The Lost finale aired three years ago, and people are still angry about it. It is a gaping wound in the pop culture consciousness of a certain type of human being — the same people who will never get over the vain notion that the Star Wars prequels destroyed a very special part of their childhood. The wound reopened last night during the series finale of Breaking Bad, when a whole series of people used Twitter — a technological mechanism that would have seemed like an impossible glorious utopian dream-machine 30 years ago, something that theoretically is supposed to bring us all together in something resembling the Emersonian oversoul — to tweet a bunch of snippy comments at Damon Lindelof, co-creator of Lost and masochistic recipient of fan rage.
Lindelof — who had recently been tweeting about how Vince Gilligan was his hero — retweeted several of the comments. They called him an a–hole and they asked him if he felt embarrassed by how much better Breaking Bad was and they said the Lost ending was terrible. “Screw you @DamonLindelof for not giving us such a perfect ending for Lost like Vince Gilligan did for @BreakingBad_AMC,” said one total douchebag who clearly thinks that the whole purpose of the Hollywood entertainment complex is to function as a Perfection Delivery System, and anything less than their own highly subjective vision of “perfection” is utterly worthless. “HEY @DamonLindelof MAYBE YOU SHOULD WATCH BREAKINGBAD SO YOU CAN LEARN HOW TO FINISH WHAT YOU BEGAN PROPERLY,” said a fellow who doesn’t like punctuation but loves the caps lock key and is great at giving constructive criticism.
You know what? I hate people like that. Not because they’re bad people — everyone is a douchebag on the Internet (besides Roger Ebert, RIP) — and not because they treat creative people with all the etiquette of a mascot at a sporting event. (Lindelof, for his part, seems to treat the whole thing as a joke.) I hate them because they represent the stupidest notion of our contemporary age of brilliant television, a whole viewing perspective that has come to define the medium.
We like to talk a lot about how television has never been more artistically daring. But at a certain level, the vast amount of viewers of TV shows receive television as content, not artistry. What’s going to happen next? Will my favorite character live or die? The big secret about television is that those questions aren’t particularly interesting. TV shows kill people off all the time now. One show, The Walking Dead, has risen to ratings dominance by killing off a main character every two weeks. How things happen are interesting. Why things happen are interesting.
Great television is capable of plumbing the depths of humanity, but all too often, the conversation is reduced to a binary question: “Was the series finale good or bad? DID IT STICK THE LANDING?” What the hell does that even mean? It’s not a sporting event, and treating it that way makes you look like a goon. People enjoyed the Breaking Bad finale because it felt like a delicately written game of Hanging Plot Thread Whack-A-Mole. All the i’s were dotted, all the t’s were crossed, all the right people died and the remaining nice people got away clean. It wasn’t that different from the Lost finale, really — it even had the same final shot, sans dog. It was great fun and it turned Walter White into a superhero and it had an awesome final action scene and it weirdly seemed to decide that Jesse — at one point the show’s co-lead — was a supporting character who needed less screen time than Gretchen Schwartz.
I enjoyed the Breaking Bad finale and was frustrated by it, no disrespect to Vince Gilligan. Actually, that’s the same way I felt about the Lost finale, no disrespect to Damon Lindelof. No finale is perfect. No television is perfect, besides maybe the Monorail episode of The Simpsons. We should all be enjoying the fact that television has never been better. But there is a countervailing wave of opinion about all television shows: If I love a television show, then I deserve to have a great ending, and if I don’t get that great ending, then the creators have failed me, and I will never let them forget it. “I really like @DamonLindelof but dude, i’d be crushed after that final scene in breaking bad, they practically laughed at your face,” tweeted another human being.
What world do we live in where one great show ends awkwardly and another great show ends pretty well, and the immediate response is to say, “Haha, that great show really FACED that other great show I used to love!” Somebody posted a Twitpic showing a cell phone conversation saying, simply, “I hate Damon Lindelof!” HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE? Presumably, if you care enough about Lost to be upset about it, you probably loved it at one point. And what you loved about it was created, in part, by Damon Lindelof. TV writers are not in the service industry. If they deliver an overlong series finale that awkwardly transforms a story that used to be very morally ambiguous into a story that sanctifies its protagonist’s self-sacrifice (which both Lost and Breaking Bad did), then the appropriate response is to talk about it, criticize it, complain about it, argue that it’s actually great, whatever…and then move the hell on.