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Time Travel, Red Shirts, and Alliances: More with Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse from TCA

Welcome to Part Two of my write-up of the Lost panel from the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour with executive producer/showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse.

Having asked the press not to reveal spoilers from the series' first three episodes of Lost, I followed Team Darlton's request and kept certain questions and answers out of Part One of my coverage of the TCA panel.

What follows is a fairly spoiler-ridden discussion of Lost's two-hour season premiere ("Because You Left" and "The Lie"), so if you haven't yet seen the fifth season premiere and don't want to be spoiled about some key elements, don't read any further. (You've been warned!)

One of the most interesting discoveries of "Because You Left" and "The Lie" isn't just that the island has moved through time, it's that the island--or possibly just the people on the island--are constantly hopping through time, finding themselves in various points in the island's past and future. So will hopping between different timeframes feature heavily this season?

“Well, the show has been a time travel show for the last four years,” said Lindelof. “We’re just making it more apparent in the storytelling now. You’ll realize that time travel has been in the DNA of the show for quite some time but we think the audience is now prepared to go on that journey with us.”

Expanding on Lindelof’s comments about Sawyer gaining more focus this season, Cuse said, “Sawyer has a lot to do this year. And we had him take his shirt off for the first episode to make sure that people who might not be huge fans of time travel would still be interested in Lost. It was a very calculated balancing act... ”

"Sawyer is also not a fan of time travel," Lindelof added. "You will find him constantly bemoaning it."

Still, isn't it a little risky to have the series' characters spinning through time? Isn't making a choice to inject a blatantly sci-fi element fraught with peril?

"It's a veritable mine field to do time travel but it’s also incredibly exciting and we didn't want to have Season Five be a stall," said Cuse. "And we really decided that, as we always have on Lost, we're going to take some risks and take some chances and if we make some missteps, that’s okay. As far as we're concerned, we would rather take the risk to kind of continue to try to do what we considered to be exciting storytelling, and the consequences are that there's a greater degree of difficulty in that... We are really excited about the episodes this season. They are all the better for utilizing this island-skipping time-travel element."

"I think we've become fairly masochistic in our writing," added Lindelof. "You say 'fraught with peril' like it's a bad thing. We sit around the writers room and say, 'Is it fraught with peril? Let's do it.'"

So how does that shot of the island's ancient four-toed statue fit into the overall picture that the time travel element will introduce?

"People have a lot of questions starting and stopping with what the hell is that four-toed statue?" said Cuse. "But when we introduced the four-toed statue, our idea for doing it at that point was really to sort of show that the history of the island was a long one, that the statue was probably built a long time ago and people have been on this island for a long time. Part of what this season will explore--as you've seen as they're skipping through time--is we'll learn a lot more about what exactly has happened on the island in the past."

As for the flaming arrow attack that the castaways have to flee from, expect a large number of fatalities, including some of those background characters (a.k.a. "socks") often lurking around the camp with little to do and no lines to say. (Sorry, Frogurt, we hardly knew ye!)

Still, will power couple Rose and Bernard make it out of the jungle without bursting into flames?

"Rose and Bernard are still okay," said Cuse. "They did not get taken out with the flaming arrows."

"And Vincent the dog probably survived as well," chimed in Lindelof.

"A lot of the other Red Shirts, though, not so lucky," added Cuse.

"The last character that anyone ever asked us about was Frogurt, and you saw how we dealt with his reintroduction," continued Lindelof. "The show is now moving into a phase where the presence of the socks was no longer directly necessary... so we killed them with arrows."

Look for the shifting nature of alliances to be a major part of the endgame for Lost, in the fifth season and especially in the sixth season.

"Who Ben works for is probably Ben," said Lindelof, cryptically. "But obviously he is involved with other people and has some sort of relationship with Ms. Hawking. We don't know how long it goes back or what exactly the nature of that relationship is. But [exploring] characters’ alliances
certainly those who have been on the island for a long time like Ben or Richard Alpert—is something we are going to be doing fairly intensively toward the latter half of this season and much more so so in the final season of the show."

Given the devotion of fans to the series, why decide to only do two more seasons of seventeen episodes apiece and end the series after its sixth season? Especially when ABC Entertainment president Steve McPherson said last week that the network would be more than happy to air 22 or 24 episodes a season?

"We agreed to do 48 more hours and we could have done that over two seasons, which we would be finishing now, but we chose to divide them over three seasons," explained Lindelof. "We wanted to be thoughtful about writing the scripts and figuring out how to tell the stories. Figuring out these time travel stories is enormously complicated, so we calculated exactly how many episodes we felt we could do and still tell the story well and get to an ending. We asked for three seasons to do this because we wanted to keep the quality bar high. They agreed to that and here we are now."

"Basically all these ideas, the flash-forwards being the first one that we were able to pull the trigger on and then entering into the end game of the story, which involved a significant amount of nonlinear time-travel storytelling," said Lindelof, "was all sort of part of what our plan was, but we couldn't start to do any of that stuff until we realized we were working towards an end point.

"The time travel reflects kind of a plunge towards the ending of which is irreversible," said Cuse. "I mean, at this point, once we committed to doing that, there was only a certain amount of distance between that and where the story, in our opinion, had to end."

For my advance review of next week's episode of Lost ("Jughead"), click here.


Anonymous said…
I don't think the time travel concept is too "out there," especially considering all of the crazy things we've already seen on Lost, including a monster made of smoke and Jacob in his freaky phantom cabin. Time travel seems normal compared to that!
Anonymous said…
The brilliant thing that the show has done is lay down the ground rules for how time travel works. And stating that nothing can be changed is so important because it lets the audience know that actions will have irreversible consequences. This negates the reboot option that crippled Heroes.

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