The Leftovers Finale v. LOST Finale

This isn’t really a “versus” argument, but it is a comparison piece. Ultimately, this is a brief breakdown of Damon Lindelof’s modus operandi, and how important I believe his perspective to be (at least in these two moments). Before we get started, there are a few things that need to be stated clearly:

  1. I believe LOST, as the sum of all its parts, is one of the most intelligent and incredible stories ever told, in any medium. This — for the haters — includes “The End”.
  2. I believe The Leftovers, as the sum of all its parts, is one of the most important stories ever allowed to air on television, premium or otherwise.
  3. If you haven’t watch either show to completion: I would highly recommend not reading through this analysis of their conclusions.

Ok. Let’s start with the most debated question: was “The End” just a haphazard attempt to tie six years of crazy together, or was there a true endgame that the writers (specifically Lindelof) had in mind from the jump? I’ll be the first to admit that many episodes of LOST were, well, lost on me. Most of the second season felt like it was trying too hard; season 3, before the writers’ strike, was almost unwatchable; season 5 had a number of moments that I wish we could erase. But again, the sum total of all the parts are what made this series something worth obsessing about, and continually defending, even after seven years off the air.

The first thing to admit to ourselves as viewers is that these aren’t our stories to tell, no matter how much ownership we may feel over them or the characters we grow to love, hate, and/or identify with. If you take LOST for what it was — a story about how important personal relationships are — then it’s an almost flawless entry in the annals of entertainment history. To me, the show was never about the Island or the endless fucking mysteries (though I rabbit holed with the best of them); it was a show about people and how they cope with insane situations by developing meaningful relationships with those around them.

Is that boring? I suppose, in comparison with a show like X-Files that lived and died (poorly) on the premise that “the Truth” was out there, then the LOST conclusion was less “exciting” than it could have been. I, personally, disagree, and think “The End” was the boldest finale in network television history. The show used mysteries to keep us engaged, but ultimately told us that none of that shit truly mattered. Just like everything we’re doing in our day-to-day lives, no matter how extraordinary or mundane: in the end, its about what you did with what you were dealt, and who was there with you along the way. I get how that pisses some folks off, but those folks weren’t really paying attention in the first place.

“There is no ‘now’ here.” In that single line, the entire series is complete. I’ve had countless arguments about how people believed the Island was purgatory, or they were dead the whole time, or it was all just Hurley’s dream, etc. None of that’s true, and Christian Shepard tells us as much in a few short sentences. It was all real, and it all mattered in its own way, but everything, and everyone, ends the same way. What we watched for six years (minus the sideways flashes of the sixth season) were all real events, that actually occurred to these characters. Indeed, those real moments are what make for the sideways storytelling of the sixth season, and how all these disparate humans are connected, spiritually, in the end. Why this is still a debate is beyond me.

Let’s jump, then, to the more recent finale of The Leftovers. I will be the first to admit that Lindelof has had more misses than hits as far as my personal preferences go, but, boy: when this guy is on, he’s on. If I only need suffer three or four terrible scripts between the kind of enlightened storytelling we’ve gotten with LOST and The Leftovers, I’ll gladly take the beatings (read: Prometheus, Tomorrowland, Cowboys and Aliens).

The Leftovers was not immediately engaging to me, but I found value in the overall narrative in season one. Even as I watched season two, I was cautiously optimistic, and now — in retrospect — I think the back half of that season was the series’ finest moment. What was most surprising was how similar these two shows’ themes really ended up being, but even morem so was how dramatically different the critical responses seem to be. I’m left wondering if “owning” the religious undertones more finitely, and dispelling the importance of the mysteries before the first episode of the final season, Lindelof was finally able to finally get across the point he’s been itching to make since at least 2010: the story isn’t what matters; it’s the people living/telling them.

Either way, I’m appreciative of HBO’s clear acceptance of his master plan, concluding with “The Book of Nora”. It was another bold decision. Ignoring most of the cast in favor of a supporting character’s resolution; sidestepping any real mention of the Departure until the final moments; never, for a moment, betraying the potential for all of Nora’s experiences to be entirely fabricated. A story that felt like Kevin’s to own was really Nora’s all along. Brilliant. I know that season 3 was an 8-episode finale, concluding many stories along the way, but — the in the end — it was all about Nora.

I also loved that the Departure, itself, was almost a cliff note to the series, just like the Island was to LOST. Surely some of the credit belongs to both Carlton Cuse (LOST) and Tom Perrotta (The Leftovers), but Lindelof’s trademark is clear. Spending years focusing on one major event or idea, only to sidestep that event/idea as a plot point in the end is damn risky; to do it twice could be consider a career death wish. Somehow, this guy manages to create some of the most spectacular entertainment out of that risk.

The focus on “belief” as the backbone of both series is a masterstroke. I’m hardly a religious individual, but the concept of Science v. Faith has always been intriguing, and — when done well — creates the most compelling drama for my money. Pragmatic v. Dogmatic is something we all experience in a daily lives, even if just passively; to be able to distill it they way Lindelof has…I have no fitting words for it.

I’ve never written a review of anything in my life outside of the occasional Amazon product review, and I’m not sure what compels me to do so now, but these series were just so important in my opinion. I felt the need to write it down and connect with those who might feel similarly.

In an age where almost all entertainment feels rehashed or half-baked, Lindelof and his writing teams have produced two of the most significant entries in the history of long-form storytelling within a decade (roughly). This was less an exercise to state my opinion as it is an open invite to communicate with other folks who appreciate the beauty and intensity of these two incredible series. I’m looking forward to hearing other takes on both. Thanks for caring to read.