In December, I interviewed "Lost" executive producers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof over lunch on the Disney-ABC lot in Burbank, Calif. In a week or so, I'll be using that interview to write a feature for the print version of the Tribune (I'll post that "Lost" feature here too).
But with the anticipation of the "Lost" Season 6 premiere building -- the start of the final season is only two weeks away on Feb. 2 -- I thought I'd start posting the full transcript of the interview. It's looong. Check back here for additional installments (there should be two more installments over the next week or so).
Yes, what follows is only about a third of the interview. I know! But given that Lindelof and Cuse were kind enough to give me an hour of their time, I'm going to share everything they said with my fellow island fanatics. Casual fans might not want to read the whole thing; if that's the case, there are a few choice excepts here. All my other "Lost" coverage is here.
This interview contains no spoilers for Season 6. I didn't (and still don't) want to know any specifics about the season to come.
I was interested in finding out how Cuse and Lindelof approached Season 6 and how they feel about the fans' expectations for the last season. This section of the transcript also contains the first set of 'Star Wars references, and there are several "Battlestar Galactica" and "Sopranos" references too. Also, giraffes.
In the next exciting installment: Time travel!!! Later: Ewoks!!!
Here's Part 1 -- enjoy!
NOTICE (THIS IS THE NOT-FUN PART BUT PLEASE READ THIS): Do not reproduce this entire interview on your Web site. Feel free to excerpt it on your site and link back here (and if you do that, thanks much). 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, mmmmkay? Thanks!
Ryan: Even as a hardcore “Battlestar Galactica” fan, I was taken aback at how impassioned people were about the last set of episodes of that show. And I was really unprepared for how harsh people could get over the smallest things and what they meant, and over what and wasn’t dealt with in those final set of episodes. It was as if everyone had a different checklist in their mind of what had to happen.
In approaching this last season, do you have the sense that it's going to be like that? Or did you just not think about the intensity of the fan reaction?
Lindelof: I’m sure we both have similar yet vastly verbose responses to that because we talk a lot about it and been talking a lot about the ending of the show for a long time. But I think that there is a disproportionate focus on a finale and there always has been. And this happens on a micro level, where the critically and fan-hated season, Season 3, also happens to have the greatest finale probably of the series. And the taste left in your mouth in the wake of the finale is really all that matters.
If the entire series is going to be judged based on our ability to execute the dive, you can’t do your job. Part of it is -- despite what people think or say, so much of it has been talked about and planned for years now that you’re just kind of executing the plan to the best of your ability. You're changing the plan when it’s not working, but otherwise, you’re kind of married to the inevitable -- the stuff that we want to do.
Cuse: We also spent a lot of time talking about how we don’t want the last season of the show to be didactic. It’s very dangerous to basically create a checklist of answers and then start trying to tick them off, because we want to make sure we’re telling engaging stories. For us really, while the mythology is important, for us it’s a story about these characters. And so most of our focus has been on, how are we going to resolve the character stories?
We really feel we are very committed to this notion of not stripping the show of its essential mystery. I mean, mystery exists in life and we kind of always go back to the midi-chlorians example [in the 'Star Wars' prequel films]. Your understanding the Force was not aided by knowing that there were little particles swimming around in the bloodstreams of Jedi.
There are sort of fundamental elements of mystery and magic to the show that are unexplainable, and any attempt to explain them would actually harm the show, and in our opinion, the legacy of the show. So we’re trying to find the right blend of answering questions, but also leaving the things that should be mysterious mysterious.
Ryan: Yeah. I did not need to know more about Boba Fett. He has a jet pack. He a ship named Slave 1. I don’t need to know more than that.
Cuse: Yeah, exactly.
Lindelof: And for us, there are questions that we’re clearly presenting. It’s not like Lucas ever presented in the first three “Star Wars” films, "What is The Force?"
And therefore, it’s like, when people ask us, "What is the island, what do the numbers mean?" You know, we don’t know how to answer the question, "What do the numbers mean?" We can tell you what the practical application of the numbers is in the series, but how do you answer a question like that?
It’s like, if you could have a sitdown with God and say, "Why is a giraffe’s neck so tall?" You know, because he can eat from large trees. And it’s like, "But you made all these other animals that don’t need tall necks to eat, so why?" So you get into a conversation where every answer you give only makes it more frustrating.
Cuse: Or that leads to the question of, did God in fact create that giraffe or not, which is also a very, very tricky question to attempt to answer.
Lindelof: Of course. Look, the franchise of “Lost” -- in addition to the primary franchise, which is the characters and the mysteries of the island that have always been in support of the characters -- there's this idea of, "What did they mean by that?" The zeitgeist of the show has developed around different iterations of that question. What do they mean by that?
Because the show isn’t like a traditional cop show where by the end of it somebody basically says, “Here’s who did it, here’s why they did it, and here is what is going to happen to them.” Or a law show with no ambiguity. There’s going to be an element of "What do they mean by that?" long after “Lost” is done and no matter what we did, there’s nothing we could do to prevent it.
Cuse: And also, we also are aware that answering questions inevitably raises other questions. We call it the Big Bang conundrum.
Lindelof: A.k.a, Kate’s plane.
Cuse: Yeah, if you go back and you say, "OK, Jacob is obviously someone who was of great significance to the mythology of the show, but who was before Jacob? And then but who created that person?" If you go back in the universe you can say, the universe was created in an event called the Big Bang, but then you can inevitably ask the question, "Well, what was before the Big Bang?"
I think the audience has to have a sort of respect for the fact that there is only a circumscribed set of answers that we can ever give. And we’re not sitting here trying to evade our responsibility to provide answers. We are going to answer the questions that, for us, feel like they need to be answered and we feel like we have some cool and satisfying answers for them.
Lindelof: One of which will be, we will answer what caused the Big Bang.
Ryan: It was giraffes.
Cuse: It was giraffes.
You know, ultimately, we’re excited though, because it does feel like we concocted the mythology of the show a long time ago and it’s like having a Christmas present and you kept it on the shelf a long time and people are finally going to get to open it and see it. So we’re finally getting to deploy the ending of the show and that is exciting to us. It is a story and I think as storytellers, that’s always what’s delicious -- you set up the audience and then you basically finish the story. There’s a payoff and we’re actually going to finally give the audience our payoff.
And we are going to go off the grid after the show is over to avoid the actual issue of having to interpret the ending. Again, we’ve always felt that one of the compelling elements of “Lost” is its intentional ambiguity. The fact is, it’s open for interpretation and discussion and we feel like we would be doing a disservice to the fans and the viewers to say, “No, you must only look at this in one way.” We don’t think that is really good for the show or for people’s ability to read into the show what they want. I mean, that’s what I like to do when I read a good book -- basically be able to debate what the real meaning and intention of that story is.
Ryan: So, what you’re saying is, you're going to France?
Cuse: We’re not saying. We’re not saying where we are.
Lindelof: It’s an undisclosed location.
Ryan: Is it Dick Cheney’s bunker?
Lindelof: Exactly. The one promise that we are making is that what we’re not going to do is leave the show hanging so we can pick up the ball and run with it two years from now in some other television project or movie. I think that we owe ourselves and the story and the audience a sense of finality.
Cuse: The most complete ending that we can give them.
Lindelof: Yeah, you can’t break up with somebody and say, "Let’s not go out anymore, but I still want to sleep together, I still want to live in the same house, and we should still go on dates all the time." No. If it’s over, it’s over.
We’re trying to create a season that really feels like it’s over as opposed to [left open-ended]. People keep saying, "Is there going to be a Sopranos movie?" And I actually feel the question in itself is offensive to anybody who likes the cut-to-black [ending] because it completely neutralizes the deftness. Carlton and I happen to be huge fans of the “Sopranos.” But to do a “Sopranos” movie, you could never watch that series finale again with any level of respect [if you know] know that something followed it.
Cuse: The other phenomenon which is interesting is that the immediate interpretation of the ending of “Lost” may not be the same as the ultimate interpretation of the ending of “Lost.”
I mean, you as a “Battlestar” fan probably have experienced the sensation that there was an immediate reaction to how “Battlestar” ended, and [now] it seems like there’s a bit of and evolving reaction to how “Battlestar” ended. And we anticipate that the same thing might happen with “Lost.”
There’s an instantaneous sense of loss, and using the “Sopranos,” again as an example -- a lot of people were sort of outraged because the story ended and it wasn’t conclusive, but then with some perspective and a little distance from the show, the metaphor of what Chase was doing there became clearer and that seemed to resonate better over time than in the immediate aftermath.
Lindelof: What was so impactful about that ending is, as a huge “Sopranos” fan myself, I can tell you almost nothing about that episode other than that Anthony Jr. was considering going into the military and then he got into a car accident. But the episode itself is like completely like sand through my fingers. I don’t remember anything about it. All I remember is that [last] scene...
Ryan: The only other thing I remember, apart from the final scene, is Meadow trying to park the car.
Lindelof: Right. All I remember is that Journey song. What are people going to take away from the final episode of “Lost?” Will it be the final image?
Cuse: Will it be the episode in its totality?
Lindelof: We keep getting asked about the final image and we’re like, "Yeah, sure, we know what it is." 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.
Cuse: But what’s happened is, I think people have expectations that have grown from other shows, where that last moment is such a sting. Whether it’s all of a sudden you see a snow globe [as in "St. Elsewhere"] or you cut to black or somebody wakes up and it’s all been a dream. Whatever it is, it’s like that final twist negates or completely overshines everything that’s come before it.
Lindelof: Which is amazing because the fact that people invested six years of their lives and over 120 hours on “Lost” and they’re going to pay it all off in this 30-second scene. "That is going to change the entire way that I feel about the show."
Cuse: We hope it doesn’t.
Lindelof: We’ll be riding either a wave of goodwill into the finale, or bad will, and it’s happened different ways in different seasons for us. Last year, [we had] the overt time travel story mechanism and the rise of characters like Faraday and the risk of putting Sawyer with Juliet. All of those things could have been [big problems] in any other world, and we were just fortuitous enough that it worked. But we really don’t have any sense of how this season is going to be received until it’s on the air.
Ryan: James Poniewozik [Time's television critic] has written about this, about how the finale of a sci-fi show can't just be a finale, it has to provide an Answer. It can't just be an ending, it has to solve the problem. And I felt like I definitely saw that split in the "Battlestar" fandom, between the people who wanted or feel they got character payoffs and the people who don't feel various solutions to the plot and the story were arrived at correctly.
Your show, if anything, has more fans and more different camps invested in different people and also in different parts of the mythology.
Cuse: I feel like there will be diverse opinions and again, we understand that the hardcore mythology fans might react differently than the people who are really waiting to find out if Kate ends up with Sawyer or with Jack. And for us, we feel that the story lines that ultimately will be the most satisfying are the character stories. In discussing the various conundrums of mythology answers, 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 group 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.
All we can do is trust our guts, which is kind of where we’ve been from the beginning. We started the show sitting in my office every morning having breakfast, talking about what we thought was cool. And whatever we both would get excited about would go into the show and that’s how we’ve approached it [all along] and that’s how we approached it at the end.
So, our barometer can only be: Does this ending feel satisfying to us and to the other writers? And if we can achieve that, we feel like we will have done what we can do and what we should do. Beyond that, I think every show – certainly a lot of people have rejected “Lost” along the way. We started with a 10.2 rating at the beginning of the second season and a certain group of people said, “You know what? This is too much to invest; this is too much mythological show to invest in."
People found a way to part with the show for various reasons, or they embraced it all the way down the line. So, we’re not trying to reverse-engineer the process, we’re basically committed to doing the best version that we feel we can do and that’s all we can do.
Lindelof: There’s a certain amount of security in the idea of saying the show was never supposed to work in the first place. In the wake of the pilot, to say, "This show is actually going to be on the air for over 120 episodes," we would have laughed in your face. So the idea that it sustained as long as it has and that some of our best episodes were in our fifth season as opposed to [earlier in the shows run], or that we were able to bounce back from some sub par episodes and sort of regain our momentum. That makes us kind of think -- it’s becoming a lot more about the journey for us than it is about the ending and we hope that that’s the show's ultimate legacy.
But I think the sci-fi distinction you make is an interesting one because, when you talk about the “Sopranos” ending or the last episode of “Seinfeld” or “Friends,” there’s only so many iterations of what can happen. The “Sopranos,” the only thing that people were talking about is, "Is Tony going to live, or is somebody going to kill him?"
With “Lost,” nobody can even guess what the ending is going to be. If you were to have a contest right now saying, "In one paragraph, summarize what you think the last episode of 'Lost' might be" -- if you say it to 100 people, you will get 100 paragraphs that have nothing to do with each other.
If you say that to somebody about the “Sopranos,” 50 people will say, "I think Tony’s going to get whacked," maybe 10 people will say, "Carmela is going to kill him, but he’s going to get whacked." But no one would have said, "They’re going to be eating in a friggin' restaurant -- onion rings." That's what was so brilliant about it -- how do you do the unexpected?
Ryan: You brought up in the first season and how you thought it would never last this long. As you look back, are there things you wish you could have done differently?
Cuse: No, I don’t think so. You could ask the same question about your life. I suppose everyone has regrets, but at the same time, you can either focus on your regrets as a path to nowhere. The journey of the show has been the absolutely right journey of the show. We had to take all the steps and the occasional missteps that we took in order to get where we are. So, everything that we’ve done has been sort of right in the larger karmic sense.
It’s interesting that you talk about this. One of the central themes of the show is free will versus predetermination and that same issue was very much in play in how the show was constructed. Yes, the mythological architecture was constructed back in the first season and between the first and second season, but the actual journey of these characters is something that evolves literally, episode by episode. We view the process of making the show as a very organic one. We watch what happens and how characters play off each other, what relationships are working, what aren’t working.
So there still is an element of discovery that is a part of getting into the finale. We sort of know what the Incident is, but how that’s going to play out with the characters is still something that we discover as we write each episode of the show.
We are not only the stewards of this journey, but we also have this wonderful process of discovery ourselves, which is, I think, the essence of the creative process. It's when you get into that transcendence where the show tells you what it wants to be and that’s something that we didn’t even anticipate. So, that to us is what’s fun.
Ryan: You guys have obviously a unique relationship with the fans. Have you ever changed what you wanted to do, or reconfigured what you thought you were going to do, based on good or bad fan reaction?
Lindelof: There hasn’t been an instance in the show where we disagreed with fan reaction, or were incredibly surprised by fan reaction. By the time fans saw Nikki and Paolo deliver their first lines of dialogue, we were already writing [their final episode,] 'Expose.' Had the fans said "We actually love these characters," maybe it would have given us pause, but by then we fundamentally acknowledged we had taken a shot and it didn’t work.
We did the Sawyer/Juliet thing last year. We were introducing Juliet into a relationship with Sawyer, [even though] the debate has been about whether Kate going to chose Sawyer or Jack. Now we’re changing it into a quadrangle for the first time, and it’s going to be it is a mature love at that – we don’t even see how [their relationship] really starts. When we introduced the audience to it, [the relationship] is already up and running for three years. That was the bold risk, but when we saw those dailies with Elizabeth [Mitchell as Juliet] and Josh [Holloway as Sawyer], they just sold it and we’re like, "This works."
If the audience doesn’t like the relationship, hopefully they won’t fault us for the idea and the good news is, “LaFleur” is Episode 8 and the season is only 16 episodes long and then Juliet falls into a hole. So, if they hate it, it’s only going to last for eight episodes, but it’s really going to govern every decision that Sawyer makes from here on out.
So, there are moments where we go, "What is the fan reaction going to be to this thing?" But especially since we started premiering in January [the season is mostly written by then]. On February 2 [when the final season premieres], Carlton and I and the writers are going to be writing Episode 15 of Season 6.
Cuse: Yeah, there will be no time for course correction. Last year we committed to this concept of time travel with a certain expectation that some people really might not respond to it. I think the most pleasant surprise was how much people embraced it, because it was difficult and it was much more overtly science fiction, and yet people really seemed to like the season.
But we have the same anxiety about what we’re doing this season. We kind of feel like the fundamental tenet that we’ve tried to follow as storytellers is "Be bold." But in being bold sometimes you fall on your face.
So we committed to a narrative approach this season which we feel is bold and it’s different than what we’ve done before. And if it works, it’ll be exciting, but it might not be everybody’s cup of tea either.