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'Lost' or not, we're still at loose ends

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Will they finally get off the island? After six seasons, ABC's drama series with the cult following comes to an end. Here's a sneak peek of the series finale, which airs Sun., May 23 at 9 p.m. ET.

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By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 21, 2010

"Lost" exhausts. It was a vacation in hell, our own wonderful hell, a "Gilligan's Island" getaway for our nervous, crisscross-wired culture. A bunch of fictional characters clad in grimy gray Gap T-shirts tromped all over the hills and jungles of an illusory, magical isle -- a place that represented about a thousand different metaphors. America, it's so obvious: Millions of you loved "Lost" because you feel lost.

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It's been a long six years of goose chases and mash-up mythologies. It was filled with ultimately irrelevant numerology and hieroglyphics that mostly turned out to be set decor. It was tall pirate ships and utopian VW buses; literary references to everything from 19th-century philosophy to "The Empire Strikes Back" to Holy Communion wine.

As it lugubriously ends Sunday night on ABC, "Lost" leaves us more or less where it all began, but also with a spooky idea of the 21st century thus far. It was the perfect show for our frustrated '00s era, in which no one had to answer for anything much -- not for the real estate and Wall Street busts, the levee floods, the bad war intelligence.

While we fought elusive enemies in distant lands; while we vanished down our personal, broadband rabbit holes; while we doubted our elected officials; while we spent ourselves into impossible debts, "Lost" was along for the ride, with its unsolvable puzzles and its exhilarating but dorky extremes of fandom culture.

Though ratings steadily declined since "Lost's" debut in 2004, the show held a firm grasp on some 10 million viewers (roughly half of the average viewership of the two most popular shows on TV, "American Idol" and "Dancing With the Stars"). Like anything these days, it survived on the passion of its niche audience, which skewed young and tech-savvy.

" 'Lost' is in a class by itself," ABC's programming chief, Jeff Bader, said this week. "It is the most successful cult show ever."

But enough now. Enough with the instanalyses blogged and updated and tweeted late at night -- or, more fittingly, during the next afternoon in cubicles all across the so-called American workplace. This is not one of those "Lost" farewells that goes over it and over it one more time. No charts, no diagrams, no last-minute theories.

Instead it's a farewell to a feeling.

"Lost" did feelings and vibes better than anything else it tried to do. The last of its stalwart followers are bracing themselves for the fact that there are no resolute answers -- not only to this epic, opaquely plotted television series, but maybe not to anything.

Pressed for finale revelations, the show's producers and chief visionaries, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, more or less cried uncle a few weeks ago, telling an interviewer that there's no way to answer all of "Lost's" many mysteries. (Indeed, fans have compiled online lists of dozens of questions that still "need" answers.)

It was never about answers, "Lost's" makers claimed, so much as it was about story, characters -- the surviving passengers of Oceanic Flight 815 who death-marched from one desolately beautiful beach to another, for days, weeks, time-warped decades, and, finally, when reunited, hardly ever asked one another:

Where have you been?


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