Sorry, Charlie

Image credit: Craig Sjodin

No, the body's not even cold yet, but we asked Lost exec producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse to tell all about their decision to deep-six everyone's favorite one-hit wonder. While they agreed to take us behind this plot twist, they wouldn't spill Jack about that stunning, what-the-hell?-they-get-off-the-island-but-the-present-is-now-the-past-and-the-future-is-now-the-present? ending. ''To begin to explain what we meant by it actually takes away from the fun of it,'' says Lindelof of the cliffhanger. ''Hopefully it will start a huge debate in the fan community.'' Adds Cuse: ''We don't want to tell the audience what they're supposed to think. One of the things that's great about Lost is that it's something that you can debate and discuss with your friends afterward, so we don't want to cut off that debate.''

CARLTON CUSE: We didn't do it beause we didn't like Dominic or we don't think he's a terrific actor, which he is. The story of Desmond's prognostication was one of the big parts of this season, like, ''If you push the button in the hatch, is that going to lead the hatch blowing up or is just a mindf---?'' Charlie's story had to lead to a conclusion, and we felt like Charlie's heroic death would be a culminating event that would give the season a sense of closure. In a way Charlie is the everyman hero on the show, and he gets to do one of the most heroic things ever on Lost: He gives his life so that they have a chance to radio for help. That is a big game-changer on the show. And it felt like it required a character's death to earn the seismic shift that's going to occur.
DAMON LINDELOF: As we were talking about Charlie in the middle of season 2, we began to feel that now that we've had this addict throw the [heroin-filled] Virgin Mary statues into the ocean, where do we go with him next? We didn't want to do a Sipowicz, where it's like, ''All right, now he's going to find more heroin and he'll get hooked on that,'' or ''Now he'll start drinking.'' It was like, ''What are we going to do with Charlie? What is his next hurdle? What is there to play?'' And we knew that the upshot of Desmond turning the failsafe key was that he was going to get this precognitive ability, but we wanted to limit it. And it was like, ''If Desmond can see the future, we want to be very specific about it, so it's not that he sees all futures. What if it's very specific, and that he just keeps seeing Charlie die?'' That gave Desmond an emotional arc in terms of, ''Do I tell him? When I should tell him? What are the effects of me telling him?'' And it gave Charlie an awesome arc in believing that he's essentially living on borrowed time. So to answer the question, ''Why kill Charlie?'' the reality is, once Desmond said to him, ''You're going to die,'' it's the only fair thing to do. If you don't kill him, then it's a copout, by the very law of prognostication. Especially since he's almost died so many times this season. I think the audience and the character and even Dom as an actor would feel ripped off if we did not fulfill the promise of Desmond's premonition.

How much of a challenge was it to essentially tell the audience earlier this season how this story line would end, but still deliver an exciting conclusion?
DL: He's the only character who chooses to die.
CC: It's a willful choice on his part, which separated it from the sudden death of Ana-Lucia or Boone or Shannon or Mr. Eko. They were victims, whereas Charlie has a moment and he chooses to embrace his destiny... Damon and I were editing the [finale], and we were going back and forth between all the editing rooms, and we got called over to watch Charlie's death scene. And we were just watching it all by itself — out of context, without any of the emotional ramping — and it was so moving and affecting. Despite planning it, plotting it, writing it, and discussing it for months, when you actually see it for the first time, it really grabs you in the gut. The scene finished and we were sitting there with the editor and we were all just kind of stunned. It was a real testimony to Dom's acting and what an incredibly great job he did with the scene, but also how much we've come to love and value him as a character.
DL: The final image you see of Charlie is him floating backward in the water and he very slowly crosses himself and there's this beautiful resignation to it. We didn't play it for shock. Your heart is beating every time you see Charlie in the finale because you know it's coming, as opposed to ''Is he or isn't he?'' There is this great sense of fatalism.

When did you make the final decision to kill Charlie? And how did you break the news to Dominic that he was a goner?
CC: Like many other things in the show, we listen a lot to what the show tells us. We were open-minded about Charlie's ultimate fate until the very end. We did sit down at our daily breakfast many mornings and reassess: ''Jeez, should we do this? Would it be cool if somehow he survived? What could we do with him if he did survive?'' But eventually the show confirmed that the character had to die for the story to play out in the way we thought was best.
DL: When we called him prior to the publishing of the outline of episode 21 — which is when we formally decided, ''We're going to do this now'' — he was really psyched about the concept. But he also wanted to know how he was dying, what his death was going to mean, why he chose to die. He had a lot of questions so he could arc it so that he wasn't playing the beat over and over again. And truth be told, I think Dom went through a little bit of a reverse Kübler-Ross [Five Stages of Grief] scenario. When we first spoke about it, he started at acceptance. He was like, ''I like the way that Charlie is dying, I like that it's heroic.'' But after it began to settle, he moved into depression, followed by bargaining, followed by anger, followed by denial, and then went back full circle to acceptance again, so that by the time he actually shot his death, he was in a really healthy place. He's been such a huge part of the cast for the last three years — and this is no slight against Boone or Eko or Shannon — that this death is really seismic. There were only three flashbacks in the pilot — how Jack experienced the crash, how Kate experienced the crash, and how Charlie experienced the crash — and to lose him is huge. It's massive. And Dom really wanted to do the character the service of understanding everything on a micro level.

What are the chances that he'll return in one form or another?
CC: The irony of Lost is that a lot of characters work a lot more once they're dead. Charlie could exist in someone else's flashbacks. Look, the island is capable of conjuring up things from people's pasts. It is entirely possible that Charlie will appear in the show again. We've actually talked a lot about it, but to say more about that right now might blow the element of surprise.

What will you miss about Dominic?
CC: Dom had a real energy and ebullience and charm, and was always just so enthusiastic about everything. And he embraced Hawaii; he learned how to surf. He was such a force of positive energy on the set and was just a real character and he'll be missed for that.
DL: I'll miss his answering-machine messages. If you've ever had the pleasure of calling him on his cell phone, every two or three days he'd change his message to something incredibly wacky. So I suspect I will be finding excuses to contact him. I believe he's currently singing a song from Mary Poppins.

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Originally posted May 24, 2007

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