So that’s it, then – only the finale left to go. Widmore’s dead, Jacob explained why he picked the Losties to be the candidates, Jack volunteered to be the new Jacob, and sideways Desmond is pulling a classic, series-ending Get the Team Back Together move. It seems we’ll be waiting until the last possible moment to understand exactly what the sideways world is, but the vague suggestions about how Desmond relates to the Smokey/Jacob storyline are beginning to form. Desmond, it seems, is an extra, unlikely piece in this whole arrangement, and something about his ability to withstand electro-magneticwhositwhatsit makes him a measure of last resort. And yet, in spite of what sounds like an odd-man-out scenario, he’s clearly central to what will connect the sideways world back with our main storyline, as he’s the one orchestrating the Oceanic 815 reunion tour. From what we learned in this last episode, it looks like the burden of the island’s future will be in Jack’s hands, but I think Desmond will be the one responsible for the future of our characters.
In the past few weeks, there’s been a well-deserved deluge of coverage about the end of this show, but one type of piece that occurs most frequently is the list of questions that need to be answered. Here’s one from the LATimes showtracker blog, a request for the most desired answers from Alan Sepinwall, a list of 50 questions that require answers from io9, and this meta-breakdown of types of questions from Jason Mittell. I think in the post-game blow by blow of what this show has done for television, one of Lost’s most characteristic features will be this relationship it has created with its audience. For what other show, even one with a fairly standard mystery format, could you ever imagine the dominant concern being this flat-out, madness-producing obsession with questions and answers? It’s more than just a desire to know how things work, what happened, or what will happened – the emotional impact is much closer to anxiety, a deep irresolvable unease over the possibility of answerless questions. These pieces about the questions that most need responses are attempts to sort the many puzzle pieces of this show, or they’re reminders of things that may have been forgotten, but they’re all also striving to mediate the inevitable disappointment of a season finale that cannot possibly resolve everything.
Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof have been very open about what they’re trying to do with this show, and their lack of interest in providing pat answers to every tiny open-ended problem. When Alan Sepinwall asks whether he’ll ever figure out who’s shooting at the outrigger, they tell him “no,” and when he points out that there have been many outriggers this season that could potentially supply the answer, their response is “we can’t entirely deny that we’re taunting you.” Which is great, and funny, and also completely their prerogative as storytellers. Part of what makes this whole question/answer thing so fascinating is that it points to something about our expectations as audience members. Somehow, we’ve come to believe that we have a right to creative control over stories that we’re not making – this is central to the whole shipper insanity on Chuck this season – and the demand that storytellers bend to an audience’s will is usually in the worst interest of the story. From this perspective, I am definitely sympathetic to Cuse and Lindelof. If they want to end this story with the island blowing to smithereens, or the discovery that it’s all taking place inside a snow globe, then we’ll all just have to live with it.
It’s hard not to feel a little duped, though, and I’m not talking about feeling betrayed over the lack of resolution to the Walt storyline. The disjoint here is a result of something fundamental about the way Lost has been built for the last six years, and the steps season six has been taking toward the conclusion. These last several episodes, especially “Across the Sea” and “Ab Aeterno” have been strong mythological underpinnings for the show, and have insisted on thinking about Lost in terms of abstractions. It’s about big, unsolvable, human nature things, these episodes tell us – it’s about good and evil, and faith, and whether people change, and some pretty broad Oedipal stuff. Of what we now know to be the three crucial original characters, two don’t even have names! We’re not supposed to be caught up in all the little minutiae, because what matters are these larger, more philosophical questions. That’s fine! Except, for the last six years, Lost has been asking us to pay attention to minutiae, and rewarding us when we do. “Say,” it says, “remember this character’s face? Now where have you seen her before? Didja notice that copy of A Wrinkle in Time on the bookshelf? How about the fact that Walt’s picture is on the milk carton Hurley’s drinking?” When you’re rewarded for noticing and interpreting all these details, it’s no wonder that you then focus on the multitude of details you can’t quite read. It matters that Sawyer has several names – why does Marvin Candle also go by Pierre Chang, Mark Wickmund, and Edgar Halliwax? Who’s shooting at the outrigger? Why did scary mysterious people always look like they were dripping wet in the first season? Lostpedia is a testament to an audience just trying to keep track of the little things. From the beginning, Lost has been rewarding its audiences’ minute attention to detail, and so it does feel unsatisfying to learn those little things are what we should now be ignoring.
I’m going to enjoy the finale no matter what happens. But I wonder if whether one of the things that will be clear about Lost in hindsight is this contradiction between detail and abstraction. If nothing else, this show may be remembered for the disconnect between the way this story has been told and the thing we’re now learning is actually the story.