EXCLUSIVE: Damon Lindelof on Ending 'Leftovers' in the Wake of 'Lost'

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The Leftovers co-creator and executive producer Damon Lindelof says there’s an enormous amount of pressure when it comes to delivering a satisfying conclusion to a TV series. And he would know. This is the man, after all, who co-created and served as a showrunner of ABC’s Lost, which after six seasons came to a polarizing end in May 2010. And on Sunday, April 16, HBO will premiere the first of The Leftovers’ final eight episodes, marking the second time Lindelof has had to wrap up a mythological TV universe -- this time a story about the lives of the people left behind after 2 percent of the world’s population disappeared, with one man (Kevin Garvey, played by Justin Theroux) believed by some to be the messiah. “I don’t think that’s misplaced,” Lindelof tells ET by phone. “A great finale elevates all the episodes that led up to it. A not great finale diminishes all of the episodes that led up to it. People put a tremendous amount of attention and value on endings -- as they should -- and certainly the longer a television show goes on, the trickier it can be to end.” MORE: Justin Theroux's Satisfying Return to (and Departure From) TVLost was the first time Lindelof -- who was 37 when the finale first aired -- was tasked with bringing it all to a close. After six seasons of interweaving storylines about the survivors of a plane crash on a remote island in the Pacific Ocean and all its time jumps -- the show basically invented the “flash forward” -- there were many, many questions to answer. “There’s a lot of fear and anxiety that goes into the process,” he says. The result was a two-part finale -- co-written by Carlton Cuse -- that was initially met with mixed but positive reaction, but over time has fallen under more intense scrutiny, forcing both Lindelof and Cuse to constantly answer lingering questions and defend the show. “I know what the best case scenario and the worst case scenario look like because they both happened simultaneously with Lost.” When it comes to The Leftovers, which was adapted from Tom Perrotta’s novel of the same name,Lindelof, who is now 43, is more self-assured. “I think that the older that we get, the more calm we are, hopefully.” He says that in the seven years since Lost went off the air, he’s gained more perspective and experience. It also helps that compared to Lost, which became a cultural phenomenon, the HBO series is a niche experience. It’s celebrated by fans and critics alike and is a winner of a Peabody award, but the show has nowhere near the same cultural impact as its predecessor. “So hopefully the expectations will be measured accordingly.”
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Not as worried about how people are going to receive it -- even though he and everyone involved want viewers to be satisfied -- Lindelof focused on what was most important to him: “Can I get it to a place where I like it? Because that’s all I really have control over.” And to that, Lindelof says he’s really happy with how the final eight episodes turned out. “I feel like we put a lot of time and energy into figuring out what we wanted to be feeling and then tried to build the story around the emotional paths of the characters,” he says, revealing that no matter how crazy the show got -- like killing Kevin only to bring him back to life in season two -- the characters remained relatable. “The challenge was that you can’t do the crazier ideas just because they made you laugh or excited. You have to go back and you have to earn it. You have to have it make sense.” MORE: Kevin Carroll Isn't 'Ready to Let Go' of 'The Leftovers' For season three, that means following the show’s core characters to Melbourne, Australia. (And yes, going Down Under is more than just a wink to Lost. “There was something symmetrical about ending The Leftovers in Australia,” he says.) In the new location, the third one for the series following New York and Austin, Texas, there will be mysteries about a fraudulent company promising reunions with the Departed as well as a lion on a sex ferry and the truth behind a book about a new messiah. “I feel like the biggest mistake we could have made going into the endgame was not taking any risks, because the more risks that we took as we went along, the more I feel like we were tapping into this unpredictable energy of the show,” Lindelof explains. In fact, the only questions Lindelof felt like he and the writers had to answer were: Can these people find a way to feel better? Can they be with each other? And can we lead the audience to a place where they’re fine leaving them here? “Those are the things we had to nail,” he says, adding that the show will have a finite conclusion (“That was super important”) while maybe not clearing up all the mythology. “I can't say to the audience what the takeaway from this is going to be. The Leftovers has always lived in a very ambiguous space that has been very comfortable not resolving the central mystery of the show.”