Carlton Cuse Says It Would Have Been Impossible To Answer Lost’s Questions

By David Wharton | Published

LostI’m pretty sure Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof will still be dealing with irate Lost even after they’re dead. They’ll show up in that tranquil, heavenly church, surrounded by friends once lost, and then Jack Shephard will stroll up, throat punch them, and yell, “That’s for season six, you assholes!” Love it, hate it, or somewhere in between, Lost is still one of those topics that can turn friend against friend, lover against lover, and everybody against Nikki and Paulo. So, even though Lost aired its final episode nearly four years ago, people are still asking the show’s writers and producers about it. If you’re one of those fans still stewing about all the unanswered questions the show left behind…well, this article probably isn’t going to make you any happier.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, former Lost executive producer Carlton Cuse reiterates that, while there were early plans about the show’s long-term goals — such as opening and ending on Jack’s eye, and eventually getting everyone off the island — they approached the finale in the same way they had the rest of the series. Cuse says:

Damon and I and the other writers approached it like we did other episodes, where we gave ourselves room to make creative discoveries as we were writing it. We obviously had a lot of conversations about where we were going to land or what the ending was going to encapsulate, but it wasn’t written until it was written.

That shouldn’t be terribly surprising to anyone who’s watched Lost. Even when the show was firing on all cylinders, it never felt like it was following some grand plan, regardless of how many times Cuse or fellow EP Damon Lindelof hinted that they knew where it was headed. And sure, having a detailed, multi-year arc planned out right from the get-go is usually the exception (Babylon 5) more than the rule. But Lost‘s writers were in a way their own worst enemy: really good at coming up with crazy twists; not nearly as good as providing satisfying explanations for those twists.

But Cuse says that answering all of the show’s remaining questions in the finale would have been impossible. Instead, the writers chose to focus on the characters more than the mystery, and to give the former island mates a redemptive ending that was far more “Man of Faith” than “Man of Science.” Here’s Cuse:

The more we understood the show, we really realized: ‘This show is about people that are lost on an island, but truly about people that are lost in their lives, so the best and most appropriate ending for the show is one that deals with: What sort of redemption do these characters get? Where do their lives lead them?’ We felt like a spiritual resolution was the thing that would ultimately be the most emotionally satisfying. We felt like there was no possible way to answer questions. We actually attempted on a number of occasions to shoehorn in things like who’s in the outrigger, and we found ourselves doing all these sorts of narrative backflips. To put something into a story that really didn’t belong in the story that we were telling. We did ‘Across the Sea’ third from the end and that was the closest thing to answers that we gave. It was the Jacob [Mark Pellegrino] and Man In Black [Titus Welliver] origin story. And that was an episode that was very polarizing and, for us, that was kind of confirmation that the answer version of a finale would never be satisfying. It would just beget more questions and that, in a way, it wasn’t really true to the spirit of the show as we intended it — that the show was a mystery. I feel like we did wrap up a lot of the biggest mysteries on the show. There was no way to sustain a mystery show for 121 episodes of television and tie up every loose end. It was just not possible. So, we really opted to find a way to take the characters to the end of their journey, and in so doing, we felt we were being fairly bold by tackling questions that were really as large as ‘What is the nature of existence?’ and ‘What’s meaningful in life?’ and ‘By what measure do we find value at the end of our journeys?’ These are sort of large, ponderous questions that have no concrete answers but that was the territory we wanted to explore.

That all makes for a nice sound bite, but it also seems to miss the point. Lost’s final hours didn’t have to be a case of either character resolutions or answers. Yes, the show was very much rooted in its characters, and the story of the Island wouldn’t have been nearly as compelling if it had been populated by less interesting castaways. But while those characters were a big part of what kept people coming back to the show, the mystery elements were just as important, if not more so, for many among the audience. Just look at : it may be an uneven and frequently frustrating show, but it plays fair with the audience. Executive producer Erik Kripke promised fans wouldn’t have to wait years to learn the answers to Revolution’s biggest question — what turned the power off? — and the show honored that promise. It gave us a clear, specific answer, then reinvented itself with new questions and mysteries for the second season. That balancing act can be done…but not if you get to the last episode and still have a grab bag full of mysteries to address.

Lost’s best moments were those that united those two halves of the show, mixing compelling character work with the insane twists served up by an Island full of smoke monsters and hatches and Others. I agree with Cuse that it would have been impossible to answer all of Lost’s questions in the finale. I just happen to believe that the writers didn’t have to get backed into that corner in the first place.