Lost? Damned Right It Was.

You know what the creators of epic, multiyear-arc television shows need? They need a novelist or two on staff. Or a playwright. Somebody who understands that an epic tale needs to be planned in advance, that plot is not something you work out after you’ve already written 90% of the story, that you can’t just throw a bunch of kicks and clues into individual chapters unless you have some idea what they fucking mean. It doesn’t matter how gobsmacking your twists are, or how effectively they entice your viewers to tune in next week: the reason we come back is because we want to see how all these intrigues fit together, what the payoff is. These guys can be absolute geniuses when it comes to microwriting: why haven’t they figured out that you gotta use that arsenal you’ve assembled on the mantelpiece, sometime before the end of the tale?

I’m not going to go on at much length about this, because I’ve already invested too much time in this. I’ve invested six years in a story that rationed out numerical sequences and high-energy physics and time travel for all the world as if they fit together somehow, as if they were carefully-constructed elements of a thousand-piece puzzle whose completion would reveal — if not an elegant thing of truth and beauty — at least a coherent story. I’ve wasted too many words, endured too many pitying glances as I insisted that no, J.J Abrams wasn’t Ronald D. Moore, he stated way back in first season that there would be no supernatural cop-outs in his science-fiction world-building, that all these other shows may have let me down but this one was different…

What a sucker I am. Hurley’s numbers: unexplained. The keyboard sequence in the hatch: unexplained. The ceiling hieroglyphics, the time jumps, the sudden appearance of that temple cult in the last season, the very nature of the island itself: unexplained unexplained unexplained unexplained.

The Smoke Monster: you call that an explanation?

Loose ends hung off the whole damn arc like cilia off a Paramecium. It was BSG all over again, and for pretty much the same reasons, so I’m not going to rehash them here. Check out my past rant on that show if you’re interested: or Brad Templeton’s far more comprehensive, rigorous, and lucid analysis. Squeak’s also got a thoughtful piece over on her blog and on io9, although I disagree with one of her points. I don’t think the invocation of gods reflects the conservative religious leanings of the US viewing audience at all; I think it’s just a convenient brand of lipstick the writers slather onto the pig after feeding it through whatever malfunctioning transporter serves up the steaming pile of mangled viscera we get when we order “epic narrative” from the menu.

I invested a greater number of years in a much less ambitious series whose relatively-modest finale hit the screens the very next day. I ended up a lot more satisfied. At least Jack Bauer didn’t spend eight years teasing my cock with meaningless clues before the clock ran out.

Oh, my. I guess I kind of have gone on at too much length. And I still have my taxes to do.

I guess I’ll have to tell you about the other stuff tomorrow.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 25th, 2010 at 12:17 pm and is filed under ink on art, rant. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

77 Responses to “Lost? Damned Right It Was.”

  1. Bahumat

    See? It’s for reasons like this I read your books instead of trying to watch TV. Because then I don’t have to suffer through that kind of torpidly written shit that somehow keeps television network hacks employed.

  2. David Ellis

    Somebody who understands that an epic tale needs to be planned in advance, that plot is not something you work out after you’ve already written 90% of the story, that you can’t just throw a bunch of kicks and clues into individual chapters unless you have some idea what they fucking mean.

    Exactly why I stopped watching 2 and a half years. If more of us did the same those in charge of television programming might take note and stop shoveling this shit onto us.

  3. Chris in MN

    Nothing new, really. X-Files; loved the one-offs but knew the uberplot was not going to be ‘splained.

    Watched the first season of LOST on DVD, then asked friends how two and three were. No explanation, they said. The producers said they forgot subplots, they said. I’ll stop there, thanks, I said.

  4. Peter D

    THANK YOU. I see far too many positive responses to this crap recently. (spoilers ahoy for those who care).

    It was a horrible finale. I accepted that we weren’t going to get explanations for everything. I even expected that “magic” would play a large role. I didn’t expect it to be this terrible. Barely anything was explained. We spent basically half the time this year on a subplot involving an alternate universe, and the biggest revelation we got this year was… what the deal with that was. And it wasn’t even a GOOD explanation, for an element of the final season that largely dragged on and felt like an indulgent waste of time.

    Virtually EVERYTHING else was left unexplained (save the identity of the two corpses, one of those things that really could have gone WITHOUT saying). We don’t really know what the deal was between Jacob and Smokey, Charles and Ben, why they couldn’t kill each other. For all we know, Smokey was right and the island was just a curiosity and protecting it didn’t mean anything. We don’t know who built the temples or why. We don’t know why the Black smoke sometimes seemed to be on the side of the Others and sometimes seemed to be an enemy. We don’t know what the three toed statue was. We don’t know WHAT the magic of the island is or how it works.

    That last part is particularly galling, because without that, the final episode? Really pointless. The climax of the plot involved Desmond being lowered into a magic cave (also only introduced in the last few episodes) and moving a magic rock and turning off the magic juice so that Jack could beat up Locke. It didn’t involve characters. It didn’t involve plot. It involved pure magic followed by a fistfight. Absolutely nothing meaningful.

    The finale would have made EXACTLY as much sense if Jack, Locke, and Desmond went into the cave where a mystical polar bear ate out Locke’s liver, killed Jack, and said in Spanish, “Hey, put Hurley in charge,” and then sent everybody to the year 2060 for good measure. Because, who the $!$# cares, it’s magic, right?

    We’ve spent several years with Jacob as this powerful mystical force that was possibly God, and certainly altering fate over the span of decades. But then suddenly Jacob is just a dude who was on the island a long time ago. And when Jacob passed the power to Jack, who seemed to have no idea what he was doing and had none of the special powers or knowledge of Jacob. So how did Jacob make Richard eternal? Or any of the other supernatural things? They JUST HAPPENED. No reason given. No reason needed. He was unspecified magic. Why does removing the island’s light temporariyl make Smokey killable? No reason. Because that’s what the writers want. Like with all of Locke’s powers. Even magic needs to make sense. To paraphrase somebody much wiser than me, “if literally anything can happen, why should we care exactly what the $$!@ happens?”. You tell us the rules in advance and we buy them, even if they’re pretty silly rules. But you don’t get to keep making up silly rules right to the end, to solve all your problems, PARTICULARLY when you’ve had several guaranteed years to write a conclusion.

    This was disgusting. At least BSG’s finale only dropped the ball for the finale itself. This turned the whole last year into a waste.

    As far as I’m concern, LOST ended with the atom bomb killing everybody. Abrupt, but preferable to what we got.

  5. Chris Pepper

    I thought this explanation was interesting: http://designwoop.com/2010/05/lost-finale-explained-well/ — at least the beginning. I didn’t watch Lost, and don’t care enough to finish something that long. But yes, I was disappointed in BSG. There’s *no way* a bunch of whole civilization would raise a generation of their kids, without using medicine when they get sick, for some vague philosophical reason. Even the people who don’t mind dying ‘early’ (and how many of those are there?) wouldn’t be willing to give up everything for reasons that feeble.

    BSG’s ending was truly lame, which meant much of the series that depended on it for justification was retroactively lame as well — actually it wasn’t retroactive, but we gave them the benefit of the doubt, and they failed to justify it.

  6. Nick N

    The worst part of the alternate universe plot, aside from it supplanting the mysteries we actually cared about from previous seasons, was that it had only a single impact on the main plot: it was Desmond’s motivation for going along with everyone telling him what to do. If you completely cut every alt-universe scene from the show, the ONLY additional mystery would have been why Desmond changed his attitude after being shoved in the electromagnet room. Everything else would have made just as much sense. So, they essentially spent half of a season on a spin-off. Hell, I’ve seen spin-offs that had more narrative connection to their origin.

  7. rm3154

    Hey Peter,

    Aren’t you being a tad hard on your fellow wordsmiths. Do YOU always practice what you preach?

    In Starfish, Lennie Clark was this very interesting kind of laid back psycho — very much an instance of “damaged goods”. Indeed, the core of the novel (maybe one of the cores) was about “damaged goods” as an adaptation to certain environments. Then in maelstrom we have all this jazz about implanted memories, an identity crisis, etc etc and some of the premises from Starfish are sacrificed on the altar of story evolution. Did YOU have it all planned out way back then, or were you, in some measure, making it up as you were going along?

    I never watched Lost, but I am totally with you on BSG. That story definitely had its moments, and maybe those moments were what it’s all about. Even in Season 5 things were pretty righteous during the rebellion arc. Maybe they should have ended it after Zarek and Felix died by firing squad. I thought the thing with the leg was brilliant. Does the crap ending in the 2nd half of the season necessarily ruin that?

    PS For the record, I thought that Starfish was “singularly good”, and that Maelstrom was merely “very good”. Still, as much as I enjoyed the sequel, I was just a little bit pissed off because it marred that perfect little jewel that was Starfish.

    PPS I am afraid to read Behemoth

  8. Chris in MN

    I should have added, Abrams (like Whedon with Dollhouse) has to deal with pleasing the network. With Dollhouse, it was supposed to start with episode three or so. FOX forced him into adding the motorcycle chase, etc. and EXPLAINING instead of SHOWING the premise because someone didn’t understand it from what was to be the pilot. IOW, some of this is probably coming from elsewhere. Hard to plan out a season if the number of episodes changes on you midstream (Heroes from the writer’s strike, though I think that actually helped that season for the most part).

    Then there are time constriants. Seasons wait for no woman nor man.

    rm3154: Leave Lenie alone! 🙂

  9. Peter Watts

    That’s an interesting link, especially in light of its claim that the writers wrote the last ep immediately after the pilot (which implies that they at least knew what endpoint they were shooting for all along). I see a number of the comments point out some inconsistencies with that view, however — and in any event, knowing how a story ends doesn’t necessarily mean you have the slightest clue how you’re going to get there. Seems to me the writers just flailed around looking for something that would stick. They certainly felt no compunctions about turning characters initially intended for 3-ep appearances into tentpole personae, and vice versa.

    Actually, I at least try to practice what I preach. In the case of the rifters, the whole implanted-memory thing was actually set up pretty explicitly in Starfish; it even paid off in that book too, in the first draft. But then my editor decided that that whole thread would be regarded as a “cheat” — basically, the fear was that false memories would seem too much like “and it was all a dream” — so I was told to cut out the payoff. So the example you cite actually serves to cover my ass.

    That said, though, much of Maelstrom was not planned in advance, because I never intended to write a sequel. Starfish had originally ended with Lenie bleeding out on the refugee strip, and dying. But again, Tor insisted that this was not a sufficiently triumphal ending for American audiences, so I had to let her live. Then, after Starfish did well, they phoned me up and offered me three times as much for the sequel.

    I tried to keep everything consistent between books, and I think I succeeded for the most part (although it’s odd how nobody uses the word “Maelstrom” in Starfish, given its ubiquity back on land, innit?). But even if I did fuck up, I’d plead not guilty by reason of never having intended to write an epic trilogy in the first place.

    Re your Behemophobia: you’d be taking a risk by reading it. I know a few people who think it was the best volume in the series, but I know a lot more who hated it. I myself wanted to write something completely different after Maelstrom (Blindsight, in fact), but was convinced by my then-agent to stick with the “proven formula”. I think it’s a fine book in many ways (and I completely disagree that the scenes of sexual torture were gratuitous), but my heart was not in it the way it was with the other two. Apparently it shows.

  10. David Ellis

    I always thought LOST took a wrong turn from the very start. It has the same problem Stephen King’s THE STAND did: the idea was compelling and powerful without the superfluous supernatural/weird science elements and would have been better off without them.

    It’s like trying to “improve” THE LORD OF THE FLIES by making the island inhabited by werewolves.

  11. Geoff

    I’m sorry but if you actually were ever naive enough to think the Lost writers *weren’t* just making random shit up as the went along, it’s your own fault for wasting so much time on such a ridiculous show. I love the apparently nonsensical finale because it allows me to say “I told you so” to so many Lost believers.

  12. V

    never watched it myself. But somehow unsurprised, if a little disappointed because I had thought about watching it someday. I guess not.

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  14. Chris J.

    Can’t say that I ever really cared for Lost or the hyper surrounding it, but I did manage to just find a recent interview with Peter on Sofanauts!


  15. Terry Findlay

    I admit not watching much of Lost. My wife watched fairly religiously. I did sit still long enough to watch the recap before the finale. The finale struck me as being much like an “…and it was all a dream” ending. When you invoke a heaven-like afterlife scenario anything that might have happened in the episodes is justified since there was some sort of omniscient plan at work all along. What a cop out.

  16. Raja

    [i]You know what the creators of epic, multiyear-arc television shows need? They need a novelist or two on staff. Or a playwright. Somebody who understands that an epic tale needs to be planned in advance…[/i]

    If this is what you want and you haven’t already watched The Wire, it’s worth your time.

  17. Flanders

    “At least Jack Bauer didn’t spend eight years teasing my cock with meaningless clues before the clock ran out.”

    Thanks for that, Peter. Now I have to go wash my brain out with lye.

  18. keanani

    “Lost” was great! It infused millions of dollars in my home state’s economy, and showcased Hawai’i to further ride it as a tourist destination (our cash crop), and continues to make Hawai’i a place to film(Princess Ka’iulani, The Descendants, Hawai’i Five-Oh). 🙂

    I don’t watch much tv, and the last time I had acess to cable tv was around 1995. Still, sometimes I caught Fringe (viewable of Hulu), and Flashforward, and was actually watching Threshold and Surface (both of which were cancelled). The only shows I really ever stuck with ~ Star Trek reruns, Twin Peaks, X-Files, Prime Suspect and Monty Python, when I actually watched tv.

    I only watched the first season of Lost, the potentiality was there, but into the second year, it lost me…

    As for tv in general and whether network suits care a squiffy tiddly winks about the viewing audience, well, so many of the popular tv shows involve pseudoreality, people making asses of themselves on obstacle courses, singles battling a group for one strangers’ “love”, narcissistic chefs yelling and belitting the crap out of other wannabe chefs, swapping wives, loads of crying, modelesque humans portraying cops, firemen, FBI agents, detectives, forensic investigators, and supernatural beings amongst us…they know what they are doing and to whom they are reaching in “entertaiment”.

    Isn’t anyone looking forward to “The Gates” and “Scoundrals”. Ha, I only receive ABC thanks to the wonders of Digital Conversion. Free tv is no longer really free. I lost PBS and that pisses me off more.

  19. Laur

    I remember watching the first two or three episodes of “Lost”, back in the day. I remember thinking: how IMPROBABLE it looked. Most of the stranded are young, most of them are good-looking, there’s a couple of them a bit out of shape, but for the rest… man, that was one skewed up sample of the modern day airplane load. Look around you the next time you’re on a holiday flight; the average passenger’s age borders on 50, give or take, they’re average looking, bit on the fat side, and don’t even get me started on their survival skills. Real-life Lost would probably have no more than two episode: 1) vegetarian people try to eat various fruits and roots on the island, get sick and die, 2) the rest of the crew starves to death, aside from the few that revert to cannibalism, who eventually kill and eat each other. If you want a happy ending, the last guy is saved by the search crew a week after the crash. The end.

    But speaking about SF series, what’s your opinion about Stargate Universe? Not a fan of the whole franchise thing – I think I saw one movie plus the occasional half-episode – but this one at least seems to take its science seriously.

  20. Hljóðlegur

    Now I have to go wash my brain out with lye.

    *passes Flanders the canister of Ajax CortexScrubbo and a rag*

    It helps if you sprinkle some on and wait a few minutes before you start scrubbing.

  21. Lars

    You’re just doing your taxes now?

  22. Gord

    I always figured that if something was lost for six years, it was gone.

  23. keanani

    The May issue of Wired Magazine ponders the importance of the Lost Music:

    “Now that no more tangles can be added to the web of the Lost series, it’s finally possible to mull over the last six years and ask the really important questions. What made us willing to think through the puzzles? Why did we keep watching when we had no idea what was going on?”

    “…the Storyboard podcast takes a look at the most important part of Lost that you never see — the music.”


  24. richard morgan

    Weird you got hooked, gotta say.

    I watched it for precisely as long as it took me to realise they weren’t going to explain anything (’bout an episode and a half, if memory serves….) and bailed thereafter – though not fast enough to avoid the shuddering realisation that this was all the plots and characters from the worst ever weak-ass lunch-time made-for-TV movie-of-the-week schlock I’d ever had the misfortune to see, crammed together into a single series. That fucking ex-rocker dealing-with-my-addiction-gimme-the dope-so (oh wow, never saw THAT coming) I-can-throw-it away-and-set-my-soul-free shit had me screaming actual abuse at a TV screen for the first time in my life.

  25. curgoth

    I didn’t start watching Lost at first, but my interest got piqued when I heard how good it was. But, it had all these secrets that the writers insisted they knew the answers to! That hit right about when Season 2 of Heroes aired, and I thought, “No I don’t want to get into a show that will just suck again!”

    So I waited, and then got into BSG. Then BSG ended so poorly.

    And people kept saying “But Lost! Lost is good! The writers Know! They have a Plan! It ends next year!”

    So I waited until the finale aired. I’ve only seen the first half of the first episode of season 1. Now I can approach the show without hope, and thus, have no expectations of quality when I get to the end.

  26. Chris in MN

    @keanani: How did you lose PBS?

  27. Simon

    “It doesn’t matter how gobsmacking your twists are, or how effectively they entice your viewers to tune in next week: the reason we come back is because we want to see how all these intrigues fit together, what the payoff is”

    You have to look at it from the perspective of the studio. To them, the payoff is unimportant and what really matters is indeed how effectively they entice the viewers to tune in next week. As long as they can keep tricking you, that’s all that matters.

    Having integrity. Creating a good story. Creating a complete, safisfying work of art. In TV, these ideals are left to the honour system.
    Since it’s released an episode at a time, you have no way to know until the finale if they’re going to disappoint you or not. Future generations will look back on great, well-ended series with much more fondness than they will supernatural cop-outs, but future DVD sales aren’t as much of a concern as prime-time viewership. If twists sell right now, they write twists.

  28. Flanders

    While being British is no guarantee of quality, I think the BBC has one up on us here in the way they set up TV series. Each series is basically assumed to only last one season, and is never guaranteed a second. Therefore, if you’ve got a big arc you want to resolve, you’ve got one year to do it. This cuts short big, epic, multi-year, sweeping dramas, true, but how many of those do you have compared to the number of shows that hit season four bereft of ideas?

  29. fvngvs

    Get Behemoth. Read it. Now.

    Always interesting to hear the post-mortems on how stories mutate from draft to publication.

  30. Chris

    How I feel about Lost now, expressed via rage meme (apologies for the horrificly poor shop):


  31. letscallhimray

    From the link @Chris Pepper gave:

    “The show was always about science vs faith — and it ultimately came down on the side of faith.”

    Well, there’s yer problem right there, son. Bear in mind, I’ve never seen the damn show. Given what I’ve learned about The Plan, I can quite easily say I’m not going to bother. I could be watching something good instead, like Mad Men.

  32. Mike G.

    Ironically, I think the show Supernatural did this better than Lost or BSG. The show runner had a five year plot in mind from the beginning, and whatever the show’s faults, it came to a coherent and meaningful conclusion a couple of weeks ago at the end of the fifth season. There was one flat note at the end, but I think I know why they played it even if I thought it was a mistake.

    In a similar vein, Madeline Ashby aired her opinion about God and genre TV.

  33. Redcoat

    Sooooo glad I bailed on Season 2. There was some sublime stuff in the first season (Hurley’s walkman batteries dying at exactly the moment I thought – Hey, how are his batteries still good?), but I never believed there was a ‘Big Arc’. There is a point in all these long-run dramas now where you begin to suspect you may be being jerked around for the sake of franchise longevity, and that’s where I look in the schedules for something else to watch. Lost was pretty, Abrams probably intended it to have integrity, but nobody should be surprised that when it was finally lanced it turned out to be full of gunk and garbage.

  34. Laur

    Coherent, well-written and compelling TV series? Strong, well defined characters? Appropriate finale? Sure, we had a few. “Rome”. “6 feet under”. Even “House”, to some extent, the caveat being that it relies too much on Hugh Laurie’s outstanding performance to pull through.

    SF shows? BSG would have been perfect if they just killed the last episode. In fact, here’s an idea: let’s get get the whole cast together one more time and shoot a “geek” alternative ending (only available on DVD etc. etc.) that would kick that deus ex machina to the curb where it belongs.

    @Flanders: BBC doesn’t pull series off the air, as far as I know. Being a public broadcasting corporation gives them some extra breathing space in that respect, so they can afford to let their writers take the long view. Unfortunately that also means their FX budget is on the lean side. Now, if only HBO would grow up already and ditch dark romantic fantasy for space-opera SF…

  35. sean

    If you want an equally mysterious but much more coherent series, try Life on Mars (not the US remake) set in the 1970s, and its sequel Ashes To Ashes, set in the 1980s, from the BBC. In each, a police officer of the current day is possibly fatally wounded and wakes up in the past and has to make sense of why they are there. I won’t say too much more to avoid spoilers, but the conclusion to A2A takes place at a pub, not in a church, which perhaps says something about the differences between the US and the UK.

    And everything was all wrapped up in 40 episodes not 121. Thankfully there were nowhere near as many hanging plot threads by the end. In fact, I’m finding it hard to think of any threads that couldn’t be explained by the conclusion, unlike Lost, where there are too many to count.

  36. Johan Larson

    They need a novelist or two on staff. Or a playwright. Somebody who understands that an epic tale needs to be planned in advance, that plot is not something you work out after you’ve already written 90% of the story, that you can’t just throw a bunch of kicks and clues into individual chapters unless you have some idea what they fucking mean.

    The thing is, TV is authorized season by season, but successful shows run much longer. Imagine the challenge of trying to devise a story that might run to 100,000 words, but is also supposed to make sense if interrupted at 25, 50, and 75 kilo-words. Trying to hold to any long-term arc under such a constraint must be virtually impossible. It’s no wonder TV series get a bit disjoint.

  37. Daniel

    I think is part of why I fell in love with Babylon 5. Straczynski wrote out the whole plot line ahead of time and even included “trap doors” as ways to remove main characters that was consistent with the story.

  38. Anony Mouse

    Does anyone know how the Harlem Globetrotters got on to Gilligan’s Island in the first place?

  39. Mike Tevee

    Another Canadian crossing the border gets threatened, arrested
    just for questioning his rights. All caught on audio. Welcome to the Gulag.
    It’s here:

  40. Julian Morrison

    “I don’t think the invocation of gods reflects the conservative religious leanings of the US viewing audience at all”

    No, what it reflects is that the producers think that audiences are so cram-full of brain-rotting religious anti-epistemology, that they will feel vindicated and comforted by a TV program that basically says “see, god moves in mysterious ways, you aren’t meant to understand”. They need lipstick for their pig, but there’s a reason this particular shade is so convenient.

  41. Ken

    Peter, I was just making this same argument to some friends earlier today.

    I second Daniel’s advocacy of Babylon 5, which is a prime example of a scifi series that got it right, in terms of the long arc.

    Joe Straczynski planned the entire series before a single episode was shot. In fact, he wrote 90 percent of the episodes himself. The series finale was one of the most satisfying I had ever seen.

    Alot of people have problems with B5 – it was a lower budget production, but there was real heart in it. If you haven’t seen it, I reccomend that you give it a shot.

    Disclaimer: just make it through the first season, which will seem like a bunch of one-offs. In the second season and beyond, the threads really start to come together.

  42. Chris in MN

    One more thing. Want to give PW kudos for hanging in there until the season finale. I’m sure he also has or will at some point listen to the commentary or read whatever they had to say about why they did what they did. You know, wait until the end and see if the characters and situations are really about what they appear to be on the surface.

    That’s what I would do (if I had half a brain! 😉 ).

  43. Flanders

    Re: Babylon 5: Also, the series picks up once Cap’m Wooden is replaced by Cap’m Scarecrow. Things come to pieces a bit in the last season (since it wasn’t really supposed to happen, a lot of the big reveals got pushed back to season 4, making season five feel a bit anticlimactic), but I endorse it as Good TV. So go watch, but be prepared for bad CGI and some annoying synth music in the soundtrack.

  44. Nick N

    Before Babylon 5 gets held up as an example of perfect long-term planning too much, I’d point out (as partially described here) that the “original” five year plan for Babylon 5 was actually more of a 10 year plan involving a sequel show called Babylon Prime. So, he didn’t really stick to his original plan that closely (it was much compressed and had some very different details), though the final product definitely was improved by the fact that a plan existed.

    The worst part is that Lost had 3 seasons or so that they knew how much longer they would be on the air, and still couldn’t create a cohesive story over that time. Just sad.

  45. Hljóðlegur

    Ken and Daniel are too right! B5 was wonderful. Crappy dialog, mediocre special effects, but you had to pay attention, because in a few years, you would be asked to remember what you saw.

    Also, the character actors who acted through all that latex and other weird embarrassing prostheses were fabulous – in the end, I cared more about the aliens than the humans. G’Kar especially. Mr. Katsulas made me care about G’Kar, and he did it dressed as a reptile with bright red contact lenses in. He deserves some kind of stunt-acting award.

    @rm3154 I advise you to read Behemoth. Know why you should? If you don’t, at some point you will look up and see a speeding bus about to cream you into eternity, your last thoughts will not be the faces of your wife and children, nor how you lived a good life, nor to wonder if heaven awaits – you will think, “Dammit, wonder what happened to Lenie and Ken and Achilles, wish I had just read Behem..” *splat*

    You don’t want that to be your final thought, my friend.

  46. Außenseiter

    So, it is best to give Lost a wide berth?

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen an SF series except GITS that did not make me groan at least twice during each episode.

    It’s not just technobabble. I hate internal inconsistency in stories. At least, the kind of inconsistency that I can spot. Maybe I should blame the low blood lead levels I had in childhood…

  47. Madeline

    To me, there’s not much difference between deus ex machina thinking and rapturous thinking. “It’ll all work out, somehow,” is a cognitive cop-out that suspends rational evaluation and analysis, and saying “God ended this story the way He wanted it” is not so different from saying “Jesus will return to redeem us long before the ice caps melt.” Both enable the fantasy of zero responsibility and zero consequence. Even real rapturists could write a better plot: they sincerely believe that one should walk the Lord’s line and obey the Commandments, thereby assuring one’s membership in the Elect. That’s a mighty manifestation of consequence, and it’s one that true believers do genuinely fear and strive to avoid. But lazy plotting and lazy following both depend on the same handwave to hide from culpability.

    At least, that’s how it seems to me in this Godforsaken heat.

  48. 01

    Well, I agree most certainly.

    That’s why pretentious, complex TV sci-fi dies off before the finale – because experience teaches us not to pay too much attention to them, they will inevitably suck in the end. And frankly, it’s better this way – without an utterly ruinous finale you can at least entertain the naive illusion that if the executives up there didn’t interfere, it would have been awesome.
    Meanwhile, bottom-dwelling series that likely aren’t even taken seriously by their own scriptwriters will do just fine, requiring zero investment on part of the audience and subsisting on casual “boredom TV watchers”. Like all proper bottom dwellers, NuV doesn’t require much and doesn’t aspire towards too much.

    Oh, but I commented about it in the Flashforward thread, I think 😀

    Anyways, TV sci-fi is a pile of disappointment.
    It is a scientifically proven fact.

  49. rm3154


    So it’s going to be a bus, is it? Talk about spoilers…. Did it cross your mind that I may not want to know?

    As for Behemoth, I’ll get around to it one of these days. A contributing factor to the present state of unreading is the absence of printed product. Novels on the screen just don’t work for me, and I don’t own a e-ink reader.

  50. Hljóðlegur

    @rm3154 Did it cross your mind that I may not want to know?

    It was my vain hope that by warning you, you could avert it, and generate proportionately more of the universes spawned by the event going another way, ones in which you live to be very very old and die peacefully in your sleep.

    Of course, the last thought you have before you drift gently off to sleep for the last time is “… and what was that book I meant to read, that third in a series about a girl with an artificial lung?”

  51. Dave Cunningham

    You know, in all fairness to Ron Moore, he did pen one of the best finales ever: Star Trek: TNG – All Good Things…

    That was particularly amazing, because he managed to put an epic twist on a show that was mostly disconnected from episode to episode. I may have been too young to see it coming, but the twist at the end where you realize that Q was about to lay final judgement on humanity and that the whole show was really about that… I thought it was brilliant. Then they threw in the three timelines where Picard had to save the day as an old man and as his young unproven self… I really miss that show. I agree that BSG wasn’t perfect, but I did feel that he gave himself a little wiggle room for an Ancient Aliens God replacement. I always thought that’s what he meant when he said: “You know he doesn’t like being called that…”

  52. Peter Watts

    @All of you who never watched the show anyway (and even those who did):

    Thanks to a link provided by Jesús Olmo, you can now see the entire arc of the series distilled into a single minute. Reenacted by cats.

    @Geoff, and Richard:

    What can I say? When the smoke monster made those click-whirry mechanical sounds (and Crazy French Chick referred to it as a “security system”), I thought we were in safe sf territory. And I want to believe. I am a congenital optimist. I keep hoping that this time, it will be different.

    Oddly enough, a number of my ex-partners have said the same thing…

    Yes, I have heard good things about The Wire.

    I said “teasing”. Not “sucking.”

    Stargate Universe. Hmmm.

    I’ve never been able to watch any of the earlier Stargate incarnations because they were just so very cheesy and derivative. I gave SGU a chance (and continue to watch it) on the strength of John Scalzi’s involvement, and while it’s a pretty low bar to clear, I have to say it’s by far the best of the franchise. A couple of episodes have been real standouts, I’ve thought.

    The problem is, if you’re gonna try and imitate something, you should at least try and surpass the object of your sincere flattery. SGU tries very hard to be Battlestar Galactica — grungy lighting, civilian-vs-military conflict, a realistic emphasis on basic necessities like air and water (hell, they even have an arrogant scientist with a UK accent!) — but it doesn’t have any of BSG’s subtlety or intensity. The characters lack nuance, the storylines are straight down the middle, and it’s obvious who you’re supposed to be rooting for. (In the recent mutiny, for example, the military were the obvious good guys and the civilians were the obvious baddies; compare that to the corresponding plotlines in BSG where there were no good guys or bad guys, just people who kept fucking up in a sea of grays.)

    I’ve had some pretty harsh words for how BSG ended off, and I stand by those; but the performances, the dialog, the dilemmas and the drama of individual episodes throughout that four-year run are still among the most compelling television I’ve ever seen. There’s nothing in SGU that even comes close to the Pegasus arc, for example, or even the Zarek/Gaeta mutiny of the final season.

    Still, like I say. By far the best of the Stargates, and I watch it when I have time to kill.

    @Lars, re taxes:
    Self employed, dude. I have until June.

    @Mike G.:
    What, Supernatural is finished? Squeak and Dave rave about it, and it’s on my catch-up-on list, but I didn’t realize it had ended already.

    I liked Life on Mars, and I even liked Ashes to Ashes (although I’m not sure I made it through to the end — I certainly don’t remember how that season ultimately resolved). But I liked it primarily for the acting and the character interplay (Gene was a brilliant creation, IMO). I totally bought the whole coma-dreamworld thing right up until the end, when our hero came back into the real word, then threw himself off a building and ended up in exactly the same scenario he’d been in before, as opposed to just ending up as street pizza. I took from that that the creators were saying that the whole show had not been a dream construct after all (and this was the one show where “it was all a dream” was perfectly acceptable, since it was pretty strongly implied in every episode right from the start), which left me wondering what the fuck it had been.

    @Daniel, @Ken, @Flanders, @Hljóðlegur, @everyone else singing the praises of B5:
    Yup. Know the show. Look back on it with a mixture of cringes and admiration. I am in awe of JMS for even trying to pull off a project of such epic scope under those conditions (the dude also made a very substantial contribution to the Squidgate Defense Fund, btw); I’d admire him for his ambition even if he had fallen flat on his face.

    Which is not to say that B5 was a perfect show; many first-season episodes were absolutely atrocious (“Infection” was perhaps the worst of the lot), and even the best episodes (e.g., the second season’s “The Coming of Shadows”, which IIRC won a Hugo) frequently had cringe-inducing moments. (Generally revolving around dialog. JMS has a real problem with dialog. It was a mistake for him to have penned so many of the scripts himself; I don’t think anyone could crank out consistently first-rate material under that kind of load.) I found the punchline of the series a bit too sixties Star Trek for my liking; seriously, Sheridan’s gonna lecture these ancient species who’ve been around for literally billions of years? And he’s going to tell them anything they didn’t already know before humanity even evolved? And they’re going to listen to him, and meekly shuffle off and vacate the galaxy just because he tells them to?

    On the plus side, the FX were groundbreaking for the time and for the budget. The story was coherent, start to finish. And man, I would’ve watched it just for the relationship between Lando and G’Karr. Those two characters were fucking brilliant, and brilliantly played (Flounder was a vastly underrated part of that equation too.)

    In fact, if I didn’t have so much else to do, I’d sit down and watch that whole damn series again start to finish.

    @ Außenseiter:
    Actually, if things go according to plan, Squeak and I are gonna be doing an ep-by-ep breakdown of GITS for Tor.com, starting in July.

  53. gawp

    re: BSG, it’s also the x-files all over again; piling on the incoherent clues with no particular coherent narrative.

  54. Madeline

    Supernatural isn’t finished. The next season should start sometime in the fall. But the season that just finished was supposed to be the last one, so its finale had a distinct air of, well, finality.

  55. Flanders

    [goes back for the lye bucket]

    There is no universe in which the terms “Jack Bauer, “teasing,” and “cock” belong anywhere near each other. Besides the only thing I can think of Bauer using to tease a cock are electrodes.

  56. Flanders

    …actually I’m sure there’s slashfic for that. Dammit, Peter.

    I read the whole RIFTERS trilogy and nothing in those books has scarred me worse than this thread.

  57. Hljóðlegur

    @Flanders. I read the RIfters trilogy, and nothing in them scarred me like what I am doing right now – I am listening to E Nomine – “Schwarze Sonne.” It’s some kind of german trance music and the vocalist is former bodybuilder and B actor Ralf Moeller from the movie “Beerfest”.

    There is no universe in which the terms “Jack Bauer, “teasing,” and “cock” belong anywhere near each other.

    Bauer/ Sutherland has one sexy mouth – kinda loose and dirty. So does his Daddy. Oh jesus, why did I go there?

    @Watts I said “teasing”. Not “sucking.”

    Okay, but now you have said “sucking” and no one else mentioned that word at all?

    …actually I’m sure there’s slashfic for that. Dammit, Peter.

    Flanders, now you went and did it. You do realize that Rule 34 demands that you write a Watts/Bauer slashfic set in either the set of Lost, 24 or or maybe V, and it has to involve unhinged jaws and a guinea pig. Maybe a Blampire.

    We’ll wait.

  58. Flanders

    …Hell, maybe I’ll throw in a time-travelling John Klute for good measure.

  59. David S.

    Somewhere out there is a lone polar bear sitting on a log crying to himself because they all forgot about him. Suddenly a light appears and out of it springs a Labrador, he licks the bear and they live happily ever after. Hey, it makes as much sense as the real finale!

    Lousy bastards, I wasted six fscking years of my life on that shite.

  60. Terry

    I dropped Lost somewhere around season 3 and never felt the least twinge to go back to it… until they started to hype the Series Finale. Now I know not to waste money on the DVD’s.

    Very Pleased to see B5 getting its well deserved praise. Of course it wasn’t perfect. It was still one of the most compelling TV shows I’ve ever watched. The relationship between Londo and G’Kar was amazing. Watching it play out was well worth all the ‘dud’ episodes and sometimes less than stellar dilogue. G’Kar’s speeches still give me the shivers when I read them.

    I watch Supernatural. Good stuff overall. It has a sense of humor that I like.

  61. Hljóðlegur

    David S says: Somewhere out there is a lone polar bear sitting on a log crying…he licks the bear …

    Worse slashfic evah.

    Flanders: …Hell, maybe I’ll throw in a time-travelling John Klute for good measure.

    Dude! That is so full of kinky goodness. *salutes*

  62. PrivateIron

    Supernatural is an odd duck: it had a five year plan and it basically resolved. Now a new showrunner (but long time regular writer for the show) is taking over a sixth year with the same characters. Supposedly she is going to simultaneously return to the Season 1 formula of stand alones and address the consequences of the big climax. I am optimistic, but then I am one of the few people who liked Crusade.

    Farscape was awesome is you have time to watch or rewatch anything; so was Millennium, though it was more inconsistent.

  63. Chris in MN

    Guess where DeM and coincidence are concerned I fall back on my class with Denny O’Neil. He said as an editor (and other editors are the same way he said), no DeM (but I’m thinking in the superhero genre the definition is different; it’s practically a requirement) and only zero or one coincidence allowed because “they don’t happen in real life.”

    Yet, he also told us had it not been for a very forgiving fireman (Denny had been very political and uncomplimentary to the local f.d. in some of his news articles; kinda Voltaire vs. men in uniform at the time) and a machine the department had just purchased, and it happened to be next door, he’d have died in a diner when he had heart failure.

    “Reality” is based on perception. Some folks perceive things differently and belief carries strong physiological consequences. Link is PDF of the NYTimes article I mentioned to PW at lunch in March.

  64. Hljóðlegur

    Millennium was all about mood and ambiance and feeling, less about plot.

    Primary theme: Human beings struggling to do the right thing, but not agreeing on what that is. The moral component was very engrossing.

    Was Frank on the side of right, or was Peter? Or was either man? Was Frank responsible for his wife’s death, for instance. You also notice a number of the killers were operating under their own set of twisted moral compunctions, a different set from Frank’s.

    If consciousness and ethics interest you, Millennium had alot to offer in terms of food-for-thought, but I have to agree with PrivateIron, it was not tightly structured enough over time.

  65. PrivateIron

    Henrikson and O’Quinn made that show compelling just on their bad ass acting alone, even the little girl was pretty good. She and the kids from Season 4 of the Wire are about the only child actors that didn’t make me gag. The X files tie-in episode was good too, though it showed X Files to be poorer by comparison, I thought.

    So if Peter is pining for Locke, he could get a less guilty pleasure watching early Millennium.

  66. Chris in MN

    At least we’re in this dimension. (See link.)

  67. Hljóðlegur

    Yeah, I think they got some good acting from Mr. Henriksen by keeping him restrained, ie, subdued his natural urge to jitter around and over-emote. Henriksen’s controlled energy made Frank seem more intense and thoughtful, I think.

    a less guilty pleasure watching early Millennium.
    The guilty pleasure of Terry O’Quinn – imho, he often did great things with clumsy writing, just by working the close-ups. O’Quinn had to sell Peter as sincere, the true believer possibly being duped by his employer, a man who was about loyalty, and convey that even when the dialog was iffy. He does alot with his eyes and subtle expressions around his mouth.

    Remember he had to sell that thing about “Why I have 5 daughters?” *eye roll* If you typed that soliloquey out, you’d snicker. But watch what he did with it, and you feel horror, sympathy, reproach for his hubris, then horror again.

    How far did you get in The Wire? We have it on DVD, and I crapped out before we got to the newsroom season.

  68. PrivateIron

    The last season of the Wire was the weakest; I think it was the first time it felt more like I was watching a regular TV show, a very good TV show, but more contrived plot wise than the “real” vibe of most of the seasons.

    Generation Kill and early Treme feel more like immersions in experience rather than plotted drama, particularly the former. You did not get the feeling that what the Marines were doing had any history or meaning, just a ride in the desert shooting things. It was interesting that everything the Colonel ordered looked sinister because you did not understand it, but when he spoke for himself, all of a sudden you had context because here was a guy who actually knew something about what was going on. Then you sympathized with why he did certain things. That’s film making seriously attempting to convey what life is really like at ground level.

  69. Brycemeister

    How’s this for ridiculous-apparently, the creator of Gilligan’s Island meant the island to be purgatory. No kidding. Whose inhabitants, all representing the seven deadly sins, could only escape the island if rescued.

    I’m convinced J.J. is merely a master at recycling lwmons.

    This I learned from my sister, a fundamentalist Christian who reads comics, sc-fi, and really digs zombie movies. I can’t figure it out at all. If there’s ever a zombie apocalypse, I’m with her. She’ll know what to do.

    Also, No word of a lie-I stopped watching after second or third episode. I already knew they were dead. On shows with avaguely mysterious bent, the writers always, with only a few exceptions, choose ‘it was all a dream’ (Moonlighting) or ‘he she or they are really dead.”

  70. Hljóðlegur

    Whose inhabitants, all representing the seven deadly sins, could only escape the island if rescued.

    So what deadly sin did Dawn Welles play?

  71. Peter D

    Mary-Anne envied Ginger?

  72. PrivateIron

    Whoever the glutton was must have had a rough time on the island.

  73. weaver

    Now, now, people, if you harsh on the ep like this then all your favourite characters won’t get to walk into the light.

    Presumably they’ll end up stuck in the Californian Zen-Purgatory the writers lied – flat out lied – to us was an alternative timeline.

  74. Außenseiter

    @Peter Watts
    Ep by ep break down of GiTS? Good luck with that. Perhaps your superior brains will help, but my suspicion is that the writer’s of GiTS:SAC didn’t care enough about making sense. Or maybe it was the fansub. (Laughing man, I believe)
    Who really knows what Stand Alone Complex is supposed to mean? I still don’t get the concept..

    Eco wrote something like this in Foucalt’s Pendulum:
    Be concise, trying to say the truth, and you’ll be soon forgotten.
    Invent a load of contradictions, dress them up in obfuscation and mysticism, and people’ll still be scratching their heads in five hundred years..
    (he meant the templars, but I believe it fits elsewhere. Post-modern philosophy, for example)

    BTW, I believe Starfish trilogy would make a pretty good anime.
    It has a lot of the right ingredients for popular appeal.. : apocalyptic themes, sociopathic heroes and tragic heroes, a good dose of moral ambiguity(Japanese like that), screwed up protagonists(L.C.? I keep wondering about those initials), cyborgs, alien landscapes(the sea-floor), monsters(the fish, those weird dogs at the end, etc), robots… and enough material to last them for five series.

    The Japanese have made some very weird anime series. Texnohlyze, for example, was pretty weird(and in a sense even darker than Starfish). Serial Experiments Lain was a complete mindscrew.
    Starfish trilogy has a bigger scope, it sorts of hangs together enough for most people to follow, and explores a lot of interesting themes which would please more observant people.
    And imagine what it would do to the book sales..
    Wouldn’t hurt, asking your agent what he thinks about that…

  75. PrivateIron

    In case you thought the singularity hadn’t already come and gone (so we are all just on this website until like Peter convinces us to move on or something): ABS is thinking about a reimagining of Alias!!!-a show that ended four years ago.

  76. PrivateIron

    Sorry: ABC, though maybe ABS is their name in the realer reality.

  77. The sci fi finales are over: worldwide loss of consciousness predicted | Toronto Explosive Bolts: speculative fiction | Toronto NewsFIX

    […] did its breathless, unmerciful final wrap and Lost’s big finish left everybody wondering once and forever what that stupid island was all about […]