I’ve heard the title of this post way too many times in the last few weeks. They bug me. But they also say something important about how we watch television, I think.
First, when Eddy Kitses and Adam Horowitz, two Lost writer-producers and University of Wisconsin Communication Arts alumni, visited Madison recently, several of our students shared a version of the lines with them. It’s popped up on numerous websites or Facebook threads I read. And it’s a general mantra as the show approaches its final episode.
But I really hope it is just a mantra, something that gets repeated over and over without a sense of why it’s there and what it means. Because if any fans are honestly pegging all their hopes, investment of time, and their ultimate evaluation of the show on how it ends, I have news for you: the show’s already failed for you.
Granted, a lot’s at stake, and I really hope the writers and actors pull it off. Granted, like most (all?) Lost viewers, there have been times in the last few years when I’ve felt as though they’re just throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks, and making up the plot willy-nilly. And granted, I want a brilliant ending, something that honors the journey (t)here. But it’s been an incredible ride. If you’ve stuck with it all this time, and have immense anticipation and hopes for the cast and crew to pull off a fantastic finale, surely that’s because its level of quality has told you that it’s fair to expect this. If not, why are you still watching? If the value of the narrative and of the experience still hangs in the balance, you have only yourself to blame for lashing yourself on the back by watching something you’re not enjoying. If, by contrast, you’ve been enjoying it, where’s the “waste”?
I ask that question in part rhetorically, since I think what’s really being said by many fans when they suggest that Lost might have wasted all their time is that they want a conclusion that justifies the time they’ve spent watching the show to others. Conclusions to stories matter, of course, but when you’re really enjoying a story, they matter more to those not watching. Indeed, much negative analysis of shows that someone didn’t watch harps on their conclusions, either of the show as a whole (cf. Sex and the City) or of any given episode, as critics can easily lambaste a show for its apparent closing message rather than paying attention to the journey – a strategy common to lazy textual analyses. Censors and would-be censors love conclusions, too, because that’s where they look for the moral.
But if you love a show, the journey is the thing. For Lost, it might be enjoying Nestor Carbonell’s performance earlier this year, or Michael Emerson’s performance throughout the series; it might be getting swept up by Jin and Sun; it might be a fascination with Sayid’s tortured path; it might be the pleasure of the puzzle, and of endless guessing, hypotheses, and counter-hypotheses. Etcetera. But those are the things that non-watchers aren’t watching. Eventually, all they’ll probably know is that Lost began with a bunch of people who crashed on an island and ended with _______. And, yes, what fills that blank is likely going to make many people laugh. It already does. Smoke monsters, time travel, cursed numbers, and resurrection don’t instill confidence in too many non-watchers. So I wonder if fans who worry about “wasting” their time are simply expressing a concern that when it’s all over, others will think they wasted their time [and yes, I do enjoy discussing “the others” in a post on Lost].
This is where I diverge, though … and where surely many Lost fans should too. See, if you told me back in 2004 where the show would be now, let alone three weeks from now, I wouldn’t have signed up for the ride. Time travel is nearly always handled poorly. Smoke monsters? Alternate worlds? Not one, but two guys who can talk to the dead? Not the stuff I signed up for. But I’ve stuck around because somehow they’ve made it work, or between the bits that don’t work for me, I’ve found lovely moments and characters and storylines. The fact that I’m not alone, and that so many people are still here could on one hand suggest the huge market for science fiction, but we already knew that. On the other hand, it suggests how much the journey, not necessarily the conclusion, matters, even though our culture at large is fond of its mantra that the conclusion’s the thing.