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Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse on the End (?) of Lost

Tonight's episode of Lost, "Across the Sea," will focus on the two mysterious bosses of the island, Jacob and the Man in Black. In anticipation, Vulture spoke to the two mysterious bosses of Lost, show-runners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse. The pair answered some Vulture commenter questions, addressed the extra half-hour ABC announced would be added to the finale, explained why Jin didn't leave Sun even though they have a child, and hinted that Lost may not quite be over after the finale. Wait, what?

Has it sunk in yet that you're done filming?
Carlton Cuse: No. Because while we have locked the cut editorially, we're still doing a lot of work. Excuse us for being on our cell phones, but we're on route to the scoring stage where Michael Giacchino is going to be recording all of the music for the finale with a live orchestra. We have a lot of work and visual effects to do. I think it really will sink in on the 24th when we are literally done-done.

So there was no moment at the wrap party when someone had too much to drink and yelled out, "Let's do a season seven!" followed by a round of cheers?
Damon Lindelof: [Laughs.] We haven't gotten that drunk yet.

So it sounds like you're ready to move on.
Cuse: I think we've been prepared for a long time for the ending of the show. I think that we feel certain that it was the right decision. We're prepared for it. I think that there will certainly be a mourning period when it's all said and done. It's funny: There's this special feature for the DVDs in which some other show-runners discuss what it's like ending a show. There's an interview with Stephen Cannell [The A-Team, The Greatest American Hero, Wiseguy] who said that he's produced something like 42 television series, for network television, and he never ended any of them on his own terms. We're far more grateful for the fact we're able to do this on our own terms. I think that's the emotion, at least at this moment, that outweighs the other ones.

Tonight's episode, "Across the Sea," focuses on Jacob and the Man In Black. When were these guys first conceived?
Lindelof: We had to start talking about the overall mythology of the island in greater detail in the cracks between the first and second seasons, before our characters went down into the hatch. That conversation basically kicked out into the other major arc of the second season. Which was: Who are the Others? Who are these other people on the island, and who was their leader? And who was he receiving his instructions from? By the time the show got into its third season, we started to hear references to this character, Jacob. And I think it's safe to say that those conversations started then.

Do you think some fans get disappointed when they find out that everything wasn't plotted out from the first episode?
Cuse: I think the answer is, once we announced the end date, I think a lot of those concerns went away. I can't imagine that there are many authors that are able to, basically, conceive something entirely beforehand. We feel strongly that the show would be worse if we were just marching forward. The creative process is not like a situation where you get struck by a single lightning bolt. You have ongoing discoveries and there's ongoing creative revelations. Yes, it's really helpful to be marching toward a specific destination, but, along the way, you must allow yourself room for your ideas to blossom, take root, and grow. I think that's how we approached the show: We had a rough idea of certain things, a specific idea about other things. Over six years, everything got a lot richer and fuller because we spent all that time thinking about the show and thinking about how to make the show better.

As opposed to someone like George Lucas who, today, claims he knew the entire arc of Star Wars when he was filming the first movie. Even his old interviews prove that's not true.
Lindelof: Totally. The other thing is, we never had the hubris or the audacity to try and plot out too far in advance, because we didn't even know if the viewers were going to want another season of Lost. Just to say in season three that we'll end the show after season six, then people decide they hated the show in season four, there wouldn't have even have been a season five. You have to focus on what's in front of you. If J.K. Rowling was only thinking about the seventh Harry Potter book when she was writing the third one, she wouldn't have been able to write the third one. You kind of have to say, "Hey, we have a cool idea for this character named Jacob and his nemesis, the Man in Black. But let's not put that idea in front of the audience until we're really ready to start telling that chapter of the story. We'll allude to it, because we have it in mind. In the meantime, this chapter of the story is that the island is moving through time and that's what the characters are dealing with right now. If you throw Jacob and the Man in Black into that story, people's heads are going to explode.

If we were on a plane that crashed, we would certainly remember that flight number. In the flash sideways this season, Oceanic Flight 815 didn't crash, but everyone seems to remember their flight number. If we were approached and asked if we were on Delta flight 4367 two weeks ago, we would have no idea. Do either of you make a point to remember your flight numbers?
Cuse: You know, the thing that's funny is that we fly to Hawaii, usually on the exact same schedule. So, yes, we fly United 81 out and United 82 back. What's actually more disconcerting is when people see us and recognize us and we're sitting on the plane. It does not make people happy to see that they're flying on the plane with us. And Damon and I, on our last trip to Hawaii, we had the worst flight we've ever had over there. It was bumpy and rocky and just horrible for two and a half hours. We were like, "This would make a great story if this plane goes down somewhere over the Pacific, but we do not want this to happen."

In last week's episode, why didn't Sun tell Jin to leave her so he could raise their daughter?
Lindelof: That's a great question. And our only answer for it is that Sun only had about 30 seconds to process the fact that she was going to die. Sun and Jin never had a relationship together with that daughter. Sun had a relationship with her, but Jin did not — she was just a picture on a phone to him. In that moment, she did not tell Jin to leave her side. Partially, in that moment, maybe there was a part of her that wanted him to stay with her. Who knows? We're not really willing to say why characters don't say certain things in certain moments. All we can say is: She did not say that. We did not want that scene to be about their daughter, we wanted it to be about them reuniting.

It was announced that the finale is going to be extended an extra half-hour, for a total of two and a half hours. Did that come from you or the network?
Cuse: Damon and I wrote the script and we were gently told by the network that they thought it was big. And we were like, "No, no, we'll be able to get this all in there." But we really wrote the script the way we wanted the script to be. Normally in television, you're trying to execute a clear decision within a very specific guideline — which is the running time of a one-hour episode. We really just sort of decided, "Let's not worry too much about that, let's just write the best version of the finale and we will figure out in post the time issue." And when we finally saw a cut of the whole thing together, we were like, "This thing will not be as good in a two-hour running time." We went to the network and said, "You know what? You guys are right, this thing is a little bit long and we think we can deliver you a much better version of it that's two-and-a-half-hours long." And they were totally supportive. They rearranged the schedule in order to give us a two-and-a-half-hour airing slot. We feel really excited about it; we think the finale is going to be so much better for that. It will really feel like a feature film.

We have a few questions from Vulture readers. TheCheese wants to know if there are any questions you hear a lot from fans that you wish they would stop asking?
Lindelof: Well, you know, they're entitled to ask any question they want. But ... it is hard to answer the 50th iteration of "When did you know this? When did you figure this part out?" The idea of having to explain our creative process as this sort of time-scale thing, so that people could look at it and say, "Oh, ah-ha, this is what they knew when they were making the pilot. This is what they didn't know," sort of takes the magic out of it and the fun out of it for us in the creative process. It makes us feel more like we're in a senate hearing as opposed to, "Hey, we were doing our best to make the best show that we possibly could," in a very short period of time, at first, and this is it. And no matter how many times we answer that question, it feels like there's just a cynicism that emerges in terms of, you know, I feel like you guys are trying to put one over on us.

Well, sorry then about that whole Jacob, Man in Black question from before ...
Lindelof: No, I mean, that's what people want to know.

Like_shootin_fish_in_a_barrel and Pennywise feel that the female characters aren't as strong as they were in the first few seasons.
Cuse: Personally, I haven't heard that. I think that when all is said and done, at the end of the finale, we feel like we will kind of have serviced the characters to the best of our ability. We approach the characters as characters. We really don't think a lot about if this is a male character or if this is a female character. We think about what the characters want. We feel, particularly for Kate, the rest of her journey in this series is a really, really good one. She's sort of the lead female character, so we would hope that criticism would be abated by the time the series is over.

Ntlzaglostie815 is having a Lost-themed 30th birthday party and wants to know if you two and the rest of the cast will come?
Cuse: [Laughs.] Where is it?

You know, she didn't say. I guess you guys won't be able to make it without knowing a location.
Lindelof: It just depends on if pizza is going to be served.

Chiyork is wondering if there are any characters you regret killing?
Cuse: At the very beginning of the series, we had these two beach extras — we called them socks because they were kind of like sock puppets — and one was named Steve and one was named Scott. And I think we regret the fact that one was called Steve and one was called Scott because we could never remember which one was which. And we could never remember which one we killed and which one we hadn't killed. We may not regret killing Scott or Steve — whichever one we did kill, I can't even remember now myself —[but] we should have named one a non "S" name.

Annetay knows there will be some questions left unanswered. Are there any questions left unanswered that you wish you would have answered?
Lindelof: We answered all the questions that we wanted to answer. And our rule has always been: We answer the questions that were important to answer for the characters on the show. If Jack, Sawyer, Hurley, Locke, and Kate didn't care about it ... It's not that we didn't care about it, or that we don't acknowledge that the fans are curious about it, but we didn't answer it. That being said: There might, possibly, be some questions that we, as storytellers, will answer in the body of the show that might not be appearing in the finale. And that's all we're willing to say ...

Are there episodes during the run of Lost that took you by surprise in the way fans reacted to it?
Cuse: I think that we basically have been pretty much in sync with the fans reaction. We will acknowledge that episodes like "Stranger in a Strange Land" are not good just as quickly as the fans will. I think the one episode that was polarizing was "Expose," the Nikki and Paulo episode. Which we loved and, in that case, there were definitely fans — particularly ones who treated the show really reverentially — that couldn't stand it and they hated it. So there was a little bit of a sense of division on that episode because we totally dug it and we loved it. But it was definitely an episode where we sort of broke the fourth wall in the sense that we acknowledged that the audience hated Nikki and Paulo. We sort of incorporated that as an element into the show — some people felt like that was too intrusive. That's the episode I think that's probably the most polarizing.

What's each of your favorite finales in television history?
Lindelof: Our Lost finale?

Okay, one that has already aired ...
Cuse: I'm going to go first and jump on the Sopranos bandwagon. Damon and I talk about it a lot. While we think that it was a little bit polarizing, ultimately, The Sopranos was an existential show and it was the perfect existential ending. We wouldn't end our show that way, but we admire the fact that David Chase came up with a really bold choice that, to us, really felt like it was the right way to end that show. And I admire the fact that it was risky.
Lindelof: I think Carlton definitely speaks for both of us on The Sopranos, and I probably speak for both of us when I say the M*A*S*H finale. I remember the event of the M*A*S*H finale when I watched it with my parents and our neighbors came over from across the street. And it was this incredibly emotional thing — my parents were crying. Not just because of the things that happened in the episode itself were kind of sad, they were crying because the show was leaving. That's a much different feeling than The Sopranos ending, which was not really going for emotion; it was going for high art. Whereas a Seinfeld ending is a much different thing than a Cheers ending, which is, they're going for emotion. When Sam turns out the light, you're supposed to feel something. We really both admired the moment the helicopter lifts off and you look down and you see "good-bye" — just being this iconic moment in television. But, in a way, it was breaking the fourth wall and communicating to the audience, "we're saying good-bye to you, too." That was just a beautiful, beautiful piece of filmmaking.

Hopefully people will feel the same way on May 23.
Lindelof: From your mouth to God's ears.

Photo: Julien M. Hekimian/Getty Images