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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


"I think there’s this essential human desire to have a unified field theory. Everyone is like, “I want to unlock the single secret to Lost.” There isn’t any one secret. There is not a unified field theory for Lost, nor do we think there should be, because philosophically we don’t buy into that as a conceit... The great mysteries of life fundamentally can't be addressed."-- Carlton Cuse, WIRED, 4-19-2010.

I watched all of the LOST Season Six extras last month, but to put it mildly there's not a lot of bang for the LOSTphile's buck in the DVD collection. The producers of the show, notorious for their aversion to definitive statements about the series-mythology, don't really provide any earth-shattering answers in the vignette-sequel "The New Man in Charge," but the commentary-tracks, at least, gave a clear picture of the producers' trickster-y mentality.

For instance, on the track for "Across the Sea," the producers have the chance to address one of the late-blooming mysteries they tossed out in that episode-- to wit, was the adoptive mother of Jacob and the Man in Black herself a smoke-monster? Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof hem and haw, admitting that it would've been really tough for a middle-aged woman to slaughter a whole villageful of people without Smoke Monster skills. But ultimately they refuse to answer the question, claiming (rather absurdly) that such a divulgence would compromise the audience's ability to debate the nature of evil.

One would think that with the series finished and not much likelihood that either man will helm a recrudscence of the franchise, the two men would just 'fess up and admit that the writers wrote themselves into a corner and got out of it with a bit of typical LOST obscurantism. Of course, that admission could raise more problems than it would solve. Were Cuse and Lindelof to affirm that Unmamma was a Smokey, the consistency-minded would ask: "Then why didn't Unmamma just slaughter the unwanted visitors to her island the first time they came?" Certainly Unmamma had no problem killing Claudia, mother of the two brothers. Logically, a surgical strike on the remainder of the colonists (or whatever they were) would have prevented the trespassers from luring Man-in-Black away from Unmamma's sheepfold. I for one would've respected the producers a bit more if they'd just said straight-out: "We screwed the pooch on that one."

At the same time, I can appreciate that creative people are always, in one sense or another, tricksters of a sort. I don't buy it when Cuse and Lindelof tell audiences that they were wrong to devote their attentions to the mysteries Cuse and Lindelof raised, because they the audiences ought to have been really focused on the human stories involved. But I *can* appreciate that some superlative creative talents are a lot better at establishing mysteries than they are at solving them, and that on one level these talents are justified in talking any kind of talk that helps them sell their wares. In comic books, I find that Grant Morrison and both Hernandez Brothers fit the same category. Morrison and the Hernandezes don't have the excuse that they're working alongside dozens of other creative collaborators-- writers, actors, musicians-- but the pattern remains the same. For any creator whose strength lies in the evocation of mystery rather than its solution, the (re)solution is always going to be of secondary importance.

I can also appreciate what Cuse says re: "the great mysteries of life." Most of the authors who have ascended to the ranks of canonical literature do so in part because they capture a sense of the imponderable nature of life, to whose questions there are no "answers," as there are so often answers to fictional questions. And by and large, I think there were many times that LOST's producers succeeded in catching that sense of imponderability. One of my favorite such scenes appeared at the conclusion of Season 1, Episode 12, "Whatever the Case May Be," wherein Shannon labors to translate the notes of Danielle Rousseau. As she realizes that the notes are the lyrics of the French song "La Mer," she sings them, and the pathetic tonality of the song symbolizes the gulf between the intent of Rousseau when she wrote the notes and the reception they receive from a stranger, Shannon, desperately trying to interpret the meaning. This would be remain a strong moment of "mystery" in a positive sense even if the producers had never troubled to follow up Rousseau's backstory.

Similarly, I didn't care that much if some characters, including the godlike Jacob, were often bound by arbitrary rules, which were inevitably concepts devised by the writers to make the narrative work. For instance, such rules had to be in force to both keep the Man in Black confined to the island and yet prevent him from killing off the candidates who might take Jacob's place should MIB kill Jacob. I don't even mind that we don't know precisely why Ben *could* kill Jacob-- whether it had to do with the location of the murder, or Ben's state of mind, etc. A precise explanation in that case would if anything dissipated the sense of a profound mystery, patterned on (but not limited to) the betrayal of Jesus by Judas.

OTOH, there are times Cuse and Lindelof used the "no united field theory" as a crutch to avoid narrative problems rather than to sustain the sense of mystery. In one of the commentaries, Cuse and Lindelof wander off into a windy rumination about MIB's motives: "does the MIB choose to follow the rule, or does he *have* to follow it?" But while this could have been a valid question in other narrative circumstances, it's not supported by the LOST narrative. I was highly amused, after hearing this, to come across a deleted scene in which Smokelocke directly tells Sun, "Do you think if I could break the rule I would still be HERE?"

With that bit of Cuse-Lindelof flummery in mind, it's not surprising that "New Man in Charge" takes a dismissive attitude to fans' remaining questions. I can only say that I for one never cared much about why Dharma used polar bears, and while the explanation for the "Hurley-bird" was mildly interesting, that too was a mystery that I could have simply chalked up to the Island's imponderable nature. As for the revelation that the pregnancy-problems were caused by the island's wacky electromagnetic effects, this is, like the matter of the Smoke-Unmamma, an answer that just raises more questions. Why did the pregnancy-problems manifest at some times and not others? Pierre Chang talks as if the negative effect is confined to creatures brought near the Orchid (implicitly for the time/teleportation experiments), but by the time the castaways arrive it's affecting every conception on the island. And how much are we supposed to think Ben Linus knew about the island's magnetic monstrousness? If he knew a lot, he wouldn't have enlisted the help of baby doctor Juliette, as she'd have no resources capable of quelling the effects. But if Ben knew very little about the Island's electromagnetism, that makes the character look like a dunce unable or unwilling to research the very cynosure to which he's devoted his life. Offhand, I'd say he had to know *something,* as he seems pretty unsurprised in the episode where he witnesses the Oceanic plane being shreded in mid-air. But of course what Ben knew and what Ben did were largely governed by the convenience of the writers.

As I said, I expect trickery from creators at all times, and have my own standards as to what are good tricks and what are bad tricks. I'd certainly say that LOST managed far more good ones than bad ones in its complicated evolution, and that's probably my last word on the serial, aside from finding ways to work the show into my own personal "united field theory" of literary production.

ADDENDUM: Ahhh, I forgot to mention Walt's return. Yeah, I guess it's nice to establish that he'll apparently play some part in redeeming his dad's lost soul, but c'mon! NOTHING about his bilocation skills?? For shame!

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