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28 May 2010 @ 02:51 pm
another day, another series finale  
In the wake of Flashforward's finale and some more bemoaning about Answers and Lack Thereof, I was thinking about LOST.

Now, I'm the first person to admit that the main draw for it to me was the puzzle aspect of it. So you'd think I'd be one of the main people all ragey because I didn't get all the pieces to the puzzle. But I'm not.

(some vague references to the LOST finale, no specific spoilers, and some BSG mentions as well)

I think it might be BECAUSE I enjoyed the puzzle, actually. I'm used to putting it all together in my head. I also got used to having them turn around the next week and say, 'nope, those two pieces don't actually fit together. Here, have this new piece."

So for me, to continue the analogy, each week Darlton handed me a piece of a puzzle. At the beginning, I didn't have the box to look at, I didn't know how many total pieces there were, or even how big it was, I could only try to put these pieces together. But the fun was in trying. Then, toward the end, they handed me the lid so I could see the picture. From that picture I could see that some pieces I had were from some other puzzle, so I could put them aside. Some of the pieces I had assembled incorrectly, and some pieces are still missing, but I know what should fit in those gaps. (like the outrigger chase opposite side; I can figure it out for myself. It might have been an exciting scene, but it might also have been kind of useless and break up the momentum)

Would it have been great if all the pieces ever had slid perfectly into the narrative puzzle with none left over and no gaps? Sure, but that's impossible to expect from tv which can only move forward, and can't correct what's been done. And no t.v producer/writer worth his money would plan something that rigidly, because then what the hell do you do if you base your finale on Mister Eko and then the actor demands to be let out of his contract? Or if you discover that teenage growth spurts and the lack of time passing in the show 'verse are utterly incompatible? You can't fold up your tents and go home; you have to change on the fly and keep going. And if you've got Michael Emerson there being awesome, why the hell WOULDN'T you change your mind and promote him into being Ben so he can stick around longer?

Maybe I have more sympathy for this because I've done it myself. As much as I have a plan for "Not All That We Are" -- and I do, I've had the epilogue written since the middle of "Labyrinth Gates" -- there are still at least two things in Part 1 that already don't QUITE fit because the story has morphed on me. If I had kept it off-line and finished the whole thing as one does a novel, then I could've gone back and fixed those things that bug me, but the fact is, it's out there and it's done. So now I have a choice: I can refuse to do anything in the sequels that doesn't match up perfectly, or I can try to make the following stories better even if that means I didn't drop a hint I wish I did, or a couple of things need to be squinted at to fit better. For a concrete example of something that won't spoil the ending: I can add a "previously" wherein I 'show' Sam's pre-Fall stim addiction, but that's a retcon, because I didn't put it in the first story. But I did it because I thought it was important to show (a) he has a tendency to drug himself when he's denying himself (as we see later in 'Ariadne' and his painkiller habit), and (b) he had a lot of fame and success pre-Fall, but also an empty life he was recklessly trying to fill.

It's a very difficult line for an ongoing, serial tv show to walk, especially one that's also a mystery: having a plot be open-ended enough that you can account for growth and RL concerns, and yet still keep your audience engaged in a story line that feels like it's progressing SOMEWHERE. Too open-ended/vague and you start treading water (see V); and too rigid, and you end up with even bigger holes when something does happen or you can't take advantage of audience reaction (either positive or negative to particular characters or arcs -- See Flashforward for a fine example of this, where the very STRUCTURE of the show meant the audience realized they'd be stuck with particular storylines they didn't care for). So far Vampire Diaries is doing a good job with story pay-offs, but even they admit they dropped some character beats because they were so focused on the plot. So it's a trade-off.

BSG is a master class in this. Look at the Twelve Cylons. There, Ron and Co seemed to be so worried about getting locked into the last five Cylons that they refused to commit (kept it vague) and then painted themselves into a corner in New Caprica and had to come up with an entire retcon mythology to explain their absence. I personally LIKE the Final Five retcon, but they wouldn't have needed it if they hadn't locked themselves into twelve models in the first place. Now, they could've just said that the note was wrong and stayed with Seven (which is kind of what LOST did -- especially with Ben Linus being a very unreliable narrator, it's very easy to dismiss most of what he says about how the Island works as a lie or misinformation). I think the Final Five mostly worked, but also led to the awful Final Five Babies retcons and a really horrible hybrid story-arc which I despise, so it wasn't without problems, too.

It may be that shortened seasons, as on pay cable are the answer, at least for genre serials. But they're not the answer for network tv, which needs to fill that hour for at least half a year, and each new show is something that has to be expensively promoted. USA has done this somewhat with their rotating shows, but network has been pretty reluctant to do that except for "24" (which doesn't help because they're basically gleeful about making it up as they go), and ABC allowing LOST to run its shortened seasons uninterrupted by a hiatus (breaking FF and V with a biatus might have helped retool the show a bit, but it also broke the audience habit of watching, so that's definitely a double-edged sword). And if they can't do it successfully with serialized shows, they're going to fill it with more episodic procedurals and reality shows. Which is a shame since network is still the only place that draws the possibility of so many millions of people trying to figure it all out.

In a way, LOST was really more akin to a writer doing a series of novels, not one novel. Each season is 'published' and has to be dealt with as is, somehow, in the next one. It reminds me a bit of the Harry Potter books -- not in plot, obviously, but in execution and in audience reaction, especially the final installment. And they were both pop culture phenomenons, seen by millions of people, and I kind of doubt their like will come around again, though many people keep trying very hard to duplicate it.

So apparently all these shows ending have made me very nostalgic for the Days of Yore when teal deer were more commonly spotted in this corner of the LJ woods. heh.