The Cost of Living: 'Lost,' 9/11, and How Damon Lindelof Taught Us He Shouldn't Solve 'The Leftovers'' Central Mystery
Some people need an explanation for everything. I’m one of those people. From the time I was a small child I was the “Why?” girl, to the dissatisfaction of my parents, friends, lovers, husband and even my children, who’ll tell me “Oh Mommy, sometimes, things just happen.” Though as a semi-grownup I may have accepted that not all things can be worked through in a manner satisfactory to my brain (god), it doesn’t stop me from wanting all the answers.
I didn’t feel sorry for Damon Lindelof when some of his Lost audience began to doubtingly grumble he’d never had any real answers to all the mysteries he’d set up over the course of six seasons. In my mind it was the right and natural reaction to his actions. I hurled my own displeasure to anyone who would listen as the series limped out on its last leg, leaning on the very crutch he’d promised from the beginning didn’t exist. I harrumphed along with the critics who shared my point of view, and scoffed at those who didn’t — who could be taken in by the sentimentality, forgetting the previous 100 or so episodes that built upon each other, led us deeper into the woods and delivered us right to the hungry
wolf’s smoke monster’s door.
I felt much the same about Stephen King’s Under the Dome, which ended with such an unceremoniously lazy and empty “explanation” that when I finished reading, I walked over to an airport trash can and threw my hardcover in; there’s one less copy to be inflicted on anyone. As you can see, my (perhaps unreasonable) demands for answers often end in anger (madness), but whether I’m finally coming of age, or it’s simply grim, resentful acceptance that sometimes there really is no good answer, with The Leftovers, that tricky bastard Lindelof is sending me down an altogether different road.
Mind you, I haven’t read Tom Perrotta’s novel so I’m flying blind; I’ve no idea if the author ever gives an explanation of what happened to The Leftovers’ departed souls (*please don’t SPOIL me or anyone else in the comments). What I do know is — whether or not Perrotta did — Lindelof shouldn’t. Wait, did I just type that? Because the best choice for the man who made so many of us skittish to even give this series a chance could be the same guy who teaches us, Hey, maybe we don’t really need an answer. Mapleton’s Chief of Police, Kevin Garvey Jr. may want to know why his family broke apart, his wife Laurie wants to know why she lost her baby — Nora, her whole family — and Matt Jamison and the Guilty Remnant think they know something the rest of us don’t…but as Daniel Faraday would say, “Whatever happened happened.” No answer can change that. There is no good reason “2% of the world’s people disappeared.” There can be no explanation that satisfies them or us; not that a god struck down the bad people, or others wished them away, or that aliens took a random group to study humans, or the government was testing out an invisible ray and everyone’s safe and sound in Roswell, New Mexico…or on Mars. There is no answer that would make much sense, or leave an audience satisfied. Did Damon Lindelof take on this project just to say “Neener” to the bitchy, dissatisfied masses? Probably not. Did he want to hammer home the beauty David Chase shoved down our throats with that Jersey ice cream parlor scene? Who knows. Did he just want to remind us that sometimes there just is no rhyme or reason or explanation? Maybe.
After the events of September 11, 2001, we all searched for answers we’d never find…Why him, why her, why not me, what if she hadn’t, if only I had, why did he get on that plane, why didn’t she call in sick, why didn’t I ask him not to go…why? Was everything random, whose side was god on, what if we’d lived our lives better — differently — what if we’d stopped drinking, gone to church, hit the snooze button…why didn’t I tell her I loved her…was she scared; what was he thinking? We found no answers to our questions, we only found ourselves carrying on — or not. Whether we’ve done it in a better way or not, whether we mark the anniversary in some way or we don’t, whether we turned to our faith or just gave up and stopped living, we all responded in our own ways, and that’s all there is for us. That’s all there is for the Leftovers.
With “The Prodigal Son Returns”, Lindelof gave us a grand, heartbreaking and beautiful finale, *and* snuck in a bittersweet lesson on both television and life. We can’t ask any more from a showrunner than that.
Note: Though the series has been granted a second season, its first is remarkably complete as is. If (like me) you held off on checking it out, you should really reconsider.
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