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So, a bunch of TED talks are now on Netflix. So I watched a bunch. Now, I am fairly ambivalent towards TED. I like the idea of disseminating what may be challenging or revolutionary ideas in ways that are easily understandable. But then what of the unbelievably expensive price tag for showing up?[i] And they give people like Jamie Oliver, Bono and Bill Clinton lots of money.  Anyway, I like hearing people sentimentally talk about outer space. So I watched those. I watched the ones about robots. Cause I like robots. I also decided to watch a talk by J.J. Abrams.  Abrams is probably best known for his involvement with TV shows like Alcatraz, Felicity, Alias, Fringe and Lost. He is also now helming the revamped Star Trek franchise. He also wrote Regarding Henry. Abrams’ TED talk, which he called, “The Mystery Box,” is about the importance of mystery in culture.

His talk is centred around a single prop—a box of magic tricks Abrams bought when he was a kid from a store that he fondly recalls. Now, and this is important, he has never opened this box. He, like his audience, has no idea what is in the magic box. And this is what I think is at the core of his talk, even if, Abrams doesn’t know this. Because his job as a writer/director/executive-producer is to “open the box.” As a creator it is his job is to reach the conclusions of the worlds he creates. As he acknowledges, Abrams fetishizes this unopened box so much because of its potentiality. The best magic track in the world could be inside. A trick that could marvel the world. Not knowing what is in the box is more exciting than opening it. What is inside will always disappoint us. It might be a joybuzzer. Or rattlesnake eggs.[ii] Or a deck of marked cards. Or Murlynd’s Spoon. Which brings me to Lost, a show that I have begun watching. This is a show with an incredibly strong fan base that almost universally agrees that the show ultimately disappointed them. There are debates about when the show jumped, but no debates that it did jump.
Continuing the box analogy, which I will refer to as Schrödinger’s Lost, its fans were disappointed when the box was opened. The elaborate mythology that is laid out in the first couple of seasons is undone. Schrödinger’s cat refers to the idea that until we open a theoretical box with a theoretical cat inside, we don’t know whether the cat is alive or dead. Or, in other words, it is both alive and dead until we know which one is “true.”And in the case of Schrödinger’s Lost, until we watch past the first season, Lost is both potentially good and bad.
As far as I am concernd, Lost unravelled fairly quickly. There are things about even the first season that frustrate me, even if some of my quibles are minor. For instance, these people have the worst survival skills. Now, I know next to nothing about the great outdoors let alone mysterious islands. But I’ve at least seen the first couple seasons of Survivor. These “lost” people love to bury things. Clothes? Bury’em. Supplies? Bury’em. Anything? Bury that too. They really hate to recycle. Heroin, a potential anesthetic? No way, leave it alone. “Maybe we should bury it Jack?” Circumnavigate the island? No way, not even out of boredom. Anyway, I really enjoyed watching the first season. Like, a lot. Similiar to watching Game of Thrones the first time around I could not help but marvel at what TV looks like when you spend a lot of money. And, as far as what seemed to be Lost‘s plot holes, they didn’t bother me. The first season moved at a pace that any problems were in the rear view before I cared too much. But the second season stopped asking questions and starting answering them in the form of nonsensical questions.
At the same time, Lost wasn’t cancelled in the way that a Twin Peaks was. Its commercial success forced Lost to go on. No questions unanswered. No blaze of glory. Rather, we know how Lost ends and we hate how it ends. Now, in defense of Abrams, no one has ever managed to open the box in a way that works. Not since Lewis Carroll stole the ending that’s writing was inevitable has a writer been able to satisfactorily show us the inside of the box. For example, the first half of a Charlie Kaufman penned film is always better than the last half. His movies raise questions they are, it seems to me, ultimately unable to satisfactorily answer. The only exception I can think of in recent memory is Fincher’s The Game. So while we, as watchers of Lost, may be disappointed with the ending we should also realize that we could only be disappointed. Lost may have become terrible, and it did, but how couldn’t it have? What ending wouldn’t have been disappointing? My answer is none. And maybe this shouldn’t take away from the first season.[iii] Did I mention that J.J. Abrams wrote Regarding Henry?

[i] I know you can watch the videos for free because I just did.

[ii] This was one of my favourite tricks when I was a kid.

[iii] I also really like the first half of the second season.