Damon Lindelof is such a Toby. Just like the famous sad-sack HR guy on The Office, the Lost veteran is ridiculed to a degree that’s totally out of step with his actual failings. And just like Toby, Lindelof keeps putting out solid, thoughtful work, as if to say, “Eh, how about this?” — and every time, the internet responds by telling him, “I hate so much about the things you choose to be.” The man created one of the best shows currently airing on television, and yet nearly every interview with him turns into a vaguely medieval ritual of penance in which he is forced to publicly address his creative sins.
There’s no reason to be mysterious just for mysterious’ sake. That’s the thing that I’m trying to learn, because it’s completely and totally situational. When we did Star Trek Into Darkness for example, we decided that we weren’t going to tell people that Benedict Cumberbatch was playing Khan. And that was a mistake, because the audience was like, “We know he’s playing Khan.” That was why it was a mistake.
There’s nothing wrong with a creator acknowledging where he’s stumbled, but this sort of thing seems to happen all the time with Lindelof, in a way that doesn’t happen to other high-profile writers. (And if you’re thinking My favorite writer hasn’t written anything as bad as Lindelof has, trust me — they have.) Take this latest apology: Yes, the idea to hide the fact that Cumberbatch was playing Khan was an example of “mystery box” storytelling gone mad, but Lindelof wasn’t even the one doing most of the lying about Khan. That was J.J. Abrams (who also apologized for the decision, but, as we’ve seen with Lost, nothing sticks to J.J. Abrams; in this elaborate Office metaphor, he’s Jim Halpert).
And just as Toby Flenderson’s inherent passivity only serves to make Michael Scott mock him more, Lindelof’s apparent inability to disengage from criticism only serves to bring it on even harder. (Contrast him to Carlton Cuse, his co-showrunner on Lost, who’s been able to be unbothered by anyone’s opinions. To push this metaphor to its limits, he’s like Stanley. He just keeps on doing his crossword puzzles, which in this metaphor means developing shows for cable.) For years, Lindelof took up arms against a sea of haters on Twitter, fighting the widespread disappointment with the Lost finale — which, as anyone who follows online-content cycles knows, only served to keep it trending further. It took him until 2013 to learn this lesson; as he wrote in THR after the Breaking Bad finale:
I’d like to make a pact, you and me. And here’s your part: You acknowledge that I know how you feel about the ending of Lost. I got it. I heard you. I will think about your dissatisfaction always and forever. It will stay with me until I lie there on my back dying, camera pulling slowly upward whether it be a solitary dog or an entire SWAT team that comes to my side as I breathe my last breath.
And here’s my part: I will finally stop talking about it. I’m not doing this because I feel entitled or above it — I’m doing it because I accept that I will not change hearts nor minds. I will not convince you they weren’t dead the whole time, nor resent you for believing they were despite my infinite declarations otherwise.
This followed on the heels of an absolutely brutal stretch for Lindelof. He received the brunt of the vitriol for Prometheus’ missteps, had to apologize for the Alice Eve underwear scene in Into Darkness (despite, again, the fact that he didn’t direct that movie), and received widespread criticism for his honest and clearheaded assessment of contemporary blockbuster criticism. And, despite, quitting Twitter in late 2013, very little has changed; he spent much of the run-up to The Leftovers’ second season apologizing for how depressing the first one was. It all adds up to this idea of Damon Lindelof the embattled artist, which is totally out of step with his actual accomplishments. So today, we say: Enough! Damon Lindelof has created flawed art. He has also created brilliant, thrilling, mind-bending art. He is not ruining movies. His flaws are not exceptional. Please, for the love of God, let Damon Lindelof live.