My favorite episode of Lost is the one in which the audience learns that Locke couldn’t walk before the plane crash, but then again the decision is easier for me than it is for most fans of the show because I stopped watching after the first season. I didn’t stop watching because I didn’t like it; rather, I stopped watching because I liked it a little too much.
I have some experience with these kinds of things. I wasn’t cosmopolitan enough to host (or even attend) any pie-and-coffee parties, but the mystery surrounding who killed Laura Palmer captivated me in my senior year of high school, and years later my wife and I would stand guilty of cramming as many as six taped episodes of The X Files into a single Friday night as we too wanted to believe that Chris Carter knew what the hell he was doing.
Since then, there have been other DVD-enabled binges: Season 1 of Six Feet Under in an all-nighter, the entirety of the British version of The Office in a weekend that nearly matched the show in perfection, and more recently Deadwood while we rocked a newborn during hours that neither of us had spent sober for a long, long time prior to baby’s arrival. However, the fact that I can remember these titles so specifically suggests just how exceptional these kinds of commitments have become.
Part of my initial resistance to a show like Lost stems from a vow that I’ve made to myself regarding first-run television: I don’t watch it. The way I’m wired prevents me from doing anything casually, and the demands of my life tug hard enough that I don’t need a television program contributing to my sense of completeness for any given week. I watch Mad Men because I know I’ll always be home on Sunday night at 10:00pm and Project Runway because if I miss an episode I really don’t care, but otherwise I even stay away from the original run of shows that I know I’ll like. (For example, I let 30 Rock lapse after only a few shows, and I’ve yet to see an episode of Community, though trusted sources assure me I’ll find it hilarious or at least modestly amusing).
And yes, to paraphrase Jules from Pulp Fiction, I am aware of the invention of DVR, On Demand, and the Interwebs and that these inventions render this excuse obsolete. Heck, I legally finagled a way to see the first three episodes of Treme before they even aired on HBO (at least I think it was legal), so I know that “Thursdays at 10:00pm Eastern, 9:00pm Central” is not the only way to catch one’s favorite show.
No, the bigger issue here is that the deeper I got into Season 1 of Lost the clearer it became to me that the narrative was functioning like a drug: I didn’t want to watch the next episode as much as I needed to, and I resented what I felt to be more manipulation on the part of the producers than fair play.
There was much to love in those early episodes: the cinematic nature of the pilot that made me feel like I was in a multiplex rather than my living room; the sneaky way that this plot-driven show spent 40 of its 44-minutes developing character; the Kate/Sawyer tension; the mysterious connections between the characters (am I remembering right that Sawyer had some contact with Jack’s father in Australia?); and OK, I admit it, that looping radio signal from 19-whatever-year-it-was, was pretty fucking cool.
Even then, though, I never had a sense that the show had a clear direction. Remember, this was before they announced the finite run, and the image of the cast adrift at sea at the end of the first season couldn’t have been more apt. I was getting jerked around. I wanted a sense of inevitability; what I got instead was more make-it-up-as-we-go.
Even so, I watched that first season on DVD, and when it was over, I thought, “Wow. That was really great. I can see why it’s such a phenomenon. I don’t think I need that in my life”. And I haven’t seen a minute of it since.
Have I regretted it? Maybe a little. I’m out of the pop-cultural loop when it comes to things like The Others, the hatch, and the Smoke Monster. Also, I remember one night preaching The Wire to a friend, and he countered with a discussion of the flash forward episode of Lost, which sounded like a real narrative coup. That one hurt. I was sorry that I had the flash forward explained to me rather than experiencing it for myself. Seemed like a mind-bender of the best possible kind. For the record, though, said friend is finally now coming around to The Wire, and he confessed to me recently that episodes of Lost were cluttering up his DVR but that he just couldn’t bring himself to watch them. He was going to watch them soon, that part was clear. By this point, given all that he had invested, he didn’t have a choice.
Despite all of this, I’ve actually thought about tuning in for the series finalé, if only to get the Facebook jokes, but then I heard that the last episode is going to be two and a half hours long. Two and a half hours? Are you kidding me? That’s almost half a season of Curb Your Enthusiasm.