How Not to Write Yourself Out of a Hole

05/24/2010 11:45 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011


I recognize that because there was a five year gap between the last time I watched Lost and last night's finale, I am not be the best-grounded person to offer a critique. Nevertheless...

In 1931, fourteen members of the British Detection Club published The Floating Admiral, a collaborative mystery. The rules were simple: You wrote a chapter that extended the previous chapters, and sent the entire manuscript on to the next mystery writer in the club. You also had to write the solution you had in mind when you wrote your chapter, but that solution was not passed on to the next writer. All of the solutions were included at the end of the published book. The result was a pretty good British mystery novel, with a tour de force final chapter that amazingly made sense of the entire concoction, even after one of the middle chapters introduced a wealth of sticky information about British tide schedules.

The Floating Admiral managed to make sense of the clues strewn about. Lost seemed not to give a damn. Admitting again that I stopped watching after the first season, it seemed to me that the original idea in that first season was that the characters were in Purgatory — a resolution that the writers abandoned when the Internets guessed it too quickly. The writers then began complicating the plot, some of which seemed to be heading toward an explanation of what the heck was going on (the steering wheel, the Dharma, the time travel) and some of which seemed to be merely arbitrary pointers to the fact that the island was magical (the polar bear, the lottery numbers) and thus didn't need detailed explanation. Then, about two years ago, the writers decided on what was really going on and forcefully turned the narrative's wheel in that direction, introducing a (rather lame) mythology about two brothers, the flash-sideways, etc. Meanwhile, they had all the cruft from the previous years to deal with.

So, they punted. The magical elements were left as arbitrary and absurd, even though they had been presented to us as clues. Instead, the writers decided that Lost was really about character narratives. Fine, except that it spent a couple of hundred hours keeping us going (well, some of us) by dangling plot bait in front of us.

I understand that many people are happy with the resolution of the character narratives. But, I think Lost wrote itself into a corner from which it had no honest escape. Furthermore...


You know Jack stuck in a hole from which there is no escape except by capping the light? That was the writers expressing their own plight. You know Jack magically escaping from the hole and dying happily? That was the writers' symbolic wish-fulfillment.