Lost did not end well, to put it mildly. Televised at roughly the same time as the similarly-controversial and anti-dramatic finale of The Sopranos, Lost took all of its seemingly carefully constructed mythology and kicked it out the window in favor of a squishy purgatorial non-conclusion. (As opposed to The Sopranos, which ended rather brilliantly exactly as it had begun: with characters who could not and would not change.)
In the case of Lost, was it bad writing or a failure of will to pull all the pieces together? In this “On Story” interview at the South by Southwest Film Festival, show co-creator Damon Lindelof argues he doesn’t like stories where everything is spelled out. He wants there to be space in the margins for viewers to interpret things. Fair enough. But there’s a difference between spelling everything out as a writer and simply punting.
The best part of the interview comes about eight minutes in, when Lindelof talks about the running joke they had on the show about what would happen if they were canceled prematurely and had to wrap up all the show’s plot tendrils in a matter of weeks. The idea they came up with was brilliant: There was a monkey on the island named Joop; have him do it:
We would just cut to this well-appointed library and this leather chair would spin around and there would be a monkey in a smoking jacket [who would say] “Hello, my name is Joop. I suppose I have some explaining to do.” He would talk for however long we needed to explain things. But Joop actually stood for everything I don’t want to do in storytelling.
Given how things did turn out, though, having a talking monkey in a smoking jacket (preferably with a refined Oxbridge accent) show up for a lengthy exposition dump would have been highly more enjoyable than the turgid mess than resulted. By not choosing a dramatic or even philosophical angle for their story to take, the writers of Lost went for a muddled middle, which will never result in successful storytelling.
Elsewhere in the interview, Lindelof references Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” as an example of how he didn’t want to craft the show. It’s actually hard to come up with a more apt example of everything that Lost ultimately did do.
“Occurrence” was made into an Oscar-winning short film back in 1962, you can watch all of it here and judge for yourself: