The LOST Art of PostModern Storytelling


I had planned a long, pedantic post about what annoyed me about the series finale of LOST. But it’s late and I’m tired and I’ve been writing all day and it’s just a stupid television show.

Let me just say for the record that I’m not confused about the ending of LOST. (Many commenters on the message boards seem to assume that if you had problems with the finale it’s because you don’t “get it.”) Trust me, I’m crystal clear about what we are supposed to understand about what happened to the Lostaways. And that’s the problem.

My beef is with the ethics of the story telling done by the writers–who are clearly brilliant and talented, by the way. But there is a difference between talent and integrity. (paging Tiger Woods)

In pre-Postmodern times, there was an unwritten pact between storytellers and the readers/hearers of their stories. The pact was simple and threefold.

(1) The teller would be clear about what kind of story they were telling. (2) He would be faithful to genre in the telling. (3) Any prominent details or themes presented in the story would ultimately prove to be meaningful.

The writers of LOST eventually violated that pact on all three counts.

What kind of story were we being told? Science fiction? Fantasy? Supernatural thriller? Apocalyptic religious drama? Yes to all. Was the underlying theme thread good vs. evil? Game theory? Philosophy? Particle Physics? Alice in Wonderland? The Wizard of Oz? The Chronicles of Narnia? Star Wars? Jacob and Esau? Yin and Yang? Yes to all and much more. Take from the smorgasbord of iconography whatever appeals to you.

Re: the 3rd part of that pact . . . The previous five seasons of LOST were filled with details and themes which proved in the end to be little more than red herrings designed to keep ratings bolstered by teasing, tantalizing and bewildering us.

The deal a story teller makes with a hearer is that if, for example, in Act 1, I present a character who seems to be using four different names.  (e.g., Edgar Halliwax, Marvin Candle, Mark Wickmund, Pierre Chang) then at a some point in my story I will reveal why that is so and what it has to do with the story I’m telling. It must matter, otherwise I, the storyteller, wouldn’t have gone to all the trouble of coming up with four different names for this character.

Unless, of course, I’m just screwing with you. There are hundreds of examples of this in LOST.

The other thing I find irksome about the finale in particular–besides the fact that the writers finally revealed their religious worldview assumptions as Buddhist/Taoist–is that it chose sentiment over logic.

The 2.5 hour episode did a brilliant job of yanking the heart strings of all of us who were emotionally invested in the characters. And the series did a masterful job of getting us to make that investment. But the “Purgatory” of the flash sideways really just served as a contrivance for allowing all our separated couples to have their tender “awakening” moments.

Most fans loved this finale precisely because it provided one “feel good” moment after another, even if the overall premise made no sense to the integrity of the story.

Thus the finale was a celebration of sentiment. A triumph of love over logic. Feeling over facts.

Which I guess in a postmodern culture makes the LOST finale, pretty much perfect.

Well what do you know, I had a long, pedantic post in me after all. Good night. The Christian Shephard is leading me into the light now. And I must close my eye.