Many people on the Internet do not realize this, but Damon Lindelof — whose HBO series, The Leftovers debuts on Sunday — is a person. Like, an actual human being, and not just a writer who gave you the Lost finale you hated. He’s real. He bleeds blood! Seriously. He’s even got a wife. He’s a Dad.
He’s married to Heidi Fugeman, who used to work as a production assistant on movies like The Island, The Rock, and Almost Famous. They’ve been married since 2005, the year after Lost debuted, which means she probably knew the guy before he was Internet famous, which is the kind of wife you keep.
Damon Lindelof also has feelings. Often, he shares them in an open and honest way. He admits his faults. He accepts blame, and he does so without outwardly trying to elicit your approval, although it’s certainly something he craves. All writers do.
Damon Lindelof is also the face of Lost, and it’s interesting that most other outspoken showrunners in the Internet age (Vince Gilligan, Nic Pizzolatto, Matthew Weiner, etc.) haven’t really ever had to face the kind of public bashing Lindelof has suffered since 2010. Even criticism of Dan Harmon has mostly been about his personality, and not his writing. I respect Lindelof for continuing to put himself out there in the face of that criticism.
In fact, Lost is not what made me a fan of Damon Lindelof. I liked Lost a lot, and like a lot of people, I felt let down by the finale. However, I wasn’t completely and madly obsessed with the show. I didn’t have the same attachment to it that I had to Breaking Bad or that I currently have to Mad Men.
What made me a huge fan of Damon Lindelof, actually, is how he’s handled himself in the wake of the Lost finale. If a man is to be judged by how he faces adversity, there are few people who deserve better marks than Lindelof.
For instance, Damon Lindelof has only one uncredited screen cameo as an actor to his name. In a 2011 episode of House, M.D., Olivia Wilde — fresh out of prison — goes to his house and kicks him in the groin. I didn’t actually see the episode, but I’m assuming it was for the Lost finale, and Damon Lindelof allowed himself to be the punchline in that scene.
Of course, that wasn’t first time Lindelof allowed himself to be the punching bag for all the ails of the Lost finale. Nobody was more self-deprecating about the Lost finale than Damon Lindelof, who basically used Twitter to make jokes all day at his own expense, even as he was making it rain at the box office. I wish his Twitter account was still around so I could track down some of his best jokes, but alas, this is one of the few brilliant Twitter exchanges left:
Beyond Lost self-deprecation, he was also straight-up funny, and you need look no further than his hours-long joke-fest at the expense of Justin Bieber’s hat, which is still one of my favorite moments in Twitter history.
The self-deprecating tweets, however, came at their own expense. Making fun of himself invariably invited others to make fun of him, and they often piled on. Sometimes, you may be surprised to learn, people on the Internet suck. Hell, sometimes actual colleagues can suck. For instance, the time that George R.R. Martin — a guy that Lindelof looked up to and admired — publicly crapped on the Lost ending, which is rich for a guy who can’t even bring himself to write an ending.
But still, Lindelof soldiered on. He successfully rebooted Star Trek. He gave a second life to the Alien franchise in Prometheus. He salvaged World War Z. And he did all of that despite having to work within the constraints of the Hollywood blockbuster system, constraints he wrote about in an illuminating, searingly honest account of the blockbuster screenwriting process over on NYMag last year. It’s an amazingly eye-opening piece that should be devoured by anyone interested in the screenwriting, and here’s two of my favorite passages.
In the first, Lindelof admits that what Hollywood has become — and some of what he has to construct — is not exactly what he would prefer to write:
We live in a commercial world, where you’ve gotta come up with ‘trailer moments’ and make the thing feel big and impressive and satisfying, especially in that summer-movie-theater construct,” says Lindelof. “But ultimately I do feel—even as a purveyor of it—slightly turned off by this destruction porn that has emerged and become very bold-faced this past summer. And again, guilty as charged. It’s hard not to do it, especially because a movie, if properly executed, feels like it’s escalating.”
Then he dropped an uncomfortable truth about the blockbuster movie system, which put The Man of Steel in total perspective:
“Once you spend more than $100 million on a movie, you have to save the world,” explains Lindelof. “And when you start there, and basically say, I have to construct a MacGuffin based on if they shut off this, or they close this portal, or they deactivate this bomb, or they come up with this cure, it will save the world—you are very limited in terms of how you execute that. And in many ways, you can become a slave to it and, again, I make no excuses, I’m just saying you kind of have to start there. In the old days, it was just as satisfying that all Superman has to do was basically save Lois from this earthquake in California. The stakes in that movie are that the San Andreas Fault line opens up and half of California is going to fall in the ocean. That felt big enough, but there is a sense of bigger, better, faster, seen it before, done that.”
“It sounds sort of hacky and defensive to say, [but it’s] almost inescapable,” he continues. “It’s almost impossible to, for example, not have a final set piece where the fate of the free world is at stake. You basically work your way backward and say, ‘Well, the Avengers aren’t going to save Guam, they’ve got to save the world.’ Did Star Trek Into Darkness need to have a gigantic starship crashing into San Francisco? I’ll never know. But it sure felt like it did.”
Say what you want about the final product in his work, but it’s hard not to appreciate Lindelof’s candor. He basically said, “We are required to blow up cities. It’s not necessarily what I’d prefer, but that’s what the job demands these days, and I’m going to do the best I can within that structure.” Ironically, however, it was the more low-key ending to World War Z that ultimately salvaged that movie.
But did people appreciate his honesty and candor. Did people on Twitter finally get off his ass about the Lost finale? Did he gain some respect for World War Z and Star Trek: Into Darkness?
This is the Internet, people. Come on! What do you think?
Here’s a sampling of the tweets he received after the Breaking Bad finale aired.
Congratulations, Twitter! You really outclassed yourself there.
… and so, Damon Lindelof finally stopped trying to win over people who he could never possibly win over. He quit Twitter because, he would later admit, those people hurt his feelings. He didn’t want to listen to it anymore. He didn’t want to wear the hair shirt any longer. For whatever ill will was held against him for the Lost finale, he’d done his penance.
But more than that, through all of his actions, he proved himself to be a real human being who wants to be liked, who also has feelings that get hurt, and someone who has also learned from whatever mistakes the public thinks he’s made. Personally, I think the only real mistake he made was trying to misdirect us away from an ending instead of Lost instead of embracing the inevitable and owning it. If there’s one thing that Lindelof should take away from Vince Gilligan when he ends The Leftovers, it’s this quote about Breaking Bad:
“We try to have a surprise around every corner but inevitability as well. The opposite of surprise. It’s something that I feel should and will be an important component to the end of the series. To me, that is an interesting thing and a thing to be embraced, that feeling of ‘I think I know where this is going.’”
Is there a point to this 1500 word post besides, “Rowles thinks Lindelof is swell. Good for him.” Well, yes, and it is this: Lindelof is poised to bring that candor, that honesty, that sense of humor, and the humanism we’ve seen from him since Lost to his new series, The Leftovers, which premieres on HBO this Sunday. From what I’ve seen so far, it contains all of those ingredients. It’s mysterious, engaging, and beautiful, not because of the premise — which is fascinating — but because of what Lindelof brings to the characters. The Leftovers is peopled with some f**king amazing characters, and they are reflections of Tom Perrotta’s smart source material, of the actors who portray them, and of Lindelof, who helps bring them to life on screen.
And from what I know about Damon Lindelof since the end of Lost, those characters could not be in better hands. I’m rooting for the guy, not just because we need a television series to obsess over this summer, but because Lindelof deserves some respect for what he’s weathered over the last four years.