After sticking the landing to HBO’s Watchmen with a season (series?) finale that mostly satisfied viewers and critics across the board (no small feat), Damon Lindelof‘s other high-profile ending has been getting some renewed attention and perhaps a more generous appraisal after it confounded audiences 10 years ago. We’re talking, of course, about Lost, the hit ABC series that ran for 121 episodes before attempting the unenviable task of wrapping up a project that stacked mystery on top of mystery, dabbled in time travel, and featured mad science experiments and, sure, supernatural forces, too.
While looking back at the controversial Lost finale in an interview with Collider, a candid Lindelof opened up about how the writers started laying the groundwork when ABC reluctantly gave the all-clear to end the show after six seasons. According to Lindelof, the plan from the beginning was always that Jack would die at the end of the show, but that death ended up taking place over the whole final season where the writers pulled a narrative trick called the “flash-sideways.” Lost was famous for its flashback sequences, or in some cases, flash-forward sequences, but the “flash-sideways” was a clever ruse to make the viewer think the main characters were trapped in a time paradox when, really, they were in the afterlife.
But pulling off this deception required planting the seed that time travel was possible, which the writers did in Season 4, the first season where they were actively working towards an endgame. With time travel in the game, Season 5 could now end with the potential for a time paradox and allow the writers to pull off the “flash-sideways.” Via Collider:
So that basically led to us backing into Season 5 so that ‘The Incident’ would end Season 5, so when you started to get presented with Oceanic 815 flying over a sunken island, your brain would tell you, ‘Oh this is a parallel timeline where the plane never crashes.’ And it didn’t feel like that was a finale reveal. It felt like once Desmond started waking up or gaining consciousness, or the Charlie of the parallel timeline remembered putting his hands up with the ‘Not Penny’s Boat’, that the audience would start to get wise of like, ‘How are these characters remembering events that didn’t happen to them? The only logical answer is that they’re in an afterlife.’ But I didn’t see it getting widespread theoretical attention.
Essentially, over three seasons, the writers worked backward to make the afterlife revelation work in the final season. In theory, anyway. Even Lindelof will admit that they failed to “strike a balance” with the number of mysteries they used in the show, which he recently revealed was the result of ABC’s demand to keep the show going. Originally, Lost was supposed to end after three seasons, and it took Lindelof years to convince the network to let the writers end it sooner rather than later.
If it was up to ABC, Lost would’ve run for 10 seasons. Fortunately, we don’t live in the parallel universe where that happened.