"Lost" in Translation: Cry Me a River, "Lost" Maniacs

Don’t leave the island without it!

As the end of “Lost” approaches every previously-accepted point of the show’s fact, history and fancy seem to pirouette, somersault and get blown to smithereens.

Sayid – dead. Sun and Jin – dead. Lapidus – vanished and presumed….well, your guess is as good as mine. Hurley – weeping uncontrollably. Alt-Locke – revealed as the loving son of a vegged-out Anthony Cooper, wracked by guilt because he crashed the plane that not only shattered his own spine, but destroyed the life of his beloved old man. Leaving the bald boy so wrought by guilt he won’t even consider Alt-Jack’s offer of a near-surefire cure for his paralysis.

Did I mention that this post might include some spoilers from last night’s episode? Maybe I should have noted that earlier.

Questions are answered, stories resolved. Satisfying or not, an ending always means the foreclosing of options. The collapse of some possibilities in favor of others. Which leads just as inevitably to disappointment and outrage. It’s like the show’s creators have pillaged your imagination, kicking apart your dreams and contradicting your own sense of logic and reality.

No surprise then to turn on the Twitter this morning and see some of my favorite tweeters (James Poniewozik; Tim Carvell) already engaged in a what-if-the-ending sucks-does-it-wreck-the-whole-series exchange.

Which reminds me of why I think series conclusions, particularly in long serialized shows full of myth and mystery, will always be roundly loathed. And why the final answers to “Lost” shouldn’t matter that much to anyone, anyway. . . .

1. The show’s mythology is just that: a groovy overlay of narrative to draw viewers from episode to episode. OMG, the island is capable of anything – polar bears; meandering spirits; antagonists behind every palm tree; monsters, instant healing and more. The easiest question – what the hell are these things and where did they come from? – is way less important than the realization that it’s nothing more (or less) than an animation of our own internal consciousness. I’m not sure what you think about at 3:15 a.m. when you can’t sleep and your skin seems to chafe against your bones, but when I close my eyes it’s all monsters, torches and the ghost of every disaster I ever created, accidentally or not.

2. Ordinarily I kick the crap out of anyone who tries to tell me that the journey matters more than the destination (consider every airline flight you’ve ever suffered) but in “Lost”‘s case, it’s actually true. No matter how the show ends what I (and you?) will remember through the years will almost certainly be the revelations about the characters’ origins: the headwaters of guilt, grief and anger that put them on the island in the first place. Why and how they’re “lost” on the island can’t come close to competing with the revelation that they were all spiritually “lost” even before they got there. Because eventually 3:15 a.m. comes calling for all of us, and isn’t it awful how you can by safe in bed in your comfy 1st World home and still see nothing but jungle, torches, bears and whispering spirits?

3. Consider Locke, in new Smokey form and original alt-Locke recipe, and his perpetually fraught relationship with air travel. Even his hollowed out shell can’t seem to get off the ground, now that you mention it. I’m hesitant to toss in a reference to Icarus right here, but no matter how you slice him he sure does want to get closer to the sun. And when he falls (from Oceanic 815; from his daddy’s apartment window; from his own airplane with daddy in the co-pilot’s chair) he smacks the earth pretty hard. Too bad Smokey-Locke’s only apparent way off the island is yet another airplane, eh? Situations change, but the essential character and flaws of a human soul hold true. (see also: the endless blackness of Tony Soprano’s soul, as animated so brilliantly by the wonderful, yet despised, cut to black at the end of “The Sopranos”‘s finale).

4. Notice when the about-to-be-blowed-up Sayid told Jack that he is “it”? If that’s not a clue about the essential roles control and heroics (no matter the cost) play at the heart of his character – even when he’s determined to move past them – then I’ll have something else to feel awful about the next time 3:15 a.m. rolls around.

5. No amount of C-4 can liquify the impact Sayid made when we realized – at the height of the Iraq war, you’ll recall – how his story was such an evocative micro-portrait of the amorality of war, and the way larger powers play so fast and loose with the lives and spirits residing under their influence. On a human level the paradoxes seem endless. Sayid, after all, was made into an Iraqi torturer despite his conscience. And even when his warring was done his conscience dictated that he take up torturing again to restore justice somewhere else. How could he reconcile these two irreconcilable facets of his character? He couldn’t, so eventually his only option was to go boom.

6. Also on the go-boom list: “Lost” itself. But no matter how things end on May 23rd the real story has already been told. If you really watched the show I hope and trust it was because you could sense how the show had seen into you. That’s the series’ significance, that’s what matters. May 23rd could add another layer of magic, or maybe it’ll be just one more in a chain of way-more-engaging-than-usual primetime TV. Seems like a no-lose to me, particularly since the real battle for your tv-watching soul was fought and won way back in season 1.

"Lost" in Translation: Reason to believe in the ridiculous

Ben and Sun: Some people really weren’t meant to be together

My kid has been watching “Lost” with me this year, and so when we got off one plane at LAX last week, and made our way into the international arrivals terminal enroute to another flight, he took a look around and said: “I guess this is when our flash-sideways lives begin.” Made me laugh out loud. And it also reminded me of one my favorite aspects of the series: Its ability to both acknowledge, and make light of how absurd some of its central premises are.

Perhaps the best in these moments came in this episode, “The Package,” when Sawyer confronted NotLocke/Smoke Monster in the midst of NL/SM’s preparations to rustle up a boat for his and Sayid’s trip to the Hydra island.

Sawyer: ” “Why don’t you just turn  your ass into black smoke and fly over there?”

NotLocke: “I can’t do that, James. If I could do you think I’d still be here?”

Sawyer: “Of course not.” (pause) “‘Cause That’d be ridiculous.”

Just because you can turn yourself into black smoke, among other things, and fly hither and yon and destroy everything in sight….well, obviously that doesn’t mean you can cross bodies of water to do it. I mean, duh.

But then again, what isn’t absurd in the realm of faith and hope and philosophy? It’s one thing to have dueling light/dark characters who clearly standi in for God and Satan. But to invest them with similar supernatural abilities — and the same fundamental questions on the very essence of good and evil – is the sort of highwire act you should never see in popular media. That’s Salman Rushdie territory, and last time I checked a significant percentage of the world’s population was still intent on killing him.

Maybe the consistent (and consistently angrifying) notion is that life itself is ridiculous. That grace itself — e.g., the living tomato Jack pulls out of Sun’s dead garden — is a non-sequitur, just as tragedy — e.g., alterna-Sun catching a stray bullet in the restaurant kitchen shootout, just after sinister-but-doomed Keamy told Jin ” that “some people aren’t meant to be together.”

Looked like a serious gutshot, in fact, and so the last we saw was Jin carrying her off to get help, which he may or may not find in time. Just as Island Sun has to resist Not-Locke’s invitation to take her to her still-long-lost Island husband because she just doesn’t trust the Smoke Monster inside of him.

What this all adding up to, Jin-and-Sun-wise, is an-fixable destiny of being kept apart. Just as Widmore – scheming away on the Hydra, with Tina Fey at the head of his recon group – must live tragically without his daughter…..who we now assume is tragically without Desmond, the poor Scots bastard, who has been dragged back to the island for reasons unknown.

So maybe this is the final answer at the heart of “Lost”‘s mythology: Shit happens. And then, if you’ve been touched by Jacob, you don’t die.

Another ridiculous notion: Smokey’s sense of moral righteousness, even after slaughtering the innocents in the temple: They had their chance to come with him and they didn’t take it, he tells Sun. “Those people were confused. They had been lied to.” Even the devil has God on his side.

Ridiculous notion #2: The truth, and how to tell it. Ben Linus lied about everything virtually all of the time, but once he made a promise to someone, he prided himself on keeping his word. Smokey seems to roll exactly the same way, and we heard echoes of the same my-word-is-bond business from Jacob and Widmore. Does this mean that the moral poles of humanity maintain their honor even when their acolytes don’t?

The world is devolving. War is afoot. The purest rivers are running dark, the cork may pop and darkness may poison the world. But even a dead garden can cough up a sweet, cherry-red tomato. The spark of life goes on. And like faith, life and (to a lesser extent) “Lost,” that’s either beautiful or ridiculous. Or both.