The final episode of Serial season one arrived amid a flurry of online excitement. The thinkpieces flowed like lava from a volcano — an apt metaphor given the temperature of some of the takes. Speculation about the perceived guilt or innocence of the show’s principal subject Adnan Sayed ran rampant, as did spirited debates about whether the series owed its captive audience a definitive conclusion. The show’s prominence grew so rapidly over its first three months that it warranted a Funny or Die parody starring Michaela Watkins and an SNL parody starring Cecily Strong.
It was a strange moment of mass adulation for what was, at its root, an act of thorough, rigorous journalism, blown out to epic proportions with the help of Sarah Koenig’s compelling delivery, eerily catchy theme music and the production’s team savvy week-by-week rollout. Suddenly, media outlets and pop culture consumers tackled a podcast about the localized failures of the American criminal justice system with the same fervor that they would the latest superhero movie or hourlong TV drama. When the dust settled, attentions quickly turned to speculation about the show’s seemingly endless possibilities for next steps.
Then a year went by. Radio silence.
I just read an excellent New York Times Magazine profile of Damon Lindelof, and I have a few thoughts about it.
1. The profile describes Lindelof’s tumultuous experience with the fans of Lost, the show he co-created and ran for all of its much-scrutinized run. For years, Lindelof endured outraged cries from devoted fans of the show who felt that the series finale failed to wrap up the mysteries the show had allegedly set out to solve. The feedback turned so sour that Lindelof deleted his Twitter account with a flourish on October 14th, 2013, explaining later that the resurgence of negativity that followed the polarizing Breaking Bad series finale left him feeling psychologically battered.
I never watched Lost to solve the mysteries. I was certainly interested in finding answers, and I enjoyed delving into Jeff Jensen’s exhaustive analyses for Entertainment Weekly, but when it came time to watch the finale, I was far more invested in where the characters would find themselves at the end of the episode, and how the journeys we’d watched unfold for six years would conclude. I realize I’m in the minority, and that the frustrating banality of the Smoke Monster, the Whispers and the Magic Cork left people frustrated to the point of dismissing the entire show. I think that’s an unfair response, given that the show always cared about people as much as it did smoke and mirrors. I was glad I’d spent six years with Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Locke, Hurley, Ben, Juliet and the dozens of other characters who popped in and out. It’s not wrong to want more from a show famous for its mysteries, but it’s also not right to condemn the creator for having other ideas about how he wanted his show to end. There’s no use crucifying Lindelof for “wasting our time.” That we were invested in the first place means that he was doing his job right for quite a while, and that counts for something.