It’s easy to hate on Lost—the sometimes silly twists and turns, the millimeter-deep characters, the ever-increasing suspicion that the writers entered this tale with no exit strategy in mind. But show a little respect for a program that serves up quality sci-fi, on free network TV, to the great enjoyment of a large slice of America. A show that’s unapologetically expensive to make, and looks it. A show that rewards the dedicated die-hard, not the casual drop-in.This isn’t a singing contest, or a dating game, or a crime-scene procedural where one week is no different from the next. This is a serial narrative filmed on location with a huge ensemble cast. My vote is for more of that on TV—not less.
Somehow I am not worried; the particulars of the story have never been what “Lost” is about for me. There is something always at work beneath the surface in this show, a kind of structural poetry that embodies its themes of coincidence and fate through parallel actions and mirror images, visual and verbal echoes across space and time and, lately, worlds … These devices are the meter and rhyme of “Lost,” and — with the rhythms of the actors and the colors of the island — they’ve kept the show kind of beautiful, even when it hasn’t made much sense or has wandered into unprofitable cul de sacs.
After six years, Lost is coming to a close tomorrow. For me, the beauty of Lost was always how it encouraged its viewers to look beyond the surface. In many ways, watching any given episode was almost like receiving a clue to a cryptic crossword. Cryptic clues paired with the Internet (would Lost have succeeded the way it did before ubiquitous connectivity?) created a whole community of fan-sites that dissected scenes, analysed episodes and proposed theories. In many ways, the show had become an alternate reality game in itself.
Television is often criticized for being a great, lowest-common-denominator wasteland. However, Lost’s success shows us that viewers are smarter than they’re given credit for. They took Lost’s solidly middlebrow teleplay, which downplayed its most intriguing ideas and often hid them away as easter-egg grade flashes of books in favor of explosions and “character moments”, and weaved theories that often turned out to be better than what the showrunners ultimately put into the show. But it is to the showrunners’ credit that they recognized what fun the fans were having and encouraged it with their slow drip of wink-and-nod hints, even if it meant confounding those who were looking for resolution. It is interesting that so many episodes of Lost begin with a shot of opening eyes. The sheer number of viewers this show found, and their devotion and resourcefulness, may be the biggest eye-opener of all.