Lindelof and Cuse Respond to Critics and Reveal Details about the Story of the O

TV Arts

By Ed Martin 

Los Angeles -- After two highly acclaimed seasons and numerous honors, 
including the 2005 Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series, ABC's Lost 
stumbled a bit at the start of year three. The six episodes that ran as 
a "mini-season" last fall, which found Jack, Kate and Sawyer held 
prisoner and tormented by the mysterious characters known as the Others, 
and which gave relatively little screen time to many of the other 
established characters on the canvas, were somewhat unsatisfying. The 
show was still inventive, surprising and handsomely produced, but some 
of the magic seemed to be missing. Viewers weren't the only ones taking 
notice. Critics -- the very group that had exhaustively championed Lost 
throughout the previous two years -- began grumbling as well. 

ABC responded by bringing most of the primary cast members to the 
January Television Critics Association tour last month to talk up their 
show before its February 7 return. Executive producers Damon Lindelof 
(who co-created the series with J.J. Abrams) and Carlton Cuse were also 
on hand to ensure everyone that many of the questions and concerns 
expressed by viewers and critics alike would be addressed as season 
three continued. 

Following the session, Lindelof and Cuse sat with MediaVillage editor Ed 
Martin to further discuss their thoughts about the season to date and 
their future plans for the show. An edited transcript of that 
conversation follows. 

MediaVillage: Were you surprised at the level of concern expressed by 
critics about the direction the story took last fall and their 
frustration about the many unresolved mysteries on the show? 

Damon Lindelof: In my opinion the really good critics embrace the fact 
that they're fans. I find there is a very rare instance where your fan 
brain is having one reaction and your critical brain is having another. 
The level at which questions are asked of us is polarizing. You can tell 
it's personal. If they don't like it, it's like they're almost offended 
in a way. 

Carlton Cuse: I'm a big baseball fan, and I feel proprietary about the 
Dodgers. I'm not the owner. I'm not the manager. But I feel passionate 
about the decisions that they make and I take it personally when they 
make decisions I don't like. I think you end up in the same sort of 
position when you are in a position of stewardship on a show like this. 
Damon and I sit in my office every morning over breakfast and make the 
creative decisions for the day and decide what we're going to be doing 
with the show. We use our own internal compass and barometer, but it's 
very hard to find that balance between moving the story forward in a way 
that we feel is intriguing to us as storytellers and answering the 
concerns of fans and critics. "Are you diverting off onto a new story 
tangent? Are you getting away from what we like about the show?" It 
feels very hard to strike the right balance there. 

DL: The critics have legitimate [reasons] to say, "We propped this show 
up. From the moment that we saw it we believed in it. We got behind it. 
We wrote nice things about it. We picked it as the show of the year." 
Not that the critics are responsible for the show's success in its 
entirety, but they're a big part of it. The fact that so much buzz was 
building about Lost before it premiered wasn't just based on the 
premise. I think that same thing sort of continues. "We have a 
responsibility as critics, because we launched this thing, to now make 
sure that the people we said it was really good to understand that we 
agree with them as fans." 

MV: What are the critics' complaints? 

DL: That maybe the show has now taken a darker turn. That it's too 
mythological. We're either getting, "We're not in the beach camp enough 
and we're not with the characters we love" or "You're not answering 
enough questions." We find as storytellers you can't accomplish both 
goals. We have to sort of commit to one or the other. Sometimes mistakes 
are made. I would argue in some cases that it's just impossible to make 
everybody happy. 

MV: I understand you're going to go back to the beach after the February 
7 episode. Once you move the characters away from the Others' camp, what 
will be the narrative thrust of the story? 

CC: The show is still about the Others. That's what season three is 
about. It's just a question of how and in what form the show is telling 
the story about these other characters. When you're on the beach you can 
do lovely small character stories. There are some episodes like that 
coming up, beach-based stories, much smaller in scope and dependent on 
just character interaction. But we're not abandoning our mission this 
season, which is to tell the story of the Others. We're going to see 
that play out in other ways. 

DL: The audience has seen that, prior to the crash of Flight 815, the 
Others were all living in sort of an idyllic little Wisteria Lane-like 
community with nice houses and all that. So we also feel indebted to 
tell the audience when and if they left that place. Are all the Others 
over on the prison camp island? Are they going to stay there? If Kate 
and Sawyer and/or Jack were to escape would the Others then potentially 
abandon Alcatraz and go somewhere else? Are they more nomadic in terms 
of the way that they function on the island? 

CC: I honestly believe the next group of episodes is really good and a 
lot of the criticism of the first six will be ameliorated by the grander 
view of this year.
Exactly, noone is even giving them a chance to make good on answering
some of the Who, What, Why, When Where? of Lost.. let this season end,
then judge whether or not you think the show is worthy of coming back.

You saw 1/4 of the season and made up your minds -- Here's a
newsflash.. Season 2 didn't start off so great either, but once the
ball was rolling it wowed us again.

Give it a chance! If you knew everything, there would no longer be a
show to watch, DUH.
Oh, come on.  They're in to their 3rd season.  If that's not giving them a
chance, what is?  

A hell of a lot of people are still wondering what the hell happened to
Michael and Walt.  They basically got written in to the cornfield.  This
after they built up Walt to be a linchpin they hung the whole series on. All
anyone has gotten from the writers about them is they may re-visit Michael
and Walt at some future date.  Writing them out was the clincher to me that
the writers had no idea where the story was going when they began.

If you call that being "wowed again" I can't even given to understand your
wow factor.  It was just another huge let-down.
I don't even care about them anymore. I'm perfectly happy to watch the
story develop along other avenues, as long as it remains entertaining.
I don't begrudge anyone finding entertainment anywhere.  On the other hand,
I think one of the things people love about serials is the viewers can try
to figure out clues to what's happening.  If the clues or plot developments
in earlier episodes don't actually mean anything or are as easily discarded
as Walt was, what's the point?.  

More and more viewers feel manipulated after a while as they realize the
emperor has no clothes.  I think it's one of the reasons for the decline in
The writers can still make it satisfying it if they can tie things together
but instead it appears they keep throwing more and more ideas against the
wall to see what sticks.

I think what's happening with Lost is what would have happened to The
X-Files if the alien/government conspiracy was all their ever was to the
show.  The X-Files could easily shift their main plot to the background.
Even then, The X-Files was ultimately unsatisfying.   Stand alone episodes
just don't work too well for Lost when the whole plot is based on why
they're on that island.   Lost is playing more like an extended episode of
The Twilight Zone.  That means whatever ending they cook up will really need
to blow people away to be satisfying.
What you say is true, but I see the value in cutting and running when
one particular storyline has run its course _when_ there are other
more interesting stories to tell. It's cost vs benefit, letting one
thing go quietly to make room for new storylines might be more
beneficial than trying stubbornly to fit it in and in doing so, hold
things back. Of course the ideal is for _every_ clue and plot
development to tie in neatly at the end, and we don't know if that
will happen yet, but I'm willing to forgive them if one or two get
left by the wayside _if_ I continue to be entertained. No doubt more
focussed fans and fans of lengthy story arcs will be somewhat

It depends on what holds a viewer's interest. Casual fans might not be
as interested in speculation, theories and interpretations as focussed
fans. While trying to make it all make sense might be fun for some,
_expecting_ it to, seems futile when we know that the writers never
had every single thing planned out right from the beginning.