Part of the cottage industry known as Lost analyzers, the east coast edition, met at New York City’s Paley Center for Media Saturday to discuss the Lost television series and its final episode airing Sunday night on ABC. To a sold-out audience, forum panelists including writers from Time, New York Magazine, and Hitfix and moderated by Ryan McGee, gathered to discuss, dissect, and celebrate a television series on the eve of its finale.
The atmosphere of the forum had the fanaticism of a convention, and although there may not have been the fun of dressing up like your favorite Vulcan or hobbit, there were plenty of Dharma hoodies in the house. Fans, as in fanatics, were made obvious by the ready answers to arcane trivia in games leading up the panel conference. It was some fun before the seriousness of larger topics to be discussed such as just what does this television series mean, why does it warrant such enthusiasm, and, as Emily Nussbaum from New York Magazine pointed out, why do so many of the strong female characters end up as arm candy.
The afternoon's audience was a microcosm of a larger group of viewers that both feeds off the show's mythology, and, at the same time, provides the show with an enormously creative and responsive congregation — one that pressures the writers to think quickly on their feet. In 2005 at a similar Paley Center Panel, clips of which were rerun on Saturday, co-creator J.J. Abrams commented on a viewer’s theory that the island could really be Purgatory: “It isn’t literally what it is, but the fans of the show are so smart, and so sharp, and the things that we’ve read are so often in sync with what we are doing (which gets us very excited) or they are better!”
It is this give and take with its audience that places Lost in a unique position of being the first television show intrinsically part of the DVR/Internet/DVD age as explained by Dan Manu, site director of Television Without Pity. Because of its technological time and place, and because the show was able to take advantage of its community, it evolved from a mystery show about plane crash survivors to being the television event that it will be on Sunday.
The pilot episode, which the Paley Center replayed in an enhanced format, holds up well after six years. Although the two-part opening, the most expensive television pilot ever made, appears to be more Jurassic Park than the Lost we know now, with the Smoke Monster moving trees and having footsteps, the characterizations that ultimately engaged Lost's audience are instantly present. Now Kate appears to be wearing too much eye makeup after having been in a plane crash and Sawyer may be too much the Clint Eastwood persona, but as written and portrayed, they are roles that viewers immediately either like or like to dislike. Or love, judging by the sniffling in the theatre during the Jin and Sun scenes. The ultimate fates of the two Korean lovers were very much on the audience's mind.
It has been a groundbreaking television series, demanding much of its viewers ("television with footnotes" as Time's James Poniewozik calls it), with an audience aspect that the networks have been trying to repeat with varying degrees of success: V, Fringe, and FlashForward, which has been recently canceled. Even Lost cannot duplicate the success of Lost. Although the viewership is expected to be high on Sunday, there is doubt it will reach the 23 million mark that the premiere of its second season enjoyed. Television itself has changed drastically in those four short years with on demand cable and especially Internet television cutting in those audience numbers.
The ultimate question now is: can this show be resolved in such a way that its fans don't storm the castle with pitchforks? The panelists disagreed in part about what they wanted to see resolved, but they were in consensus that they trusted the writers who have so far taken them for an enjoyable ride, as long, said TV critic Alan Sepinwall, "we find out what happened to the people. Abstract good and evil is fine, but we need to find out what happened to the people."