Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Saying Goodbye to Breaking Bad... and Lost

I posted my thoughts on the Breaking Bad finale about an hour after I watched it. And Twitter and Facebook both lit up immediately after the show with people falling all over themselves professing their undying love to Vince Gilligan, Bryan Cranston, and everyone involved in the series. I've posted over on Facebook a few reviews that didn't love it — here and here — and one that absolutely hated it (here), and while I might not agree, I loved these little reviews standing there shouting against the tide of positivity.

Because I know how they feel. Only I was on the other side. I'm not Damon Lindelof or Carlton Cuse (well, Damon took a job from me once, but that's another story altogether...) and since they were the ones who actually wrote the series with that divisive finale, they had to take a lot of shit. I, while not writing the episode, had written about the series for six years, and for some reason ended up in the position of the Show's Defender, like anyone else in our quiet minority who actually loved the end of Lost but were outvoiced by those who hated it.

Now, everyone who's a creative type at all is the same when it comes to criticism: you can praise us all you want, but say one negative thing and we'll remember that FOREVER. It's why trolls exist on the internet, because we thin-skinned "artists" can't handle it, and crumble, and respond to you on Twitter or in the comments, and then you end up with more notoriety than the positive people. Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse received a ton of praise for the ending... but they'll never remember that. They'll remember the nastiness, the hatred, that proprietary feeling fans had over Lost and how Damon came in and shat all over it with an ending they found unsatisfying.

So when Breaking Bad ended and, as I said in my blog post, avoided the divisiveness that Lost, The Sopranos, and even Dexter created in their endings, I knew I wasn't going to have to defend the show this time, that other people would be really happy with the ending, too. Vince Gilligan has been held aloft and carried on the shoulders of many of the same people who stomped all over Damon and Carlton for their ending.

But I loved the end of Lost. So much so that when I posted on Facebook that Six Feet Under needs to step aside because there's a new all-time best finale in town, many people messaged and emailed me to say, "You mean... BETTER THAN LOST, NIKKI?!"

Hm. Well, I was closer to Lost. I was more invested in it. From beginning to end, Breaking Bad was a more consistently written show, but Gilligan wasn't meeting a 22-episode mandate. It's much easier to craft perfection in a first season when working with seven episodes, and not 23 like Lost had to do. There were things that had to be achieved in the Breaking Bad finale, things fans wanted, and Gilligan managed to make most people happy; Walt won, and he lost. Yet there are those who dislike the finale because he won, and those who dislike it because he lost.

Similarly, fans demanded that Lost do a number of things, chief among them is answer every single question that has ever been raised by the show. And they didn't do that. At least, not overtly. I wrote a 22,000-word defence of the Lost finale in my last book, and answered most of the questions fans said weren't answered. But maybe that was the problem: it became a little too subtle. For those of us who'd invested hours each week in studying every aspect of this show, it might have been satisfying, but for the majority of the viewers, it was a head-scratcher.

As someone who loved it, I can say that the Lost finale reached into my soul, made me weep with joy, caused lack of sleep over the next few days, and affected me emotionally more than any other show has ever done, before or since. I have never stopped defending it. I've never once said, "Well, yeah, you're right," because I believe in that ending wholeheartedly. Breaking Bad, on the other hand, was just... perfect. It was quiet, it wasn't the best episode of the series (see "Ozymandias" for that one), but it did what a finale is supposed to do. It wrapped things up, it gave us hope that life would still go on, and created a world that was encapsulated within the episodes of the series.

Damon Lindelof has finally spoken out and released an essay that was supposed to be on the finale of Breaking Bad, but instead turned into a piece talking about how watching the end of that show reminded him of how people reacted to the end of his show:

I'm sick of myself for continuing to beat this particular drum, so I can't imagine how sick of it you are. If it's unpleasant and exhausting for me to keep defending the Lost finale, aren't you getting tired of hating it? And so … I, like Walter White, want out. To be free. And to grant you the same.
I'd like to make a pact, you and me. And here's your part: You acknowledge that I know how you feel about the ending of Lost. I got it. I heard you. I will think about your dissatisfaction always and forever. It will stay with me until I lie there on my back dying, camera pulling slowly upward whether it be a solitary dog or an entire SWAT team that comes to my side as I breathe my last breath.

It's a poignant and sad piece, mostly because, as I said above, he spends the entire piece talking about those who hated it, and barely mentions those of us who loved it. Why would he? We feel the same way he does, and it's the haters who affected him so deeply. I know he'll be treated negatively for this piece (I mean, it's not like we live in an age of the confessional, right? Oh... wait...) and he'll be forced to face it all again, but I'm glad he wrote it.

But Damon, I really wish you'd realize that beyond those who loudly hated it is a group of us who loved it. And that image of Jack, on his back, looking up into the sky, satisfied that he'd done his bit for the world but will now die of a wound to his lower right-hand side? Um... do you think perhaps that image has become so iconic that it was also the final shot of this other finale that you loved so much?

All we needed in that meth lab was a dog and some bamboo.

Breaking Bad will go down in history as one of the greatest finales of all time. And Lost will go down in half the history books as the worst, and the other half as one of the best. Maybe there's something to be said for being controversial.

And how about this: discussing perfect pilots the other day, a friend of mine and I concluded that Lost had the best pilot, bar none, of any show we can think of. Breaking Bad's doesn't even come close. In fact, I watched the pilot of Breaking Bad and didn't watch another episode for another year. And then all of season 1 that followed Lost (remember... that's 23 episodes; Breaking Bad is in season 3 before it hits its 23rd episode) was near perfect. For many people, Lost didn't stick the landing, and that's all that matters. I loved it.

Is Breaking Bad the better finale? Yes, because it satisfied more people, and that's a finale's main goal. Is it my favourite finale? No... that one still belongs to Lost.


Graeme said...

I'm probably the worst person in the world to comment on this. I've seen two episodes of Breaking Bad and the pilot of Lost (I promise to get back to both eventually...) and not the ending of either. (Though I broadly know the ending of Lost).

But I love the finales to The Sopranos, Battlestar Galactica and Quantum Leap... which are usually in the mix for controversial and hated finales for shows.

And honestly, I love them because the end the shows in ways that are appropriate to the show, not in ways that are appropriate to the viewer, much less the fan. People have expectations that things will end a certain way. That certain things will be neatly wrapped up in way. And I think if there's dissonance between the expectation and the actual thing it creates vociferous irritation.

But often ending it that way is not true to the show. That the expected way out is the safe way and certain shows shouldn't be safe in its ending as it was in its beginning.

shobiz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
shobiz said...

Thanks for writing this. I learned about and read Damon's piece just moments before I came across your post, and it kind of broke my heart a little bit. As I've expressed here before, I am an unapologetic lover of "The End" and like you, I defend it every time the subject comes up. And then, usually right after that I drop @DamonLindelof a note on Twitter to tell him how much I loved it. He has never responded to any of these tweets, but it makes me feel good to know he probably saw them.

Michele said...

I am definitely among the lovers of the Lost finale. It is still my favourite series finale ever. I cried for two days! It was perfect in my eyes and I still don't understand why so many people hated it.

Christina said...

AGAIN, you've said what I've been trying to put into words since Sunday night!
People keep asking me, was it my favourite finale, and I keep hesitantly saying no, but I couldn't put into words WHY.

So, THIS! So much this!

JS said...

YES. Exactly. It broke my heart too, to read his essay. I wonder if he'll be able to do it. He may have some slips, but ultimately, artists shouldn't defend their work. And only rarely explain it.

Not that we HAVE to compare finales (though it seems to be the popular sport at the moment) but I came away from the BB finale satisfied, it had a couple of heart thumping moments, and a couple of moments where I choked up. When it finished, I thought, yes, that seems right. When I experienced the LOST finale, I was an emotional wreck for days, and on multiple watchings, still bawl (not just cry) and laugh, and have realizations. These are two different kind of stories - 48 survivors versus one family. One main problem versus many, many obstacles and challenges. But I should take a page from Lindelof and stop defending it. Especially to (many) people who feel the same way.

The Question Mark said...

I'm gonna have to agree 100%, Nikki Stafford. Breaking Bad's "Felina" was such a different animal from LOST's "The End" because they were such different shows. I was satisfied with both endings very much, but LOST's is still the reigning champion. I had more invested in it, there were characters to love, more plot threads to conclude, and the emotional impact of seeing everyone cross over in the Magic Sideways-Church (mixed with Michael Giacchino's absolutely perfect score) still carries such emotional weight for me that thinking about it three-and-a-half years later still gives me goosebumps.

Walter White's story was beautiful, funny, heartbreaking, exciting, and masterfully crafted. It's HIS story, though, so the end inevitably has to be HIS end. Whereas LOST's story belonged to its ensemble of main characters, and together their shared ending was just that much more powerful.

RIP to both of these outstanding shows. Television has big shoes to fill here.

Diane Dawson Hearn said...

Thanks for writing this, Nikki. Like You, I absolutely loved the ending of Lost, and as I have rewatched the show and gained more understanding of it, I like it more and more. Breaking Bad was a great show, but I have little desire to retrace Walter White's decent into hell. And, if people want to quibble with things that don't make sense, there was an awful lot in Breaking Bad that strained credibility as much as anything in Lost. For instance, how did Walter know that compound headquarters would conveniently have windows at just the exact height of the top of his car's trunk? Wondering that didn't spoil my enjoyment of the series and its ending, though, just as not knowing every answer to every teensy mystery in Lost spoiled its ending for me.

Lost was an ambitious, epic that the writers chose to end in a spiritual manner, something that in today's cynical culture can seem hokey or sentimental. Breaking Bad is probably more in step with the zeitgeist of our culture; but, given the choice, I'd rather go back to that tropical Island with Jack and friends than into that arid New Mexico desert with badass Heisenberg.

Pearson Moore said...

Hi Nikki,

Here's what I wrote in the comments section of Damon's HR article:


I'm with Nikki on this one. I loved Breaking Bad, I thought the entire show brilliant and the last four episodes nothing short of divinely inspired. BUT Breaking Bad never made me obsess, didn't have me crying like a baby. THAT distinction belongs to your Baby Blue, LOST. You and Carleton created a masterpiece but one which requires--demands--thoughtful consideration. You never wrote for couch potatoes, and maybe most fans understood that, though a good number of them *didn't* understand that you would require thoughtful input during and after the finale, just as you had after every episode. Breaking Bad was superlative traditional storytelling. LOST was groundbreaking non-traditional storytelling with the deepest, most troubling, most engrossing mythology ever developed. I thought you stuck the ending perfectly, even though you made a fool out of me and the "Resurrection of Locke" theory that I invoked nearly every week in my essays.

Maybe you don't hear from us enough. Maybe you're too eager to listen to detractors. But the honest truth, as far as I am concerned, is that you and Carleton and the crew in Room 23 wrote a groundbreaking classic and the definitive television show of the 21st century. If artists far more creative than I can take a ruthless drug lord, give him a fatal abdominal wound (lower right side), send him on a final journey through a *jungle* of laboratory equipment, show him falling at the side of his 'baby blue', and then train an overhead camera on him as he dies...well, the homage from Vince Gilligan and crew I think speaks for itself. Fans, other artists, and even hacks like me loved the LOST finale.

Pearson Moore

shobiz said...

Pearson Moore, bravo!!!

Joan Crawford said...

I've only seen part of the premier of BB, but I can say that Lost wrecked me. I was absolutely gutted, still am, by Lost. With Lost I was, for the first time ever, obsessed with a TV show; I had creepy thoughts about holding the actors, possibly against their will, (their choice entirely as to how to handle my request! We *could* all get along!I love you! It's you guys who are being weird!) and forcing them to "play Lost" at the end of each season. It was a completely alien feeling for me to experience*.

Also, it's how I found you, Nikki! I was in a Chapters, alone on a Saturday night, (because I don't need friends, friends need me) and I was hunting for books on Lost. I found yours, flipped through, bought it, devoured it and then saw you had a blog! "SHE WILL BE MY FRIEND" I yelled at my computer screen. And then, I swear, the screen tilted ever so slightly away from me. Well, I can tell you, I planted it firmly back in its place, typed in your address and muttered "play lost".

In all honesty, Lost was magic (flawed- oh, yes! And yet still loved most of all, always.) and the conversations we had on here are some of my all time favorites. You did a good thing, Nikki.

*with people I don't know in real life

Suzanne said...

Nikki, thanks for writing this piece. I ended up reading Damon's piece and really felt badly that someone how brought so much enjoyment and emotion to all of us is having to feel this way about his great work. I really hope he can let it go now.

I love both shows for very different reasons. Both finale's were good, but I prefer Lost's finale since it seemed to be about redemption, the whole series was. On the other hand, BB ends perfectly in many ways, but I can't help feeling that WW went to his grave with pride still being his number one concern. Maybe Hope lies with Jessie, though.

Lastly, I agree that Lost has my heart more since it is about so many characters instead of primarily focusing on one with everyone else being viewed through that one character. I also see myself rewatching Lost more than once (in addition to the one time I did before the series even ended) whereas, I am not sure whether I will want to rewatch BB. Maybe some day.

Both great shows and no reason to make this an either/or scenario as you and everyone else seem to say here! We have all been lucky to live in a tv age where both exist.

Rick Rische said...

I finally had to stop following Damon on Twitter because I just couldn't take his perpetual open wound regarding "Lost" anymore. It just became too much.
He obsessed over every negative criticism, and pretty much ignored anyone who offered praise for the show (me included). It eventually started to make me angry at him.

I'm a professional artist who works in the film industry. I've had many many directors who liked my work, but sometimes they really don't, and they aren't subtle about telling you so. If I obsessed on those negative opinions, it would paralyze me, and I wouldn't be able to continue in my career.
If you are going to embark on a career as a creative professional (of any sort), you have to build a wall between your deepest, most private ego and others' perceptions, and learn to deal with people's negative opinions and put them into perspective. It's just survival.
It frustrated the hell out of me that Damon has seemed unwilling or unable to do that when dealing with fans. I hope he's reached a place where he doesn't have to let a negative response eat him alive, for his own sake.