Lost, indeed

Lost is really annoying me. Ever since the first episode, the show has relied on the mystery after mystery. But to date, it's proven to be all hook, no payoff.

The show is starting to feel like an exercise in stretching a taut story out even further, to the point where it either loses all elasticity or it just snaps back with a bang. The advertisements for the last episode of season one promised some answers, but all we got was a peek down a dark hatch, which is barely more than what had been shown the previous episode. The advertisements for the second episode of this season promised, "The fate of everyone on the island becomes clear." I must have missed something, because my magic 8-ball of a television set showed me an episode that felt a lot like "Reply hazy, please watch again next week to keep our ratings and advertising revenues sky high."

Stories fail to progress much from one episode to another. We're back in Locke's past in the latest episode, and we don't learn a whole lot more. I was beginning to think that the entire season would go by with Desmond still holding a gun to Locke's head while Jack and Desmond shouting at each other in that hallway.

Jack: "Put the gun down!"

Desmond: "No, you put the gun down, brother!"

Jack: "I said put the gun down!"

Desmond: "You first, brother!"

Jack: "Aaaaaaa! Put the damn gun down! Now!"

Desmond: "I will shoot this bald man in the head, brother! Brother! Brother! Brother!"

Few loose ends are ever tied up, except as they relate to minor details in the back stories of a few characters. The island remains a riddle. Every new character that promises an answer turns out to be another mystery; Desmond was no different, and Jack and John just let him run off. Ethan got shot. It's becoming predictable that every potential solution will be DOA; of course we knew Jack would hit the Enter key in the latest episode instead of seeing what would happen if the 108 minute timer ran out. Lost is a universe that's still expanding, with no signs of stopping to settle before contracting towards a finale. I've been down this disappointing road with shows like The X-Files before, and I'm not falling for it again.

Last season, show creators admitted that they had no idea where the story was going and that they were writing it as they went, altering the story based on which characters the audience responded to. That was a disastrous admission, because if the show's creators had no idea what all these mysteries tied up to, they probably didn't tie up to anything at all. All the time fans were devoting to every easter egg could be wasted time, and if someone did solve the mystery, the writers might just change the solution to maintain the element of surprise.

The show creators have changed their tune this year and have stuck to the party line: a master plan exists to tie it all together. With every new mystery, that seems more and more unlikely. Lost is like a juggler who keeps tossing balls high into the sky. At some point, the audience expects them to fall. If the juggler misses a few on the way down, or if only a few of them reappear again, the performance will be a letdown. Obsessive fans who analyze every detail and clue like forensic scientists are the among the toughest to please, and this show is cultivating a whole lot of them.

The other problem is that the more time spent with these characters, the more annoying they become. They're almost all hysterical, one drama queen after another. In episode 2 of this season, I felt trapped on that raft with Michael and Sawyer screaming at each other like punks on the playground. If I had been there, I would've jumped into the water and let the shark take me, or I would've grabbed the gun and shot them both.

If by the end of this season, more is left unanswered than answered, I'm not going to waste my time on another season. If you follow the incentives, things don't look hopeful. ABC wants the show to keep running as long as ratings are high. Besides the ad revenues, a show that lasts for three seasons or more can earn a mint in syndication (you need enough episodes to air a show in syndication 5 days a week). All the actors want the show to continue because it provides a steady paycheck that is only likely to rise with continued success. I don't know what J.J. Abrams wants, but I assume he is in no hurry to wrap things up.

One thing that might help is if some of the actors become antsy and engage the network in a premature salary showdown. Unwilling to bow to their demands, the network might force Abrams to start killing them off, tying up their storylines.

I love brain teasers of movies or television shows, and no one wants it all to tie together in a clever and coherent way more than I do. As we studied in editing class, one of the great things about The Sixth Sense was that in the climactic scene, when Bruce Willis's ring hits the floor, the movie actually flashes back to key scenes from earlier in the movie, just to show you they didn't cheat you, that you could have figured it out if you'd been paying attention. I'd love for Lost to work out so neatly, but the show has yet to earn that trust.

Everyone I know is a huge fan, so I'm in the minority here. Lost is losing me. Maybe this is all a huge meta joke, and the people being tested are not the people on the island but the viewers of the show. The finale, several years from now, will reveal that all the show's mysteries really didn't add up to any solution, that it was all an elaborate hoax to see how long we'd keep coming back before we lost interest.