Warning: Lost spoilers ahead
I love Lost. I was a little late jumping on the bandwagon, but it’s a glorious bandwagon. Since I watched most of it in a month-long DVD binge, I felt like I was living in the Lost universe for a few weeks, and I started to notice the gaping plot holes that were never addressed in later seasons. To be fair, there are still a few weeks of new episodes left, but it would take some truly magical writing to address what was the point of Walt, what’s the deal with Libby, why did the Others even bother scaring the 815ers in their native garb, etc etc etc.
Overall though, Lost is a fabulous show. Sure, there are good episodes and there are definitely some bad ones (I’m looking at you, Nikki and Paulo), but the show has been fairly consistent in delivering plot, characters, mythology, and tension.
In various conversations with Lost fans and while lurking on the internet, I’ve noticed a common gripe: the writers didn’t have it all planned out from Day 1. They had a vague idea, but they clearly didn’t lay out every character arc and season in advance. They made adjustments as they went along. They wrote out Libby and Ana Lucia after the real-life actors got in real-life trouble with the law. They succumbed to studio pressures to deliver profits by stretching out the story. So, all these things caused the writers’ overarching vision to change a little, and they went with it.
As a result, there are noticeable plot holes. But in real life, time travel doesn’t exist. TV writers can’t go back and say, “Oops. Walt’s character is going nowhere. Let’s take him out and rewrite.” And that’s one of the disadvantages of television as a medium.
Books may not have sounds, special-effects, and actors, but they’re a finished product when they encounter the public. An author is expected to finish writing a book, and then go back and redraft it again and again, plugging up plot holes and adding those spiffy symbolic references in the beginning that tie it all together. An author and editor would never leave a dangling Libby in a book. She’d have a complete character arc, or she’d fall victim to the delete button. A TV show, then, is the equivalent of the first draft of a book where you can edit each chapter after you’re done writing it, but you can never go back to that chapter again. Yikes.
On the other hand, a good book sets the gold standard for continuity, for internal logic. It’s polished, it makes sense, and everything and everyone are there for a purpose. Movies can do the same thing, but it’s quite rare for television. The first time I found out a television show wasn’t planned from beginning to end, it was like the adult version of finding out about Santa.
I believe it’s possible for truly great shows to transcend those problems though. Many Japanese animes are planned from beginning to end with a set number of episodes, and the TV show Battlestar Galactica had me convinced it was pre-planned until well into the third season (it wasn’t though). Plus, didn’t Charles Dickens write many of his books in serial format? And yeah, he did a pretty fine job of it.
So, while I rate Lost among the really good shows out there, I still await the day when I can tip my hat to a pre-planned, plot-hole-free, logically consistent masterpiece of a TV show. And in the meantime, there are plenty of books out there waiting to be read.