A two-hour episode of "Lost" tonight will launch the show's keenly anticipated sixth and final season.
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, tracked down every script reference, and searched 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.
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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 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, having been 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.