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Lost Endweek: Cuse and Lindelof Interview, Part Three

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This is the last of three parts of my interview with Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof on April 19. Here’s part one and here’s part two of the interview.

* As a result of [the growth of media platforms], you have a very involved fan base. Is there there a point at which you kind of need to plug your ears and not pay attention to all the feedback that’s out there?

DL: It’s a constantly, you know, evolving thing that will go all the way up until the finale itself airs. [Ed.: And how!] The fact of the matter is we are writing a television show that’s very survival is dependent on keeping people watching it. So, just on a pragmatic level, we care what the audience thinks. Also, on an emotional level. We want to know that the message that we are putting out there is actually being received and when it’s being missed, we get incredibly sensitive to it. We basically say, Oh my god, we’re trying to say this, but that doesn’t seem to be landing in some way. But more often than not, we want validation. So we’re saying, we’re trying to say this and see if that landed.

CC: There’s also been this evolution –

DL: You can go down the rabbit hole. There’s a very vocal minority that is a little bit more interested in the resolution of the island mysteries than they are in you know, the story that we’re telling. And that can make you crazy because suddenly you start saying, maybe we should figure out how to tell how Hugo Reyes has got the name Hurley. And then you remind yourself, that’s not germane to our story and we’d be bending over backwards to do that and we’d be forced into a scene that doesn’t belong just to appease Lost fan 108 [Ed.: !], you know, here on this blog. So, at a certain point, you have to say, hey you guys trusted me to drive the bus and we’re going to get you to where we’re taking you, but we’re not necessarily going to tell you where it is. But we do really care what people think of the show. And that’s why we do podcasts, and Comic-Con and we open ourselves up to take criticism and questions and you know, we want to create a sense of, hey, we want to know what you guys think about what we’re doing.

CC: The other thing which we can do in things like our podcasts and our connectivity with the audience is kind of help steer the audience or prepare the audience for certain things in the show. So, like last year, before the start of the season, we basically let everybody know that we’re going to be doing time travel. And it was a way of preparing the audience of the fact that the show is going to declare its genre origins much more significantly this season and we didn’t want the audience to be shocked. And this year, we knew that once this flash sideways started, particularly the difference between what went on in the character’s backstories in their flashbacks and what went on in the flash sideways might be confusing, and so we used our platform with the audience to explain to them: Okay, this is what you need to understand. You can watch these flash sideways as their own [separate] narrative. If you are a more committed fan then you will – should know and appreciate the differences and the differences are intentional, yes. Desmond was not on the plane. Desmond was not sitting next to Jack. No, Jack did not have a son [in the original timeline]. Those were things that we – and so it’s kind of great to be in an environment where that can be disseminated and then the fans that care more about our show and listened to the podcasts become aware that, OK, here’s a little additional information that might help you as you are digesting the narrative.

* In some early interviews about the show, at some point you were saying that anything that happens in Lost would be ultimately explained empirically, not through the supernatural. What happened to that?

DL: I would not controvert any direct quotes that were made along those lines. But my remembrance of it is that we said, we are trying to take the Michael Crichton approach. In those early seasons, yes, that is exactly what we did. That being said, by the third episode, Locke had gotten out of a wheelchair and walked again, and Jack was running after his corpse father through the jungle, and we would argue that we haven’t gotten any more supernatural since then. Like, yes, time travel is a more notably sort of sci-fi concept, but we were threading that idea into – and Michael Crichton wrote a book about time travel too. So, and Einstein, you know, theorized about time travel. So the idea that the show has gotten increasingly more bold in terms of letting its freak flag fly as it regards to sort of genre elements: it’s our firm belief that if you signed on for the show whether there’s an inhuman noise at the end of the first act of the pilot and a Polar Bear come traipsing out shortly after that, and then two episodes later a man who was seemingly a paraplegic is able to walk, and then you know, there’s this monster that consists of black smoke until the finale sort of rolling around, even six seasons later… I don’t know what the scientific explanation for the smoke monster is versus the supernatural explanation, but I think that —

CC: Oh, I’ll tell you afterwards. As soon as the interview is done, we’ll talk about it.

DL: A big part of it was, one of the roles that we played is assuaging the audience. We have to say, “Don’t worry honey, there’s not” – if my son, my two-year-old son says, “Is there a monster in my closet?” I say, “Van, there is absolutely no monster in your closet. I swear, I’m 100% sure.” The fact of the matter is, I’m not 100% sure, but I need to roll the dice here because he doesn’t want to hear me say there is a statistical probability that a serial killer could get into your closet. But it’s highly unlikely.

CC: That’s not really a monster though.

DL: Is it? Isn’t it?

* But in this last season, when you’ve introduced Jacob and the Man in Black– what did you call him, Smokey, the Man in Black?

CC: We call him Locke, basically.

* That does kind of introduce a kind of mythic element to the story.

DL: Sure. And we introduced that at the end of, you know, we started talking about Jacob in the third season. But we – in the fifth season finale, we showed those guys at the base of the statue and we said, just so you know, this is where we’re going.

CC: I mean, one of the sort of foundations of our narrative is that all sort of epic tales of this type kind of come down to a contest between good and evil, and we had to come up with our own representation of what that was going to be in our show. And we basically tried to put a little bit of a spin on it to make it feel different than in other big mythologic tales whether it’s the Lord of the Rings or the Chronicles of Narnia or you know Star Wars you know, they all – there is that sort of fundamental conflict between good and evil. And what we feel is really interesting about Lost is that the central way that plays out is with these characters, that within each character their own struggle to find – to win the battle of good versus evil is the thing that fascinates us most as storytellers. It gets dramatized externally [with Jacob and MIB], but for us we’re really most concerned with how is that going to work out for each character internally.

DL: I think on the larger a storytelling level, we propose this question in very, very stark terms at the end of the first season as Locke and Jack are walking out to the hatch with their torches and Locke says, “I believe we were all brought here for a reason. There’s something that we have to do here.” And there are two roads to go. One is, Locke may have been right or he may not have been right. And the other one is, let’s definitively try to answer that. And we went with ‘B”. The answer was, yes, they were brought here for a reason. And in the wake of that question, by whom, and for what. And by whom is Jacob. And for what? Is about to be answered.

CC: You know what? Don’t start using the word ‘whom.’

DL: I am a jerk.

CC: James is here.

DL: I know you listen to the podcast.

* I just listened to that one. The forbidden word! [On a recent podcast, a grammar-sensitive viewer wrote in to note that characters never use the word “whom” on Lost.]

CC: Now all of a sudden Damon’s like, oh, I can use whom.

* I hadn’t thought of it this way, but now that you say that, it’s almost – it’s as if showing us Jacob and The Man in Black is posthumous affirmation for Locke. I mean, Locke got killed, this character we loved, and we learned that he died terrified–

CC: You’re onto something.

* And then we find out he was right.

DL: That’s right. And he almost had to die in order to convince Jack that he was right.

CC: And then understand that posthumous affirmation is a very insightful notion.

* Would it be fair to say that there’s an attempt in this last season to ask the question, What is a happy ending? People talk about [the flash-sideways] – oh this is them getting everything they want. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it does raise that question.

CC: Yeah, that’s absolutely germane. We spend a lot of time talking about, what is a fair ending for these characters and you know, life is – life doesn’t just deal us good cards or bad cards, we get a combination of all of them, and basically it’s how do you sort out your deck? That’s kind of the way we approach the ending. And you know, we feel like the spiritual component becomes really important as we move to the end of the series.

* Do you still plan on going underground after the finale?

DL: Absolutely.

* Given that, is there any sort of preemptive or advance word you want to say to leave people with after they’ve watched the finale? What are you hoping people will take away from it?

DL: We wanted the ending to feel Lostian. And Lostian is the word we use to basically describe something that feels like the show. And the fact of the matter is there are people out there who think they know what they want the finale not to be, but there’s almost no one out there who knows what they want the finale to be. And it was our job to execute that. And all that we can hope is that in the wake of the finale, people can feel like that finale was perfectly suited to Lost in the same way that the MASH finale was perfectly suited to MASH. And the Newhart finale was perfectly suited to Newhart. But if Matthew Fox woke up in a bed, and was back on Party of Five, we’d be burned at the stake. So, you know, it’s all relative.

CC: I think that we feel like one of the reasons, one of the important reasons why we are going to ground after the finale is that we feel one of the things that people really [value] about the show is the ability to discuss it and debate it. And we don’t want to take that away from the audience. We do not want to be in the business of saying, this is what you need to think. This is what you need to believe. And we feel like the ending, while conclusive, is also one that will be – that leaves plenty of room for discussion and we think that that’s always been part of Lost and always should be part of Lost. Not only do we feel like provoking this conversation has been really an important part of the experience of watching the show, but I think it has also created a communion among the viewers and helped them kind of bond over the show, and we wanted to make sure that that was also part of the end. So, we worked hard to make an ending that was not only the ending that we wanted, but one that we feel different people will see in different ways. And we think that’s good.

DL: If I may go, one tiny step further, I would say that, you now in the wake of any other season finale we’ve done, the question has mostly been what’s going to happen next? Just like it is – but that question no longer exists after the series finale. And we anticipate that it will be replaced by a question along the lines of, What did they mean by that? And the question that we would throw back at the audience is, Well, what did it mean to you? The show is always held up a mirror to the watcher. The idea that your own personal relationship with “Lost” actually trumps any intention that we had as storytellers is the way we’ve always felt how we felt about the show and we wanted that to be the legacy of the show.

* One quick adjunct: Define “Lostian.” In your mind.

DL: “Lostian” is intriguing, more than confusing, intensely emotional, risky, slightly terrifying, and communal.

CC: I would say, intense and provocative.

DL: Use that in your Mad Libs. “Lostian.”