When it came to mapping out The Leftovers‘ third and final season (premiering Sunday, 9/8c on HBO), exec producer Damon Lindelof reveals that there was something noticeably — and refreshingly — missing from the creative process: crippling fear. And as the guy who was tasked with bringing the mythological monster that was Lost to a satisfying conclusion, he would know.
“There was just a tremendous amount of cultural anticipation and expectation surrounding the Lost finale,” explains Lindelof of the differences between planning the end games for the two series. “And I don’t think that that exists for The Leftovers. I feel like we owe our fans [a fitting conclusion], but there isn’t the overwhelming terror of, ‘Oh my God how do you perfectly sum up a show that is built on a house of mystery?’ With Lost, we couldn’t escape the velocity of the mysteries — because that’s what made Lost what it is. I don’t feel like The Leftovers carries that same debt that Lost did.”
As a result, Lindelof is hopeful that Leftovers fans will be “a little bit more willing to watch the series finale with a degree of openness as opposed to a degree of crossing their arms and going, ‘This better not disappoint me’ — which felt like a legitimate response to Lost. If you invest six years of your life going down this road, the expectations will be magnified by the amount of time invested. We did 28 episodes of The Leftovers, so, it’s like, ‘It’s cool, man.'”
On the flipside, Lindelof notes that he and fellow Lost EP Carlton Cuse had time on their side with regard to designing the ABC drama’s big finish. “Midway through the third season of Lost, [ABC] told us they were going to let us end it after Season 6, so we were, like, 48 episodes away from the ending,” he recalls. “The more runway you have, the more time you have to be like, ‘Am I going too fast? Am I going too slow?'”
However, with The Leftovers, HBO informed him and fellow EP Tom Perrotta after Season 2 ended that they had only eight episodes to wrap things up. “We weren’t really in a position to negotiate,” Lindelof admits with a laugh. “We figured six episodes would be impossible, but we would take eight and we would just need to move a little faster.”
Ultimately, he believes the streamlined episode count made for a tighter final season. “From the moment we sat down [last year to plot Season 3], the first thing we talked about was, ‘What’s the final scene of the series, who’s in it, what are they talking about, where is it and what’s happening?”’ Lindelof shares. “And we started throwing out a lot of ideas and finally settled on something that really excited us. And then everything that followed was just leading up to that moment. And it felt very clean and focused, because it was just eight episodes ad opposed to 48 episodes.”