If I were marooned on a tropical island in the Pacific and had to discuss Lost with any two people of my choosing until a submarine transported us back home, I'd pick you, Seth, because of your general popular-culture shrewdness, and you, Chadwick, because of your Lost erudition. (You taught a class on the series when you were an undergraduate!)
As luck would have it, Slate has asked us to pick apart Lost's final season for the next four months but is permitting us to do so from the comfort of our offices—no marooning required. This is a task I'm both eagerly anticipating and dreading. Why? From the first episode of the first season through the Season 5 finale, I've been in a perpetual state of confusion over my feelings for the show.
I didn't mind Smokey the Monster. I could tolerate the visions and Locke's miraculous rebirths—first after he was shot and second after he was stuffed into a coffin by a mortician. Jack's dead father wanders around the island like a clip-boarded Greenpeace advocate looking for donations on a street corner—but I haven't complained. I haven't even protested the lameness of so many characters being killed by gunshot.
But as you both know, when Lost's creators threw time travel into the mix, I became openly derisive of the show. Time travel is the single biggest swindle a writer can pull on his audience. Given the keys to the time-travelmobile, any writer can easily motor out of any dead end or sink hole. Lost's reliance on the device has been doubly irritating because up until its formal introduction in Season 5, I thought the show's creators were about to deploy some brilliant plot twist that would unite all the disparate mysteries. Instead, they turned a weird but satisfying show into a squirrelly, gimmicky one.
I stopped caring about Lost, but since I'd already invested so much time into it, I kept watching and comparing notes with other viewers. For me, Lost is like the tanking stock you won't sell because you can't admit you've taken a financial hit.
One of the creators has said that Season 6, which debuts on Feb. 2, will ditch both time travel and flash-forwards and will deliver something new. For that reason, I have great hopes that after Season 5's shenanigans, a spirit of narrative resolution will save the series. The only way to do that, I think, will be for the writers to close the plot's ever-widening aperture and focus instead on a small set of conflicts and mysteries. Do we have any confidence that the show's creators know how to end something? Or is their expertise concocting nightmares that have no conclusion?
Am I being too hard on the show? Do you find elegance in time travel and Egyptology and polar bears and pirate ships? Or are you prepared to join me in a class-action suit against the authors, charging them with narrative malpractice?