Pop Culture

Why ‘Lost’ has lost me as a viewer

In final moments of its second season, ABC's “Lost” revealed that in an arctic location somewhere two men were alerted to electromagnetic activity on the island, and alerted the lover of one of the island’s inhabitants. For the first time, viewers saw the outside world, and the possibility of rescue became very real.

Or maybe not. In Entertainment Weekly’s fall TV preview issue, one of the executive producers, of “Lost,” Carlton Cuse, said, “That scene obviously suggests a new direction for the show.” His writing partner Damon Lindelof said, “Hanging over the storytelling in season 3 is this idea that there is an outside world…or is there? I mean, what did we see?”

Reading those final four nonsensical words, I knew I was done watching “Lost.” I mean, what was I thinking? Once the overlords of “Lost” finally allowed the show to take off running in an actual direction, they plan to haul out their increasingly thin smoke and cracked mirrors once again.

Giving up the series now is the only way to prevent the inevitable disappointment that awaits in the future. Besides, I can no longer bear to watch one of television’s best casts and most intriguing concepts be destroyed by this half-baked mystery machine stupidity.

With its debut a mere two years ago, “Lost” excited the broadcast television viewing world by presenting an incredibly well-produced drama underscored by a mystery: Where in the world were these plane crash survivors, and, more significantly, who are they, really?

Instead of keeping viewers on those two paths, “Lost” has instead followed the Path of Network TV Shows Doomed to Slip into Absurdity and Alienate The Audience. Mostly, that’s happened thanks to the monster, and the polar bear, and any number of other all-consuming but then-forgotten oddities on the island.

The writers’ obsessive compulsion with making the story even more convoluted and mysterious every episode is obvious, as they’re all too consumed with giving viewers something else to wonder about. Like small children playing with toys, they drop each mystery after a few minutes and then run to the next one, hoping viewers will follow.

The monster goes up in smokeIn the very first episode, the survivors heard a violent, machine-like noise coming from the jungle. Despite playing such a significant role early on, that monster has now essentially disappeared from the show’s stories. First, though, after a long stretch of time, the monster was revealed to be a that can tear down trees, and which drags people into holes, eats them, or just reads their minds and reflects their past in its smoky brain. Perhaps the monster’s disappearance is better than giving it even more powers, such as the ability to make an entire meal in just one pot, like the TurboCooker.

When answers are finally revealed on “Lost,” they’re usually complete let-downs, in part because they make little sense, and in part because all those revelations usually do is give way to more mysteries. They serve little purpose but to fuel online chatter.

In the second-season finale, viewers finally learned why the castaways' plane crashed: Hatch-tender Desmond didn’t type in the , a giant magnet clicked on, and the plane fell from the sky. How anticlimactic is that? And all that information did, really, was offer new questions.

If the numbers really do have a purpose and aren’t some kind of psychological experiment, why would whoever wrote the computer program require someone to enter a bunch of numbers to stop it, instead of just pressing a button? More significantly, why wouldn’t the computer just keep the magnet off automatically? Why would someone put a gigantic electromagnet on an island anyway, or why would no one else in the world notice this?

See, this is the real problem with “Lost”: its absurdity is frustratingly addictive. It’s difficult not to tune in next week, always hoping for an answer but getting excited when something random and new pops up instead.

Most frustrating, however, is the producers’ and writers’ insistence upon throwing in some magical “what the...?” moment rather than focus on what really powers their series: .

The most powerful episodes of “Lost” have been those that explore the tenuous relationships between the survivors as they attempt to form a livable society. (For example, Dr. Jack’s tendency to play bossman all the time is rarely challenged, except by the now-dead Ana Lucia.) There were few more powerful moments in the series than when paranoid Ana Lucia shot Shannon by mistake; her action was shocking and completely within character, and best of all, had nothing to do with a monster or evil lottery numbers.

The greatest mysteries often involve the passengers themselves, which are revealed through flashbacks. Locke’s relationship with his estranged father, or Sayid’s life in Iraq, for example, both gave us insight into their behavior on the island.

The backstories also illustrate how all human beings are sometimes accidentally connected, such as those that showed the passengers interacting in the airport before boarding their flight. Increasingly, though, those flashbacks overreach, tying some of the survivors together in ridiculously far-fetched knots.

“Lost” drew high ratings and critical attention because of this smart storytelling and highly engaging premise, which, yes, included a few mysteries (such as the polar bear). Themes of redemption, faith, and trust ran through these elements.

Instead of subtly supporting the story, however, the writers have insisted upon illustrating these themes with ridiculously grandiose symbols and events, as if viewers are too dense to comprehend the effects of faith or belief unless some miraculous, impossible thing occurs.

This will not end well. “Lost” will undoubtedly turn into an “X-Files” mess, perhaps losing original cast members and replacing them with brand-new, previously unseen survivors (the Cargoholdies?). It may also hemorrhage viewers until one day as it falls further and further into the hole it’s digging for itself, until someone finally cancels the show.

The real problem is that giving up a series like “Lost” is not easy. There’s always one baby step forward that is enough to keep viewers hooked until the introduction of the next deus ex machina.

Ultimately, though, “Lost” has become one of those papier-mâché volcanoes that erupt when vinegar is poured over baking soda in the crater. The volcano fizzes impressively for a few seconds, but then it dies. More baking soda and vinegar will keep up the eruptions, but eventually all that’s left is a big, sloppy mess.

is a writer and teacher who publishes reality blurred, a daily summary of reality TV news.

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