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Damon Lindelof interview: 'Leftovers' showrunner gets brutally honest

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For EW’s Fall Preview mega-issue, our original plan was to run a short Q&A with Damon Lindelof. That didn’t work out so well. Lindelof gave such candid, thoughtful and detailed answers to our questions about The Leftovers season 2, his career, Game of Thrones, and even the existence of God, that even just printing one of his longer replies would have used up all the space we allocated for the show. Instead, we’re running his entire interview (with some minor editing) below. What might strike you about his answers is that Lindelof (who famously draws a certain degree of flak online, especially for the ending of his ABC hit Lost) seems determined to be completely straightforward with viewers to the point of being self-critical. He doesn’t want to make promises he can’t keep, and in an industry full of desperate hype, he’s downright allergic to raising viewer expectations. At one point Lindelof bluntly declares, “If you didn’t like season 1 [of The Leftovers], you’re not going to like season 2 either.” Showrunners just don’t say things like that, but Lindelof does, and more (note: a couple answers in this interview previously ran as separate items online).  

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s start with The Leftovers. What does the change of setting from Mapleton, New York, to Jarden, a small town in Texas, get you? 

DAMON LINDELOF: There are shows that have intense emotional undercurrents, but it was never my intention for the show to be bleak. And I think that there was something about shooting in New York in the winter that kind of dialed that up. We had essentially shot out [Leftovers author and executive producer] Tom Perrotta’s book. We’d exhausted all the story there. And Nora writes this letter in the finale of season 1, and she makes a number of incredibly salient points about why it’s time to leave Mapleton. At the core of The Leftovers, it’s about watching people who want to feel better. They don’t want to wallow in their own misery. They want to figure out a way to feel better, they want to feel safe, they want to feel stable, they want to feel loved. But at the same time, they’re living on a fault line. That was the birth of this idea: What if there was a place in the United States that claimed that there were no departures there? Doing another season of The Leftovers where Kevin Garvey, police chief of Mapleton, New York, was doing battle with the Guilty Remnant — it didn’t feel like there was anything left to say about that. Had HBO decided not to continue, The Leftovers would have felt very complete, with those 10 episodes. If we’re going to do more, we should start from a radical place. 

After season 1, what was HBO’s opinion about what to do next?  

They weren’t saying, “Here’s what we want you to do,” they were saying, “What do you want to do?” And there was a period of a couple months where I was just decompressing and dealing with [the promotional tour for the movie] Tomorrowland, and just trying not to think about it. Tom and I talked about the Texas idea as just a very nascent idea towards the end of the season. But I was feeling like I would be okay if [season 1] was it. I’m really driven to have really something to say that can be really cool and not just have a gimmicky construct. I want to make sure that it’s more than that. I want to make sure that it feels real and it’s interesting and that we can earn it. The first conversation that we had with HBO … I just said there is this place in Texas, and here’s how it works, and here are some of the characters who are already there, and here’s what happens when the Garveys move there, and what do you think? And they were into it. So I think that they appreciated the fact that we were passionate about it. There are certainly things that I can say to HBO that they don’t love. When that happens, it’s very meaningful to me, because they usually give us a lot of rope by which to hang ourselves. When they tighten their hands into fists and I suddenly realize there’s nowhere else to walk, I feel like, “Okay, we should take a closer look at this idea.” 

I know you want to avoid spoilers, but can you tease to the story this season? 

The first season was really about watching these people live their lives, [without] the kind of narrative drive of, say, a show like Breaking Bad. And it feels like this season, it continues to not be that show — we want to construct episodes that don’t end on cliffhangers, but that have a little bit more narrative drive. There is a central storyline to the second season that goes beyond just, “The Garveys move to this place.” The storyline is: “The Garveys move to this place and then this thing happens, and then that thing that happens basically becomes the running vein of narrative throughout the season and that does create some tension and some suspense. But at the same time, we still need to be able to do episodes like we did last season where the narrative is that someone stole Nora Durst’s ID badge — these small-scaled stories that are kind of built for narcissists. Stories where this matters to me, but I don’t expect it to matter to anyone else. Whereas, like, Stannis Baratheon [on Game of Thrones], every decision he’s making is to determine whether or not he’s going to be the king of Westeros. I don’t think that The Leftovers can ever enter into that space of, “You are watching the most important people on the planet.”

Does the Guilty Remnant have a charter in Jarden, or are they completely off the board?

Jarden has certain rules that prohibit the Guilty Remnant’s presence. The Guilty Remnant is still present in the series. But they have not found their way into Jarden yet.  

You have a mischievous look on your face when you describe that [note: after my interview, when supposedly deceased Guilty Remnant leader Patti Levin was revealed as having a major role in season 2, I realized why Lindelof looked so mischievious]

The show isn’t exclusively set in Jarden this season. And I will also say that because nobody departed from this town, the emotional frequency in that place is going to be entirely different. If you’re basically in a town where nobody lost anyone, they’re going to be living their lives a lot differently than everyone else in the world. There’s some degree of being in the bomb shelter when the nuke went off, and then they came out and all of their houses were still standing. The way that I like to describe it is that the pressure of the season is basically generated by season 1 trying to get into season 2. It’s right outside the walls of it, and the Garveys are Patient Zero. They want to move on with their lives, they want to feel better. Nora wants to put the trauma of the loss of her husband and her children behind her, Kevin wants to put all the mistakes that he’s made in the past and the fact that he essentially failed — things did not go well in Mapleton when he was the chief of police. Jill wants to escape the energy of her mother having abandoned her, etc. So they’re all just basically moving away. But I think that we’ve all read that story before, and it’s a little bit of “wherever you go, there you are.” 

Is there a time jump?

“Yes and no” is the answer to that question. There is a concentrated effort in the storytelling to not skip any big moves. So I’m not going to say to you that the premiere of the show starts seconds after the finale of the show, but we do eventually go back and revisit the moments after [the first season finale].

What can you tell us about the new characters? 

I want to preserve some things. But we’ve got Kevin Carroll and Regina King, most prominently joining the cast, and they’re the matriarch and patriarch of a family that lives in Jarden, Texas, and have been living there for quite some time, and they will get to know the Garveys and become intimately entwined with them as the season goes on. Integrating new characters into a preexisting show is always a slippery slope, and we obviously did it in season 2 of Lost with the tail section. The primary pushback from the audience — and I experience this too when I’m watching a show — is, “Where are the characters that I love?” It takes me time to warm up to somebody new. So we’ll see. But I think that they’re a very interesting family.

Is there a specific reason it’s a black family being introduced into this semi-post-apocalyptic Texas setting?

There are couple things were going on there. I grew up in Northern New Jersey, and the town that I grew up in, Teaneck, was very racially diverse. Then I went to school in New York City, and I lived in Los Angeles. So there’s a diverse world I’m living in that I didn’t feel was represented in The Leftovers season 1. I thought Amanda Warren was an awesome actor who played Lucy, the mayor of Mapleton, and obviously Paterson Joseph played Holy Wayne. But other than that, we had no prominent actors of color on the show. So that was a part of it. And obviously race is becoming a huge conversation in our country, and also in our business. I didn’t feel like I had anything to say about race in the context of The Leftovers — like in terms of all these issues that the country is continuing to struggle with — but I did feel like if we were moving the show to Texas, it would be interesting to have a black family that’s prominent in the storytelling this season. 

You have said many times that there’s never going to be an answer for where the 2 percent went. But for writing purposes, do you have something in your head that explains it for you?

No. We don’t. But the characters on the show don’t know they’re never going to get the answer. So someone like Nora Durst, for example, who lost her children and her husband in the Departure, she probably thinks all the time about where they are and why they went. And the world at large, there are people out there ranging from lunatics walking down the street to researchers at MIT who are actively searching for an explanation. And we want to present those stories. We’re going to be throwing more theories into the world of The Leftovers as to where everybody went. 

So is the new mystery of why Jarden is a town with no sudden departures also then never going to be explained either? 

That is a very, very tricky question. I don’t think that the second season of the show in particular is interested in answering why Jarden was spared, because the answer to “Why was Jarden spared,” is a half-sibling of, “Why the 2 percent was taken.” I was listening to this podcast, maybe Radiolab, and they were talking about Blue Zones. Do you know what those are? They’re places on the planet where life expectancy is radically longer. 

And there have been a lot of research as to what those places have in common …

Correct. And one of the reasons is that the people in the Blue Zones eat a lot of beans. And another is that they don’t exercise strenuously … 

But are those the reasons they live longer? Or are those just coincidental things that all those places have in common? 

A-ha! Correct! Jarden is like a Blue Zone. There are all these theories in Jarden — is it the water? Is it the soil? Is it the way that we behave? Not to slight Wayward Pines, but that’s a genre show that is very attuned to the kind of Rod Serling-esque heightened reality where everybody in the town is connected by a secret. Jarden is not like that. It’s in the real world. There are many differing opinions in Jarden about why it’s exceptional, but it’s not like there are secret cabals in the woods and they’re engaging in a dark communion with Satan in order to have averted this thing. There are multiple theories amongst the townsfolk themselves as to why this may be. Some of them are superstitious. If you want to be fascinated, watch a baseball game with the sound off, and just write down any time you feel like one of the players is engaging in a superstition and you’ll never stop writing. It borders on OCD, in terms of the very elaborate rituals they have with their gloves and their hats and how many times they’re tapping the bat on the plate. They think that it’s generating a positive result for them — and maybe it is.

In terms of the supernatural elements on the show, will there be any sort of clarification in terms of how those fit into this world? Is there a spiritual realm that’s actually tangible within this world — especially after the incidents with Holy Wayne?

The show has a supernatural premise, there’s no getting around that. Here’s what I’ll say about Holy Wayne: He hugs Nora and it seems to work. He seems to actually demonstrate this power of being able to take someone’s pain away. But then Nora comes downstairs a month later, and her family is basically sitting at the table, and she should be like, “What are these dummies doing here? This is stupid.” But that’s not the reaction that she has. So are Holy Wayne’s hugs like drugs, and you need to go and get another one? Or does it only work because you wanted it to work? When he dies on a toilet bowl — one of the great toilet deaths of last season on television, in addition to Tywin Lannister — we wanted to humble him. This is the king on his throne, as it were. But in his moment of death, he’s questioning his own truth. He’s saying, “I’m starting to wonder if anything that I did was real.” But the context of him saying that is, he’s coincidentally crossing paths with the father of Tom, who is tasked with taking care of his potential offspring. So in the kind of Dickensian machinations of the show, you have to wonder: Is this just coincidence, or is it part of sort of a larger construct where all these characters are fated to be together?

The show is interested in continuing to play with that idea, which is: Can you affix meaning to things that have no meaning? Just for the sake of meaning’s sake? Like, I was reading about celebrities who were supposed to be on planes that crashed but didn’t get on. Like Seth MacFarlane and Mark Wahlberg both had tickets on Flight 11, and Wahlberg rescheduled a week before or something, and MacFarlane literally missed the flight. His travel agent gave him the wrong time and he showed up to the airport and they would not let him on the plane. Now you can look at a moment like that from Seth MacFarlane’s point of view, and you could say, “I was spared.” But what is that saying about everybody else who got on the plane?

You try to derive meaning from amazing things, and it ultimately boils down to this thing that I call the “red light scenario.” One time I was at an intersection, and the light turned green and I waited 2 seconds before I hit the gas and right before I did a car zoomed past me. It would have broadsided me and killed me. It was going so fast. I just thought, “Whoa.” Then I just went on with my day. But if you go, and the car does broadside you, and then you are paralyzed, you will meditate on that decision to hit the gas at that moment for the rest of your life. And you would attach meaning to it. But when you get the positive outcome, you attach no meaning to it whatsoever. We have this obsession with negative outcomes, of asking, “What could I have done differently to avoid this moment of tragedy in my life?” We try to affix it to the Departure. Here’s this arbitrary thing that people have no control over, but are they trying to attach some level of control to it.

So in the finale of last season, Kevin is saying, “It’s my fault that my family basically broke apart” — even though none of them Departed. And that’s what the Guilty Remnant has really played into, that everybody just feels really bad the Departure. There’s not a lot of people who are wandering around saying, “This was a good thing.” And so in the supernaturality of the show, if you go to a town where nobody departed, the show has to become more supernatural, because that’s a very supernatural idea. But another way of looking at it is that this is place where it didn’t happen: So why? 

So it sounds like the show continues to explore belief systems and how people process reality. But how does does the show reflect your own beliefs? 

It is increasingly difficult to believe in God. And my belief system is that I do, but I can’t rationalize it. And when I say “I believe in God,” that’s not the same God as other people who say they believe in God. It’s a construct that is kind of increasingly becoming customized to the individual using it. There’s this idea in pharmacology that in 15 years, perscriptions will be genetically suited to your body instead of just getting a perscription for Xanax. And so I think God is becoming much the same way, in that it’s very hard to grab onto the construct for the masses, and then say, “Okay, let me get this straight: Guy walks into a church, he sits in a prayer group with nine people for an hour, in a Bible study, and then he kills them one by one. There is no God.” Like, it’s impossible. It’s very hard to live in this world and understand things like that. But then you watch President Obama’s eulogy, and the funeral, and then you’re like, “There’s something to this God stuff. There’s something to all these people kind of coming together and saying, ‘We forgive this guy in spite of what he did.'” That’s amazing. I believe in forgiveness. I believe in the goodness of people. And when that construct, the spiritual construct of God is used in that way, I feel deeply connected to it. And when people are blowing shit up or shooting people because God wants them to, then it’s very hard for me to affix myself to it. 

Ultimately, my own spiritual belief is one I can’t explain. When I try to explain it, I sound like an idiot. But I believe that there’s more to it all than just the big bang. There are scientists I love and respect, and atheists who I love and respect, who I could never go toe-to-toe with and make any sort of convincing case. Because I moved through a spectrum of atheism and agnosticism and ended up here, I feel it’s more genuine than, “I was raised with a very strong fundamental religious belief and I’ve just always bought it.” I gravitated towards this somehow. But I think that the show — this is a very long-winded way of getting to the answer of your question — the show is about a search for meaning, if there is any. And so the idea of saying, “Whether or not I’m ever going to find out what happened to the 2 percent of the people who disappeared, whether or not I’m ever going to see them again, or whether or not the entity or intelligence that was or was not responsible for their disappearance is ever going to explain itself, it does mean something.” It can’t be meaningless, something that happened on that scale. And so us affixing meaning to events in our lives that have supernatural significance is very interesting to me.

So I do think that this idea of serendipity, or meeting people at precisely the right moments in your life, you attach meaning to that and go, “I was at exactly this place, and this person was at exactly this place, and it was the perfect time for us to meet.” I’d rather live in that world than the world where everything is arbitrary and we’re just bouncing off of each other for no reason. 

From a very grand question to a very small, specific one: Is Kevin a bit more mentally stable this season? 

Um …

That looks like a no. 

Probably not. It’s a different form of instability than season 1. But the idea that he was cured of all of his ills in the moment that he came home and saw Nora holding this baby, I think, is naïve. The show must go on, and the idea of Kevin reaching some degree of complete and utter psychological safety probably wouldn’t be very interesting to watch. But more importantly, the first season set up and promised that his journey had just begun. What his dad says to him in the dream/vision that he has in the finale, I think is fairly significant in terms of what the road ahead is. 

Career-wise, what’s been your highest point and your lowest point?

Oh, man. In terms of a sustained career high, the summer between the first and second seasons of Lost. The show was in the zeitgeist, and there was that strange feeling of being in a restaurant and people at the next table are talking about what they thought was in The Hatch, and then it culminated in us winning the drama series Emmy. [Fellow Lost showrunner Carlton Cuse] came in about halfway through season 1, but it was just triage. This was the first breath that we were able to take. And I think that because Carlton was a much more experienced guy, he was able to say, “You need to take a step back right now and just look at what is happening, because this will probably only happen once, and I’m not saying that because I’m being a fatalist.” And I think that I was able to. That entire summer basically started with me getting married — the season 1 finale aired, and two days later I married my wife. And the end of the summer was winning the Emmy. So that was like firing on all cylinders. There have been amazing highs following that, but they weren’t sustained for that chunk of time.

And then lows … The one that leaps to mind, oddly enough, was the entire period from July until February preceding the period I just described to you. That was when I was writing the first season of Lost after finishing the pilot. I had an idea in my head that we were going to make 13 episodes of a cult show. I was going to try to make the episodes as good as possible and then we would be canceled. Suddenly it became a phenomenon, and that did not feel good. The ratings were massive and the critical response to the show and the audience response was overwhelmingly positive, and those things made me feel more and more upset and isolated and stressed out. 

I felt like everybody was watching. I was 30 years old, and [Lost executive producer] J.J. Abrams was off directing Mission: Impossible 3, and this was before Carlton came on, and so I was running a show without ever having run a show before, a show of an incredibly ambitious scale, commuting between Los Angeles and Hawaii, and writing a script every eight days for a show that really had no procedural element — they’re not cops, they’re not doctors, they’re not lawyers. So every story needed to be generated from the ground up, and the story was, “This week this is going to happen, this week this is going to happen, this week this is going to happen,” and any misstep that you made in terms of the mythology risked jumping the shark.

We were hearing “jumping the shark” all the time in the first season. People were already saying it. They were saying, “If they do not answer this mystery satisfyingly, I’m going to be really pissed.” And so there was all that pressure, and I hadn’t put any thought into any of those things as J.J. and I were writing the pilot, because there just wasn’t any time to doubt it. [ABC] was just like: ‘You have 12 weeks to generate two hours of material — Go.’ Not 12 weeks to write it, but 12 weeks to write it and make it and edit it, all of it. So once it was done and it existed and it turned out well did I start to become victim to my own insecurities. So that was an incredibly dark time, and nothing that I’ve ever experienced emotionally has come close.

I know that you asked “career” in terms of a metric of success — a movie makes a lot of money or doesn’t make a lot of money; a TV show generates a lot of ratings or it doesn’t generate a lot of ratings. But for me, success is really just completely and totally based on how I am feeling. Like, success is an internal mechanism, and I have enough experience now to know you cannot tell someone that they are successful. If they do not feel successful internally, it doesn’t matter what you tell them. And then I know a lot of people who by all metrics are complete and utter failures who view themselves as successes, and the difference between the two is razor-thin. It’s all determined by how you feel about your own work.

Is there anything I didn’t ask about Leftovers season 2 that you think fans would be interested to know that I sort of didn’t touch on? 

I don’t want to spoil the experience of watching the show, but it’s not a show that is basically hung on big massive plot turns and twists and character deaths, and all the things in a show that becomes sort of a zeitgeist-y show. I don’t want to make The Leftovers into something that it’s not; it doesn’t have that kind of an engine. But at the same time, we’re experimenting on a lot of different things in an effort to hopefully help the show tell us what it wants to be, and try not to repeat ourselves, and make it interesting and make it emotional. So if you’re reading this article, you probably like season 1. If you feel like we’re abandoning what the show was because we’re moving it into a new place, that is not at all the case. And if you didn’t like season 1, you’re not going to like season 2 either. Sorry. Some people have referred to season 2 as a “reboot” — it’s not. It’s not a reboot in any way, shape, or form. 

That’s a bold thing to say —”if you didn’t like the first season, you won’t like the second”— I’ve never heard a showrunner say that.

Well, it’s true, though. One of my Google alerts popped and Tim Goodman at The Hollywood Reporter gathered some critics together to say, “These are shows that probably will not get Emmy nominations, but we would like to call them as our dark horses,” and he said something very nice about The Leftovers. And then one of the critics said, “I hated The Leftovers, but I loved Carrie Coon so much that I guess I liked the show.” And it was sort of like both these ideas can kind of coexist — clearly, this person didn’t hate the show so much that they didn’t get to episode 6, which is when Nora’s story gets told. And I think that this idea of “hate-watching” is — there are shows that you can say you hate, but if you watch them you do not hate them. There’s just too much television out there. If you watch 10 hours of a television show, you’re not allowed to say you’re hate-watching it. You like it. You look forward to it, you want to see it, you’re involved in it. There may be things about it that drive you batty, and you can complain about True Detective season 2 all you want, but if on Sunday, you’re looking forward to it, you don’t hate it. You can nitpick at it, but there’s something about it that is involving to you. You just want to distance yourself from that thing, so you use the word “hate” or “hate-watching.” My wife reminds me of this all the time, when I was first working on the show I was like, “I don’t think this thing’s for everyone.” And then when we sent out the first three episodes and it went into the critical community and, sure enough, it wasn’t for everyone. And I was like, “Wahhh! I want everybody to love it!” And my wife was like, “You said it wasn’t for everyone.” When something breaks through and it’s universally loved, especially if it’s in that TV space, that becomes a very slippery slope. 

Take a show like Mad Men, which in my opinion was consistently great and never stumbled. Maybe there were episodes that weren’t as good as others, but there were no subpar episodes. “Par” was pretty high. And we think of that show as having lived in the zeitgeist all that time. But in terms of the actual number of people who have watched an episode of Mad Men, let alone all the episodes of Mad Men, let alone people who say that, “I loved Mad Men” — nobody was hate-watching Mad Men. But it’s just never that kind of show. Whereas a show like Breaking Bad or The Sopranos or Game of Thrones that have those narrative engines, are much larger things.

You’ve mentioned Thrones a couple times. What was your take on season 5, which drew some controversy from viewers?

I love Game of Thrones. I read the first three books, and I was just finishing book 3 when the show premiered. And right around the time that Ned died in season 1 I felt that rush of book reader’s superiority — “I knew that it was going to happen and nobody else did.” But it was also intermingled with jealousy for the people who did experience it first onscreen. That’s where I stopped reading the books. Book 4 was already out, and 5 was on the verge of coming out, and I was like, “I would love to get to a place in this show where I am genuinely surprised.”

I know there’s discourse now on the Web as to the deviances from the books, but all the Theon stuff was beyond book 3 for me. So [in season 5 I was] experiencing the show completely and totally cold — and I was surprised. I was very surprised by a number of things that happened this season. As someone who makes television, I watch that show and I do not know how they do it. I just don’t understand, on a sheer logistical level, of how they’re able to produce that qualitative of a product in the amount of time they have with so many different locations and so many different parts.

Are there storylines that I am more invested in than others? Of course. That’s always going to be the case when six or seven different things are happening at any one time. But as a storyteller, if you can make one, let alone two, excellent hours of television a season if you’re doing eight or 10 episodes — an excellent episode by all accounts — I think what people don’t realize is that in order to produce those excellent episodes, there have to be episodes that set that up. There also have to be episodes that begin to — although this is never a storyteller’s intent — make [the viewer] go, “I don’t know, I don’t know about this…” That makes those excellent episodes all the more special. And when I was watching [episode 8] “Hardhome” this season, I was just like, “That’s one of the most excellent hours of television I’ve ever seen.” It’s excellent for different reasons than “The Suitcase” episode of Mad Men is excellent, but it’s just amazing. I just sat there with my mouth hanging open. I’m literally watching five minutes of silence — that whole moment where Jon Snow is going off into the water and looking at The Night’s King and he’s doing his “Come at me, bro,” moment. And I was just like: “There’s nothing better on television, right now, than this.” You only need to demonstrate excellence once a season for me to view the entire season as excellent, or the entire show as excellent. And Game of Thrones is able to do it at any one time.

I don’t watch television to find things to gripe about, and I think we live in a clickbait-y media culture that exists to pick things apart. I love-watch Game of Thrones, so I’m immensely forgiving of things that perhaps are not the strongest attributes of the show. And despite the fact that George R. R. Martin has flamed the Lost finale, there is a schadenfreude aspect of me saying, “Well, I kind of hope Game of Thrones sucks at the end, too, so they’ll know it feels to have somebody say that to you.” But I don’t think the Lost finale sucks. And I want Game of Thrones to end awesome, because I’m a huge fan, and I have every reason to believe that it is going to end awesomely.

But when you are in the zeitgeist, and when you are loved, there’s this part of it — people threaten to stop watching, people say “It’s not as good as it used to be,” people say, “If you kill this character, I will stop watching the show.” One of the things that people fell in love with about Thrones was its willingness to kill anyone — but you can’t kill Jon Snow, you know? You can kill anyone — but you can’t kill Tyrion. And you can’t kill Dany. As long as you don’t kill those three. And it’s like: “But I thought you loved the show because we killed Ned Stark! He was the un-killable character!” So we have to be willing to do that. 

… And I see people pushing against Thrones where it’s like, literally from week to week, someone will say, “This is the most excellent show, this season is firing on all cylinders, it’s never been better.” And then because of one story move — Stannis burns his daughter — suddenly [the reaction is] like, “I cannot watch this show anymore. I’m quitting you, Game of Thrones.” And I’m thinking: “No, you’re not. Don’t be an ass.” That’s like my 8-year-old saying, “We’re not best friends anymore.” When I see a blogger — thank God I’m not on Twitter anymore, because I get into all sorts of trouble — or a critic, or a recapper say, “I’m done with your show,” if I were running that show I would call them up and say, “You are not allowed to watch my show anymore. I’m going to f—ing alert everybody in your life to watch you. I’m going to hire a private eye to tap your media consumption, and you better not ever watch it again. Are you sure you want to do this?“ 

It’s like you get in a fight with someone you love, you storm out of the room, and you say this is over. And then an hour later, you’re apologizing for being an asshole … Thus concludes my soapbox. 

Normally, one TV show is all I would think a writer would be doing, but your IMDb is suspiciously unpopulated beyond this season, so does that mean you’re focusing on just this show, and is that a first for you since Lost?

Yeah, this is the first time, I think, since probably the third season of Lost that I’ve been entirely monogamous to  all creative endeavors. I made a very concentrated effort to not take any other jobs as season 2 of The Leftovers was wrapping up. And it’s been awesome to be monogamous. I strongly recommend it, creatively.

And do you think it’s going to impact the show?

I hope so. I mean, I think that there’s different ways of looking at it. I mean, one way of answering that question is, like, “Are you a better parent if you only have one kid?” And one way of looking at it is that you’re a better parent if you have two kids, because you’re not giving any one kid too much attention. And that’s ultimately good for the kid, and it makes you less prone to be helicopter-y. So I am only thinking about The Leftovers, and that might not be the best thing for The Leftovers, but it feels good for me. I guess the only way to answer your question is that it doesn’t feel like season 2 is going to be much greater than season 1 because it’s the only thing that I’m doing, but I feel better as a human being. I feel more relaxed and more comfortable, and really happy and non-desirous to be doing anything else other than this.

Do you have suspicions about your level of talent?

[Lindelof looks a bit shocked] Who doesn’t? Of course!

I’m only asking because your response was surprising. I would assume if you hold your writing and talent at a high value, you would think that any extra time you spend on your show would improve the show. So I didn’t mean for that to sound so blunt, but I was just surprised by your uncertainty. 

Yeah, I mean, I think it’s actually a very nuanced question that I hadn’t given a lot of thought to. I wouldn’t want to imply that I was working any less hard on the other seasons. Or you take guys like [prolific TV producer] Greg Berlanti, for example, who are bouncing between multiple shows. Are his shows diminished as a result of him bouncing between multiple shows? Or Carlton, who he has three, or maybe even four shows on the air. In some cases, maybe the show benefits. So I don’t know. It’s not about doubting my own talents as much as I’m always reluctant to throw down the, “This season is better than the last season,” [line], or say, “If you liked the first one, the sequel is even better.” There are shows that grow in terms of their vision and their creative accomplishment — even Vince Gilligan will say that probably the worst season of Breaking Bad was its first, and still, that was an excellent season of television. But the idea of any show benefiting from me putting more hours in on it is … it’s a work in progress.

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