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Screw the Characters: Why ‘Lost’ Was Always About the Plot

Despite all evidence to the contrary, the finale of ‘Lost’ came and went this Sunday and by God it was grand. Action-packed and full of heartbreaking moments, the troubled but appreciated series came to a successful end. It may not have resolved all of the series ongoing plotlines, and maybe it left most of our biggest questions unanswered, but… Well, actually that’s what I’m here to talk about today.

Still: Lost

‘Lost’ had great characters, but if the series was about those same characters washing their socks for six seasons, would you really have watched?

You see, with ‘Lost’ finally over we can take stock of what the series actually accomplished. No more “Wait and see,” no more “They’ll get to it later,” now we know that the writers had absolutely no interest whatsoever in explaining Walt’s superpowers, or how turning a wooden wheel only caused a few select people to move around in time, or what the numbers really meant (no, the fact that Jacob wrote them on his wall does not count as an answer). It turns out that there was nothing to know about the statue, or the cabin, or the Dharma supply drops, or why that psychic insisted that Claire raise Aaron. All that mattered, according to the apologists, were “the characters.”

Nonsense.

Before we go any further, it’s important to note that at the heart of any great story lays a great character, and usually more than one. ‘Lost’ was no exception, and every member of the cast brought to life a compelling individual with complex motivation and emotional baggage. Character is important. But no, character is not everything, because those great characters have to do something in order to be interesting. Otherwise we’d just be reading their resumes (presumably in their magic files).

Still: Lost

Walt: A plot point and character that ‘Lost’ dropped like a stone when he became inconvenient.

‘Lost’ introduced an incredible cast of characters in an incredible situation: cast away on a (seemingly) deserted island. Frankly, this would have been enough of a setup to keep the series afloat for many seasons to come as they struggled to survive in a wild terrain and overcome their differences before they turned on each other. Yes, that would have been enough. But in the very first episode, they also introduced “The Monster.” And thus, the plot began. Soon the writers of ‘Lost’ were throwing increasingly wild concepts at the audience, from an ominous hatch to supernatural numbers to a mysterious group of quasi-religious zealots to a bizarre quirk of the island that prevents women from giving birth. And then, in an unthinkable turn of events, the writers started telling us that ‘Lost’ wasn’t about the plot.

Like I said: Nonsense.

I’m sorry, writers of ‘Lost,’ but if you didn’t want us to care about the crazy plot points you introduced over the course of the series, then maybe you shouldn’t have introduced crazy plot points. It’s one thing to say that a semi-plausible plotline is secondary to character, but to include time travel, Gods, ghosts, psychics and superpowered children and then ask us not to wonder about them is insulting. Imagine if you will that you were watching an episode of ‘The Wire’ and all of a sudden a giant statue of the Egyptian fertility God Taweret showed up in the middle of Baltimore. And then they never really discussed it. Wouldn’t that be considered, I don’t know… a flaw? Would you not find it distracting that the writers thought it important to include such a significant ‘detail’ and then never explain it? Just because ‘Lost’ made a habit of not explaining itself doesn’t really justify its behavior. Ask any heroin addict: There is such a thing as a bad habit. And introducing story elements without ever resolving them is as bad a habit as a good writer can develop.

Still: Lost

If the show was all about character, then why did they give a plot point its own action figure?

So praise ‘Lost’ if you must, because it was a fine series despite its many troubles. And praise the finale, because it was as emotionally satisfying as television gets. By all means praise the characters, without whom the series would not have been such a success. But don’t try to pretend that ‘Lost’ was never about the plot. Without the plot you wouldn’t have watched. Without the mysteries there would have been no debate. Without the story… there would have been no ‘Lost.’

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