What's below is a feature on the final season of
"Lost," which begins Tuesday. The story contains excerpts from an interview with executive producers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof. If
you want to read the full transcript of that interview (which contains
no spoilers), Part 1 is here, Part 2 is here and Part 3 is below (after the feature). If you don't want to read the whole thing, a bullet-point list of factoids from the interview is
Before we get to the rest of this post, can the fans of ABC's island drama help some people in great need on a Caribbean island? I recently launched Watch Us Care, a charity effort to aid the people of Haiti. Part of the endeavor is an eBay auction: You can bid on TV-related DVDs and other memorabilia here. When those items are gone, I'll auction more cool stuff over the next couple of weeks.
"Lost" fans can also give directly to the Haitian aid group Partners in Health via this page. Starting at 7 a.m. Central Time Thursday, which is the time stamp on this post, we'll have a new giveaway for donors. The first 100 "Lost" fans who donate $25 or more via the Watch Us Care page will get the cool Dharma "Beer Station" pin pictured at left; it was created by Ian Leino. And the first five people who donate $50 or more will get both the pin and this very cool "Polar Beer" shirt created by Leino, a graphic designer and "Lost" fan (the shirt's design is pictured at right and below). Fashionable people everywhere are wearing Polar Beer shirts! (Many thanks to Leino, who kindly donated the "Lost" pins and shirts to this cause.)
UPDATE Jan. 28, 2 p.m. CT: The "Polar Beer" shirts that were part of this fundraiser are gone (they're still of course for sale at Leino's site). Thank you, "Lost" fans, for the donations we've received so far! We still have plenty of the Dharma Beer Station pins for those who still want to donate.
On Day 1 of the Watch Us Care campaign, "Chuck" fans generously donated almost $1,700 to Partners in Health. My co-conspirators and I are raising the overall goal on the PIH page to $3,500. It's an ambitious goal, but if the Oceanic 6 could get off that island, I'm hoping that with your help, we can crack that number (it was tempting to set the goal at $4815162342, but I'm not that ambitious and I'm too superstitious to invoke The Numbers).
If the fans reading this could spread the word about this charity endeavor in whatever "Lost" forums or sites they frequent, that would be fantastic.
Two final "Lost"-related notes: Expect the video player on the right side of this page to fill up with interview clips from the show's cast and writers; I'll be loading those in during the next few days. Also, the group photo above is the third iteration of the "Lost" "Last Supper" photos. The other two versions are here.
OK, on with the show! Thanks for your patience.
Nobody has to explain the importance of endings to Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof, executive producers of "Lost" (8 p.m. Central Tuesday, ABC).
Fans of the show have been speculating for years not only about what will happen in the final season, which begins Tuesday, but about the last frame of the series finale, which will air in May.
"We keep getting asked about the final image and we’re like, 'Yeah, sure, we know what it is,'" Lindelof said. "But people are acting like the final image of the show is revelatory in some way, as opposed to maybe [what's revelatory] is what happens in the first hour of the finale." ?
During an hourlong December interview on the Disney-ABC lot in Burbank, Cuse and Lindelof displayed the self-deprecating wit and improvisational banter that fans have come to know in countless interviews, podcasts, DVD commentaries and convention appearances. If the whole Hollywood thing doesn't work out (and that's highly unlikely), they could easily become the hosts of a pop-culture-obsessed radio show. They're both skilled improvisors and they share a palpable affection for each other, but they disagree just enough to keep things interesting.
Perhaps they have such a strong bond with "Lost" obsessives because Cuse and Lindelof themselves are pop-culture junkies. During the interview, the endings of "The Sopranos" and "Battlestar Galactica" were analyzed and there were mentions of everything from Harry Potter to Don Johnson to "FlashForward" and "Twin Peaks."
Not to mention Ewoks.
That particular digression was vintage Cuselof (or Darlton, if you prefer that nickname for the pair), and is worth reading in its entirety in the transcript below. In any case, their discussion of whether singing Ewoks — the final image of the old-school "Star Wars" trilogy — helped or harmed that franchise was highly entertaining but it also had a serious point.
Whether or not you think the Ewoks were a good thing for the "Star Wars" franchise — and not surprisingly, Cuse and Lindelof's positions on the matter are too complicated to sum up here — one thing is clear: 1983, the year the furry little creatures made their debut in "Return of the Jedi," is a galaxy far, far away.
"I think the worst thing that’s happened in the blogosphere in general is that there’s this sense of needing to insulate yourself from being excited about something by saying, 'I’m very skeptical about this,'" Lindelof said. "With 'Avatar,' for basically four months, [the conventional wisdom] has been, 'I don’t think it’s going to be any good.'"
"Back when I was a kid, before 'Empire Strikes Back' or 'Return of the Jedi' came out, when all you saw was the trailer and you didn’t have the Internet, it was basically like, 'I just want this movie to be the greatest movie ever!'" he continued. "And what’s the matter with saying, 'I want Season 6 of "Lost" to be the greatest season ever?' But people won’t say it because it’s easier for them to approach it as, 'It’s going to let me down.'"
Depending on whether the show's countless online chroniclers and analyzers like Season 6, which Lindelof said will employ a "new narrative device," "we’ll be riding either a wave of goodwill into the finale — or bad will."
The catch is, when Tuesday rolls around, they'll already be writing the 15th episode of the 18-hour season.
As Cuse put it, "There will be no time for course correction."
Managing fans' expectation for the final season of "Lost" is a tricky endeavor. Certainly the network as well as the show's creative team want "Lost" to go out with respectable ratings (overall, the show's audience has declined about 30 percent from Season 1's average of 15.7 million viewers per week). But they also cautioned that not every episode will contain massive twists and surprises and not all questions are going to be answered to all fans' satisfaction.
"We feel that the story lines that ultimately will be the most satisfying are the character stories," Cuse said. "We are very well aware that for people who are really focused on the mythology, it’s hard to provide probably completely sufficient answers for those groups of people. So there will be there’ll probably be different levels of satisfaction based on what it is that interested you about the show in the first place."
Though it's probably a good idea to temper expectations of the final season, the truth is, "Lost" already helped raise TV viewers' expectations of what is possible on the small screen (and it's that kind of grandiose statement that was cleverly skewered by a recent Onion video: "Final Season of 'Lost' Promises to Make Fans More Annoying Than Ever").
Sure, "Lost" hasn't been perfect. But since it debuted in 2004 has been that increasingly rare entity: A mainstream hit that enraptures the public, the media and various genre communities. In this niche-ified culture, "Lost" has been broadly popular despite not being like anything else. Actually, it was popular because it wasn't like anything else (certainly its many imitators haven't captured what made it special).
And now that the end is near, its creative gurus don't want to do what the "Star Wars" prequel films did — deflate the magic of the story by explaining too much.
"We are very committed to this notion of not stripping the show of its essential mystery," Cuse said. "Mystery exists in life and we kind of always go back to the midi-chlorians example [in the 'Star Wars' prequels]. Your understanding the Force was not aided by knowing that there were little particles swimming around in the bloodstreams of Jedi. So we’re trying to find the right blend of answering questions, but also leaving the things that should be mysterious mysterious."
It was actually no surprise that "Star Wars" and "Avatar" and Harry Potter came up as much as they did during the interview with Lindelof and Cuse. As Onion AV Club critic Noel Murray eloquently argued in a recent piece about "Lost," the central appeal of the show may not be the smoke monster or the mythology or even the characters, as entertaining as all of those things are. "Lost" is a show that is fascinated with the art of storytelling itself.
"It's a genre-hopping story that pays direct homage to nearly every text that’s ever influenced its creators," Murray wrote. "It’s one long story, made up of a bunch of little stories. It’s a story about how backstories encroach and affect the main narrative, whether it be via time-travel or flashbacks (which are a kind of time travel). And, finally, it’s a story about the repetition of stories, and about which elements can be altered and which can’t."
I would go a step further and say that the show, by this point, has become the character I care about most. Hurley and Sawyer and Kate are on journeys, but so is "Lost." And starting Tuesday, this plucky, unusual show begins the final stage of its dramatic quest. It's a scary, exciting, pulse-quickening moment.
Lindelof is a fan of the Harry Potter books, and in some ways, the show that he and Cuse constructed is the television version of the bespectacled, resourceful Potter. Despite all the obstacles and danger he faced, Harry Potter was the Boy Who Lived. Over the past five seasons, "Lost" has narrowly avoided death, endured dire trials and unleashed exhilarating triumphs. It is the Show That Survived.
If "Lost" goes out with flair and the requisite number of shockers, if it keeps its sense of humor intact while putting lumps in our throats, it will have defeated Darth Vader. If the show goes out as entertainingly as it came in, it will have vanquished Voldemort.
Not unlike the Ewoks, it will have triumphed over some very long odds. And that'll be reason to celebrate.
Below is the transcript of Part 3 of my interview with Lindelof and Cuse.
NOTICE (PLEASE READ THIS): Do
not reproduce this entire story and interview on your Web site. Feel free to
excerpt it on your site and link back here (and if you do that, thank
you!). But if you reproduce the entire thing, I'll have to send you a
DMCA legal notice and that's no fun and it becomes a huge drag for all
of us. So just excerpt and link, please. Thanks!
Ryan: Just sort of circling back to when we were talking about the “Battlestar” phenomena and what went down when that show ended. When as show people have really invested in ends, I think people are dealing with this sense of loss. So their immediate reaction to the finale, and certainly this was true of me, is colored by the fact that it’s over. There's that period of mourning, some of which may be expressed as anger on the part of some fans.
Cuse: It’s true. You could break up with somebody in a relationship and even in the aftermath of the breakup you can scream and yell at each other and you know, toss your belongings out the window. But maybe a year or two later, if you run into that person on the street, what you’ll remember is …
Ryan: You’ll think, "Oh, there were some good times."
Cuse: You’ll remember the good times of that relationship and you won’t remember the fact that you threw their belongings out the window.
Lindelof: The story that I love to tell is basically, there’s a very, very fine line between television history and a complete and total debacle/cautionary tale. When J.J. and I were first pitching this version of “Lost,” the thing that sort of kept coming back towards us [from the network] was, "It can’t be like 'Twin Peaks.' Just don’t 'Twin Peaks' us." They were using it as a verb — "Don’t 'Twin Peaks' us."
It was like, "What do you mean by that?" And it was like, "Just don’t lead up to an inevitable, unsatisfying conclusion and then you’ll lose all your viewership." You need to drag people along. But you need to answer your mystery satisfyingly and every time you answer a mystery, there needs to be just enough [new] mysteries in its wake to make them feel satisfied.
The thing is, “Twin Peaks” was cancelled 15 years ago. They only made 30 episodes, and the fact that people still know what it is, and it is a cautionary tale, puts it in the pantheon of … you know, it’s an icon.
Cuse: No one’s remembering “Sister Kate.”
Lindelof: Right, except for you.
Cuse: You can’t even remember “Sister Kate.”
Ryan: No sir.
Lindelof: But essentially, the question becomes — in 15 years, are people going to say, “Oh, am I gonna get 'Losted' again?” You know? What is the verb form of "Lost’s" legacy going to be?
I feel really bad for all these shows that have come along since “Lost” was on the air, from "Invasion" to "Heroes," to "FlashForward" to "The Nine." Anything that is serialized and drawn out, people just put the “Lost” tag on it because it feels like its that kind of thing, even though the paradigm for those shows might be wildly different. And every one of those showrunners has to respond to [those comparisons]. Tim Kring went out of his way in the first season of “Heroes” to say, “We’re not going to be like 'Lost' at all, we’re going to answer everything very, very quickly, we’re going to move at a much faster pace. Our show is not about the questions.” And blah, blah, blah. And it’s like, why should these shows be compared to “Lost” at all?
Ryan: People want it. People want that experience again. They do. I mean, they want to be swept away and taken over by something that they just don’t completely understand. They want to have that completely unique experience — but in the same way.
Lindelof: But hopefully there’s the revisionist’s history won’t be, "I’ve wasted six years of my life on this show," it’ll be, "I really loved the experience of it, and the experience transcends the actual finale."
Ryan: Well, I felt like whatever I thought about the “Battlestar” finale, it was…
Lindelof: I know what you thought about the “Battlestar” finale.
Ryan: There were a couple of things on the first viewing I didn’t necessarily love, and then I interviewed Ron Moore and it took a few days for it all to sink in. I was so glad I saw it four days before it was on the air because it was like, having to write your thoughts on a finale an hour after it airs, that’s just impossible. I wanted to process it. So I got to watch it a second time when it was on the air and I'd lived with it for a few days and really, overall, there were a lot of parts I loved and I was OK with the couple things I didn't love.
Cuse: And again, your feelings now are probably different now than they were a half an hour after.
Ryan: Yeah. But even right away, I said to myself, "You know what I'm going go remember a year from now? [Two scenes late in the finale involving Adama and Roslin. I'm redacting the specifics for those who haven't seen 'Battlestar.']" And that turned out to be absolutely true.
I did not like [the very last scene.] But to judge the entire series by that is ridiculous. Overall, I thought, this is a show that I have a lot of affection for, so I’m not going to judge those years of enjoyment differently due to one three-minute scene. People’s intensity sometimes frightened me. It's like, aren’t we only this wound up because we care? Isn't caring a good thing? Why are people so personally offended by this or that?
Cuse: You know, the association is – it’s like sports games, I mean people are very passionate about it and we recognize that people have a proprietary sense about “Lost” that actually transcends our stewardship and we recognize and appreciate the fact that people [have a sense of ownership.]
We’ve had the experience where we provide answers and go – "No, that’s not everything that there is to be said about that." And we kind of embrace that. At a certain point we’d go, "OK, at the end of the show, everyone will be completely entitled to their opinions about whether it was satisfactory, whether their own question got answered or didn’t get answered." There’s a debate that goes on between episodes of shows and there will be a debate that goes on after “Lost” is over and we accept that.
Lindelof: I think the worst thing that’s happened in the blogosphere in general is that there’s this sense of needing to insulate yourself from being excited about something by saying, “I’m very skeptical about this.” With "Avatar," for basically four months, [the online conventional wisdom] has been, "I don’t think it’s going to be any good, it doesn’t look good, it’s going to suck." Back when I was a kid, before “Empire Strikes Back” or “Return of the Jedi” came out, when all you saw was the trailer and you didn’t have the Internet, it was basically like, “I just want this movie to be the greatest movie ever!”
And what’s the matter with saying I want Season 6 of “Lost” to be the greatest season ever? But people won’t say it because it’s easier for them to approach it as, "It’s going to let me down, it’s going to disappoint me, it’s going to prove that they were making it up as they went along, they’re not going to answer the questions that I really care about." So if we do those things, they’ll be like, “Oh, I’m pleasantly surprised.”
But if we don’t do those things, then they’ll be like, "It’s exactly what I’ve been saying all along." It’s like, "Is that what you were saying all along? Because then you’re a moron for watching the show for five seasons." You know? Why would you ever let us set you up for such a grand disappointment?
But I do feel like that’s a very pervasive sort of feeling. That feeling existed before the “Battlestar” finale. And guess what? Those people got to say, “I was right.”
Ryan: I think that for some people that’s the important thing — to be "right" rather than to just get into it.
Lindelof: But if they had watched the finale through the prism of, "I want to love this ending, I think it’s going to be awesome and this show has been a big part of my life…."
It’s kind of the way that I look at the Ewoks when I saw “Return of the Jedi.” Only now do I go, "That’s not — Is that good?" But when I saw it, I wanted to love it so much that my entire viewing experience was colored by my enthusiasm for it. That’s why our kids love the prequels — they don’t understand the difference between being excited for something and what its actual quality is.
Cuse: I was like, “What? The Ewoks were singing?” But then in hindsight now and re-watching, I accept that that’s a part of it. I have total acceptance for the Ewoks singing.
Lindelof: I love the Ewoks, don’t get me wrong on this.
Cuse: You don't. You’re doing some revisionism there.
Lindelof: There have been a lot of Ewok debates and Hurley has actually got on record on the show as saying that he was anti-Ewok.
Cuse: That’s right. Exactly.
Lindelof: So, it’s hard for you and I here to now to defend the Ewoks [given that] the show has actually…
Cuse: We’re not Hurley though. Hurley is an independent guy.
Lindelof: Aren’t we though?
Cuse: Are you saying Norman Lear is racist because he wrote Archie Bunker?
Lindelof: I think what I’m saying is that Hurley is a fictional character and you and I are real people ….
Cuse: Is that true?
Ryan: That’s not true at all.
Lindelof: If we really cared about the Ewoks, Miles would have said, “Hey, leave the Ewoks alone!"
Cuse: "Stop that. Leave the Ewoks alone." That’s true.
Lindelof: We didn’t really offer the David Kelley argument.
Cuse: The alternate explanation.
Lindelof: Yeah, we just offered one, and Hurley is the audience’s proxy.
Cuse: Maybe Mo can straighten this out and say that, yes, we do care about the Ewoks.
Ryan: So you're pro-Ewok? I just want to be accurate here.
Lindelof: I’ve wouldn't say we're pro-Ewok or anti-Ewok. We’re moderates.
Cuse: You’re a moderate.
Ryan: Are you neutral? Are you neutral on the Ewoks?
Lindelof: No, not entirely. Depends.
Ryan: All righty then. I asked fans for questions, and I think I've touched on some of the subjects they brought up, but I wanted to get to a couple more before we wrap this up. Would you ever write a book about the making of the show? You have said you’re not going to do any sort of postmortems…
Cuse: No, I don’t think so. Again, I think, for us, that would be in that category of mysteries that are better left unanswered. For us to provide – I think there’s this kind of horrifying image that one fan would say to another fan, “No, your theories and what you care about is wrong because right here, Damon and Carlton wrote in this book that I’m right.” That just feels inappropriate to us, and so, we don’t want to be in the business of interpreting or explaining the show in a way that provides a definitive explanation.
Lindelof: And the making of question is just another way of couching, "Were you making it up as you went along? We want you to prove by making a behind the scenes [book] that you guys always had a plan." They want you to provide the evidence.
Ryan: The question — "Were you making it up as you go along?" — drives me absolutely up a wall. If you weren't making it up as you went along, to some extent, then how do we get Desmond and Penny? How do we get Ben Linus as a major character?
Lindelof: But I understand why people need to ask it. We had a writer, David Fury, on the show in the first season and he didn't come back for the second season. He gave an interview to Rolling Stone basically saying, “Yeah, we made it up as we went along.”
And the fact of the matter is we would never controvert David’s statements, but in the first season of the show, we literally went from a February meeting to producing the pilot and dove right in. So, we didn’t have time to talk about the implications [of where every story element was going]. If a polar bear came running out of the jungle, we could have a conversation and say, “There were these people here on the island that were doing experiments on polar bears and their facility is on another island that we probably won’t get to this season, but this hatch is part of the these people," but we weren’t calling them the Dharma Imitative yet.
He’s absolutely right. But by the time we got to the second and third season, to say that we weren’t… that we could come in in the morning and break story without having an incredibly intense sense of what the answers to these mysteries were — who Jacob was, how many Others there were, how long Ben had been there, why they lived in New Otherton, what the temple they were referring to was, or why Alpert is immortal. To say that we didn’t know any of that is just insanity. How would we even be able to look at ourselves in the mirror?
Cuse: And yet the normal process of making any creative endeavor is, you have somewhat of a plan and then you find it as you go along. So it’s not a clear-cut situation. It’s not like we come in and just sort of type up our notes from mini-camp [for the show's writers] from the previous year. There’s an immense process of discovery, particular on a character level. But the answer to that question is no. You will not be seeing a behind the scenes or a "making of" [document of some kind that says,] "Here’s the definitive explanation for the show."
Lindelof: We do stuff for the DVDs, including commentaries, and we’re always willing to talk about how we generated certain ideas and stories and all that stuff, but at the end of the day, if [the question is] just a version of, "We really want to know how much of a plan there was versus how little of a plan there was," no one’s going to take our word for it anyway, so why bother?
Ryan: I won't ask the "what's next" question again, but I will ask if you want to keep working together.
Lindelof: Carlton and I actually haven’t spoken to each other in over six months. This is the first time.
Cuse: You know, we have an incredibly rewarding creative partnership and for me, our collaboration is probably the thing that is most enjoyable about the entire process. I think that having spent more time with each other over the last six years than with anybody else, including our wives and children, I think it’s reasonable that we’re going to take a break. You kind of need the chance to … we have certain areas of convergence of interests and we have other areas of divergence and I think it’ll be healthy for us to explore stuff independent of each other. But I think it would be great if we come back together and find something else to do.
Lindelof: I feel like the greatest sentiment I can express about working with Carlton is that, it’s very rare in life that someone who was your mentor and becomes your partner. Usually the ego’s involved or the sensibility of, "If I was someone’s employee, they will never, ever treat me as anything other than an employee and I can never look at them as anything but a boss." Carlton remained my professional mentor over the three years between "Nash" and “Lost” starting up, then it became this partnership and I just feel like it’s something that I’ve never taken for granted.
My hope is that – he and I are very good at partnering in general and it’s like, I wonder who he and I are going to partner with next, in addition to potentially partnering with each other again, or starting to create [a situation where we are] collaborating, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a 65-hour work week. I think we would appreciate it a lot more if we could do a nice eight-episode TNT series.
Ryan: A mini-series.
Ryan: If you have time, there’s another question from a fan. What do you enjoy more, plotting out the big arcs, or writing individual scenes and scripts together?
Cuse: I bet we could probably answer this question and we’ll each say one or the other. Because there is something enormously satisfying about just sitting at breakfast in the morning and basically concocting the large schemes of what we’re going to be doing in the show. Even we were walking over here today, we were talking about a series of events that are going to fall between Episodes 12 and 14. We were talking about how the series of events was going to waterfall during the course of those [episodes]. And it’s incredibly exciting to just talk about the big picture of that and anticipating, "Oh, this is going to really be cool for the audience to watch how this is going to go down."
Lindelof: The answer, I think, is that the best moment is when those things [i.e. the big picture and individual scenes] interlock, because each one of them brings their own frustrations. But we were working on an episode this season and there was a scene that was confounding us after the script had been written and we were sitting in Carlton’s office and we basically said, "The reason why this scene is so hard to write is because we’re actually trying to hold back this character saying what they really should be saying, and we’re in Season 6, they don’t need to hold back anymore. Just because we’re earlier in the season doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t say it."
So, we said, "What if they said this thing that we’ve been sitting on for three years?" And then we’re like, "Oh my God, we finally get to say it. We’ve known it, we’ve talked about it, we’ve inferred it, but now like someone in the position of authority is actually saying these words, giving this explanation." However the audience eventually – they might see that scene and basically go, “That’s it?” But for us, it was like this enormously exciting thing. The next morning we were still buzzing about it.
Cuse: Yeah. Or, last night, we were finishing up the script for Episode 11. On our last pass, we sit down side-by-side on the couch and we go through it and we do pencil notes on scenes together. There’s that wonderful sense of completion when we go act by act and we’re doing the final sets of revisions on each scene and it’s the final polish. There’s something really rewarding when you actually get it done and we’re both at that place where, yeah, this is exactly what we want and we get that moment of confluence, which is great.
Lindelof: Then we looked at each other and said, this is the last – you know every episode is character-centric, this is the last [fill in the blank] episode that we’re gonna write for “Lost,” ever.
Ryan: You’re writing the finale, am I right?
Ryan: Just you two? Not anyone else?
Lindelof: Well, we’re not sure whether or not it’s going to be like “Exodus: Part 1” and “Exodus: Part 2” where basically the penultimate episode [of the season] is actually Part 1 of the finale. So, technically speaking, the final two hours of the show will be scripted entirely by Carlton and I and the penultimate episode will be written by other writers.
Ryan: And it will be a three-hour finale though, airing over two weeks?
Lindelof: I’m sure the network will sell it as a six-part finale if they can.
Cuse: There’s a 2-hour series finale, but we always consider the penultimate episode as a way, sort of the ramp-up to it. In our story brains, the 16th hour is sort of the first part of the finale and then 17 and 18 is when we bring it home.
Ryan: Is Jack Bender directing the finale?
Cuse: He’s definitely directing it. He’s been such a humungous part of the show and he’s our third partner in Hawaii. You know there wouldn’t be anybody else to do it besides him.
Mo here: If you read this far — and you read Part 1 and Part 2 also — first of all, thank you!
Secondly, get yourself a sandwich! You deserve it.
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