Monday afternoon, screenwriter and co-creator of Lost Damon Lindelof vanished–from Twitter, anyway. He issued one final tweet–“After much thought and deliberation, I’ve decided t”–and then his account was disabled. Gone, poof, cue black title card with the blurry inscription “LOST.”
As in many of Lindelof’s creations, there was a mystery—Why?—and Lindelof is not talking about it. But there were clues enough left behind, exhibit A being a confessional essay he wrote upon the ending of Breaking Bad, which he loved. A lot of other people loved it too, and felt compelled to express said love by going on Twitter to tell Lindelof how much they felt, three years later, the Lost finale sucked in comparison (@-replied, to make sure he’d see it).
And that, he wrote, forced him to confront what he’d been doing since the series ended. His career moved on–Prometheus, Star Trek, a series in the works for HBO–he, like Jack, kept having to go back. He kept getting online flak for Lost’s finale, reading it, engaging it, retweeting it. “Alcoholics are smart enough not to walk into a bar,” he wrote. “My bar is Twitter.” But no more, he wrote: “I will finally stop talking about it.” And maybe unplugging Twitter was the only way to make sure he stayed clean.
[Note: I had issues with the last season of Lost, but I loved the show, still do, and I thought the finale was powerful and moving. You can read what I wrote about it. I’m not really interested in re-arguing it right now, but God knows I can’t keep anyone else from doing so.]
It’s a shame, and it’s probably for the best. Lindelof belonged on Twitter: he was nimble, easily funny, generous with his attention, and a hoot to follow. (Example? Google “Lindelof Justin Bieber hat.”) Lindelof had no business being on Twitter: he was a target and he fed the trolls from a bucket.
Yeah, I know: look at the professional critic telling people not to complain about a TV show! But much of the vitriol aimed at Lindelof–by a tiny minority of Lost watchers, I’m sure, but an intense one–was viciously personal and relentless, even after years. And I know this because Lindelof relayed so much of it. (Not all the hits came from random tweeters, either. When George R. R. Martin trashed the Lost finale, Lindelof took his hurt wryly public: “In related news, my therapist just hit the jackpot.”)
It wasn’t that it all rolled off his back: it very clearly didn’t. Anyone who spends much time online goes through a version of this experience: maybe you shouldn’t get in that Facebook politics argument, maybe just don’t reply to that e-mail. But it doesn’t last years for most of us (even magazine columnists who write something someone hates). It did for Lindelof, and he didn’t have to engage–his Lost partner Carlton Cuse is on Twitter but generally didn’t. Yet it seemed like he needed to.
Maybe it was therapeutic. Apparently it wasn’t therapeutic enough.
I’ve been on Twitter for over four years; as a writer and a pop-culture fan, I couldn’t at this point imagine not being. It builds a community. It allows a running conversation. It turns an often-solitary act into a party. But it also empowers a small, select, petty group to become professional grudge-holders. It allows them to act on a mentality of entitlement and CAPS-LOCK betrayal–you owe me for all my hard work watching a TV show!–and to pop up from the shadows, again and again, for years, like picketers outside someone’s virtual house. (You’re supposed to call them “haters,” but “hate” is too deep a word to waste on such mean-spiritedness.)
For a lot of TV creators, the good stuff about social media far outweighs the bad. Shonda Rhimes conducts a kind of fan happy hour on her feed, and Twitter helped grow Scandal into a hit. Bones’ Hart Hanson, Girls’ Lena Dunham, Parks and Recreation’s Mike Schur, and many others seem to thrive on the give and take.
But for others–especially the creators of dramas with intensely invested fans–a judicious amount of “don’t read the comments” applies. David Chase made The Sopranos finale–luckily before the rise of Twitter–and got the hell out of Dodge. David Simon stays off Twitter on principle, and probably all parties concerned are happier that Aaron Sorkin never more than dabbled in the medium. (Then there are the Dan Harmons and Kurt Sutters, for whom Twitter is a place of intense connections and more-intense verbal brawls.)
Lost, though, was a show that always existed in conversation with its fans. It makes sense, then, that for Lindelof that conversation had to continue, even when it turned ugly. Not all ugly, mind you, or even mostly; since the news of his leaving, I’ve seen much more regret and good wishes than “Don’t let the door hit you” reaction. (That’s the thing about Twitter; what you experience is often what you choose to see.) It’s been fascinating, though, watching Lindelof work publicly through the need to worry at his wounds. And mostly, I’ll miss the mini-updates from a brilliant, imperfect guy who makes me laugh.
But I shouldn’t get maudlin here: Damon Lindelof isn’t actually disappearing. (Also on Twitter, as on Lost, the departed can easily come back; Sutter has, for instance.) Social media is a rich world, but it’s not the world; and if this helps Lindelof do the actual writing that the rest of us obsess over in 140-character bursts, so much the better. Maybe you liked Lost’s ending less than I did, maybe more, but one thing I took away from it applies here: sometimes it really is liberating to let go and move on.