Great Expectations 2010: Lost

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The Big Reveal: Mind-Bending TV Show Preps Final Season

Destiny, to borrow a phrase from Benjamin Linus, is a fickle bitch.

Just ask the creators of American Gothic, EZ Streets or Boomtown—all brilliant television dramas that died before they really had a chance to live, condemned as too smart, too complex, too demanding.

Then along comes a show about plane-crash survivors on a tropical island populated by polar bears and smoke monsters and whispering “Others.” A show that regularly references philosophers like Locke and Rousseau and authors like Dickens, Steinbeck and Dostoevsky, a show that toys with the space-time continuum. Smart? Yep. Complex? Mm-hmm. Demanding? You betcha.

But destiny has not only let Lost live for five glorious, gasp-inducing seasons—it has given the show a nearly unprecedented opportunity to go out on its own terms. Three seasons ago, ABC and series producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse announced that Lost would end in 2010. Fans needed not fear mid-saga cancellation or storylines stretched beyond the breaking point. May 2010 would bring deliberate, timely resolution.

And now, here it is: the sixth and final season, trailing tantalizing promises of long-withheld answers. What happened when the bomb went off? Where’s Claire? Why are Hurley’s lottery numbers so significant? Who’s running things, anyway—Jacob? Richard? Widmore?

One person who doesn’t know is Michael Emerson, who recently won a Best Supporting Actor Emmy for playing master manipulator Benjamin Linus. Emerson first appeared on Lost in Season Two as stranded balloonist Henry Gale. (Or so he seemed; he turned out to be Ben, leader of the Others.)

But even Emerson didn’t know that at the time. As far as he knew, he was in Hawaii to do a three-episode guest stint: “The role was mysterious on the page even then,” he recalls today, fresh off filming his part of the new season’s fourth episode. “I thought, ‘There must be more to this, but I’ll play along. I’m a lost balloonist.’”

It’s a sensation he’s gotten used to; after four seasons on Lost, he’s abandoned the usual actor’s concerns about backstory and endgame.

“You stop worrying about past, present and future,” he says. “I’ve lost interest in outcomes, I guess. All I care about are kinds of cracklingly dangerous and electric present moments.”

Fans, though, do care about outcomes—even if the ones they dream up don’t come true.

“I want—and I expect—to be completely wrong in my expectations,” says E.J. Kalafarski, who along with Chadwick Matlin taught a class on Lost at Boston’s Tufts University in 2007. The convoluted theories—his own and others’—have kept him in the show’s thrall: “You think, ‘That has to be it, and if not, it’s a cool idea anyway.’ And then you find out how wrong you were.”

Emerson, at least, knows enough to promise more perplexity.

“The first couple of episodes of the last season mystify me a little bit… Some new idea is falling into place. And if it’s as earth-shattering as I think it is, it’s going to be big.”

But can anything be big enough? Finales are notoriously difficult to pull off. Consider Seinfeld. Co-creator Larry David wrote an hour-long episode that brought back dozens of beloved bit players and cleverly circled around to the series’ opening dialogue—and everyone hated it. And The Sopranos? Infuriated fans are still crying “cop out” over its fade-to-black finale, even if it was arguably the perfect ending for such a morally ambiguous show. (What, you wanted to see Tony lying in a pool of blood?)

When fans love a show the way they loved Seinfeld or The Sopranos—the way they love Lost—they may never be completely satisfied, simply because they don’t want to say goodbye.

Lost, with its ever-expanding cast, ever-changing allegiances and ever-multiplying time periods, has set an especially difficult challenge for itself.

“God help the producers,” Matlin says. “In a way, I don’t blame them if they cut corners. They’ve got a story to tell, and physics be damned. All I want is to have my mind blown one last time.”