NEW YORK - The premiere of "Lost" ended memorably with Charlie's plaintive question to his fellow island castaways: "Guys, where ARE we?"
Six seasons and some 120 episodes later, many viewers might be wondering the same thing as the much-awaited "Lost" finale brought the series to a rapturous close Sunday night.
Viewers, where are we? The answer: Almost anywhere we want to be.
(Spoiler alert for what follows.)
If ever a TV series could be likened to a journey, "Lost" is it, and as it came to the end of the road it left its audience with comfort and inspiration more than hard answers. There was also, not surprisingly, a sense of being lost in the maw of a show that henceforth will give up nothing more, a show whose sweep and ambiguity will fuel debate and theorizing from its viewers for years to come.
That, dear viewers, is where you are.
Led by a two-hour retrospective, ABC's Super Bowl Sunday-scale drama event was capped by the two-and-one-half-hour-long finale.
As they have all season, story lines overlapped between the characters on the island and in their parallel lives in the "normal" world back home in California.
On the island, Jack (Matthew Fox) has volunteered from among the designated candidates to take over from Jacob (Mark Pellegrino) as the island's protector.
The Smoke Monster, occupying the body of Locke (Terry O'Quinn), wants to stop the candidates, kill them, destroy the island and sail away.
Back in Los Angeles, Jack, by profession a surgeon, is about to operate on Locke, who (in this incarnation) is crippled.
"If I can fix you, Mr. Locke, that's all the peace I'll need," Jack says.
But then back on the island, Jack and the Monster-Who-Looks-Like-Locke have a tense confrontation.
"So it's you," says Monster-Locke, meaning the island's new protector. "I assume you're here to stop me."
"Can't stop you," Jack says, but promises instead, "I'm gonna kill you."
Well, he doesn't. But a bit later, Kate (Evangeline Lilly) somehow kills the monster-who-is-mortal-again with a single gunshot after a fierce cliffside fight between him and Jack.
Back in L.A., Locke's surgery is a success. From his bed, he gratefully tells Jack he has feeling back in his legs.
"Jack, I hope that somebody does for you what you just did for me," Locke says to a disturbed-looking Jack, who seems to be having flashes of memory of his alternate existence. It's the sort of memory bursts all the characters are having: island recollections invading their consciousness.
A few minutes later, Jack runs into Kate, his island love, as they, too, play the haven't-I-seen-you-somewhere-before game.
"What is happening to me?" says Jack, bewildered as she looks at him adoringly. "Who are you?"
"I know you don't understand, Jack," she says. "But if you come with me, you will."
Come with her where?
To a church where the former castaways are gathered for what seems a beatific funeral reception for themselves. At this reunion, everyone is smiling and embracing. The room floods with light.
And Jack reconciles with his dead father, whose body he had been bringing back from Sydney when Oceanic flight 815 crashed on the lost island at the start of the series.
Jack has a tender conversation with the man he had clashed with so often before.
"I don't understand," says Jack. "You died."
"Yes, I did."
"Then how are you here right now?"
"How are YOU here?" his father (John Terry) replies.
"I died, too," says Jack, beginning to weep.
"That's OK, son."
And yet it's all real, his father assures him.
"Everything that's ever happened to you is real. All those people in the church, they're all real, too."
"They're all dead?" Jack asks.
"Everyone dies sometime, kiddo," his father replies gently.
Through the run of the series, there was much talk among its characters of being on the island for a purpose. As it draws to a close, "Lost" has sustained the eerie feeling (eerie for TV, anyway) that it was on the air for a purpose - a special purpose beyond selling products and filling time, or even entertainment.
Its cast, producers, writers and the rest seemed drawn to create "Lost," and keep creating it year after year, thanks to fate as much as show-biz urgencies.
Deeper and wider than any TV series should dare to be, it has been thrilling, captivating, confounding (and, at times, pretty tedious), while it challenged its viewers to think, talk and feel.
The series ended where it began six seasons ago after the plane crash: with a close-up of Jack's eye opening as he lay on the ground. But this time, his eye was open and it shut.
That's where "Lost" leaves us viewers as it shuts down. Maybe not so clear about all we've seen, but challenged. Still a little lost, but reassured.