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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

‘Lost’: the ultimate long con

Charlie Jane Anders at io9 mostly sums up my reaction to the Lost finale (also under discussion here) in a post entitled Lost was the ultimate long con”:

In the end, it’s hard not to see Lost as the longest con of them all. Not because we didn’t get enough answers – it’s really true that after this episode, I don’t need any more answers than what we got. But because all along, Lost seemed to be a story. Until the end, when it wasn’t. In the end, it was just a bunch of stuff that happened.

It’s way too early to tell, but I have a feeling that this will go down in history with the “Patrick Duffy stepping out of the shower” thing on Dallas. It just felt like a cheap, cop-out ending. In a sense, nothing that happened in the “flash-sideways” universe mattered because they were all already dead, and they were going to “move on” eventually one way or another. And nothing on the island mattered, because… well, it just didn’t seem to matter very much.

Emphasis mine, and what she said.



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  • ceti

    Charlie’s been getting a lot of flack on io9 for that bit of preemptive trolling. But given that your own readers pleaded with you to stop with your own Lost posts, it is not a surprise you agreed with her!

    I for one enjoyed the Lost finale and am sure a lot of others did as well. It was emotional, it was spiritual, and it brought closure for the characters, even while it left the door open for the future. The Island lives!

  • mortadella

    I politely disagree. Everything they did on the island mattered; it was the most important time in all of their lives. The pay-offs were more metaphysical in nature, and I suppose that irks some folks, but I certainly wouldn’t call it a con job. Each of the main characters were given the respect they deserved. The finale had abstract moments but it was not hollow — unless one really didn’t care about the individual character arcs at all and was only waiting for the island to be revealed as a giant spaceship or whatever. I guess the island functioned more like the axis mundi, like in the story of Odin and the

  • mortadella

    …the World Ash Tree. Sorry about that. I accidentally posted before I finished.

  • You’re such a great writer, MaryAnn… why is it you’ve been completely unable to express your thoughts about Lost? I would love to read a real post about the show that you actually sat down and thought about before typing. Like the way you do for literally everything else you write about. It’s the nonsensical stream-of-consciousness tripe that rankles us so.

    There are (by now) hundreds of people writing about how much they are disappointed by Lost’s finale; I’m really enjoying reading these dissenting opinions. Of course, I am liking the ones I agree with much more, but that’s how it goes. There’s a reason so many of us flock to your site every day: We respect and are interested in your opinion! Which is why it’s been so frustrating that you can’t just sit down and write a coherent essay about your dislike for Lost. And yet you are steadfastly unwilling to just ignore it. Instead you take these little inconsequential jabs.

    Come on, put some effort into it! “What he said”? Shameful! :P

  • MaryAnn

    Which is why it’s been so frustrating that you can’t just sit down and write a coherent essay about your dislike for Lost.

    I don’t have anything to add. I’ve said all I have to say. The show stopped being about people, and it stopped being about story, and so I stopped caring. Not amount of analysis about the puzzle that it then became can get past that.

  • RogerBW

    The essence of a long con is that the mark doesn’t believe he was conned, even after everything has fallen apart. He may even fall for another con run by the same people.

    Since, unaccountably, J. J. Abrams is still getting work even though he’s proved repeatedly that he has only one trick in him (start with no plan but throw in cool stuff; when in doubt, introduce more complication and claim it’s the “real story”), I guess it worked.

  • JoshDM

    I’ve been thinking about LOST, and I’m not going to be an apologist, but I need to relate a concept that I realized.

    It was always a show about faith and science’s failure to comprehend it.

    Since the beginning, we have always seen the dead come to life and heard whispers and seen unexplained black smoke and odd coincidences (like the Virgin Mary statues filled with Charlie’s drug of choice).

    We’ve seen tons of religious iconography through the show, and ghosts and psychic phenomenon, and while the Dharma (there’s a word for you) Initiative was there, they failed to analyze the electromagnetic phenomenon; they could only contain it, not control it.

    Over time, I’ve become more satisfied about the ending of the show, but I do agree with an aspect of a long con. If you were paying too close attention and trying to suss out the faith-based concepts and rationalize them with science, then you missed the point of the show. As a self-proclaimed man of science, I feel I had been conned into watching a show about faith, a show which successfully hid from me under the trappings of science.

  • JoshDM

    Some things need to be addressed from that article; again, not apologizing, just explaining/interpreting for those with more cranial density.

    Which means that Jack really was Kate’s true love after all? But Kate wasn’t Jack’s. And Shannon was Sayid’s true love? I mean, really? Shannon? Not Nadia? I mean, okay, whatever.

    Aaron was Kate’s true love. Kate flashed when Claire was giving birth. She loved that boy as her own son.

    And Shannon made Sayid forget about Nadia. When you consider Nadia, it is her safety that Sayid truly cared for. With Shannon, during Season Two, they fell in love and she was prematurely taken from him by Ana Lucia.

  • MaryAnn

    It was always a show about faith and science’s failure to comprehend it.

    If that’s true, then I cannot ever appreciate *Lost.*

    Science can never “comprehend” faith. Faith is not logical, is not rational. It is defined as the very opposite of reason and logic. And I will never understand how anyone with a brain and intelligence can willingly put aside their reason and logic to accept something that reason and logic tells them not to.

  • RogerBW

    MAJ, while I agree with your reaction I find it very interesting, because what JoshDM described is exactly the same feeling I got at the end of BSG2003: “You thought this was a science fiction show, but har har, it’s all about faith so none of it has to make sense”. And yet you didn’t particularly object to that…

  • JoshDM

    In case you fail at using the internet, there is always LOST CHAT

    And this. Stick around for the last one.

  • JoshDM

    Again, I will not apologize for this show, I’ll just try to interpret what I realized.

    I will never understand how anyone with a brain and intelligence can willingly put aside their reason and logic to accept something that reason and logic tells them not to.

    But that’s just it. That was Jack’s dilemma. He saw his father walking around right from the start. Hell, we all did. And he didn’t understand why, and neither did we.

    And then suddenly BEAR! EXPLODING TREES! LOOK OVER HERE THIS WAY; CRAZY FRENCH LADY!

    That was the thing. They threw items of faith at us then distracted us from them. So we of Science at times dismissed them and when we tried to explain them, we were unable to.

    Granted, we as People of Science can sit and try to rationalize the island properties, as that supposedly took place in the “real world”. We can theorize that maybe there is ancient Atlantean / alien technology under the island creating negatively polarized electron traps (whispers) and repelling positively polarized electrons to an alternate conceptual dimension. That is, assuming science eventually discovers that our electrons comprise the faith concept of “souls” and that electrons are our replication of our mindsets, and that the black smoke was a formless mass of linked protons held together and able to be reshaped by the linked electron mindset of the man in black.

    HARGLE BARGLE GARGLE ARGLE!

  • MaryAnn

    MAJ, while I agree with your reaction I find it very interesting, because what JoshDM described is exactly the same feeling I got at the end of BSG2003: “You thought this was a science fiction show, but har har, it’s all about faith so none of it has to make sense”. And yet you didn’t particularly object to that…

    The difference is that BSG was about faith *within its own context.* I can accept that. (I love *Medium* even though I don’t believe in the afterlife or ghosts or that anyone alive would be able to speak to them, but it works well on its own terms, to create its own internally consistent world.)

    But *Lost,* it seems, now suddenly requires that the viewer have a faith external to what is depicted in the show. It wasn’t about the faith of its characters (which could work just fine) — it was about the faith of its viewers.

    At least, that’s what I’m hearing is the reason for the fact that almost none of what we saw happen onscreen in *Lost* ended up meaning anything.

    *BSG* had storytelling logic, even if it was about faith. *Lost,* in the end, did not.

  • As a man of science (lay man, anyway) I submit that science can comprehend religion in the same way it can comprehend any human behavior. Maybe the science in question is pychology instead of physics, but careful observation, peer review, and other aspects of science can be applied to anything.

    I believe this because religious behavior follows patterns. Buddhist and Catholic monks live and think more alike than either set of monks live and think like the laymen of their own religion, to provide a positive example.

    And I think there are two reasons an otherwise rational person can believe in faith, at least in the United States. The first is that they accept God as an unexamined premise. They believe in God simply because they were raised to, or they want an easy, comforting answer to a difficult, complicated world. (Note that I am assuming God as an “unexamined premise.” This answer does not apply to people who examine the premise and end up thinking like theologians.) So they build a logical set of conclusions upon premises that include God.

    The second is that belief in God (in of itself)rarely interferes with a person’s ability to be a lawyer, doctor, plumber, or other profession, because professional ethics seperates our personal beliefs from our professional obligations. I’m pretty sure that if a lawyer tried to win cases by prayer instead of knowledge of the law he’d stop getting clients. One of the things that separates the modern mind from the midevil mind is this compartmentalization. The reason the Middle East is having trouble modernizing is the refusal to do so. One of the reasons for the breaking down of American politics is the weakening of the separation.

  • Lisa

    I think the show was always about the characters – the very design of it with the flashbacks and the flash forwards would point towards that. I went into the finale with that perspective and came away satisfied. I do not feel in the least bit cheated.

    I really enjoyed hanging out with them for the last couple of years. I will miss them.

    What did you expect it to end with? imho, the island had to be protected. Jacob and his mother royally fucked that up. (Why not just let MIB leave? What is wrong with you people? You could understand why he was pissed off). They fixed it, saved the world, died happy. Result. I liked seeing the characters grow. I hated Jack at the start but he lost a lot of his control freakyness by the end. Sawyer was a dick and then he ended up as a decent guy. It was a fantastic show, something out of the ordinary – would you have rather been watching CSI:Podunk Law and Order?

  • JoshDM

    Science can comprehend Faith, but it cannot quantify or measure faith.

    Science can’t tell you how many Buddhist Monks it takes to equal fourteen Catholic Priests.

  • Lisa

    three

  • Knightgee

    And I will never understand how anyone with a brain and intelligence can willingly put aside their reason and logic to accept something that reason and logic tells them not to.

    For many people, faith has been a refuge against the harshness of the rest of the world, such as the importance of the church in the black community during segregation and such as both a focal point for the community and as a way to provide faith to a disparate people. I guess they were just brainless though for looking to something bigger than themselves for hope and strength.

  • MaryAnn

    As a man of science (lay man, anyway) I submit that science can comprehend religion in the same way it can comprehend any human behavior.

    Agreed that science can understand why people have faith or why people follow a religion. But the precepts of that faith and those religions are by definition beyond science, because by definition any questioning of them can be dismissed as coming from those who “lack faith.”

    And I think there are two reasons an otherwise rational person can believe in faith, at least in the United States.

    But that still does not explain why smart people willingly put aside their smarts in this case but not in other cases.

    I think the show was always about the characters – the very design of it with the flashbacks and the flash forwards would point towards that.

    That just points to the characters being pieces getting moved around on a chessboard. They had no volition of their own, that we could see.

    Perhaps that’s what bothering me: *Lost* ended up being about the lack of free will, about how these people were all victims of inescapable predestination. And so nothing they could do could change the foregone outcome. That’s just boring to me. That’s not the stuff of interesting storytelling.

  • MaryAnn

    I guess they were just brainless though for looking to something bigger than themselves for hope and strength.

    I might like something bigger than myself to give me hope and strength, too, but I cannot fool myself into believing in a deity that my brain tells me cannot exist.

    The question still remains: How do otherwise intelligent people turn off their brains in this particular, narrow instance?

  • Knightgee

    Because when the rest of the world doesn’t make sense, what use is logic? What’s illogical is when bad things happen to you through no fault of your own, constantly, for things you cannot change. It’s when your society is constantly oppressing and punishing you for aspects of yourself that you can’t control. Trying to find some kind of order in that, ascribing it to some larger reason with a more benevolent outcome that you can look forward to is an attempt to give logic to the illogical world around you. I am not religious, or even spiritual really, I just take strong offense to this notion that people who have faith are somehow necessarily brainless or unintelligent for doing so. I see and hear stories about people in godawful situations in other countries with nothing but faith keeping them going and I can’t help but see this as a privileged Western notion, to be able to sit back and examine faith as something tertiary and supplemental to one’s existence, rather than a real and powerful force that keeps people going when they otherwise wouldn’t.

  • Dave

    Because while you can’t prove that “God” or whatever you choose to believe in exists you also can’t prove that it doesn’t. Hence why you need faith. It’s National Towel day so I will quote Douglas Adams. ‘Proof denys Faith and without Faith I am nothing says God.’

    I myself have jumped around on the subject my whole life as I’ve read more and more on the subject and run across concepts I hadn’t heard before. My current views would be way too complicated to go into and probably make no sense to anyone but me, but that’s the way I like it.

  • Mo

    I completely disagree with that assessment for a lot of reasons that are too long-winded to get into.

    I will agree that the show was ultimately an examination of faith and humanity from as many different angles as possible- using different situations to show the best and worst of both and quietly, sneakily ask some really heavy questions about both. As many of my college professors frequently pointed out, all of the great myths and tragedies did the same, be they the Aeneid, King Arthur stories, or Shakespeare. The chess moves in all these stories are about artificially creating impossible situations that will test the limits of an already established character’s humanity to ultimately show the very best or worst that humans are capable of. Lost followed the ancient forms of these tests almost perfectly throughout the entire show right up to the very end. It makes for an awkward story arc (or arcs in Lost’s case) by today’s standards because we don’t use that form of storytelling very much anymore, but it is an ancient and classic form of storytelling as old as the written word.

    You can call faith brainless if you want, but it is the default setting for humans. Atheism as we know it today has only existed for a few hundred years. Almost all of the people from all of history would probably consider modern atheism a form of insanity because they all believed in something. Humanity evolved to have faith. Since so much of the world exercises faith, I think it’s healthy to have a show that can take a sharp, often critical look at it and ask some really complex questions of it within the framework of faith itself.

    Personally (and yes, I know you’ll probably violently disagree with this but so what) I’m from the C.S. Lewis school of thought that believes that faith without reason is incomplete and that the best faith has to be tested and analyzed and wrestled with. For me, the difference between faith and science is that faith willingly uses a larger dataset for analysis than science can support by including the what ifs in the equations.

    My favorite quote about it all, (and perhaps the best explanation of why you were ultimately let down, Maryann) comes from the LA Times:

    One of the things that’s made the last six seasons of this show so fun is the way that it’s kind of a Rorschach test for who you are. Your answers to the questions the show presented were as important to the experience of watching the show as anything else. … What matters to me doesn’t matter to you. “Lost’s” genius is that it stirs up a whole bunch of what matters to a lot of people, then never takes sides on what’s most important. Like science fiction? Here’s a full season of time travel. Like philosophy? Here are a bunch of characters named after philosophers and an occasional episode that expresses their precepts. It’s a big, pulp stew of everything the producers think matters, a stew where you pick out what’s important to you and maybe don’t have quite as much of that little piece over there.

    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/showtracker/2010/05/lost-if-you-come-with-me-ill-show-you-what-i-mean.html

  • Mo

    Um…Ok, does anyone else think it’s hilarious that the faith/science thing was introduced very early on in season 1, but all of a sudden after the finale we’re here having the same debate the show had for 6 seasons? *raises hand*

  • Lisa

    No matter who you are, you need to have faith in something. If you don’t, you just end up a miserable sod like Jack.

    Jacob picked people who had nothing going on in their lives. He offered to give their lives some meaning and he bet on one of them agreeing to do it. I think no matter what happened, he was out of there. He was done living with what he did to his brother and done with looking after the island.

  • Lisa

    Question of the Day suggestion: What’s your favorite pilot/first episode of a tv series?

    Just sayin’…

  • JoshDM

    Perhaps that’s what bothering me: *Lost* ended up being about the lack of free will, about how these people were all victims of inescapable predestination. And so nothing they could do could change the foregone outcome.

    What foregone outcome? Death?

  • wooster182

    I can’t say I was exactly content with the finale but I wasn’t completely displeased either. It didn’t have as big of a “Deus ex machina” as BSG, of which I was relieved.

    We only assumed the the island was more important than it actually was. We had FAITH as John did that it was more mythical than it actually is when the man of science was right. Yes, the island is apparently the keeper of souls and life force and it can do some crazy shit, but it did not draw the castaways in. it did not dictate their lives. They and we just assumed that it did.

    The island was completely made up of choices and manipulations. Nothing, I don’t think, was really destiny. Case in point, Daniel and Jack were wrong. Jughead reset nothing. It just caused Juliet to die. She died for nothing. She lost her relationship with James for nothing. She took the wrong bet. She listened to the wrong person.

    What happened, happened. Dead is dead. What is important is that Jacob manipulated this set of people to this island because he wanted broken people. And they formed a bond that would last eternity.

    They sought redemption while alive, as I think we all do, but as most people do, they died before their journey was finished. So, they couldn’t completely pass into the afterlife until they finished that work after death. Whatever wasn’t completed while alive had to be finished after death.

    Again case in point: James and Juliet had found peace and redemption with each other during their lifetime. All that was left was to find each other and to reconcile James’ parents death. He had become a good man while living with Juliet, so he was already a good man in Sideways. He had already completed a large part of that journey on the island.

    Because the two themes so resonant in Lost is faith and science, I do think it’s only respectful that both sides are shown equally: on the island, mostly everything you see is what you get (logical) but there is something after death (faith).

    I’m okay with that. I thought it was a beautiful way to say that these people can’t just easily get a reset button to fix their lives (Jughead) but that they can find peace once it’s all said and done.

    Why should we hold them to a higher responsibility than ourselves? We don’t walk around day to day with some big destiny. Life is a bunch of stuff that happens. It’s the choices we make, the wrong decisions, the unexpected deaths. And I like that Lost reflected that.

  • wooster182

    I am a woman of faith and I think a fairly intelligent human being. I disagree with people who judge those who don’t believe in a religion and I disagree with people who judge me for having faith.

    To me, having faith is simple: I was born into a Christian family, therefore I was taught to believe in God and Christ. Secondly, even though there is famine and plagues on earth, I can’t look at all of the minute perfections of the world and believe that someone didn’t design it that way. It’s too perfect not to have some deeper meaning. This may be romantic foolishness, but when I look into a baby’s joyful smile, I know there is a God.

    Now, *maintaining* faith is a lot harder. Do I ever doubt that Christ rose 3 days after his death? Sure. I think that’s understandable. Do I believe every single word of the Bible? No. Too many human hands have touched it.

    Faith is something that can’t be explained because it is *felt* not reasoned. It isn’t a thought. It’s an emotion. I feel God as I feel love for my mother. You can’t measure that feeling for my mother. You can’t see it. You can’t certify that it’s there. But I feel it.

    And if I die and nothing happens, I’m not going to feel cheated. I’m not going to feel stupid. I’m not going to feel anything. Dead will be dead. But if I die and I was right and there is a God–well, that’s just an added bonus to life.

    And going back to Lost, I think the show explores those feelings perfectly through Locke. Terry O’Quinn brilliantly explains that Locke isn’t a man of faith. He’s a man that wants faith. I think that goes back to the difficulty of *maintaining* faith. I do think with a lot of people who claim to be religious or go to church that there is a yearning for faith more than actual faith because maintaining faith for a lifetime can be very difficult.

    But who does it really hurt if one believes in something? I’m not talking jihads and crusades and killing someone over abortions. That’s using the name of faith for a different purpose. But true personal faith doesn’t harm anyone. So why should it matter that someone believes? Again, back to Lost: Why did Jack care so much that Locke had faith? Why did it make him angry?

  • I can’t help finding it ironic that one of the biggest defenders of the Lost finale is a blogger who is an admitted atheist.

    Then again, I was never much of a Lost fan so I have no dog in this fight.

    However, I do find it funny that people who claim to be so liberal and enlightened always feel the need to imply that people who believe differently than they do are stupid.

    Here’s the thing: most of the people I’ve met who are genuinely secure about their own intellectual abilities don’t generally feel the need to go around putting down other people’s intellectual abilities. They may not necessarily agree with other people but they rarely feel the need to go around trying to claim an easy “A” by proclaiming how smart they are because they belong to group “A” and how other people who think differently than they do are automatically dumb because they belong in group “B.” It’s not that simple.

    I can’t help but be reminded of how often people who are insecure about their own looks tend to disparage the looks of others.

    As for those who would try to justify such prejudices by noting that a lot of evil actions have been committed by people in Group “B”–well, I’m sure that’s true.

    I’m also sure that a lot of evil actions have been committed by people in every group, including your own and my own. And that a lot of good actions are also committed by many members of the same groups.

    For many years, I encouraged myself to hate Southern WASPs because I was convinced by the history books I read and by the stories I had heard about the prejudice various family members had encountered in the South that this made me superior to such WASPs. But it didn’t. In the long run, it only made me seem miserable.

    Moreover, the more time I spent with such WASPs, the more I came to see them as fellow human beings with the same mixture of vices and virtues as myself. Some were better than me; some were not. Some were definitely better off than my family; some were so much worse off than my family that I actually found myself feeling sorry for them even though they supposedly represented everything I was supposed to despise.

    I’m not going to pretend that all of them were good people or that many of them did not have bad habits that I was right to disagree with. But I’m also not going to pretend that I can’t say the same thing about many people in my own family. Or that I can’t say the same thing about a lot of people–including those who are in groups I’d normally be inclined to like.

    In the end, we would all prefer to be judged as individuals so we should try to judge others as individuals. Granted, that’s not always easy to do and I understand quite well the temptation to do otherwise. But I also understand why giving in to such a temptation is wrong.

    Now back to the original topic of our discussion.

  • JoshDM

    Extra bits are online!

    Get it while it’s hot!

    Spoilers:
    Answers “Hurley Bird”, the polar bears, Room 23, interactions with The Hostiles, the coordinates (somewhat), the food drops, missing limbs, and gives Walt a coda of sorts.

  • Holy crap. How is that online already?

    It’s the real deal, folks. I just watched all 11 minutes.

    http://jezebel.com/5606489/omfg-its-the-official-lost-epilogue

  • JoshDM

    It’s the real deal, folks.

    When have I ever posted anything here that isn’t to be taken at face value? I think I’ve gained one-click-done trust at this point. :-)

  • Lisa

    nice catch

  • Lisa

    where caN U watch all 11 mins – I’m only getting 3?

  • Lisa

    and it’s already down

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