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It turns out that the creators of "Lost" had already shown us the series' end before Sunday's night's 2-1/2-hour finale extravaganza. We were just too caught up in the details to see it.
True enough, the story of whether the villainous smoke monster was able to destroy the island and unleash evil across the world was resolved in the series' sprawling finale episode. But that wasn't really the point of ABC's amazingly creative, six-season tribute to smart television. That was just the lure to draw us in.
Instead, Sunday's show was an emotional, funny, expertly measured reminder of what "Lost" has really focused on since its first moments: faith, hope, romance and the power of redemption through belief in the best of what moves mankind.
In the face of such epic storytelling, who cares that Smokey got his comeuppance with a bullet to the back from Kate? By the time he plunged down a cliff wall to land lifeless on a rock ridge, inches from his goal of leaving the island for good, his passing was a dark afterthought confirming a loss that felt preordained from the start.
But viewers won big, as "Lost" showed hero Jack Shephard sacrifice himself to save the island and leave lovable audience surrogate Hugo Reyes as the new caretaker.
Say it out loud and it sounds like a cheesy Hallmark card. But the key to "Lost's" finale success Sunday was finding an amazing way to redeem all these characters who had been lost in the tangle of their own troubled lives without seeming sappy or overly contrived.
After years of theories that the island was purgatory or hell, it turns out the "sideways" alternate universe created at the start of this season served that function. The big reveal at the end of Sunday's show was that all our losties were coming together in that world after their own deaths -- enjoying one last bit of fellowship before moving on to a larger light.
Most series finales become awkward, obvious cavalcades of past characters. But as we saw dead characters reunite, old loves rejoined and past friendships renewed in "Lost's" sideways world, the emotional payoff was all a fan could hope for, and much more.
Along the way, we got some funny zingers. I never realized Jack's dead father's name was Christian Shephard until Evangeline Lilly's fugitive spitfire Kate cracked a joke about it Sunday. And when the Smoke Monster Shaped Like Locke snarked that Jack was an obvious choice to replace island caretaker Jacob, he was mimicking the snipes producers knew had already blossomed across a thousand Twitter pages.
Indeed, Sunday's end was masterful enough to make us forget all the detailed questions that went unanswered. We still don't know who built all the old structures on the island or even what the connection is between electromagnetism and the spiritual power that makes the island so special. Better still, we don't care.
What we learned, as Matthew Fox's Jack Shephard book-ended his position in the series' very first scene -- lying on his back in the island jungle, closing his eye one last time as a plane filled with his friends took off -- was that this really was about the journey and not the destination.
Thank you so much, "Lost" masterminds, for allowing us to join you on an unparalleled ride. You left us right where we needed to be -- full of hope and wonderful memories of an amazing story well told.
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service www.scrippsnews.com)