Fargo Finale: A Gray and Bloodied Altar

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In my first Fargo post, I predicted that a lot more characters would “wake-up” to see the darkness that had seeped into what they thought was a very comfortable existence. I was spot on with this prediction. Lester awakened as a dark apprentice who learned to take what he wanted when he wanted it. Gus learned the hard way that the system of laws he so heartily prescribed to couldn’t guarantee his family’s safety. Even Chief Oswalt, the most sedated personality on the show, stepped down from his position to make way for Molly after accepting the dark world he found himself entangled in. Kudos to the Fargo team for bringing us a different world than the Coen film that inspired it. It was a morbid, but enlightening romp into what happens when people stop playing by the rules.

Now, in my second Fargo post, I wondered whether the series would end at Malvo’s altar of darkness or Molly’s altar of conviction. I never expected the answer to be: both.

It was hard to go out there and call this one a win for the good guys. I mean, look at Lester…after murdering his wife and framing his brother for the murder, he put together a flashy and successful life. Sure, Molly still had her board of evidence at home, but things were looking pretty cozy for Lester. In fact, the only thing that derailed his proud new existence was his inability to let Malvo, the lone wolf, walk away when their paths crossed for a second time. It was frustrating, really…what did Lester want? I suppose that once you get a taste of what life has to offer, you run the risk of never being satisfied. It was no accident on the part of the production team to show Lester ogling a potential female conquest just before he was tempted by the reemergence of Malvo. Lester had truly become a predator – and he couldn’t walk away from his fellow predator without the possibility of attaching himself to a bigger kill with fresher meat to feast upon. Sadly for Lester, Malvo refused to travel in packs.

Just after insisting that Malvo recognize him, Lester was treated to the answer that I started begging for in my second blog post: what does Lorne Malvo want out of life? Malvo responded to Lester’s persistence by swiftly and efficiently blowing away all three members of the social group he had been working to gain access to a target within the witness protection program. Malvo mentioned what a shame it was to see all of his hard work flushed down the toilet, but said it was worth it just to see the look in the eyes of the “friend” he had just killed.

That was the answer. What does Lorne Malvo want? He wants people to see the world as one big, winner-take-all battlefield. He wants people to see the weakness inherent in trust, loyalty, and compassion. Watching those facades dissolve in the eyes of his target gave Malvo the ultimate buzz…the fuel he would then use to play a sick game of cat-and-mouse with Lester Nygaard.

…and boy did Malvo get a lot of fuel. He creeped out a former state cop, gave nightmares to some small children, and offed FBI agents Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (more on this in a future post, perhaps). Then, things got interesting. Malvo found himself as the prey for the first time as his protege, Lester, lured him into a trap. A bear trap to be exact. Lester scared the big bad wolf away and gave himself a metaphorical pat on the back.

As a viewer I was…happy? Maybe? I wanted them both dead and I wanted them both alive…it was hard to know what to feel…about the only thing I knew for sure was that I didn’t want to watch the friendly neighborhood mailman empty a few rounds into a crudely-splinted hitman. Of course…that is what I got.

It was a rough ending for me. I didn’t feel proud of Gus. I wasn’t happy for him when he put an end to the Lorne Malvo Horror Show. I saw him learn his lesson from the master of darkness very well. He finally understood the way a predator sees the world (both scientifically and philosophically) and he pulled the trigger – repeatedly…desperately…violently.

Malvo…the lord of darkness…summoner of white-out blizzards, storms of dead fish, and the plagues of Egypt… would. not. die. Gus had to give it another go…and even then…life faded slowly from Malvo’s eyes as if the malevolence he was named for was desperate to sustain him. He had made a predator out of a poodle – and I imagine he couldn’t have asked for a more appropriate death.

So, why haven’t I chalked this story up as a victory for Malvo’s altar of darkness? Where was Molly’s altar of compassion during all of this? Easy. It was at home with her family (and arguably on the thin ice that ultimately served up Lester as a human Popsicle). Sure, Gus’s “bravery” didn’t make me cheer – but it felt necessary. Gus did the dark deed to spare Molly pain of doing it herself. He knew that she was brave and honorable, and he had learned that brave and honorable people get killed. He wouldn’t let her face that – not again – not after the close call in the blizzard. Ultimately, Gus sacrificed his world view to protect Molly’s. THAT was his act of heroism…not the sneaking and the taunting and the blazing gun. No, Gus was a hero because he let Molly continue to be Molly.

The world needs more Mollys.

Molly was a special character on this show, in that, she was aware of the darkness that swirled around her, but refused to see it as a reason she shouldn’t build a life based around HER morals. That was Molly’s victory. She didn’t have to pull a trigger or triumphantly throw a blood-soaked Lester behind bars…She took on the role of Hester Prynne. Her board of evidence was her scarlet letter. She decided to grin and bear the ridicule of her peers and boss, and keep quietly investigating, until they finally saw her for what she was – a brave policewoman and a skilled detective. As Molly said in the closing line of the show: “I get to be Chief.”

If we all mimic the hard-work, honesty, and patience of Molly Solverson…this world will be a better place…we just have to remember that the change we desire doesn’t come without some struggle and some pain.

Fargo brought us on a pilgrimage. At the end of that pilgrimage was a glimmer of hope… but sadly, that hope was obscured behind a gray and bloodied altar.

 

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WESTEROS COMEDY HOUR: STARRING THE MOUNTAIN AND THE VIPER

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At the conclusion of Sunday’s new episode of Game of Thrones, I was struck by an uncontrollable laughing fit that woke my sleeping wife in the next room. If you watched “The Mountain and the Viper” then you may be disturbed by the knowledge that the waning moments of the episode left me laughing. If you still haven’t watched the episode…it’s time to stop reading. You’ve been warned.

After the laughter subsided, I immediately asked myself whether or not I was some kind of sociopath. I mean…I had just watched Ser Gregor “I lift things up and put them down” Clegane shatter the Red Viper’s skull like a New Year’s Eve popper full of gory confetti.

Luckily, it didn’t take much reflection to realize that my reaction was exactly what the show-makers were going for. This episode was not an exercise in suspense or high drama…it was a walk to the gallows rife with black humor.


 

Here are some highlights from Sunday’s exercise in dark humor:

Killing Joffrey with a Chicken Bone

Arya is the one who got the laughter started in this episode by telling the Hound that she would have killed Joffrey with a chicken bone if she had to. It was a great line, and I chuckled, but in the context of the episode this line has greater implications…like…will Arya’s quest for vengeance yield better results than Oberyn’s?

We also can’t overlook the fact that Arya suffered from a laughing fit not unlike my own. Upon hearing the news of her aunt’s death, Arya laughed at the death of yet another family member, laughed at another failed bartering attempt by The Hound, and laughed at the fact that, once again, the world proved to her that life is all about survival of the fittest – not the skills and manners they tried to teach her back in Winterfell.

Smash the Beetles! 

Jaime and Tyrion exchanged some last words about their “simple” cousin Orson. As the brothers impishly mocked and mimed the day to day drudgery of their cousin’s quest to smash all beetles…we both laughed at the silliness of the exchange and processed the sincerity with which Tyrion sought a meaningful explanation for his cousin’s behavior. Sadly, there was no explanation to be found. Later, a very big man (who slaughtered helpless prisoners for fun a couple of weeks ago as if they were as insignificant as beetles) crushed a much smaller man’s skull as if it were a household pest.

 Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum, I Smell the Blood of a Dornishman

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I have not been reading the Song of Ice and Fire books, so perhaps “The Mountain” is developed more fully outside of the HBO series…but this recent recasting/rebranding of the character was nothing short of hilarious. From the perspective of someone watching the series, The Mountain has always been a brutal character…but one that was still expected to show some level of decorum. Previously…the part has been played by big and tall actors who looked a bit more aged and vulnerable than the heavyweight behemoth who strapped on Ser Gregor Clegane’s armor in season four…his change in stature and presence was so startling to me, that it seems appropriate to connect him with the infamous brutal giant from Jack and the Beanstalk. That being said, it is always fascinating to see how raw things get in Westeros when the politics go out the window.


 

I know that my laughter in reaction to the death of yet another GOT hero at the end of the episode was based in the same sense of desperation that Arya felt at the bloody gate. To see the proud, thoughtful, and well-spoken Red Viper reduced to mindless screams and inexplicable pain was SUCH a heavy-handed reminder of a lesson that Thrones fans have already learned so well (justice and fairness do not exist in Westeros) that I was already laughing at the absurdity of this reminder and wondering what extreme they will have to go to the next time that they want to remind us of this fact……when Oberyn’s head then detonated like a jack-o-lantern at the hands of a hormonal teen with an aluminum baseball bat…I knew that they had taken this brutal and obvious reminder to an even heavier-handed place. I couldn’t be surprised….I couldn’t be sad….I couldn’t even be grossed out…all that was left was laughter.

“The ego refuses to be distressed by the provocations of reality, to let itself be compelled to suffer. It insists that it cannot be affected by the traumas of the external world; it shows, in fact, that such traumas are no more than occasions for it to gain pleasure.” Sigmund Freud

Like Stansa Stark, I finally realize that there is no more room for my Romantic vision of the inspiration and pleasure that storytelling should bring to me. I now realize that to survive as a GOT fan, I will have to look toward every episode in terms of what it has to offer me…because I’m never going to get the fairy-tale ending that I hoped for.

Before I go…here is a list of some other notable humor from the episode:

  • “The pillar and the stones” -Dany
  • Mole’s Town belching competition
  • Ramsay mocking the Kraken sigil of House Greyjoy
  • Sansa going all “Professor Chaos” and creating an evil alter-ego (complete with costume and new makeup)

ProfChaos

 

CHAUCERIAN CHOICES: FARGO’S DARK PILGRIMAGE

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Tuesday’s new episode of Fargo brought us a world in which the truth was often concealed and obscured. At the start of the episode, Don Chumph wanted to know why his windows had been covered by paper. Later, Lester Nygaard took a quick breather behind the ice-covered windows of a stolen Audi. Both of these previously “average” men found themselves obscured behind the new rules that have been introduced to their lives through Lorne Malvo.

After watching the last few episodes of FX’s Fargo, I can’t stop my mind from wandering into the world of Geoffrey Chaucer.

Whether or not you realize it, you are at least somewhat familiar with the Pardoner’s tale from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. In the story, three scoundrels set out to vanquish Death, who has taken the lives of many people. The revelers depart on their mission, drunk, and encounter what appears to be an elderly man. Chaucer’s young revelers proceed to harass and insult the old man, then insist that he point them in the direction of Death. He tells the scoundrels that they will find Death beneath a tree in the distance. Upon reaching the tree, the young men discover a fortune in treasure, and immediately cancel their holy quest. Instead, they begin plotting how to keep the treasure all to themselves.

One man goes to buy provisions, so that the group members can sustain themselves while they count the fortune and wait for the cover of nightfall to quietly sneak the money back home. On his quest for provisions, the lone man is struck with a fiendish thought:

O Lord!” he said, “if were that I might

Have all this treasure to myself alone,

There is no man that lives under the throne

Of God, that would be as merry as I.”

In response to this thought, the man decides to procure some poison to kill his buddies; in the end he will walk away with all of the treasure.

Meanwhile (I imagine you saw this coming?), his buddies decide that the treasure looks much better when split two ways instead of three ways. Upon the return of their companion, they get the drop on him and kill him. They drink the poison. They die; nobody gets the treasure – but (not surprisingly) Death emerges victorious.

Back when the Coens made their Fargo film in the 90’s, their film read a bit like a morality tale. Ultimately the forces of justice and good will emerged victorious. Everybody who went greedily chasing after money wound up dead or in custody. The world was a little bit safer at the end of the film, even though it was was now a bit more dark and shadowy in the eyes of the heroine.

Fast forward to FX’s Fargo, and quite a few people are still chasing after treasure. Most notably, the series has introduced the infamous case of money that was buried by Steve Buscmi’s character at the end of the iconic film. We now know that the driving force behind the Coen movie is the same cash that bankrolled supermarket tycoon Stavros Milos, and now the same money that Lorne Malvo at least seems to be intent on acquiring.

A lot of the same pieces have been put into place…but this televised romp into the world of Fargo is taking us in a different direction. I hinted at this in my previous Fargo blog, when I suggested that the television series takes place in a world that has been lulled to sleep by mass media and mass consumption.

We are no longer sitting down for a morality tale. Instead, we are taking a trip into the mind of a puppet-master who has learned how to abandon morality and turn a world obsessed with comfort and material possessions against itself. If the Coen Brothers film captured the spirit of the Pardoner’s tale, FX’s Fargo captures the spirit of the Pardoner himself; a man who didn’t simply tell a tale of morality to his fellow pilgrims; he also told them that he used that story to manipulate others into giving him what he wants:

Thus I spit out my venom, under hue

Of holyness, to seem holy and true.

The Pardoner is cold, cold to the core. He is Malvo-cold. After warning his companions of his strategy to manipulate others, he then proceeds to sell the fake pardons and relics he had just flat-out confessed to selling. That takes guts.

Hasn’t Lorne Malvo shown the same sort of guts? He makes little effort to mask his actions from the temporary accomplices and enemies he encounters. He challenges them to call him out on his evil. Lester can’t decline the offer to have his personal bully killed. Grimly abandons his sense of duty after being openly threatened by Malvo. Don Chumph compliantly allows Malvo to lock him inside of his own pantry. Heck, Malvo even brazenly dragged a man out of his office during business hours in full view of his coworkers and a (low quality) security camera.

Malvo’s connection to the Pardoner runs so deep that we even see him take on the false identity of a minister for apparently no other reason than to taunt the well-meaning, but simple-minded Gus Grimly. Even Malvo’s long-con of Stavros Milos plays upon the supermarket tycoon’s previously dormant sense of holy justice. Malvo is a manipulator.

Malvo does deviate from the Pardoner in one fundamental way: it’s really unclear why he causes all of this pain and suffering. In Chaucer, the Pardoner tells us that he lies to simple people in order to take their money and live comfortably off of his earnings. Malvo has different motivations. While the mystery hasn’t been fully unveiled yet, I sense that he is after something very different than the million dollars from Milos. So far, he has seemed much more focused on his desire to break a powerful man.

Malvo is fond of comparing human beings to predators and suggesting that we have all been raised by wolves. Sometimes the manipulation is small. In the first episode of the series, for instance, he randomly pushed a disgruntled youth into an act of juvenile vandalism (urinating into the gas tank of of his mean boss’s car). Most of the time, however, Malvo seems to be worshiping at a very sinister altar: that grin on the face of Lester Nygaard at the end of Tuesday’s episode made you feel like Malvo had successfully christened Lester into the world’s darkest church.

So far, the only person in the series who seems prepared to stand up to Malvo’s world view is Molly Solverson. In response to the parable that was presented to Grimly last week about a man who killed himself in order to donate all of his body parts to others, Molly simply asked Gus why the fella didn’t just go to work for a charity. Why? Because Molly refuses to be defined by a worldview that defines giving and taking through material possessions alone. She is guided by a strong enough moral code to risk the job she loves by going against her boss’s orders. Why? Because she believes that it’s the right thing to do. It’s the same reason that she ran off into the dangerous and unknown whiteout of an oncoming storm only to be shot down by Gus (or Malvo, or the deaf hit-man…we don’t really know).

About the only pleasant thing in the world of Fargo right now is seeing how dreamy-eyed Gus is over Molly’s scruples. Let’s assume that her body in the snow at the end of the episode on Tuesday was just an obnoxious tease, because right now, the cast of Fargo is on a pilgrimage. I, for one, can’t wait to see if the voyage ends at Malvo’s altar of darkness or Molly’s altar of conviction.  

Game of Thrones: Great “IMP”lications

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Oh Tyrion Lannister….thank you for this:

“Watching your vicious bastard die gave me more relief than a thousand lying whores!

My initial reaction to this line was born of pure, unadulterated escapism. It was a simple but satisfying formula:

Bad guy is publicly called-out for his evil ways by a clever and relatable hero. Audience applauds and feels that the scales of moral justice have been properly balanced. 

Works every time.

Tyrion’s trial consists of melodrama, grand statements, and twisted grins: the stuff Emmy awards are made of. Despite some clever, silent awkwardness amongst the Lannister clan – the scene is somewhat lacking in subtlety. I mean…come on…the writer even confessed that he couldn’t resist adding a stenographer with a quill in one of his earliest drafts of the scene. Fortunately…this is Game of Thrones…when the drama gets heavy and obvious – it is always based in some bloody and serious history – and we have always been waiting very patiently for the emotional payoff. Tyrion’s trial is no exception. In the end, his moment of emotional collapse and release actually contains quite a bit of that existential nectar I am always so desperate to feed upon.

I believe that Tyrion’s situation is one that all of us are avoiding in our own little ways every day. We may not be heirs to the greatest fortune in Westeros, we may not have power-hungry fathers willing to trade and wager our lives and emotions like currency – but we are all forced to turn a blind eye to the less desirable elements of our lives from time to time. As unwise as Tyrion’s outburst was, I think that we should all look at it as an affirmation of the idea that sometimes existing silently within a flawed system can be just as harmful as being the perpetrator of its evil. We love Tyrion because he sees the fundamental flaws in his family and respects those who have to fight for status and power in the world. Unfortunately…we also let him get away with a lot of hypocrisy. He fights for what is right…but only quietly behind the scenes…he rarely takes a public stand. Only one character on the show has ever really called him out for his quiet hypocrisy: Shae.

In last night’s episode, I  found Shae’s testimony just as heroic as it was troubling. In fact, I have been sad to discover that Shae’s role in the episode has only been discussed by reviewers as if she were a powerless pawn or some stereotype of a stinted lover. I can’t accept that. Shae is smart – and has always served as a bit of a guardian angel to Tyrion; a kinky guardian angel, maybe…but a guardian angel nevertheless. Did the Lannisters put pressure on her to condemn Tyrion….yea, probably. Were her demeaning jabs at Tyrion meant to hurt him…HECK yes…but that is how she set Tyrion free.

Before Shae took the stand, Tyrion was ready to, once again, serve as a willing pawn in one of his father’s obnoxiously-clever political maneuverings. He was going to supplicate at his father’s feet and take the long walk of shame to The Wall. So…yes, Shae chose to break him…. but I believe she also wanted to shake that Lannister sand from his eyes.

I believe there was something oddly angelic in that heart-decimating testimony. Shae’s painful words forced Tyrion to accept that he had sent her packing selfishly, just so he could exist as a piece in that never-ending game of thrones. When Tyrion lost it and started spewing-forth violent and vindictive truths – I felt like I was watching a warrior bust out of his cage.

Sometimes difficult truths need to be spoken if we are going to stand up as individuals and take control of our lives.

The morals of this story? Don’t forget to look for angels in strange places, and never be afraid to bust out of your own cage.

Thank you, Tyrion…and good luck with your trial by combat.

MURDERERS AND MILKSHAKES: “FARGO” FRAMES THE PUBLIC PSYCHE

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After two episodes, I have officially signed on as a fan of FX’s Fargo mini-series. The worst things I can say about it are as follows:

  • Nods to the 1996 film are so constant that at times they feel distracting.
  • Billy Bob Thornton’s Lorne Malvo is essentially Anton Chigurh from “No Country For Old Men”…with a sense of humor.
  • Martin Freeman’s Lester Nygaard is essentially Jerry Lundegaard from 1996’s “Fargo” …with a heavier chip on his shoulder.

Fortunately…all of those complaints are also part of the fun. I loved the film Fargo. Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman have been delightful to watch.

But….the mission of my blog is not to be a fan…it is to find philosophical value within the entertainment I use to escape the real world….my anesthesia, you might say…

 

In the second episode of the 10-part Fargo mini-series, Lou Solverson laments that his little girl (Deputy Molly Solverson) is still living in, “a hard world of drills and needles,” as he reminisces about the first time she had to be put under general anesthesia for dental work. What’s debatable is whether Lou more deeply regrets the actual existence of the drills and needles, or the fact that, at 31 years old, his daughter is no longer anesthetized.

Essentially, this show is all about the power of anesthesia. Fargo’s essential premise seems to be that there is a big dark world out there: you can either bend it to your will or breathe in the sweet, “Tooty Frootie” scent of ignorant bliss.

I contend that despite the series’ endless metafictional nods to its 1996 counterpart, it is introducing viewers to distinctly unique, albeit familiar, territory.

In 1996, Joel and Ethan Coen’s Fargo told the story of a family-oriented community that was dragged into a twisted jungle of savagery when one of its members sacrificed the morality of his world in an attempt to bypass a few rungs on the socioeconomic ladder. The film’s strong female lead, despite embracing the family-oriented morality of her community, showed a welcome, but unexpected willingness to investigate and accept the influx of savagery. In the end the film drew a lot of its dramatic power from the sadness inherent in the fact that selfish and power-hungry forces were seeping into the fabric of even the most innocent people and places in the world.

Early on in the 1996 film, the elderly Wade Gustafson scorned the idea that his grandson would walk out on a family dinner to hang out with friends at “the MACdonalds.” As audiences step into television’s contemporary (though set in 2006) version of Fargo…we see that Wade’s fears have come to fruition: everyone is hanging out at McDonalds (it’s called a “Happy Meal,” so, I must be happy….right?).

Everyone is existing under general anesthesia. Nobody wants to see how far from the old-timey, family-friendly middle-class-America image this world has fallen…so they distract themselves in various ways. We see characters worshiping more expensive clothing and home comforts. We see characters amassing weapons. We see characters reverting to the social order of their former high-school hierarchy….and we see characters eat A LOT of junk food.

The Fargo mini-series reinforces this sense of mass-anesthesia most brilliantly by using food as a metaphor. Instead of homey meals made by mom and enjoyed by the family, TV’s Fargo is a world in which homemade food is best represented by frozen tater-tots. Officer Gus Grimly brings home burgers and chicken nuggets for his little girl (who is used to this type of dinner, as evidenced by her inquiry regarding the “dipping sauces”), and when the wife of the fallen police chief tells the tale of a former cop who was killed by a softball-size hailstone, Deputy Solverson is most interested in the flavor of the milkshake the victim was drinking at the time.

Heck, this rendition of Fargo doesn’t even need food metaphors to show us the decline of family life in small-town Minnesota. Martin Freeman’s Lester Nygaard started the series under open and brutal emotional assault from his wife. We learned that Gus Grimly is a single dad (and we had a widowed single mother by the end of the first episode). Audiences even had to endure the most extreme and disturbing passing-on of the bullying gene ever captured on camera (the bully was also a criminal and an adulterer, for good measure).

If 1996’s Fargo was an elegy for fading small-town family values, then the 2014 edition is a plea. This show is begging the world to wake up from the anesthesia, open their eyes, and see their neighbors for who they are. Put down that tater-tot, Fargo begs us, and remember that no matter how ugly things get, we have to be responsible for our communities. Isolation and self-preservation have no place in this world. In this world, the “bad-guys” feed off of your blissful ignorance and turn it to their advantage.

I for one, hope to see a lot more characters “wake up” by the end of the mini-series.

 

Be on the lookout for a follow-up some time in the next few weeks…I have barely scratched the surface of what this show has to offer an existential audience.

Discourse of Thrones: Jaime, Cersei, and Confronting Rape

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Discourse of Thrones: Jaime, Cersei, and Confronting Rape

April 21st, 2014

When I wrote my review of “Breaker of Chains” on Sunday afternoon, I certainly knew that the scene between Jaime and Cersei at the Sept of Baelor would cause a conversation.

This is both because of the fact that it signals a departure from how the scene plays out in the books and the fact that it features a character that has become a more inherently likeable character in the series committing an absolutely vile, unforgivable act. On the whole, though, I thought the scene played in the same thematic territory as its literary progenitor, such that any conversation would be more about the impact on—rather than destruction of—the characters in question. I did not imagine the scenario we’ve arrived to, in which the scene is causing a considerable and often ugly debate (provided one makes the mistakes of…

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Glowing God-stuff or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying About the LOST finale and Love the Wine Cork.

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LOST ended almost four years ago…and I just decided to re-watch the finale for the first time as a favor for a fellow fan who was still feeling cheated by the finale. I don’t believe that any finale of any television program has ever been hyped quite as much as this one. It was, therefore, more volatile and more unlikely to satisfy than any other finale.

The defense I intend to mount is not so much an attempt to persuade the dissatisfied fan that he has been keeping his eyes closed to the purpose of the show so much as it is an offering of an alternate way to read the series…particularly its final chapter. Any readers still thinking of embarking on the pilgrimage that is LOST should turn back now, bookmark this page, and return in a month after you have binge-watched the entire series.

Okay dissatisfied fans, here is what I will be unable to solve for you today:

  • They ruined a perfectly good wine metaphor by actually including a cork-shaped magical rock into the finale….that was lame and laughable….and I wish they hadn’t done it.
  • Throughout the entire final season, particularly in the finale, they made almost no effort to resolve the many tantalizing unsolved mysteries that kept us tuning in year after year.
  • IF any careful planning went into the final three seasons of the series…part of the plan was simply to throw fans off guard and trick us into chasing phantoms (or pineapples…if you read my defense of the “How I Met Your Mother” finale) instead of helping us ease into its philosophy-heavy closing moments.

Now that all of that is squared away, let’s open our minds, be optimistic, and find the beauty that this show had to offer. First, I invite you to consider the Serenity Prayer (be on the lookout….it pops back in near the end):

 

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

 

Next, in order for my reading of the LOST finale to make sense…we have to take a look at Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guatarri’s proposal of a rhizomatic structure in the presentation of information. In biology, a rhizome is also known as a creeping root-stalk. Essentially, rhizomes make up one large organism that can spread underground. Break that rhizome up into little pieces and each piece can survive, grow, and thrive independent of the other pieces. This theory is very different from the more familiar “arborescent” (tree-like) presentation of information. If you disrupt the complex system of a tree, the whole organism can wither and die. Here is how they applied this theory to the presentation of information:

 

As a model for culture, the rhizome resists the organizational structure of the root-tree system which charts causality along chronological lines and looks for the original source of ‘things’ and looks towards the pinnacle or conclusion of those ‘things.’ A rhizome, on the other hand, is characterized by ‘ceaselessly established connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles.

 

In short, these two philosophers believed that it is silly to look at stories, culture, or even ourselves as solid chronological constructs with easily indentifiable beginnings, middles, and ends. If we are too focused on conclusions…we miss a lot of valuable connections. The world is much bigger than one grand narrative that can be traced from beginning to end. There are too many plot-lines and stories…life is happening everywhere at every moment…and all of it matters. What we do as individuals is all part of a much bigger story of our world and its general philosophy and trajectory. Whenever we focus in and worry about a single tree in that giant landscape, we are missing a lot of important information. Life doesn’t explain itself in easy patterns. It is messy and unpredictable…and we can thrive and develop in a lot of different ways depending on the situations we stumble into.

I propose that LOST’s “island” was a very rhizomatic construct. This allows me to accept the fact that it is home to a lot of unexplained mysteries. What was this island but a container full of ambiguously magical, glowing, god-stuff, anyway?…it is a giant question mark. It’s that same all-powerful, inexplicable force that kills all of the Nazi’s at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark…or the mysterious glowing contents of that coveted suitcase in Pulp Fiction. We don’t slam those movies for their ambiguities…because…it doesn’t matter what the “god-stuff” IS…what matters is that we are influenced by forces beyond our human comprehension or control to make sense of a confusing world.

Why were birds so drawn to Walt that they would crash themselves into walls with lethal force? Who was shooting at the characters in their little boats while the island was time-jumping? WHY was the island time-jumping?? What the H is the black smoke and why did it take the human form of John Locke??? Did a weird bird-creature TALK to Hurley!????

 

….Dude (Hurley here), I don’t know man…like…relax and have some ranch dressing.

 

The island is a rhizome with no clear beginning, middle, or end. Its story is bigger, older, and more complicated than the show had time to explore. Personally, I always felt like it was some sort of threshold between life and the afterlife…or between alternate realities…or some kind of black-holeish structure than can bend time and space when you get too close to its center…if you COULD enter its center you’d be looking straight into the eyes of God…but we’re human (and the characters of LOST were human)…so we (and they) can’t go there. Instead, the island highlights and unlocks latent memories, emotions, and abilities within its many visitors…it gives them room to play and develop and discover who they are…it provides them with a peek at the type of self analysis that we all might endure when faced with some type of afterlife.

We didn’t need the story of “The Island..” this was the story of the survivors of an Oceanic Airlines crash against the backdrop of a startlingly magical island. That island had no beginning, middle, and end, and neither did the story.

A couple of things that the finale DID resolve are the fact that individual choices mattered in the world of LOST and the fact that we did not spend years watching a dream…we watched a human drama unfold with all of the positive and negative outcomes that spring from human choice. We learned that some characters we loved died irreversible deaths on the island…despite lots of hinting that resurrection might be possible. We learned that some of the central characters actually escaped the drama of the island and went on to lead lives free from the constant pull of mysterious island-forces. We also learned that the power of the island was just as real as the humanity of the characters. Some things actually were beyond human control or comprehension. Everybody on the island learned to accept the things they could not change, gained the courage to change the things they could, and acquired the wisdom to know the difference.

In the end, we didn’t get an intricate tapestry that wove all of the story threads together….and that is tough to accept because we LOVE the payoff of pretty patterns:

  • Bruce Willis was dead the WHOLE time! Now all those weird moments make sense!
  • OMG, Kevin Spacey WAS Kaiser Soze!
  • Wait…WHAT? Mark Wahlberg is going rogue to murder Matt Damon for abusing his power and selling out his fellow officers. Badass. Awesome. Balance restored.

LOST doesn’t do that. Instead, it puts the impetus of meaning on the audience. Sometimes people feel cheated by that….and I’ll admit that we got was pretty underwhelming at times….we ultimately got a corny action sequence on a cliff and a plane taking off from a collapsing runway that belonged in a lame 1990’s natural disaster movie….THEN everybody in “sideways” world starts remembering all the stuff that happened over the course of six seasons of LOST and then they smile at each other and gather in a weirdly non-denominational church that bathes them in white “moving-on” light? Back on the island Jack laughs away his final breath and closes his eyes. HUH? Were they able to move on because they killed the Locke-ness smoke monster? Was that unrelated? Did they move on because Jack stopped up the weird evil wine bottle under the island?

The answer? Any and all of the above. Resolve it for yourself…. it’s ok.

Kurt Vonnegut created a fictional race of aliens called Tralfamadorians who could see in four dimensions. They could see all of time and space at once…so traditional suspense and patterns were meaningless to them. They needed their own novels…so they created Tralfamadorian novels. The novels were constructed to present a collection of separate images or messages that, when seen all at once, created a picture of life that was beautiful and deep. For me…those Tralfamadorian novels reflect the rhizomatic story structure that I discussed earlier. At the end of lost, you have to ask yourself…were you touched? Did you see something beautiful or deep?

 

I did.

 

Ultimately, all of that strange glowing god-stuff inside of the island connected that characters that we loved and hated throughout the series. We saw all of them grow and help each other grow. In the final season, we were presented with a mysterious sideways universe. In the finale, we learned that the mysterious sideways world wasn’t some fake, sterile alternate dimension created by the DHARMA Corporation….it was a human web of caring, emotion, love, and death that transcended earthly existence. Even in the afterlife…the characters who had loved and fought with each other so intensely in life had to band together in order to find the strength to move on to the next plane of existence. Lovers were reunited, friends got to share the feelings they never had a chance to share in life, and Jack was reunited with his dad for that moment of warmth and acceptance that eluded them throughout their earthly lives. Perhaps they were rewarded for the balance that was restored thanks to their actions on the island, or perhaps they were merely undergoing a final trial that all human beings will have to endure. Either way, I would argue that it was a beautiful message: your relationships matter forever, no matter how long or short-lived they may be….or whether or not they ever developed to their full potential.

OK…I know what you are thinking…”sure man….that was cute and beautiful at the end…and I shed a tear or two…but they STILL didn’t do enough with that really cool island story….they still failed us.”

As for that mystery island…even that got a decent sendoff in my estimation.

Sure we didn’t know exactly what supernatural or scientific force controlled the island, but we did develop a sense that the island tended to reflect the people controlling it. Under the ownership of the creepy island mother that ruled the island in the flash-WAY-back…the island was a place of isolation, power, and raw unchecked emotions. Under the leadership of Jacob and his foil, “the man in black,” the island represented a world of science, experiment, and exploration…ARE humans capable of anything other than destruction? Let’s test ’em to find out. Ultimately, Hurley got the keys to the island and chose to make the island a place of healing.

With Hurley in charge, it makes sense that the magical glowing mystery god-stuff might represent a force of companionship and love that reunited lost friends. That was Hurley’s MO….build a great big golf course for all of my friends to play and relax on.

For me…that right there is enough. Perhaps if the world can get on board with Hurley’s island mojo and see the world and the power within it as a force for selflessness and companionship…we can all be at peace.

In fact…that ending is not only sweet…it’s bold. This LOST finale told me that we there is no room in our short lives for the power-hungry Widmores or black and white lines between good and bad (between angels and smoke monsters). We ALL have to learn to connect on a human level….or we are a wasteland of a planet.

As Jack put it back in season one: “If we don’t live together…we’re gonna die alone!”

Ultimately, they didn’t die alone…they passed on together…having finally achieved the peace that eluded them for so long.

 

 

 

 

….or… the producers made up a new “purgatory” for season six because everybody figured out that originally the ISLAND was supposed to be “purgatory”…. but then the show got too popular to bring to a conclusion…so they had to drag it out for a while…and ultimately it WAS all just a cop-out.

 

I prefer my optimistic reading.