January 29, 2010 at 05:00 AM EST


Current Status
In Season
Suave House, Universal

Not long ago, Lost executive producers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof found themselves burning the midnight oil with two of their writers on an episode for the show’s sixth and final season. A scene just wasn’t working — then, suddenly, there was an epiphany. ”We realized we needed to have a key character download a huge piece of our mythological puzzle,” recalls Cuse. ”Afterward, I went, ‘Oh my God. We’re finally having our characters say this stuff!’ My emotional response was excitement, nervousness, even depression. At that moment it hit me: This is it. We’re finally at the end.”

Now, we know what you’re thinking: Precisely which of Lost‘s many, many, many bits of baffling business was Cuse referring to? The Monster? The Black Rock? The Four-Toed Statue? Of course, he didn’t tell us. And anyway, we can be patient for a little longer, can’t we? On Feb. 2 at 9 p.m., the end of ABC’s Lost will finally begin. For fans, there is giddy anticipation for long-awaited answers — and mourning over the end of intoxicating mystery. There is also the realization that we are 16 episodes away from saying goodbye to some of the most compelling characters to have flickered across our TV screens. Redemption-starved Jack Shephard (Matthew Fox). Destiny-seeking John Locke (Terry O’Quinn). Fugitive beauty Kate (Evangeline Lilly). Con-man hunk Sawyer (Josh Holloway). While Cuse says he feels ”a sense of calm” about the impending premiere, Lindelof has butterflies: ”I wish it was already here. The audience may hate it. The audience may not hate it. But at least they will finally see it, and when they do, it will be a relief.”

ABC is hoping the intense buzz around Lost‘s final season will bring back viewers who’d lost patience or decided that an annual DVD binge was a better way to appreciate the show’s storytelling. During the pop phenom’s peak in season 2, Lost had an average of 18.9 million viewers. Last season, it pulled in 11.7 million. Cuse and Lindelof say the plan is to do what they’ve always done: tell their story their way. ”We’re writing the show for ourselves,” says Cuse. ”It would be a terrible mistake to change the methodology that has sustained the show for this long.” Lindelof refers to Lost‘s most despised duo to drive home the point: ”Find the person who hates Nikki and Paulo the most, and I guarantee you that Carlton and I are still flagellating ourselves for that idea. The fact that we are 10 times harder on ourselves than anybody else makes us feel like the show is in the right hands.”

To date, Team Lost has held back on offering details about the show’s final chapter. Cuse and Lindelof have said their master plan involves bringing back Claire (Emilie de Ravin), who was last seen in season 4 with the specter of her father, Christian Shephard (John Terry), who happens to be Jack’s dad, too. Also returning: lots of dead people, including Charlie (Dominic Monaghan, now on ABC’s FlashForward), Boone (Ian Somerhalder, now on The CW’s The Vampire Diaries), Michael (Harold Perrineau), and Libby (Cynthia Watros). For the purposes of prepping fans and curious viewers for the final season, Cuse and Lindelof agreed to sit down with EW and address 10 crucial questions about the last season of Lost, and in the process, provide some teases for what lies ahead.

1. Who Survived the Bomb?
Warning! The next sentence might shock anyone who stopped watching after season 1. Last year, the castaways traveled back in time 30 years and blew up a hydrogen bomb named Jughead. The gonzo goal: to change history so that Oceanic 815 never crashed on the Island, thus negating five seasons of heartbreak and madhouse hoo-ha. There was also the possibility that Jughead would just incinerate them. So are the castaways rebooted or roasted or what?! Cuse and Lindelof have already disclosed that no matter how the cliff-hanger is resolved, Juliet (Elizabeth Mitchell, now on ABC’s V), who triggered the bomb, will definitely be dead…although she’ll be back for a couple of episodes. When asked to explain that paradox, the producers cough into their fists and say something that sounds like: ”Would you please just watch the damn show?!?!

2. Will Jin and Sun Reunite?
The couple (Daniel Dae Kim and Yunjin Kim) came to the Island unhappy with themselves and each other, their love stifled by rigid cultural roles and familial pressures. But over time, they patched up their rocky marriage and even conceived a child. In season 4, Sun got off the Island; Jin didn’t. It was very sad. Sun then returned to the Island’s present (2007) to rescue her husband, only to be told that Jin and the quantum-leaping castaways had died back in 1977. The season premiere will clarify Jin’s status, but Cuse and Lindelof are keeping mum about an imminent Jin-Sun reunion. They will reveal, however, that viewers won’t explicitly be told why Sun did not go back in time with the other castaways on Ajira flight 316 — though fans may be able to puzzle it out for themselves.

3. Who Will Kate Choose?
For the first few seasons on Lost, Kate seemed to view Jack as the guy you want to marry, and Sawyer as the guy you want to…well, hump in a polar-bear cage. In recent seasons, she has come into her own, while her alpha-male suitors have proved unworthy of her trust (see: Jack the addict) or unavailable (see: Sawyer, Juliet’s redeemed boyfriend). While the romantic back-and-forth has inspired eye-rolling among some fans, Cuse says the writers have been ”very engaged” by it this season: ”The Jack-Kate-Sawyer love triangle is absolutely central to the show this year. You can expect a lot of twists and turns.”

4. Who Are Jacob and the Man in Black?
Lost has long encouraged viewers to wonder if some divine power guided the castaways to the Island. The season 5 finale further nurtured that theory by introducing two super-natural, who-knows-how-old men: Jacob (Mark Pellegrino), who brings people to the Island for seemingly idealistic purposes, and the shape-shifting Man in Black (Titus Welliver), a bitter cynic opposed to Jacob’s pet projects. Jacob and MIB hate each other — but why? ”It’s kind of the driving question of the whole season,” says Cuse, adding that the philosophical discussion between the two characters in last year’s finale ”framed the conflict, which is not only a conflict between the two of them as representatives of good and evil, but also a conflict about what is the fundamental nature of man. Is man good or is man evil?” For centuries, MIB had looked for a ”loophole” that would allow him to kill his adversary. He apparently found one by posing as Locke and manipulating Benjamin Linus (Michael Emerson) to stab Jacob in the heart. With his dying breath, Jacob told MIB, ”They’re coming”; was he referring to the time-traveling, bomb-blasted castaways? Maybe. The finale revealed he had encountered (and conspicuously touched) each of them in the past except for Juliet and Miles (Ken Leung).

5. Why Doesn’t Richard Alpert Age?
The Island is home to a population of Latin-speaking nomads nicknamed the Others, who follow Jacob as if he were a god. They’ve had various human leaders, but the permanent VP is Richard Alpert (Nestor Carbonell), a strikingly dapper cipher who hasn’t looked a day over 35 for at least 50 years. ”Richard Alpert seems to have been around for every significant development we’ve seen on the show,” says Lindelof. ”The questions about Richard have been: Why doesn’t he age, and what is his function? But the critical question now is: What is his relationship to Jacob? Some people have theorized that Richard may be like the Panchen Lama, the second in command [to the Dalai Lama]. How much does he know, and what is he going to do with that knowledge now that Jacob is dead?” We can also report that — SPOILER ALERT! — Carbonell does not wear eyeliner. Those dreamy dark lashes: totally natural!

6. Is John Locke Really Dead?
Yes. Sorry to be blunt, but it’s true. Locke believed it was his purpose to serve the will of a mystical island that miraculously healed his paralyzed legs. But last season, the Island’s former golden boy Ben murdered Locke. Many fans are wondering whether the Island will once again perform its healing magic on the man of faith. ”The real mysteries of the show have always been: Who are these characters, and what is their destiny?” says Cuse. ”Locke is a hugely important character in the lexicon of the show. What will become of him when the series is all said and done? We have an answer for that.”

7. What Is the Monster?
One of the show’s oldest mysteries, the Monster is a billowing cloud of black smoke that can scan people’s minds and possibly take human form. Smokey resides in the tunnels underneath the Temple, a crumbling ruin adorned with Egyptian hieroglyphics, and seems to act as a divine instrument of judgment. Its punishments can be deadly (see: Mr. Eko). So just what is Smokey? An ancient Egyptian demon? The supernatural embodiment of fear? The Man in Black himself? The producers promise that the season premiere will shed some light on this murky mystery. As for the Island’s Egyptian motifs, including the Four-Toed Statue, Lindelof says, ”We’ve talked about the show as a kind of archaeological dig, and the longer the characters spend on the Island, the further the dig progresses. The question is: How far back are we going to go?”

8. What Is Charles Widmore’s ”War”?
Like former flame Eloise Hawking (Fionnula Flanagan), Charles Widmore (Alan Dale) was one of the leaders of the Others until Ben exiled him for siring an unnamed off-Island child. Most likely, this child was Penelope (Sonya Walger, now on FlashForward), the true love of Desmond Hume (Henry Ian Cusick). Since then, Widmore has become very rich and very determined to locate his hard-to-find former tropical home. Last season, he backed Locke’s doomed quest to bring back the castaways that had escaped the Island. ”There was a shift in Widmore last year from being a nefarious force to presenting himself as someone who was quite helpful to John Locke,” says Lindelof. ”Clearly something happened to him between those two points. We’ll explore that, as well as answer the questions: What does Charles Widmore want, and is he good or evil?” Even though Cusick has not been included in recent season 6 cast photos, the producers say the actor remains a part of the show and that Desmond plays a big role in the final season. (In October, Cusick came to a settlement with a former production staffer who had sued him in April 2009 for sexual harassment that allegedly took place on the Lost set.)

9. Will Jack Find Redemption?
Of course, all of the castaways on Lost are flawed in their own way, but perhaps none more so than their fearless, reckless leader Jack, who is hopelessly hooked on ”fixing” people. Driven by despair over lost castaway lives and losing Kate’s heart, Jack pushed the Jughead plan on his fellow time travelers despite strong objections from Sawyer and others. Doc Shephard hopes that his gambit will keep Oceanic 815 from ever crashing, but one suspects something like redemption won’t be so cheaply earned. However, the bigger, more profound question Lost will pose this season is whether the castaways truly have any control over their destinies due to the divine meddling of Jacob and the Man in Black. Says Cuse, ”This notion of predeterminism is something we’re very actively exploring this season. Is redemption possible? Is redemption possible for all of them? Is redemption possible for some of them? What does redemption look like?”

10. Finally: Just How Many of Our Questions Are Going to Get Answered, Anyway?
The producers say the number and nature of the mysteries they intend to address during the show’s final 16 episodes will be guided by this principle: Does the question matter to the characters? ”We don’t want the show to be pedantic,” says Cuse. ”If the characters are not concerned with a question, how can we be concerned with it? So there are many, many questions that people probably have that we just can’t address.” Perhaps the puzzle that matters most to fans is the one Charlie so memorably summarized in Lost‘s first episode: ”Guys…where are we?” Yet Cuse and Lindelof say it might be impossible to resolve the fundamental mystery of the Island without begging even more impossible-to-answer metaphysical questions, or just sounding really, really weak. (They cite the ”midi-chlorian” explanation for the Force put forth in the Star Wars prequels as an example of overexplained lameness.) Perhaps it would be for the best if the show left some stuff dangling — in the end, this is Lost: a fantastical fable about the struggle to live life well in a world full of irresolvable mysteries…

Oh, please. Is the final season of Lost going to answer Charlie’s question or what?! Exchanging an impish smile with Cuse, Lindelof says, ”I think we can say that one of the characters on the show this season is going to ask, ‘What is the Island?”’ And the answer? When pressed, the producers raise their fists and once again begin coughing. Yeah, yeah, we know — just watch the damn show.

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