With Lost finally over, I thought I would write up a post about my response to the show and what I thought about the finale. Let me begin by warning you that what will follow is largely a fractured version of post-structuralist and psychoanalytic theory filtered through my own remembrances of reading about and thinking about said theory. By which I mean, that I don’t really have citations or quotes to draw from. I am shooting from the hip. But, hey, we’re talking about Lost here–why shouldn’t I make it up as I go along?
One of the points I take away from said theory is that when we are thinking about the psychic life, we can think about it in terms of a short circuit between different domains or registers of meaning. Jacque Lacan famously said that “the unconscious is structured like a language.” One way of understanding this (and a very simplistic way, mind you), is to think about the unconscious as an engine for producing grammatical statements, but statements whose representational or referential status is deeply problematic (insert pop-post-structuralism here: language is all about differing and deferring). Part of what Freud tried to do when he shifted psychoanalysis away from being a science of biology and physiology was to look at the unconscious and its utterances as another language. This language (dreams, hysterical symptoms and what have you) effectively spoke in tongues, in a kind of parallel language. This language referred to mental processes but only in an oblique and sidelong kind of way.
This version of Freud is the post-structuralist/psychoanalytic Freud, but serves as a useful corrective to the view that dreams, for instance, are little nuggets of truth to be hacked away at by logic and cracked open to reveal some inner kernel of truth. While Freud certainly was a rationalist and wanted to try to translate the unconscious, the process of doing so was arduous and it itinerary was not to arrive at a nugget, more like a unfolding ribbon of interpretation, like a kind of magicians gag.
What does this have to do with Lost? Ever since the third season, when people really began claiming that the show had jumped the shark, gone off the rails, and so on, I started thinking about the show and its pesky mysteries through this quasi-psychoanalytic lens. This lens is particularly helpful when you are trying to think through the problems posed by interpretation. In effect, the “ethics of psychoanalysis” are to work with ambiguity and indeterminacy, not to annihilate it. The analyst is always having to confront the lure of transference in the session, the lure of believing, as the patient does, that he/she possess the secret key to meaning of the patient’s symptom. To think psychoanalytically about Lost is to try to cope with the crashing waves of ambiguity and enigma generated by the show.
In fact, as show drew to a close this season, I often associated the show with the word “churn.” There has always been a kind of churning action at the center of the show throwing up characters and plots, sub-plots, symbols, numbers, references, and so on–exactly like the unconcious. To expect a straight forward, clearly delineated path from mystery A to mystery Z is to miss the point (as far as I am concerned) of the show. It seemed to me, again particularly in the final season as “sides were drawn,” that those characters who held on too tightly to an end goal where inevitably drawn off course to the “bad camp”. Those characters that could change course and readjust themselves to new information and new situations were still the “good guys.” In other words, the show seemed to be modeling for us how we should deal with the show’s constitutive and generative ambiguity.
I recount all of this not so much to offer a unified theory of Lost. In fact, this is the non-unified, anti-theory. The “let it be” of theories, if you will. Rather to get at what was dissatisfying about the finale. And what was that? Well, as you can guess, it isn’t that all mysteries were not solved and that yet another mystery was thrown up. I feel okay with the fact that we are left to wonder why the writers decided to invent yet another paradigm for understanding the flashback/forwards/sideways (this gets at another mini-theory about these other timelines having to do with trying to get the audience to understand the delusion at work in wish fulfillment. Getting the thing you want doesn’t always mean you get the thing you want, get it?). I think I was disappointed because the ending didn’t throw up enough mysteries! The pseudo-spiritual mumbo-jumbo about quasi-purgatories and moving on to the light seemed too pat and too conventional. By offering this vision of consolation, we got saccharine redemption, which really isn’t redemption at all.