I think it’s probably safe enough to talk about ‘Lost’ now, I mean come on, it’s been a couple of years. Hasn’t it?
Or one year, maybe?
Either way, if you haven’t seen it all yet, you’re probably not going to; but just in case you are, now is the time to stop reading.
I don’t really want to talk about ‘Lost’, I want to talk about mystery-driven shows and ‘Lost’ was the best I could think of under pressure.
I was going to talk about Season 6 of Doctor Who and the ‘Who is River Song?’ question; but since the answer had a limited number of possibilities (Doctor’s mum, Amy, Amy’s daughter) and I wasn’t really invested in the answer any which way because, well … so what? I mean, it’s hardly like Luke finding out his dad’s the font of all evil in the galaxy, is it? Whatever River’s origins turned out to be it would have had pretty much the same impact on the series:
Amy grows up to be someone quite cool.
Amy’s daughter grows up to be someone quite cool.
The Doctor’s mum is quite cool.
All three get the same response from me: “Oh, right. Cool.”
‘Lost’, on the other hand, was a show with mystery baked into the heart of it from the very beginning.
Okay, so Doctor Who has a mystery baked into the title from the very beginning; but … do you really want to know? It’s meant to be an unanswered question, the moment you answer it, it becomes less special. “Oh, right. He was a newsagent was he? Um … cool?”
‘Lost’ though – the mystery was the driving force of the show. It begged you to guess the answer because that’s what all the characters wanted to know and that’s the entire point of the series:
What is the island?
An open-ended mystery, it could be anything!
Okay, so the thought process behind it actually went:
The island is the afterlife where people who were special to each other meet up to travel onto the next life! Shit! People guessed it straight away! Fuck! Okay, let’s say it’s not the afterlife. Let’s pretend it’s … I don’t know! Fuck! Just trap them in bear cages for a season or so and make everyone do weird shit until we have a better idea. Hang on, what if instead of the island being the afterlife where people who were special to each other meet up to travel onto the next life, we let them off the island and then say the real world is the afterlife where people who were special to each other meet up to travel onto the next life. Does that make sense? Not really, but fuck it! Let’s do it!
The thing about creating a mystery is there are very few individuals who can out think a team of writers. Or even a single writer who’s clever enough.
I used to work in a cinema and regularly wandered in to watch the audience. If the premise of the film centred on a mystery, you could see people leaning forward in their seats as they tried to work it out. When they did work it out, you’d see them lean back, smug with their ‘Of course! Simple, really’ body language.
One or two individuals would sit back early on. A few at random occasions throughout and a good number a minute or two before the final bit of information. The majority of the audience wouldn’t solve the mystery until they were told the answer. One or two still didn’t know by the time the credits had rolled.
I’m guessing TV audiences are proportionately the same.
But there’s a difference. In TV, the audience have time to talk to each other. Whether that’s in the office round the hallowed water cooler or via the Internet, they have plenty of time to compare notes and theories. Especially if a show runs for five or six years – that’s ample opportunity for millions of people to unpick a mystery half a dozen people put together in a few weeks.
Simply put, I don’t believe mystery works in TV. In film, yes because you can’t really discuss it with the rest of the audience in the middle.
Well, I guess you could. People do, in fact. Annoyingly, they also discuss who Tasha was shagging at the weekend and whether or not Gary’s a better fuck since he had his cock pierced. Time and a place, people. Time and a fucking place.*
Theoretically though, people don’t talk about the film while it’s playing.
TV on the other hand …
It doesn’t work. You can’t keep a TV mystery mysterious for several years.
But does that mean you shouldn’t try?
Because, actually, this theory only holds up if you’re the type of person who goes to online forums or has a water cooler to chat around. I occasionally lurk on the former, but don’t have the latter. I’d quite like one though, just for the occasional gurgle and plop in the background.
The Internet though, it ruins TV. Ruins it, I say. TV shows are best experienced in a vacuum. Sneaky set photos and trailer analyses and script leaks and just a large number of people expounding their ideas ruins any mystery based show.
In fact, I’d go further – it ruins any show.
So, you know, I’m not going to do it. Not any more because, goddamn it, I want life to be mysterious again. Like it was when I was a kid, when a new series of Doctor Who kicked off and I had no idea who was in what episode or which enemies would be returning. If the Daleks arrive in the last few minutes of episode three, I want to shit my pants, not have preconceived ideas about how silly the new pantomime horse designs may or may not look.
(They do look a little silly, I’m sure there are two people in there now. Every time I see one of the new Daleks, I want to call it Dobbin.)
Spoilers, you spoil things. Kindly fuck off. Let me have my mystery again.
* Seriously though, what the fuck goes through some people’s heads?
“Shaz, I’s got a well wicked story to tells you.”
“Yeah? Best go buy some of them movie tickets so’s we can have us a proper natter, yeah?”
“Fuck yeah! Hey, has yous fucked Gary since he gone got his nob pierced?”