Never Show the Monster

By | May 24, 2010 | 8 Comments

What will I write about now that Lost is over and done? Especially since I think Lost may have scared me off of episodic TV with overarching mythologies forever. The Prisoner didn’t do it, Twin Peaks didn’t do it, The X Files didn’t do it. But I think Lost will be the show that convinced me to never waste my time on any sort of entertainment that has longevity as a goal. In short, if the creators have a stake in making as many episodes as possible, I think I’ll wait for the DVD set. If the consensus is that it was handled well from beginning to end, I’ll take a chance.

Because, frankly, the finale of Lost almost ate my will to live.

I won’t go into gory details about how I despised that ending. Some of you might have enjoyed it, but really, for me it was terrible. Despite the dangling plot points and unanswered mysteries everyone is complaining about (which now pretty clearly were simply cool plot twists they threw in without any idea of how to resolve them), I don’t think the problem with the final season was too little explanation. It was too much explanation. They gave us two supernatural, godlike beings: Jacob and Smokey. Immortal. They each have distinct abilities and oppose each other. Despite the fact that both seem to lack a certain value for human life, one is painted as more or less ‘good’, whereas Smokey is painted a evil evil evil, with it plainly stated that if he got off the island he would destroy the world at large.

And that’s where the explanation should have stopped. Every detail we got about these two beyond that set up was a mistake.

It’s like a bad horror movie: You’re vaguely intrigued and possibly scared as long as the monster stays off-screen. Horrific details and people screaming for mercy while their entrails splatter the screen is all you need to get into the mood of the movie. Then they give you a nice lingering shot of the monster, and it’s a guy in a rubber suit with chocolate syrup all over him, and you can never take the movie seriously again. If they’d kept Jacob and Smokey vague, elemental-type characters – good and evil, one trying to escape to the world, the other trying to prevent him, with the castaways simultaneously providing Smokey with a way off and Jacob with new acolytes – the story would have been stronger, and there would have been a lot more time to explore the other aspects of the mystery. And I’ll guarantee the climax would have been tighter and made more sense.

When they tried to clarify Jacob and Smokey, things got silly. A golden light. A donkey wheel. Two squabbling brothers. Meh. In the back of my mind their back story was pretty awesome and badass, which it would have remained if it had been allowed to stay in the back of my mind, instead of replaced by the insipid, cheaply dressed scenes they gave us. I mean, they’d established the basics very early on: Jacob, Smokey, the Others – all they had to do was have Richard, the other immortal character, explain that Smokey was trying to escape and needed, somehow, to trick the castaways into helping him, and the rest of the story is a thrilling one about people choosing sides, making deals, double-crossing each other, and finally having a kickass confrontation to settle everything. Instead, we got bogged down by a golden light, a stone cork, and an alternate universe that was just Jack’s purgatory or dying hallucination or similar such bullshit.

And all, I am convinced, because they made the terrible decision to show the monsters.

8 Comments

  • Keith Puryear says:

    I’ll give you a high-five to that. I gave up very early this season, after very dutifully watching (almost religiously), from the first episode. I’m glad I didn’t waste my time this season.

  • Joe G says:

    Wow, man. I thought it was cheesy as hell but I still kind of enjoyed it, even if I hate being proselytized. You really hated it, huh? Too bad.

  • DK says:

    The Host actually did a really good job of showing the monster early without derailing the characters or plot, but other than that, yeah. Showing the monster is a bad, bad idea. But at least now the show is done and my friends can go back to squeeing over Dr. Who or Torchwood or whatever.

  • jsomers says:

    Hey DK: Like any other rule of thumb, once you know the rule, you can always break it–carefully. I agree that The Host didn’t lose much by showing the monster, at least for now. In 50 years if effects are fifty times better, though, it may lose something for future generations, much as we regard the 1950s Godzilla movies – whatever their other charms – as kind of hokey effects-wise.

  • jsomers says:

    Joe G: hate is a strong word. I thoguht the ending was terrible from a storytelling POV. Hate? No, I even enojyed some of it a lot.

  • jsomers says:

    Keith: I was along for the ride pretty cheerfully until the last 3 episodes, when my heart was broken. But, nothing wagered, nothing gained.

  • Keith Puryear says:

    Well, just goes to show you how quick the fans can turn on you. I guess what I’m saying is, Don’t f#*k up this last Avery Cates novel. Just kidding…kinda.

  • Taylor Caudle says:

    I felt EXACTLY the same way. I thought the EXACT same thing, the whole, “It’s symbolism” thing only works if it REALLY WAS ambiguous and vague-not, “Oh yeah, there’s a temple with pointless characters and lighthouses and little plot elements that are HALF explained.” Either explain all or very little, yeah? But then you just kill off your characters; it makes me sad.

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