Last night, many Yalies breathlessly watched the premier of the final season of “Lost,” while many others wondered why anyone would still bother to watch. The last few seasons have been full of time-travel and other gimmicks, and many will swear that the show just hasn’t been the same since Charlie died. But these people are missing the point. Last night, those of us who wound up back on the Island did so with full knowledge that the show has likely crested its creative peak, and that the answers to its many mysteries have an infinitely greater chance of being silly or infuriating than profound, but we went back anyway. Why?
There are obvious answers. Superficially, there is an investment in the show’s plot lines and characters. An endless number of enjoyable conversations can be had discussing the latest twist, or speculating about the fates of the players. Moreover, following a television show, especially one as convoluted as “Lost,” creates a particular sort of community among viewers. Each episode is a collective experience in a world increasingly defined by the fragmentation of information and experience. “Lost” provides a carefully crafted experiment in limited access to information, a sharp contrast to the saturation of data points characteristic of the postmodern era. Finally, after watching five seasons, it may seem like a waste to stop. Having spent hour after hour faithfully following the show, it feels foolish to abandon “Lost” now, just as it is coming to its conclusion. It is this last point that I believe points to the best answer.
It is not so much that people en masse are forgetting how to handle sunk costs, refusing to believe that they won’t get any more bang for their buck if they just … keep … watching. People are not sticking with the show because of the five seasons that have come before, but because of the foreknowledge that there will be no more to follow. But this is not simply a sentimental attachment to all things fleeting. Rather, the knowledge of pending closure, the guarantee of answers to difficult questions, is a rare commodity in our world — and a tempting one.
The creators of “Lost” have built a world that is entirely unrealistic, except in its unpredictability and absurdity. By gross exaggeration of randomness, the show has managed to capture a sense of being made from the same entropic matter as life. It would therefore be reasonable to expect that “Lost” is no more likely to come to a neat conclusion than our lives.
But the end has been announced; last night’s episode was advertised heavily as “the beginning of the end.” There is a promise of resolution, of sense imposed on the preceding insanity. And if “Lost” can explain four-toed statues, tropical polar bears and the smoke monster, maybe chaos can be conquered in all its forms. Because “Lost” is so insistently un-formulaic, the notion that it can come to a satisfying conclusion suggests that maybe we too can be found. In this way, the show fills a deep societal need. It allows us to believe that the randomness of our lives can conform to a narrative arc.
Much of this is a ludicrous over-reading of popular television, but we miss the essence of culture when we read it on its terms instead of ours. “Lost” might ask to be seen as entertainment, but its popularity is proof positive of a deeper resonance. It is easy to dismiss pop culture as self-contained, but there is a reason many of us wait eagerly each week for our hour on the Island. While our chaotic lives feel unbounded, “Lost” provides a chance to harness confusion into a coherent narrative, teaching us to shape uncertainty into a story.
As it draws to a close, it will remind those still watching that all stories, the great and the pedestrian alike, define themselves in ending.
Ilan Ben-Meir is a sophomore in Trumbull College.