Lost has ended.
The excellent finale closed a TV series which had the potential to become one of the best drama ever to be seen on the small screen, but it turned out to be one of the most memorable disappointments instead.
(Only season 4 spoilers.)
I loved the first two seasons. The story, the actors, the mysteries all worked well and I expected that everything will make sense eventually.
However at the end of the second season I started to feel fooled. Tons of questions with no answers and those long, boring background stories made me frown.
Then during season four where Desmond’s mind travels around in time (like in the “Butterfly effect”) and he needs to talk to someone he cares about or else he dies, I was like “What the hell? I don’t want to watch this random bullshit anymore.”
It seemed that the creative process was raped by greed yet again: the writers were forced by the network to stretch the series for twice the length of what the material actually needed:
“Listen up people! I want 4 more seasons, at least, with 45% more mysteries, 5 new characters and two big explosions in each season. But since I really don’t want to suppress your creative freedom, you can decide what you want to blow up.”
Later I found that there was another, less evil reason for the flock of unanswered questions lingering in the jungle: I saw J. J. Abrams’ talk on TED.com.
In this excellent presentation he reveals his preference of “mystery over knowledge”. As an example he mentions Jaws and Alien and that how they would be less effective if the monsters were revealed directly. And I agree with him.
Trouble is that those movies are very different experiences from lost and the direct comparison is meaningless. There the events and characters are connected to each other so one can understand what was going on, no unanswered questions remain.
For that, here is my depiction of a Lost-esque Jaws:
One night an unusually wild storm hits the small island resort town. Many have seen purple lights in the clouds and the thunders also sound strange. Fishermen saw several lightnings striking the same spot not far from the shore.
Next morning the mutilated body of a young woman is found on the beach. The coroner suspects a shark attack and he also notes that she suffered from situs inversus, her internal organs are located at the other side of her body.
The local police chief starts to warn the tourists about the shark but then he is stopped by the mayor and told to acknowledge that it was a motorboat accident. He reluctantly agrees, but finds the suddenly limping mayor’s behavior erratic and generally weird. Starts sniffing around and discovers the mayor’s notebook with drawings of distorted faces and a mirrored names.
When the dead woman’s fiance identifies the body, he finds five letters of the Greek alphabet tattooed on her neck, tattoos he’s never seen before.
He asks for her belongings and is disappointed as the necklace of her is missing, probably sank during the attack.
A day later a message in a bottle is washed ashore and is found by the police chief’s kids. The message is the same Greek letters which were found on the deceased woman’s neck.
Another dead body turns up the week after, a guy this time. He also seems to be killed by a shark, also suffers from situs inversus and has four Greek letters on his neck.
The police chief starts to look for a shark hunter. The old, limping hermit living in the abandoned lighthouse shows up and offers his assistance.
A few boaters haul in a big, old chest they found floating not far away from the very spot where the lightning kept striking during the storm.
When they open the chest they discover the bones of a huge shark with a rusty necklace stuck between its teeth. The necklace is later identified as the one the first victim was wearing.
…and so on. Its not that difficult to come up with random stuff if I don’t have to explain them later on. It’s cheating.
So I stopped watching Lost.
Then I accepted that it was screwed and started watching it again. I wanted to see how they sink deeper and deeper in their own bullshit, but for more importantly, I wanted to learn from them what I could. Picked the great bits and pieces for later use and browsed the web during the boring parts. There were several moments which inspired me so I think in this case certain parts are greater then the whole.
I want to use this knowledge to create a proper Lost-like experience at some point. Which feels like Lost but where there is an explanation for everything because there is a network of logical relations under the hood.
As often said, the mysteries of Lost made people use their imagination while trying to explain things. And this is great. People thinking about stuff, asking questions and pondering about different possibilities is always great.
But why leave them there, without actual answers? They won’t know if they guessed right, they won’t realize their mistakes, they won’t learn.
I think this is how it should be done:
- Introduce a mystery.
- Drop some clues which might or might not be related to this particular weirdness. (But relate to something.)
- Leave it for a while and let people wonder, guess, ask questions, discuss.
- Drop more clues.
- Leave it again for a bit.
And keep pouring information until the mystery is fully revealed. People will try to fill in the gaps after each new clue. They will narrow down possibilities or realize that they were totally off. Everyone will reach a point sooner or later when they can predict your, the creator’s next move. When they succeed then they are satisfied (and rightfully so) because they beat you to the solution.
So the audience got mysteries, got food for thoughts, got a chance to discover the solution for themselves and got the satisfaction of being right.
And I hope you like the intro image for this post.