The PVR has been faithfully and quietly recording every episode of Lost for the last couple of months. This is good, though if only because I’ve been too disinterested to watch the quasi-weekly slog of plot as it is actually broadcast. I found, however, that when you string a number of episodes — new episodes — together for a bit of a homemade commercial-free marathon, the show actually seems somewhat interesting and (nearly) watchable again. I found a few hours in my yesterday to do just that, and other than (once again) missing last night’s episode, I’m caught up (minus one) to being completely boggled and confused about the whole show.
If you’ve been following along, and are bored enough on your lunch breaks to go hunting down message boards full of ‘theories,’ you’ll also know that the show is not only becoming more and more incomprehensible, but it is also becoming sporadically more implausible: time travel, Volkswagens in the jungle, a ping-pong tournament, and more new characters than honestly makes sense given the fact that this is an island in the middle of nowhere. But I guess when you keep killing off survivors and destroying other plot elements, you need to repopulate to keep things interesting. It gets better than that: every time we think something is being revealed, it opens up a completely new set of questions. It’s formulaic in it’s frustration.
So why keep watching it, you ask? Why continue to tune in and buy into the hype? Originally, it was for the mystery. I would have given up, overloaded by being strung along for three years but lately I watch because I think there is something bigger going on. Waaaay bigger. And that would be very weird indeed.
My favorite theory to date is one that takes a step back from the show-proper and examines what it means to actually be discussing these ‘theories’ in a mass electronic participatory audience (also known as the internet.) The concept that someone (admittedly, someone else) came up with was that Lost is actually an exercise in group heuristics and collective writing: that the (paid) writers of the show are not actually doing much more of anything but filling the airwaves with lots of complex ideas, letting the fans theorize online, then adjusting the plot based on the best theories. Ultimately, more complexity and more mystery means more speculation. And more speculation means more re-defining of the plot. Yes, the writers are writing the story, but ultimately the show will become whatever the audience wants it to become, as elaborate or as wacky as the collective brain can make it. True, in hindsight everything is 20/20 and we can say how accurately some of the theories seemed to work out, but stepping back it explains much of the meta:
1) Why are there such long gaps in between groups of broadcast episodes? No script? They are writing is as ‘we’ construct it.
2) Why DO the “good” theories seem to come sharply into focus? There are lots of answers to that, but it fits with the pattern of theories woven into the plot.
3) Why is the show so ‘mysterious’ and leaves more questions than answers? Sure, good storytelling, a hook to get you to watch again, etc. But without mystery there would be nothing to discuss, and thus no story to evolve.
4) Why do the writers insist it is all ‘plausible’ and it will all make sense in the end? Of course it will be: the group will not consent on implausible ideas and we’ll have invented it when it finally concludes.
Alas, just my random sideline observations. Or maybe we all just want to feel like we’re playing along. It would all be too obvious to have us vote: “if you think Hurley should eat another jar of mayonnaise, dial 1-800-481-5…” You get the point.