Perhaps it’s only appropriate that my first post after a blindingly painful slipped disk injury laid me flat for a few days (hopped up on Vicodin and muscle relaxants) would be about Lost. I wouldn’t recommend messing up your back, but it turns out that a good dose of Lorazepam isn’t such a bad idea for watching this often-infuriating show, as its dangling plotlines and red herrings blur out into an easily-ignorable fog, while its queasy rhythms and quasi-spiritual sci-fi don’t make you quite as nauseous. Do take it with food, though.
In advance of tonight’s season finale, today’s New York Times gave a whirl at a serious critical appraisal of the show, or should I say, gave a whirl at pointing out how you can’t give a serious critical appraisal of the show:
“Lost,” which concludes its fourth season on ABC on Thursday night, refuses our passive interest while it denies us the satisfaction of ever feeling that we might confidently explain, to the person sitting next to us at dinner, that we have a true grasp of what is going on — of who among the characters is merely bad and who is verifiably satanic. To watch “Lost” is to feel like a high school grind, studying and analyzing and never making it to Yale. Good dramas confound our expectations, but “Lost,” about a factionalized group of plane crash survivors on a cartographically indeterminate island not anything like Aruba, pushes further, destabilizing the ground on which those expectations might be built. It is an opiate, and like all opiates, it produces its own masochistic delirium.
Mmm, opiates. Do you think those might help with a slipped disk?
After the jump: what sprawling, frustrating novel is Lost like? Hint: Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment.
While the Times flippantly tosses out Lost‘s “allusions to Philip K. Dick or game theory, or the Gospel of John, or Nietzsche’s theory of eternal recurrence,” there’s one reference that seems more and more appropriate to Lost these days: David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. A phenomenally ambitious and complicated work, a reader (or at least this reader) can finally start to enjoy it only after letting go a little bit of the labyrinthine interconnected plot lines and what they all could mean, and just enjoying the trip. Unfortunately, the ending sneaks up on you, and it’s as frustrating as the book is impressive. Lately, that seems more and more likely to be the case with Lost, whose baffling time-travel loops and conspiracies within conspiracies are far too complex for a tidy resolution. Of course, Jest‘s whole point was that neat wrapups don’t exist, dude, but that didn’t prevent me from throwing the book across the room as I came to the final sentence.
Thankfully, the final episode of the apparently 3rd-to-the-last season of Lost didn’t cause me to throw the TV across the room, and in fact, it tidied up a lot of the dangling plot lines in its action-packed two hours. We finally know how the “Oceanic 6” got off the island and survived a blown-up freighter and not one but two whoops-the-helicopter’s-out-of-gas episodes, not to mention the island’s disappearance. Plus we know why it’s these six, and sure, it’s mostly pretty random, but at least now we know.
There were a variety of twists and turns that can be accurately described as “pretty awesome,” including Kearny (from, as Vulture always puts it, the Freighter of Hot Jerks) pulling off his best Terminator, not only returning from the “dead” thanks to his bulletproof vest but also providing a convenient flashing light to let you know when he’s really kicked the bucket. The Orchid station, with another one of those always-amusing orientation videos, was pretty cool, although who knew time travel chambers powered by mysterious dark matter operate by the same rules as microwave ovens: no metal objects or they’ll blow you right to the Sahara.
We got gut-wrenching loss, watching Sun apparently losing Jin in the freighter’s explosion, and heartfelt closure, as Desmond is reunited (miraculously?) with Penelope. There are some good mysteries set up for next season, like, what happened to everybody on the island, and how did Locke get off the island and die, and, um, where (and when) is that dang island anyway? But more than anything, tonight’s finale was a good reminder that despite Lost’s hyper-realistic style (and resemblance to “Cast Away” multiplied by “Survivor”), this is, at its heart, a work of science fiction. Turn the magic freezer wheel, there’ll be a high hum and a bright light, and a whole island will pop right out of the sea from under you. Whether we’ll ever know how, or why, seems unlikely, just as we’ll never know how exactly Infinite Jest‘s gigantic fans keep the toxic waste from getting out of the Great Concavity. Whether you call it, as the New York Times did, “maximize[ing] the potential of narrative uncertainty,” or just pseudo-PoMo laziness, at least it’s something to think about.
And yes, by the way, that was the Pixies’ “Gouge Away” that Jack was listening to in the car on the way to see Locke’s body. Here’s how that song goes:
You can gouge away
Stay all day
If you want to
Some sacred questions
You stroke my locks
If you got some
Sleeping on your belly
You break my arms
You spoon my eyes
Been rubbing a bad charm
With holy fingers
Chained to the pillars
A 3-day party
I break the walls
And kill us all
With holy fingers
Relevant? Who knows, but boy, Doolittle is a really great album, and I don’t know what Frank Black is singing about most of the time there either. Perhaps, as Sonic Youth put it, “Confusion is Sex”?