Friday, May 21, 2010

And the Grief Goes On

Last night, I came as close as I'll ever get to a Star Trek convention. No, I'm not a Trekkie, but I am a Lostie, and I gathered with my fellow fans of the soon-to-be dearly departed drama at the AMC River East for a Q&A with "Lost"'s dynamic creative duo, Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof. On a scale of 1-10, I'd rank this a solid 7 for pure geekiness.

Mind you, Cuse and Lindelof, or Darlton as they've been dubbed by some in the media, were in New York and I was in Chicago. But they technically were appearing "live," as the session was beamed from New York Times headquarters to 500+ Dharma stations, I mean theaters like mine, across the U.S. and Canada. I paid $12.50 for the privilege, and it wasn't even broadcast in 3-D.

Some of us--and I imagine that in total we numbered well into the thousands--had come for answers. Like "were you making this up as you went along?" and "What's up with Walt?" The short answers: A) Mostly not, honestly and B) The actor grew up. (As Lindelof noted, Malcolm David Kelley started out as a 12-year-old playing an 8-year-old. By the end of Season 1, his voice started doing the "Peter Brady" crack and the producers determined "We've got to get that boy on the raft, stat!") Some of us had come to show off our nifty Dharma jumpsuits. (One dude in NY was sporting an especially awesome "Not Penny's Boat" t-shirt that I spent half of the morning searching for online.)

But I suspect most of us, myself included, had come because, like Darlton themselves (itself?), we're "Elizabeth Kubler Ross-ing." We're greiving, and stuck in denial that this astounding television show, whose characters have been a part of our lives for 6 years, is, as of Sunday, no more. We're not ready for it to end.

So, after staying up late this week to catch Matthew Fox on Letterman, only to hear how happy Jack Shepard was to leave the island and move on to feature films, it was comforting to hear that Lindelof cried so hard watching the finale that he got kicked out of the recording studio where the brilliant Michael Giacchino was conducting the show's final musical notes.

What's made parting particularly difficult is that this sixth season has circled back to the near-perfect and much-beloved Season 1 in a nifty bit of symmetry. (Jeff Jensen, Entertainment Weekly's resident Lost savant, predicted this last year.) In the same way that S1 flashbacks gave us greater insight to the characters, S6 flash sideways have shown us alternate shadings of these same individuals. "Let's give the audience the experience of getting to know these characters again in a different way," Cuse explained. Yet just as we've fallen for James Ford, detective, poof, he's gone.

Fans have not only become profoundly attached to these characters--witness the fury over Jin choosing to make his daughter an orphan, as if there really were a little 3-year-old Korean girl who was now parent-less--but they also feel deeply involved in the process of the show's development. Darlton have been particularly sensitive to fan reaction and have at times responded via various plot points, which made it feel as much our show as theirs. That kind of power can be dangerous. Lindelof reminded the audience that the whole Nikki & Paolo debacle of S3 was initially an answer to viewers questioning why, out of 40+ plane crash survivors, we had only ever met a dozen or so. On a more humorous note, Hurley's stash of Dharma ranch dressing was added to quiet detractors who wondered why Hugo hadn't gone all "Biggest Loser" and dropped some major tonnage. (This prompted Cuse to point out: "Nobody ever asked why Kate's hair looked so good." Or, I might add, how she kept finding t-shirts that fit like a glove.)

While Cuse & Lindelof were more than willing to cop to their mistakes (Nikki & Paulo, 'nuff said), they also deserve credit for tackling big ticket topics--on broadcast TV no less. "We set up this thematic debate of faith vs. empiricism. What's the cost of faith?" Cuse said. Try and find that on "CSI." They also upped the ante in a way that few other shows dare, which they signaled in the very first episode. People would die. OK, maybe it was just the Oceanic pilot, who had all of 5 minutes of screen time. But just when we felt comfortable that "Lost" was playing by established rules--extras are expendable--they knocked off Boone. He of the amazing cheekbones and eyebrows. And then they killed Shannon and Ana Lucia and Libby and Mr. Eko. And Charlie. Granted, they told us Charlie was going to die, but even after all of the carnage mentioned above, we didn't believe them. He was a hobbit for crying out loud. You don't kill off a hobbit.

Except they did. "The hardest plot point was killing Charlie," Cuse admitted. Having constructed a narrative path that dictated that outcome, they found themselves in the writers' room thinking "Oh, we are such bastards." But it also had the effect of telling viewers "no one is safe." Of keeping us on edge. Of instilling in us the troubling notion that we might not get a happy ending. Just like real life.

In the event we don't get that happy ending, Darlton has left us in good hands--each other's. When asked which television shows were their major influences, Lindelof referenced "Twin Peaks." (Cuse, who's like the senior partner to Lindelof's wise-cracking, pop culture-referencing junior associate, hearkened back to "Gunsmoke.") He'd watch it with his father and at the end of each episode, "We'd talk and say 'what just happened?'" In "Lost," he created a similar dynamic--a show that got people talking, and expounding crazy theories, and buying Dharma jumpsuits. A show that created not just fans, but a community. Like Lindelof, I watched the show with my dad (albeit in different time zones). And after each episode, I could count on a "WTF" phone call from Pops (which I would prepare for by reading every recap in sight in order to sound like a friggin' genius). By the end, I don't know if my dad even liked the show, but he stuck with it, for me, because it was something for us to share. I'll miss that.

Because I don't have cable--and perhaps not even if I did--the candidates (pun totally intended) to fill the gaping hole left by "Lost" are few if non-existent. Of late, I've grown fond of "Parenthood," but not in the way that I gave my heart to "Lost." (I like Peter Krause, but he's no Josh Holloway--with or without a shirt.)

"This show has provided us an opportunity to illuminate our ideas of faith," Cuse said. Characters started out as loners, came together and formed a sort of family (live together, die alone) and found strength in each other. "We all lifted each other up--that's what matters in life."



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