TV: The Last of 'Lost'--So Far

SPOILER ALERT: This commentary contains huge spoilers about the third season of “Lost.” If you haven’t watched it yet and plan to at some point, it might be a good idea to click the handy Back button on your browser.

There’s good news, more good news and bad news about this “Lost” commentary. The bad news first: if you never succumbed to the labyrinthine pleasure of “Lost,” or you, like many, threw up your hands in frustration and stopped watching, I’m about to tell you that you’ve made a huge mistake. The good news is that this is not going to be one of those holier-than-thou critic screeds where I guilt the public for what they’re watching, what they’re skipping and why. I’m not going to browbeat you for watching “Criminal Minds” when you could be watching “Lost.” If brooding Mandy Patinkin is your flavor, then by all means, eat up!

And if you’ve tried to watch “Lost,” really tried, but got fed up by how generous the show is with mysteries and how stingy it is with answers and used your remote to paddle off the island, I understand. I was a very vocal critic of the show during its meandering second season and the listless early episodes of the third. “Lost” was beginning to resemble a dog that just got shaggier with each passing week. Still, I watched, more out of habit than actual investment, so imagine my surprise when it got really good, really fast. I’m talking first-season good.

So here’s the other good news: there’s a little over eight months until the fourth season starts, so you have time to get the DVDs and catch up, and based on last night’s shocking season finale, you owe it to yourself to do so. To give away too many major plot points would be unethical. But, without giving too much away, I can say that the criticism that the show is more about questions than it is about answers is becoming increasingly false.

In the last half of this season, we’ve been rewarded with a mythological data dump in nearly every episode. How did Locke end up in a wheelchair? Answered. What’s the relationship between the creepy Others and the equally creepy DHARMA Initiative? Answered. But the answer revealed in last night’s final scene (a scene codenamed “The Rattlesnake in the Mailbox” by the show’s producers) is the real shocker. Do they ever get off the island? Yes! Someone certainly does. But the nature of the show is to use answers to reveal even more questions, so now the question goes from “Will they ever get off the island?” to “Who is included in ‘they’?”

There are only 48 more pieces to this puzzle, since show runners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse demanded that ABC allow them to set a firm end date for the show as a condition of their contract renewal. What this means, coupled with the jaw-dropping reveal in the season-three finale, is that contrary to popular belief, “Lost” is not a television quagmire. There is a clear exit strategy.

But as amazing as this season has turned out to be, I still can’t in good conscience recommend the show to people who are not into intricately plotted serial drama. If you prefer to check in and check out with television shows, there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s what “Law and Order” is for, and I hear next week’s episode is ripped from today’s headlines. (OK, now I’m browbeating a little.) But as a former “Lost” pessimist, I’m asking you to try to get back on board. If you started watching and checked out, catch up. By the end of season three, I’m confident that you’ll have the same revelation I had: either the producers know exactly where this story is heading, or they’re doing a hell of a job of faking it.