There are television shows and movies so great that the ending can never do it justice — think the updated Battlestar Galactica, Lost and Donnie Darko and then add The Lost Room to that list. Don’t get me wrong, I found this 2006 then SciFi channel miniseries a great story and enthusiastically recommend you watch it, but if you’re smart, don’t watch the last five minutes. Imagine in your mind the ending that could have been, talk about it with your friends, write poems about it, just don’t watch it.
But you’ll probably go ahead and watch it and then you’ll curse me for recommending it, forgetting my advice. So I warn you again, don’t watch the last five minutes.
Now you may be wondering why I in 2011 am reviewing a miniseries from 2006. Well, I’m writing my own books now and confronting the challenge of a really good ending and my mind went back to The Lost Room, one of the best things I’ve seen on TV, except for that excruciatingly unsatisfying ending.
To summarize, in 1961 something weird happened in room 10 of the Sunshine Motel on Route 66 outside of Gallup, N.M. In 2006, Pittsburgh police detective Joe Miller (actor Peter Krause) finds a motel room key during a murder investigation. That key is one of the objects from the Lost Room, and it has the power to turn any door with a key lock into a portal toward the room. There are many other objects from the room with other strange, sometimes useful, powers and there are collectors who would kill to get their hands on them.
And like all cursed objects, be careful what you wish for, because many of the objects have complications, and The Key is probably the most powerful and problematic. The holder of The Key can transport himself and anyone he brings into the room, but they must leave together. If the holder leaves, anyone left behind in the room vanishes. Through a series of events I can’t recall, Miller loses his daughter Anna (Elle Fanning) to the room. Her disappearance is treated as a child abduction because of Miller’s custody battle with his ex-wife.
So the beginning of the series starts with the classic unjustly accused man on the run but soon turns into a hunt for more objects and information about the room in the hope that Anna can be found. The series was originally shown as three two-hour parts, shown consecutively, but I believe in DVD format it’s six one hour episodes, titled The Key, The Clock, The Comb, The Box, The Eye and The Occupant, reflecting objects taken from the room.
Of course, like any man on the run show, Miller picks up a lot of enemies, friends and frenemies. Juliana Marguiles portrays Jennifer Bloom, a member of the Legion which is one of several cabals hoping to recover the objects; and counts as a friend. Peter Jacobson, who you may know from House, plays Wally Jabrowski, and he possesses The Bus Ticket and provides Miller early information about the room, the objects and the people who want to possess the room’s power.
The Bus Ticket is one of the more amusing objects as the holder can send whoever he touches with it straight to a stretch of Route 66 near the motel room. But it’s not a simple plop and you’re there unfortunately, but something a little more dramatic. Of course, just getting to the now abandoned motel won’t get you to room 10, because that room has mysteriously disappeared. Only The Key will open a door to room 10.
I watched each night of the series just amazed at the level of detail the writers — Laura Harkcom, Christopher Leone, and Paul Workman — and producers — Richard Hatem, Christopher Leone, Laura Harkcom, Paul Workman, Peter Chomsky, Bill Hill and Paul Kurtahad — had crafted. In six hours they created almost as much mythology as a season of the X-Files. It has the speed and leanness of a British series. Every detail rang true, from the machinations, ruthlessness and desperation of the players in the world of The Lost Room to the perverse, amusing and dangerous power of the objects. And the fact that the objects could gain additional powers when combined was inspired. Can you imagine the combined power of The Watch, that can cook eggs, and only eggs, combined with The Umbrella, that makes the holder seem familiar to anyone he encounters?
The series has all the right spooky touches, like the Conroy experiments, conducted if memory serves by a relative of the motel owner or manager, shown on grainy film footage. Then there are the beliefs of the various factions, ranging from finding God to becoming God, as they try to understand what happened in the room and what power can be obtained from that understanding. And then there’s The Occupant.
It was great television and I remember watching the clock out of the corner of my eye, thinking, wow, they’ve got to wrap this up in 30 minutes. Oh my God, ten minutes to go, this will be great. Five minutes to go, they can’t possibly wrap this up in this small amount of time. And then Argh! This explains nothing.
Now part of the problem with the ending lies, I am sure, with the hope that The Lost Room could become a series. It’s perfectly set up for that, with the objects in the room being an object of the week episode just like Warehouse 13. But I think it deserved a delicate touch that would have been difficult for the SciFi Channel to maintain and impossible for the Syfy Channel.
If the reason for the unsatisfying ending can not be blamed on plans to make the show into a series, then the blame might be traced to some of the other miniseries SciFi/Syfy has produced. Both Alice and Tinman, series I really enjoyed given the limitations of a Syfy production, ended abruptly. I almost see it as a hallmark of all Syfy productions: a rushed ending with no chance for explanation, resolution or just a moment to savor what you’ve seen.
Well, I hope I whetted your apetite and you’ll rush out to get the DVD. And unless you’re afraid of further spoilers, check out the Wikipedia page for the series; it’s quite comprehensive. And remember my warning, don’t watch the last five minutes.
PS I just added it to my Netflix list and I doubt I will follow my own advice.