---here there be spoilers---
Summer of 2005, I was so sick I couldn't see straight, but one thing I did notice was comic books had come to television. Through a haze of sleep-deprived delirium, it seemed to me the season finales of two J.J. Abrams joints were sequential art turned to moving pictures, working their respective genre cliffhangers the way funny books had done so well for generations. Alias, I recalled from healthier times, was winding down, but this Lost thing was just getting started. And though I hadn't seen a single other episode, I decided I should get better and do just that, 'cause I really, really wanted to know why Walt was kidnapped, and what was at the bottom of the Hatch. As someone whose fail-safe life support has always been story, the question 'what happens next?' took on personal importance. I needed answers, first from myself, and then, after I'd found a way to heal, from this intriguing show. Cue credits.
For five seasons, Lost inspired and moved me. I enjoyed Season One's soapy setup, and unlike many, dug the heck outta Season Two's focus on Locke and the iconic fable of brothers Eko and Yemi. As Season Three's character backstories ran out of steam to power the show's engine and narrative shifted gears to uncover the island's secrets instead, I was on board for the ride, and rewarded, I believe, by Season Four's luminous "The Constant", and Season Five's admirable, internally consistent handling of time travel (so much smarter than the Star Trek reboot kludge). This was the closest we'd come so far, I cheered, to nerdvana breaching the mainstream without compromising its pocket-protector principles. But come Six, my Season of Discontent, as each week I traded tears and goosebumps for groans and winces, I wondered if my chosen Geek Emperors were naked all along, and half a decade of compelling mytho-mystery was mere misdirection to kill time.
I'll say this for the finale: it gave the actors some emotion to play in a season starved for it, where characters who once carried the show (Sayid, rendered expressionless by a poisoned fountain of eternal life; Sun, separated from her love/hate hubby for 30 episodes until a throwaway beach reunion and hasty kill-off; Big Bad Ben become bit player with only a smidge more dialogue than pilot Frank Lapidus) sat idly on their squares of the chessboard asking Smocke where to go and what to do next. Thank God for Terry O'Quinn's wonderful, nuanced line readings, saving even a 'flash-sideways' gimmick that unspooled like wish-fulfillment fanfic (and not from the internet this time, but the writers room)! Therein, perhaps, lies Lost's most interesting payoff: a role-reversal that revealed a viewership more willing and able to backfill story gaps than the show's creators. It was Hurley, audience surrogate, after all, who inherited the island, and Scott Brown in Wired had it right: this fiction was fulfilled by the cloud. Without fan theories, what was found in Lost besides:
MOTHER EARTH ALLISON JANNEY
I've made it so you can't hurt each other.
I see. (kills Titus Welliver) Now I'm all you've got.
MOTHER EARTH ALLISON JANNEY
Watch over this glowing log flume tunnel, okay?
MOTHER EARTH ALLISON JANNEY
Because. Life. Death. Everything. Drink this.
Lotsa other Losties have weighed in, definitively, about all the threads left dangling from Jacob's loom (here's a fine example, courtesy FFC Chief Chambers: College Humor). I share their frustration, but for me, whether 'Darlton' had the show mapped out from the beginning isn't the issue. Even obsessive long-form planners like Joe Straczynski understand an outline is just a guide; signposts are there to keep you on track, but without room to adapt and invent along the way, your story can't surprise or surpass its initial conditions. That is to say, making it up as you go along is part of the magic, and certainly a matter of course in serialized storytelling for TV, where actors can opt out, networks might decide not to renew, and writing duties change hands. To elegantly walk the tightrope, adjusting on the fly and honoring what's come before while retrofitting new elements onto existing mythology, is the job, and if I may come full-circle, comic book creators have done said job since the medium's inception. In funny books it's called retroactive continuity (retcon), and it's a skillset I wish the Lost team, avowed comics dorks, had brought to bear for their conclusion.
It's not outside their capability, see. They retconned beautifully, I feel, all the way from Seasons Two through Five, each year widening the perspective to show a bigger picture, a deeper drama, than the one we'd so far assumed was underway. Ben Linus and the Others and Dharma in Season Two. Jacob and the Smoke Monster in Seasons Three and Four. And Season Five's coup de grace, when our castaways were smoothly shoehorned into their own histories as catalysts of fate via an entertaining, emotionally satisfying, and airtight time-travel execution. Still, though I appreciate the thematic sense of 'turtles all the way down', discovering this year that twins Jacob and Nameless didn't know anything more about the island than anyone else we'd come to view as a secret-keeping authority, and neither did their crazy ma, became too painful a metaphor for the Lost team's own relationship with their audience: stop asking, we won't answer, every middleman's a fraud, and even the people at the top follow rules without question. I think we deserved better. Don't you?