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President Obama has had a rocky first year in office. But he made at least one indisputably sagacious policy decision: When he found out his State of the Union address would preempt the season debut of “Lost” (9 p.m. EST Tuesday on ABC), the president rescheduled the speech.


The two-hour episode, after all, launches the show’s keenly anticipated sixth and final season. Postponing the big event could well have caused “Lost’s” insanely devoted viewers to riot. And you do not want to face an angry crowd of Hurley fans.


Speculation about what happens to the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 on their island asylum has reached the kind of pop-culture boiling point rarely seen since the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields” sparked all those Paul-is-dead rumors.


For years, “Lost” zealots have pored over each episode, literally frame by frame, have enhanced and painstakingly examined the audio, scoured the mise-en-scene, tracked down every script reference, searching eagerly for clues to what it all means.


This type of Talmudic diligence and interpretation, unprecedented in TV history, stuns even the show’s creators.


In a joint e-mail, “Lost’s” brain trust, producers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelhof (Losties refer to them simply as “Darlton”), marvel at what they have overwrought.


“We consciously construct the story in places to leave room for debate. But the degree to which people analyze and parse the show is way beyond what we ever expected,” they write.


“We are amazed at some of the theorizing, not because it’s necessarily right, but because it is often intelligent and thoughtful — and frankly it makes us look a lot smarter than we are.”


Darlton are going to have to be plenty smart to find a way out of the maze they have created.


In addition to all the byzantine plots, with the paths of numerous characters crisscrossing over more than three decades, the show is also juggling some ponderous themes: numerology, quantum physics, faith, the nature of time, resurrection and destiny.


Obviously, in the immortal idiom of Ricky Ricardo, they have some splainin’ to do.


Mysteries abound. What is the Smoke Monster, the island’s vengeful arbiter? Exactly what kind of experiment was the Dharma Initiative conducting? What is the dynamic between the island’s presumptive deities, Jacob and the Man in Black? (No, he’s not Johnny Cash).


Let’s not forget the fundamental question: What is the island itself? The Garden of Eden? Purgatory? The source of a vast electromagnetic force? A cruel stage where the human tragedy is played out over and over through the ages?


“As much as I’d love an explanation,” says Jon “DocArzt” Lachonis, producer of a highly regarded “Lost” blog, via e-mail, “I’m predicting the island will merely turn out to be a place where magical things happen, (a locale) infused with leftover ‘creation energy.’ Pure potentiality, influenced by the desires and motivations of people who near it.”


What he said.


Ever since the fifth-season cliff-hanger, in which Juliet, transported to 1977, set off a hydrogen bomb on the island, fans have been breathlessly conjecturing where all this is going.


About all they have to go on are casting notices that indicate that the previously deceased characters of Claire, Charlie, Libby, Boone, and Michael all will be returning.


Death is not a barrier on “Lost.” Just ask Locke.


The only other advance hint: various permutations of a posed poster image issued by ABC. The network has ingenuously labeled the tableau “Sunset on the Beach.”


But it is clearly patterned on Da Vinci’s Last Supper. Intriguingly, Sayid is in the Judas slot, Locke occupies Jesus’ seat, and Jack takes the place of Doubting Thomas.


The character of pilot Frank Lapidus, who has played a minor role so far, is featured prominently in the picture, leading to speculation that he will have a significant hand in the final episodes.


Other minor figures are expected to jump into the forefront.


“Daniel Faraday suggested that Desmond exists outside of time. He’s the only person who could go back and change history,” says Nikki Stafford, author of the “Finding ‘Lost’” season-by-season series guides. “I think Desmond could be incredibly important.”


One thing we know for sure: “Lost’s” producers have only 18 more installments (over 16 nights) to work it all out.


That’s fine if they had an end game in mind the whole time. Less encouraging if they’ve just been making it all up as they go along.


“I don’t think they knew where it was going right from Season 1, episode 1,” says Stafford. “But I think somewhere in season 2, they figured out the ending and started putting in place the elements that they would explore and eventually reveal.”


“Lost” is one of those rare series in the position of bringing down the curtain in its own time and on its own terms. The plan to make this the final season was announced three years ago.


Devotees of the show are trying to manage their expectations.


“I don’t think it’s possible to resolve all of the show’s mysteries,” says Kevin Croy, producer of the authoritative Lostpedia Web site. “But I think they’ll leave us with a framework of understanding that we can use to better theorize about the unresolved items.”


No one in the “Lost” tribe wants the show to end. But they’re all dying to see what the finale may look like.


———


A GLOSS OF ‘LOST’


The producers have promised that the final season will be accessible to first-time viewers. That’s hard to believe given the impacted complexity of the show. For what it’s worth, here is a simplified rundown of the major plotlines since “Lost” debuted:


Season 1. Survivors of a plane crash quickly discover that the tropical island on which they are stranded has its quirks and dangers, including polar bears, a loud but unseen monster big enough to rattle palm trees, and residents hostile to the new arrivals. Some of the survivors attempt to escape on a raft. The remaining castaways resolve to blow up a hatch sealing off an underground chamber.


Season 2. Down in the hatch, a man (Desmond) is entering the same numbers over and over in a computer to avert (he says) the apocalypse. The island, it becomes clear, is the site of a mysterious far-ranging socio-scientific experiment arranged decades ago by a group called the Dharma Initiative. Flashbacks and violence abound. Jack, Sawyer, and Kate are taken prisoner by the Others.


Season 3. Things really begin to get complicated. There are actually two islands. Ben, Juliet and Richard from “the Others” take on added significance. Desmond has premonitions of Charlie’s death. Ben shoots Locke and dumps him in a mass grave. Sawyer kills Locke’s father. The Smoke Monster snuffs Mr. Eko. A rescue freighter is anchored miles offshore. Does it hold saviors or executioners?


Season 4. In this story arc, shortened by the writers’ strike, Daniel Faraday and other scientists come ashore from the freighter, followed by deadly mercenaries hunting for Ben. Jack, Kate and four others manage to return to civilization. That doesn’t go well. The narrative now utilizes both flashbacks and flashforwards. Ben spins a frozen subterranean wheel and the island vanishes.


Season 5. Blinding white flashes start sending the island’s inhabitants ricocheting through time. Locke makes his way to Los Angeles to persuade the six escapees to return. Despairing of his mission, Locke attempts suicide. But Ben kills him first. The six board a flight that again breaks up over the island. Some land in the present, some in 1977. In the final episode, we meet the island’s warring deities. Juliet detonates a hydrogen bomb.


Now you’re caught up.

Tagged as: lost
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