Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The End (of Lost) part II

In ending the way it did, Lost has left us with hundreds, probably thousands of unanswered questions, some more relevant than others. What I'd like to focus on here are questions relevant to the story: Plot or character threads that were never thoroughly explained and mysteries which relate to major plot points. There are plenty of stories we would have loved to get, but ultimately aren't all that important. For instance, remember that glass eye found at the Arrow where the Tailies were holing up? It would have been neat to find out where it came from, but chalk that up to creepiness and stories we just never got to.

What I've done is divide these leftover questions into two categories: Questions where we can infer answers and questions that, on further review, still leave us frustrated. Comments as always are appreciated, particularly any questions I may have forgotten.

Questions Where We Can Infer Answers

* Walt

I know a lot of people disagree with me on this one, but as much as I would have liked to see more, I think we did get all the essential elements of the Walt mystery. To put it simply, he had psychic powers and the Others were interested in him for precisely that reason. And even though they were interested in him, they were willing to let him go to get Ben back. The question of Walt's "specialness" leads into any number of unanswered questions about the Others, but in terms of Walt the character, I'm reasonably satisfied.

* Daniel Faraday crying

I bring this one up because I've mentioned it before. And while I was really hoping we'd see more about this, perhaps we can chalk it up quite simply to Daniel's time travel experiments. I'd always wondered whether he had some foreknowledge of the future that would explain the crying, but they chose not to do more with Faraday- including explaining what he was doing for three years at Dharma headquarters in Michigan- and I can live with it.

* Why can't babies be born on the island?

In listening to other reactions to the end of Lost, I'm reminded that some people forget the details. I've heard people confused as to how Jacob and MIB could have been born and people who think Aaron's birth on the island was special. But Juliet explained it all in season three. Something happens during pregnancy (in the second trimester I think?) to the babies of women who conceive on the island. Aaron was fine because Claire was 8 months or so pregnant when she got to the island. Sun's baby was specifically in danger because Sun conceived on the island. And season five had Juliet assisting in the birth of Horace and Amy's son, Ethan. The implication- I'm fairly sure- was that babies good in fact be born on the island in 1977, seeing as it's unlikely Horace and Amy were off the island for any significant time. My theory, one that we obviously can't confirm, is that the detonation of Jughead somehow caused the pregnancy problems on the island. It makes sense on the timeline and it makes sense as far as the story arc for Juliet: that she created the very circumstances that led her to the island in the first place. I would have liked to see some resolution, particularly for Juliet's sake, but I'm reasonably happy with the explanation I've outlined.

* How did Claire's mother get better?

This is one of those questions that came to me as I re-watched season 3 and saw the Claire episode where Claire's flashback involves her mother in a coma, years after a serious accident. The season 4 finale then introduces us again to Claire's mother, out of the coma and attending Christian's funeral after the return of the Oceanic 6. I got really worked up about this when I made the realization leading up to season six and was convinced that either 1- Jacob had healed her or 2- She was an impostor manipulating the Oceanic 6 to return to the island. Neither theory played out and I think we can rely on the character's explanation: that she was very ill and then she got better. I'm undecided as to whether or not this is lousy writing. On one hand, it's like they wrote the scene after the fact and had to lamely cover their asses, but on the other hand, it would be one of the other ironies of Lost if Claire's mother were to recover soon after her daughter disappears. But in either case, this is a prime example of how Lost worked, for better or for worse. Because of all the connections between characters, all of the mysteries with exciting answers, Lost fans struggled to connect the dots with every little bit of information we were given. In any other show you'd just leave it as is, chalking it up to either lousy writing or perhaps a focus on themes before plot, but with Lost we just couldn't leave these things alone.

* Who was trying to kill Sayid at the beginning of Season 5?

Remember the end of season four and beginning of season five when Sayid shot the man outside the mental hospital and killed three or four more assassin types who were seemingly out to get him and his Oceanic friends? There was so much that went on off-island that I had hoped we'd return to it, at least briefly. The biggest question of course, was why all those assassin types were after Sayid (and why that one in the hospital had Kate's address)? The simplest explanation here is probably our best bet: It was directly to related to all the killing Sayid had done for Ben, perhaps just direct retribution from some Widmore related group. There's more to this story in terms of Ben and Widmore, but as far as all the action we saw, I think we can chalk it up to Sayid having brought it upon himself.

* Sayid, Claire, Dogen, the Sickness, and Good and Evil

Hopefully you get the point with all the descriptors above. I was going to put this down below as an unhappy mystery, but as I hashed it out, it occurred to me that we may have actually gotten a lot more answers than it may have seemed on the surface. I had been very disappointed as to the nature of Sayid and Claire's journey over the final season, but my reaction has softened a bit, perhaps because their journeys play into the theme I've mentioned before where all our characters are acting on incomplete information and imbibing the unknowable mysteries of the island with their own values and interpretations. And this perhaps is why we get this very Eastern sort of explanation about good and evil from Dogen in regards to Claire and Sayid. In terms of Sayid, we get that it was expected that the temple spring would heal him. But what we don't get is any explanation of why the Others tried to drown Sayid after the water turned dirty nor there explanation of what actually happened to him. And in terms of Claire, I never get a good sense of why the Others say she's been infected with darkness, other than the fact that she's with Smokey.

I had been upset about the lack of context and the open-ended question of whether Sayid's redemption a matter of his overcoming something that had happened to him or his overcoming what he had done to himself. But in looking at this plot thread at a deeper level, I think Hurley may have provided that answer to us in the finale when he quite directly points out that Sayid needs to stop letting other people tell him just who he is. It's an unorthodox way to address the island plot, certainly, but it's effective in revealing the writers intentions. It's not neat and tidy, but I can certainly buy it: Sayid and Claire weren't sick and weren't infected, those explanations were just the Others way of providing some clarity to their circumstances.

As I go through these questions, I'm beginning to wonder how many of these unanswered questions actually have these ambiguous, more round about answers. That doesn't mean you have to be satisfied, but on some level it represents a conscious decision on the writers part rather than something that just fell by the wayside.

* What were the rules?

I was going to include this as a question I was unhappy with, but I think the scene with Jacob and MIB playing the game in Across the Sea was the writers way of answering the question about the rules. Rules are ultimately human constructs and they don't transcend our characters in any way, shape, or form. I was unsatisfied with Ben hasty dispatch of Widmore, but I think it was meant to show us that the rules supposedly keeping Ben from killing Widmore didn't literally keep Ben from physically killing Widmore. I understand this is not going to be satisfying for a lot of people: It leaves open the question of whether or not MIB was actually bound by these rules or whether he could have just killed Jacob and the candidates. But as far as plot goes, I think we can come up with the rules that were relevant and when they were and weren't followed. We don't get a deeper meaning or explanation, but that's just like a lot of the ambiguity in Lost.

Questions That Needed More

* Sawyer and company being chased and shot at during the outrigger chase in season five.

Ultimately not an important question, but I'm holding the writers to a higher standard when it comes to a moment so close to the end. Everything else during the time flashes paid off, so it's just odd they never returned to that chase either later in season five or in season six. I've read that Damon and Carlton planned to come back to the chase in season six, but it never really fit in to the story they were telling. I could live with that, except for the fact that half of the season was spent sitting around on the beach. It could have been worked in and I think even cheap would have been better than not at all.

* Did the Others know about the Swan and the button?

In season three there's a scene with Ben and Juliet at the Pearl station, watching Jack and company in the Swan hatch. Given that we know the Others occupied these old Dharma stations, the question arises, why did they allow Desmond (and Kelvin and Radsinky before him) to push the button in that hatch. It doesn't seem that they gave any importance to it- Ben certainly doesn't put any value on it while he's kept prisoner in the hatch- but if that was the case, why let Desmond stay there? I've got no good answers here and this plays into my other questions about the Swan hatch: How did the protocol get started and how did it continue after the purge? More on that in a bit.

* What's up with Eloise Hawking

In the finale, we finally get a hint as to the limits of Eloise's all-knowingness when she begs Desmond not to take Daniel with him. It seems to me like her conversation with Desmond represented either an unawareness of what the sideways was or an unwillingness to accept what it meant. Either way, as a women of science, neither she (or her so with the scientific mind) were ready to move on. But to return to the standard timeline, why was Eloise so all-knowing? The standard explanation since last season has been Daniel's diary, but that diary provides no context for her first appearance in season three, when she tells Desmond he doesn't buy Penny an engagement ring. How would she have so much knowledge at that point in time, about Desmond and his particular situation? And how would she know that a particular man with red shoes was destined to be killed and intervening would only lead to some form of course correction down the road? My theory had always been that Eloise was somehow exposed to the same electromagnetism that Desmond was exposed to and that she had somehow honed the same flashes of the future Desmond has experienced into a useful tool. But that's far too much supposition without any hint of an explanation.

* Christian Shephard ... What the fuck?

I've been bouncing back and forth on this one and ultimately, I'm not happy. Smokey told us that he was Christian, or at least the Christian who led Jack to the caves and to water early in the first season. Assuming that's the truth, I still don't buy Smokey as every other incarnation of Christian we've seen. He certainly was not the Christian on the boat, telling Michael he could go. I have trouble believing he was the Christian down the well, hundreds of years in the past, telling Locke to fix the donkey wheel, but unable to help him up. And I'm just not sure about the Christian we see in "Jacob's cabin." I can see the setup in which that Christian was supposed to be Smokey, but that just creates more questions about the whys. I can see why Smokey would want Locke to turn that wheel if he was the one that created it (maybe he thought it would get him off the island), but I can't figure out why he zombie marched Claire away from her baby and her friends. We know what Smokey's game was in season 5- to manipulate Ben into killing Jacob- but I can't really see how having Ben or Locke turn that wheel gets him to that point where Ben returns Locke's body back to the island. (And yes, that's what actually happened, but if Smokey had no power off the island and couldn't leave, it would be a rater ridiculous plan to send your pawns away in hopes they'd return at the right time.)

I don't mind a lot of the vague stuff with Christian- the fact that we saw his coffin empty on the island and empty yet again in the flash sideways is intriguing to say the least. But those events at the end of season four drove the final two seasons of the show and to not fully understand them leaves a big hole in the story. Forces drove our characters to take certain drastic actions and it would be nice to know why. If the Christian in Jacob's cabin was Smokey, I'd like to know what exactly he was scheming at that point and if that Christian wasn't Smokey, but was some sort of manifestation of the island, I'd be happy just knowing that this was in fact the island protecting itself and not our characters being manipulated for selfish reasons.

* In the same vein as above, what was the deal with Jacob's cabin?

We're given vague hints (by Ilana's group in the season five finale) that Jacob hadn't been there in a long time. The implication there was that Jacob was there once, but that Smokey had somehow been there since then. So why did Ben take Locke there if Ben thought he was just pulling one over on Locke? Who's voice did Locke hear? Who's eye did Hurley see and why did he see Christian in a rocking chair and then a creepy eye? Why did Horace "build" the cabin? And what was the deal with the ashes surrounding the cabin and the fact that Hurley may have broken that ash circle in season four. Ultimately none of it is all that important, but there's a lot there and it all leads up to that big season four finale moment. As I've always said, you don't need to explain everything about the island, but that's a lot to leave unanswered as far as the powers on the island we did get to know, Jacob and MIB. Mysteries are one thing, but to have our characters in such a fog as to what was MIB, what was Jacob, and what was something else is frustrating precisely because we did learn so much about Jacob and MIB. It's just too much of a jumbled mess for my liking and I can't come up with a coherent explanation for it all.

(And one more point, as I'm coming back to this after the fact. Remember Locke's dream of Horace cutting down the same tree, over and over again, to build the cabin. We see Locke wake up, so we know that was in fact a dream and not a vision of the MIB. Assuming these weird dreams relate to the island, that tells me that the island was pushing Locke toward the cabin. As I've been saying, there's still far too much ambiguity for such an important event.

* Why did Juliet, Miles, Charlotte, Daniel, and the rest of the Oceanic survivors flash through time, but Claire and all of the Others did not?

I remember last season I was hoping there'd be an explanation as to why Sun stayed in 2007, while Jack, Kate, Hurley, and Sayid all flashed back to 1977. The explanation we got was an unexpected side effect of the failure to recreate Oceanic 815. In reality, that little bit of plot was mostly about keeping Sun and Jin apart, but I bought it. What I don't buy is the lack of real explanations as to why some characters flashed through time while others did not when Ben first turned the wheel. We see Locke, supposedly the new leader of the Others, flash away right in front of Richard and the other Others who remain in 2004. Juliet, the former Other, flashes away with the Losties on the beach. And Claire, off in Christian's cabin, remains in 2004. I don't have a problem with the idea that some characters would flash and others would not, but it's a bit too convenient for there to be no explanation.

* Why did the Dharma food drops continue and what happened with Dharma after the purge?

In season two, a pallet of food and supplies is dropped from the sky in the middle of the night as Locke and Ben experience a lockdown in the Swan hatch. The implication is that the lockdown occurred to keep the Swan residents oblivious to the supplies being dropped. But the question remains as to who was dropping the supplies so long after the end of Dharma? One very good idea I just heard today was that Dharma had contracted with some mysterious company to make and deliver those supplies and that company had continued to fufill it's end of the agreement long after Dharma was gone. The other theory, possibly related, was that Ben and some of the Others (Mikhail at the Flame maybe) had maintained the illusion that Dharma remained on the island.

The truth is, we lose track of the Dharma story after 1977. With the evacuation that went on prior to the Incident, perhaps families never returned to the island and the Dharma Initiative of the 1980's was a shadow of it's former self. But the point is we don't know. We don't know how and when Kelvin was recruited to the Swan station. We don't know how Eloise Hawking came to reside in the Lampost station in Los Angeles. Ultimately, a lot of this is tangential to our story, but Dharma was such a big part of this story. We get the Black Rock but we don't get all of this?

* Why does Richard tell Sun "I watched them all die" in regards to all the 1970's Losties?

In the season five episode "Follow the Leader" Richard tells Sun that he watched her husband and all the other Losties in the 1970's die. It was a neat little moment, but like the outrigger shoot out, it was a piece of dramatic tension that was never followed up on. I had a really simple theory that Richard was there for the Incident, perhaps observing from a distance and he saw our Losties disappear in the midst of Jughead's explosion. It fits perfectly well, but to not return to it at all is a bit of a cheat. It's one thing for plot points to be left vague, but another for a key dramatic moment to never be resolved.

* Why did Bram (Ilana's "shadow of the statue" companion) try and recruit Miles? And who the hell were they in the first place?

I'm noticing a theme here as I go through these questions. Some of the more major questions I thought were troublesome have answers and resolutions embedded within the story, while most of these questions I'm ultimately unhappy with don't have good answers because the events that raised the question in the first place were typically pure plot. Take this little one here. I'm never clear on why Miles needed to be recruited, when none of our other characters were ever approached. And why was Miles being recruited in 2004 when the Shadow of the Statue folks didn't go to the island until 2007. Maybe not a big deal, but who were these off-island Jacob disciples and how were they connected with the on-island Others. It's an answer we neevr had the chance to get when the dynamite blew up Ilana, but it's just sort of depressing that you had all these characters waiting for years to go to the island and serve Jacob only to be killed by Smokey days after they arrived.

* Where did Anthony Cooper come from?

This one bugs me, I think because of all Ben's talk about the magic box. Yes, I know the magic box was supposed to be a metaphor, but bring up the mystical makes me wonder how Anthony Cooper got to the island, especially since he tells Locke the last thing he remembers is getting into a terrible car accident. I suppose the obvious answer is that Ben arranged to bring Cooper to the island, but I just feel like that one was teased too much the other way for there to be no specific resolution.

* The temple Others versus Ben's Others

One frustrating aspect of the end of Lost was that manner in which the Otehrs were wiped out by Smokey in order to make room for the Jacob/MIB story. Suddenly, the Others who's existence was about serving Jacob were rendered peripheral. It doesn't matter to most of our major characters, except for the fact that Ben, Richard, and Juliet were all Others, and Dogen was this big funky mystery who was killed off before he could be explained. There's a huge difference between explaining a mystery unique to the island and the mysteries to a group of people that played such an integral role of so many of our characters lives. I've complained about Dharma above, but ultimately, we learned a lot more about Dharma then we did about the Others.

There's a line in season five's Jughead when Richard tells Locke that the Others have a very specific process for selecting their leadership. Yet that's never explained and we're left with only the vague hints relating to patricide we see in season three. Additionally, how did Ben's (and before him Widmore, and Eloise) role as leader actually work? I have trouble imagining Dogen as a character who would take orders from Ben, so what was the relationship between the temple Others and the Others living in Dharmaville?

I do think we get a lot from the Richard back story: these are the islands defenders serving Jacob, but how is it that so many of the Others were so fanatical in their beliefs? How is it that Cindy and the kids were kidnapped from the tail section and became such obedient Others? Some of it- like how did Jacob recruit Mikhail to come to the island- is pure curiosity, but there are far too many unanswered questions directly related to the story and our characters.

How did Ben know about the donkey wheel?

This relates to the last unanswered question and represents the other side of the theme that I do find satisfying. I like the idea that each and every character, Jacob and MIB included, don't know any more about the secrets of the island than the rest of us. I liked how in season six, Ben and Richard, who had been such all-knowing characters were basically cut down to size. The other side of this coin is that we never actually get their entire stories. Yes we understand where they come from as characters, but we don't see where they come from as far as driving the plot. Ben has the line in the penultimate episode where he realizes that perhaps the smoke monster had been summoning him, rather than the other way around. It's a neat wrap up for his character but it doesn't explain how and what Ben actually knew as leader of the Others. What did he think the smoke monster was and how did he discover all those passageways below Dharmaville? How did he learn about the wheel and how did he know it would move the island? Why did he say it was dangerous and a measure of last resort?

If you notice a theme here, it's that I loved the season four finale and really think it was a high point of the show, but I'm disappointed that no explanations are given for all the events that set the stage for the final two seasons. If Ben is supposed to be our character, we shouldn't be left with all these unanswered questions about his actions.

* Charles Widmore

I mentioned above that I was coming to terms with Widmore's shocking and sudden death, but that doesn't mean I'm happy with his story. Widmore's line that he came to the island on Jacob's behalf after Jacob convinced him of the error of his ways is a convenient explanation for his actions in season six, but it doesn't explain what he was doing in season four with the mercenaries on the freighter and what his role was in season five when he helps out Locke. My impression was that whatever Widmore was trying to do season four did involve his taking the island for his own selfish reasons, but it's disappointing to never see that hashed out. And it plays right into Ben's actions in the season four finale: Was Ben really saving the island from Widmore? I really like to think yes, but the lack of a complete story on Widmore's part leaves that up in the air.


Anonymous McMc said...

"My theory, one that we obviously can't confirm, is that the detonation of Jughead somehow caused the pregnancy problems on the island. It makes sense on the timeline and it makes sense as far as the story arc for Juliet: that she created the very circumstances that led her to the island in the first place."

The only problem here is that they detonated a nuclear bomb and for whatever reason no one died? No thanks. Like the island moving, the detonation of the bomb is one of those ridiculous elements of the story that should bother people way more than it does. The island "moving" always irked me and the more I think about this, the more I am irked.

"* How did Claire's mother get better?

This is one of those questions that came to me as I re-watched season 3 and saw the Claire episode where Claire's flashback involves her mother in a coma, years after a serious accident....I'm undecided as to whether or not this is lousy writing."

Don't kid yourself, this is bad writing and it's a great example of why I'm so bugged by the show's ending. They introduce this relatively small stuff to enhance their story, which is fine, but never re-visiting it and acting like it never happened is just insulting and I consider it a form of cheating. If you're going to write checks like this, you have to cash them. If not, you're just doing whatever you want to justify your story. Not cool.

"* What were the rules?

I was going to include this as a question I was unhappy with, but I think the scene with Jacob and MIB playing the game in Across the Sea was the writers way of answering the question about the rules. Rules are ultimately human constructs and they don't transcend our characters in any way, shape, or form."

Again, this would be fine if it weren't for Richard and Michael being unable to kill themselves. That's not a human construct, that's a supernatural one. Try again.

"* Sawyer and company being chased and shot at during the outrigger chase in season five. "

Same principle as before: the writers just threw something cool into the story for the sake of being cool and ultimately ignored it because they had no reason for it.

3:29 AM  
Blogger lonely libertarian said...

I've probably got one more Lost post in me, but here's a brief response:

I chalk the island moving and the nuclear bomb serving as a catalyst to our characters moving back through time into the same category as the island's healing properties and Locke being able to walk again. It's just a special island with unique electromagnetic properties that can do things like heal people and move mysteriously through space and time. But I guess this goes back to your feelings on the light: Either you're happy with the limited explanations about the island or your not. It just doesn't bug me because you're talking about a show that's relied on these sci-fi/fantasy elements from the very beginning. I think they did a great job of treading the line between science and magic based explanations and it always comes back to the idea that any comprehensive explanation about the island would be disappointing.

I'm inclined to be forgiving towards things like Claire's mother and the outrigger chase, because I know they write the show season by season and I can see the sheer challenge of doing that on a show like Lost - and you couldn't do it any other way. So yes, you get these after-the-fact changes to minor characters and some unresolved plot threads and these are flaws in the series a whole, but seeing the sheer level of difficulty involved in writing a show like Lost, I'm just going to be charitable about it.

As I wrote this post and thought a lot of this out, it turned out there was less and less I was really unhappy about. Yeah I wanted to know more about Dharma and about the food drops, but ultimately, how important was that to the story? I have two major complaints as far as these remaining questions go:

1- Our gaps in the story in terms of Widmore, Ben, Richard, and Eloise Hawking and what they knew about our story. Ben in particular became our character, so to have all the gaps we have about his motivations and the actions he took is frustrating.

And 2- This sort of plays into the last complaint, particularly in regards to Ben and Widmore. I loved season 4, loved the season 4 finale, but sort of feel as if far too many of the driving forces behind that's season and it's conclusion were left much too vague. I mentioned the Christian thing and that bugs me because that scene where he tells Locke to move the island sets into motion everything that happens the final two seasons. It's not something mysterious happening that our characters are giving mean to, it's our characters following a specific set of instructions from an outside force- So we need a good explanation for that force.

To get back to Ben and Widmore, it's still pretty damn hazy as to what Widmore was trying to do ... I can deal with this a bit better than the Christian thing, because we can sort of fill in the blanks, but it would have been nice to see more because it would have provided a more complete story for these characters. (So I suppose that's more a complaint about character than plot.)

12:21 PM  
Anonymous McMc said...

If something like Claire's mother was an isolated incident, yea, I could be forgiving too. Problem is it wasn't, and I'm not going to make up some excuse like "they write the show season-by-season" overshadow what is sloppy, cheap writing.

Listen, I get the island is mysterious and I was fine with it for a while, but there's a difference between mysterious and non-sense. The outcome of the nuke was non-sense, Locke getting healed was mysterious and cool.

2:46 PM  

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