Lost season five: Interview with Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof

by Lisa McGarry


With the season five DVD of Lost about to be released, executive producers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof reveal insider secrets from the writers’ room, as well as their inspirations behind the show in its penultimate season…

Lost fans seem ecstatic that questions are finally being answered in season five. Was this a conscious move by the show’s producers?

DAMON LINDELOF: In season five, we feel the biggest mistake we could have made was to hold onto all of the really big answers for season six. We wanted people to get to the end of the fifth season of the show and be more excited than ever before. And to that end I think we’re giving a lot of answers in the fifth season so that season six can be more character focused.

How does it feel to see the show going strong after five seasons?

CARLTON CUSE: It feels great. I think the most significant event that occurred during the course of the show was being able to negotiate an end date with the studio. Most television series carry on until they die. For us to actually know the length of our journey was enormously helpful. We now know when it will end, so it allows us to plan out our mythology and figure out when we are going to tell viewers what. It’s exciting to start answering questions. At the same time, we’re ramping into the mythology that will take us into the end of the series. Obviously, there are some big questions that won’t be answered until later in season six, but it is gratifying to see that the audience is actually responding to the fact that we’re giving answers.

DAMON LINDELOF: A lot of the time, we used to get asked, “Are you making it up as you go along?” And we can’t say that that question has entirely stopped, but it’s taken on a new form. The reality is, you know that soon enough you will be able to see all six seasons of the show and you’ll get to judge whether or not we were making it up as we went along. The debate will still be raging.

So how much of the show’s storyline was planned out form the very start?

CARLTON CUSE: At the beginning, no one thought the show was going to last more than 12 episodes and that was liberating because it allowed us to sit down and say, “Well, we’ll make the 12 best episodes in television ever.” The Prisoner was a reference for us because it was a great show that lasted 17 hours and it’s still got this incredible cult reputation. Then the Lost pilot aired and was this enormous hit and that’s when we said, “We really have to figure out the mythology.” After the first couple of episodes of the show, it became apparent that Lost was going to have an enormous longevity, so we sat down and really cooked the mythology in great detail.

Besides you two, who else knows how the show’s storyline will end?

CARLTON CUSE: The writers who work for us on the show know a great deal about it, but they don’t know everything.

DAMON LINDELOF: Matthew Fox knows things that are relevant to Matthew. I don’t think he’s interested in stuff that isn’t relevant to his character. He has never asked us, “What’s the Monster?” He just wants to know what’s going to happen to Jack.

Do the characters discover what the purpose of life is at the end of Lost?

CARLTON CUSE: It’s pretty clear by now that these characters have a destiny – but what exactly is that destiny? Why are the Oceanic Six going back to the island? What is the purpose of their return? These questions will all be explored in the show.

How do you keep on top of all the storylines, past and present?

CARLTON CUSE: There is a guy name Gregg Nations whose role is central to the show. He is the man who makes sense of Lost. His job is to be the keeper of the continuity and he has a massive database in which he has timelines and charts for all the characters. He keeps track of all the events because Damon and I can’t do that. If we say, “When did this event in Locke’s life happen in relation to something that happened in Kate’s life?” That’s not something we know off the tip of our tongue, but Gregg does. He has this database hidden in an undisclosed location that even we don’t know about. He is the keeper of everything that’s happened, so he has The Lost Bible. He doesn’t know what’s coming up in the show, though.

How significant is his role on a day-to-day basis?

DAMON LINDELOF: It’s very significant. There is a scene in season five where John Locke visits the characters off the island, but we have a continuity question: At what stage is Jack’s beard? Is it full, crazy beard? Is it just a little bit of a Don Johnson beard? Is it somewhere in between the two? You have to have conversations like that because that’s how the audience is tracking where the characters are in their lives. It’s basically through their hairstyles.

Was The Mystery Island by Jules Verne an inspiration for Lost?

DAMON LINDELOF: Jules Verne is certainly an influence, along with Stephen King, Star Wars and those Joseph Campbell myths. Lost is the idea of a hero’s journey. Traditionally the hero’s journey is just a man or a woman protagonist going along on an adventure. There is a mentor character and they have this call that they must fulfill their destiny. For us, we’re doing that 14 different times. We do the hero’s journey with each and every character, so Hurley is just as important as Jack or Sayid or Sawyer or Kate or Claire and even Charlie, whose hero’s journey is now over because he sacrificed his own life for the good of the island. We’re basically trying to tell redemption stories and we feel that the island is an opportunity to erase your past and start over again. It doesn’t matter if you were a doctor or a musician or a torturer. Here on the island, you’re just you. You are able to shed your sins of the past and make yourself over again because the characters are clearly struggling with this idea of who they were versus who they’re becoming. That’s essentially what we’re trying to do.

Was Twin Peaks another inspiration?

DAMON LINDELOF: I remember watching Twin Peaks with my father when I was a teenager and the wonderful thing about that show was the way that it aired for an hour, but it created a culture of people who would talk about it for hours afterwards. People would get together and they would have theories – not just about the central mystery of the show, which is who killed Laura Palmer, but about many other questions. What’s the Black Lodge? What’s the story with the log lady? We feel the same way about Lost because it’s complicated. It’s tricky. We will admit to the fact that you have to watch almost every episode to appreciate it for its true worth. If you miss an episode, you risk getting lost and I think Twin Peaks was the same way.

Can you name any other inspirations?

CARLTON CUSE: There are many influences and we’ve already mentioned some of them, such as Twin Peaks, Jules Verne and The Prisoner. The Bible was also a huge influence on the show, but the one piece of literary work that had the most influence for us was The Stand, which is a 1,000-page Stephen King novel with a very high-concept premise. The novel follows a lot of different characters, which is similar to Lost. Plus, there’s a fantasy element to the book. Have a read and see what you think.