It’s been an abusive cycle — betrayal, promises, more betrayal — but eventually a Lost fan has to realize that it’s never going to be what it was, that perhaps the spark of passion that drove us wild when we first met is gone. Sometime late this season, I made my peace with Lost, accepting the show as a high-maintenance conundrum. Whether my surrender was an act of resignation or faith, after Season Three’s finale, we’ve made up now, and it looks like we’re working towards a real future together. Finally.

That episode, “Through the Looking Glass,” opened on a fairly bleak scene of Jack (Matthew Fox), in a typical Lost-style flashback, scraggly-bearded and in quite a sorry state indeed. Gone were all traces of the rugged and capable leader of Oceanic 815’s survivors, the guy who traipsed across the island forming armies and delivering babies. Heroic Jack was replaced by a suicidal, Oxycontin-popping, booze-guzzling mess, who more than once yelled out to those around him, “I’m not a hero!” Right: the point was not made subtly: when Jack, on his way to a mysterious funeral, listened to Nirvana’s “Scentless Apprentice” at full volume, we got it: he has Daddy issues. But it was a jarring enough contrast to the Jack we know to question the intent and eventual effect. Who was this guy? Over the past three years, we’ve seen him down and out before — divorced, bereaved, righteously indignant — but this was a Jack of a different color.

This shift for Jack was the perfect segue way for a major turning point in the series, one that coincides with the writers’ announcement just two weeks ago that the series will end in three more seasons by 2010. Lost then opted to invert the narrative conventions of its mythology-soaked sci-fi drama. Bearded Jack was not a regular flashback at all, but rather a flashforward. Not only do we know now that at least Jack and Kate (Evangeline Lilly) will get off the island, but there’s the matter of this unspecified funeral that Jack attended, after which he expressed surprise that Kate wasn’t there too. “Who’s in the coffin?” might be this generation’s “Who shot JR?”, only the question might be unanswered for three years.

It also appeared the writers were having fun again, from the anagrammed name of the funeral home (HOFFS/DRAWLAR = FLASH/FORWARD) to concealing the make of Jack’s cell phone (his MotoCrazr was not available in 2004, Lost‘s “current” date is still late 2004). After a season written in the obtuse language we’ve come to expect from the Others, language that leaves room for any possible permutation of the plot, this change was refreshing.

I’ll admit that I was more than mildly impressed with “The Brig,” which featured Sawyer’s (Josh Holloway) cathartic encounter with Locke’s dad (Kevin Tighe), who turned out to be the conman who incited his own father’s murder-suicide. But it would have been more impressive if I knew that intersection had been up the pike all along. After feeling strung along for a season, the audience can finally trust the writers again. Reciprocity, at last!

Lost‘s new trajectory is invigorating, in part because it’s a gutsy move, but also because it seems the only move left to prevent the show imploding on itself. To remain on the island indefinitely would mean the plots must become increasingly claustrophobic. Trapped on the island, in the hands of the Others, casualties started to chip away at the foundation of the show. First our beloved Mr. Eko’s (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) hokey death, then Desmond’s (Henry Ian Cusick) loss of dignity, and then even the demise of Kate and Sawyer’s sexual tension! The show hadn’t just jumped the shark, it had stamped a Dharma Initiative logo on the side of the shark and then just kept skipping right along. It seemed with every episode this season, there was some new discovery to be made — a new hatch, a new character, a new version of the truth — but feeling battered by so many plot points, viewers started to not care.

The whoppers this season included the idea that conception on the island meant certain death for women and their babies, which certainly doesn’t bode well for Sun (Yunjin Kim), who got confirmation that Jin (Daniel Dae Kim) was her BabyDaddy after all. Another was our introduction to Jacob, the omniscient and (mostly) invisible leader of the island, whose apparent “agenda” hasn’t extended past throwing his voice and making things fly around an old cabin.

Such outrageousness made last season’s suggestion that the island was an allegory for Eden look almost clever. Now, it appears the Others are aware of Giant Smoke Monster, but keep it out of their habitat with a sonic security system. Except there’s one problem: if Kate & Co. were able to traverse over the system’s poles unscathed, what’s stopping Giant Smoke Monster from just floating over the poles as well? Similarly confusing is the apparent zombieness of the Others, which only seems vaguely spooky.

The series sometimes makes me feel like I’m in that scene from The Princess Bride, locked a battle of wits with the writers, trying to guess whose cup has the poison. A perfect example is Juliet (Elizabeth Mitchell), her face become an impenetrable mixture of compassion and cunning. She could single-handedly oversee the healthy birth of Sun’s baby or she could annihilate them all with chemical weapon she’s been hiding in her rucksack — nothing that woman could do would surprise me. I feel like I have to be paying extra close attention, looking for some kind of tell, wondering if, once I do spot one, if it’s been contrived just to throw me off.

In the finale, though, the mind games didn’t feel like a way for the writers to lollygag. The episode balanced revelation with action. Sayid (Naveen Andrews) was snapping necks, literally with his hands tied behind his back; John Locke (Terry O’Quinn) was rising from the dead; Jack was beating the shit out of Ben (Michael Emerson); and Sawyer continued his vengeance streak. Even Hurley (Jorge Garcia) got in on the action, kicking ass with the big kids for a change.

All this, and, thanks to Charlie (Dominic Monaghan) and Desmond, the survivors have finally made contact with the outside world. Evidently rescue is imminent, what with Jack leading “his people” to the radio tower for salvation (thanks to the show for acknowledging the biblical subtext of this dynamic — it’s about time). Sure, we still have no information on flickering Jacob, the four-toed statue from last season’s finale, Michael (Harold Perrineau Jr.) and Walt (Malcolm David Kelley), or the ageless Others. But that’s okay, I’m content to wait. Finally.