Damon Lindelof on Why He Feels "Liberated" Writing 'The Leftovers' Finale

Courtesy of Austin Hargrave/HBO
Damon Lindelof

Says the boss of the HBO drama series, "What I don’t want is 'The Leftovers' to feel like a reaction to 'Lost.'"

I know I've said that I'm done talking about the Lost finale, but there is no way to not talk about the Lost finale now that I’m ending another show. That’s probably the thing that’s most interesting to people, right? “What’s going to be different this time?” or “What have you learned from Lost?” And the answer is, I don’t know yet. God, if I figure that out, then I wouldn’t need to go to therapy anymore. I don’t need to be on Twitter to know there are enough people out there saying, “Don’t disappoint me again, Lindelof.”

I wish I could say we’re looking at it as another season of television, that it’s just another game, but it’s the finals — and I want The Leftovers to be something that only lived for three years but people speak very highly of with no buts. What I don’t want is The Leftovers to feel like a reaction to Lost. In the same way a parent has two different kids, just because you f—ed up with your older kid doesn’t mean you have to extrapolate those same mistakes onto your younger one. And I’m not saying that I f—ed up with Lost. I’m just saying every parent feels like they f— up constantly. And the world is full of siblings who complain about the fact that their parents raised them as a reaction to their older sibling. So I’m focused on not doing that.

If the takeaway from Lost was that there was a disgruntled portion of the fan base that said, “You did not give satisfactory answers to the mysteries,” then I feel somewhat liberated with The Leftovers because that’s off the table. Both shows traffic in mystery, but The Leftovers has been unapologetic that it’s not the mystery-solving show. Lost was that show. During the finale writing process, Carlton Cuse and I had a list of unanswered questions on a white board, and when we felt we answered them satisfactorily, we erased them. The lesson learned is there were apparently not enough questions on the white board.

Really, the worst possible thing I could do now is watch amazing finales because a) it will make me feel inadequate, and b) I don’t want to steal. It’s better to have plausible deniability if I’m stealing. Like, “Oh wow, you’re right. That is exactly like the Six Feet Under finale. I hadn’t thought about that because I honestly haven’t seen it in 10 years.” I’m also kind of trying to avoid dramas right now. I like to watch comedies (Silicon Valley, Transparent and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt lately) because they make me feel good and I don’t have to worry about thinking, “Oh shit, how the hell am I going to do what they do?”

More than anything else, I want to approach the ending of The Leftovers with confidence. Even if we fall flat on our faces and everybody hates it, it’s better than hedging or trying to be all things to all people or saying we’re going to be one thing and then at the last minute basically cut bait and be another thing. That’s certainly criticism I heard about the Lost finale, that it felt like it changed course. I don’t share that opinion, but it’s a valuable one. People want consistency in the storytelling.

So the advice I’m giving myself is to not treat it like it’s a huge deal. I know there will be a disproportionate amount of emotional energy expended on getting it just right, but if I treat every line of dialogue, every scene, every character move with this incredible preciousness, I’ll end up rewriting it too many times. It’s like anyone who has ever decorated a cake — there’s always one gumdrop too many that you can put on that f—er. The key is to know when to say, “Yep, this cake looks good. I want to eat this cake.”

This story first appeared in the May 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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