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One year ago, Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof were plotting the beginning of Lost‘s last season. Today, the creative partners formerly known as ”Darlton” have reunited in a Los Angeles restaurant to discuss how it all ended. It’s been two months since the soulful sci-fi drama left fans either rapturously happy or hellaciously infuriated with a series finale thick with emotion, yet thin on definitive answers. Lindelof and Cuse are in good spirits: Just a few days earlier, Lost was the recipient of 12 Emmy nominations, including nods for Outstanding Drama Series and for the pair’s script for ”The End.” While Cuse is mulling his next career move, Lindelof is writing screenplays for Star Trek 2 and a prequel to Alien, and like many of their fans, both are still coming to terms with the exhilarating and confounding phenomenon that was Lost.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY The final season earned 12 Emmy nominations — tying the most Lost has ever received for a single season— and many of them were for the finale, including a writing nod for the two of you. That has to feel really affirming.
CARLTON CUSE It totally is. When Lost was over, we expected that there’d be some people who’d really like it and other people who wouldn’t. The Emmy nominations are an indication to us that there were a fair number of people who did like the way we concluded our story.
DAMON LINDELOF Clearly the discussion about the quality of the season, if not the entire series, was dominated by this question of whether or not the finale was going to prove satisfying — and one week after it aired, Emmy ballots went out. So we were really curious to see what was going to happen.
EW Lost has been a wild ride for you guys. Looking back, when were you the happiest?
LINDELOF There were two periods when I was happiest. The first was the second half of season 3 — negotiating the end of the series, being able to do the flash-forward finale. Everything was just clicking creatively. The second period was the final two months working on the show. Which is very surprising to me. If you had asked me a year out, I would have predicted, ”I’m going to be miserable.”
CUSE We had a vision of what the end would look like. We knew that the final image would be Matthew’s eye closing. We were both full of giddy amazement that this was actually happening.
EW Was Vincent snuggling up next to Jack always part of the vision of what the last scene of Lost would be too?
LINDELOF He’d been part of the picture as long as we talked about it. The whole idea was this: Jack was going to become mortally wounded, he was going to go somewhere to die, and we believed that place should be the place where the series started. Vincent was Jack’s first contact in the pilot, so we believed he should be his last contact in the series. Having Jack also see the plane taking off and his friends escaping the Island was part of that too.
EW Kate, Claire, Sawyer, Richard, Miles, and Frank Lapidus were on the plane. Did you always know who was going to make it off the Island alive?
CUSE The lineup came naturally over time. The fun part of writing the show was the process of discovery, putting characters in situations and then learning along with the characters how they would react. So we had to wait and see how certain story lines played out; that helped determine who was going to get on that plane.
EW Which character was the most meaningful for you to write?
CUSE Certainly in the last season John Locke was incredibly engaging to write. To take this character who was so open and accessible in the flash-sideways [world], contrasted with the dark malevolence of the Smokey/Man in Black version of John Locke, was really fun. It was great to have an antagonist who was so driven and goal-oriented.
LINDELOF Sawyer was the best guy to write. Hands down. But clearly the series began with Jack, and it ended with Jack, so on a personal level, Jack is the guy who is most like me. I lost my dad very shortly before the writing of Lost started. I can have a bit of a problem in accepting responsibility in leadership and having faith in myself. But for that reason, he was probably the least fun to write, too.
CUSE The theme of father issues was really central and meaningful to the show. It’s not easy to write it, but it was important to write it. I had very little contact with my father throughout my life. That was a hard thing. Damon and I, as we got to know each other better over the course of our partnership, we realized there were some eerie parallels in our formative development. Having difficult relationships with our fathers was something that played a huge role in our existences and as writers. The show allowed us to work some of that out.
EW From that perspective, the scene in the finale where Jack reconciles with his father at the church must have had a lot of significance for you.
LINDELOF It was the last scene we wrote in the series. We always knew what it was. But we published the finale script almost three weeks before we wrote that scene. We knew that when we finished writing that scene we would have to write the words THE END, not just in terms of ”We’ve finished six years of the series” but also to try to do personally what Christian Shephard was telling Jack to do, which was to let go. [Tearing up] Obviously that’s probably as close to talking about this as we can get.
EW Season 6 gave us the Sideways world, which was ultimately revealed to be a kind of purgatory where the castaways went after they died. Why did you decide to pursue this story line?
CUSE In the first season of the show, the thing that was the most fun was doing the flashbacks and learning who these characters were. We got to do that all over again.
LINDELOF The hardest part was sitting on the secret. We didn’t even tell the actors, because we felt it was the best way to get the performances we needed. What really surprised us was that no one in the audience was really figuring us out.
EW Perhaps one reason that they didn’t guess the secret is because back in the first two seasons of the show, you pretty vociferously ruled out purgatory as a theory of the Island.
CUSE I agree with you. Because we said the Island was not purgatory, people extrapolated that to mean that a concept that resembled it couldn’t even exist within the entire show.
LINDELOF The question that has dominated my mind over the past couple months is this: What if Carlton and I had just kept our mouths shut? What if we’d said, ”We don’t talk about the show, the show speaks for itself”? I’ve come to the conclusion that we would have been worse off. We don’t live in a media culture anymore where you can write a show like Lost, where the people who care about it really care about it, and then say to them: ”We’re not going to talk to you about it.”
EW Those last moments of the finale polarized the fan base, particularly when Jack reunites with his Island friends and they get swallowed up in the light that takes them into the afterlife. That’s what happened, right?
CUSE We’re not going to get into explaining or justifying the ending that we wrote other than to say we were able to do what we wanted to do, and we stand by it. We don’t have any regrets about it. We had our story, and we were fortunate enough to get to do it exactly the way we wanted to do it.
EW There were some fans who felt leaving things open to interpretation wasn’t a choice, but rather a cop-out.
CUSE It’s not a cop-out. We did not want to take away from the audience that one thing that was such a vital part of the community of the show, which was the ability to debate it. For us to come out and say, ”Your theory sucks, you’re wrong” — it’s deflating. It seems that the people who embraced the show as a journey and were not fixated on answers probably had the better experience with the show.
LINDELOF I personally believe that there was no ending of Lost that would not have been open to interpretation. Even if you cut to Carlton and I sitting behind a desk, and for half an hour we monologued very specifically about what we intended, there would still be people saying, ”Did you see Damon’s fingers? They were kinda crossed when he was talking — that means everything he was saying was not the truth.” The thing about Lost is that the show we were writing is not necessarily the show people were watching. There’s nothing wrong with that. People who watched Lost loved to interpret it.
EW Over the years, the major theme of Lost has been the conflict between faith and reason. Given how the show ended, was Lost ultimately resolving that debate in favor of faith?
CUSE Getting into that in detail gets too much into interpreting what the end of the show is. But I think it’s plain to see from the end of the show that we care about spirituality and that we were trying to be uplifting.
LINDELOF I know people had lists of questions they wanted answers to. What did the numbers mean? Where were the Dharma food drops coming from? What was up with the polar bears? But the list of questions we wanted to explore included: What happens when you die? What is the nature of man — good or evil?
EW How do you feel about those fans who really hated the finale?
LINDELOF To be clear, we are not indifferent to fan reaction. We care about what they think. A lot. And the hardest part for me about the end of Lost has been the people who are so angry at the show. To read that I personally have wasted the last six years of your life, or to read that people think we lied to them — it’s very hurtful. It sucks to hear that.
CUSE It was never going to be possible for us to fulfill everyone’s expectations or desires for the show. But the fact that there seems to be a significant amount of people for whom the finale was very meaningful is gratifying.
EW What’s the one episode of Lost you would like to be remembered for?
CUSE The finale. I think there are other episodes that are really good, but we poured our souls into the finale.
LINDELOF It’s every writer’s worst nightmare — and greatest dream — to say to 20 million worldwide, ”I’m taking off all my clothes and standing on the stage, what do you think?” The fact that 20 million people even wanted to see that was great. The fact that there’s a very large probability that a large portion of that audience is going to laugh at you? Not so great. But at least we did it.