Some time ago, J.J. Abrams gave a TED talk. In that presentation he goes on at length about the concept of mystery in cinema and life. He shows the audience what he calls a mystery box, and explains his fascination with the idea. He bought the box something like 30 years ago, and never opened it. For him, the appreciation of mystery was better than the reality of the box’s contents. There’s an idea of infinite potential expressed in the mystery of the box, and Mr. Abrams loves this idea so much that he continues to pursue it in his films and stories. This is most obvious in his initial claim to fame, Lost. I hated Lost for exactly this reason.
Since I’ve been watching The Leftovers, I noticed some interesting similarities between the two TV shows. They both have strong characters with original and interesting progressions. They are both, at times, incredibly grounded and utterly fantastic. They both feature characters struggling through inexplicable experiences. They also both use a huge mystery as a McGuffin. This shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, as Damon Lindelof — also of Lost fame — is the co-creator and co-writer of the show. I admit that this scares me, a little. I really enjoy The Leftovers. I find it well written and well performed, and I even find the mystery of the show fascinating. There’s some kind of quasi-religious existential angst to the show that I appreciate. The show never pulls its punches when exploring how individuals cope to situations where grief is not available to them, and it’s not afraid to get weird really fast. All in all, I think the show is one of the best on television right now, but then again, there was a time I thought that way about Lost.
Accuse me of not understanding the ending. Call me shallow for needing more than just a journey with no destination. Maybe I am just a cretin who wants a proper ending to a story. Lost never gave me that. I know I should simply enjoy the ride and not worry about the ending, but I sincerely hope The Leftovers doesn’t go the same route. Now, I grant that The Leftovers has a few things going for it. For one, it doesn’t have the pressure on it that Lost did. Two, it won’t be the large six-season sprawling beast that Lost eventually became, as it is in its last season now. But a common thread in the show seems to be the characters’ encountering charlatan after charlatan with claims to power, answers, and resolution to their lives, with the occasional ambiguously true religious or magical experience. So, I ask myself, is Lindelof trying to say something? Is he going anywhere with this? In terms of the show’s subject matter, is he a palm reader or a prophet?
I suppose it is possible that he’s playing with this very idea in the show with a sort of meta-narrative, but that feels like a bit of a reach. And while this would all be very poetic and properly dissatisfying in a show about dissatisfaction, at the end of the day, I need at least a little catharsis and resolution out of my shows and stories. Lord knows I get little enough out of life.
Don’t let me down, Damon.