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As 'Lost' begins final season, we ponder TV without it

If you thought the twisted minds behind Lost were going to make it easy to jump right back into the sprawling adventure's final season, think again. • The show's stars assure fans that Tuesday's two-hour episode — the first of 18 hours promised to unwind the mysteries behind network TV's most puzzling series — will challenge even the most devoted Losties. • "I think I had to read it about three times before it actually made sense," said Emilie de Ravin, who plays Australian single mom Claire, about the script for Tuesday's episode, "LA X," which reveals the aftermath of a hydrogen bomb detonation last season aimed at preventing the original plane crash that started the series. • Explaining that notion — that several characters from the show traveled back to a time 30 years before they crash-landed on a mysterious island, hatching a plan to keep their original plane accident from ever occurring — is challenging enough. • Adding time travel to a story line that has included polar bears in a jungle, a killer smoke monster, a powerful being who can raise the dead and an island that can move itself through space? Well, the proposition that a single TV season can answer all the questions wrapped up in those events is enough to bake even the most ardent fan's brain.

"So much of the intrigue of Lost has been generated by a clever thing, which is withholding context," said Jeff Jensen, a writer for Entertainment Weekly known to Lost fans as Doc Jensen. "Our castaways have been caught up in an epic drama that has been hidden from us and them. Season 6 is: 'This grand story we've been teasing about, here it is.' "

That is also Lost's legacy: fearlessly telling one of the most complex stories in TV history.

Conventional network TV wisdom says viewers don't stick with such demanding, serialized dramas in large enough numbers to pay off. AMC's Mad Men can survive on less than 2 million viewers per episode, but in network TV land, those numbers are suicide (the average Lost episode drew 11.3 million viewers last season, generally placing second behind Wednesday's American Idol shows).

Still, building on the groundwork laid by singular shows such as Twin Peaks, The X-Files and 24, Lost beat the odds, providing a potent argument for producers convinced that network TV could challenge viewers beyond the formulaic story lines on CSI and The Mentalist.

But Lost may be the only series that has kept its basic nature hidden from viewers since its debut in 2004. Is it science fiction? A supernatural drama? A biblical-style story on the corruptibility of man or a treatise on the permanence of destiny? Even now, 18 hours from its conclusion, no one outside Lost's production offices knows for sure.

And now that it's all about to end, Lost fans must balance the thrill of finally understanding what they've been watching for years with the disappointment of seeing TV's greatest puzzle solved.

"For a subset of Lost fandom . . . there has been this weird and wild intellectual thrill ride . . . trying to figure the show out. .?. . That is a source of fun and joy into itself," Jensen said. "I've tried to engage other shows with that kind of intensity, and what I've learned is that Lost is special. That utterly geeky pursuit is ending, and that's something that some of us find a little sad."

Eric Deggans can be reached at deggans@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8521. See the Feed blog at blogs. tampabay.com/media.

Is it just a promo, or is it the key to Season 6? ABC released these three photos to promote the last season of Lost, echoing Leonardo da Vinci's painting of The Last Supper. Fans and critics think the images hold clues to what will happen in this season and are debating the details. It seems that all the images have really done is create more questions.

1. Is it John Locke that is sitting in Jesus Christ's chair, or is it the shape-shifting guy who inhabited him in order to kill Jacob? 2. Why are Locke's expressions different in each image? If he's happy, does that mean the Jughead plan worked? 3. Why is Jack in the Doubting Thomas position? Does that mean the Jughead plan didn't work? 4. Are Jack and Sawyer holding hands? 5. Why is Locke's peanut butter the only one open? 6. Is that a cross behind Jack? 7. Are they seated around an airplane wing? Does that mean they get to leave the island? 8. Who is the empty chair for? Is it Jacob's chair? 9. Sun moves closer to Jin. Does that mean they'll be reunited? 10. Sayid is in the Judas Iscariot position. Does this mean he will eventually betray the Losties? 11. What's with the skulls? Does this mean they're all dead? 12. Why does Claire change sides of the table? 13. Why is Miles the only character who changes position in each image? 14. Is that the Swan logo? Could that be the base of the statue? 15. Why does Ben turn from Locke to Lapidus? Does it have anything to do with the fact they are both in blue? 16. Why can't you see Claire or Miles' legs? 17. Could each of these photos represent a time line for the show? Sources: fan and critic comments from ew.com, usatoday.com, nytimes.com

As 'Lost' begins final season, we ponder TV without it 01/29/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 3, 2010 9:54am]

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