Television The Men Who Made ABC’s ‘Lost’ Last Mario Perez/ABC
A scene from “The Candidate,” an episode from the sixth and final season of the ABC series “Lost,” whose concluding installment will be broadcast on May 23.
By LORNE MANLY
AFTER six twisty seasons filled with time-traveling castaways, mysterious happenings on a tropical island, fervid arguments about faith versus reason and enough hook-ups and smackdowns to rival Craigslist and “Raw,” “Lost” comes to an end on May 23. And on the first Monday of May, with just hours to go before the show runners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse have to finish the final cut of the two-and-a-half-hour finale, the bungalow that houses the creative team of “Lost” on the Disney lot here had a forlorn air to it.
Most of the writers had been gone for weeks. Packed boxes lined the walls. Even the video arcade games in the common area — Asteroids, Battlezone and Multicade — were uprooted that morning and returned to their owner, J. J. Abrams, a creator of the show with Mr. Lindelof. But the simpatico team of Mr. Lindelof and Mr. Cuse, who joined early in the first season to help oversee the show, appeared upbeat despite a week of little sleep. Concluding the popular series may be bittersweet, but the two men are going out on their own terms, having persuaded ABC three years ago to grant them this creative closure even if the show were still riding high in the ratings.
Over breakfast (which they literally shared), Mr. Lindelof and Mr. Cuse spoke about the show’s most important big theme, the role of fate in their own story telling and just how much of the ending was known from the beginning. Below are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Q. You both have decided to pull a David Chase: that like the creator of “The Sopranos,” you weren’t going to answer questions about the ending and the larger meanings of the series. Why did you make that decision?
CARLTON CUSE We’ve kind of done the same thing every other year too, which is, we haven’t talked after the finale for some period of time because we want the audience to have a chance to digest the show and arrive at their own conclusions. We think it would be sort of enormously both presumptuous and frustrating for the audience to have someone say, “No, what you think is wrong because this is what Damon and Carlton said.” We think one of the things that’s been the coolest about “Lost” is that there’s a lot of intentional ambiguity, and there’s a lot of room for debate and discussion.
Q. Your show traffics in a lot of big themes — fate versus free will, good versus evil, faith versus reason, how often Sawyer should be shirtless. Ultimately, what were the most important themes for you in this series?
DAMON LINDELOF If there’s one word that we keep coming back to, it’s redemption. It is that idea of everybody has something to be redeemed for and the idea that that redemption doesn’t necessarily come from anywhere else other than internally. But in order to redeem yourself, you can only do it through a community. So the redemption theme started to kind of connect into “live together, die alone,” which is that these people were all lone wolves who were complete strangers on an aircraft, even the ones who were flying together like Sun and Jin. Then let’s bring them together and through their experiences together allow themselves to be redeemed. When the show is firing on all pistons, that’s the kind of storytelling that we’re doing.
I think we’ve always said that the characters of “Lost” are deeply flawed, but when you look at their flashback stories, they’re all victims. Kate was a victim before she killed her stepfather. Sawyer’s parents killed themselves as he was hiding under the bed. Jack’s dad was a drunk who berated him as a child. Sayid was manipulated by the American government into torturing somebody else. John Locke had his kidney stolen. This idea of saying this bad thing happened to me and I’m a victim and it created some bad behavior and now I’m going to take responsibility for that and allow myself to be redeemed by community with other people, that seems to be the theme that we keep coming back to.
Q. These are big themes for not necessarily the most hospitable host, a network series. How do you find a way to work these themes in while dealing with the constraints of, you’re not on cable channels like AMC or even HBO, you’re on ABC, and you still need that significant audience?
CUSE I think it’s because we always put the entertainment value first. While these ideas are very important to us, we try very hard to not be precious or pretentious about it. One of the concepts we always talk about is this idea of intensity — that we want an episode of “Lost” to provide a very intense emotional journey, and it’s funny because people who actually read our scripts are kind of amazed because they’re incredibly blue. And this is because we are writing the show here in Burbank and we’re sending it 3,000 miles electronically to Hawaii, and we want everyone who’s prepping the show — the directors who are directing the show and most of all the actors who are watching the show — to understand that even though we’re on network television and the characters can’t say that word, it conjures for them a notion of intensity and kind of conviction to whatever the emotion is that we’re trying to sell in a given scene. The thing that we actually do is we take the nemesis of network television — the act structure — and we try to turn it to our advantage. We have six commercial breaks in an episode of “Lost,” and so our goal is when we’re breaking stories, how are we going to really make each one of these commercial breaks really exciting. Those questions led to a lot of really intense scenes and cool reversals and surprises, and I guess it must have been how Dickens would cliffhanger the end of his serials in the newspaper when he was writing them to try to get people to show up the next day.