Should I watch Lost?
May 24, 2010 3:31 PM   Subscribe

Is it worth it to now watch all of Lost? (No spoilers please)

So I've waited till now to watch Lost because I enjoy siting down and watching a whole show and not waiting for new seasons to start and then waiting a week for a new episode. I had heard criticisms in previous seasons that they were developing to many mysteries that they would never be able to resolve. So now that has ended was it satisfying? Did it resolve itself? Will it be worth my time to watch all six seasons?
posted by Uncle to Media & Arts (45 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I say yes. Absolutely. Regardless of the criticism it is a remarkable achievement. Not all shows are winners, of course, but many are just fantastic. Strong acting, well-directed, beautifully shot, accompanied by original orchestral music that was performed "live" while the show's rough cuts played in the background. It's a fun ride -- go for it.
posted by Ike_Arumba at 3:34 PM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

What are your alternatives, ie what are your costs to spending hours upon hours to accomplish this feat?
posted by yoyoceramic at 3:36 PM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

If explaining every single mystery is necessary for you to consider the experience satisfying, then you will not consider this satisfying.

I would watch the pilot. Hopefully on a nice big HDTV. If you like it, watch some more. If you don't, or stop liking it at some point in the middle, feel free to give up at anytime and read Lostpedia.
posted by grouse at 3:36 PM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yes, it is very much worth it. It was overall a very satisfying show. Huge, epic story arc from start to finish, great characters, and they more or less got where they intended to go storywise.

People who criticize the show should put it in perspective. There's simply no comparison between Lost and other serial dramas like 24 or Heroes which quickly became meandering trainwrecks.
posted by Khalad at 3:37 PM on May 24, 2010

Yes, if you're okay going with the flow and seeing where the ride takes you.

If you need an explanation for every thing that happens it might frustrate you.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 3:39 PM on May 24, 2010

Season 1 at least is pretty great, and you can bail at any time without having to wait a week between episodes to see if it's going anywhere or not.
posted by trunk muffins at 3:41 PM on May 24, 2010

Completely. I'm quite jealous of you, actually. I wish I could start it all from scratch right now.

And, as others above have mentioned, not every single niggling mystery will be resolved. You have to accept that some questions won't be answered. That being said, it's still one of the best shows I've ever seen.
posted by fso at 3:42 PM on May 24, 2010

Also, I will note that LOST Seasons 1-5 are now available via NetFlix Watch Instantly, so if you're able to watch streaming video over the Internet you can pay just $8.99/month to view them.

Also, looks like all episodes are currently up on Hulu, but that probably won't last long.
posted by Ike_Arumba at 3:42 PM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

As long as you don't have to have every single thing tied up in a bow, absolutely watch the whole thing.

I'm seriously considering going back to watch it all again myself; kind of like revisiting a favorite book, where I already knows how it ends, so I can concentrate on the little details that I might have missed the first time.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 3:46 PM on May 24, 2010

Watch LOST for the characters first, and the mysteries second. There are truly some great stories told over the seasons, and the mysteries are just an added bonus.

I'm looking forward to starting again from the beginning, not to try to put the pieces together, but to enjoy meeting the characters all over again.
posted by alligatorman at 3:55 PM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you want something where every last question is resolved, read a turn-of-the-century era mystery where the detective brings everyone into the drawing room at the end to explain who the killer is and exactly how he did it.

Lost didn't answer all the questions the show raised. Combined with the (mostly) strong characters and generally interesting plot, it answered enough of them to be satisfying, IMO.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:55 PM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you want to watch six seasons of a show with some neat characters wherein a bunch of crazy shit happens to them, over which they have little to no control, sure.

If you want to watch a show where it's clear the writers value character agency, narrative fidelity, and internal self-consistency over crazy shit, then no.
posted by pts at 4:02 PM on May 24, 2010 [20 favorites]

Whether the ending was satisfying is a very loaded question. There is a wide spectrum of responses; some are entirely happy with how it concluded and others are fuming. Really it's a matter of personal opinion.
posted by Rhomboid at 4:05 PM on May 24, 2010

It is kind of stupid for me to post in this thread because I didn't watch Lost. However, having read a lot of the commentary, it reminds me a lot of the discussion following the end of Battlestar Galactica -- namely, yes things weren't always resolved , but the series was a hell of a ride, a great achievement for a television show, very entertaining along the way, etc etc.

I also watched all of The Wire, which has all of those things plus a coherent plot and was very satisfying to watch. It worked as a straight up drama, plus it had layers and layers of superb commentary about the modern American city. Battlestar aspired to be the same thing, but left me feeling weary and resentful for burning so many hours on what turned out to be just popcorn that suckered me in with cheap cliffhangers.

I tend to watch shows all at once as well and I think that type of experience compounds any weakness in the plot. Especially with a cliffhanger-heavy show, you're more likely to keep watching and watching until it takes over your life for weeks at a time. "The ride" is less important as the epsiodes go by in a bit of a blur with less time to sink in, and the story is more important. Given this type of viewing pattern I would not recommend Battlestar. From what others have written it sounds like Battlestar and Lost offer comparable experiences (others can perhaps comment on that).
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:09 PM on May 24, 2010

The first five seasons of LOST are on Hulu until 2011.

There are shorter and better shows you can spend your time on, but LOST was not at all a bad show. Treat it as a series of moments and not a cohesive whole, and many of those moments are brilliant.
posted by Rory Marinich at 4:11 PM on May 24, 2010

It's definitely worth watching. I hated the finale and disliked a bunch of stuff they started doing with it starting in season 3, but the first two seasons are amazing and the latter half still has a lot of great moments. It's possible you'll be disappointed in the end, but the ride itself was great.
posted by LegateSaxon at 4:16 PM on May 24, 2010

It's absolutely worth watching! Even if it ends up disappointing you, the show is interesting and important.

Last summer I watched seasons 1-4 while I was laid up after a surgery, pretty much all in a row. It's a fantastic show to plow through on DVD or whatever when you don't have to wait a week for the next episode.
posted by bewilderbeast at 4:22 PM on May 24, 2010

You're asking this question at a very loaded time! I wonder if the answers will be different in a month or two when people have cooled down. But I'll say: YES YES YES. Go for it. You won't be disappointed.
posted by BlahLaLa at 4:27 PM on May 24, 2010

Definitely yes. In fact, it'll be a lot easier to follow season 5 if you can watch each show end-on-end. Go for it!
posted by Koko at 4:36 PM on May 24, 2010

My husband and daughter are doing this right now, working their way through the whole thing on Hulu!
posted by mothershock at 4:39 PM on May 24, 2010

I personally guarantee that if you work your way through LOST in a small space of time, you will come away disappointed.

People in this thread are using the phrase "If you need all your questions answered, then you won't like it"

More like, if you need ANY of your questions answered don't watch it.

Season Finales and huge plot elements were not important to the story at all. Major character deaths had no impact on anything.

The writers had no idea where they were going with anything. None.
posted by lakerk at 4:54 PM on May 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The answer depends on what sort of viewer you are.

Here's my take on LOST: it was a show filled with many, many episodes that were really fun adventure stories, and it had many interesting and likable characters. But it also was a bit like reading an Agatha Christie mystery that ends "...and the murderer is" and then there's a page missing.

What if I told you, in advance, that this is how it's going to end? You will NEVER find out who the murderer is. Will you enjoy reading it, anyway, because you like spending time with Miss Marple?

Again, there's no right answer. Me, I wish I had never started it, because I want to know whodunnit. Which isn't to say the characters don't matter to me. In fact, they matter to me more than the plot resolution. But the plot matters enough to me that I'm deeply unsatisfied with LOST, because it has about a zillion loose ends.

Two caveats to what I said, above:

1) it's NOT a murder mystery. I hope you understand that I just was using metaphor, since I don't want to give spoilers. But it IS a story that relies heavily on plot. Although the writers now claim, "It's all about the characters," its form is not that of what most people think of as a character-based story. It's not told like a Chekhov play or a Merchant Ivory movie (or Sex in the City), in which plot takes a backseat most of the time or plot is really simple. It's told like an adventure story, and the plot is VERY noticeable and yet unfinished.

2) Not everyone seems to agree that there are as many loose ends as I claim there are.
posted by grumblebee at 5:02 PM on May 24, 2010 [5 favorites]

Best answer: No! Yes! Maybe. It depends. Grrr. OK yes, ultimately, I guess, because there are a lot of good things to take from it even without ultimately understanding what happened. I'm disappointed but liked so much of it.

I agree with those saying that it's an exciting ride. I hated the ending from a plot standpoint but liked some of the sweetness and retrospective on the relationships. In answer to your question of whether it resolved itself, that's open to interpretation in once sense since people can argue about what the original intention was. But in a more literal and traditional storytelling sense, no, the story mostly did not resolve. It's not like a show that got canceled and never had a chance to have a proper ending, but rather like one that just had to be wrapped up and clipped off in a bit of a hurry after losing its way, just as a gesture for the fans. I think people saying "if you need every little thing wrapped up in a bow you won't like it" are being a little harsh to readers who like a good story. I mean, there's an art to it and stories can get away from their authors and be worse than if they hadn't. I don't think we should just hand out get out of jail free cards for bad writing and sloppiness. How about a show and an ending that you don't have to make excuses for? But then I suppose unstructured jazz must have sounded weird to people at first too. It's good to leave your mind open to more freeform stuff, but freeform can be done better or worse.

Take the end of the Sopranos by contrast, for example, maybe the most controversial ending to a tv series ever, magnified further by how good the show was. STOP HERE, THOSE OF YOU WATCHING THE SOPRANOS ON NETFLIX. I was initially so angry at that ending, felt so robbed after such a wonderful ride. Only after that faded did I realize that what he'd done was not only a tantalizingly bittersweet artistic statement, in which the pain and itch of the unasweredness provided a richer savor than any pat answer could have done, but that he challenged us to be mature consumers of art and not sit there waiting to be spoonfed. The non-statement was itself the statement. The painter proved to be the master by implying paint with out painting. The story had given us enough to figure out what happened, and what could or would likely happen afterwards based on what we knew about those people without doing the usual ending montage that shows each character resolving his or her arc. It made us draw from ourselves to create and complete the story. It hurt so good. That was high art by a high artist, and brave. Bravo.

The end of Lost wasn't that, in my opinion. A lot of non-answers do not necessarily make an artisitic statement that challenges us to create something ourselves. I thought it was lazy and even kind of nauseating on one level, while having some nice elements weaved through it simultaneously. Maybe said differently, the nice elements of the ending were enough to distract somewhat from the damn it and sigh of the letdown. The ending answered some questions, answered others with more questions that just got cut off, with no real way to fill them in yourself, and just dropped a lot of others. "Oh well, that stuff was just kind of whatever. Sorry." Wait, WHAT?! That's the feeling I was left with anyway.

What I take away from it in the good category are some great characters, some sweet love stories, some delicious tragedy, some fun ideas, some great action, some thinky stuff about what drives people, some eye candy, some nice fantasy material, and a lot of irresistibly tantalizing anticipation and wonder. I think those things will endure as the regret about the missed opportunities, dropped balls, unpopped bubble wrap, blown chances at greatness, and vague, kind of trite ending fades.

Well dang. On preview grumblebee channeled my thoughts exactly. Tried to say some of that stuff. Words hard make. Yarr. I think the "it's about the characters" answer is the answer only because it's all you're left with. It's a way of salvaging the good things from the wreckage of a crashed plane, so to speak.
posted by Askr at 5:25 PM on May 24, 2010

What pts and grumblebee said... I watched LOST since the beginning because I had faith it would at least be internally consistent, and I found it incredibly disappointing. Please realize I'm not even talking about "mysteries," because the disappointment with those not being explained is a whole other tiring diatribe. I'm talking about the show establishing something, then later it doesn't work with something else they established and later decided would be cool to connect to that first thing in some way, so they steer clear of confronting that contradiction and run along as if the earlier thing wasn't established and hope no one will notice. Except instead of two contradictory somethings, it's several, which branch out into other contradictions.

I can't enjoy it for the characters, either, because this kept happening: character would behave secretive or aggressively, apparently because the writers needed something exciting at the time and thought they could figure out the character's reasons for it later; once the character's motivation is revealed episodes or even seasons later, their earlier actions make no sense. Happens again and again. People will be secretive or aggressive even if it gets them needlessly killed, even if there are no consequences for revealing information, even if it would help them out a lot to cooperate. Why? It gives them dramatic things to say before commercial breaks.

I also thought the ending was a bunch of hand-wavey crap, but that's more subjective than factual inconsistencies and characters behaving irrationally.

So I don't see how anyone could watch it for the plot OR the characters. I really thought this whole "oh it's about the characters" perspective shift was a cop-out because one, they're wrenched to do whatever the plot requires instead of reacting realistically and I don't see how that's good character development by any stretch, and two, as grumblebee said LOST is definitely presented in an adventure-y way as well and the arguably larger hook to keep you watching is plot mysteries. There's a reason people spent so much time and effort trying to figure out what's going on, and it's because the show encouraged and exploited that. It was pretty fun seasons ago when it seemed possible to figure it out, but now it's clear that there never were any answers in mind for much of it. Do you want to watch six seasons of a show full of mysteries knowing that there isn't a coherent underlying answer, and no point in trying to figure it out?

If you can turn off your mind, it's possible to enjoy the characters or the mystery in the moment, removed from all context and previous information. But personally, it was continual disappointment to sort of get into liking a character and be entranced by why they were acting so oddly and then have that all crushed when their motivations were revealed.
posted by Nattie at 5:28 PM on May 24, 2010 [4 favorites]

No. Most of the characters are not very likeable. Those who are, tend to get killed off, because this is a cheap way to pull the audience's heartstrings, though this is only a tendency. The plot is like watching one M. Night Shyamalan movie after another. (What a tweest!) Most of the mysteries that are raised are never explained, or are in a way that is insulting to the audience's intelligence. It is clear that the writers did not have any idea where they were going. The last season and the finale are particularly bad, written with stupid, overly expository dialog and relying on music to tell you what you should be feeling. The ending... is utter crap. I watched the final season out of duty more than anything -- after all the watching I'd done, I figured I might as well know how it ended. Not worth it. It does have some fine acting in it, but that doesn't quite save it.
posted by kindall at 5:32 PM on May 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you want to be able to talk about it with other people, sure. If you're not interested in the social aspect, then no. I wish I had spent the time on a few dozen movies instead of the show.
posted by itesser at 5:39 PM on May 24, 2010

No. Not worth your time unless you are very, very good at suspending your disbelief.
posted by ripley_ at 5:40 PM on May 24, 2010

Everyone's going to have a different opinion on this. My opinion, as someone who's watched it from the beginning, is that it is totally worth it.

Best of all, it's easy to find. Hulu is streaming the first 5 seasons from now until 12/31/10. Netflix is I believe streaming all of it, if you have their service.

The fact that people have such strong opinions about it is the best indication. People care, they are emotionally invested in the story and the characters, which is why they get so upset when they feel that their expectations were not met. I think time will be far more kind to the last season and the finale than the internet has been.

Sometimes it seems like the internet hates everything. This is one of those times.

My advice is to set aside your expectations for what it should be and do, and just enjoy what it is: an amazing work of modern storytelling.
posted by ErikaB at 5:42 PM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Try the first season. If you don't like it, don't watch the rest.
posted by starman at 6:00 PM on May 24, 2010

One of the most enjoyable shows of all time - even more enjoyable when you don't have to wait a week (or 9 months) in between new episodes.
posted by mittenbex at 6:06 PM on May 24, 2010

Whether or not I found the ending satisfying, I looked forward to every episode and definitely do not consider the hours I spent with the show to be time wasted, to the extent that I'm planning a re-watch of the whole series this summer.
posted by synecdoche at 6:50 PM on May 24, 2010

Personally, I say it's worth it. But you need to know something, which I will try to explain without giving any spoilers.

There's a lot of stuff in the show that people want explained. This comes up in the form of questions like, "what is the ____?" I think a lot of people were looking for concrete answers to these questions. Such as, "the ____ is really a giant computer simulation!" They were looking for moments like the one they got in the movie The Sixth Sense when.... (Oh wait, I won't spoil that movie for you, either, although you should just see it and get it over with.) At any rate, people want big reveals; "OMG" moments that show how everything fits together neatly.

That's not how LOST works. There's a lot of cool stuff in there, and in my opinion, it's GREAT television, but it all doesn't fit together neatly. I realized at the beginning of the last season that this would be the case. I was kind of disappointed by this but I got over it. Because you know what? It's still a good show. Really good. I've never seen anything like it. Except maybe Twin Peaks, sort of, a little bit.

One other thing: it's a VERY different show at the end than it is in the beginning.

See it! It's really good.
posted by cleverevans at 7:01 PM on May 24, 2010

Honestly, I'm not sure how anyone can answer this question for you. As you can tell from the answers above, many people loved the show and found it very satisfying, many people found it frustrating and even abusive to its audience, and many people liked it while acknowledging that it was also flawed. The only way to tell if you'll like it, yourself, is to watch it, so I'll agree with everyone else who has said watch the first season and see if you like it. The mysterious elements of the first season end up dominating the narrative in later seasons, so bear that in mind as you watch.

Really, nothing bad will happen to you if you watch this show and don't like it. It's hours of your life and you can spend them however you like. I myself am fairly new to Lost, having watched all the seasons straight through in the last few months. I did not like the overall direction of the show in the last seasons, given its early promise, and I think its writing really fell apart in season 6. Still, I don't at all regret watching it: it's an addictive, fun, irritating, occasionally mind-bending experience, and worth a try.
posted by cirripede at 7:25 PM on May 24, 2010

The writers of Lost had no idea what they were doing, which cannot be said for the rest of the creatives on the show. This show is great to watch if you want to see some examples of fine acting, cinematography, or scoring. If you want to experience a satisfying narrative, look elsewhere.
posted by lemur at 8:06 PM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

posted by Area Control at 8:28 PM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

You know how in Lord of the Flies, the kids think there is a monster in the cave? And you know it probably isn't a monster but you are quite curious anyway and then they finally go in there and figure it out and there is some resolution and maybe even a lesson learned. In Lost, it turns out there really is a monster, and it's pretty much all downhill from there.
posted by sophist at 9:15 PM on May 24, 2010

Another vote for no.

Liked it a lot in the first couple seasons, thought it got ridiculous and poor--and I was extra-motivated to watch because the actress who plays Juliet once fed me peach cobbler from her fork.
posted by ambient2 at 10:00 PM on May 24, 2010

For me it's a "no". I think you should watch the first season or two and then let it sit. If you can feel okay about not getting all the way through it, then go for it.

For the last few seasons the characters on the island basically fall apart. There are (for the most part) no longer any real motivations, only shouting and generally aggressive behavior. It's all conflict without content. It's remarkable how consistent it is—it feels like a child's view of adult arguments. This happens all the time:

A: We have to go do this thing.
B: Why do we have to go do this thing?
A: That's not important right now, what's important is that we do the thing.

[Character A and B go do the thing]

People do things because someone told them to do it. Over and over again. The writers do the bare minimum to keep the tension level high. Characters don't think things through. Occasionally they act confused (which is when the characters are at their most realistic). On a fundamental level the characters' motivations are rarely ever clear.

As someone who values character, the show became almost unwatchable.
posted by wemayfreeze at 11:22 PM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

As you can see, this ended up being a love-it-or-hate-it kind of show. And without knowing much about your disposition or preferences, it's hard to know where you'd fall on this.

Me, I loved it, and really feel like it actually enriched my life. A few of the things I loved:

- I found the constantly changing and shifting relationships fascinating. The conflicts and alliances were rooted in Big, Important Concepts like Fate vs Free Will, and yet were so personal and human.

- The flashbacks allowed them to have a lot of fun exploring different narrative structures and genres. This keeps the early seasons from being too much running-through-the-jungle.

- Mostly, though I loveloveLOVED the way the writers constantly engaged the audience in the narrative process. If you want, you can just watch the show passively, but you can also take a more active role, hunting for the many "easter eggs" the writers leave around. For instance, many of the characters are named after philosophers. I think it's really interesting to think about what those names mean. Not in a strictly literal, "oh, this character is named Rousseau, so she must believe that man is born free," way, but in a "hmm, I wonder what the writers are trying to get me to think about by naming this character Rousseau?" This idea is sort of hard for me to explain without spoilers, but let me just say that I was never upset about not getting technical answers to some of the questions because I felt like the writers had given me enough hints, clues, etc for me to come up with my own theories that felt right.

But I think it's this last point that most divides the haters from the fans. Are you comfortable with ambiguity in your storytelling? Do you like messy, ambitious storytelling that aims really high but sometimes misses, or do you find this approach lazy and frustrating? Both perspectives are totally valid, but if you're in the second camp, you may grow weary of Lost.

Also, the acting on the show was often phenomenal.
posted by lunasol at 12:02 AM on May 25, 2010

There is a lot to recommend this show, which others have touched upon, but I do want to jump in to address the "unanswered mysteries" criticism that many have been making. I don't want to say anything that would be spoiling (so apologies in advance for vagueness), but for me the overarching question and thematic concern of Lost came in two related parts, one character-related and one plot-related (to use the dualisms above).

The character-related theme has always been parents and children; how they relate to one another, how they attempt to control each other, and how they manage their expectations of each other and themselves in their relationship. The plot-related theme, then, has always been an extension of this. The driving question of the show is, "How do we understand the world?" What methods do we use to know the world around us? What kind of logic underscores the universe? And what do we with this knowledge when we have it -- to what use do we put the world, given what we think it is? Essentially all elements of the show's various plots and character relationships are driven by these questions.

To my mind, Lost posits these questions essentially from minute one, and it answers them clearly by the final episode. I think that a lot of the dissatisfaction here is not, at the heart of it, about unanswered questions, but because the biggest answer to the epistemological question raised by the show is one that many find inherently unsatisfying or problematic. Their preferred ways of knowing the world don't match with the ways of knowing that, according to the show, are required to understand the Island (and, by metaphorical extension, the world.)

And without giving anything away, with regards to the unanswered plot points that many wish to have explained -- in some ways, a lack of answers to these questions is important. At least to me, the show seems to be saying that asking those kinds of questions about the Island is missing the point of the thing. It's fair to not like, or not agree, with the epistemology of the show, or to wish that they had maintained their ambiguity about it, but it's not really accurate to claim that the show didn't answer its big questions.
posted by CtrlAltDelete at 5:34 AM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Liked it a lot in the first couple seasons, thought it got ridiculous and poor...

Yes. We started re-watching the series prior to the finale, because we knew we were missing some call-backs and clues. We quickly got irritated that Season 6 wasn't as good as the first couple seasons and stopped watching the old ones.

I still vote yes, but be prepared for a drop in quality. It's not as great as, say, 24's drop in quality between seasons 1-6, but it's there.
posted by getawaysticks at 5:54 AM on May 25, 2010

Are you comfortable with ambiguity in your storytelling?

I want to expand on this a little, because I keep hearing it. And when I say that I am pissed off about all the loose ends, people who liked the show tend to say something along the lines of, "real life has a lot of loose ends" or "I know some people need all questions to be answered, but I don't. I love mystery."

This types me as Mr. Logic -- as the type of guy who would look at a Salvador Dali painting and say, "Feh! I don't get it. What the fuck is he trying to say?" Yet nothing could be further from the truth. My favorite contemporary playwright is Harold Pinter, I loved the ending of "The Sopranos," and I'm a big fan of surrealist and abstract art.

I once read an article that tried to assess whether or not Normal Rockwell was a great painter. The article acknowledged that he was a great craftsman, but decided that he fell short of greatness because he insisted on answering all his questions.

To illustrate, he referred to this paining, and suggested that it WOULD be a masterpiece if Rockwell had left out the glamor magazine. As it is, you know exactly why the girl is upset. You can pity her, but, other than that, you mind doesn't have anywhere else to go. Rockwell has told the whole story. It COULD have been a great painting -- one that allowed me to spend hours wondering why the girl is so sad. Rockwell doesn't allow the viewer to collaborate like that.

I 100% agree with that assessment. To me (though I agree he's a master craftsman), Rockwell is sub-par. I DEMAND mystery.

And yet I hated LOST for not answering its questions. I will not go into all the reasons why I think LOST didn't earn its right to mystery while other works have. But I'll suggest a few reasons:

1) Many of LOST's mysteries are set up in Mystery Novel* fashion. In other words, the story poses a question really early on and the characters work to try to answer the question. And, since you sympathize with the characters, you get just as wrapped up in solving the mystery as they do. Biut then it's never solved. Pinter didn't use this kind of setup. Neither did David Lynch in "Blue Velvet." He understood that his audience would tolerate and enjoy all kinds of ambiguity. But the actual mystery-plot stuff is straight-forward and explained.

*"Mystery Novel" is a funny term if you think about it, because readers of that genre don't expect whodunnit to remain a mystery. Really, they are Solved Novels.

2) Most of the left-opened mysteries that aggravate people like me are not big, lofty, spiritual matters. I agree that it's interesting to create a symbolic character who might be the devil or might be something else entirely -- and to leave it up to the audience to decide.

But there's nothing interesting about saying, "Wow! a 21st-Century cell phone was uncovered in an archeological dig of ancient Egypt!" (Not a spoiler. I'm making that up, but there are things LIKE it in the show.) And then have characters spend tons of energy and time trying to figure out how that could be possible. And then, a few episodes later, to just drop the whole thing and not have anyone even mention it again.

A LOT of the mysteries on lost are about relatively ordinary (non lofty) things. They flare up, they become really important, the story leads you to feel like there IS a solution, and then they just fade away, and you get the feeling you're supposed to stop thinking about them.

3) It may not bother some people that these mysteries aren't answered, but there's nothing GAINED by not answering them. Again, when Pinter or Lynch leave a mystery open, it's for a reason. It's so that your mind will be haunted by some element and you'll go on thinking about it, after the story is over. There ARE some mysteries like this on LOST, and I like them. But those are not the ones that people like me complain about.

There are many mysteries on the show that were left unanswered to no purpose. And, I suspect that they either bother people or -- for those who loved the show -- people don't think about them at all. They don't resonate. They are just big, messy question marks that you can either bang your head against the wall about or ignore, depending on your personality type.

As a storyteller, I find this issue fascinating: what sort of mystery is good mystery? As much as I think mysteries are VITAL, and as much as I hope that they are in all my stories, I need to be very careful that I don't get into a mode where I excuse any element that I don't finish as "showing the audience that life is sometimes messy and unexplained."

Because that can excuse ANY bad storytelling. Say that a character is named Bob in chapter one and then Mike in chapter two? "That's not a mistake, sometimes life is contradictory." Run out of time and so can't finish a major sub-plot? "Well, sometimes life has loose ends..."

What would be even worse is if I did that and then, when I heard a viewer say, "I don't get it? Why is the guy called Bob and then Mike?" for me to say, "Wow! He just doesn't get the point."

As a storyteller, I don't get to say what the point is. (I get to say what it is for me, of course, but not for anyone else.) The point is whatever it is to each individual who is watching my story. And ANYTHING I put in my story may be important to some viewer. I don't get the luxury of treating anything as minor or "not the point." If I am going to put something in my story, I owe it to my viewers to shepherd that item with love and care.
posted by grumblebee at 6:52 AM on May 25, 2010 [5 favorites]

And, I suspect that they either bother people or -- for those who loved the show -- people don't think about them at all.

I don't agree. OK, some of the unanswered questions I don't think about much, but there's at least one major unanswered question in particular that bugs me quite a bit, but I liked the show in spite of that weakness. To me, the "unanswered questions" are a mix of a) those that don't really matter to me, b) those for which the answer isn't spelled out explicitly, but at least hinted at so you can construct a plausible answer and c) those that do matter and were left completely unaswered. To some extent it's subjective what questions go into what categories. To me, there were a few questions that fell into (c), and those were weaknesses of the show, but not so many that it made it not worth watching.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:35 AM on May 25, 2010

The only person who can really answer the question of whether you should watch Lost or not is you. I'd say that it would be a good idea to watch the first couple episodes and see if it compels you to keep watching. And if it doesn't, stop. No sense in continuing to watch a show solely because of sunk cost.

The closest I can come to predicting what you'll think of the show is this: Let's suppose you read science fiction. If you read science fiction for the rocketships, you'll probably be pretty unhappy about the way Lost turns out. If you read science fiction for what happens between the people on board the rocketships, you very well might be satisfied.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:56 AM on May 25, 2010

To me, there were a few questions that fell into (c), and those were weaknesses of the show, but not so many that it made it not worth watching.

Yes, of course. In the end, it's a matter of personal taste and tolerance. If I have a fancy dinner party but serve the food on paper plates, does that ruin the whole party? For some, yes. For others, no. For a third group, it doesn't ruin the party, but it makes the party less fun than it could have been.

My point was just that it's not as simple as, "If you like ambiguity, you'll like lost; if you don't, you won't." I LOVE ambiguity, and, in fact, I don't much like stories without it. But I still didn't like LOST. (Or rather, I enjoyed watching parts of it quite a bit, but the eventual disappointment was greater than the pleasure for me, so, had I known how I would eventually feel when I started, I would have quit watching.)
posted by grumblebee at 8:01 AM on May 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

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