Here we are, almost to the end, and as predicted fans are already beginning to jump ship – or threatening to at least, I know you’ll all be there on the 23rd – based on their satisfaction level with specific answers and episodes. Yes, I’m talking about the hot topic of the moment: Across The Sea – or as some call it “The Worst Episode of LOST Ever.”
First let me say, I’ve been holding off on saying whether I liked “Across the Seao” or not – or even why. Yes, I’ve shared my feelings with a few folks privately, and my grade on ODI’s Lostometer will probably shock or delight you depending on which side of the isle you are on, but this episode, more than any before, demands a pause. It demands a reflection. The more I speak to people about it and examine my own feelings on it, the more I think a better question here is “What was your expectation of the episode?”, because it seems that in most of the griping going around the conflict is between that quantity and what Damon and Carlton set out to accomplish.
“I Saw The Light, and it was Ridiculous” OR “Expect Too Much, Get Too Little… Guaranteed”
If you expected the island to be explained, and therefore put the magic cave of light in the category of ‘explanation,’ I can see why you are disappointed. Did Damon and Carlton put the cave of light in the category of ‘explanation’ themselves? Maybe a little, but I doubt it. They have promised not to go midichlorian on us, which means they aren’t going to diffuse the magic. I love the Star Wars analogies because, well, I love Star Wars, but if the midichlorian thing doesn’t work for you, try this: how was God created? Put your theology and new age permutations of the almighty on hold for a second – and I don’t even want to hear from the atheists – and consider what a ridiculous question that is. You are talking about a question that if answered, or even taken seriously, would vaporize the foundation of religious faith.
I understand that based on personal belief the analogy might not work for you, so let me reign it in a little. LOST is similar in this regard: we all had faith that there was something magical about the island, it wasn’t until we took a peek down that cave and listened to Mother wax on Très vague about how important it was that anybody started to consider the magic of the island to be ‘ridiculous.’
The fact is, “Across The Sea” did not explain the magic of the island – it demonstrated how people on the island explained the island. It showed how people coveted the magic of the island, and what bad could come from said coveting. We shouldn’t like Mother’s explanation any more than we do ManInBlack’s meddling with the unknown, or Jacob’s interpretation of the island’s power as the ultimate evil. None of them understand it, and it wasn’t the intent of the episode that we would either. So if the presentation of the island’s magic fell short of your expectations, GOOD! It’s a mystery that is not meant to be explained. The magical essence of the island is to LOST as God is to The Bible. To understand would be to diffuse. Or to return to the Star Wars analogies, it would have been to pull a Phantom Menace. (This didn’t stop me from being just a little smug for having long postulated that the island’s magic was ‘pure potentiality’ or ‘left over creation energy.’ Which still doesn’t make me want to believe Mother.)
“Wasting Precious Story Time”
The story is what Damon and Carlton say it is. The Season Five finale told us that our characters have been unwittingly participating in Jacob and ManInBlack’s games since… forever. Taking an hour to tell why that game is going on to begin with is not a waste of time, it’s required. In the face of the various minor mysteries that will never be answered, knowing ‘why’ these two characters did what they did is not optional.
The struggle between Jacob and ManInBlack is, regardless of how satisfied you are with the telling, consistent with the themes of the show and very appropriate at this juncture in the story. It resonates one of the more important social messages of LOST, the responsibility of parents; and explores the tenuous nature of good and evil.
Even if it was bad, it’s still okay…
LOST has had bad episodes before. “Stranger in a Strange Land” anyone? Perfection may be the aim of any craftsman, but it is not the nature of any craft. Story is examination. Story, in other words, is science. It is a chemistry experiment where the results sometimes resemble the magic of life. It is also the product of craft and craftsmen. Use the wrong tool, or lose focus, and you risk creating a disappointing piece – it doesn’t mean you can’t move on to create another masterpiece.
“Across the Sea” fails as an episode because it does not meet the expectations of the viewers. Those who loved it, obviously, will disagree. What is important to realize for those who are channeling their disappointment into dread about the three and a half hours that lay ahead is that it was your expectation that was let down, and because you were disappointed does not mean that LOST is doomed or that the story, which is much larger than this one hour by the way, has somehow lost a pint of vital dramatic blood and is about to wither just short of the finish-slash-greatness line.
Can LOST Still Have a Great Ending?
People have been asking me why I’ve pulled back so much on this season of LOST. I can answer that now. Because, it is over. In the words of Rose Nadler, I can let go now. I find the fever pitch of speculation and hyper vigilance to be… well… annoying at this phase of the game. I love the creative exercise of speculation, but from episode one of this season we’ve been receiving measured doses of LOST’s final beats. It’s okay not to speculate anymore, all will soon be known. I’m not being critical of those who still speculate, but at this stage in the game the exercise should be one of contextualizing what we learn instead of imagining what it may ‘really’ mean. In most instances, the answers we get ARE the answers. When there was no end in site, we could speculate without impunity. Now we can go through the wonderful process of ‘getting’ the shows essential themes, and figuring out where they fit in over the last five years of characterization.
From the beginning, the mass of LOST’s mysteries have been driven by the creative force of this fandom. We have made LOST much more of an intellectual exercise than it really is. The diverse intelligence that ponders LOST from day to day has erected an exoskeleton of mythology, fueled by the show but none-the-less composed of foreign creativity. LOST has always been the story of these people and their quest to find peace and purpose with themselves – and to struggle against their darker natures. The magic and mystery was always part of the entertainment of LOST, but it is the character’s that make up the story.
I too bristle at the notion that the mysteries are of less importance, because I have – like many of you – spent a lot of time trying to figure out how the mysteries of LOST sub textually intertwine with the dramatic lives of these characters. They don’t. And that makes perfect sense because if our characters make decisions based on indefinable magic caves, then they cease being human beings I can relate with.
If there is a moment of crystallization where suddenly everything makes sense in a single stroke of story logic, I’ll be one of the happiest people on the planet – but really, at this point for LOST to go down in history as a great story it only needs to finish what it started with these characters and the themes of humanity and self-examination that have been there from the beginning. There is plenty of time to do that. Oh, and a final scene that acts as one last puzzle for the fans would be fantastic as well. Please?