The good, the bad, and the smoke monster
John, I was a rabid "Lost" fan back in the day, but now I'm afraid to go anywhere near a box set, because I'm afraid to take that roller-coaster ride of fascination and disappointment again. To get the bad out of the way first, that ending wasn't just poor, it was insulting. Not just the last episode, but the entire concluding "arc" of the show. The metaphysical parts weren't so bad, and I almost admire the cheek of capping off years of "they're all dead and the island is Purgatory!" speculation from fans by actually making that one of the narratives in the last year. They'd introduced enough time-travel machinery to sell the "flash-sideways" scenes in the final year as an altered timeline. That's not a bad bit of sleight-of-hand, considering that what was really happening was something the fans had expected and/or dreaded all along.
The insulting part was dismissing all those years of intriguing mystery, and confident assurances from the writers that it would all make sense in a sci-fi way, with a bunch of hand-waving nonsense about wizards. Upon learning the true nature of the Jacob, I immediately thought of the "Simpsons" episode that had Lucy Lawless addressing a nerd convention and snottily dismissing every fan question about plot holes in "Xena" by barking, "Wizards did it."
Anyone happy with that resolution is perfectly entitled to their happiness - I wouldn't want to convince anyone to dislike something that satisfied them. But an awful lot of the historic craze around "Lost" at its peak, during the first three seasons and those agonizing summer breaks, came from viewers happily trying to make sense of all those enigmatic clues. This was a show that melted the Internet by showing a map scrawled on a door for thirty seconds. It never would have generated that level of interest if everyone had known the answer to most questions would be, "Wizards did it."
And the success of "Lost" led to a good deal of other lazy storytelling, in shows like the re-imagined "Battlestar Galactica," where writers grew accustomed to tossing out random weirdness without any concern for ultimate resolution. Let the fans go nuts trying to figure out something that doesn't really have a solution, and we'll eventually just shrug and say it was all the work of magicians or gods, or pick four random cast members to reveal as Cylons. We've even got "Lost" alumni stinking up Hollywood, as with Damon Lindelof and the atrocious script to "Prometheus," which was pure concentrated "Lost" at its worst - complete with characters who behave inexplicably, because the plot demands it. (What an adorable alien snake monster! I think I'll pet the little darling while my fellow scientist does bong hits in his space helmet!)
But then there was the good... and when "Lost" was good, it was great, truly one-of-a-kind. There was some great acting, the premise was fascinating, and the hinds of dark mystery lingering around the first two seasons were profoundly unsettling in a way few TV shows or horror movies manage to be. It was terrifying to imagine being one of those castaways, surrounded by terrible forces they didn't understand, forced to make impossible choices. And the whole "push the button" drama was pure existential fascination, a scenario that would have delighted Samuel Beckett. Push this button every 108 minutes, or something terrible will happen. Who among us might not have ended up like Desmond, pushing the button for years, because we're afraid to find out what happens if we stop? A psychological prison without bars... how diabolically clever.
I don't know... maybe I'm staying away from the box set because I don't need it. For better and worse, I think I can still remember every minute of the damned show, and I never watched an episode twice.