1. A decade after its debut, Lost seems ever more like a weird, collective dream we all had.

    A complicated, character-driven sci-fi/fantasy hybrid with heavy elements of horror? And we all watched it? And it was on broadcast network television? When looking at the modern TV landscape, it's hard to find anything quite so ambitious, especially on the broadcast networks, which increasingly manage toward the margins in a dying business model.

    "Even if you fail, people will appreciate you having attempted the harder trick and crashed than just kind of doing the easy stuff," said co-creator Damon Lindelof during a 90-minute interview about the show's first season. He said this wisdom was instilled in him by his fellow co-creator, J.J. Abrams. Abrams would leave the show seven episodes in, but leave an indelible mark upon it: the mark of going for broke, of trying anything, of never settling for the routine.

    Go to the interviews

    Lost was a massive hit. And no matter what you thought of it (or, notably, its ending), you have to grapple with the fact that for six years, a show with the soul of a cult sensation somehow became an obsession of the sorts of people who wouldn't have been into a show with such a heavy mythology, such bizarre symbolism, except for the fact that the show was so good at what it did that it essentially sucked them into caring about the sorts of stuff numerous other shows had tried and failed to interest viewers in.

    Lost was special, and we're unlikely to see anything else like it

    Yeah, there had been antecedents. Star Trek: The Next Generation brought science fiction to one of the largest audiences ever assembled for such a program (and in syndication, no less). Twin Peaks became a collective fixation for a few brief weeks in 1990. And The X-Files married weird storytelling to a police procedural format in a way that proved incredibly entertaining and durable.

    But Lost stood, in some ways, alone. At the time, it (along with Desperate Housewives, which also debuted in the fall of 2004 on ABC) felt like a herald of network television's new fearlessness in trying new things to stand out from a crowd increasingly filled with cable series willing to play dark to win viewers. Now, however, it feels like the last gasp of a model that would soon realize its obsolescence.

    No one is going to claim that Lost was perfect. Even I, someone who largely defends the much-derided finale, will admit that the series lost its way several times over the course of its run. Hell, even the show's co-showrunners, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, have publicly called out episodes they felt didn't live up to the show's standards of quality. That's inevitable, in some ways. Lost ran six seasons, and for three of those, it produced more than 20 episodes. Any show will produce some bum hours in that timeframe.

    I'm not even going to try to convince you Lost was good, though I very much believe it was. It wasn't everybody's cup of tea, to be sure, and the audience shrank as the show catered more and more to the hardcore faithful. One person can learn that the show's mystical Island was the center of experiments with weird pseudoscience in the ‘70s and have their eyes fill with delight, while another will roll their eyes and flip over to something else. That's healthy. And thanks to Lost and others like it, that "something else" stood just as good a chance at being terrific as the show being turned away from.


    Damon Lindelof (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

    No, what I'm trying to convince you of is that Lost was special, that we're unlikely to see anything else like it. The closest modern television comes is something like Game of Thrones, which similarly sprawls all over the place and incorporates more and more characters with every season. But even that show's considerable imagination seems paltry when stacked up against Lost's ability to be about seemingly everything under the sun. Mock Lost for its pretensions toward religious and philosophical profundity, if you will (and I certainly have before), but wasn't it fun to have a show that dared mix roughly an entire century's worth of thought and pulp fiction into something entirely new?

    Yet Lost was about more than just the theorizing, flipping over to the internet after an episode ended, knee jittering with the possibility of it all, and leaping into comments sections to swap ideas about what was happening (though I miss that aspect as well). No, it was about a bunch of people who had, in one way or another, failed at being complete human beings, and a weird place that gave them a chance to complete themselves. If the mythology didn't always add up, the characters always did. They were all searching for pieces of themselves they had misplaced along the way, and on the Island, they were able to find them.

    It's become a cliché to say that Lost succeeded where its many imitators failed because of its intense focus on characters, but it's also true. In rewatching the first season for this interview series, I was reminded anew of how arresting and exciting these figures were, how beautifully they were initially introduced as barely sketched-in archetypes, before subsequent episodes deepened them. Lovable rogue Sawyer. Estranged, yet still in love, couple Sun and Jin. Tortured torturer Sayid. Mystic pretender Locke. And even savior complex-hobbled Jack. As written by a top-notch writing staff and played by fantastic actors, these characters and others came to occupy an outsized place in our TV imagination. (And that doesn't even begin to touch on characters introduced in later seasons.)

    To watch Lost now is to be a little bit sad about all of the ways television seems to be hemming itself in

    And what ultimately made the show work was the way it kept circling the idea of loss — as exemplified in all of these characters — warily. They were all incomplete, but they were incomplete because they had made themselves so, because the pains of life caused them to shut off parts of themselves. This is natural, and this is human, but Lost also argued that was no way to confront the world. The way to go forward instead was to walk into a jungle that could contain anything and open yourself up to the idea that it might contain the things you were most scared to confront — even if you wouldn't admit as much to yourself.

    The television landscape is more fractured now than it was in 2004, and it's possible for just about any network out there to produce something of staggering quality. But to watch Lost now is to also be just a little bit sad about all of the ways television seems to be hemming itself in. This was a show made in an era of big swings, when any network might launch a massive, era-defining hit out of nowhere. Now, we live in an era when even the biggest of swings feel safe somehow, because they're based on proven source material, or because they use characters and talent we already know well, or just because they don't have much going on beneath their beautifully preening surfaces.

    Lost was different. Lost was special. It was one part mad scientist's concoction, one part blank slate for the characters (and audience) to project their anxieties upon. It dared to suggest that the most important thing in the whole world was not the mysteries in the uncharted areas of maps, but in the uncharted areas of ourselves.

    What follows are interviews with Lindelof about 10 episodes from Lost's first season. Read on for his reflections on casting the show, developing the characters, and creating the mythology of the Island.

    • Editor: Eleanor Barkhorn
    • Designer: Tyson Whiting
    • Developer: Yuri Victor
    • Images: ABC
  2. Pilot

    Episodes 1 and 2

    Originally aired Sept. 22 and 29, 2004. Stream here.

    Oceanic Flight 815 crashes on a deserted island in the middle of the South Pacific. The survivors of the crash fight desperately to find someone to rescue them and confront their strange new surroundings.

    Todd VanDerWerff: What was the moment for you when you knew Lost was something you wanted to do?

    Damon Lindelof: I think instantly.

    I was writing for this show, Crossing Jordan, at that time. We were in the third season of that show, and I had been there since the beginning and really loved working there, but at the same time, in terms of the television that I consumed, I was much more into genre serialized television. Alias was one of the shows that I was kind of obsessing on, and had let it be known to both my agents and all of my colleagues of which Heather Caden was one, that I would really love to meet with J.J. [Abrams, Alias's creator] and write on that show if the opportunity presented itself.

    Heather reached out to me a couple of times, "Can you meet with J.J now?" And I had just re-upped my deal at Crossing Jordan, and it was sort of like, "Damn it, the timing is wrong, et cetera, et cetera."  But I never felt like it was a real thing. Although I was a professional writer, just from a pure fan boy perspective, I was very intimidated by the idea of meeting J.J. and didn't know what I would say to him.

    I wanted to write the show for the fandom that was willing to go the deepest

    Then she called me up on a Friday evening and said, "It doesn't look like there's going to be any job availabilities on Alias." This was at the very end of January in 2004. "But Lloyd [Braun, the then-head of ABC Entertainment] is super passionate about this idea that he had at our retreat this year, and we went and we developed it with Aaron Spelling and this writer Jeffrey Lieber, but we don't like how it turned out. And Lloyd is really desperately trying to get J.J. to engage, but J.J. is running Alias, and he is doing this other pilot The Catch." That was about a bounty hunter, and it was going to star Greg Grunberg. "And the only way that J.J. will engage is if he supervises some other writer. And I just kind of felt like this sort of thing was straight up your alley and maybe this is the opportunity for you to meet him, but the idea is nothing beyond a plane crashes on an island, people survive. That's kind of all we got."

    Finally, there was an opportunity to be in a room with J.J., and it almost felt more exciting to me for it to be about something that wasn't his and up and running, like Alias. It wasn't like, I'm going to sit in a room and I'm going to tell you what I think Sydney Bristow should be doing, or what I love about the show that already exists versus, okay, here is a tabula rasa, anything is possible.

    I was excited and engaged. I thought about it and I didn't sleep all weekend long. I was absolutely positive that the meeting was going to get canceled because that stuff happens all the time. Then lo and behold, Monday afternoon, I'm sitting there at Bad Robot — it was not Bad Robot [the major production company] yet, it was a title card at the end of Felicity and Alias, but there was no company, there was just the Alias writers and producers.

    So I was basically sitting there and [Alias actor] Kevin Weisman walked by me as I was sitting on the couch. I was like, "Ooh, Marshall" and just kind of sitting there and then J.J. came out of his office. I was wearing this Bantha Tracks T-shirt from the Star Wars fan club that I've owned since 1980. And he was like "Bantha Tracks!" And kind of right there I was like, this could be the beginning of something amazing, and I desperately want this to work. So I think that there was a tremendous amount of engagement, almost instantaneously.

    Todd VanDerWerff: Now looking back at the TV landscape of that era, it was still very much rooted in kind of that '80s Hill Street BluesSt. Elsewhere model. The Sopranos was on the air but that whole movement of TV was sort of in its infancy. What were you going to try and do to stand out in that environment beyond being set on an island?

    Damon Lindelof: I think that I was very activated by the idea of a kind of grandeur, building a grander mythology around the show, which The X-Files had done incredibly well for a really long period of time. The X-Files had just ended, so I feel like there's just this huge fandom, myself included, wandering around, just waiting for the next thing to come for us to invest in.

    Alias was doing this to some degree with the Rambaldi mythology. It was more of a conspiracy methodology in the same way that The X-Files was, but sort of this idea of real fundamental world building. And that's the thing that fans really go deep on, which was really exciting to me. I knew that would take a tremendous amount of time and effort, but for me, it went all the way back to Twin Peaks, which my dad and I watched religiously, and he would tape on his VHS. As soon as the episode was over, we would watch it again and pause it and look for clues and debate what lines of dialogue meant what. That level of engagement, especially in the online community, was now basically coming alive. So for me, my two television idols were Joss [Whedon] and J.J., and I just wanted to continue working on that kind of stuff.

    I really viewed it as, "This should be a cult show." When I say, "cult", that doesn't mean I only want two million people to watch it and have it get cancelled. Although, that's sort of what I started secretly wishing for once we were up and running. But at the time, I was, like, cult shows sort of have like cool cred. Where there were different levels of fandom, but I wanted to write the show for the fandom that was willing to go the deepest.

    Todd VanDerWerff: What level of that world building did you guys have done when you sat down to finish the pilot?

    Damon Lindelof: Not a lot. The reality was that J.J. and I met the last week of January. We delivered the completed two hour pilot — not the script, but the film; we had shot and then edited it and Giacchino had scored it -in the last week of April, or the first week of May. So you're talking about a 12-to-14 week period under which we made it. We wrote and cast and shot a feature film. So the idea that we had any time at all to sit around and talk about what the fundamental mythology of the Island just didn't happen.

    If we think it's cool, let's just do it. There's no trying to talk ourselves out of it.

    There were conversations that certainly occurred between J.J. and I about what are the rules that the Island must subscribe to. And in the very first meeting of that Monday afternoon, J.J pitched that they find a hatch, and that there were other people on the island. So that begged the question of, "OK, who built this hatch and what's inside it?" That conversation was happening while we were shooting the pilot. "And who are the other people on the island, and where do they come from, and what is their purpose there?" Because in the original outline, the pilot ended with about 30 of the survivors being abducted. There's this excursion that basically goes to the top of the hill to try the transponder. They returned, and all the other survivors are gone. Which we obviously changed along the way. But the idea that there was a hostile force of other individuals on the island was already sort of getting baked into the premise. That kind of stuff we were talking about, but I don't think we reached any fundamental resolution on.

    And then we also hired this brain trust of writers, including Javier Grillo-Marxuach, Jennifer Johnson, Paul Dini, Christian Taylor. Their job while we were shooting the pilot in Hawaii was to basically sit in a room and come up with ideas and mythology and all that stuff. I would call in from Hawaii — there's a three-hour time difference — and we would talk for 90 minutes or two hours a day about some of these ideas with the hopes of basically constructing this document that we would then give to ABC, so that they would know that we had some sort of a plan for moving forward.

    But we ended up talking very little about mythology, and much more about the backstories of the characters, and the stories that would take place on the island, because Steve McPherson at that time had replaced Lloyd and Steve let it be known in no uncertain terms that this show was not going to be supernatural, and it wasn't going to be weird. He wasn't really interested in that, because when Alias did that, it lost viewership, and he and J.J. were already sparring over that stuff on Alias. He certainly didn't want to engage in it on Lost.

    We knew that the document that we had to present to ABC was going to be: the show is not going to be serialized. Every single episode is going to have a beginning, middle, and end in terms of there's a problem, and the castaways have to face the problem, and they'll solve the problem, and they will be better off, and then nothing weird is going to happen. We are going to subscribe to this Michael Crichton rules of storytelling, which is, nobody really thinks of Jurassic Park as a science fiction movie, even though that's exactly what it is. Because he is presenting the science to back it up. Here is a mosquito, and the mosquito takes dinosaur blood, gets preserved in amber, we know how to clone this shit, so there you go.

    The document that we ended up generating was like more of a defense than an offense. And I do think it became characteristic of certainly the first half of season one in terms of the writing all the way up until "Raised By Another" and "Solitary" — the Sayid and Claire flashbacks — where the show started getting "weird and mythological." Either way, we thought that "Walkabout" was a hugely mythological episode, but ABC sort of accepted it at face value that Locke's injury might have been psychosomatic and that he was jarred out of his paralysis as a result of the crash, which is the bullshit that we fed them when we wrote that script. And they were like, "OK." It was like, "No, magic island heals Locke." I mean that's a much better story, isn't it?

    Todd VanDerWerff: J.J. Abrams left the show shortly into season one and it really  became yours and Carlton Cuse's show. What do you see as J.J. Abrams's major legacy in the program?

    Damon Lindelof: Well first and foremost, I think that he sort of really cast the show. I was there, and I'd love to say I had a tremendous amount of input, and I did, but I do think that from the directorial point of view and the star-making and the ensemble building, all that stuff, I think that J.J. just had a tremendous amount of confidence.

    Even if you fail, people will appreciate you having attempted the harder trick

    So when Josh Holloway came in and read for Sawyer, who was originally written as a sort of very sleek urban-like New York City con men who wears Prada suits and is much more kind of like Ben Affleck character in Boiler Room, Josh came in and read the sides, and then J.J. was like, "Don't do it as that guy, do it as you." And Josh was like, "What do you mean?" He was like "Do the whole Southern accent thing. Like just be you." And Josh was like, "Oh, all right." And then Sawyer was born.

    I can tell you 10 stories like that. In terms of Yunjin [Kim, who played Sun] coming in and reading for Kate, and J.J looking at her resume and saying, "Oh my god! There are all this movies in Korea, obviously you speak Korean." And Yunjin was like, "Yeah, I'm completely and totally bilingual." And when she left, he was like, "We've just got to write a character for her." And I was like, "But we already have an outline and we're writing the script and there's nobody like that in it." And he's like, "Oh, don't worry about it."

    I think that his legacy is twofold, which is he not only developed the look of the show, the cinematic qualities of the show, but also the sort of bravura sense of, if we think it's cool, let's just do it. Let's just go for it. Like, there's no trying to talk ourselves out of it. Like, what do we have to do lose? I think that it's a very exciting place to write a show from. It's also a very terrifying place.

    But the excitement is translated to audience because there is that sort of sense of, well, I'm five hours into Lost and here's an episode where I'm reading like 70 percent of the episode, because it's about these two Korean characters. And if you go into the part of your brain that says, "People aren't going to want to watch a subtitled episode of television. They'll tolerate a scene or two of it, but they're not going to want to watch an episode entire episode of it," and you just go like, "Why wouldn't they? If it's interesting enough, and they care about the characters, and something cool is going on in the Island, why wouldn't they?" What's amazing is people didn't even comment on that episode with 60 or 70 percent subtitles. They were just like, "Oh, that was a cool episode."

    I do think that he really instilled us with that sense of go for the idea that excites you, go for the bold idea. Even if you fail, people will appreciate you having attempted the harder trick and crashed than just kind of doing the easy stuff. And that was something that I really learned from him and tried to certainly carry through the show, and Carlton was all about that too. When he came in, he was all about taking risks and doing something that hadn't been done before, and felt like it was unfamiliar territory.

  3. Walkabout

    Episode 4

    Originally aired October 13, 2004. Stream here.

    John Locke (Terry O'Quinn) gets his first flashback, revealing how the crash survivors' arrival on the island was a long-awaited miracle for him.

    Todd VanDerWerff: This is obviously one of the key episodes in the whole run of the show. Did you guys know that this one was special when you were doing it?

    Damon Lindelof: Yes and no. I do remember — and again, this is my subjective memory of it — that "Walkabout" became the litmus test for the show that people thought they were watching. Before it aired, that manifested itself in the writers' room, and then it manifested itself amongst the crew and the cast. So there was this idea of, you get to the end of "Walkabout" and then you realize, "Oh my God, this guy was in a wheelchair all the time, and what are the implications of that?" And the show isn't going to openly state what the implications of that are. It's just going to say, "This guy was in a wheelchair and now he's not." Something happened in the crash, he looks down, he wiggles his toe and now he can walk.

    He had a religious experience; he was healed. That's certainly the interpretation that Locke is carrying forth. And this character had been presented as this very sort of mystical figure moving forward. I think the thing that we were really excited about was this idea that we were presenting Locke as one thing, as sort of like the hunter, the survivalist, the guy who brought all the knives. But his first flashback was going to show you that he was just a cubicle jockey.

    The idea was that what you think these people are is actually entirely different. And that, I thought, was going to be really cool, because the first flashback story about Kate, we didn't reveal that she was a fugitive. In fact, you didn't really learn anything on a plot level about it at all. You didn't learn what she did. It was just the story of how she got betrayed by this dude and ended up getting caught in Australia by the marshal. But the Locke thing was a huge, big, reveal.

    For me the best surprise twists are ones that don't announce they're twists

    I definitely met significant resistance from some people about putting Locke in a wheelchair, and whether or not we could pull it off, whether or not the audience was going to get it, whether or not it could be shot in such a way that we could conceal this idea. We had to write four scenes where the guy is sitting down and you never see this thing, and there were nervous individuals.

    I also remember that "Walkabout" actually opens with this boar attack — basically the running of the boars through the castaway camp — and so much the conversation around "Walkabout" on a production level was, "How are we going to pull this off? Are we going to use real boars? Are we going to use CG boars? Are we going to get some puppet boars in there?" The boar trainer basically showed up, and the boars were very small and non-threatening. Well, we had imagined them as these feral boars. So much of the conversation around shooting "Walkabout" became about this boar sequence, versus the Locke of it all.

    But it wasn't until I was sitting in the editing room and saw the first cut of the show and Terry's performance. I sat there in the editing room going like, "Oh, this is going to work. This is really cool. I'm all about Locke right now. Whatever this guy says, I'm going to follow him because he's on a journey." It was certainly a moment of profound faith and reassurance in what we were doing, surrounded by doubt and trepidation on either side of it. But I do think I did recognize "Walkabout" as being something that was special, and I stopped being concerned about how the audience was going to perceive it because I was like, "Oh this is cool."

    Todd VanDerWerff: Was there concerns about ever being able to top it? It was just your third episode — the fourth to air.

    Damon Lindelof: Probably there was. It's my nature to kind of be like, "This is as good as it gets, and it's all downhill from here, and we're never going to be able to surprise the audience in this way again." But I also remember being really into "White Rabbit," which was the episode after "Walkabout," and the first Jack flashback story and seeing his dead dad, and all leading up to this great scene between Jack and Locke in the woods. So I was into that one, too. And although "White Rabbit" did not end with a big shocking twist or surprise, I was pleasantly preoccupied with that experience.

    I definitely met resistance from some people about putting Locke in a wheelchair

    You look back at a 120 hours of the show, and you say, "Maybe there was one other moment in the history of this show that could rival or compete with 'Walkabout' in terms of like the holy shit-ness of the ending." For me the best surprise endings or the best surprise twists are ones that don't announce they're twists. So it's like The Sixth Sense functions perfectly well as a movie that has just played straightforward where Bruce Willis is alive. It would just be a cool movie if this kid saw dead people and Bruce Willis was a shrink and was trying to help him out. But the fact that Bruce Willis is dead, when you see it, you're like, "Oh, I didn't even think I was sitting in that movie." Now it's completely and totally transcendent.

    So the only other time we were able to do that was the season three finale, "Through the Looking Glass." It was sort of like, we're just going to present you with the story but actually what you think you're watching, which is yet another Jack flashback story where he is miserable and sad and bearded and unhappy, is actually not a flashback but a flash-forward. And we're only going to get to do this once. There was an awareness while we were figuring out "Through the Looking Glass" that we were in "Walkabout" territory.

  4. House of the Rising Sun

    Episode 6

    Originally aired October 27, 2004. Stream here.

    The first flashback about Sun (Yunjin Kim) and Jin (Daniel Dae Kim) reveals the tragic arc of their marriage — and proves a pivotal moment for the show, as their flashbacks were almost entirely in Korean and subtitled, a largely unprecedented move in 2004.

    Todd VanDerWerff: Was there trepidation from the network or anyone at the thought of doing that much in subtitles?

    Damon Lindelof: No. no. Zero. I think I have to give credit to the network, as they're very intelligent people, but I think when you read the script, there isn't really a sense of how much of the show is going to be subtitled, because we wrote the script in English. And obviously Sun and Jin are talking to each other, and there are scenes that are taking place in Korea, and because we were going to reveal that Sun secretly had learned English, it was intuitive that all the other scenes would be in Korean. But it just didn't come up, and I didn't think we felt we were pulling a fast one.

    It wasn't until we saw the director's cut of the episode. Or when you watch dailies [the daily footage of the show that comes in] in a language that you do not speak, you're just like, "What the fuck are they saying?" I've read the script so I know what the scene is about, but I don't know what they're saying, until I can read what they're saying. That's when it hit us. And when the dailies were coming, it was like, "Oh my God, this episode is going to be almost entirely subtitled. Are they going to freak out?" Then we sent in our cut [to the network], which was subtitled, of course, and they were like, "We love this episode! Oh my God, we really care about these people, and we're completely and totally engaged by it!"

    This episode is going to be almost entirely subtitled. Are they going to freak out?

    I think if there was one thing that they were concerned about, it was the complex inherent racial dynamics in the story where a Korean man was attacking a black man in the teaser of the show, which turned out to be about this watch, but Michael's assumption is that it's racial. I remember that being the only conversation that we had about that episode.

    Todd VanDerWerff: Early on in the series, you're using the flashbacks to do a lot of heavy lifting in terms of exposition and character background and stuff, but they also really differ in terms of tone or even genre, based on which character you're following. How much did you and the other writers talk about how you're going to approach each character's flashback differently?

    Damon Lindelof: I think you're ascribing a certain level of sophistication to the process that I wish that we had had. But only in hindsight do I think we had it where it's sort of like, well Hurley's stories are going to be sort of comedic and Sayid's stories are going to be more action-driven. For a lack of a better sort of template, they're going to be like James Bond stories, but sort of a romantic flavor. Ultimately, it really just came down to that each character carries their own tonal bandwidth, and their stories were going to have the same tonal bandwidth that they did.

    But in certain cases like Sawyer for example, who was kind of a rascal — a humorously engaging rascal on the Island — but who did have this sort of darkness to him. His flashback stories would carry sort of the same feeling, moving forward. That's what we're trying to capture. We're sort of going deep on these characters, and we're trying to answer a fundamental character mystery.

    They were origin stories. That was always the idea which is like, "What are the series of events in this person's life that are relevant to this show? How have they ended up the way that they ended up? What is the problem that they're trying to solve?" Kate keeps running away from things. Jack doesn't feel like he has the ability to be a leader or that he's able to fit in. So that leads to a compulsion for him to fix things. And Sawyer is a man who's hell-bent on revenge. It was a little bit more of like an Ahab model.

    I think that we had very extensive conversations about what these characters wanted and hung the flashback stories on them. But in terms of the tone, the idea that every week you almost felt like you were watching an anthology series, because it was featuring a different character, and a Hurley story or even a Charlie story felt very different from a Kate story or a Jack story or a Sayid story. I don't think it was something that we were consciously sitting around with our fingers interlaced behind our heads and cigars sticking out our mouths and saying like, "We're going to change the climate of television writing forever. Watch this!" It was just kind of what happened organically.

    Todd VanDerWerff: Were there characters you struggled to find that sort of motivation for?

    Damon Lindelof: For Charlie, for example, I really feel like Dominic [Monaghan] had a much wider range and a great comic sensibility, but we kept writing to the drug addiction. And I think that in the case of "The Moth," which was Charlie's first flashback episode, it was important to establish this guy was in a band. He had a brother, the brother was even worse off than he was, but then got clean.  Now, Charlie is the one who's hooked. We needed to tell that origin story. But at that point, I wish that we could have found ways to depart from that and find other facets of Charlie that were not hung on drug addiction. Because, when we circled back and did the next Charlie episode, which I think might have been "Homecoming," we were banging that drum yet again. Here's another story about Charlie kind of bottoming out on drugs.

    I do feel like when we could be expansive, when we could say, "You are actually going to learn something new about this character and they're not just this thing." But we also have to sort of say this like,  "This is the thing that they are. Hurley is a lottery winner." So we revealed that he won the lottery in his first flashback story, and then in subsequent flashback stories, they're either going to happen on the parabola of what was his life right before he won the lottery or what was his life like in the period after he won the lottery, before the plane crash. Those are the two windows that we're functioning in. I don't think we were able to do that in some cases, with someone like Charlie.

    We had extensive conversations about what these characters wanted and hung the flashback stories on them

    Sayid always felt like, there's just always going to be really cool flashback stories for this guy, because he was a torturer, and we like him, and we care about him. We got the audience to sort of form a positive opinion about somebody who tortures people, including women — that's sort of a bold ambition. And I always remember those stories coming relatively easily.

    But yeah, I think Charlie was a big challenge, certainly in the first season. Claire was a challenge. Obviously, we really tended to hang on the mythology for Claire. This idea that she went and saw this psychic and that perhaps that her pregnancy had some sort of grand design behind it. That's what we tended to lean on in her flashback stories, so they weren't sort of straightforward like, "Here's something to learn about Claire." It was much more plugging into that island mythology which is why I think when we did "Raised by Another," the network got really nervous, because that was a deep dive into mythology.

    Todd VanDerWerff: You used romance really well in all sorts of different permutations throughout the show. Why did you keep going back to that well?

    Damon Lindelof: That's one of the things that we really invest in when we watch television. I think that it's no surprise that things like The Hunger Games or even 50 Shades of Grey become publishing sensations and then movie sensations. People think that The Hunger Games is just successful because it's got a great premise — and that's a large part of it — and they sort of forego the fact that there's a romantic triangle at the center of this idea, and that's what evolves it into the next level. So I do, particularly when it comes to the intimate medium of television, you're inviting these people into your home.

    One of the things that we loved to talk about amongst ourselves is, "Is this couple going to last," or, "I don't think this couple should last," or, "I think that this guy and this girl would be really great together, or this girl and this girl, or this guy and this guy." There's just something interesting about romance to us. I think that celebrity gossip, which has gotten to be a multi-million dollar industry, is completely and totally powered on this idea of romance. Who is with who, who is breaking up with who, who's having a baby, who's cheating on who, all that stuff. Our brains just lap that stuff up.

    So Lost very quickly wanted to sort of lean on this idea of well here's all these immensely attractive people in a closed environment. They're going to start hooking up. Who's going to hook up? Who's going to be vying for whose attention? What is the temperature of those romances? So it's obviously, like Kate and Sawyer in "Confidence Man," they kiss for the first time but they kiss because Sawyer essentially extorts a kiss out of Kate, but when they do kiss, there's something really heated there. But it's very fucked up and dark the way that it happens, where she and Jack have this much more, sort of sweeter, more trusting, emotional romantic energy.

    There's something interesting about romance to us. Our brains lap that stuff up.

    So they really are two different kinds. And Charlie and Claire's romance was, again, this sweet sense of he really wants to take care of her, but it was almost like a chaste unconsummated relationship where he becomes kind of Joseph to baby Aaron. He's a surrogate. And for Sun and Jin, their romantic trajectory is like, let's just start the story where this couple is at their worst. He's horrible to her, and she's secretly figured out some sort of exit strategy to get away from him. But now they're in this situation together, and it forces them to remember why they fell in love in the first place. Because they are in love.

    The show really believes in love. When we were talking about what's in the hatch [to lead off season two], there was a progressive instinct that Carlton and I and the other writers had that there's a love story in the hatch. It's Pandora's box, and when they open it it's all sorts of bad things are going to happen. But the greatest love story that the show is yet to see is in that hatch. We didn't call it Desmond and Penny yet, but I think that we had that instinct.

  5. Confidence Man

    Episode 8

    Originally aired November 10, 2004. Stream here.

    The first flashbacks to Sawyer's (Josh Holloway) past reveal the surprisingly moving origins of the roguish character.

    Todd VanDerWerff: You mentioned that Sawyer really changed when you saw Josh Holloway's performance. What were some of those elements of figuring out who these people are, and what this show looks like there in that first half of the season, and then how did it affect your visions of those characters?

    Damon Lindelof: I think it was pretty much just a matter of watching what the actors were doing and starting to try to write the the characters to them versus forcing them to kind of slip into this off-the-rack suit or dress that we constructed for them. I think that Josh, in particular, if you look at that, the network did testing on what characters the audience liked the most, and the two lowest-testing characters were Sawyer and Jin, because they were just really obnoxious, bad guys in the first several episodes. Obviously, that started to change. I think we just tried to take as much of a holistic view of the characters as possible, and also wondered who are going to be catalysts for a story.

    We always wanted to write all the characters as good guys

    That drove us more than anything else, which is, it was that question of, "What do they want? What does Sawyer want? What is he going to do?" He obviously sort of declares in "Tabula Rasa," the first non-pilot episode before "Walkabout," to Jack that, I'm stealing all this stuff out of the fuselage, and I'm going to use it to basically barter, because we're in the wild. We're not in civilization anymore, and I'm adopting this sort of new set of rules. He would be in staunch opposition to Jack, and that would be a really interesting dynamic to gradiate over the course of the season. But it always felt like they were going to be friends. That ultimately they would be like Luke and Han, where they had very different backgrounds and very different personalities, but they were both good guys.

    We always wanted to write all the characters as good guys, even though the castaways were going to have conflicts with one another. We knew that we were building towards some version of an end of season one where they all came together and launched this raft and were all cheering for one another. They might have different fundamental motivations. But the "Live together, die alone" speech that Jack gives in "White Rabbit" — that they would coalesce around this idea was really important.

    Look, there are characters like Shannon and Boone that just by the byproduct of how young they were, we knew that we weren't going to be able to sustain them very long, because they'd have a very finite number of flashback stories. For Jack, it was like, okay, so we cast a 40-year-old actor, give or take, and we'll be able to write flashback stories that happened in his early 20s all the way up until right before he got on the plane, and Matthew Fox can play Jack in all of those flashback stories. But Shannon and Boone, there's like a two-year period if we're saying the characters are 21 or 22 that we can write them in before we had Ian Somerhalder and Maggie Grace playing 14-year-old versions of themselves. It just didn't feel like there was a lot of story juice there to explore.

    You were getting the characters in a measured dosage that hooked you on them

    Todd VanDerWerff: Were there characters whose popularity with the audience surprised you?

    Damon Lindelof: Not really. I think that the audience was getting on board with the same characters that we were excited about. The cool thing about the show was that if you liked Sayid, you were getting Sayid in very, very short bursts. So you get this huge helping of him in "Solitary," for example — it was the first Sayid flashback episode — and then in a subsequent episode, he's not in it until the last scene. Because "Solitary" essentially happens at the same time as "Raised by Another." And then in the following episode he's maybe in one or two scenes.

    This idea like, your favorite character could be the star of the show in one week and basically an extra in the following week, it may have been really frustrating for the actors who are on the show. But as far as the audience is concerned, it's that sensation of, "I just had this delicious ice cream flavor and I went back to the ice cream store the next day and they were out of it, and they said, 'Try again tomorrow.'" And you're sort of, like, you just have a hankering for that flavor. So it was really modulated. You were getting the characters in a very sort of measured dosage that hooked you on them. And so by the end of the season I think that it was almost impossible for us to answer as writers, "Who are your favorite characters?" Because it was so much fun to write each and every one of their individualized flashback stories.

  6. Solitary

    Episode 9

    Originally aired November 19, 2004. Stream here.

    Sayid (Naveen Andrews) sets off to chart the island and finds himself in the hands of the French woman (Mira Furlan) from the recording at the end of the pilot.

    Todd VanDerWerff: By this point, the ratings were coming in, and you knew you were going to be around for a while. To what degree did that help you make your case to the network that you should take this show in some pretty weird directions?

    Damon Lindelof: It's funny that you should mention that because September 22, premiere week of 2004, at that moment in time, we were writing or breaking the stories for both "Raised by Another" and "Solitary." So we had gotten slightly behind, and we had to divide into two rooms, and David Fury was working on "Solitary," and the rest of the room was working on "Raised by Another." Carlton [Cuse], who had just started the week before, and I were sort of bouncing between the two universes.

    What happened was that when the network got the outlines for "Raised by Another," they started freaking out because the show had just premiered. Instead of saying, "We've got a hit on our hands, you guys do whatever you want to do," it was, "We've got a hit on our hands, don't do anything to fuck it up." They got really nervous.

    Contrary to popular belief, we as writers wanted to answer mysteries as we went

    And right on the heels of "Raised by Another" was another mythological episode where we were really leaning into this idea of the Others for the first time. Where Rousseau was talking about how these other people on the Island had abducted her, her daughter, her child. But it was also the first answer, the first mystery that we were answering here in episode eight, which was, "Who is this French voice in this broadcast that we hear at the end of the pilot?" We're going to introduce you to her. She's going to become a character on the show. Here she is, mystery answered.

    Contrary to popular belief, we as writers were really wanting to answer mysteries as we went. It was like, if we're going to ask a new question, we have to answer some old ones, or else these things are just going to pile up, and the whole endeavor is going to collapse. All we're going to have is questions. We're not going to have any answers. And I remember the network's response being like, "It's cool. This Rousseau idea is cool but don't do it in episode eight. Do it in the finale. Don't bring this character out. We really want to keep it a closed environment. We don't want to do Gilligan's Island where every week like, ‘Oh, here are the Russian cosmonauts, and here are the Harlem Globetrotters. And here's the Broadway show producers.'"

    There's all these people that are just coming out of the woods. And the other thing that "Raised by Another" presented was that Ethan had infiltrated our encampment. It's like, "Oh, is this show now going to be that there is all these other people on the Island, and every week they are going to be coming and having stories without folk?" We're like, "Rest assured, the story is still focused on these guys, but we need to introduce this threat because it is going to catalyze a different form of storytelling that's more intense and more in the now versus 'Hey, it's time to build the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse.'" It was a struggle for us to just do "Let's go find water" as a story. There does need to be a fundamental sense of tension and stakes behind it. And that's going to be represented by the fact that there are forces on this island that really don't want our castaways to get off it.

    Todd VanDerWerff: You wanted to close off some answers so you could open up other questions. Were there areas you knew you wanted to get to, and others you left open for exploration?

    Damon Lindelof: Really, the big question that everybody was asking, I think for the majority of season one — in my memory — is "What's the monster?" That was the question that they were asking after having seen the pilot and they were sort of asking it all the way through, like, ''What is that thing? Are we going to see it? Is there a basis for it in the natural world? Is it supernatural? Here's what I think it is. Here's what I don't think it is," etc.

    We talked amongst ourselves; both J.J. and I while we're shooting the pilot, and then Carlton and I, once Carlton came on. It was like, this is not a question we're going to be answering in the first season of the show. In fact, we should see the monster and experience the monster in a very limited way throughout the first season, maybe only three or four times. Certainly one of those times should be the finale, and we should maybe get a glimpse of it, not do the point-of-view stuff. In "Walkabout," Locke has this moment where we see Locke looking at it from the point of view of the monster. So it's like we kind of owe the audience some glimpse of what it is Locke thought he saw, but it's going to be a fleeting glimpse, and it's going to be very subjective. But we have to show them something. And I think that we knew that we needed to do that in the body of season one.

    And also when it came to big fundamental character questions — What did Kate do to become a fugitive? Or how did Locke end up in the wheelchair? What was the actual accident that put him in it? — we also knew that we wanted to hold off on those things, because once we did them, every subsequent flashback story for that character would potentially be anti-climactic. We kind of needed to hold those things in our quiver.

    When you answer mysteries, there tends to be a feeling of anti-climax, no matter how satisfying that answer is

    I also think that the polar bear was a question that we knew was going to be related to the hatch. That whoever built this hatch, there has been some degree of scientific research that was taking place on the Island, and we knew that this scientific research was individuated from the Others. In fact, the Others were at war with this group. I think we knew that in the first season, but we also didn't want to say much about this group.

    There was a fair amount of healthy and vigorous debate about ending the season without actually going into the hatch. I think that there was a sense of like, if I was watching the show, would I just feel like the huge sense of blue balls, that people would be like, "Oh my God, are you kidding me?" Or would it be a really good storytelling? And at the end of the day we knew that we wanted to do an adventure story. And we wanted to model the old serial idea of having this really intense cliffhanger and sort of the one-two punch of Walt's abduction, plus the opening of the hatch. And so when you see the Others for the first time, that may be satisfying, but they're still a very mysterious organization in who they are, and why they're here, and what their function is, and why they're taking Walt. It's completely and totally unknown to us.

    We're not going to go into the hatch, we're going to make you wait three months before we do that. I think that we knew that there were huge potential risks. But we also knew there were huge potential risks in answering those mysteries because when you answer mysteries, there tends to be a feeling of anti-climax, no matter how satisfying that answer is. It wasn't as good as what you thought it might have been, or the sense of resolution is just not as exciting as the sense of mystery. It's sort of like, "Oh that's what was behind door number two? Okay. I probably could've figured that out." I think that we knew that we were engaging in a fairly dangerous dance, but we really wanted to err on the side of withholding versus giving. Which, in some senses came back and bit us in the ass, but in hindsight, I wouldn't do it any other way.

    There were many shows — many, many shows — that came along in the wake of Lost. And they will always ask at [the Television Critics Association press tour] the same question which is, "Promise us that you're not going to be like Lost and just string us along forever." And the showrunners of those shows would always say, "We promise we'll ask some questions. You'll get answers in a very timely way. We're not going to string you along." And very few of those shows even made it out of their first 13 episodes, let alone their first seasons. There's an argument to be made for the way that we did it was probably best for the longevity of the show, even though we had to accept this sort of fundamental sense that it was going to build frustration.

  7. Whatever the Case May Be

    Episode 12

    Originally aired January 5, 2005. Stream here.

    A look into the criminal past of Kate (Evangeline Lilly) reveals some of the show's early struggles with what to do with the character.

    Todd VanDerWerff: In the original development documents, Jack was going to die in the pilot, and Kate was going to be the unquestioned lead. And then her character had to shift, and it felt like season one was a process of figuring out what that shift looked like. What did you figure out about that character over the course of the season?

    Damon Lindelof: Well I think that what was really important to us was that we weren't presenting Kate as a damsel in distress, nor as a character who needed a male in order to thrive. Like, she wasn't just going to be sitting around going, "My god, Jack. Oh, Sawyer? Which one should I choose?" She needed to have an agenda in and of herself.

    And I think one of the engaging things about her being a fugitive was she had a secret that she was fundamentally trying to protect. Which is this is what I did. But then there is also this idea that the overall premise of the show was to try to populate it with characters who over a period of time would begin to realize, "My life was much worse off this Island than it is on this Island — even though there are things that are trying to kill me on the Island." It's sort of like, "I'll kind of close my eyes and think about what my life would be like if I went back. It would be inferior to what it is now."

    We weren't presenting Kate as a damsel in distress, nor as a character who needed a male in order to thrive

    Those characters could be used as forces of antagonism for the characters who did want to get off the island. Locke would certainly be one who didn't want to get off the Island because he believes that he's been brought there for a reason, that his life prior to this crash was inferior to what his life is now. Kate doesn't want to get off the island because it's not like she's going to get a pardon. She's a fugitive of the law being basically extradited back. She's been captured, so even if she's rescued, if she gets off the island, she's basically facing a prison term. So she'd be doing everything she could on the island to not get rescued. So that when things like the raft getting torched happen, she was a viable suspect.

    And then there was also this sense of "Could Kate be trusted?" Here you have Evangeline Lilly who's immensely heart-on-her-sleeve, endearing character who you always trust. Wouldn't it be interesting to just have her out and out lie on occasion, both to the character that she's talking to in the scene and the audience? And how would they begin to feel about her?

    Ultimately, I think that the stories that really coalesce for Kate was to make her be the one who says, "We're going and doing this," versus, "Oh, I'm going to come along for this." It's hard for me to think of many big tentpole summer movies that don't have the pretty woman getting abducted and needing to be rescued as the huge plot turn. And if it's not the pretty woman, the pretty love interest, then it's, like, the daughter of the main character. We were just doing everything that we could to sort of avoid that trope. That was really the thinking as it related to Kate.

  8. Special

    Episode 14

    Originally aired January 19, 2005. Stream here.

    A flashback to the lives of Michael (Harold Perrineau) and Walt (Malcolm David Kelley) reveals the young boy appears to have extraordinary psychic powers.

    Todd VanDerWerff: When did you realize Malcolm David Kelley's impending puberty was a problem in the course of doing season one, and what were your plans for Walt if the actor hadn't hit puberty as quickly as he did?

    Damon Lindelof: I don't know if I can answer the latter question because we knew that that was not going to happen.

    There was an inevitability to Malcolm. In fact, casting an actor who — I think Malcolm was maybe 12, maybe even 13 when we cast him — was sort of right on the cusp of blooming, we were in dangerous territory. J.J. and I were talking about it while we were shooting the pilot. As soon as we and April Webster, who cast the show, said, "We have this character Walt, this father and son," and we were saying that we wanted to tell the show in real time, as opposed to over a period of many months. The first season was just going to be approximately 30 days, and then the second season was going to start with day 31. There had to be this immediacy of storytelling where you couldn't really leave them for that long, in order to tell the story. We knew right out of the gate that we were going to have a Walt problem.

    "You threw a lot of storytelling muscle behind this kid being special. When are we going to get back to that?"

    In the spirit of the wonderful thing about human nature is, we jumped into it. Problems like that all the time that are inevitable, you just go into denial about it and say, "Well, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it." But it was just this thing that we knew it was getting more and more pervasive and problematic and midway through the first season, Carlton and I and the writers had the idea that in the finale Walt would be abducted by the Others, and that would at the very least accomplish two goals.

    Goal number one was, if Malcolm basically had a huge growth spurt over the course of the summer, we'd be insulated. We wouldn't have to deal with what that character looked like in the season two première. And then the other issue was, Michael was a hard character to write for in terms of what he wanted, what's really driving this character. So he would have a Holy Grail quest for the course of the entire second season if his son was abducted. He'd be doing everything that he could to get him back, including betraying the other characters, if he was offered some kind of Faustian bargain. So it gave us a huge thing for Harold Perrineau, who's just an incredible actor that we were struggling writing for.

    And then it was like, "If we can just get to the end of the second season before Malcolm hits puberty, we can have Michael sell out all the castaways and get Walt back, and then they can just basically leave the Island, they can sail off the Island, and then it's problem solved." And that's kind of more or less what we executed.

    I think that perhaps what we have managed differently was throwing so much mythological magic at Walt. He had these kind of psychic abilities in a Stephen King kind of way. Birds are smashing into windows, and we are calling an episode "Special." Then the Others are abducting this kid. Why him? What is it? What's the story with Walt?

    We ended up doing the exact opposite of what the plan was. We have a great exit strategy for Walt, and then when he's off the Island no one is ever going to care about him again. It was sort of like, "No, no, no. You threw a lot of storytelling muscle behind this kid being special. When are we going to get back to that?" So this idea of, "Oh shit, now it's only day 45 on the island and now Malcolm has hit puberty and now he is not even on the Island anymore. How are we going to service the story?" And the answer was we didn't. Not until the very end anyway. Once the Oceanic Six got off the island, it became easier to manage, because then we had a way of viably explaining how Walt had gotten so much older.

    Todd VanDerWerff: Did you have hopes or plans where you were going to return to that story in earnest, beyond Michael coming back in season four?

    We had this running list of unresolved things, and Walt was at the top of the list

    Damon Lindelof: No. Well, in terms of where we planned to end it, you're now tapping into a much larger meta question which is: I think by the end of season two, the reality in the behind the scenes of the show is Carlton and I were both preparing to leave the show for good. Our contracts were up at the end of the second season of the show. We were aggressively campaigning for an end date, and the show was still very successful. And ABC was like, "No, we're never going to end this show. Once the show stops getting good ratings then we'll cancel it, but end it, it's not going to happen." And so we agreed to come back for a third season, and that we would try to hand off the show to a new creative team, or at the very least groom certain writers to basically take over the showrunning duties.

    But in terms of like having conversations about how are we going to bring Walt back or how are we going to resolve these mysteries, at that point, that was the lowest creative point on the show for us both emotionally and in terms of what we are putting on the screen, because we were no longer allowed to answer any mysteries. We are only allowed to ask new ones, because we had to continue to perpetuate the shaggy dog story of the show, because we were — I don't know — 50 hours into the show's run, and with no indication that we would ever be able to let anybody leave the Island or end the show. So our attitude was like, "Fuck Walt, that's going to be someone else's problem."

    Then when we got the end date midway through season three, that was the first thing that we really revisited. We had this huge running list of unresolved things on a white board in the writer's room, and Walt was at the very top of the list. It was like, okay, we're going to have to resolve this. And our answer for that is that Michael was going to be coming back on this freighter to atone for his fundamental betrayal of these people. And then, of course Walt, in the epilogue that we shot, becomes an adjunct to the Hurley-Ben regime that is now running the Island after the events of the finale.

  9. Numbers

    Episode 18

    Originally aired March 2, 2005. Stream here.

    The series finally completes flashbacks for its initial cast by delving into the past of Hurley (Jorge Garcia) — who turns out to be a lottery winner haunted by a series of cursed numbers, numbers that he won with.

    Todd VanDerWerff: It seems to me like the numbers were another thing that the audience took to. That might have been slightly surprising to you. To what degree did you find the fervent speculation around the show exciting, and to what degree did you find it sort of terrifying?

    Damon Lindelof: Those two things often walk hand in hand for me. The excitement and the terror were particularly coalescing around this idea of, "What did the numbers mean?"

    We always tried to answer mythological mysteries with character answers

    Now this is going to sound incredibly naive bordering on just stupid, but it's just true. I was like, "Oh, the numbers don't really feel like they're going to require an explanation." It's like this sequence of numbers that happens to coalesce with Rousseau's message, something that is written on the exterior of the hatch and they're also the numbers that Hurley won the lottery with. They're just cursed. This sequence is cursed. As to why its 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42, as to why it's those specific numbers, it's not like we chose them out of the hat. But I just felt, "How are we going to explain what it was?"

    As soon as the numbers became the sensation that they were, we instantly realized the show can't just say that those numbers are just cursed. We needed to start really baking, "What do those numbers correspond to?" I think that's what the audience was asking us, when they say, "What do the numbers mean?" And then that became the birth of this construct that we ended up with season six of the candidates. That these numbers actually had to correspond to characters on the show themselves. We always tried to answer mythological mysteries with character answers. So it wouldn't be like the architect explaining to Neo [in The Matrix Reloaded], the sort of big grandiose philosophy that wasn't related to Neo. You wanted it to basically attach back to character. And that certainly took some doing.

    Todd VanDerWerff: Hurley was a character who you really did some almost broad comedy with. When did you figure out that you could push the show in those directions as long as he was around?

    Damon Lindelof: There was a scene on Curb Your Enthusiasm where Larry David has to buy pot, and he buys it from Jorge Garcia, and the morning after that episode J.J. was like, "We've got to get that guy on the show," and I was like "To play who?" Again, at that point I think it was just an outline, and maybe we were starting to write a script, and J.J. was like,"I don't care, he needs to be on this island. He's hilarious."

    And so there was no differentiation between Jorge and Hurley, he was just going to be this funny kind of well-intentioned, sweet guy who uncharacteristically of all the other characters on the show, wasn't really a dark, tortured individual. But then we started to realize that dark, tortured individuals were the bread and butter of show, and that if you didn't make a character dark and tortured, they weren't particularly interesting to watch.

    And so we really struggled with what makes Hurley dark and tortured. What's his secret? I just don't buy that he killed anyone. There was this idea for a while that he was a repo man or something like that, and that's what he was doing in the show. None of it felt right until we came up with the lottery winner idea, because at the time, I had read a book about how miserable lottery winners are once they win the lottery. That there's a disproportionate rise in their suicide rate, especially if you go from some level of poverty to being fabulously, filthy rich overnight. You don't really have this sense of having earned it, and then all your relatives crawl out of the woodwork, and they want it.

    If you didn't make a character dark and tortured, they weren't particularly interesting to watch

    Then, there's an expectation. All your friends feel like you've changed. It's like your life sort of shifts overnight. It was like, "Oh he's not tortured. He's just sad, and he's like, he feels this immense relief because he doesn't really have the money anymore." Like, here on the Island he gets to go back to what he was before he won this stuff, because no one was going to define him by his millions of dollars. But he's still cursed. These numbers have followed him to the Island. He can't escape them.

    I always remember thinking of like, the Hawaii episodes of The Brady Bunch, where that tiki doll makes Greg wipe out. Just like he can't ditch this thing. It keeps turning up. The fact that Hurley was off living in this total episode of The Brady Bunch while all the other characters are in the show Lost, we always thought was immensely entertaining.

    Then as we started to go deeper and explore the fact that Hurley was in fact institutionalized as a result not of having won the lottery, but in fact, he was institutionalized before he won the lottery. In fact, he heard the numbers that he played from another crazy person in the institution.

    That opened up a whole other wellspring of story, in terms of like, "How is this sweet guy crazy?" And so episodes like "Dave" and then stories about Hurley's struggle with his weight. That was the number two question of season one. Question number one: what's the monster? Question number two: why isn't Hurley losing any weight? We've got to at least answer question number two early in the second season.

    Jorge was a guy who you could never have too much of and I think, particularly, when [writers] Eddie [Kitsis] and Adam [Horowitz] came onto the show towards the end of the first season, those guys just really dialed in to Hurley and Charlie, particularly. They were just like, "We got this." And they adopted those characters in a way and ran with it.

  10. Do No Harm

    Episode 20

    Originally aired April 6, 2005. Stream here.

    Jack (Matthew Fox) struggles to save the life of the grievously injured Boone (Ian Somerhalder), while Claire (Emilie de Ravin) goes into labor.

    Todd VanDerWerff: This episode has your first really major character death in it. How over the course of this show did you guys figure out where those are going to fit, and what did they add to your overall picture?

    Damon Lindelof: When Lloyd originally envisioned this show, he described it as the drama version of Survivor. Survivor is not a show about surviving on an island, although it has that element of, we're losing weight and we have to eat rice and we have to build our own structures.

    What made this show compelling to watch was that every single week, someone who had been on the show the previous week was going to be leaving the show. The "Ten Little Indians" construct of Survivor made it really engaging to watch. And so, embedded in the pilot of Lost is the idea that the stakes are life and death. While we changed our mind about killing Jack, we did kill Grunberg [who played the airplane pilot].

    This idea that there are dangerous things on the Island that can kill people is baked into the premise of the show. The only way to make good on that threat is to kill people. And it's okay if we kill [background character] Scott and/or Steve midway through the season. But it's sort of like, "Who gives a shit about those guys? They're background; they're extras. I have no emotional connection to them." But when are you guys going to kill one of the main characters? And who is it going to be and when? And I think that we started talking and saying like, "Well it makes a lot of sense to kill somebody in the finale. That's what you do; you kill somebody in the finale and you have the big impact."

    This idea that there are things on the Island that can kill people is baked into the premise of the show

    And the other reason you do it is you have contracts with the actors by the season. So if you kill somebody in episode 16, you still have to pay them for episode 17 to 24. So if you want to get your money's worth, it doesn't make a lot of sense to kill them off before the finale. That's the other reason you do it that way.

    But we knew we actually want to kill somebody several hours before the finale, because it will help ramp up the tension between the characters that we need to ramp up between. And so, the question started becoming, "Whose death will start to kind of solidify this Locke versus Jack trajectory that the show has been dialing up over the course of the first season of the show?" And the answer very quickly became Boone.

    I think that we sort of had a sense that it was going to be Boone before "All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues," which is when the hatch is actually discovered by Boone and Locke. But we wanted to do an Abraham and Isaac story where Locke is Abraham and he's been asked by the Island, which is a proxy for God, to basically sacrifice Boone. And so we needed to start to build the relationship between Locke and Boone, and then have Boone die, even though Locke is not literally sacrificing him. Boone dies as a result of their quest to open the hatch, and they're led out to this plane that later connects to Eko and all sorts of things.

    But Boone's death would be on Locke, and that would really piss Jack off so that Jack and Locke would be at odds. And then some other complications — in this case Rousseau's arrival to tell them that the Others are coming. Which forces Locke and Jack into an alliance in the spirit of protecting the flock. But there would still be this great unspoken tension over Boone, and that was the thinking. And that obviously coalesced along with what I told you earlier, which was we knew that there would be a finite amount of Boone flashback stories just because of the character's age.

    Todd VanDerWerff: Jack had been building throughout the season. Out of this great group of characters, what made him a good choice to be the central figure you could return to over and over again?

    Damon Lindelof: That's a great question, and it's very, very hard to answer. When you think about a character who's at the center of a drama, particularly in the dramas that are most talked about, be it Breaking Bad, or Homeland, or The Sopranos, or The Shield — these characters are antiheroes. Mad Men, of course, is another one. They're antiheroes, they're not even necessarily well-intentioned, and they might even do very bad things like sell meth and shoot people and cheat on their wives.

    For us, it always felt like the avant garde idea would be for Jack to be, not an antihero, but a hero-hero. That he was always well-intentioned and always wanted to do the right thing and had a certain kind of nobility to him. But ultimately, the monkey on his back was self-doubt. That he would look like Matthew Fox, who actually does come across his way, and realize he's sort of tortured and pained, and there is a part of you that goes like, "What are you tortured and pained about? If I looked like you, I would be the happiest person on the planet. What's your malfunction?"

    The avant garde idea would be for Jack to be, not an antihero, but a hero-hero

    This idea of Jack being thrusted into a leadership role because he was the one who had medical expertise at the moment of the plane crush, and so he is running through the wreckage and helping people, and everybody is watching him do that. And that we are a culture that is inclined to need leadership. So the jury system only works if you appoint a foreperson, or else everyone will just be talking all over one another and there will be no standard structure to it. That, wouldn't it be interesting if the person that the castaways thought would be the best leader felt that they themselves would probably be the worst leader? Let's go with that idea and see how far it gets us. And it just kept bearing fruit.

    Matthew is, I think, underrated. [That] is sort of reductive in the way of talking about someone's performance, because it's a way of saying they should have gotten a lot more praise than they ended up getting. But I was always constantly blown away by his level of engagement in the show. Lost was an exercise in tone, because the show was so ridiculous.

    I've probably told this story a bunch of times before and I apologize in advance for anyone who's reading this and has heard it before. But, during the first season of the show, my wife and I were having breakfast at this restaurant, and she was like "Shut up." She said to me. I was like "What?" She was like, "Shhh." She nodded her head subtly behind me, and I could hear that the two women at the table behind us were talking about Lost. One of them was a fan of the show and the other had never seen the show, and the one who was the fan was talking to the one who hadn't seen it. She was explaining to her what it was.

    I felt two overwhelming feelings in that moment. The first was like, "This is just so cool. These complete strangers are talking about my show." The second was, "This is the most ridiculous show in the history of shows." The way that she was describing this is like, "Oh my God, it's wacky town, why would anybody watch this if the show is being described this way?"

    Lost was an exercise in tone, because the show was so ridiculous

    But Matthew Fox, because he was the center of all that, and because he was the lead, he is the guy standing in the middle of the poster. He never behaved as if he was on the most ridiculous show in the world. He behaved like all these things were really happening. From the moment that he comes stumbling out of the jungle to the moment that he closes his eyes, he was absolutely 100 percent committed to the fact that this was all really real. That's why we kept going back to the Jack well, because he was so convincing. You can't have characters turning to the camera and winking on a show like this. You have to go all in.

    That was something that I think The X-Files also did brilliantly. Although [David] Duchovny had a certain kind of swagger and humor in his portrayal of Mulder, Mulder just really cared about this shit. This was all really real to him. He really believed it was his job to expose the truth that was being concealed by these assholes. So you really go invested in that stuff. I think the degree of difficulty in selling Lost as a real thing that you're supposed to care about really fell on Matthew from the first frame into the last frame in a way that was disproportionate, I think, to the other characters.

    I think that Michael Emerson for all of his brilliance and the fact that he was nominated for and won Emmys and a number of other awards — Benjamin Linus never had to do that. Benjamin Linus was allowed to have a little more fun with it. He could kind of say, "Got any milk?" because he's the villain, but the hero can't ever do that. It's sort of a thankless job to be the sort of protector of the tone.  It's why Han Solo was such a better character than Luke Skywalker.

  11. Exodus

    Episodes 23, 24, and 25

    Originally aired May 18 and 25, 2005. Stream here.

    The castaways struggle to escape the Island, launching a raft to sail back to civilization, then looking for a safe spot to hide from the villainous Others, who are coming to wreak havoc.

    Todd VanDerWerff: At what point as you were building up the season did you have the pieces in place for what you knew this finale was going to look like?

    Damon Lindelof: I remember very early on Carlton being the one who said, "Why aren't these people building a raft? They should build a raft. It's going to take them many episodes to build it satisfyingly. Someone should sabotage their attempt to build the raft, but that won't dishearten them. They'll continue. Then in the finale, they should get on this thing and they should launch it. We should put three or four of them on this thing and get them off the Island."

    I was like, "A: no one can leave the Island. Because then what? Is the show going to leave the Island in the second season? Are we going to see what happens to these characters once they leave the Island? Are they going to be off the show now? This idea terrifies me. B: how are we going to do that on a practical level? Build a freaking raft and put it in the ocean and launch it. The show is really expensive and hard just to produce as it is, but that just seems like it's overwhelmingly undoable."

    "Why aren't they building a raft? People in this situation would be building a raft."

    And Carlton was like, "It's a good idea. Trust me, we're going to do it. And if we don't do it, it's going to feel like the characters are doing nothing to get off the Island. And it's okay that you are telling me that they can't. The way that they get stopped will be our challenge as storytellers. But you can't just tell them that they wouldn't be building a raft, because people in this situation would be building a raft." And I was like, "The guy is right. When the guy is right, the guy is right."

    Phase one was instituted pretty quickly as soon as Carlton came in there, which is "Let's activate Operation Raft." And then phase two was embedded into the show as "All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues," which is as soon as Locke and Boone discover this metal in the ground, which was this idea that J.J. had pitched, they should find a hatch, way back on day one. That we would be committing a fair amount of storytelling to the excavation of this hatch, and attempts to open up the hatch. And in the finale they would finally open it. Whether or not they actually went inside was, again, a conversation that was happening over the course of the remainder of the story breaking for season one. But we knew that at the very least they had to open it up and be on the verge of gaining access to it.

    And so then that raises another question, which is, they don't have the resources to open this thing up — they just don't have the tools. Like Locke builds this gigantic trebuchet and that fails. They're going to have to blow that fucker open. So where are the explosives going to be that they use to basically blow this hatch open? And is there some sort of ticking clock that can be employed that they need to open the hatch in a very short period of time? Because it's not just, we want to open the hatch because we're curious about what's inside. It's like, we have to open up the hatch so we can get everybody in there, because there is an imminent threat on the way.

    So very quickly all these threats that we had laid out which is, there're other people on the Island, they've infiltrated us, even though we killed one of them, they're still out there. We set up this idea of Rousseau as a wild card out there. She's trying to get her baby back and she's had run-ins with these whispers that she believes happen as a result of these other people. We need to blow open the hatch with something, and we need to launch this raft. It's all like "Oh, these are going to be the storylines of the final three hours of season one." That's what we're dealing with.

    We have to open up the hatch so we can get everybody in there, because there is an imminent threat on the way

    Todd VanDerWerff: When I revisited season one earlier this year, I was amazed by how different it was from what it became. What were some things that changed over the course of the show that you missed?

    Damon Lindelof: The big thing is that the first season didn't need to rely on the mythology as much as the subsequent seasons did. And also I think that in the first season, it seemed like you could have episodes that were very low on incidence so that you could have more scenes where it was just one character talking to another character sitting on the beach. And the longer the show went on, the harder it was to do those scenes, because it always felt like, "How can these characters just sit around and have a conversation on the beach when this is happening?"

    And then the other thing that I really missed about season one was that we always had to manufacture splitting up the castaways. Always having one group out there, trying to accomplish some mission while the other group was basically remaining home. Or in the second season, there was the tail section that Sawyer, Michael and Jin teamed up with. We entered into this cycle of characters being gone for long periods of time and then returning and reuniting. That's sort of what we were duty bound to do, because the characters just sitting around in the same place and not doing anything wouldn't have been an interesting show to watch. But in that first season of Lost, they were all together; they were all in the same place. They'd go on day trips, and certainly Claire was abducted for a couple of episodes.

    But that idea of needing to fracture the story in a way of like, "Here's this group who's been abducted by the others, and here's this group that's back here. Here's this group that's now in 1977 with the Dharma Initiative, and here's this group that's still in the present time." The need for the show to move around to different geographies. Again to use the Star Wars metaphor. In Star Wars, the characters were all together but then in Empire, they split up. So Luke is in Dagobah. And Han and Leia and Chewie and the droids are off to Cloud City and then they all come back together again for the climax, etc., etc. And then in Jedi, they're all back together again, but then they split up again, and Luke goes back to Dagobah.

    The further you go along in these things, you have to split up characters, but that idea of there was a time on the show for the first 24, 25 hours of storytelling, where they were all situated geographically in the same area, that was great. It couldn't last forever, but I definitely missed it.