Once Was Lost...

My wife and I have been fans of the television show "Lost" since its premier in 2004, and like many fans we thought the first season was the best. But over time we found ourselves getting caught up in the arcane story of the Island and were not at all troubled by the castaways implausible adventures back and forth through time. "Lost" was a fun show that did small things extremely well (Sawyer's witticisms, the way Ben cajoled people into beating him up as a manipulation tool, those hilarious black-and-white Dharma Initiative training films) even as its mythology grew simultaneously more grandiose and self-contradicting.

For the past few weeks, as the series neared its long-planned finale, I've been sensing a growing division among "Lost" fans; there were the viewers who would not be satisfied unless the final episodes answered all the series particular mysteries, and then there were the devotees whose interest lay in watching how the producers handled the show's metaphysical Mysteries.

As a writer of crime fiction whose own stories are informed by his journalism, I was surprised to find myself in the latter camp. I found that I had little interest in questions like "What happened to Walt?" and "Why was Libby in that mental hospital with Hurley?" My fascination lay in figuring out what Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse were trying to say about the concept of free will versus destiny and why human beings obsessively make up stories to give our lives meaning no matter the consequences (for example, Sayid is so guilt-stricken he believes anyone who tells him he's beyond salvation). I found that I cared more about the contorted psychology of the characters and the implications of the mythology than about following a trail of specific clues.

So I've been wondering today how my fellow crime aficionados are reacting to the finale. "Lost" was always fantastical, but it made gestures in the direction of explaining itself in science fictional terms. By the time Lindelof and Cuse were done, though, it was clear they never saw themselves as traditional mystery writers; nor was their interest in science fiction anything more than a fanboy's prank. "Lost," instead, was purely a work of fantasy. The show that seemed to be about the struggle between a "man of faith" and a "man of science" in the end rejected science altogether. I suspect that's why so many viewers feel hoodwinked. Despite some pretty heavy-handed foreshadowing, they thought they were watching one kind of show and learned at the eleventh hour that it was something else entirely.

Most authors would be crucified by their readers for changing the narrative rules in mid-story, but somehow "Lost" got away with it. And I have to say, I didn't really mind. But I'm not sure I'd subject my own fans to that kind of bait and switch either.