The 'Lost' weekend: 'Lost' takes the Paley Festival by storm
When "Lost" came to the Paley Festival in its first season back in 2005, it arrived as one of the hottest shows on the dial, one of the next big things of the TV season. It had proved that there was an audience for complicated action-adventure storytelling with a strong serialized streak and compelling characters on network television. At that first panel, some of the biggest questions involved just what would turn out to be in that infernal hatch and which of the cast members would be the first to die (in an episode that had been shot but had not aired). It was an evening to celebrate a show no one ever thought they would fall out of love with.
Now, five more seasons, innumerable plot twists and one complicated relationship with its fan base later, "Lost" returned to the Paley stage to celebrate its final episodes, and the event was more of a coronation. The cheers from the crowd for the producers and actors on hand were deafening, the screening of new footage was greeted with hushed excitement, and every little bit of information on the show past or present from the panelists' lips was given something approaching the reverence of holy writ. It wasn't an evening to treat "Lost" with complete reverence--indeed, the panel was downright irreverent toward some of its own members---but it was an evening to luxuriate in just how much the show had changed things and just how much everyone in the audience would miss it when it's gone.
Answering the questions and queries of moderator Paul Scheer (of comedy troupe Human Giant) and various fans were a collection of more producers than actors, and the panel leaned more heavily on actors who'd joined the show since that first season. Even without a huge contingent from the cast, though, the crowd of nearly 1,900 didn't mind. They enjoyed seeing these people gathered together for what will be one of the last times. (Indeed, the writers are in the beginning phases of plotting out the two-hour finale right now, while the actors and others on set have just wrapped filming on the 14th hour out of 18 total hours.) Attending were co-creator Damon Lindelof; co-showrunner Carlton Cuse; writer/producers Edward Kitsis, Adam Horowitz and Elizabeth Sarnoff; director/producer (and the show's main man on the Hawaii-based set) Jack Bender; and actors Nestor Carbonell (the seemingly ageless Richard Alpert), Zuleikha Robinson (the still-mysterious Ilanna), Michael Emerson (the always shifty Ben Linus) and Terry O'Quinn (stoic survivalist John Locke and his evil doppelganger, introduced this season).
Naturally, Scheer and the fans wanted to know just what was to come, asking fairly pointed questions about which questions would and would not be answered. While Lindelof and Cuse dodged many of them fairly artfully, they were more open than they usually are and indicated, at least, that several mysteries in the show's overall structure would be addressed. (And it's here I'll point out that if you don't want to be spoiled at all, you should probably skip the next paragraph entirely.)
Bender seemed to confirm that Alan Dale's Charles Widmore will return at some point, though the story he told about the actor was hastily suggested to have taken place in a season prior to season five. An explanation will be offered for the strange bird that used to seem to say Hurley's name in the early days of the show. The producers are working on a way to bring Walt back, though they couldn't guarantee that this would happen. (When asked what sorts of things in their original plan for the series had to be most altered by the fact that producing a TV series involves collaborating with lots of other people, Lindelof and Cuse were quick to point out that Malcolm David Kelley's rapid aging was one issue they wished they wouldn't have had to deal with.) There will likely be no explanation of what happened to Ben's lost love Annie. Vincent the dog will be back, and so will psychiatrist/mental institution patient/Hurley love interest Libby. There won't be a chronological DVD set of the series when it's over. ("You can't put 'Lost' together in a linear narrative and have it make any more sense," Cuse said.) Charlie will be back, as will Desmond (and apparently soon). The footage screened of Tuesday's episode showed Sayid being banished from the Temple by Dogen, then Claire showing up to summon Dogen to visit fake Locke just outside, a prospect Dogen seemed decidedly uneasy about. And Lindelof, when answering whether Ilanna is just as seemingly ageless as Richard, said, "Ilanna and Richard will have things to say to each other and about each other in the near future." What does that mean, exactly? Your guess is as good as ours. (Lindelof also said that the word he'd use to describe the final three hours of the show is "Water." Let the speculation begin!)
But the majority of the evening was devoted to memories of the production of the show, to the actors and Bender remembering sunny afternoons on the beach in Hawaii, to the writers sharing inside jokes from the writers' room. (Apparently, Claire's fake squirrel baby has an equally fake father named Chester.) Scheer and the fans also asked a surprisingly large number of questions about just what went into the production of the series, asking the actors just how they played their characters when they couldn't know the entire back story of those characters by necessity and the writers how they've proceeded in ending a series that so many people have such high hopes for. ("The thing I get most of all is, 'Don't screw it up,'" Kitsis said.)
For the actors, questions about just how they play characters they're only now learning the complicated back stories of (at least in the case of Carbonell) revealed how the approach on set manages to create a mood that steadily moves toward just where the writers want to go. O'Quinn, for example, didn't know for most of last season that he was playing what amounted to the Smoke Monster, but his performance was compatible for that revelation regardless. "I knew he was going in the direction he needed to go, and he just sensed that," Bender said, praising the actors for picking up on nuances in the script without necessarily guessing just where the mythology of the show was headed.
There were stories about Bender's direction hinting at the direction actors needed to go without coming out and saying it -- like Carbonell's recollection of Bender telling him "This is your 9/11" when the actor needed help on how to proceed when the fake Locke emerged from Jacob's home in the premiere. There were comparisons of methods from Emerson, who started out in the theater and applies the same technique often used there of analyzing the words on the page so thoroughly that every possible level of subtext is overturned, and O'Quinn, who says he just tries to play any given scene as well as he can.
The writers admitted that they wouldn't be able to answer every little question fans might have had. "There's a lot of little questions that ultimately we just don't have time to answer," Cuse said, giving the example of the audience not learning the true identity of the economist Sayid shot on a golf course at Ben's behest in season four. For the most part, they're asking themselves if the characters want to know the answer to that question. If so, it will likely be answered. If not, it may be confined to the dustbins of TV history.
Still, even as the structure of the storyline is set in place, there can be minor changes to the finale at the writing stage. "Certainly on a character level, there's room for discovery," Cuse said.
There was also copious appreciation of what ABC has done for the show over the years, keeping it on the air and supporting it as it grew more and more ambitious and expensive, even allowing the show to film in Hawaii in the first place. "This would be a very different show for all of us if we were shooting at Zuma Beach in Griffith Park," Bender said.
Cuse went even farther. "'Lost' is the most complex, expensive and elaborate show in the world, and we're only able to do that thanks to the support of ABC," he said.
Cuse and Lindelof will also maintain radio silence for some period of time after the series finale airs, preferring to not color fans' discussions of the series' final hours with their own interpretations of events, hoping to let the series maintain some of its mystery.
In the end, though, it was mostly an evening for those who worked on the series to reminisce and look ahead and for their fans to anticipate the final hours of one of their favorite shows. Bender, who worked on both this show and "The Sopranos," reminisced about how that series' creator, David Chase, was convinced no one would watch the show after the first season was filmed, after Lindelof recalled seeing the filming of an early season one episode and being convinced no one would watch "Lost" either.
"We need more shows that creators doubt anyone's going to watch," Bender said. And it's hard to suggest any fans disagreed.
(Programming note: This is only a bare summary of an over two-hour event. If you want to know more of what went on, including recounts of some of the funnier anecdotes from the panelists, check out Dan Fienberg's recap at Hitfix, Jace Lacob's recap at Televisionary and this blow-by-blow account from The Futon Critic. In addition, if you're looking to hear what my voice sounds like, you can check out my guest appearance on the "Orientation: Ryan Station" podcast here. And we'll see you Tuesday for thoughts on "Sundown"!)
--Todd VanDerWerff (follow me on Twitter at @tvoti)
Photo: Hurley (Jorge Garcia, left) and Jack (Matthew Fox) took a trip into the jungle this week on "Lost." (Credit: ABC)