Mention to people that you enjoy watching Lost and you get one of two reactions. The first is a totally dismissive “Oh, yeah, I watched a bit of the first season but then sort of went off it…” and the second is an explosive “HOLYSHITIFUCKINGLOVETHATSHOW!”
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the mark of a cult show. In fact that is the mark of anything that is cult, an audience that is fiercely polarised between people that love whatever it may be to the point of manic obsession and a much larger contingency that are either completely indifferent towards it or think it’s the biggest load of shit they’ve ever seen.
I’ve long since accepted the fact that most of the music, movies and art I enjoy is basically inaccessible to ‘normal’ people. If I had a buck for every conversation I’ve had about a band or a movie I fucking love that has been met with a polite, but completely vacant stare, I’d be kicking back in Honolulu sipping Pina Coladas and being fanned with palm leaves while I lay on my ass and did sweet fuck all for the rest of my life.
So forgive me if I get in a little over my head here as I jump into the reasons why I think Lost is one of the greatest TV shows that has ever been broadcast. The beauty of the internet is you don’t have to smile and nod politely, you can just click close and I’ll be none the wiser, choice is yours ;)
First, a few facts and figures that prove how few people actually gave a damn about this series by the time it ended.
According to Lostpedia, the final episode was viewed by 13.5 million people, which is a pretty dismal figure when you consider that the M*A*S*H finale was viewed by 105.9 million people, the Cheers finale by 80.4 million and the Friends finale by 52.5 million. Hell, even the season finale to the last American Idol, which was the least popular since the first season still had Lost beat at 24 million viewers.
On average, the first season of Lost had around 19 million viewers per episode, which proves beyond all reasoning that for the most part, people gave up on Lost.
They did this because what people want from TV shows and movies is closure. They want to be able to experience something that entices and enthrals them at first, then draws them in on a deeper, emotional level, during which time they’ll tolerate a certain level of manipulation as they are lead down the garden path toward the inevitable outcome, and then they want satisfaction in the form of clear cut answers at the conclusion so that they can get on with their lives.
Lost broke that formula by very seldom ever giving people answers and when it did, the answers only lead to more questions. It worked in the beginning, but somewhere during Season 2 / Season 3 people simply got tired of being lost and slunk off to watch Grey’s Anatomy instead.
Even after the series finale, there are hundreds of questions left unanswered, as the following video infuriatingly demonstrates: http://www.collegehumor.com/video:1936291
Still confused as to why the season finale tanked? The way this video puts it, it’s a miracle people even hung in there to watch it at all.
But they did, all 13.5 million of them, and while a great deal of that 13.5 million hated the season finale and felt it was a total cop out, I didn’t and I’ll tell you why.
For one thing, the last thing I ever expected at the end of Lost was to be given one final, conclusive answer, or even a series of conclusive answers that tied everything together, in fact I really hoped they wouldn’t do that because to do so would be to kill the driving force behind the entire show.
JJ Abrams, the co-creator of Lost gave a somewhat schizophrenic talk at TED (http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/j_j_abrams_mystery_box.html) where he discusses the idea of mystery being more important than knowledge. He uses the analogy of a “mystery box” that his grandfather bought for him when he was a kid that he, to this day, has never opened.
The reason why, he explains, is that to him, the box has come to represent the infinite possibility that is inherent in mystery. It’s something my favourite writer, John Fowles, was also acutely aware of when he wrote about the energy in mystery and how, for as long as you wonder about something, as long as your imagination is actively engaged in trying to figure something out, that thing is ALIVE inside you.
Answers, Fowles famously said, are a form of death because the minute you are given an answer, the question and the mystery that drives it both cease to live in your mind.
You couldn’t imagine, even if you tried, what the night sky would have looked like thousands of years ago, before man invented telescopes and before the notion of other planets and other suns existed.
Back then, the stars and the consolations were some of the biggest mysteries imaginable. Since the dawn of man, until science stepped in and explained it all, we stared at the stars at night and wondered, “What the fuck are those?!”
The information age has been hugely beneficial to the technological advancement of our species, but at the same time, it is killing all the mystery to life. You want to know the answer to something? Type it into Google and in 0.8 seconds there it is.
I loved Lost, because it defied explanation and forced the people watching it to use their imagination in order to fill in the many blanks and loose ends the show’s creators left entirely up to us to figure out.
And finally, possibly the single thing I loved the most about Lost (*HUGE SPOILER ALERT*) is the way all of the main characters met up in the afterlife in that church one last time before they moved on to wherever it was they were going.
I took a lot of comfort in that idea because I’ve always had this sneaking suspicion that we’ve all met before and that we’ll meet again, in this life and in the many after it, and I imagine those moments to be a lot like the one in that church at the end of Lost, where everyone – Jack, Sawyer, Kate, Lock, Sayid, Hurley, Claire, Charlie, Jin, Sun, all of them – finally understood how important their connection to one another was, and were finally able to understand that though their time on the island was difficult and though they had to endure endless unnecessary hardship and cruelty, they were also the best times of their lives because the friendships and relationships they formed were all that really mattered in the end.
We’re all lost in one way or another until we find each other and in doing so, ourselves. This is the meaning I took away from Lost and this is the reason why I think it’s one of the greatest shows I’ve ever had the pleasure and privilege of watching.