I might be one of the only people in America who came to Lost after watching Damon Lindelof’s follow up HBO series, The Leftovers, a series that is concerned almost entirely with themes and character, and has no seeming concern with its own mythology. It presents an interesting exercise in contrasts, when considering the importance of mythology in Lost, and the importance that many Lost viewers placed in that mythology, even when it was something that Damon Lindelof may not have been so concerned with.
Lost is a thrilling pastiche of genre filmmaking in its own right, blending elements of adventure, fantasy, sci-fi, and horror. It’s easy to see why the mythmaking of Lost became such a huge part of what people loved about, and were disappointed by.
However, from the open, it’s clear to me that Lost was always more interested in being a study of character than a study of mythology; it’s what made Lost so thrilling, so structurally inventive, and so frustrating at times.
A character study can only be as interesting as the characters involved, and it’s no coincidence that the best episodes of Lost were about characters that we really cared about, characters like John Locke, Sawyer, and Desmond Hume.
When Lost was at its worst, in the long doldrum-like middle portions of its early seasons (20+ episodes of television is really really difficult to do successfully, and it’s clear to me that if the early seasons of Lost had been shorter, a lot of the worst parts of the show might have been avoided), we spent lots of time with characters we didn’t entirely care about, repeating story beats that we had already seen, and with few story-driven moments to create any sort of momentum. Think about how many episodes we spent with Michael yelling about how “they took [his] boy”, or the many episodes spent watching Charlie once again flirt with his addiction, or Jack’s tattoos, or the ultimately uneventful love quadrangle between Jack, Kate, Sawyer, and Juliet.
At its best, however, Lost managed to perfectly blend all of the things that made it successful; in an episode like “The Constant”, a perfectly told sci-fi romance in which Desmond and his beloved Penny just have to make a single phone call – small stakes if there ever were relative to the life-and-death, good-vs-evil stakes that Lost sometimes played with – and yet that might be the most dramatically successful episode of TV that Lost ever did. It’s all about characters, and what those characters mean to us.
Another massively under-appreciated aspect of Lost is its attention to minorities, to women, and to diversity as a whole. Lost didn’t just feature a diverse collection of actors, it took advantage of its character-based storytelling to tell a diverse set of stories, stories set in different countries around the world, stories featuring women who have the courage to be heroic and badass. Diversity and multiculturalism isn’t just about creating a big tent and about diversity for its own sake – even a story we’ve seen a thousand times can take on a new hue when told through the lens of diversity.
I can understand why people were frustrated by the final season of Lost and its finale. There are certainly structural flaws that made it a frustrating way to end things, full of plot holes and incomplete explanations of mechanics and mythology. However, when I think about these things, I’m ultimately more interested in whether I found the final season and the finale thematically fulfilling – and in this regard, I believe that the way Lost ended was, in the whole, a success. It’s hard to imagine what possible ending Lindelof and Cuse could have come up with that would have been more satisfying than what was presented to us.
This ending to Lost is particularly interesting in light of what The Leftovers has presented in its two and-a-half seasons thus far. The two shows are very thematically resonant, there can be no mistake. The Leftovers is one of the toughest, but most emotionally satisfying, shows on TV, and the DNA is all right there in Lost.