By Bill Keveney, USA TODAY
The sixth and final season of Lost is being filmed here. And the level of secrecy would make the founders of the Dharma Initiative proud.
Producers have gone silent regarding details of the epic ABC adventure, which starts its final approach with a two-hour season premiere Tuesday (9 ET/PT). They hope to spring new surprises on a dedicated audience already mesmerized by the twists and turns of the Oceanic 815 plane crash survivors on an eerie island.
"We're in total blackout mode," executive producer Carlton Cuse says. "We want the audience to experience the premiere cold."
USA TODAY visited Lost's set late last year in a lush, tropical area framed by familiar mist-shrouded mountains — though the juicy details still fall under the Cone of Silence. In interviews here and elsewhere, however, the producers and actors discussed the unlikely journey of a groundbreaking, critically acclaimed series that has embraced quantum mechanics, romantic triangles, flashes backward and forward, a monster shaped from smoke and an island research project called Dharma.
"When I think about the premise of this show and what this show has done, there were just so many ways it could have blown up in our faces," says Matthew Fox, who plays the penitent hero, Jack. "What they've done with it, how big and the scope of the show, I've just been so impressed. I always look forward to reading the next script, (and) this year has a heightened anticipation because we're moving toward the end, and much will be revealed."
When viewers last saw Lost in May, it indeed appeared to blow up, as Juliet's (Elizabeth Mitchell) efforts to detonate a nuclear bomb ended the season in a white flash. Jack's plan was to explode the device in hopes it would prevent the plane crash from ever having happened.
Although fans must stew a few days longer before learning whether Jack's plan works, the season isn't an entire mystery:
•Season 1 favorites still on board include Jack, Kate (Evangeline Lilly), Sawyer (Josh Holloway), Sun (Yunjin Kim), Jin (Daniel Dae Kim), Hurley (Jorge Garcia), Sayid (Naveen Andrews) and Locke (Terry O'Quinn) — or at least a Locke look-alike — with Claire (Emilie de Ravin) returning after a season away.
•Departed characters — several in the dearly sense of the word — will return, including some who go back to the beginning. Confirmed returnees include Charlie (Dominic Monaghan), Boone (Ian Somerhalder), Michael (Harold Perrineau), Charlotte (Rebecca Mader) and Libby (Cynthia Watros). Mitchell will appear, too.
•There will be a symmetry with the first season, in tone, in storytelling technique and in reminders of where characters were then, emotionally and otherwise, compared with where they are now. At the same time, the series will be trying something different narratively, too.
Producers will say that Season 6 won't be quite as challenging as Season 5, which delved into the intricacies of time travel.
"Last year was like a graduate course in physics, and this year is like a graduate course in the humanities," Cuse says. "To us, the important thing this year is to end the character stories well. There are significant questions to answer, but we hope the audience embraces the final season of the show because it wants to see what happens to these people."
The Jack-Locke relationship, a core Lost dynamic that began as a question of science vs. faith, will be one situation to watch.
'Lost' cast stays in the dark
Producers have long known the ending, but cast members say they don't, which puts them in the same position as Lost fans.
"I'm further from it than I was," says Michael Emerson, who plays the manipulative Ben. "I thought when we began (shooting) Season 6 that I'd begin to see the end and go, 'Aha! This is how it's going to go.' I'm more confused about it (now) than I was last summer."
Beyond the specifics of the ending, what stands out about Lost is that it has one that has been planned since 2007. Rarely, if ever, does a successful TV series schedule its conclusion that far in advance, but Lost's producers wanted an endpoint to tell the story properly. (And it's a real end: Producers say they plan no cliffhangers, spinoffs or movies.)
"The show needed to have an ending. It was brave for them to do that," Yunjin Kim says. "Usually, networks want to prolong shows as long as possible."
Having an ending has allowed writers to control the pace of the story and decide when to reveal answers. To that end, "we're taking on some of the biggies right out of the gate," executive producer Damon Lindelof says.
"It would be a huge mistake to wait until the final episodes of the series to start to answer these questions," he says, "because the entire season is predicated on beginning to answer them in the premiere."
Questions will be resolved
They don't promise to answer every single question viewers might have, but they are eager to hit the big ones; the Emmy-winning series has been both hailed and criticized for a complexity that has cost it viewers over the years. From a Season 1 high of 16 million viewers a week, Lost has drifted lower, to last season's 11.3 million average — though it performs well among advertiser-coveted young adults, and is one of TV's most timeshifted series.
Daniel Dae Kim believes those who have remained will stick around for the finish. "That's one of the advantages of having a definite endpoint. Once you're invested and have come five-sixths of the way, it's not that much further to the finish line," he says.
Lilly says she believes Lost will leave a powerful legacy. "I hope and suspect that it will go down in time as a precedent-setting television show, that it will be the show that changed the face of television in the early 2000s. I see our show as fitting in with a very well-esteemed group of entertainment programs, Star Trek being one of them."
It feels different on set because it's the last season, Garcia says. "In some ways, it's like your senior year in high school. You know the sad part's coming, but so far it's been a lot of fun."
Whatever sadness there is, all agree it's time.
"After the pilot aired, people said, 'Come on, honestly, how long do you think this show is going to last?' If we had said, 'About 120 episodes, six years from now,' people would have laughed at us and said 'You're crazy,' " Lindelof says. "But now that we're looking down the tunnel and seeing the light at the end of it, it feels like that was the exact right amount of time."