Tuned In

My Lost Weekend; Plus, Instant Analysis and the Magnolia Factor

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This is it. The big one. T minus two days. A couple notes on what I’ll be doing to mark the finale of Lost this weekend.

First, for those of you in the New York City area, I’ll be at the Paley Center Saturday afternoon, talking about Lost on a panel that also includes Alan Sepinwall of HitFix, Dan Manu of Television Without Pity, Chris Rosen of 42 Inch Television and Ryan McGee of Zap2It. (I will be the only one representing the experimental medium of printing on wood pulp.) [Update: Also Ryan Penagos of Marvel.com and Emily Nussbaum of New York magazine! We’ve got more panelists than Candidates!]

The event, from 2 to 5 p.m., includes games, prizes and a screening of the pop-up pilot. The actual panel starts around 4 p.m. I will be rushing over there, I am not making this up, from my son’s piano recital, so if I become aware of an alternative existence that threatens to compromise the integrity of our universe before the finale airs—well, I apologize.

Then the finale Sunday night. Here’s what I’m going to do. I think.

I debated not posting a review at all after the finale, or at least just putting up an open discussion post immediately after the show airs, then writing my own review a couple days later.

Here’s why. I’ve loved writing Lostwatch; it was the first regular series Watch feature I did on this blog, starting way back in season 2. But part of me feels that the need for instant analysis and immediate reaction—not just to Lost or just to TV but to everything in the freaking world—does the subject of the discussion, and the rest of us, a disservice. Especially in criticism, there’s a difference between a first gut reaction and a lasting impression. But increasingly it seems like the former has subsumed the latter—and I’m as responsible as anyone for it. (I have 4,000-plus tweets on my Twitter feed to prove it.)

Gut reactions are fun. The problem is, if a work is in any way ambitious or challenging, your response to it will change and evolve over time, pretty much by definition. I remember when I first saw Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, back in 1999. When I left the theater, I knew that I hated that movie. It was rambling. It was pretentious. Jason Robards sang a freaking Aimee Mann song. &c. The next day, I couldn’t stop thinking about all the things that irritated me in that movie. The next day, I found scenes from it coming into my head, unbidden. The next day. And the next day.

And after a few days of being haunted by the movie, I realized: I loved Magnolia. (How could I not? Jason Robards sang a freaking Aimee Mann song!)

Now, you may disagree with me about Magnolia. Fine. My point is that the immediate reaction of pleasure or displeasure is not the sum measure of a work. (Though I wonder if people increasingly believe that it is. I think there’s the idea out there that the gut reaction is the most authentic and accurate, and anything after that is affected, intellectualizing douchery.) A piece of fiction or art is like a scotch: it has notes that last and recur after the first burning swallow. This may be my personal idiosyncracy as a critic, but one of the qualities that I believe is common to great works is what I call hauntingness: its unbidden persistence in your mind long after you experienced it.

A gut reaction posted an hour after a TV finale airs cannot capture hauntingness, is what I’m trying to say.

But I’m going to post a Lostwatch after the finale anyway, hopefully overnight as soon as I finish writing. The morning after, I may go back and add updates and correct anything egregiously stupid, depending on my level of tired- and drunkenness the night before.

I’m going to do it not for any particularly noble reasons. The fact is, I’ve been writing about Lost for six years, and writing about every episode for five, and I just can’t not do it this time. There will be a conversation and I am just vain and obsessed with the show enough to want to be part of it. And I’m selfish enough to want to be able to throw out my thoughts and have a crowd of unpaid volunteers respond to and improve on them. Because, well, that’s pretty much what Lost is about: joint meaning-making.

And after all, nothing but busyness/laziness will be stopping me from posting again, three days later, or three weeks later, with my further-evolved thoughts. If I do, those will probably be far closer to my lasting impressions of the finale and its value; and they will probably get far, far less attention. That’s too bad, but I can’t really do anything about that by staying out of the conversation.

What I probably won’t be doing is live-tweeting or live-blogging the finale, though: even I have my limits to instant analysis. But if any of you want me to put up a live finale discussion post here, let me know.