The Saban Theater (formerly the Wilshire) is hopping with almost 1,900 people, ranging from excitable hoodied students to equally excitable Brentwood housewives, all of whom have gathered for the annual Paley Festival's final salute to what few could argue is the preeminent water-cooler television series of the 21st century. As they wait in a humongous line that snakes around the building for three blocks to get in, they're constantly puzzling out the mysteries amongst themselves: Did Jacob really mean what he said that "someone is coming" to the island?! What happened to Claire that made her so darn cr-azy?! It's the final Paley panel for Lost, which is about one-third of the way through its final time-bending, brain-melting season on ABC, and tonight's gathering is the hottest ticket in TV land.
Moderator Paul Scheer of Human Giant fame, to his credit, is as big a nerd about the show as anyone sitting in the audience (if you missed his antics at Comic-Con and online with the "Damon, Carlton and a Polar Bear" painting, you missed comedy gold), and he gets right down to it with the panel. Executive producers and creators Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse anchor the lineup along with others in the cast and crew, most notably the series heavy weights Terry O'Quinn and Michael Emerson, who walk out on the Saban stage to near-deafening applause. Among the questions gathered by fans online that he won't be asking include: "Ask those writer dudes why there are no monkeys on that island!"; "Are we ever going to get a musical episode?"; and "Which house at Hogwarts would the Sorting Hat put the characters of Lost into?" (Shame about that last one, really; we'd wager Jack and Kate are probably Gryffindors. Sawyer? Anyone's guess, but the truth is he'd probably be expelled, and happy about it.)
With the show's highly anticipated end just a few months away -- the writers are breaking the finale right now, with the penultimate episode about to shoot in Hawaii -- there's plenty that the creators are reticent to address (more on that later), but are game to discuss the writing process itself, whether sticking closely to plot lines that have been in play since the beginning or tossing ideas around the writers room and seeing what sticks. (Often, that method has a limited shelf-life, described by co-executive producer Eddy Kitsis as "the shit fairies" -- it was a good idea last night but by the time they get back to the office in the morning, the shit fairies got to it.)
There is definitely a method to the madness, however. This last season -- with its mysterious "what if" parallel timeline where Oceanic Flight 815 landed safe and sound in L.A. -- brings the series "full circle," according to Cuse, and has always been intended to bookend the first season in both tone and structure. (Producer Elizabeth Sarnoff described the show's over-arching theme as "a collection of people who are deeply flawed and are trying to find their way out of it." Pretty sneaky of that island to constantly keep drawing them back, then, isn't it?)
Amid all the careful dancing around spoilers there were plenty of laughs, particularly a loopy anecdote of O'Quinn's where he hitched a ride home in the back of his Hawaiian neighbor's truck and was temporarily hijacked. ("I knocked on the window and said 'Hey, you passed my house,' and he says, 'Just hang on a second, I want to show you to my wife'!") The actors on the panel discussed the curious nature of seeing yourself act, with Emerson dryly observing that "it takes a while to come to terms with what you look like in three dimensions. It's so alarming to see the back of your own head."
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Fan favorite Nestor Carbonell, who portrays the seemingly never-aging Richard Alpert, had the best response to the question of what has been the favorite moment for them on the show so far: "Finally finding out who the hell I am." (He's already seen that script for an upcoming episode, but we the viewers will have to wait a bit longer to share in his revelation.)
Plenty of other topics were covered over the course of the panel, including rumors that a DVD version of the series will be released covering the show's expansive timeline in chronological order (a resounding "no" from the creators on that one) and Disney's supposed interest in putting up a Lost ride in place of Tom Sawyer Island at its theme parks. (Lindelof's blunt answer: "You don't have to build a ride. Put them in a darkened room, spin them around a few times, punch them in the face and say they've had the Lost Experience.")
Before it was over, in a quick-fire question round in which Scheer allowed the team to respond with "yes," "no" or "pass" (if they would rather refrain from a solid answer), there were a handful of tantalizing hints that did manage to surface. Yes, they said, the parallel time line version of Matthew Fox's Jack, who was revealed to have a son who doesn't exist in the original time line, was married to a character we've already met. Yes, we will find out "very soon" if Henry Ian Cusick's Desmond -- who was not originally on the plane, yet turned up there in parallel-time -- moved seats when Jack turned around or simply disappeared. No, Vincent the dog will not be getting a back-story episode like all the other beloved characters - but rejoice, canine fans, we'll be seeing him again before it's all said and done. (As we will his owner, young wunderkind Walt -- even though actor Malcolm David Kelly has grown about two heads taller and sounds like Barry White now compared to when he debuted on the show. Who are we kidding -- although this is Lost , they'll bend the fabric of space-time around puberty if they have to.)