Damon Lindelof — who has recently received well-deserved praise for his work on HBO’s Watchmen — was previously best known as the co-showrunner of Lost, the six-season series that followed a group of people stranded on a tropical island after a plane crash.
Lost has a fervent fanbase, many of whom were upset by the series finale that revealed (Spoiler!) that for much of the sixth season, the gang was dead and hanging out in purgatory. This angered some and confused many, leading to accusations that Lindelof and fellow co-showrunner Carlton Cuse put together a slapdash ending because they hadn’t thought the finale through.
In a recent interview with Collider, however, Lindelof revealed not only that he and Cuse had an ending in mind from the beginning, but that they took efforts to seed that ending (and dupe the audience) seasons in advance.
“One of the things that we knew for a very long time was that the series was going to end with Jack’s death,” Lindelof told Collider. “That would be the end of his arc…the symmetry of starting with his eye opening and ending with his eye closing felt really good to us.”
How they were going to get to that ending and keep the audience surprised, however, required some additional inspiration: “Although the final image of the final season would be Jack’s eye closing, we [wanted to] show his entire experience post-death in some way Trojan horsed inside the show,” Lindelof explained.
The Trojan horse the writers’ room settled on was to make the audience think the gang was in some sort of parallel timeline in the final season, when what they were actually seeing was Jack (Matthew Fox) struggling through a very specific type of purgatory.
“We all liked the idea in the Tibetan Book of the Dead of The Bardo,” Lindelof said. “It’s a place that you go when you die but you don’t know that you’re dead. It is like Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense. He doesn’t know that he’s dead, and the entire purpose of being in this space is to come to the revelation that you have died, but no one’s allowed to tell you.”
According to Lindelof, the conceit of the finale was agreed upon between the third and fourth seasons, dozens of episodes before the season finale. It was also during this time that the writing team decided to throw fans off the scent of the ultimate Bardo-esque ending by strongly suggesting there were time travel shenanigans going on. That's why the Dharma Initiative dabbles in time travel in Season 4, for once the time travel seed was planted, the audience would jump to the (false) conclusion that when Oceanic 815 didn’t crash at the end of Season 5, that meant that Season 6 took place in a parallel universe.
What Lindelof and the rest of the writing team didn’t anticipate, however, is that they did too good a job hiding the purgatory revelation. “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,’” Lindelof explained before diplomatically conceding, “I didn’t see [that conclusion] getting widespread theoretical attention.”
Lost can currently be found streaming on both Amazon Prime and Hulu.