Monday, May 24, 2010

That Long "Lost" Moment

Rushed home from Los Angeles to catch the two-and-a-half-hour finale of "Lost," ABC's puzzle-box series detailing the adventures of the survivors of Oceanic 815.

It was a very satisfying, cathartic episode. In particular, the last few minutes which, sweetened a bit by string music, were nonetheless devastating, joyous, clever, hopeful and sad all at once. I'll admit I teared up: if there weren't family members in the room watching with me I probably would have bawled. I can't remember the last time a show on commercial television had that sort of emotional pull.

As sad and devastating I found the ending, I was also incredibly happy-- the happiness of being shown incontrovertible evidence that I had successfully figured out this show's big secret years ago.

Okay, this sounds like I'm bragging-- but in all seriousness, I have been bending the ear of everyone I know who watched "Lost" for five years about the fact that I saw the show give out a vital, subtle clue in it's second season, one that makes sense of all of it's labyrinthine storylines and details.

In Season Two, many of the survivors of Oceanic 815 were spending time residing in The Hatch-- an underground facility where a number series had to be entered into an Apple II or the whole island would blow up or something. The Hatch also had canned food and hot showers, which must have been quite attractive for a bunch of beach-dwelling castaways. In one episode, John Locke (Terry O'Quinn) is in The Hatch sorting through a shelf full of books. The show often throws out clues in names and titles, physicists and philosophers and whatnot: But the book Locke pulled out, on screen for maybe a second and a half: "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" by Ambrose Bierce, published in 1890.

In this story Peyton Farquhar, a Confederate sympathizer, is condemned to hang from a bridge by the Union army. The rope breaks and he manages to escape. He travels for days to get back to his home and his wife. Moments before they embrace, he feels a pain in his neck-- and blackness. Peyton's long escape was imagined, the attenuated final second of his life.

The storylines of "Lost's" final season, a split between the travails on the Island and an alternate timeline where the crash never occurred, bear this out. The primary themes of the alternate timeline were redemption and self-actualization: finding peace. Fans of the show could obsess about numbers and polar bears and Jacob and whatnot, but the ultimate truth is it was all a reverie, with internal rules as mutable as the imaginations of those clinging to their last moments of existence.

Another big, big clue ran throughout the entire show-- one I am delighted and puzzled to say nobody ever got. The audio bump between segments on "Lost" was the roar of jet engines. Was it a theme-- or the awful sound of reality the doomed passengers of Oceanic 815 were desperately trying to drown out?

(Oddly enough, "Lost" was the second excellent series to use this exact same "Owl Creek" ending. "Life On Mars," the engaging BBC time-travel detective show, left it's main character back in the 1970s-- in his mind, a construct that was, according to a producer, "a final moment of existence, stretched out forever." I'm definitely not talking about the American "Life on Mars," which may have had the all-time worst finale ever.)

Finally: The Season Two episode the explanatory book makes it's fleeting cameo was titled "The Long Con." Get it?

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