On the set for the cast's tearful goodbye

By Jeff Jensen
Updated May 07, 2010 at 04:00 AM EDT

The monster is singing. It’s 3 a.m. on the Oahu set of Lost, and the cast of ABC’s psycho-mystical sci-fi saga about castaways trapped in a tropical twilight zone has assembled in a circle for a sing-along, a downtime ritual that dates back to their first days together in 2004. As always, the instigators are Naveen Andrews (the now-deceased ex-torturer Sayid) and Terry O’Quinn (the late John Locke and current incarnation of the Island’s furious Smoke Monster), and their song choice — ”Purple Rain,” the wave-your-lighters Prince rocker about regret, forgiveness, and moving on — is poignantly appropriate for the moment at hand. This windy April evening marks the last day ever of shooting for 13 of the actors and the final time most of them will work together. As Andrews strums his guitar, O’Quinn makes like a manic street preacher as he sings, ”It’s time we all reached out for something new! And that means you! And you! And you!” With each you, O’Quinn points, at Yunjin Kim (Sun), then Jorge Garcia (Hurley), and then Josh Holloway (Sawyer), who claps with approval. As everyone joins in for the climactic hooo-hoo-hoo-hoo, no joke, a light rain begins to fall.

Words can’t describe everything that happens next — mostly because tonight’s work includes something we are forbidden to describe: a long, pivotal sequence that’s part of the final 10 minutes of Lost‘s two-hour series finale, airing Sunday, May 23, at 9 p.m. The location is a setting any hardcore Lost fan would know. Nearly two dozen cast members are in attendance, including several who aren’t in the scene but wanted to be here for the experience. ”Never have more actor trailers been brought together in one place, maybe in the history of showbiz,” quips Michael Emerson, who plays the (seemingly) redeemed Island rogue Ben. Showrunners Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof have flown out from Los Angeles to participate in the bittersweet celebration and to help guide the actors. But as the cast brings to life the culmination of a six-years-in-the-making vision, it’s obvious that the producers need a little help themselves. ”It’s overwhelming,” says a choked-up Cuse. ”I’ve got to hold it together here…”

Lost fans will likely have a similar reaction. The scene is bold, implicitly clear yet open to interpretation, and bring-boxes-of-tissues emotional. It seems that this groundbreaking, game-changing drama intends to leave the airwaves in a heartbreaking, head-spinning blaze of ”Wow!” and ”Wha?” Asked if he ever thought Lost would conclude with a season involving a spat between demigods over the goodness of mankind, a parallel world where all the passengers of Oceanic 815 never crashed on the Island, and the destined-to-be-debated revelations of the finale’s last moments, Holloway just cackles. ”No clue! My original theory was that the Island was purgatory,” says the actor. ”Now I don’t know. I know I think something, but I’m still trying to think through what it is I think I know!”

The actors have begun the final deliberations on the true meaning of Lost, but the rest of us still have three episodes and four hours to go. The last act of Lost officially began with May 4’s quite literal bloodbath — the exploding-submarine deaths of Sayid, Sun, and Jin (Daniel Dae Kim). Next week, the show will bench nearly all of its stars in order to field an episode focused on the backstory of the Island’s warring supernatural beings: Jacob (Mark Pellegrino), a seemingly ancient and angelic idealist fixated on mankind’s redemption, and the shape-shifting Man in Black (Titus Welliver, when he’s not played by O’Quinn), a seemingly sinister cynic who somehow lost his humanity and became a sentient torrent of black smoke.

The final hours of Lost will pit the Man in Black against Jack (Matthew Fox), Kate (Evangeline Lilly), Sawyer, and Hurley. The series capper, appropriately titled ”The End,” will finally reveal the relationship between the Island world and the parallel Sideways world. Will Jack make peace with his reckless-fixer issues once and for all? Who will be identified as Jacob’s successor, the new Island protector? And where do Island mystery men Ben and Richard Alpert (Nestor Carbonell) fit into the puzzle? The tight-lipped producers will say only that viewers should be asking themselves this question: Just how many of our heroes will make it out of Lost alive? ”Right now, it’s like the end of The Empire Strikes Back,” says Lindelof. ”Your hand has been cut off, your tail is between your legs, so what do you do now? Our characters can’t hide. There’s only four hours of the show left. What are they going to do?” He promises only one thing: ”No Ewoks.”

Faith or reason. The epic adventure of Lost has pivoted on the conflict between these two worldviews ever since scientifically oriented Jack Shephard and mystically inclined John Locke first debated the validity of ”destiny” in the finale of season 1. To the surprise of many, Lost has resolved this profoundly tricky and politically thorny argument by ruling decidedly in favor of faith. Season 6 has presented a metaphor for a culture of lost souls desperate for salvation, renewal, and, yes, answers. It began with the Smoke Monster laying waste to the Island’s sacred Temple (in his small defense, fans weren’t wild about the Temple story line, anyway) and is now ending with Jack’s conversion from arrogant man of science to humbled man of faith. But nobody embodies Lost‘s evangelical philosophy more than Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick), who has been born again as a superhero Zen master determined to enlighten the Sideways-world characters about their Island-world pasts and bring them together as a community. The final fate of the castaways hinges significantly on the success — or failure — of his mission. ”Spiritually speaking, it’s a fantastic message and not something you see very often on a television show,” says Cusick. ”Love as a subject — as a spiritual concept. People don’t want to talk about that. People think it’s a little cheesy. But it’s not cheesy at all. That’s what we all strive for. Right?”

Cuse and Lindelof seem to think so. Both men describe themselves as ”men of faith,” tempered with a streak of reasonable man-of-science. Cuse, a Catholic and married father of three, says Lost is not about advocating a specific religion, but rather exploring issues central to all faiths: Community. Redemption. Damnation. For Lindelof, the creative journey of Lost has paralleled a period of time in which he has wrestled with the death of his father, married, and become a father himself. ”If season 5 was the season where we said we had no shame in admitting we are a science-fiction show,” says Lindelof, ”season 6 is the season where we said we have no shame in admitting that we’re intensely spiritual people, and that Lost is ultimately a deeply spiritual show.”

Of course, the men’s ”Live together, die alone” idealism took a backseat to cold-blooded heartlessness in May 4’s triple-death sucker punch. But the producers say there’s a method to their mayhem, just as there’s a very specific vision behind the season’s most puzzling gambit: the Sideways world, a separate timeline seemingly spawned from last year’s time-travel shenanigans. Like many viewers, the cast has had mixed feelings about the high-concept conceit. ”It’s been an up-and-down year,” says Lilly. ”There will be an episode that was sort of weird and didn’t really land — but then the next episode will really kick my ass and be phenomenal.” And yet, she also shares the view of many fans that the Desmond-centric ”Happily Ever After” — an instant Lost classic that began the project of linking the Sideways and Island worlds — helped her appreciate the design of the season. Garcia concurs. ”When Desmond woke up — that clicked,” he says. ”I started going, This is cool. And then I went back and rethought things we had seen before.”

Cuse and Lindelof say going Sideways was crucial to their series endgame — and judging from what we saw of the finale, the claim is legit. ”We couldn’t tell the story or finish the story without the Sideways,” says Cuse, adding that the device also offered secondary benefits, like breathing new life into stagnant story lines — the producers cite the Desmond-Penny (Sonya Walger) romance in particular — and bringing back fan favorites such as Charlie (Dominic Monaghan), Michael (Harold Perrineau), and Libby (Cynthia Watros). Look for more old friends to pop up in the final episodes, including Boone (The Vampire Diaries‘ Ian Somerhalder), Shannon (Maggie Grace), and Juliet (Elizabeth Mitchell, now on V). Says Lindelof: ”We resign ourselves to the fact that perhaps even after Lost is over, there will still be people who wish we hadn’t done the Sideways. But personally speaking, they’re one of my favorite things we’ve ever done.”

The singing continues throughout the night on the set of Lost. Leonard Cohen’s ”Hallelujah.” Mark James’ ”Hooked on a Feeling.” Bob Dylan’s ”I Shall Be Released,” which Andrews performs alone (”I see my light come shining/From the west unto the east/Any day now, any day now/I shall be released”), earning rousing applause from his castmates and the crew. During the longer stretches of downtime, the actors head to the trailers for beer and partying. The mood takes a turn at 5 a.m. Cuse and Lindelof — joined by exec producers Jack Bender and Bryan Burk — stand before the cast and try to put the end of their collaboration into perspective. ”I am so profoundly touched and grateful for what you have done,” says Lindelof. ”I can’t believe we’re saying goodbye.” Cuse recalls listening to O’Quinn singing ”Amazing Grace” earlier in the evening and thanks everyone for their ”meaningful, powerful, impactful work.” It would be a nice place to end the night — but then Bender suddenly remembers he needs one more shot. He gets it. Hugs and tears ensue.

Soon they will scatter and do the ”Purple Rain” thing of reaching out for something new. Holloway’s next stop? ”Movies, my friend,” says the actor. ”I’m going to give it two years. If it doesn’t work out, I’d love to make another TV show. I just want to give movies a shot. It’s now or never. If I do another show, it’s another seven-year contract, standard. That’s a big commitment at this point in my life. I’d like to hop around a bit.” Fox feels the same way — but more so. ”All told, I’ve done about 275 hours of television. I won’t be doing any more television,” says the former Party of Five star, who has recently appeared in the films Speed Racer and Vantage Point. ”If I can’t find a way to work with really great filmmakers that I respect and admire and be part of movies I want to see in a movie theater, then I’ll probably be doing something else. It’s not about some bulls— snobbery about TV. It’s about flexibility. I think that’s what’s best for me as I enter the next portion of my career.”

On the other hand, O’Quinn would love to jump into another TV series. ”The six years have gone by so fast. It’s been a buzz for me, and it’s inspired me to want to do more television. I love it,” he says. ”People say, ‘You should do movies!’ I go, ‘What’s wrong with what I’m doing?”’ And Daniel Dae Kim is hoping to stay on TV — and in Hawaii. He just finished shooting a pilot for CBS’ rebooted Hawaii Five-O. ”My family loves it here, and I was looking for a way to be on a quality TV show,” says Kim. ”Hawaii Five-O fills both slots really well.”

But it is unlikely any of the cast will ever work on another project like Lost. It was a show that broke all sorts of TV rules — from its racially diverse cast to a serialized storytelling format that both attracted and alienated viewers — and proved that you don’t have to have big-time ratings (this season has averaged 11.9 million viewers) to be a lucrative entertainment brand (ABC was charging a reported $900,000 for a 30-second ad during the finale, and network execs have already begun brainstorming possible extensions of Lost — books, graphic novels, even movies).

As for Cuse and Lindelof, the former plans to take some time off and travel, while the latter will segue into co-writing and producing the next Star Trek film. (Lindelof also co-penned the script for Cowboys and Aliens, starring Harrison Ford.) Both would like to do more television, but not right away. They won’t be rushing to explain what we see in the finale, either. Cuse and Lindelof plan to go into ”radio silence” after the last episode — but not forever. They promise to reemerge at some point and discuss many (but not all) of their choices concerning the end of Lost, which they say is designed to be both emotionally satisfying and open to interpretation. They’re hoping people will be happy. They suspect there will be blowback. Either way, they are pleased with their work, and want to let it go without comment or apology. For now. ”The legacy of the show is community — a community that was formed by a discussion of the show, specifically in pursuit of a question, ‘What did it mean?”’ says Lindelof. ”What it meant and what it means to people are two different things. So we’re going to keep it clean for a while.”

But if Matthew Fox is to be believed, the finale speaks volumes. ”I think it’s beautiful,” says the actor. ”If we all did our jobs right, I really feel it’s going to be terribly sad, but at the same time be really cathartic and full of hope. It has the potential to be really profound. I will say this: It’s not going to be what anybody thinks it is. I know a lot of people have written a lot of theories about how this will all end — and I’m pretty sure nobody guessed it.”

Lost: The spin-offs we’d like to see
Who says the adventure has to end on May 23? Here are a few possible spin-off ideas we cooked up.

Gale Force
Who was the real Henry Gale, the castaway balloonist from Minnesota? He was an ex-MI6 agent-turned-PI hired by Penny Widmore to find Desmond, that‘s who! Watch the slick and savvy Gale infiltrate the Hanso Foundation, Mittelos Biosciences, and anyone else who dares to underestimate his aviation talents.

That darn Jacob!
Episode after episode of the zany Man in Black trying to kill Jacob via an endless succession of easily manipulated lovelorn castaways with father issues — yet always failing. It’s Coyote versus Roadrunner, but with more biblical references and wine bottle metaphors. Oh, Man in Black, you’ll bury us all — with laughter!

Orchid Valley High
So you think Walt spent only a few weeks with the Others? You flunk! Welcome to Orchid Valley High, the school for gifted youngsters run by ageless Richard Alpert. Follow Walt through years of enduring the taunts of mean girl Alex, crushing on science teacher Juliet, and playing for Mr. Friendly’s JV football team.

All About Vincent
From Family Guy provocateur Seth MacFarlane comes this crazy-crass new animated series that retells the Lost saga from the POV of everybody’s favorite Island canine, Vincent! MacFarlane performs all the voices (including both Rose and Bernard), and his imitation of Sayid isn’t offensive whatsoever!