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Writers Are People Too

With the TV-viewing population of the world – and the internet – going into various states of meltdown, hysteria and wonder akin to Stendahl Syndrome over the Breaking Bad finale in the last week, it was interesting to note that TV-finale whipping boy Damon Lindelof was asked to write a follow up to the Breaking Bad ending for The Hollywood Reporter. (I should warn there are spoilers in the linked article.)

As the initial co-writer with J.J. Abrams on Lost and series showrunner after Abrams’ departure, and the screenwriter for Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness, as well as Super 8, Prometheus, Cowboys & Aliens and World War Z, Lindelof has come under more scrutiny for his involvement in projects more than almost any other writer before. It’s especially unusual considering he isn’t the director, and it’s rare in cinema for criticism to be levelled so heavily at a writer when they usually have little involvement beyond pre-production.

Lindelof used his follow up on the Breaking Bad finale to mention not just how much he loved it and loved the show, and thought that Vince Gilligan deserved an incredible amount of praise for what he had done with the show. This is not merely bandwagoning; Lindelof has repeatedly praised other shows and expressed sincere astonishment that Lost was regarded in the same breath as other groundbreaking series during its run.

However, he went on in the article to mention that he was using the moment – the ending of a great TV show – to leave behind his defending of Lost, particularly his defending of the finale to the detractors.

This is where most of the criticism and, well, hatred of Lindelof seems to stem from. The dissatisfaction that viewers appeared to feel with that show’s ending, and the volume of vitriol heaped on the showrunner since the airing of the finale is almost unprecedented. Lindelof has taken all criticisms, and has done so on almost a regular basis, often retweeting and responding to the detractors with a fair amount of patience, grace and good humour. But, you know, it’s been over three years since it finished. It’s time we all moved on.

Why do we heap scorn on those responsible for creating our entertainment? I can understand disappointment with the final cut of films – I make no secret of my loathing of Prometheus – but to level that at the writer seems ludicrous.

In TV it’s different, admittedly, and the showrunners are responsible for the overall direction and execution of the show. And if a show ends poorly, they cop it. Despite the general acclaim the ending now appears to have, David Chase was on the end of a fair amount of criticism for the way The Sopranos finished. Vince Gilligan will probably be roundly celebrated for quite a while because of Breaking BadSix Feet Under did similarly for Alan Ball – though he has jumped off True Blood well before it has neared a conclusion.

Basically, the ending of a long running series will make or break a showrunner.

In Lindelof’s case, it appears to have broken him. Everything he touches now is tainted in anticipatory scrutiny. And is this fair? What crimes did he actually commit?

The large portion of it seems to be from misunderstanding. Lost was a show founded on mystery. And while the show had success and no end-date, mystery was piled upon mystery. The closest parallel here is The X-Files, another show that really stuffed the mythology and annoyed a whole bunch of loyal viewers. But once the end date for Lost was announced, and once the writer’s strike was navigated, Lindelof made no bones about the fact that not everything would be resolved. There was an ending, but for those that wanted everything, there would be disappointment.

This comes down to our entitlement. TV shows and movies are made for us, for our consumption. We don’t actually have to do anything. But we react with unmitigated effrontery when it doesn’t go the way we wanted. For those confused by the ending of Lost, Lindelof repeatedly made himself available to explain what he could. For me, the confusion seems odd. For a viewer who watched every single episode, the finale made perfect sense. I’m not saying it was flawless, but it still made sense. So the confusion largely seems to be from those who dipped in and out of the show and then expected an answer in the Season Six finale to the questions they had mid-Season Two. As an example, take a look at this interview Lindelof did two years after the finale, and the astonishment he seems to have that the interviewer had no idea what was going on in the ending (the moment is at around 6:20).

But I don’t want this to merely be a Lost defense. For confusion in viewers to then translate into three years of scorn and abuse that affects honest appraisal of future projects, I have to draw a line.

We need to moderate our feelings with shows and films and books when the authors of those stories choose to deviate from our expectations. George R.R. Martin is a case in point, not for the choices he’s made in his written stories, but instead receiving criticism merely for taking too long to write them.

We have become an audience that demands, rather than receives. We are viewers who expect the best, the newest, the brightest, but if given something that doesn’t match our internal monologue we react with outrage and scorn.

Stories are made for us, certainly. But not every story is made for every person. If a story doesn’t work, doesn’t suit our particular set of rules, so be it. Move on. There’ll always be more stories.

The people that write them are just people. Who write stories. For people they don’t know. Isn’t that a nice thing?

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