I skimmed this article and noticed some minor spoilers. Also, if you are into the science of the show this is definitely an article for you check it out!!
BTW Darlton did mention that the triangle fans will be happy.
After a five-week hiatus induced by the Hollywood writer's strike, Lost finally returns this week with a new episode, "The Shape of Things to Come." Show runners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, who both produce and write episodes of the ABC drama, are self-professed geeks who haven't promised sci-fi entirely based in real-life science, but they still want to get it right—or at least right enough that the show's rabid fans will believe it. The duo took a break from editing Lost's three-hour season finale script to take us behind the scenes in the writer's room, talk physics and drop exclusive hints about what we can expect from the show's future. —Erin McCarthy
We fact-check the science and technology behind Lost every week and most of the time you guys get it right. How much time do you spend researching each episode, and where do you do your research? Do you have a panel of experts on speed dial?
Carlton Cuse: We do not have a panel of experts on speed dial, although we do have Greg Nations, who is our script coordinator, who is someone we will turn to who will track down specific facts. The internet is also a beautiful and wonderful thing, and we have our own areas of expertise. Damon is a real comic book geek and I'm a little bit more of a science geek. I took a couple of years of high school physics and my dad was an engineer. I think even though I maybe don't possess a deep science knowledge, I do feel like my brain kind of works a little bit in the way of, you know, does this seem like it makes sense or not, and then Damon and I will go and find an expert or some factual stuff to try to support what it is that we want to do narratively.
Damon Lindelof: We have an awesome production team in Hawaii, so if we send down a script that says "Faraday has equations scribbled all over the chalkboard behind him," that falls upon them and Jeremy Davies, the actor who plays Faraday—who is very method and has been reading a lot about physics and trying to understand it—[to execute] what it says on the script page.
How important is it for you to get the science right?
CC: The science needs to be right enough that we kind of create a sense of believability to the story telling.
DL: We function on Jurassic Park rules, which are, if you can convince me that a mosquito can bite a dinosaur and then get preserved in amber, and that the DNA will not degrade over all that period of time, then you can show me a cloned dinosaur and I won't call it a science-fiction movie. And, you know, we try to do the same thing on the show. If something highly unlikely occurs, we try to offer up some grounding in the actual physical world that we understand in an effort to explain it—except in the case of things that don't potentially have a scientific explanation, which is where the show begins to go into its own territory.
CC: But we're always trying to skirt that line between the two possible explanations, the scientific one or a mythical and magical one, and we are purposefully ambiguous about which one might be correct. Obviously, certain things fall into the science category and certain things fall more into the mystical category, and that just sort of depends on what story we're telling that week.
There's a lot of fan talk that any non-rational or fictional or magical explanation of the island's happenings is a completely unacceptable cop-out. So far, there are plausible scientific explanations for everything that's happening, so people have accepted what's going on. Does being called out by viewers (or the press) worry you?
DL: Well, first off, I would challenge that assertion, and say, how does Yemi walking out of the jungle, the deceased brother of Eko, have a scientific explanation? I guess you would argue that he doesn't walk out of the jungle, that this is all sort of happening in Eko's head, that it's a hallucination. Would that be the case, is that...
No, what I was thinking was the stuff that has been explained so far has a scientific explanation, whereas the other stuff, we're waiting, we don't really know.
CC: I think the question kind of strikes right at the core of the central theme of the show, which is the notion of faith versus empiricism. Jack represents the empiricist camp, and Locke represents the faith camp, and, you know, who is right? Well, the show hasn't fully answered that question yet.
DL: Hopefully it won't feel like it's a cop out when the show does answer that question, because we never promised a show that was based entirely and grounded in science. It's nice that it's able to do that, but we reserve the right to go in the direction that the uber-plan directs us.
Desmond first time traveled in the third season, but it's not until season four that we see the scientific explanation for it. So this is a chicken-or-the-egg type question: Did you learn about the science first, then work it into the show? Or do you think of a plot element and then research different scientific theories that back it up?
DL: This is where, while Carlton has a much more practical background in science and engineering, I have a long and storied history in every single time travel story that's ever been written, and draw upon that to fundamentally provide our stories with what we want to do. In this case, we said the way that we want to do time travel on Lost is consciousness based, as opposed to somebody gets in a DeLorean or a HG Wells-like apparatus and zaps themself back in time where they can interact with an earlier version of themself. It's more interesting if your brain basically drops into your body at different points in your life, which is more consistent with the sort of Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse 5, paradigm, and also helps insulate you from paradox. So we decided to do that with Desmond. He felt like the logical person to do it with. We find an emotional core for the story—in his case, it's his desire to be reunited with Penny—so we tell time travel stories that sort of focus on the romantic element, which is why we think Peggy Sue in Back to the Future and Somewhere in Time all work. They're science-fiction stories, but they have an emotional core. And we go from there. And then we do the research.
CC: But the two aren't really separable, that's the thing. It's like, when we're actually talking about a story, and we're constructing elements, you know, we're always talking about the plausibility of any given beat. I think the danger that always exists on this kind of show is that the audience has to buy what you're doing. We use all sorts of different things to inspire our storytelling, but you're constantly weighing any sort of story beat against that criteria—will the audience believe it, will they buy it, particularly when we do something as out there as consciousness traveling. So we try to find a way to make it seem plausible, and yet, at the same time, clearly it's a real flight of fantasy kind of story.
DL: And the coolest thing about consciousness time travel is, you know, you're sort of a slave to your memory. So if Desmond travels back in time and he remembers that a certain team beat another team in a football game, and then something different happens, we're hinting at the idea that the future has changed, when in fact he just remembered it wrong, which is kinda cool for us.
What's the vibe like in the writer's room when you're putting together these really scientific and technical episodes? Is there a lot of back and forth, or is it ironed out ahead of time?
CC: The writer's room is a very lively place where every story point is debated and kicked around. We break the stories in their totality in the writer's room down to really the very very kind of minute details of scenes, so, you know, you're kind of harnessing the brain power of eight people in there, and that mind hive is very helpful in problem solving. And different people know more about various subjects, so, you know, one of our favorite pastimes in the room is we play this game...ah, what's the actual title...? It's Geek versus Jock.
DL: We have one writer, Brian K. Vaughn, who writes comic books, and then another writer, Adam Horowitz, who's like a die-hard sports fan.
CC: Yankees fan. He used to sell hot dogs at Yankees Stadium.
DL: We'll ask Vaughn an easy sports question, like how many innings are there in a baseball game...
CC: Or what is the color of the Carolina Panthers or what sport do the Carolina Panthers play...
DL: And then we'll ask Horowitz to name two of the Avengers. And they will face off, and it's fun to watch them, you know, try to answer questions outside of their specific area of expertise.
And what's the prize if they get it right?
DL: Bragging rights, and they avoid the scorn of the rest of the room. In fact, there's a lot of betting...once the questions are asked, all the other writers basically bet whether or not that person will get it right, so it's just, it's a face saving technique.
Is there a scientific explanation for the smoke monster?
CC: We can't answer that question without answering the question of what is the smoke monster or without giving too much away. So we have to pass on that one.
DL: We have ruled out that the smoke monster has a basis in nanotechnology, though, which is the most popular scientific explanation for the smoke monster.
When are we going to find out what the smoke monster is?
CC: Before the end of the show. That's one of the big questions, along with what is this island, and those are kinds of questions that get answered in the end run of episodes when the show is drawing to a conclusion in 2010. They're not, they're sort of foundational questions and I think those questions are the ones that we're building towards answers for.
What sort of science and techy stuff can we look forward to proving or debunking when the show comes back?
DL: We basically did an Orchid Darma orientation film for the Orchid for Comic Con last year, which is available online, I'm sure, and was set up for where we were going in our season finale. Our characters are in fact going to discover the Orchid and see a bit more of that film. There will be plenty to sort of fact check and debunk on that axis.
CC: We can say that we've been very interested in these physicists who have been building this particle accelerator in the Alps, and there's been a lot of debate and concern about what's going to happen when they start smashing these particles into each other. People who are following that will probably enjoy some of the stuff that we're doing in the upcoming run of episodes.
Obviously this piece is about the science behind Lost, but I wouldn't be a good fan if I didn't ask you to give me some scoop on what's going to the rest of the season.
CC: It just seems really appropriate that we tell Popular Mechanics that there's going to be a really juicy kiss coming up in the finale and that there's going to be a lot more on the Sawyer-Kate-Jack romantic triangle. I mean, that's the scoop that should really be in Popular Mechanics.
DL: Here's the scoop for Popular Mechanics: According to the rules of our show, a communication between sat phones is not affected by temporal distortion, but if you were to send a radio broadcast and/or a telegraph message, it would be affected by temporal distortion. That's the scoop for Popular Mechanics and Popular Mechanics only, and it will make a lot more sense after you've seen the first episode back.
Speaking of satellite phones, one of the tech things that didn't stand up was your satellite phone, and you guys got a lot of flack in the press for that. Why did you decide to go with that particular idea?
CC: I think one of the things that struck us is that [when] watch an old Julia Roberts movie and she's walking around New York holding a cell phone to her head that's the size of a toaster, we didn't really want to put ourselves in a position where we were literally married to everything that exists technologically. We decided that our satellite phone would be a very modern, high-tech version of it, and created one that we thought was cool.
DL: We have technical experts down in Hawaii on the production end, and I think that the thinking at the time was, that although these sat phones were built in 2004, that the people who had them had access to the latest technology. So it's sort of like when you travel to Japan, their cell phones are two years ahead of our cell phones. You can walk up to a vending machine with your cell phone and scan a barcode and it'll spit a bag of chips and a coke out at you. The technology existed to build a phone like that in 2004, they just weren't readily available in any American market.
How do you keep track of all the complicated plot angles? You've got characters in flashbacks and flashforwards and everyone's interconnected in some way...how do you even begin to keep track of that? CC: I don't think that Damon or me would win a Lost trivia contest, but we obviously know the general details of everything and we keep that in our brains. But Greg Nations keeps the sort of elaborate series of bibles and timelines and charts the number of days of stories and, you know, he's sort of the keeper of the wisdom of Lost. So whenever there's a question about continuity or where an event takes place in relation to another event, Greg can plot it in the overall kind of schema of the show. So he is an invaluable resource and he is the guy who makes sure that everything makes sense or at least makes as much sense as we can make it make sense.
DL: You know, the chronology of the show has become very intricate, especially since we just started doing flash forwards. Before it was which happened first: Sawyer met Jack's dad in a bar in Australia, or, Walt and Michael get on Oceanic 815? Now that we're in the future, and we're telling future stories out of order, so last year's finale you got bearded, pill-popping Jack screaming at Kate "We've gotta go back!" And this year you're seeing Jack in other people's flash forwards obviously before that series of events took place, so...he's testifying at Kate's trial, or he's visiting Hurley at the mental institution and we need to sort of plot out when in time are those events happening in relation to each other. It's not an easy job.
One of the things that the fans really love is assigning meaning to things that they see in the show, and sometimes they assign meaning to things that have no meaning. So do you ever place a scientific name or an Easter Egg that's a joke or meant to confuse people?
CC: I think it's more a question of how much meaning do things have. I mean, sometimes names, like Minkowsky, that's meaningful. Sometimes we name characters and they're named after somebody's friend but it also turns out that they're a famous person. So, you know, without kind of detailing which are which, we have a spectrum of meanings that we assign to things, and it's just sort of circumstantial or narratively we get to a place where somebody has to be named something that's really important for the story, but it really does vary...
DL: If you look at the freighter folk, Charlotte Staples Lewis is named after C.S. Lewis. Miles Strom is named after a pun because his name sounds like maelstrom, you know, when you pronounce it very quickly, and...
CC: Oh, Faraday is obviously a famous scientist...
DL: Yeah, and Frank Lapidus is a name that Eddie Kitsis, Adam Horowitz's writing partner, actually, and one of our other writer/producers, has just been saying for years, "There's gotta be a character on the show named Frank Lapidus."
CC: And he has a buddy whose name is Lapidus.
DL: So if there's anyone out there going, oh, you know...
CC: Working on the Lapidus anagram...
DL: That would be somebody finding something we did not intend.
Does it amaze you the lengths that people go to to research the show?
CC: It does, in fact. And it's kind of flattering and it kind of boggles our minds, actually. We actually really just set out to make a show that we thought was kind of cool and entertaining, and we never imagined that people would get wrapped up in the intricacies of it to the degree that they have. I think Lost was really a pioneer in the use of the kind of connection between a television show and the internet, and the internet really gave fans an opportunity to create a community around the show. That was something that wasn't really planned, it just sort of grew up in the wake of the show.
I skimmed this article and noticed some minor spoilers. Also, if you are into the science of the show this is definitely an article for you check it out!!