So “Lost” came to an end last night. I’ve never seen minute one of the show, but that’s not going to stop me from commenting on it*.
Say what you will of the plot twists that don’t go anywhere, the dialogue laden with riddles, and the characters who come and go without warning, “Lost” was at least challenging. Consider science-fiction network TV up to this point: “Star Trek,” “The X-Files,” “V”. If we add basic cable we can consider “Battlestar Galactica” and “Babylon 5.” Four of those five could be described, with charity, as “space laser adventures.” Every week there’s a new threat. Our heroes assemble to defeat it, suffer setbacks, triumph in the end and learn a little something about themselves in the process. Roll credits. “The X-Files” was more circumspect, with its overarching conspiracies, but largely fit the same “monster of the week” template. And the conspiracies boiled down to whodunits: what is the black oil? what happened to Mulder’s sister? etc.
“Lost” broke new ground by introducing mysteries that toyed with the show’s own reality. There wasn’t any safe ground our protagonists could retreat to when the puzzle got too complex. Simply surviving on the island put them into contact with bears, smoke monsters, weird hatches and time travel. None of it made sense. But (at least initially), you could tease out a deeper thread that unified them. They made sense in a way that didn’t make sense. So here, the question wasn’t “What is the Dharma Initiative?” but “Are we dead? Is this an alternate universe?” Very fundamental stuff.**
“Lost” wasn’t the first show to treat with these questions (see The Prisoner, for one), but it was probably the most popular. It sustained an immense audience for six seasons. By doing that, it opened the door for more challenging science-fiction. And that part’s crucial. Because the best science fiction isn’t just space laser adventures. It’s the weird introspective stuff that makes us evaluate reality and identity from new perspectives. It’s Frank Herbert and Philip K. Dick and Samuel Delaney and Alfred Bester and Octavia Butler and Ursula LeGuin. Science fiction has so much more to offer us. “Lost” showed us a little piece.
* Seriously, not one minute of it. And that’s not even a conscious choice – that’s a statistical oddity. I managed to see one episode of “The Sopranos” in its entire run – the one where they suspect one of the guys is wearing a wire so they try to take him to a sauna, and also Tony’s been told his kid might have ADD – just by accident. And I’ve seen four or five episodes of “Sex and the City.” While coasting around the channels this weekend in a hotel room, I reeled off an entire episode’s description based on two seconds of dialogue. “Oh, this is the one where Big’s wife chases Carrie out of their apartment, falls down the stairs and chips her teeth.” I think that says more of my memory than of my appreciation for the show. I think. Whatever: Kim Cattrall’s hot and I’m not going to apologize for my tastes.
My point is: for a show to have been on the air for six seasons and reach massive heights of popularity, I ought to have seen at least half of an episode. At least by accident. But I’ve seen more of “Legend of the Seeker” than I have of “Lost.”
** I’m also not Wikipedia’ing “Lost” for the purposes of this article. That’s right: I can blog with half my brain tied behind my back.