It seems as though the statute of limitations on Star Trek Into Darkness has lifted, as the filmmakers behind the film are starting to fess up to some of the sequel’s shortcomings. On the heels of director J.J. Abrams admitting that the sci-fi follow-up contained too many nods to Wrath of Khan, co-writer/producer Damon Lindelof has now also spoken up about “the Khan of it all”, admitting that keeping the identity of the film’s villain a secret from the audience was a mistake.
During an interview with Variety about his HBO series The Leftovers—which is currently in the midst of one of television’s best seasons, full-stop—Lindelof took a moment to use Star Trek Into Darkness as an example of a lesson learned about “being mysterious just for mysterious’ sake”:
“When we did Star Trek Into Darkness for example, we decided that we weren’t going to tell people that Benedict Cumberbatch was playing Khan. And that was a mistake, because the audience was like, ‘We know he’s playing Khan.’ That was why it was a mistake. But J.J. [Abrams] is telling us nothing about the new Star Wars movie and we love it. I’ve not come across a single person who’s like, ‘I wish I knew a little bit more.’ We are like, ‘Thank God he’s protecting us from all the things that will be revealed in the movie theater.’”
Indeed, not only did audiences pretty much know Cumberbatch was playing Khan, the character reveal within the context of the film carried no weight. There was no reason for Chris Pine’s Kirk to care about the true name of Cumberbatch’s character, because within the Star Trek universe at the time of the reveal, “Khan” was just as benign a name as “John Harrison”. All that mattered was the guy was up to no good. So keeping the reveal a secret not only didn’t work, it was also kind of pointless. Conversely, there’s little to surmise about Star Wars: The Force Awakens because so little information has been revealed, so keeping the film’s plot a secret in that instance makes sense—it’s keeping the story as fresh as possible, not necessarily hiding “reveals.”
But in the full interview, Lindelof is refreshingly candid about his the process of learning how best to approach storytelling when dealing in mysteries. The Leftovers Season 2 is a perfect example of a storyteller growing and refining his or her approach, and indeed Lindelof and his Leftovers team have crafted something truly spectacular over the course of these episodes, handling the question/answer “problem” that has plagued Lindelof since his Lost days with a new approach. The result is, I think, one of television’s great seasons, and I only wish that more people were tuning in to see how brilliant the structure and execution of this season has been. Lindelof may have his detractors, but the guy is an impeccably gifted storyteller who’s not afraid to learn from past mistakes, and that’s not only admirable, it’s fruitful. We’ve been granted this season of The Leftovers, and it’s fantastic.