If "Lost" guaranteed anything with its terrifically moving but mythology-deprived series finale, it's that the show will go on, as fans spend the summer re-watching and analyzing what "The End" offered and what, others argue, it failed to deliver.
The finale episode drew a respectable 13.5 million viewers, but by not attracting the huge finale audiences of other classic TV shows, the ABC series cemented itself as a cult phenomenon.
In "The End," "Lost" has left behind two islands. The first is populated by viewers looking for emotional closure in its epic story of love and strong religious and spiritual themes; the second by people who aren't taken with the notion of the afterlife presented in the final minutes, and perhaps were expecting to be fulfilled intellectually as well.
"I've been writing about the show for years and putting out some crazy theories and I honestly think that I had no idea that it would end this way," said blogger Jo Garfein, who watched the finale at the Orpheum Theatre with 2,000 fans, some of whom came from as far away as Scotland and Turkey. "It was way more beautiful than I could have imagined."
That said, Garfein, of the East Bay, said she will go back and re-examine the entire series because "in this context, I think you have to go back and re-evaluate."
TV critic Alan Sepinwall appreciated the episode's emotional punch. But he wrote Monday on hitfix.com that he was left wanting more.
"You would have to be made of stone to not get choked up at one or multiple points … But as someone who did spend at least part of the last six years dwelling on the questions that were unanswered — be they little things like the outrigger shootout or why the Others left Dharma in charge of the Swan station after the purge, or bigger ones like Walt — I can't say I found 'The End' wholly satisfying, either as closure for this season or the series."
To be sure, executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, who are not doing post-finale interviews, deliberately left open for interpretation some key aspects of the island's mythology. For instance, one of the questions plaguing those who dwell on the island of disappointment is: What exactly is the island?
Actor Nestor Carbonell, who played Richard Alpert and participated in a video chat with Times readers Monday, offered this: "The island was ultimately redemption."
But "Lost" diehard fan and WeLoveLost blogger DeAnne Millais, 37, of Los Angeles, had a more literal reaction. "The island is an actual place that is guarding the gateway to hell and the light seems to be the evil that we have to guard against," she said as she tried to stop herself from crying.
As the producers are in hiding, The Times went to the original source to get some clues into early notions of the island's origins. Lloyd Braun, the former president of entertainment of ABC who hired J.J. Abrams in 2004 to develop a drama about plane crash survivors on an island. Braun, who also hired Lindelof, was not at ABC when the show launched in September 2004.
"The island was going to be a character in the series and present an ever-present threat to the people on the island," he said. "Everything was going to be rooted in science fact so that, as crazy as things might seem, there might be plausible explanations for them. And my assumption back then was that the island was some sort of experimental facility, maybe related to the military in some form. But we never, quite honestly, got into the details of what the island was. Nor did I worry about it too much because, over time when you've done this long enough, you recognize that whatever you may lay out as the mythology, it almost always changes once the show is up and running and succeeding."
Obviously, the mythology did evolve along the way. But it doesn't seem to matter to many fans. Terri White, of Studio City, says the way the show reconnected most of the main characters changed the way she feels about the entire season. "I've been extremely critical of the show this whole season, but I feel they nailed it in the finale," said White, who watched the finale at the Orpheum with her partner, Alice Lin.
The Orpheum attendees were largely people who have met online over the years, posting comments on fan sites or playing the show's summer alternative online reality games, running into each other at Comic-Con or other "Lost" gatherings.
"Everybody having the same emotions while we were watching it, that was pretty special," said Paul McQue, who traveled from Scotland to watch the finale with dozens of people he's befriended on "Lost" forums over the years. "Normally, I'm watching a stream at 2 a.m. in Scotland .... I loved the ending but I'm still processing it."
Those fretting over loose ends are missing the point of the series, said Lin.
" Michael Emerson said in an interview, 'What if you've been seeing what the show is about all along and just haven't realized it?' And I think that's true," she said. "It's been right in front of us. We're so concentrated on 'What is the smoke monster?' 'What is the hatch?' .... The mysteries of the island are neat but that's not what it's about. It's all about these characters connecting."