Science fiction doesn't get a lot of respect. Vonnegut himself once wrote that he hated being stuck in a file-drawer labeled "science fiction writer" because "so many serious critics mistake the drawer for a tall white fixture in a comfort station."

At Barnes and Noble, sci-fi is forced to join romance and mystery as "genre fiction," forever apart from their snooty big brother, "fiction." It wouldn't do, I guess, for the 'Star Wars' expanded universe books to share the same shelf with Steinbeck, regardless of how much more fun the Yuuzhan Vong are than the Okies.

It's understandable, then, for the better science fiction writers to aspire to break out of a ghetto filled with SyFy epics with titles like 'Mansquito' and 'Komodo vs. Cobra.' Real respect, the kind that might get you a night of chardonnay-fueled heavy-petting with a Wesleyan lit major, only comes when you prove yourself more than a mere sci-fi writer.

My theory is that this is what 'Lost' was trying to do in those fifteen minutes. I don't believe, like a lot of people do, that they had written themselves into a corner and were trying to pull some emotional slight-of-hand. Hell, the prevailing theory on the Internet (that the sideways universe would join with the island universe during the finale) would have worked just fine and that's coming from idiot bloggers like me. The 'Lost' writers could have come up with something far better if they had wanted to.

They didn't, though. They went with spiritual mumbo-jumbo not because they were incapable of coming up with a better sci-fi ending, but because they were afraid of 'Lost' being labeled as "just" a science fiction show.

'Battlestar' had the same problem last year. Hard science fiction for five full seasons, and then, at the end, God shows up. Even though Ron Moore's epic transcended the genre (not to mention the awful, awful channel it aired on), he still got cold feet over letting the show leave the world in the same manner it came into it.

The implicit question that both these finales are asking is this: How can something be important and be science fiction?

This is what has me angry, because, dammit, science fiction can be important and transcendent! Look at '2001' or 'Wall-E' or 'Star Trek' (TNG and TOS). Just because aliens are involved doesn't mean you can't comment on what it means to be human!

It makes me angry because when you diminish science fiction, you diminish the fans who followed it for all those years.

And, trust me on this, sci-fi fans don't need any more diminishing in their lives.

(Jay Black is a writer and comedian who really hopes you like this column. For more information about Jay or to check out one of his live shows, visit his website at www.jayblackcomedy.net.)

[follow @jayblackcomedy on Twitter]

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Emily

Dang Jay. You know how to fire 'em up. Nice to see your work again.

I knew I wouldn't be happy with the ending once Jacob/MIB/glowing cave was introduced. I still love the show and am sad to see it go.

I'm going to miss Sawyer's wiseass remarks and inventive nicknames.

May 27 2010 at 1:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jason

Not going to read the other comments - just want to say "Amen!" to the author.

May 27 2010 at 12:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Elanor

Has no one read The Chronicles of Narnia? All through the last episode I kept thinking of The Last Battle, where they all come together in a bigger and better Narnia.
Narnia was all about people coming out of their ordinary lives to do something extraordinary in an extraordinary place. It was also about the characters discovering the best about themselves and others.
Sounds a lot like Lost, don't you think?
I always knew Lost was about the characters, hence why each episode centered around a specific character - the events were there to facilitate character growth.
And while there were spiritual overtones, they were decidedly ecumenical in nature.

May 27 2010 at 6:07 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Peggy C

I'm a big sci-fi fan, but I wasn't disappointed with the end of Lost. These people created their own afterlife--how much more sci-fi can you get? It wasn't heaven or purgatory, there was no mention of God or gods of any sort...it was their creation of a meeting place where they could hook up again with people that had a huge impact on the people they became. It worked for me.

May 27 2010 at 4:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Picviewer

Sighhh why do people assume to know what other people think? 15 million went F at the end? Really? I always like when people say everyone this and everyone that, sorry no the everyone phrase doesn't work.
I came to conclusions after reading various sites since it aired and offer the following breakdown. Group 1:morons who tuned in just to see it, you know the people who normally watch reality shows who think they should have a camera in their face also. G2: people who only watched the pilot, what the hell just can't comprehend a thinking show? G3: people who had to decipher every detail of ever bit of the show, that rock had markings on it in the previous frame now it doesn't. G4 people who understood it was character driven, yeah what whole collection of collected stories that were presented to make the whole tapestry up of the show. G5 mouthbreathers who can't hold a thought who write articles on tv sites proclaiming everyone hated it, hmmm.
I'm in group 4 and enjoyed every episode from the first to last and most of the ones who complained about it came from 1,2,3,5. It was written and ended how they wanted it to end accept it and move on, life isn't always answered in 5 questions.
Or would you rather have had it answered by
jughead going off while simultaneously disrupting the space-time fabric of a reaction of a nuclear force bubble expanding through a electromagnetic bubble thereby resetting the past 5 years also at the sametime shunted just a few people off into a parallel sidepocket universe where they lived different lives. Really?
Sorry Fringe is already doing the alternate universe thing and I'm sure people will bitch and moan when that ends also. Wait wait science and overall faith can't coexist never mind. Go back and enjoy the 3 deathcults interpretations of faith then.

May 27 2010 at 2:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jay Black

Loving this comment thread gang - really cogent points all around! (I'm even enjoying the "you're an idiot" opinions. I quote my wife on the subject of my dummy-osity: "finally, the Internet knows my pain!")

Nice work!

May 27 2010 at 12:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Jay Black's comment
BugKiller

It's not so much that you're an idiot (I don't know you, so I can only guess from this poorly written and totally illogical blog entry).

It's the fact that you either 1) never really watched BSG or Lost or 2) watched but didn't pay attention to what you were watching or 3) watched but were mentally incapable of understanding what you were watching.

Based on your blog, I'm going to say 1 or 3.

Because no one who actually watched BSG from the beginning would ever call it, "Hard sci-fi... until the end when God shows up."

So that means that you have absolutely no clue what you're bitching about.

You know what? Hate on BSG because they had the "audacity" to mix the idea that technology and science CAN mix with faith and divinity. That's cool. I understand there are militant atheists out there, the Richard Dawkins sycophants, like Bruce, who are extremely intolerant in that way. And that would be a legitimate reason to not like BSG.

But don't act like the show wasn't what it was from the very beginning. That's the extremely frustrating part for those of us who love it. All of you mental midgets who act like faith and religion weren't a part of the show from the very beginning.

WHAT FRAKKING SHOW WERE YOU WATCHING???

May 27 2010 at 7:28 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Eugene

The lead character's name is SHEPARD and you're shocked about the religious and spiritual message of the show? Someone wasn't paying attention.

May 26 2010 at 11:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
CJ

Ron Moore pulled the same crap on DS9. It does all seems like a cop-out... I hate the "we like to leave it to the viewers imagination" line. No... we are watching a story, we want to know what the writer thinks the ending should be and has thought it should be, don't wimp out at the end.

May 26 2010 at 10:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Bill

Jay Black, it appears, completely missed the point of the entire series. Lost was completely about Faith and redemption. The events on the island were real events to the characters. They were not already dead. As Jack's father said, some died before you and some died after. He also said that what happened on the island were the most important things these people ever did in their lives. Doesn't sound like it wasn't real to me. The Sideways flashes this season was "purgatory" or some sort of afterlife. I wondered when I was reading this if Jay Black watched maybe 10 or 12 episodes out the entire 6 seasons. Talk about Lost? Jay Black certainly is.

May 26 2010 at 10:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
chrissthomas

A bit of sci-fi snobery. HA! I didn't know that sci-fi had snobs. I watch sci-fi because it is usually great, imaginative, character driven and transports you to another world. I think your problem is that you had too many expectations on the show. Give up your desired control over your entertainment and it just might entertain you more. You want serious "sci-fi" then read it, don't expect financially driven entertainment (ie: Television) to cater to your snobbery.

May 26 2010 at 10:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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