Dear Damon Lindelof: An Open Letter Before ‘The Leftovers’

This is me, watching Lost.

This is me, watching Lost.

Dear Damon Lindelof,

I’ll admit, I’m nervous.

Let me start at the beginning: There was a ritual. Every Wednesday night, we would gather together at a friend’s loft in Soho to cook a meal. There were complicated menus, multiple courses, plenty of wine, but the conversation stopped sharply at ten. The lights were dimmed and we took our plates and glasses to eat in front of the television set. There was no talking allowed. We had to know what happened next on Lost. The number of participants changed, the menu varied, but we were there every singleWednesday night to watch. We were committed. For the finale of the beloved, confounding show, nearly 20 people gathered around the television set. $200 bottles of wine were opened. We were ready for answers.

We waited patiently for six seasons for a satisfying conclusion and instead we got a glimpse of purgatory, both on the show and on the couch —endless waiting, no resolution, many questions. After dedicating years to the story, the ending felt like the finale to a rushed fourth-grader’s creative writing assignment: “And then I woke up. It was all a dream. The end.” Drop the pencil, run out the door, go play kickball.

As a Lost fan who ultimately became a lost fan, it’s hard to consider committing to another one of your shows. Not because you aren’t an incredible storyteller, though, because you are truly gifted. Over the course of Lost, you helped bring to life a cast of characters whose fates I fretted over, stories I wondered at, cliffhangers that had me gasping in shock. I laughed, I cried, I accidentally memorized a series of numbers. I also suspended disbelief again and again (a smoke monster? sure) for six seasons and then, ultimately, well, I could have used some of those Wednesdays to catch up on my book club.

I read the New York Times article, where you promised that your new HBO show, The Leftovers, wouldn’t be like Lost. In the words of The X-Files —another show that ultimately disappointed over the course of its long run — I want to believe.

There are are a few reasons for hope. The Leftovers is based on a book written by Tom Perrotta, so theoretically the beginning, middle and end are already predetermined. The plot is simple enough: Two percent of the world’s population disappears one day with no explanation. People from all walks of life — from infants asleep in their cribs to Gary Busey to the Pope — simply vanish. There appears to be no common denominator other than the mystery that binds the remaining inhabitants together while simultaneously tearing them apart.

It’s a compelling story, with endless possible meditations on mysteries and studies in grief. There’s no doubt you’ll thrive in shining a light on those dark miseries, but it’s that state of endlessness where we Lost fans get nervous. We all remember what it was like to excitedly tune in on Wednesday nights, eager for answers and endlessly settling for new mysteries.

Lost was a marathon that we continued on fueled by faith and the assumption that when we reached the finish line, it would all be worth it. But you, as our guide on that course, seemed to lose the map at some point, and we ended up somewhere else entirely. While you apparently liked where the run ended, many of us marathoners had a different destination in mind.

It’s not entirely your fault, though. “For the first 55 episodes of Lost, we didn’t know how long the marathon was,” you told the New York Times. “Am I running a 100-meter dash, or am I running a marathon? How many laps is this thing?’ Because that’s really going to change the way that I run.” I get that. Television with its habit of canceling the best shows (miss you, Trophy Wife and Deadwood) while leaving Two and a Half Men on for an eternity, can be a shaky foundation for a solid storyline.

At least The Leftovers has a set finish line, or at least Perrotta’s novel laid one out, and I could look it up on Wikipedia right now. The concern lies in the fact that the show’s enduring mystery could be teased out indefinitely if the show continues to get renewed. As seasons are added, the finish line will move further and further away and we’ll all be running another marathon on a Mobius strip alongside you, the show runner. Lost turned me into a TV commitment-phobe and tuning in sounds like signing up for another race and that is daunting.

But, as George Michael said, you gotta have faith and you, Mr. Lindelof, have proven yourself skilled at crafting improbable worlds filled with believable characters (and the odd polar bear).

I’ll tune in on Sunday, but I’ll probably be flipping through Tinder while I watch. I am now a commitment-phobe, after all.