"What the hell?" says confused airline pilot Captain Frank Lapidus (Jeff Fahey) in yesterday's two-and-half-hour finale of Lost. A little later on, he has cause to say it again. He's surely not the only one who's repeatedly asked that question out loud.
I imagine plenty of viewers sitting at home have wondered WTH was going on many times during Lost's six-year lifespan... although you can bet some of them will have substituted the H with a letter that comes two places earlier in the alphabet.
Ambitious, audacious, ambiguous. Brilliant, baffling, boring. Fascinating, frustrating, foolish. Intriguing, ingenious, irritating. All of these descriptions have at various times applied to Lost, along with a lot more that can be easily assembled into neat, alliterative trios.
But no longer, because it's all over now. Or is it? Already, even before the online debate and dissection of the final episode has reached its full, heated pitch, there are hints that the DVD boxset of the final series -- which is sure to be rushed into release as soon as is humanly possible -- will contain anything from 20 to 40 minutes of extra material.
Whether this additional footage will answer any of the questions left dangling at the conclusion (the Dharma initiative, the magic numbers, the Egyptian statue) remains to be seen -- although if pressed, you'd probably have to conclude that it's unlikely.
There were only ever two absolute certainties about Lost. First, that the discussion about it would rage for months, perhaps even years, after the series had ended, and second, that the finale would be controversial.
But you get the feeling that the people who write, produce and direct Lost, and the hardcore of fans who've been hungrily lapping it all up through the innumerable, frequently bizarre twists and turns the series took -- time-travel being, even for a supernaturally themed series, the most credulity-straining of the lot -- wouldn't wish to have it any other way than controversial.
I was never a total devotee. Like tens of millions of others around the world, I was captivated by the first series, as much because of the novelty factor as anything else, but by the middle of the second had pretty much lost (sorry, there are only so many times you can avoid that word) interest.
I did drop back onto the island now and again, in order to keep broadly abreast of what was going on. Not tuning in religiously for every episode does have its advantages, in that the casual viewer can offer a more clear-headed opinion on the finale than someone who has invested six years of their life in the programme, and therefore might feel short-changed when it fails to live up to their expectations.
For what it's worth, I thought the finale was a thrilling chunk of television; as always, superbly well written, acted and directed.
You could accuse Lost of a lack of logic and focus sometimes, but never a lack of professionalism.
Without wishing to spoil the fun for the handful of fans who may not yet have watched yesterday's double-length episode, or who have so far managed to avoid the global saturation coverage in newspapers -- and if that includes you, stop reading NOW! -- the final revelation that everything that happened on the island was real, while the sideways flashes took place in a kind of limbo where the characters, all of them now deceased, had gathered to be together one last time before passing over into the afterlife proper, may strike some people as a bit of a let-down.
Apart from anything else, it was a strikingly similar ending to the one that wrapped up Ashes to Ashes last week, albeit considerably more upbeat and hopeful. Then again, was there really any more satisfactory way to end the series than this. What, after all, was Lost about but the unpredictability of life and the certainty of death?
In a strange way, what was going on in Lost was less important than what was going on around it. It was a totally new strain of television drama and the first one to fully exploit the potential of the internet for audience interaction. It was unique, the very first of its kind. Ironically, it may also turn out to be the very last of its kind, a genuinely irreplace-able one-off. The producers of FlashForward, which was conceived to run for five years, probably thought they had the new Lost on their hands. It was recently cancelled after a single series, because the one good idea it had was too thin to sustain -- something to which viewers quickly cottoned on. The same fate befell Heroes, which was trumpeted as an epic on the same scale as Lost, but rapidly buckled under the weight of its own pretensions.
Suddenly, American television finds itself facing a dilemma bigger than the Lost-sized hole left in viewers' weekly schedule. The loss of Lost, whether you loved it or loathed it, will be deeply felt.