Near the end of 'Lost,' what's been found along the way

THEY'RE BAAACK: From left, Matthew Fox as Dr. Jack Shephard on 'Lost.'
THEY'RE BAAACK: From left, Matthew Fox as Dr. Jack Shephard on 'Lost.' (Mario Perez - ABC)
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, February 2, 2010

We have gone through a great deal to get to this day and this moment.

Plane crashes. Smoke monster attacks. Nosebleed-inducing time travel. Untimely deaths whose causes have included, but are not limited to, drowning, gunshot wounds, flaming arrows, poisonous spiders and the unfortunate handling of live dynamite sticks.

But we made it. And now here we are, just a few hours away from the sixth and final season of "Lost," the ABC show that has kept an obsessed mass of viewers glued to our televisions (and the Internet, which helps us understand what happened during the "Lost" episodes we just watched on our televisions) for 5 1/2 years.

For those of us who have breathed nothing but sweet island air since 2004, there's been nothing like this since, perhaps, the days that preceded the release of "The Phantom Menace" -- before we all realized we had wrongly pinned our hopes for personal fulfillment on a bug-eyed freak named Jar Jar.

After five seasons of immersing ourselves in the time-hopping narrative style of "Lost's" story lines, many of us have spent the past few weeks coping in the two ways we know best.

First, we flashed back, turning to and DVDs to hunt for clues that somehow we missed the first seven times we watched that episode where Sayid fixed the crazy French woman's music box. We scribbled notes ("Locke + Walt + backgammon = SIGNIFICANT") that we would never look at again but that made us feel productive.

Naturally, all of this "Lost" nostalgia (Lostalgia?) inevitably led to the grasping of a sad but unavoidable truth: In the future, "Lost" is going to end. Dread set in, then deep despair. We sat at home, wearing our "Desmond Hume is my constant" T-shirts, listening to the compositions of "Lost" tribute band Previously on Lost and wondering how we would survive without Sayid or Hurley or, for that matter, even Claire, the goody-goody Aussie mum who may be dead . . . or may not be.

We hit bottom. We became shadows of Jack Shephard, the "Lost" doctor who can fix everything but his own ruptured soul, when he was in painkiller-popping mode: "We have to go back, Kate! We have to go back!"

We had to resort to something else. So we did the second thing that "Lost's" narrative structure taught us:

We flashed forward, focusing all our mental energies on the future. Despite eight months without the calming/electrifying fix of a weekly episode in which we maybe got one measly detail to gnaw on, we tried to navigate our way to a plausible ending. We became convinced that the writers -- avowed worshippers at the altar of Stephen King -- would try for a "Dark Tower"-like finale in which our protagonists make all the right moves only to find themselves picked up by fate at the end of the game and plopped right back at the beginning, doomed to repeat their triumphs and mistakes over and over again in some kind of sickening infinite time loop.

We considered the theory that the Season 5-ending explosion spawned some kind of alternate reality. So we chased this down on spoiler sites until we were convinced that the only thing we really know about this show is that it airs on ABC and that Josh Holloway is, in fact, hot.

We turned our brains inside out trying to divine how Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse and the rest of the smarty-pants writers would shame David Chase, the "Sopranos" mastermind and deliverer of disappointing finales, to give us an ending worthy of the years we've invested in this show. Because what we crave is closure: Explain the whispers, tell us why Richard Alpert doesn't age, make with Libby's back story -- anything! Even now, at the beginning of this 18-week swan song, we're already worried about the potential for disappointment.

Then we fretted about what comes next. What do we do with all of this energy? Are network execs really heartless enough to leave us adrift in a post-"Lost" world with only "American Idol" and "Jersey Shore" -- the one-night stands of the TV world -- to fill our lame nights at home?

Here's what we've ultimately concluded. This moment is not about flashing back or flashing forward. It's about appreciating this very specific time, when 18 hours of "Lost" mysteries (and hopefully resolutions) lie ahead, unsolved and still subject to the delicious interpretation of our collective imaginations. Anything is still possible. And we love that.

It's about relishing the journey instead of the destination.

So when the 9 o'clock hour arrives Tuesday night, we will do as Hurley did during that brief moment in Season 4 when he thought he would finally be free of his bad luck: We will look at that familiar island and its big, beautiful sea. And all of us "Lost" fans will do a collective cannonball, plunging ahead into another season, together, for one final time.

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