Recapping a show is, for me, a very different process than just watching it as a fan.

For the first four years it was on the air, I don't think I wrote more than 500 words about "Lost."  At Ain't It Cool, Hercules the Strong was the TV guy, and "Lost" was a particular favorite of his.

More than anything, I just wrote e-mails to Herc to geek out about the show, which I loved.  Right away.  The pilot had me on a hook.  And I have to say that as I sit here ready to put the show to bed, I love it still.  I think I've got a lot to say about the way they stuck this particular landing, but for the most part... they did it.  I think "Lost" is a show that will have a shelf life.  It's a badass ride.  It's a really, really well-told pulp story.  It's got style and wit and character and big ideas just spilling out of it.  It's overstuffed way past the breaking point.  It's so full of good things that many of them are just dead ends.

That's sort of the nature of TV, though.  TV, no matter how much you plan out where you're going, is going to be reactive to some degree.  And some shows are very, very reactive.  Those shows embrace the notion that community is important for a show's lifetime on the air, while longevity is important for an afterlife.  I think "Lost" is a show that people will watch as an event in the future.  I think it is so much fun as a story when it's cooking along, doing its thing, getting all weird and soapy and throwing SF big idea left hooks and Univision-level shameless soap opera right hooks with the occasional pop culture joke jabs thrown in.  That's the "Lost" that I love, and that's the "Lost" that got its groove on tonight with a vengeance at times. 

The finale is about 80% "Wow, they're doing it! They're doing it!" and about 20% "Oh, crap, they're doing that!".  And that's a ratio that I can absolutely live with.

Now, if I were just a fan of the show, I'd leave it at that, but recapping the show means I sat through tonight's finale taking notes, and taking notes means pausing and pausing a two-and-a-half-hour program means I'm sitting there with my notebook and "Lost" for about three hours tonight.

My wife bailed out on the last season because she didn't like watching them with me when I was taking notes, and she didn't like watching them alone.  I want to watch the whole thing again, and I'll watch them with her.  She'll hear some vague cultural spoilers in the days ahead.  I anticipate that the future arguments about the show will include a "Blade Runner"/is Deckard a replicant?-style debate over dead the whole time/not dead the whole time, and I already see a pretty deep rift in terms of immediate reaction to what the last ten minutes or so of the show meant.

We'll get to that.

My point before I continue is that recapping the show has meant that I have had to have a response that makes sense on some level... just as the episodes would end.  I'd have to write it up fast, put it up, post it and not look back.  But reading my take on the season premiere this year, you can see that I'm approaching the season as a game.  I think a lot of people do as they watch a show like this.  They feel like they invest their time and energy, and they're looking for payoff and a certain level of response to what they're investing.  And writing about the show each week made me feel more engaged with it.  Like I was making a conscious decision to play this crazy game that the show was playing with the way things were revealed.  I think the season could have been sequenced differently.

I think if you really wanted to set the rules and break some brains, you show "Ab Aeterno."  Then "Across The Sea."  Then kick it off with the season premiere, "LA X."  I think that's the way you tell the audience that this is a totally different season, and the rules are going to be different.

But whatever.  I'm not going to backseat drive the finale.  I'm not going to offer up my version of the answers, because that's not important.  They offered up a conclusive answer to the flash-sideways tonight that angered some, confused others, and that will no doubt be discussed and debated as long as people continue to revisit the show.

Watching the recap show that aired before tonight's finale was an interesting sort of two-hour "previously on," and I guess it was nice to see the bits and pieces I haven't thought about in a while.  I forgot how big the end of the last season felt, and I hadn't thought of the raft in at least four seasons.  Still, I buzzed through that entire two hour thing in about 40 minutes.  Then there was a real "previously on," fairly compact and efficient and entirely focused on the last few episodes.

And then the first few images for the last episode, which I consider harder than the ending since you've got to set the tone and the goals for the evening.  Christian's body finally arriving.  Jack in his office, prepping some notes for Locke's surgery.  Jack by a stream, waking up.  Sawyer as a cop getting dressed.  Sawyer on the Island dressing Kate's wound.

The first full scene is in TIMELINE A, where Kate is with Desmond, on her way to a concert, unsure why she's just been sprung from jail.  She watches Desmond sign for Christian's body and move it into a church.  Desmond returns to the car to talk to her.  There's a line of his during their conversation that pretty much revealed the way they were going to handle the reveals for this timeline this week.  "No one can tell you why you're here, Kate."  Desmond is Illuminated already, and he knows that Kate can't be Illuminated simply by being told something.  She's got to have an incident like the one Desmond had in the car with Charlie.  Or the one that Desmond engineered for Locke.  Something real.

In TIMELINE B, Jack is standing in a stream, still contemplating what happened to him last week when he accepted Jacob's job.  Sawyer approaches him to talk about it, and then they join Hurley and Kate, where Hurley gets in his last "Star Wars" reference ever, mentioning Yoda before solemnly intoning, "I've got a bad feeling about this."

LOST.  The next to last time we'll see the hard cut to that simple word on black.

"The End," written by Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, had to resolve both of the timelines, and I think the one exists in the end to pay off all of the emotional beats that the other can't.  TIMELINE B, the stuff that takes place on the Island, has one set of emotional payoffs that serve to wrap everything up, while TIMELINE A offers up a whole different kind of emotional payoff.  The things that pay off in TIMELINE B are more difficult, more bittersweet, more painful.  The things that pay off in TIMELINE A are, by their very nature, more wish-fulfillment oriented, as we've been saying for weeks.  I find myself of very mixed mind about the episode, and I may actually want to run a wrap-up piece later this week, once I've digested a bit more.

For now, I'll say this... the emotional work in this episode was flawless.  The way the show paid off the various emotional arcs that it's been building for six years was impressive, and there was a series of major moments that are some of the most memorable I've ever seen in a finale.  This highlights one of the things that TV can do that films can't do... emotional investment over time.  Great films can obviously make you care deeply about characters.  But when you spend 100 hours or 200 hours with characters you love, and major things happen to them, then you start to really invest in them in a different way when you spend years living with them.  It's the reason I think people will, overall, end up loving tonight's episode. 

It's interesting how the flash-sideways this year is what many people originally guessed that the entire show was going to be, and there are some people who are reading the flash-sideways as if it means that the whole show was, indeed, about a type of purgatory.  Instead, it's a science-fiction show that took an unexpected turn into the metaphysical in its last season and a half.  It's a crazy risky way of trying to build a story, but I think the choice to use the flash-sideways as a world that was built by the collective desires of the Oceanic survivors was the only way to give these characters a truly happy emotional ending.  There was just too high a body count with the on-Island storyline, and everyone was hurt too deeply along the way.  As Jack said at one point this week, "There are no short cuts.  No do overs.  What happened happened." 

I knew I was going to be an emotional wreck watching tonight when Hurley first went to the hotel room to pick up Charlie, and he couldn't stop smiling at him, so pleased to see him again.

Here are some other things I loved tonight, taken from my notes as I watched:

"We're not candidates anymore."  WHACK.  No one takes a punch like Benjamin Linus.

Sawyer called Smokey Smokey right to his face.  Awesome.

Vincent!  Rose!  Bernard!

"I'll make it hurt."

Sun and Jin's ultrasound.  Juliet has no idea why they're crying.

"If I can fix you, Mr. Locke, that's all the peace I need."

Richard Alpert's gray hair.

FRANK LAPIDES LIVES! YOU CANNOT KILL THE FAHEY!

"In case you hadn't noticed, I'm a pilot."

And then, 34 minutes in, the two groups just walk into each other.  Jack and Kate and Sawyer and Hurley crest one side of a hill while Locke and Ben and Desmond crest the other.  And in just this one scene, there were so many great beats.

"Well.  THIS is gonna be interesting."

Kate shooting at Locke.  "You might want to save your bullets."

I love Ben's face when he first spots Jack's group.  I love Ben and Desmond hitting the ground when Kat'es firing at them.  I love the conversation between Jack and Locke and just how quickly the show gets to it.  And here's one of the things I love about "Lost."  When you describe the show to someone who doesn't watch it, you sound like a crazy person.  But as you watch, it's all so logical, so emotionally right, that it's seductive.

Jack and Locke drop Desmond down the golden glowing hole in TIMELINE B to see what will happen, and the result turns Smokey physical so he and Locke can fight.  Then they fight.  Then some people escape and Jack goes down the golden glowing hole so Desmond can escape.  And that's pretty much it.  TIMELINE B is very linear and very simple.  It's got a lot of great moments  "You disrespect his memory by wearing his face."  "Looks like you were wrong."  "Looks like you were wrong, too."  "I want you to know, Jack, you died for nothing."  "I saved you a bullet."  Hurley laughing off the idea of him using the ladders down to the water for Locke's boat.  Sawyer and Kate jumping off the cliffs.  Hurley's realization that he's the real replacement for Jacob, not Jack.  Jack closing the circuit.  Hurley asking Ben to be his number two.

And in the end, there are a number of survivors, and some sacrifice.  And the Island appears to destroy itself, or at least big pieces of itself, but there's still plenty for Hurley and Ben and (hopefully) Rose and Bernard and Desmond to all do on the Island in the days to come.

The real emotional sledgehammers were all in TIMELINE A, though, where the flash-sideways allowed for these big, crushing, powerful beats when characters find their constants, their trigger, the thing that makes them remember their lives.  Sayid's reunion with Shannon was awesome.  The birth of Aaron waking up both Kate and Charlie was amazing.  Locke's post-surgery epiphany was tremendous, and the punchline of his comment to Jack only made it better.  "I hope somebody does for you what you just did for me."  Sun and Jin and their maddening smile at Sawyer, who hasn't been awakened yet.  Juliet and Sawyer at the candy machine.  "I got ya.  I got ya."  Kate trying to wake up Jack, and Jack still resisting.  Ben and Locke outside the church.  Ben and Hurley talking outside.  "You were a real good number two."  "And you were a great number one."

Then there's the ending ending.  The very ending.  The stuff inside the church, basically.

Without me getting into my own beliefs, let's just say I think people calling the approach that "Lost" took a cop-out are reading it differently than I did.  I think this show isn't trying to play the same sort of non-denominational approach that something like "What Dreams May Come" or "The Lovely Bones" takes.  I think instead it is saying that all of these attempts to name the unknown are describing the same thing, and none of them have it right.  It's not a brand-new idea, but I don't think it's a cop-out, either.  I think it's always tricky and dangerous to introduce religion into any piece of entertainment.  Here, it quite literally serves the purpose for this show that it does for society at large:  it provides the happy ending that life so often denies us.  "Where are we going?"  "Let's go find out."  It's as manipulative as Kevin Costner and his dad and a game of catch... but emotionally effective.

It was a long great ride for "Lost," and ending with Vincent laying down next to Jack, and a close-up of a closing eye... that was elegant and fulfilling, and no matter what I think of certain ideas or elements of not just this season but every season, I think "Lost" will stand as one of the biggest, boldest, strangest shows for a network to ever nurture and complete.  The show existed on its own crazy terms for six years, and they've been six of the best years of TV I've ever enjoyed.

I want to thank Dan Fienberg for letting me recap "Lost" here at HitFix for the last two years.  He's our first TV editor, and if he'd wanted to write about "Lost," that absolutely would have superceded my own interest.  It's been great sharing this last two seasons with you guys.  More than that, I want to thank everyone associated with "Lost."  You guys made it fun the entire time, and you made something special.  Infuriating at times.  Incomplete in the strangest ways.  But also unforgettable.

Can't get enough of Motion/Captured? Don't miss a post with daily HitFix Blog Alerts. Sign up now.

Don't miss out. Add Motion/Captured to your iGoogle, My Yahoo or My MSN experience by clicking here.

Not part of the HitFix Nation yet? Take 90 seconds and sign up today.

You can e-mail me at drew@hitfix.com or follow me on Twitter, where I'm DrewAtHitFix.