This weekend, two serieses I watch ended. For good. One of them was the six year saga of Lost, the other was the TV spin-off/sequel to Life on Mars, Ashes to Ashes. The reason I bundle the two together is that they make for a perfect example of how to end a show and how not to end a show. Firstly, let's deal with them separately:
Back in March last year, I described the plot of Lost like this by the means of this simple exercise:
Step One: You will need a piece of paper and a pen. On that blank piece of paper pick any spot on that page and carefully draw a single dot.Regrettably, I was pretty much on the money. After six years investing in the Mystery of the Island, the writers and producers lied. They told us that everything would be revealed and it wasn't. Now, I don't mind not having every little thing explained to me. That's not so bad, IMHO. I still like a little mystery and a few more questions, but I feel that Lost either tried, incredibly poorly, to be something it shouldn't have been, or suddenly had a last minute case of "Holy shit, how the hell are we actually going to end this?" syndrome.
Step Two: Write underneath that dot "THE PLOT".
Step Three: Carefully fold the paper and place it into an envelope. Do not put any address or stamp on the envelope but proceed to the post-box and mail it.
Step Four: Now download the plans for a time machine and construct one.
Step Five: Travel a little to the future and write down five winning lottery numbers. Travel back a bit and win the lottery five times. Now invest everything in a bank account with a high rate of interest. Now get back into the time travel machine and travel far into the future to a point in time when we have interstellar travel. With the trillions you now have in your bank account fund the construction of the largest interstellar ship ever built with cryogenic freezers or some form of suspended animation. Lock yourself away in one of those and set the autopilot to the edge of the galaxy. Then drift out a little further into the black. If you're lucky you may have just gotten about as far from the plot as Lost.
The story of the Island itself, was kind of wrapped up. There was still a lot they left unanswered, but the story, dramatically, reached an ending or sorts. The problem was that while it was an ending it didn't really have the kind of closure you expect from the final episode of a series. Look at the both successful and unsuccessful series conclusions of the past and you'll see what I mean. They want to try wrapping everything up in a nice bow and feel like you've closed the book with a smile, but maybe still a few more ideas and questions for you to think about and play with afterwards. Now, after a fashion, Lost does this. The problem is that the denouement they gave us was utterly fucking pointless and contradictory.
I've read a fair few analysis and rather than intricately repeat them here, I refer you to two that I found the most interesting: one, somewhat vitriolic rant that misses a point or two, but sums up a lot of how people felt, and another somewhat more philosophically analytical rant that raises some issues, some good insights, but I also feel misses one or two points.As to those points, I'm not going to dwell on them in a point-by-point way since it's not the purpose of this post to form a response to those posts. wickedthought 's thoughts on the final episode make some good points about storytelling and I'll admit is one reason why I'm lumping this analysis in with Ashes to Ashes, though I'd already started formulating this post from the moment I finished watching the episode.
At the start, lumped with a load of strangers crash-landing on a mysterious island and forced into conflict and cooperation with one another, the flash-backs were a great story-device and filled with lots of jaw-dropping revelations, some of which raised even more questions. By the second series, however, they'd already become a little dull for some people. There was nothing particularly "new" to find out other than more character exposition that didn't particularly reveal anything new, plot-wise. Then the switch to flash-forwards made for a curious switch, and the point at which things really took a left-turn to all the rest of the weirdness. Then the story split into two concurrent (past and present) timelines and finally we've had the dubiously dubbed flash-sideways with the much speculated "alternate reality".
However, one point that a lot of commentaries on the final episode seem to miss is a somewhat crucial point of the show's reality. The point of the twin-timeline story was that they were trying to destroy the island or otherwise prevent the experiments from happening that would ultimately crash the plane in the first place. From that point, we are led to believe that the alternate timeline is a result of this experiment and left wondering why the storyline on the island is still continuing. Then there's the weirdness of the alternate timeline that seems to suggest that there is something "wrong" about it.
The ending makes for one massive plot inconsistency with regards to this. I'll leave criticism and rant at the revelation that the alternate timeline was some form of purgatory or limbo for the other commentaries (see above) as they cover it quite well, and look, instead at the key inconsistency that's been bugging me.
Based on the episode's own revelations, the island was in the real world. The island was not a metaphysical concept but an actual reality. All people come to that "alternate timeline" when they die as a means to find themselves, we are told. The reality of the island story's outcome is acknowledged in Hurley and Ben's exchange in which they praise each other for being a good "Number One" and a good "Number Two" respectively. This implies that they carried out their duties protecting the island for however long and have now ended up in this mid-station to the afterlife.
The problem here, in case you've still not seen it, is that this completely ignores the outcome of the time-travel mission to blow up the island, and raises even more unsatisfactorily unanswered questions than if the island had been a metaphysical concept. If the island had been limbo (and there's actually enough evidence to have suggested that until the contradictions of the final minutes) and the alternate reality was purgatory, then I'd probably be happier with the ending even though I would begrudge the saccharine and blatantly tacked on cheese-overload of an ending.
The truth is we've been misdirected and blind-sided. They clearly didn't have a decent ending and introduced in the last season a side-story they could wrap up nicely and completely dismiss everything on the island in an attempt to hoodwink us into thinking that they've wrapped everything up while they have ignore plot holes and even written dialogue that doesn't even attempt to properly retcon everything.
That said, I don't think I'm as disappointed as some people. I actually still enjoyed Lost and would probably still recommend it as good entertainment, simply with the warning that the ending leaves a lot to be desired. The contradictions merely left me feeling somewhat "Meh!".
Ashes to AshesHaving seen Life on Mars, I don't know how many people actually stuck out with Ashes to Ashes. It didn't particularly get off to a great start with the first season very much feeling like an attempt to ride the wave of its predecessor's success by mimicry. Much like Lost, the question of life and death and the pregnantly quantum question of Sam Tyler's existence was dealt with more directly. Transported back into the Seventies, Sam Tyler finds himself working under the law-unto-himself DCI Gene Hunt. At the end of the second and final series, it turns out that he's been in a coma, but the question of whether he was also actually back in time is never truly addressed. The final minutes of the episode sees Sam Tyler, unable to adjust to the modern world, preferring his life back in the Seventies, jumps off the top of a building and in death returns to work for Gene Hunt in a confusing, but dramatically appropriate ending.
Ashes to Ashes relocates the action from Manchester to London as a female detective, DI Alex Drake, is shot and finds herself this time in the Eighties. The twist here is that she's aware of Sam Tyler's case-files and spends much of the series knowing that she's in a coma and needs to wake up, removing a lot of the mystery and dramatic stress that Tyler underwent. However, by the second series, Ashes to Ashes had come into its own, found its own feet and managed to maintain its own, stepping out of the shadow of the original. The twist at the end of the second series was truly brilliant. In an inversion of the event that sent her into the Eighties, Drake is accidentally shot by Hunt and wakes up to find she has been in a coma. But just when she thinks she's safe, we are left with evidence that she is actually in a coma within a coma.
The final series finally sets out to once and for all answer the question as to what's going on with Gene Hunt. The story arc firmly focusses around the issues of finding out what happened to Sam Tyler and in the process answers the biggest question: have they travelled back in time, are they in a coma or are they dead? The entire world begins to collapse and while still left with a few slight questions, the ending once and for all concludes the story not just one series, but of the original and its spin-off sequel.
I found this to be a truly satisfying ending, not in the slightest disappointed. It was somewhat tragic for the fact that we know that Alex is denied her driving ambition to return to her daughter, but satisfied in the knowledge that we understand what is going on. This was a mystery that confused, had people hooked, and ultimately delivered an acceptable answer without needing to absolutely spell out everything for the audience leaving them with all the info they need to work everything out. It left me thinking "Yay! That was worth sticking with."
ComparisonLost was an ambitious and deliberate attempt to capture the attention of the mainstream viewership with a mystery series that can perhaps be compared to The Prisoner. In appearing to give us the answer of "they're all dead" it didn't really because it only gave us the answer "they're all dead in this timeline we only just introduced, but not on the island where you've spent the last six seasons and we're not actually going to tell you what that was all about, look! look over there! look at the light... no, no, not over here, look over there! There, I tell you! Where all your old favourite characters are all shiny and happy. Yay! Happy ending." No. Not yay. I'm not suckered, I'm not distracted. Meanwhile, the collective five serieses of Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes managed to delivery pretty much exactly the same ending without needing to discard and dismiss anything from the series and certainly not its most central aspect. Whether or not its true, I feel safer in the knowledge that the creators of Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes actually knew what the reality of the show's world was more than the creator's of Lost did, despite having told us that they did. It feels as though they were too busy changing their mind instead of sticking with a plan. That or they just hadn't really thought out the ending properly.
In summary, I felt that Lost short-changed us and has attempted to distract and hoodwink us with a shiny happy faux sense of closure whereas Ashes to Ashes delivered the ending for which, all this time, we had been waiting, without the need for complex layers of confusion for the sake of it that now is dismissed because the makers can't now think how to tie it all together.