Thoughts on Endings: Lost, Infinite Seriality, The Illusion of Change, and What It All Has to Do With Literary Fiction
by Salvatore Pane
People who knew me in college can attest to the fact that I was one of the most fanatic followers of LOST on the planet. My friends and I hit a level of lameness never before seen by human eyes when during our senior year of college, we made Dharma station logos for the room doors of the house we lived in. Each Wednesday, we’d cram into my buddy’s room with a bunch of Yuengling and watch LOST with our own set of bizarre Jacob/Man-in-Black-esque rules. No lights. No talking. No complaining. We taped each episode, and as soon as one ended, we watched it again (usually making plentiful use of the slow-mo button) to see if there were any clues lurking in the background (there never were). Once, we famously threw out a friend for complaining mid-episode about the sudden appearance of Nikki and Paulo. And we made quite the habit of going to the local bar after every week and shouting our favorite quotes while getting drunk (shockingly, I don’t think any of us had much sex that year).
In the intervening years, my enthusiasm for LOST has weaned. I don’t think it’s because the quality of the show declined (minus the dreadful and drawn out final season), but more because I don’t have that core base of friends who worship the show and want nothing more than to theorize about it and assign it personal meaning. Maybe it’s because of this quote from the immortal Poochie episode of The Simpsons: “The thing is, there’s not really anything wrong with the Itchy & Scratchy show, it’s as good as ever. But after so many years, the characters just can’t have the same impact they once had.” Regardless, LOST ended last night, and despite the fact that I really liked it (it reminded me a lot of a mash-up between Our Town and Neon Genesis Evangelion) the consensus around the interwebs seems to be that the finale of LOST was the worst 2.5 hours in the history of television.
I keep wondering why that is exactly, why genre fiction tends to always have this problem and if it has anything to do with literary fiction. Take, for example, the holy lineup of genre TV: LOST, Battlestar Galactica, Twin Peaks and X-Files. Despite having vocal minorities who love the ends of each of these shows, the majority critical/fan opinion tends to be that they all blew it in their final episodes (or, in most of these cases, the final seasons). Why is that? I always have so much trouble ending my own fiction, and I’ve often thought that beginnings are so much easier. Look at the very compelling openings to the above four examples. A plane crashes on a mysterious island. All of humanity is wiped out by robots with the exception of a lone battleship and handful of civilian ships. The corpse of a teenage homecoming queen is found in a sleepy town. Two detectives focus on mysterious cases.
Ok. Now look at their endings. In LOST’s case, the main character plugs up a magic hole with a magic rock and then hangs out in a church in purgatory with his father and buddies. One is simply more compelling on a base, human level. And honestly, I can’t think of any genre offerings that have endings that match their beginnings. Look at Star Wars or Indiana Jones: a teddy bear parade on one hand and Shia LeBeouf on the other. I wonder if the same holds true for literary fiction. I can think of so many wonderful openings (“In my younger and more vulnerable years…” or “In walks these three girls with nothing but bathing suits.”), but it’s harder to remember endings that don’t disappoint. Revolutionary Road comes to mind, for example. And of course, The World According to Garp. So does Martin Amis’ wonderful London Fields, a genre mashup that’s a trillion times more cynical than LOST but similar in that it also deals with end of the world scenarios. Why is this? Is it because nothing ever ends(the sentiment used to end Watchmen), so any need to impose finality on a work of fiction seems artificial and rings untrue?
I think for me, that might be the case and could potentially explain my love of superhero comics. I forgot who said this, but a legendary comic creator (Stan Lee maybe?) once told Kevin Smith that comics are never-ending Act 2’s. They can’t end. They just go on forever. Batman was in his thirties in the 1930’s and he’s the same age today. The only change is the illusion of change. And if you peel away all the adolescent power fantasies and the inherent ridiculousness in costumed vigilantes, maybe this is the appeal of comic books: infinite seriality. In many ways infinite seriality can seem more realistic than works of fiction that close everything up with a neat little bow. Nothing ever ends. Few things change on any fundamental level. There only exist tiny alterations that hint at the illusion of change.
Or maybe not. Maybe Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse just didn’t know why Claire had to raise Aaron or what the deal was with Walt’s mysterious powers.