Destroy All Monsters: Come Back, Damon Lindelof

Matt Brown, Columnist

On the day of the Great Departure, Damon Lindelof cancelled his Twitter account in mid-sentence, as befits the content of his new series, The Leftovers. None of us even got a chance to say goodbye.

Nor were any of us, for a short while anyway, given a context for Lindelof's departure in order to make sense of what had happened, though eventually it became clear. In some ways Lindelof's twitterdammerung is a better thematic examination of grief in the face of unexpected loss than The Leftovers itself. We are, all of us, left over; and the world we are left with is, by the departed's absence, revealing itself to be a dire thing indeed.

I miss Damon Lindelof. I miss his voice. I miss those podcasts he used to do with Carlton Cuse after particularly significant episodes of LOST. Hey, I miss LOST. If you don't miss LOST, but are still a Lindelof hater four years later, then I'm going to have to agree with what I presume to be your prevailing beef: watching that show was clearly a colossal waste of your time.

The Leftovers has been described as a reaction on Lindelof's part to what happened to LOST. It certainly enters the world with more caution than LOST did. I'm fairly sure LOST never outright promised its audience that all mysteries would be explained and that all explanations provided would be satisfactory, but the audience took that presumptive promise as the series' table stakes anyway.

LOST was wired that way, building its entire audience relationship around the push-pull of weekly mysteries answered, and new mysteries revealed. To say that LOST didn't deserve what it got is inaccurate, even if most people are incorrect about why: LOST's fate in the popular consciousness had nothing to do with the ending, and everything to do with everything else.

The Leftovers, meanwhile, might as well have been released with a press release, for all intents and purposes, reading something along the lines of "we are not necessarily gonna tell you what the Great Departure was." It's a series built around a core mystery - why did 2% of the planet's population suddenly vanish three years ago? - but in which all and sundry are being transparent about the fact that the setup is just, well, the setup.

I've yet to find a character on The Leftovers that I find halfway as compelling as Jack, Kate, or Locke, but I appreciate the degree to which the series is resolute about its own table stakes: we are here to learn about Kevin, Laurie and Matt. The departed - who they were, where they went, and why they were taken - are not the point.

This charms me, because it means Damon Lindelof is indisputably the voice behind the series. As a writer, he will forever write about what he writes about. What Lindelof writes about and finds interesting seems to have an unswerving ability to piss an enormous number of people off, but like any true creator, he can't veer from the course even with all the road signs in the world.

I'm generally pro-DL. Only Star Trek Into Darkness lost me completely, and otherwise I find the King/Castaneda fusion in his prevailing preoccupations entertaining and interesting.

More than any of this, though, I simply miss the man, himself, as a voice in the popular culture discourse. This is what the last year took away from us, and I'm still not convinced the sphere of modern geek commentary has successfully recovered. Damon Lindelof might not have been the center of the geek universe online (I don't know, is that Wil Wheaton?), but he was a rare entity nevertheless: a content creator who was also one of content creation's most sophisticated commentators and critics.

Last summer, Lindelof took his unofficial online pop culture creation seminar to the 201 level in his interview with Vulture, where he broke down - in preternatural detail - what would happen to, say, the story of John Henry if it were being repurposed by Hollywood as a big-screen adventure.

The resulting commentary is such a razor-sharp portrait of how the modern motion picture industry works now - the answer, essentially, to questions like "why did Superman decimate Metropolis in Man of Steel?" or "Why do there need to be three Hobbit movies, anyway?" that it might well be one of the most important analyses of the business behind modern popular culture that has been written in the internet age.

That's the guy I miss. I know that Lindelof will truck around, doing interviews (and possibly even podcasts) about The Leftovers here and there; but his daily, public-access presence as a member of this community has been eradicated.

And why? Because "we," by which I mean "the internet at large," were satanically, almost indescribably, mean to him.

Were you? Was I? Probably not, but the bulbous mass of facelessness called the online world decided, hive-mind-like, to swarm Lindelof anyway. Lindelof has subsequently reported that the last episode of Breaking Bad - which saw a deluge of smug twitterers with evident personality disorders swamp Lindelof's twitter feed with retroactive scorn for the LOST finale based on their satisfaction with the Bad finale, as though excellence in concluding episodes of television is a zero-sum game - was what broke him.

(While we're here: having watched both in the last 24 hours for no particular reason, the Breaking Bad finale is a conceptually unambitious, predictable piece of storytelling pap that adds absolutely nothing to the overall thematic arc of its own excellent series, besides the answer to "is Walt actually gonna die or not." The LOST finale is an overlong, visually unambitious grand finale that nonetheless takes huge conceptual and emotional chances with its characters, themes, and audience. Next time you feel like complaining about the "sameness" of most mainstream entertainment, don't.)

It's a classic example of cutting off one's nose to spite one's face. When "we," officially or unofficially, voted Lindelof off the island, we lost our representative in the parliament of rooks called the internet, like a bunch of Tea Partiers with no functional understanding of what a world without government would look like. Based on the way online discourse has broken down into team-based slapfights and unadulterated idiocy since social media became "a thing," I'd argue that we need him back, now more than ever.

(Last week's best example: in spite of apparently being able to recognize Neil deGrasse Tyson on sight, none of these junior Cumberbatches were erudite enough to sleuth out that a tweet from a man who calls himself "dogboner" might, just might, be representative of a phenomenon that Mr. Spock once called "a joke.")

We need to do better than this, and we need people like Lindelof in order to do it. The people who attacked Lindelof so religiously that they forced him out of the game can't be the teeming mass that wins; it's not just a bad on them, it's a bad on all of us for fostering an environment that includes them, and their intellectual (and anti-intellectual) bullying, in the first place.

Come back, Damon Lindelof. Not so that Twitter can have its whipping-boy back, but so the rest of us can see that it's possible to change the narrative. Do you need me to say "the island needs you?" Fine. The island needs you.


Destroy All Monsters is a weekly column on Hollywood and pop culture. Matt Brown is in Toronto and on Twitter.

Around the Internet:
  • Less Lee Moore

    Damn, how did I miss this? I love this. I love Damon Lindelof. Thank you.

  • CJ

    Lindelof and Cuse's LOST podcast was an absolute joy.

    I miss it, too. Forever will the name 'Ezra J. Sharkington' be engraved upon my memory in connection with that show.

  • Pa Kent Says Maybe

    Good riddance for as long as it lasts. A treasure? Calm down, skippy.

  • Blind_Boy_Grunt_1235

    Learn how to operate the "Reply" button, skippy.

  • Steve Ekstrom

    And for the record: everyone is taught in Creative Writing 101 to NOT end anything the way LOST ended. It shits on the intelligence of your viewer.

  • indy42

    And what way is that?

  • Steve Ekstrom

    The "purgatory" of they're-not-really-dead-but-they-aren't-really-alive-either...is pretty much the same as "It was all a dream." They were all dealing with things from their lives so they could transcend to the after-life.

    That idea/concept mucks with the investment of all of the stuff that built the mystery/ mystique of the plot and of the strangeness of the island.

    Ultimately, there's no pay-off because none of it was real. Therefore, the investment of HOURS of watching is boiled down to one little bit of information that makes none of their experiences through the duration of the story valid any longer.

    Bobby Ewing popping out of a shower after being dead for a season. = The cast of LOST being in Purgatory over the course of several years of dedicated watching.

  • uıɐH ɯɐS

    I take it your knowledge of Creative Writing 101 didn't teach you ANYTHING about keeping up with TV shows, because you either didn't watch LOST enough to get it, or sat gawping slack-jawed at the screen and missed entire chunks of information.
    Or maybe, taking a guess, you're a Writer, and find it easier to trash other writers in order to elevate yourself. Considering the smug walls of text you're dumping here, that's the only thing that would make sense.

  • Less Lee Moore

    HAHAHA!

  • indy42

    Oh. You're one of those.

    I'm getting real goddamn tired of saying this:

    They weren't dead the whole time. The Island was not purgatory. Everything on the Island happened.

  • Steve Ekstrom

    LOL

    And you're one of "those".

    Anonymous internet guys.

    There are miles of text devoted to the perceptions of people who watch television shows. Just because the world doesn't agree with the intellectual genius of "indy42" from the land of zeroes and ones doesn't mean their opinions are any less valid.

    I still stand by what I said...you are taught in INTRO TO CREATIVE WRITING classes (maybe your education supports this, maybe it doesn't) not to invalidate the experience of your audience.

    Enjoy your day, anonymous internet user.

  • indy42

    This is absurd. Just because there are "miles of text" of people being wrong about the ending of Lost doesn't make them right.

    You should watch this interview - Lindelof explains the ending very clearly, and hopefully you'll take the explanation a little more seriously when it comes from the man himself:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?...

  • Steve Ekstrom

    He says that it's open to interpretation. Fine...the island is real. But the ENTIRE SIXTH SEASON invalidates the experience. He dodges this by saying that it's intentionally ambiguous. The only thing LOST is a lot of time watching this plane crash because it never knew how to land in the first place.

    I get the feeling that DL and co. want to make meaningful stuff but the way he talks is that they never know how their story is going to end. The lack of clarity hurt the show (and he agrees in this interview...somewhat.)

    That said, the other thing you're taught in Intro to Writing 101 is that "the story does NOT write itself".

    This show felt like they ran out of ideas around season 3. He blames the audience for not finding their own satisfaction...and that's a shitty stance to take as an artist. Own the criticism...don't make it our fault, Damon.

  • indy42

    How does the entire sixth season invalidate the experience?

    Actually, while technically the "story does not write itself", the other thing you learn in Writing 101 (or maybe Writing 201) is that at a certain point you learn that you need to service the story you are telling -- that the dog does eventually wag the tail.

    He doesn't blame the audience for not finding their own satisfaction, he blames he audience for thinking the ending is something that it isn't. There's nothing wrong with disliking the ending of Lost. It's not for everybody. The show never was.

    The problem is thinking the ending of Lost was something it wasn't. They were not dead the whole time, and yet a lot of people profess to hate the ending because they think they were dead the whole time.

    Imagine if people said "I hate the ending of Lost because a bunch of clowns rained down from the sky and James Brown showed up and sang 'God Bless America' and then the world exploded" -- that's not an "opinion" that's valid. That stuff just didn't happen, and it's worth correcting, especially from Lindelof's POV. Obviously that's a hyperbolic example but you get my point.

  • Steve Ekstrom

    Ryan, thanks for the follow Twitter.

    I'm just going to lay down this and be done with it because it's just going to be a circular argument based our own individual tastes. I did not like Lost. In fact, the only thing I've actually enjoyed involving DL was Prometheus. Sweet Christ (and I'm an Atheist) do I love me some Prometheus.

    This is my last thought:

    In the interview you posted, he acts like the onus of our entertainment should fall on our perceptions. He is the one working on a television show. He is the one paid to entertain us.

    He fails to entertain me so I change the channel. (Side note: I'm also a consumer who actively speaks with his wallet.)

    DL doesn't have the right to tell us we're wrong. He created a pile of ambiguity on an island. What did he expect watchers to do with that much misguided ambiguity? He doesn't get to spoon feed us a bunch of rationale after-the-fact. He's basically telling us that "we knew what the fans were saying...and we knew what we were doing...they were wrong...and we kept doing what we were doing...and after a while, we knew what we were doing was bad...but so what."

    You are free to like DL and his work. I'm not a fan. And there's no such thing as an "invalid opinion" because neither you nor I are the "Sheriffs of Opinion Town".

    Fans of LOST turned on DL and the show because the show wasn't good anymore. He indicates in the interview you posted that they knew it sucked 6 months before we did. And then he gave some lame Titanic/ Iceberg analogy to wash his hands of his involvement with it sucking as badly as it did.

    All I see in that interview is a guy in a creative field who can't handle criticism and doesn't have a lot of integrity as an artist because he's turned into a unapologetic "Hollywood-type" who makes unapologetic -"Hollywood-type" entertainment.

    I don't know DL personally but, from this interview, he makes me less of a fan than I already was prior to seeing it.

  • Chase

    How the hell did you watch all of LOST and think everything that happened in the show wasn't real?

    Did you watch the finale?

    CHRISTIAN: I should hope so. Yeah, I'm real. You're real, everything that's ever happened to you is real. All those people in the church...they're real too.

    JACK: They're all...they're all dead?

    CHRISTIAN: Everyone dies sometime, kiddo. Some of them before you, some...long after you.

    EMPHASIS on SOME OF THEM BEFORE YOU, SOME LONG AFTER YOU

    Season 6 introduced a parallel "purgatory" universe. Up to this point - there was never any "purgatory" on the show. Everything else was real. Jack died on the island after saving everyone. Kate and Sawyer could have died 40 years later peacefully at home (we really don't know). Shannon truly died from being shot on the island. Echo truly died from being killed by the smoke monster. The "purgatory" portion of season 6 was a world without time. So even though Hurley became the new Jacob and possibly died 1,000 years after everyone else - he still was able to be part of the "timeless" purgatory with everyone else.

    When Jack touches the coffin he remembers his real life (including his time on the island) and realizes he is in purgatory. The whole fucking finale was about realizing that everything on the island was truly real and finding the constant that kept them going.

  • Chase

    “No, no, no. They were not dead the whole time,” Cuse said, explaining that footage of the plane wreckage at the end of the show was meant to act as a buffer.

    “We thought, let’s put those shots [of the plane wreckage] at the end of the show and it will be a little buffer and lull. And when people saw the footage of the plane with no survivors, it exacerbated the problem.

    “But the characters definitely survived the plane crash and really were on a very real island. At the very end of the series, though? Yep, they were all dead when they met up in heaven for the final ‘church’ scene.”

    http://www.giantfreakinrobot.c...

    It was so blatantly fucking obvious if you watched the show. I have literally never met a single person who watched the "entire" series who thought it wasn't all real. The only people I knew who came to that conclusion were those who tuned in to see the finale after giving up many years before.

  • Steve Ekstrom

    Yeah, I think you're kind of asking for it here. The Leftovers is easily the worst show on HBO since John From Cincinnati...and I kinda liked John From Cincinnati for it's quirkiness.

    The Leftovers is an exercise in futility for the sake of futility. It tries way too hard to be poignant and ironically gut-wrenching with it's wooden character archetypes.

    I had to stop watching after the fourth episode because, as a writer myself, I know better than to create dross, mechanical storytelling that patronizes an intelligent viewer with it's ham fisted, poorly delivered nihilistic-yet-uplifting message.

  • Blind_Boy_Grunt_1235

    Thanks so much for writing this article, it says plenty that needed to be said. The way geek internet culture has devolved into a team sports-type affair is truly odd. My sense is that it stems from a desire for "community" that types like us often lack in the real world. If that community is mostly about attacking the collective's designated targets, well, that's good enough for a lot of people. Even if one despises Lindelof's work, we should at least have the good sense to realize he is (was?) a treasure, for all the reasons you outlined.

  • jacklaughing

    You should really just change the name of this column to "Prepare to be Trolled." It would be more accurate.

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