Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse tell Doc Jensen what they'll answer this season, how they're handling the time/space plot, what's relevant (or irrelevant) to the story, and more.
Last week, I had the chance to sit down with the producers for a wide-ranging conversation about the new season. Check out the new issue of EW for their thoughts on getting back to work after the strike, the return of Richard Alpert, and why you won't be getting answers to Charlotte's Tunisian polar bear this year. But in this space, you will the hear producers speak out on a variety of issues: the structure of the season; the big mysteries that will — and won't — get resolved; the relevance of extracurricular stuff like the recent ''Find 815'' alternate reality game; and the proper way to ''read'' the show's flash-forward stories. But perhaps most provocatively, the producers offer their rules for time travel and alternate realities — rules that many of you currently engaged in wild theory-making about the interpretation of time/space on Lost will find interesting, even challenging.
We pick up the conversation with Damon and Carlton discussing one unforeseen advantage of the recent writers' strike: being able to respond to audience confusion. (Note: teases and spoiler stuff are at the end. Veggies before dessert, you know.)
CARLTON CUSE: If we were sitting down with you right now, and there hadn't been a strike, we would be in the middle of writing the finale. The entire season would have been done and the audience would have only seen two or three episodes. Now, we actually have an opportunity to react and adjust to how people are feeling about everything.
DAMON LINDELOF: Naomi's bracelet in the Sayid episode is a key point here. I got some e-mails from people who wondered if there was a connection between Naomi's bracelet and the bracelet worn by the woman Sayid killed in his flash-forward. There is no connective tissue. Sometimes a bracelet is just a bracelet. We just thought it would be a cool emotional touchstone for Sayid; Elsa's bracelet reminds him of Naomi. But some people interpreted that, ''Is there something more there?'' We might need to address that.
CUSE: But this is a commentary on how the flash-forwards work. We were very concerned if the flash-forwards would have the same emotional resonance as flashbacks because people naturally, easily understand flashback storytelling as a device. The bracelet is one example of where people, I think, can get lost.
DOC JENSEN: Some people are even wondering if the flash-forward stories in each episode are being presented chronologically. For example, did the opening sequence of Sayid's flash-forward — in which he killed the Italian guy on the golf course in the Seychelles — actually occur after his ill-fated Elsa affair?
LINDELOF: There was originally a line in that episode where Sayid said, ''I've just returned from the Seychelles,'' which would have cleared all that up. But we lost it in editing because the scene went on for four minutes. When we're presenting you with a narrative, it's always happening in chronological order.
CUSE: Lost is complex and dense, but we are very conscious of the limits. If we are going to jump time, we're not going to jump narrative order within the time jumps, too.
LINDELOF: We wrote the Sayid episode before the Boston Red Sox won the World Series a second time. So when Jack said to Frank Lapidus, ''Did the Red Sox really win the World Series?'' and Lapidus says, ''Please don't remind me,'' certain subsets of the Lost audience began asking, ''Is it possible Lapidus is actually from 2008?!'' But you have to understand: we are not writing the show for now. We are writing the show so that when you put it in your DVD player 20 years from now, you don't have to understand the nuances of the Red Sox winning the World Series, only they hadn't won it in a long time.
CUSE: But you won't have a DVD player, Damon.
LINDELOF: It'll just be downloaded into your brain.
DOC JENSEN: Another popular theory making the rounds is that we're dealing with alternate realities. For example, there are people who think the flash-forwards are merely possible future scenarios, not written in stone.
CARLTON CUSE: We want people to believe in the stakes of the show. The problem with alternative realities is that you never know when the rug is going to be pulled out from under you. We want the audience to believe that the jeopardy is real. Postulating alternative realities would be an escape valve that would be damaging that as a narrative value.
DAMON LINDELOF: You can get away with it in Heroes, where there is an apocalyptic future you want to avoid. But we're doing the opposite. We want to work toward a future where Jack is absolutely miserable and wants to go back to the Island. Everything we present to the audience has to be factual.
CUSE: We want the audience to believe that is THE future. We don't want people thinking, ''Well, since there are five iterations of this, I'm not going to invest in what's happening to the characters.''
LINDELOF: We're not going to tell you that we're against bending the time/space continuum. We are very for it. Carlton and I are PRO time-space continuum bending! But we're ANTI-paradox. Paradox creates issues. In Heroes, Masi Oka's character travels back from the future to say, ''You must prevent New York from being destroyed.'' But if they prevent New York from being destroyed, Masi Oka can never travel back from the future to warn you, because Future Hiro no longer exists. Right? So when we start having those conversations at Lost, we go, ''This show is already confusing enough as it is.'' To actually have characters traveling through time has to be handled very deftly.
CUSE: For example, the fifth episode of the season [airing next week] deals with time travel and operates in different time periods. It was a tough story to break. But we adhere to our rule: no paradox.
LINDELOF: It's been weird, though. When we got back from the strike, we had to put up a master timeline of the future, from the point where the Oceanic 6 will end up leaving the Island all the way up to where the flash-forwards will end.
CUSE: And the hard thing was charting a timeline when there's a bend in space/time: How do you illustrate that kind of timeline when time isn't entirely linear? That took us an entire morning —
LINDELOF: — just to debate the quantum physics of it all.
CUSE: We needed to bring in a professional illustrator. [They smirk.]
I have a sneaking suspicion you're pulling my leg on some of this stuff.
CUSE: But we do feel this is a place where we can challenge the audience to create a chronology — where Sayid's story happens in relationship with Jack's story, etc. We'll be adding pieces of that mosaic over the course of these five hours that should hopefully leave you with some fairly clear understanding of what happened between the time the Oceanic 6 were rescued or returned to the real world and Jack and Kate's final scene in the season finale.
DOC JENSEN: How would you describe the general structure of the season?
CARLTON CUSE: This year, it's all about the castaways' relationship to the Freighter folk. Since day one, their goal has been to get off the Island. Now our heroes will find themselves defending the very island they wanted to leave. The future hints at the fact that these folks have a deeper connection to the Island than they themselves realized.
DAMON LINDELOF: The big mystery looming over this season is, how did some people get off the Island and what happened to the people who didn't? That's the mystery that we owe the answer to at the end of the season, in addition to who's in the coffin. We could be winky about the coffin all the way through season 5. But that was one of the first things we talked about when we got back to work on the new episodes: We definitely have to show who was in the coffin. That's the primary super-structure of the season. As a result of that, certain thematic elements — the element of fate or supernatural elements as they relate to the monster and Jacob — are certainly in play but not as interesting to us this season as these questions: Why do some of the characters leave? How do they leave? What are the circumstances under which they leave? Why do some stay? Is it a choice? Is it an accident? Both?
CUSE: There are larger cosmic questions involved in that. Daniel Faraday's rocket experiment in the Sayid episode, which established a time differential on the Island, was a very important scene in that it sets the table for things that come into play in the future of the show. We've learned a lot about our characters' relationship to the Island, but now we're going to learn their relationship to the outside world once they've been on the Island. This is an important new idea to the show.
What's the deal with Jacob's shack? It keeps moving. Then Hurley saw Jack's father rocking in Jacob's chair.
CUSE: You will definitely see more of the cabin and it was very observant that many fans noted the presence of Jack's father inside the cabin. We'll shine a little bit more light on that later this season. This is stuff that is a big part of the show going forward, but in terms of the final five episodes of the season, those are not the kind of questions we'll be answering.
Hurley also saw an eyeball looking back at him. Should we be wondering about the identity of the owner of this eyeball?
LINDELOF: You should be wondering, certainly.
CUSE: One of the definitions of omniscience is to be in more than one place at a time.
LINDELOF: I always thought that word was pronounced omni-science.
CUSE: Well, you've learned something new today.
My annual inquiry: Will we be dealing with the Adam and Eve skeletons this season?
LINDELOF: No. But they will be addressed.
More Dharma Initiative intrigue this season?
LINDELOF: You haven't seen your last station. But the larger mythos, like ''The Purge'' — that's more season 5.
CUSE: We showed the Orchid video orientation film at Comic-Con — that is important for this season.
Someone at my office wants an answer to this question: Wasn't it just a little too convenient for Penny to be calling the Island at the exact same moment Charlie killed the dampening field in the season finale?
LINDELOF: Good question. Here's how we always thought of that: What we always imagined was that Penny has an auto dialer in the bedroom of her house and in various places that is constantly sending some sort of transmission to the coordinates that were revealed at the end of season 2. So when Charlie turned off the dampening field, her auto caller indicated that her call could go through.
Now that they have a satellite phone, why doesn't Desmond just call Penny?
LINDELOF: Lapidus explains the rules of the satellite phone and what calls it can and can't make in episode 5.
The Sayid episode established that Ben's got this list of bad people that need executing. What can you say about these people?
CUSE: We'll know by the end of the season that there will be two alternative explanations for why Oceanic 815 is in the trench at the bottom of the ocean. It will not be clear which story one should believe. [To be clear, Cuse is saying the mystery of Ben's list is linked to this wreckage.]
LINDELOF: Both stories will be presented and both stories will have legitimate facts presented on their behalves.
CUSE: The act of taking a plane, filling it with dead bodies and putting it at the bottom of the ocean connotes a group that is pretty freakin' powerful. You should be worried about the people involved in either scenario capable of doing something like that.
Is one of these groups ''The Maxwell Group,'' a mysterious outfit introduced via the ''Find 815'' alternate reality game?
LINDELOF: We cannot say that any of that stuff in ''Find 815'' is in canon. The Maxwell Group is something that Hoodlum came up with. Last fall, we presented them with the idea that, at the beginning of the second episode, a salvage ship was going to find wreckage of Oceanic 815. From there, they came up with a story — and backstory — that led up to that event. [Some background: prior to the strike, the producers and ABC's marketing team hired a company in Australia called Hoodlum to execute ''Find 815.'']
CUSE: We provided the creative framework but didn't oversee the execution.
LINDELOF: I'll sign off on this idea: the Christiane 1, which in the show was responsible for finding Oceanic 815, was in fact looking for the Black Rock. We established that in the show — but the people who owned the ship may have been up to a little bit more than just looking for the Black Rock.
So what's official and what's not? What's ''canon?''
CUSE: The mobisodes are in canon. The Orchid video is in canon. The videogame is not in canon. It's unfair for the audience to go to ancillary sources in order to really understand the show. Even the things like the mobisodes, which are in canon, aren't essential to your understanding of the show. These things are just added bonuses.
LINDELOF: The only true canon is the show itself.
DOC JENSEN: You've certainly picked some interesting names for your Freighter folk. How should we be interpreting them?
DAMON LINDELOF: With Miles Straum, we just thought it would be cool if his name sounded like ''maelstrom.'' Charlotte Lewis was an obvious reference to C.S. Lewis and an important clue to places we're going at the end of the season.
CARLTON CUSE: And an important clue to Charlotte's own, as-yet-untold important backstory.
LINDELOF: One of our producers, Eddie Kitsis, has been pitching to us ''Frank Lapidus, Helicopter Pilot'' for years. Daniel Faraday is an obvious shout-out to Michael Faraday, scientist and physicist.
CUSE: As is Minkowski, who's on the Freighter. Those names are clues related to the space/time issues that will become more significant downstream.
For the record, is the official lingo here ''the Freighter folk''?
LINDELOF: I like ''Freighter folk'' because you wonder if there's an album cover out there somewhere with all of them, and they have The Mamas and The Papas outfits on.
CUSE: ''Freighter folk'' is more benign. And they're not the only people on that freighter. You're going to meet some other people on the Freighter who have another name, and in contrast to those folks these freighter folk are very...uh, folkish.
How about Matthew Abbaddon?
LINDELOF: ''Abaddon,'' we dug that one out of Wikipedia. When we name people, we often do Web searches on certain verbiage or if we want to pull something out of Greek mythology or Native American mythology, like, ''Who was the god of wheat?''
CUSE: I can't believe you're telling Jeff about the god of wheat now! The entire second half of the fourth season is about the god of wheat!
LINDELOF: Wasn't your nickname at Harvard ''the god of wheat?''
CUSE: No, it was god of rye.
LINDELOF: You see how I get confused.