Last time out, I looked at Chuck Klosterman’s new book, “Eating the Dinosaur,” as a way to look at the issue of spoilers in the online “Lost” community. Now, as per usual, I started writing about one thing, got distracted and then realized I still hadn’t actually talked about the topic I explicitly promised. However, in this case, I simply realized that establishing the parameters of the topic was a greater, more lengthy endeavor than I had realized. Today, I am going to lay more groundwork in exploring the nature of the mysteries of “Lost” and why those mysteries are intrinsic to my particular love of the show.
After all, I shouldn’t enjoy being this clueless, but clearly I love it. And it’s not just because the show’s opaque nature means I can endlessly hurl BS theories at the cyber wall in the months between seasons and never have to worry about being quote unquote “wrong.” (Although between you and me, that IS pretty sweet.) The show’s unknowable mysteries provide pleasure in that they are almost singularly unique in the pop culture landscape. How many pieces of pop culture have kept so many guessing for so long, simultaneously making the audience feel they are THIS CLOSE to figuring it all out? It’s puzzlemaking disguised as long-form narrative.
But here’s the downside: with each added piece of the puzzle, “Lost” shifts away from varying levels of “interest” towards varying levels of “satisfaction.” Revealing an answer moves reaction from the heart to the head. That’s neither better nor worse, but it’s certainly different. There’s a visceral aspect to analyzing a mystery that is absent in the analysis of an answer. Think of it as the difference between leaning forward on your couch trying to gain clues and leaning back on your couch trying to process what you’ve just learned.
You would judge the success of the former on how much you were invested in the mystery. Given that we’re five seasons into the show and still want to know what the smoke monster is, I’ll call that a successful mystery. Can the answer to that, or any other mystery, truly be “interesting”? No, at least not in the way that we have been using the word over the past two entries. It can be “unexpected,” to be sure. But by very definition, interest wanes at the moment mystery becomes fact.
I don’t remember much about my college education, which I’m sure thrills my parents to no end to read. But I do remember reading the following on a chalkboard during a literature class my sophomore year: “Desire is defined by lack.” For some reason, that struck me and has stuck with me to this day. It’s not so much that it’s profound as succinct and infinitely applicable. In this case, my particular interest in “Lost” lies in what I don’t know about the show. I desire to know more, but I enjoy my current state of disarray immensely. Once I glean the answers, I no longer lack that which produced the desire. There is no more desire. There is no more interest, in least in terms as to how it’s been defined here.
Now, that’s not to say that the show will become useless come the aftermath of the Season 6 finale. But for those that have watched every episode, it will become something different. Let’s look at another Klosterman passage from “Dinosaur,” since as per usual, he says it better than I can (emphasis his):
One of the minor tragedies of human memory is our inability to unwatch movies we’d love to see (again) for the first time. Even classic films that hold up over multiple viewings-and even those films the require multiple viewings-can never deliver the knockout strangeness of that first time you see them, particularly if parts of the story are willfully designed to momentarily confuse the audience.
Well, he’s talking about movies, but he might as well be talking about “Lost.” For better or worse, we only have 18 more hours of new show to experience. I think it’s better, in that establishing an end date for the show allowed Darlton to move make Season 2’s stuck-in-neutral narrative and have a definitive finish line for their story. But even if you enjoy going back and watching old episodes (and Lord knows I do), you can’t deny that it’s a fundamentally different experience. The new bits of information you might glean are registered on a meta level, a variation of, “Aha! They planned this all along!” In other words, you’re realizing things about the writers of the show, not the show itself. It’s still very cool, and I give endless props to the writers for their skill in pulling this off. But this is an intellectual discovery, not an emotional one.
Next time out, I’ll continue this analysis of intellectual versus emotional discovery, and look at how spoilers for Season 6 will affect them both. In the meantime, what have your experiences been in rewatching old episodes in anticipation of the final season?
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Photo credit: ABC