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Posted at 1:22 PM ET, 05/20/2010

Talking 'Lost' with Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse

By Jen Chaney

There's nothing like having a little pizza pie and talking a little "Lost" with the two guys in charge of the show: Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse.

I caught LindeCuse for a brief conversation at Angelo's on 53rd in New York City, right next door to the Ed Sullivan Theater, where the guys shared their big list of the top 10 "Lost" finale spoilers during a taping of "The Late Show With David Letterman." (Letterman's writers are the ones who come up with the items, but Lindelof and Cuse said they had to ask them to change one of those finale riffs because "it was too close to being true." I don't even know what to make of that.)

The segment, by the way, can be seen here:

But before Damon and Carlton made their "Letterman" debut, there was soda, pizza with pepperoni and a conversation that covered the polarized response to "Across the Sea"; the emotional response we should expect to have to this weekend's finale; their personal viewing plans for Sunday evening; the fact that Sayid, apparently, has laser eyes; and even their reactions to a couple of questions from you, the readers.

Jen Chaney: I want to ask you about “Across the Sea,” because the reaction to that episode was probably the most polarized of the season. You guys seemed surprised by that.

Damon Lindelof: You know, normally we feel we have a pretty good sense of what our clunkers are and what are our awesome episodes are and what they aren’t. This year we knew "Happily Ever After" and "Ab Aeterno" were special. We didn’t feel that way about "Across the Sea." We didn’t feel like it was going to blow people’s minds. But we did feel like it was cool to do an episode like that between the deaths on the show and then the rush into the finale.

We wanted the audience to sort of catch their breath, but more importantly we felt like, we’re going to give you as many mythological answers as we can in this hour and the rest of the show is going to be primarily character-based storytelling. There will be some mythological resolutions but we’re not interested in telling you what the origin of the donkey wheel is anymore.

We understood that people might be dissatisfied with what the answers were, in the same way that when we did the whispers thing, people were like: That’s what they are? But we didn’t really think some people would say, “It’s the worst episode of the show ever." It was so bad that they were not even going to watch the last three hours.

And on the other side, some people were saying it was one of the best episodes of the season, if not the series. So that was just as surprising to us. We’re like, really? “Across the Sea”? It’s cool and Allison Janney’s really good, but the best episode of the series?

Jen Chaney: Does that stuff bother you at all, when people are really negative or have a strong reaction? It must, right?

Carlton Cuse: When you’re a storyteller, part of the process of storytelling is the kind of communion you form with the audience to whom you’re telling your story. If some segment of the audience doesn’t like that story, it doesn’t feel good.

Honestly, I think the opinion of that episode -- there only were two times that’s happened to us in the history of the series. Once is with “Across the Sea” and the other was with “Expose,” where we felt like there was a profound difference between our view of the episode and the way some members of the audience felt about it. I would say some because I think the people who didn’t like “Across the Sea” were sort of vociferous in their dislike. There are many people who are regular watchers of the show who were just fine with the episode. They might not have loved it. We also feel like part of their experience with that episode is partly because of where it aired. It’s only three and a half hours to the end, and to air an episode with none of the main characters in it freaked people out a bit.

But in some ways, I feel like it’s a cautionary tale for people who are obsessed about their own specific little question getting answered in the course of the show. So when we say we don’t really want to deviate from our narrative, from telling an entertaining story to answer questions, maybe that episode -- you would look at that and say, here is an episode that in our opinion answered questions. It gave you the mythological answers to Jacob and the Man in Black. That’s what mythology looks like on “Lost.” The answers are never as satisfying as the resolution of what happens to these characters and the remainder of the show is really focused on he characters.

The ultimate mystery for us on "Lost" is not, you know, what is the origin of Jacob or where is this island in the South Pacific, it’s who are these people. That’s what we feel obligated to address in the final hours of the show.

Jen Chaney: After seeing this most recent episode, it’s clear that things from “Across the Sea” really flowed into that.

Damon Lindelof: And then the finale. Context is kind of everything.

Jen Chaney: Are you worried about the finale and how people are going to respond to it? Or are you just trying not to think about it?

Carlton Cuse: I think we’re actually kind of excited about it. We’ve known large parts of the finale for a long time and I think it’s like we’re finally going to get a chance to end the show and see how people respond to it. We’re really proud of the finale.

On some level it’s hard because how the audience reacts is kind of out of our control. What we can do is basically make the best version of the end of the show that we knew how to do. And we feel like we made the version of the finale we wanted to make. We’re proud of it. The actors who worked on the show are proud of it. The 425 people who worked on the show all seemed to like it. Everyone who works on the show, everyone felt like this seems like the right ending for “Lost.”

We hope that in community with our fans it will be a really nice, emotional cathartic experience that will happen when the show ends. So we’re excited about it. But obviously we understand there will probably be some people who don’t like it and there will probably be a series of reactions across a whole spectrum. That’s inevitable.

Jen Chaney: After the last moment of the show, what would you say is the emotion most people are most likely to feel?

Carlton Cuse: I hope sadness. If you go to a movie and it’s a great experience, the experience at the end of it is always like this sadness that it’s over, that your time with these characters is finished. There’s almost like an achy feeling that I have when I go to a movie that I love and it ends. And it’s like, oh, that’s it. That’s all I am going to get of those characters. I think that if we’ve done our jobs, people are going to be sad that they’re not spending time with these characters anymore.

Damon Lindelof: There’s two things that are going to happen when the show ends. The first feeling is going to be based on what you just watched, the actual content. And the other is the feeling that you have as a result of knowing that the show is actually over. And some people are going to confuse the two.

And I think one of the really brilliant things about “The Sopranos” as a storyteller is the artistry of it, which Carlton and I have talked about ad nauseum. Basically David Chase said I’m going to take away from you the first feeling, which is that feeling of “The show’s over. How do I feel about that?” and he replaced it with “What just happened? Did my cable go out? I’m a little surprised by this." So the idea that the show ended so abruptly, as opposed to, we moved out of the diner and he played the emotion of, ah, this is the final shot of “The Sopranos” -- this is what it is.

We did the exact opposite. We leaned into the emotion. And you know, we tried to take those two feelings and make them the same, which is that what you’re watching on the screen is exactly the same as “the show is ending.”

Jen Chaney: So in the context of “Lost,” it’s not going to be like the season three flash-forward finale. Which, at least for me, it took a couple minutes to process what that meant.

Carlton Cuse: You know we purposely didn’t give a name to the end of the finale. And the reason for that is that, those things -- whether it was the fork in the electric socket or the bagel or the rattlesnake in the mailbox -- all those things sort of denoted a surprise and a twist and a “What?!” We didn’t feel like that was the right ending for the show. It’s more of an emotional ending.

We feel like “Lost” deserved a real resolution, not a “snow globe, waking up in bed, it’s all been a dream, cut to black” kind of ending. We thought that would be kind of a betrayal to an audience that’s been on this journey for six years. We thought that was not the right ending for our show.

It’s hard to say too much about it, because we don’t want to spoil the ending. And we don’t want to talk around it so much that we’ve actually kind of allowed you to -- again, we don’t want to even spoil what the emotions of the ending are going to be. That’s what hopefully the enjoyment of watching Sunday night is going to be. It’s going to be the experience, without you having an idea of what’s to come.

Jen Chaney: So how are you guys going to experience it? Are you going to watch it live?

Damon Lindelof: Yeah, every year we get together with all the people who make the show -- just about 100 of us in L.A. We bring our spouses. This year, it’s going to be different. Our wives are going to watch it before that, but usually they’re seeing it for the first time.

Jen Chaney: Will this be cast and crew, or just crew?

Damon Lindelof: We’ve always invited the cast but normally they’re all scattered to the four winds. The ones who don’t live in Hawaii are off doing movies or whatever. This year, because they’ll be across the street doing the Kimmel Show, they’re probably going to come over and watch it. But they’re watching the finale I think on Saturday together, as a group because the Kimmel Show airs after the finale so the actors want to have seen it before they do [the Kimmel Show].

Jen Chaney: They’re taping Kimmel on Saturday, I guess?

Damon Lindelof: Sunday afternoon. So yeah, we’re just going to -- and when we say watch it, we watch it. We don’t, like, have cocktails while it’s on. The show plays, there’s a commercial break, you run, you pee, you come back. The one thing we never get to do, and we’ve been doing it over the last couple of weeks, is watching people watch the show who don’t know what’s coming next. Last night we went to the Knitting Factory --

Jen Chaney --Oh you did? To see Previously on Lost? [Note: This refers to a "Lost" episode-watching party, followed by a performance by the band Previously on Lost.]

Damon Lindelof: We crashed it. We didn’t tell anybody we were coming.

Jen Chaney: Did they get in touch with you?

Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse: No.

Jen Chaney: Because I saw them on Monday night. And I told them I was coming up here [to interview you]. And they were like, you have to get them to come to our show. That’s so great!

Carlton Cuse: We didn’t contact them at all. We knew they were having their Tuesday night screening and performance over in Brooklyn so we just rolled over there.

Damon Lindelof: We brought Jorge [Garcia] and Daniel [Dae Kim] with us.

Carlton Cuse: It was really great. It was kind of a wonderful communion with this group of fans that get together to watch the show. Hearing the band live was fantastic. They sound great. They are great guys. We heard their CDs and we’d seen them on YouTube, but live was a whole different experience. They’re a band that needs to be seen live.

They did a fantastic job, and kind of ending with this twist on “Amazing Grace,” I think it was very emotional because it was the last time they’re going to be doing that. They have another gig on Sunday night, they’re not doing it with their normal fan base. So it was the final time they were doing it, and we were there -- it was just, it was a really nice experience to be there and to sort of meet them and check out those fans.

Damon Lindelof: We kind of got there for the last 10 minutes of the show, and when Jack stands up and says “I’ll do it,” one person just went, “Aw, NO!” They clearly did not want Jack to be the new Jacob of the island. And I’m like, it’s so great that they don’t know we’re here because everyone is so polite when we screen a show. As soon as they said, “Oh, no,” all these people went, “Shhhh!” and then some other people clapped. And I was like, oh this is cool. I’m actually hearing people who care about the show so passionately that all those reactions to this one story can exist in the same room, but they’re all here. They’re all here on Tuesday night. They all want to watch it together. I think it would be the coolest thing ever -- I wish we had thought about this in advance so we could set up 10 DVD crews around the States basically just filming people watching the finale in real time.

Carlton Cuse: That’s actually an experience that we hadn’t had much. And it was last Thursday, we previewed Tuesday night’s episode and we had this "Lost" Live Event at Royce Hall at UCLA and it was such a great experience to watch an episode with an audience. We hadn’t done that since -- we had these Sunset on the Beach screenings but you’re on the beach in Hawaii and you can’t really hear the crowd because it gets sort of dissipated by the ocean and the fact that it’s open air. So to be in a hall with fans watching the show was so great. And everyone commented on how enjoyable it was because every line had people tittering or oohing or laughing or shrieking, it was just a fantastic experience.

It’s really cool to experience the show with an audience and we don’t really do that. We make it and we watch it so many times, by the time it’s actually on-air, we’re usually in the office the same night that it’s airing, pounding out the script for the next episode.

Jen Chaney: So how did you make yourself known at the Previously on Lost show?

Damon Lindelof: We kind of hid in a dark corner while they were watching the show itself. As soon as the show ended -- we had already introduced ourselves to Previously on Lost backstage --

Jen Chaney: --Did they freak out?

Damon Lindelof: Yeah, they freaked out.

Carlton Cuse: [Adam, one of the band members] was making lots of subtle acknowledgements from the stage that something special was happening tonight. And he kept looking over at us...

Damon Lindelof: And then sort of, one by one, people started going is that Jorge? And is he standing next to Daniel? And is that Damon and Carlton? But they were all listening to the band play. Nobody approached us because it was like, what do we now?

Carlton Cuse: Everybody enjoyed the band and we got to enjoy the band with them. Everybody was super-cool. It was sort of a slow awareness, we didn’t have them introduce us.

Damon Lindelof: And then the band finished and people just kind of came over and took pictures with their cell phones. It was totally awesome. [Adam] was up there saying, I can’t believe this is happening right now because he was, you know, playing for "those guys." And we were thinking the same thing, which is: Here we are. We’re at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn on a Tuesday night. The place is packed. People are screaming. And this band is singing a song called "The Constant." And it’s about Eloise the rat.

Carlton Cuse: An episode we wrote.

Damon Lindelof: It’s just as surreal for us.

Carlton Cuse: Probably more so.

Damon Lindelof: We are fans. Before we were on the dais at Comic-Con, we were going to Comic-Con. This is an entirely different -- people asking us to sign stuff -- you’re just like, this is crazy.

Carlton Cuse: We signed a lot of Dharma beer cans.

Damon Lindelof: They serve Dharma beer there.

Carlton Cuse: Homemade labels.

Jen Chaney: Since we’re on that fandom topic, after the finale is over I know you’re going into radio silence. Does it also mean you’re not going to look at blogs or Twitter to see what everyone is saying about the finale afterward?

Carlton Cuse: We’ll obviously see how people react to the finale. We definitely want to do that. We’re not going to...

Jen Chaney: Respond.

Carlton Cuse: We’re not going to respond, right.

We want people to have a chance to digest, discuss, debate and interpret the events of the finale. And we think there’s going to be plenty of things for people to discuss and debate, just like every year. We don’t want to be out there saying, no no no, you must think this or you must think that. We don’t want to sort of spoil the process, which is to let people process the finale and arrive at their own conclusions about it.

We’re not disappearing off the face of the earth. We’re not not ever speaking to the press again. But we do want to be respectful of that process and allow people time to kind of experience the end of the show without hearing from us.

Jen Chaney: Have you thought about what the statute of limitations on radio silence will be?

Carlton Cuse: No.

Damon Lindelof: The normal period has always been that we emerge at Comic-Con for our panel because that seems like it’s the perfect thing where you could do it. But this year we really hadn’t talked about it, and my guess is there will be a variety of ways to do it. One of the things that’s appealing to us is, we’ll do a podcast. Or we’ll do a story for some magazine or something like that. What we don’t want to do is be in the Senate hearing. We don’t want to put ourselves in a position where the only question that can be asked is: further explain. Dot dot dot. We have to say that the show speaks for itself without being obnoxious about it.

It’s not some sort of high falutin’, artsy, you don’t deserve to know the answers. We just feel like the thing that makes “Lost” “Lost” is the interpretive element of it. And the fact that some members of the audience are expecting the interpretive element to go away in the finale of the series -- it would be like having the final episode of “The Sopranos” not have Tony in it.

The interpretive element of "Lost," the fact that you immediately need as soon as the episode is over to seek out a community of people to express your own thoughts about it, understand what they thought about it and form an opinion, that’s the bread and butter of the show. The more we talk about what our intention was, the more we take it away from the audience. And we have no interest in doing that ever.

Jen Chaney: So I know we're getting tight on time, but I want to ask at least a couple of questions from our readers. Leonard Glickman wrote in and asked: "Would LOST's creative leadership support asking ABC to donate a few key LOST props to the Smithsonian instead of auctioning everything this summer? If so, what would they pick?"

Carlton Cuse: I think that we could certainly ask, and who knows whether the Smithsonian would even be interested. But Disney has their own archives and they’ll be keeping some of the “Lost” props. I’m sure they will be available for use at some point. A lot of them are being sold. But I think some of the key props Disney is keeping for their own archives.

Damon Lindelof: It’s funny because we have an inside joke in the writers’ room: That goes next to Fonzie’s jacket. But only when we’re talking about something that’s completely inconsequential.

Carlton Cuse: Like the arrow that killed Frogurt

Damon Lindelof: Yes.

Jen: A reader named Eric asks: "What was the point of Sayid's zombie-ism? Why rush the deaths of Sayid, Jin-Sun, and Lapidus? Surely giving each one a meaningful death over the course of the season would've raised the stakes."

Damon Lindelof: Why rush them?

I guess it’s impossible to answer that all in one fell swoop. The first is we don’t feel like their deaths were rushed. The thing is, you can have a death like Charlie’s where Desmond tells him in the sixth episode, you’re going to die. And he dies 13 episodes later. Or you can have a death that is surprising, that isn’t heralded.

Carlton Cuse: If it’s taking place four hours before the end of the show, that doesn’t feel rushed.

Damon Lindelof: Right. Sayid actually, technically, he kind of died in the premiere and was brought back to life. So he was living on borrowed time. The fact that he sacrificed his life to try to get the bomb away from our characters in that instant didn’t feel rushed to us. And you know, we stand by Sun and Jin’s death.

Carlton Cuse: Did you know that when he ran around the corner with the bomb, he activated it with his laser eyes?

Jen Chaney: I didn’t.

Carlton Cuse: You missed that frame?

Jen Chaney: I did.

Damon Lindelof: As for Sayid’s zombieism, the point may still to be determined in the finale, but the whole purpose of the storytelling was if you brought him back to life, and then you told him he was brought back to life by a malevolent force, does it become a self-fulfilling prophecy. So Dogen is basically saying you’re evil now, did that make it easier for Sayid to engage in evil acts? And the monster was able to capitalize on that. These guys say you’re evil, they tried to kill you. So why not kill them?

Sayid knows that murder is wrong. But it was sort of an enabling thing. So when Desmond says to him later, “You don’t have to shoot me just because Locke said so. And if you get Nadia back, what are you going to say to her? How are you going to say that you achieved that?” We wanted to show that Sayid still had a conscience. And a darkness growing inside you is still controllable internally. The characters are not victims of external forces on the island. They’re victims of internal forces. And that’s what we were trying to say.

With that, Damon and Carlton had to rush off to their Letterman taping. But not before they did a couple of favors for our readers. One of those favors is going to serve as a prize at tonight's "Lost" Happy Hour at The Reef. And the other is something you'll see come Monday, when Liz and I deliver that final, tear-stained dueling analysis.

By Jen Chaney  | May 20, 2010; 1:22 PM ET
Categories:  Lost, Pop Culture, TV  | Tags:  Lost  
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I can not explain how much I'm going to miss this show - it's honestly tearing me up that it will be over on Sunday. As far as I'm concerned, Damon and Carlton should receive an Emmy this year for the cummulative work they've done on the show. Everything about it will be missed - the written, the clues, the searching, the characters, and most of all, the smart-ness of the show. I don't think there's anything close to it that asks you to ask so many questions or ties in so many cultural and literary references to play along with its viewers. It's truly a huge accomplishment. I'm honestly mesmerized by the amount of work that had to go into this show - the historical and literary connections alone are mind blowing.

Posted by: mksmogger | May 20, 2010 1:49 PM | Report abuse

So we can all be relieved that it is verified there will be no Bobby Ewing or Soprano type endings for LOST.

Wish I was in DC so I could attend your party. Have a drink for me! ( I'll have one of those sex-on-the-beach-with-Sawyer drinks).

Posted by: hodie2 | May 20, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse

I can not explain how much I'm going to miss this show - it's honestly tearing me up that it will be over on Sunday.

Posted by: mksmogger

Me too, I get all verklempt thinking about it.

I'm so very glad we're not getting a Rosebud ending.

As great as it'd be to know ALL the answers, they're right in the sense that we don't need to know the answer to every little detail because ultimately it's about the characters.

And I'm gonna miss every one of them.

Posted by: wadejg | May 20, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Jen - a thousand thank yous for asking the question about donating key LOST props to the Smithsonian. LOST fans on the Hill, at the Smithsonian and throughout DC, please help spread the word and ask Disney/ABC to donate pieces of the Best. Show. Ever. to the Smithsonian collection.

Posted by: lsglickman | May 20, 2010 3:10 PM | Report abuse

This interview is an insult. We are being demeaned with the suggestion that we're mad that some tiny little plot detail didn't get cleaned up. It turns out that what really didn't get cleaned up is EVERYTHING. These guys lied to us. Three years ago they told us they had an arc for this show which would take us through the finale. That turned out to be a complete load of crap. These guys have just been mailing it in for years now, just throwing crap against the wall to see what sticks. This show was fun while it lasted, but it's going to go down in history as one of the biggest con jobs ever perpetrated on a TV audience. Sorry, I was a loyal fan, but you guys totally shafted us...

Posted by: jerkhoff | May 20, 2010 10:55 PM | Report abuse

The show is what it is. As mksmogger said, it was "smart" - the literary references, the sly nods to fans, and the complex-who-can-keep-up-thank-God-for-analysts-like-Celebritologists-and-others-so-I-could-ride-on-their-coattails plots and twists. It was its own world. Yeah, I would have liked some more answers, but I'm thrilled the network allowed the show to keep going as long as it did. And these characters will live on in television history as some of the best that writers have ever created.

Posted by: mat00 | May 21, 2010 9:48 AM | Report abuse

They basically said the conclusion will not be clear, but instead will be open to interpretation. People want real answers. If they were going to leave everything vague they could have ended the show two years ago.

Posted by: buffysummers | May 21, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for asking my question, Jen, as there's no way in hell I was gonna figure out the motivation for Sayid's zombie-ism. Also glad the actual mechanics of it said zombie-ism may yet be explained.

I guess I should have asked why they killed the gang all at once. Ah, well ...

Posted by: JetAgeEric | May 21, 2010 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Is LOST the most hyped final season of any TV series? Check out this list of TV's Top 10 Most Anticipated Final Seasons.

Posted by: catdigger | May 21, 2010 5:39 PM | Report abuse

Thank you so much ,Jerkhoff
you expressed exactly what I wanted to say.
I feel completely betrayed by season 6.

Posted by: robberdaughter | May 23, 2010 5:13 PM | Report abuse

I really did not appreciate it ,ladies, that you let them get away with that insulting answer that people want answers to silly little detaily questions, while in reality we are upset that we do not get answers to the big questions they have made us wonder about for seasons.(like the pregnancy problem ).

Posted by: robberdaughter | May 23, 2010 5:41 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, I gotta agree with the negative comments. I've resigned myself to expecting very little from the finale. That's fine... it's just a TV show. But it is disappointing because for five seasons this was one of the best things on TV, and the only show I've watched regularly since Seinfeld.

While I personally think that boiling the complex narrative of the previous five seasons down to 'good vs evil' is trite (at best), I'd have been able to look past that if they hadn't completely ignored the internal logic of the show this season. Other problems this season include the introduction of worthless characters, the absolutely horrid, momentum-killing episode that was 'Across The Sea' and completely ignoring major plot points that actually needed answers while wrapping up the series.

Others can forgive this by saying it's their prerogative to write the show as they see fit. That's fine. To me it's just lazy writing. And, unless tonight's finale rights a lot of wrongs, that will be the ultimate legacy of the show: missed potential.

Posted by: Skeeterrific | May 23, 2010 7:10 PM | Report abuse

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