Earlier this week, Brad Templeton wrote an essay explaining why Battlestar Galactica's ending was the worst on-screen sci-fi ending of all time. Could Lost be headed down the same disappointing path? Spoilers for both shows ahead!
In his essay, Templeton breaks his analysis of the BSG finale into 6 distinct failures. Here's how Lost measures up in each of those categories.
Failure 1 - God did it
Templeton explains why blaming god for all the twists and turns of the plot, and the eventual resolution of the story, renders the journey of the story meaningless. In BSG, Templeton explains, when we find out that humanity ended up where they did solely because of the will of some sort of god figure, we stop caring about the story.
Lost does run a slight risk of this being the case. The show and the writers seem to suggest that god won't be the answer, but there are mysterious forces at play here. Jacob's enemy using Locke to attack Jacob is an instance of possible god-like manipulation. Mrs. Hawking, course correction, the "doubting Thomas" scenes... there is clearly some element of fate, of some unseen force maneuvering events for their own gains.
But despite this "fate" aspect, Lost has always been about exploring how much influence fate can have versus our ability to make our own destinies. Lost is a show primarily about the conflict between fate and free will, so I'd wager we'll get our due, without a "deus ex machina" cop-out.
Failure 2 - Science errors on plot-turning elements
The next major flaw Templeton discusses is a giant, plot-determinative science mistake. On BSG, this mistake was a misunderstanding of just what the term "mitochondrial Eve" means. On Lost, if there is such a mistake, it's likely to be a bit more elusive and complex.
The creators and show-runners of Lost have claimed since the beginning that the show can all be explained using science or pseudo-science. Lost never claimed to be a hard science fiction show; it's more in the soft sci-fi camp. But that doesn't mean some key errors can't undermine the show's believability.
For example, Lost could make some severe errors in time travel science. It could suggest something that violates the known rules of how our universe works. Or it could break some of it's own internal rules (whatever happened, happened, for example).
But Lost always chooses to keep the science very speculative and very experimental. That means that even their most heavily-relied-upon science is mostly theoretical. This lets Lost try a lot more complex and interesting things with science.
This particular failure is hard to predict. Knowing Lost, we might already be through the most complex or unbelievable science. Only time will tell on this one.
Failure 3 - Collective unconscious
The third failure, in Templeton's essay, is BSG's use of the hokey concept of cultural memory to explain the parallels between the colonial fleet and our own Earth. Lost hasn't taken this particular risk, but it has experimented with an equally dangerous science fiction psychology cliche: mind reading.
Lost is probably going to have a difficult time explaining (in any believable or coherent way) how the "monster" (whatever it is) can read people's minds and pasts. It's happened a few times, and the "monster" has even used this information to mimic people from its victims' pasts.
The big question now is how Jacob's newly revealed enemy relates to this monster and how this connection can be explained scientifically. It's a tough one, and it might end up being Lost's undoing, as much as the collective unconscious partially undid BSG's finale.
Failure 4 - The future vs. a secret history
Failure four of BSG's ending, according to Templeton, was the inevitable complexity of casting a fictional story as a secret history of our own Earth. Lost has flirted with this particular failure pretty often this season (ancient Egyptian symbols, time travel, etc.), but the eventual resolution could be a pretty explosively bad example of a poorly constructed "secret history."
This season, of course, a few of our Lost folks spent some time in the 70s. Whenever you send a character into the past, you run the risk of doing exactly what BSG did, mainly depicting a past event that certainly could not have happened.
Lost had the perfect fix for this: all of the possible past-defying happenings took place on a secret isolated island. Even if something big happened, no one would know, and its effects would be felt nearly exclusively on the island. This works, but it might prove problematic, of course, with the detonation of a hydrogen bomb that spews strange matter and electromagnetic energy all over the place...
And then there's the whole Egyptian culture, Latin language, ancient history side of Lost. While this could look troubling from a "secret history" standpoint, these aspects of the show only hint at a secret history of the island, not an impossible, unwieldy one for the whole of humanity.
Lost seems to be headed pretty squarely towards a present-day finale. It seems as though the time jumping is over. Unless something really strange happens (which, again, knowing Lost, is a possibility), Lost has seemingly sidestepped any possible "secret history" troubles for their finale.
Failure 5 - It's the characters, stupid
To me, this is where Lost most clearly distinguishes itself from BSG. In his essay, Templeton says that BSG lost sight of its true goal of character development in its final episodes. Lost seems to be not only sticking to these character roots, but moving even further towards them in its final seasons.
Take, for example, the fan-favorite episode, "The Constant." In it, we got a slew of information on one way that time travel was meant to work on the show. But if you ask people why it's a highlight of the show, fans inevitably cite the final moments, when Penny and Desmond have their tearful, emotionally powerful reunion. This speaks volumes for Lost's ability to put characters first, mystery second.
For a more recent example, take this season's finale, "The Incident." As psyched as I was to finally see what the incident was and how it came to pass, the real impact of the episode was witnessing Sawyer lose the woman he loved, Juliet.
A lot of science fiction claims up and down that the real focus of their story is character, but only Lost has proved time and time again that they can make good on this claim. The show's ability to balance compelling mystery and mythology with fascinating characters that we care about will probably be what makes it one of the greatest sci-fi shows of all time.
Failure 6 - Not a great ending
The bottom line of Templeton's essay, it seems, is that the show was great, but the ending wasn't. It didn't tie everything together as well as it could, it didn't fulfill the goals of the show, and it just wasn't as good as it could have been.
We've already been told by the producers of Lost that Libby's fate isn't going to be revealed, that the show has a hierarchy of which mysteries will get tied up and which won't. But the fact that the show-runners are thinking hard about this is probably a good sign. It indicates that they know their priority is a good story, not nitpicky details.
So all told, it looks like Lost has a good chance of avoiding a BSG-sized disappointment. Here's hoping no one has to write an essay about Lost's colossal failure this time next year.