Frustrate them a little.

That was the intention. Frustration is inherent in the premise of the show. Anybody who knows that I have anything to do with the show knows that they are signing up for a certain level of frustration because that’s, either unconsciously or completely and totally consciously, become my brand. But I wish there was a better word for it than frustration, but it has all the emotional earmarks of frustration.

One standout episode from this past season was “International Assassin.” When did the idea for that episode come about?

Well, I think that episode came to us in pieces. At the beginning of the season we all sat down and figured out what was the season going to be. And then, what were the characters’ specific stories going to be? And we knew that Kevin was going to have Patti attached to him. And so, his arc over the course of the season was like going to be: How am I going to get rid of Patti? Because we didn’t feel like it was going to be a continuing condition for that character, where, oh, now on the show Kevin has just got his spirit guide Patti. It was going to get old fast. And it also felt like she’s not a guardian angel, so she’s not Al on Quantum Leap. She’s not helping him. So he’s going to do everything he can to get rid of her.

So how does Kevin get rid of Patti became the operative question coming out of our seasonal break. We were doing all this… Reza Aslan, who is this amazing religious scholar, he was a fan of the show, and I read this book that he wrote called “Zealot.” And Michael Ellenberg [HBO’s executive vice president of programming] and HBO called me up and was like, “You know Reza watches The Leftovers? He’s totally into it. You guys should have lunch.” So Tom Spezialy, one of the other writer/producers, and I took Reza out to lunch. We were talking about this thing from Season 1 called The Prophet’s Dilemma, which is that when Nora is at her conference, she is following this woman and she wonders into a symposium on this thing called The Prophet’s Dilemma, which is in the post-departure world, if you have a weird dream you suddenly think that God is talking to you. It’s just everything gets magnified by that.

It would be interesting if Kevin felt like he was starting to experience this because his dad heard voices and now he’s hearing voices, and what if he’s not going crazy? What if there’s some sort of prophetic design to Patti? And then Reza said, “Oh, Kevin’s not a prophet. He’s a shaman.” We’re like, “What’s that?” And then he came in and he talked to the entire writer’s room about what a shaman was. Essentially, without boring you, a shaman is someone who gets information from a spirit realm and then has to interpret it themselves. It’s not God saying, “Lead your people across the desert to the promise land.” You just have a weird dream and then you wake up and you are like, “Fuck! What do I make of this?” I was like, “This is perfect for me! This is the kind of storytelling that I do.” You get the puzzle pieces, but without the picture on the box, and you don’t even know if there’s enough pieces. I was like, “Oh, I love this. This is great. Kevin is a shaman.”

And then Reza said, “But here’s the thing. In order to become a shaman, it’s somewhat ancestral. It’s somewhat genetically passed down.” Great. Kevin’s dad is demonstrating this. But shamans have to die. They have to go to the other side. And when they come back to life that’s when they have their powers. It was like, “OK.”

So, very early on, before we even started writing the premiere, we knew that Kevin was going to get rid of Patti by dying. And then that gave us the idea for him waking up at the sight of the girls’ disappearance, that he was actually… it looked like he was trying to kill himself. But because he didn’t remember it, we would later found out he was trying to kill himself in order to get rid of Patti.

So it was like, OK, somewhere in the neighborhood of Episode 8 or 9 Kevin is going to die. He’s going to go do battle with Patti in the afterlife, and we’re going to do our version of Dante’s Inferno. We all got very excited about that and HBO loved that. But nobody was like, “What is Dante’s Inferno going to look like? What are the rules that govern it?” So we kinda tabled that conversation pretty much until we killed Kevin. We broke and wrote Episode 6 and 7 and had him drink Virgil’s poison, and then it was time to say, “OK. We know what the end result of this episode is going to be: that he’s successful. And, more importantly, we know that emotionally the end result of this episode is the only way that Kevin can vanquish Patti is by understanding and sympathizing and empathizing with her.” It’s that thing that goes all the way back to Anakin, which is, “Oh, the villain was a child once, too, like this person is broken. And only through understanding Patti can Kevin let her go, because the reason she killed herself in Season 1 was she’s like, ‘You Understand Kevin.” He didn’t. Kevin has to understand her.

We knew that that was going to be the math, but we didn’t know how to achieve it. We talked about all different versions of what Kevin’s walk through the afterlife looked like and just none of them were clicking. They all felt very obvious and dreamlike. They didn’t feel like they had any kind of sense of humor to them or self-awareness. They felt very tropey. It felt like we were undoing the coolness of killing Kevin the first place by just doing the atypical… It felt like just kind of mystical bullshit, to be honest with you.

And then, at some point, I don’t remember who said it in the room… Someone used the word ‘assassinate’, because we just kept saying, “What’s Kevin objective in Dante’s Inferno? What’s driving him? He’s got to find Patti and he’s got to assassinate her.” Once I heard that word I was like, “It would be so much more fun if he literally had to assassinate her.” Assassins kill people who have like political power or John Lennon gets assassinated. She’d have to be a prominent person. Otherwise, it’s just murder. But in his realm, Patti is the most important person in the world. All the writers just kinda sat up and were like, “What?” It was like that was the beginning of the break. Then the whole episode just kinda laid itself out before us.

Continue Reading Interview: Damon Lindelof on the Backbone of ‘The Leftovers’ Season Two >>

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