Ian Harris: Reflections on ‘LOST’ and endings

Thursday, September 26, 2019 - 5:16pm

"LOST"

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This week, ABC’s “LOST” celebrated the 15th anniversary of its pilot. Originally pitched as a cross between “Survivor” and “Gilligan’s Island,” “LOST” at one time boasted the most expensive pilot in television history and was one of the first shows to capitalize on the burgeoning internet-person desire to intensely dissect every last frame of every episode that ever aired. The show featured a diverse ensemble cast, and, through the use of its flashback structure, could go from a cop drama to a hospital soap opera to a sci-fi thriller episode to episode. It also took place on a mystical island with polar bears and smoke monsters and hatches buried underground. It was crazy and it was beautiful; there hasn’t been anything remotely like it since it ended.

When “LOST” originally came to a close in May of 2010, its end was met with an intense amount of scrutiny and criticism not unlike the ending of our current decade’s cultural juggernaut, “Game of Thrones.” Both shows captured the imaginations of million of people. Both had long-running serialized stories that relied on cliffhangers and shocking twists to keep the audience engaged. And while both ended in finales that are not always thought of highly, the endings themselves were criticized for very different reasons. “Game of Thrones” was critically savaged for turning its characters into cardboard cutouts of themselves and racing to an ending that didn’t feel earned. “LOST” ending-haters tended to focus more on the mysteries that were left unanswered and the decision by show runners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse to focus their ending almost exclusively on the character arcs at the expense of the sprawling mythology they had created.

A lot of a show’s legacy is tied up in its end. Over the past nine or so years since “LOST” ended, whenever the show is brought up its ending is almost always brought up as well. They say that time heals all wounds, and that is certainly the case in terms of the “LOST” finale. As the years have gone on, the decision to focus the ending on the characters instead of the plot has proven prescient. As peak TV has become more and more character focused in the decade since “LOST,” audiences have come to expect satisfying endings to character’s journeys. The wrap-ups of “Breaking Bad” and “Avengers: Endgame,” widely regarded as solid for their respective stories, both choose to focus their ending around their central characters.

The ending of “Game of Thrones” was torn apart by fans, critics and audiences alike. It was compared to the ending of “LOST” and this comparison was used as a sign of scorn. But time has been kind to “LOST”s finale, and it’s possible that time will be kind to “Game of Thrones” as well. As people forget the immediate pain and disappointment of a favorite series coming to an end, the good memories that they have of the show begin to take precedence in their mind. Humanity as a species tends to look more fondly on the past as a way to justify the present. Everything looks better when you’re comparing it to what’s going on now. The ending of “LOST” looks great in comparison to the ending of “Game of Thrones,” and the ending of “Game of Thrones” could look great compared to the ending of whatever the next big thing is.